Bummer, We Can’t Change Society After All

by jonycunha

We can only reflect and act on communications that are already part of our system. It’s important to reflect on how dis-empowering that is. There is absolutely nothing I can do to change a system I’m already part of. Period.

As I’ve been exploring what this could mean in terms of creating and hosting spaces of learning and systems design, it might not be clear the possible alternatives into changing systems. So here we go.

There is No Changing Society

According to this view, it is indeed not possible for members of society to change society. Because of us being communicators born and made within society, no one has the privilege to oversee our whole societal system. This can’t be done neither practically nor theoretically, as both are, in this case, communications all the same.

It is the end of saving-the-world type of activism. Society will only change as we adapt to changes from the environment. Environment being everything we don’t talk about and therefore don’t see, don’t acknowledge in our daily conversations.

Contributions for Real Change

On the other hand, there is a lot for us to do in influencing the classical sub-systems of society. Sub-systems are systems within society such as the economy, schooling, healthcare, etc.

Society as System

Society and Some of Its Subsystems

But what exactly can we do if we are part of the sub-systems of society as well?

Not much from within the system itself: economists won’t do anything but react and refract what happens outside the economic system, translating the environmental change in economic language and adapting accordingly.

The same is true for other sub-systems, frequently represented by institutions like business organizations, hospitals, schools, governments, NGOs, international bodies, etc.

They all speak their own language and re-structure their conversations based on outside perturbations. If the environment does not change — or change is not perceived by the system — nothing happens.

Different Words Create Different Worlds

I believe that possibilities of change come from stepping out of the sub-system you find yourself into. This does not mean creating an alternative sub-system or institution like alternative schooling or alternative healthcare. It means to create a space that is clearly de-institutionalized.

In order to avoid the alternative institution, one hint is to invite conversations where people are not in the same sub-system of society. The remix and re-creation of systems come from a dialogue between different worlds, not necessarily too different, just different enough.

The remix of language that comes from this dialogue is the true spark of creativity that can change things. To see the new language in action we need to host spaces where different worlds can come together to learn/re-create.

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6 replies
  1. Chris Corrigan
    Chris Corrigan says:

    It is helpful to me to view the larger society you define here as “hosting” the sub systems. There are dynamics in the larger system that make it possible for us to work, or not, at smaller levels. Understanding these dynamics is very very important as is realizing how embedded we are in them. I fact for many of us I suspect that there is more about the bigger system that enables us to act than there is blockeing our view of change in the world.

    For example, even ink the poorest communities in Canada we have several things that make social change possible including taxation, rule of law, economic stability, oil dependancy and political stability. There are many things that prop this system up that we might choose to rail against such as global capitalism, economic inequality, environmental degradation, structural racism and fraud and corruption. Changing the macro system involves changing the good with the bad. My suspicion is that very few of us, given the power to do so would be willing to change the system whole hog, because in order to get the world we want we would have to give up much of what makes our current world possible.

    I am coming to believe that the only thing that will change the macro system is a catastrophic failure like a global economic collapse, and environmental disaster or something else. None of us want this, but I think that crises represents the best opportunity to enact the deeper systems changes that we want to see, as long as we don’t choose a sociopathic reaction to collapse.

    In the meantime, we can work at the subsystem scale to create the practices and conditions for a non sociopathic reaction to collapse. That would be my desire for the world.

    • Augusto Cuginotti
      Augusto Cuginotti says:

      Hi Chris, thank you for your comment.

      I am not sure how much we can understand the dynamics of society as we are part of it, not only part of the problem/solution, but embedded completely in it.

      The “changing the good and the bad” you’ve mentioned is a great insight. After all we are creators of the system we’re now calling failure – and it serves us well in many ways we don’t talk about exactly because it works.

      Plus I have the same belief that it’s a failure in the system what invites for change. My point here is that we need to listen to it in order to respond. Not listening might be the road to the sociopathic reaction you’ve mentioned.

  2. Silvia
    Silvia says:

    It’s an interesting angle you take, and I like the suggestion you make to work with the subsystems. Nevertheless, saying there is no way to change the big system, appears strange to me. For me systems are in constant change, all the time. I mean, I agree with you, that “no one has the privilege to oversee our whole societal system”. But for me, not being able to oversee the whole system, does not lead to the conclusion, that my actions aren’t influencing and potentially changing the system, as I am in it. Yes, I might not be able to know how particular they change it, but that doesn’t lead me to they don’t do it, either.

    • Augusto Cuginotti
      Augusto Cuginotti says:

      Hello Silvia, thank you for your comment.

      It makes a lot of sense that society, as any social system, changes constantly and that our actions are part of that change. However, in this hypothesis, the point is that our actions themselves don’t change anything, they are rather a response to change.

  3. Augusto Cuginotti
    Augusto Cuginotti says:

    This is a reply to the post:
    http://ideastoinnovate.wordpress.com/2013/02/21/we-must-change-ourselves-to-change-society-after-all/

    Lovely to read your reactions. We’ll certainly have a coffee (or two) over this.

    Some comments on your words:

    I’d defend that there’s no reactive communication, not only the arts, literature, etc, but none at all. They are all re-creations, but indeed a response to another and never a creative subjective spark.

    Maturana’s “how we do what we do” is useless while we’re doing it – there’s no observer of society’s doing outside society.

    I do believe in creativity (specially from engineers!) , but it’s convincing the idea of all being a creative remix.

    All well, but we surely disagree on the meditation/theory U. Consciousness is just another system of communications and we can never step out of it alone, only in relation. Meditation is the art of paying attention, but only brings up what we’ve already carrying.

    We can only change ourselves through others.

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