Thursday, February 10, 2011

Effecting Change: System vs System

When I was earning a living making forecasts, my emphasis was on forecasting turning points, not projecting straight lines. Projecting a straight line (in any form) is the dumbest thing a forecaster can do - the only judgement one can make is how straight is the straight line. One cannot really forecast a straight line; I contend we can merely project it. To me, a line will continue to be straight (or sort of) until something happens that causes it to go off its trajectory. Normally, people assume a straight projection (that life will go on as usual) until the expectation is proven to be wrong and then ask what happens. As forecasters, we have to know what are the key parameters which give rise to the existing situation, which key parameter is likely to change first and when that happens what happens next. In the mind of a forecaster, therefore, the main task is always to assess the integrity and condition of the key parameters as well as to look out for any extraneous factors that are likely to intrude into the system which will alter the whole picture. In the end, the quality of a forecast rests on judgement, based on the experience in the assigned field as well as the breadth and depth of knowledge of the world around him or her and us.

Living a good life is living a boring life, as boring as projecting a straight line. Same thing, day in and day out. Nature is boring. One can make one's life a bit more interesting with variations around the same theme. Today, I eat steak instead. The system does not change; our activities change. When the system is stable, we can dream - about how we are going to make progress in life through material acquisition so that we can show off to our friends and relatives - and we take our time trying to accomplish our vision and mission, step by each of our own slow and painful step. The system is in equilibrium, probably static equilibrium (in and around the same area more or less like some nomadic tribe in the jungle) and if lucky dynamic equilibrium with ability to accommodate population growth with sufficiency which in most societies is termed prosperity. Systemic equilibrium is crucial to happiness, no matter how much people may gripe about the ordinariness of everyday life which is really a liberty that only happy people can indulge. The English complain about the weather, and monks talk about the dreariness of mundane life.

Let us now introduce trauma, otherwise and now popularly known as change. We shake the tree vigorously and see what falls. We bonsai the branches by twisting and turning and telling people what they can and cannot do or how they should do things in order that we may create a brave new world by transfiguring the present. We imagine a better world, but we end up in the end with the same old dullness, sometimes kept interesting only by the unannounced potential threat to our soundness or mortality by some madman in power keen to stay in power forever, at whatever level of hierarchical structure that has somehow been erected all around us. In effecting change, the easiest way is to replace a lousy system with another lousy system. This is when reformers are unimaginative and uncreative. They see a lousy system, and wanting to replace it, end up giving the same lousy system except for some suggested modifications which hopefully give better results which did not quite materialise which then leads to another call for traumatic change and another sameness.

If therefore we are going to get the same system (albeit with modifications), we might as well determine what that core system is going to be and strengthen it. In most human systems, the core element is the absolute right of the individual and of all individuals, each same and equal in terms of right. The right to freely think and speak and associate and contract and exchange and indulge and believe and practice. The right to live as humans. The underlying structure of any human system must be founded on the recognition of these rights, and institutionalised. Once this core is corrupted, change will come after change. In order that the system will transition over time through the generations, this change can also be institutionalised so that not one person or a group of individuals can monopolised an entire generation. The call for change through rallies is usually a rally for generational change when an individual has been dominating an entire generation. In building in the required change and transition in the system, there will be scope for creativity in government when individuals or groups can propose newfangled ideas. In the end, however, when prosperity has been bestowed on the society, there will be fear over the protection of the people's assets and if the assets are not so fairly distributed, problems of the unemployed and the poor. The final battle in the capitalist world is always the fight between capital and labour.

Traumatic systematic changes are costly to social property or capital and they should be avoided if possible. If not, it may be the only way out. But there must always be a system to be put in place or else we will have no social cohesion.


walla said...

Hats off, the blogger is in his element.

It was Einstein who said we cannot solve a problem by using the same thinking that had first identified the problem.

Perhaps he was reminded by what Socrates had said, namely, the greatest way to live with honour in this world is to actually be what we have been pretending to be.

In other words, we tend to pretend we want to change, and on the day we stop pretending and just change, we will be on the real road to become more honourable men who can then see honestly the hard but real solutions to the problems which were impelling us to change in the first place.

Therefore, to really stop pretending so as to effect real change, we must get off our comfortable saddles. These are formed when the eigenvalues of our hessian matrices collide under the battle order of the universal law of entropy which curves the reactions of our systems that have been beset by external perturbations causing them to reverse feedback their responses in order to maintain their status quo.

Whether such systems are economic, chemical or thermodynamic, change will be resisted in such a way as to result in a new equilibrium so as to retain as much as possible the properties of the original equilibrium.

The trick is actually all in the mind for the properties which had provided a sense of security in the earlier situation cannot be expected to work the same when the situation has already changed. In fact that is how problems surface - the mismatch between the original set of inputs and the new set of desired outputs.

Recognizing how situations have changed is thus the first order of the second partial derivative in the localized process of changing systems.

To recognize how our situations have changed engenders appropriate perspectives. Arguably, there should only be one perspective for one situation, namely that which leads to change which matches inputs to desired outputs to maximum efficiency.

The reason why it is so hard to get that perspective is because it is easier to be silo-minded. In that state, we focus on the problem until its image occupies our entire horizon, occluding everything else out which nevertheless contributes to the reality of the situation we are trying to study.

It is like walking into an empty and windowless room. We immediately see the problem and nothing but the problem sitting in the middle of the room when actually the room is bigger than what we see so much so the problem is really sitting at one of the eight corners of the room, including the four on the ceiling.

And since a door has made which had enabled us to enter the room, there should be nothing to stop us making a window next to look out into the world beyond the room.

For all we know, we might like the view so much we may get humbled by the world arrayed for us if only we will open our mind's eye.

walla said...


What is the perspective of change? In the old days, we sat at the roadside together with the chickens and ducks and mosquitoes and wait for the van. It would come, the politician would make his speech using a loudhailer and then the black and white silent movie would start so that we stopped chewing the sugar cane when Tarzan started wrestling the crocodile. Fast forward, it is now the new world of Avatar; we are now dipping into popcorn and getting awed by panaromic sensurround and 3D specs. Tarzan has been rendered obsolete because the croc has been changed into a Hermes handbag in Putrajaya.

Indeed in our new world of avatars and icons, branding and extensions of perspectives, we cannot be faulted to seek out the security and comfort of our old saddle points.

But we must remember the very changes we see and experience around us happen because people had broken the status quo's of their past in order to create new joy juices for the masses in the present.

They had perceived that to continue as before was no longer tenable. Their horses have been flogged for too long so they must now alight from their saddles and start walking. Or build the next locomotive of motion.

Is it any wonder then that Keynes believed in animal spirits? Perhaps he had seen them in the collective behaviour of the masses who cling unflinchingly to every word of their self-proclaimed leaders as if denying the veracity of what is said would be too appalling to contemplate.

When a system is made out to be safe and sound, one should seek out the perspective to look at the surroundings in which it operates in order to test the same security as that which has motivated one to cling to the past in order to resist change.

If the surroundings are just propped up only by the gasoline of spin and extended credit because real capital, monetary and human, has long been denuded in value, then it's time long overdue to find a new equilibrium.

The process to find a new equilibrium must be honest. One cannot replace an old system with another dusted off from the back-store which was designed by the same people who had encoded the first system, for their mindset was just to write an upgrade and that because they themselves were created by the system's progeny. It then becomes tribal extension and not systemic change.

What is the nature of that progeny, one asks intemperately by now? It is that a ratio must be maintained, achieved, enhanced. But why is it necessary to be fastidious about a fraction when the original objective of it was to put capital, again monetary and human, into the hands of those it is intended for?

After all, a bigger percent of a shrinking pie can't be better than an already big percent of a growing pie. And these days real capital is needed to bake growing pies. And real capital is acquired when more customers beat a path to the door of the baker who is bold enough to change his ingredients to create new recipes where value is in the fillings or substance inasmuch the pastry or form. You know we are not there now because not only have the horses bolted from the barn but the pie customers have gone to the next store.

And it's not called the loaf.

walla said...


We may thus conclude that the root of the matter is loss of some sense of security.

When a spider feels insecure, it runs to a corner. There it spins a web to protect itself if not net a prey. It looks for closure of its problem by the process of geographic enclosure.

In some instances, it might try to hide its insecurity by displaying some opposite behavior, such as flailing its hairy legs or snapping its claws.

In other species like rhinos, they flare their nostrils and kick up a ruckus with their horns. Gorillas beat their chests. Humans mimic that behavior by beating war drums instead.

Indeed in the latter two cases, one can see the propensity towards territoriality.

Missing their tall trees when in unfamiliar territory like for instance downturn Manhattan, a big gorilla will climb the nearest tower to exert its territorial status.

Unfortunately a human cannot do that unless he has been bitten by a radioactive spider.

So to stake territoriality in order to compensate for insecurity in a borderless world where geographic enclosure has lost its lustre, a human will do his utmost to gain legitimacy by powering himself to own the very instruments which are the pillar of the ecosystem in which he exists. The institutions.

walla said...


Unfortunately, in an enlightened world, legitimacy is earned and not a birthright. When push comes to shove, humans will reject what they are told to comply with especially when the credentials of those doing the pushing leave much to be desired.

The whole ecosystem from worm to mighty oak, royal tiger to soaring eagle, pay homage to one and only one thing - evolutionary survivability.

That is the common denominator, the missing fragment of the equation at a corner of the diary.


walla said...