Friday, August 7, 2020


487. Social and capitalist structure

Pierre Bourdieu (2018) made the distinction between two types of societal structure: A social one, which arises in less developed. countries, and a capitalist structure in developed countries.In the first, social positions of authority,prestige, leadership, delegation, public service are not institutionalised but have to be earned and constantly maintained with gifts, attention, favours.or intimidation and violence. Crucially, it is not so much a matter of quid pro.quo between individuals, but. social. acceptance and sanction.Sometimes these relations are romanticised. Underneath the apparently humane reciprocation of gifts and values of community there are more or less hypocritically hidden economic interests and dependencies  The power may appear soft.but it is there.

In developed capitalist societies by contrast, social position is documented and established once and for all, by legal ownership, legally or politically backed appointments, educational and professional diplomas and associations It all began with writing, settling issues without the ambiguities and impermanence and forgetfulness of the spoken word.

The development made for a great increase of efficiency, in not having to continually maintain, service the position, and achieving clarity and stabiliy of position and assignment of roles and. judgement.of validity. It is not a matter only off efficiency in the sense of lower costs, but also access to relations outside the clan or tribe, which greatly inceases the variety of contacts and sources of new.ideas, of novel combinations for innovation and learning.

However, it entails a loss of social contact and the intrinsic social value of relations, in ongoing give and take. It is a matter of transactions rather than relations.Also, contracts can never be complete, and unfamiliar situations can arise by surprise, and though giving stability. and continuity, institutional fixtures can be cicumvented and changed.

In particular, as I have argued in several places, also in this blog, especially relations of collaboration for innovation suffer from a paradox. On the one hand the uncertainty of innovation yields a desure for security, but on the other hand there needs to be room for exploration beyond the current order.

This requires reversion, to some extent, to social deliberation,to not purely economic relations of give and take, in ‘voice’, and the exercise of trust. There, the social is again at play, in the giving of gifts without guaranteed commensurate return, and the collective, in the operation of reputation next to bilateral agreements.and formal authority (Nooteboom, 2002). This is a difficult switch back to social skills, which many, especially economists, find difficult to accept and muster, due to the ‘inefficiency’ and ambiguity of social dynamics.

References:
Bourdieu, Pierre (2018), Outline of a theory of practice, Cambridge University Press.
Nooteboon, Bart, (2002), Trust: forms, foundations, functions, failures and figures. Cheltenham UK: Edward Elgar.


Saturday, August 1, 2020


486. Discovery and Yin/Yang

Previously, I presented a ‘cycle of discovery’: a cyclical process of the development of intelligence and cognition. Here, the question is whether that cycle is on the level of the individual, or on the level of the organisation, or both. Originally, it was a model for the individual development of inyelligence inspired by the work of the developmental psychologist Jean Piaget The arguments and evidence are discussed in Flavell (1963). The reasoning is largely qualitative, as it usually is in a process theory, because process is difficult to measure. It was mainly oriented at the development of intelligence in children, in different stages.

I developed and applied it on the level of the organisation. Here again, the evidence was casuistic, concerning the internationalisation of business firms. A central feature of the process is ‘generalisation’, which, in evolutionary terms, serves to subject a given idea, practice or product to a new ‘selection environment’, where it is subjected to unfamiliar challenges to its survival. For a firm, this can be export to a new market, with new demands and competitors. For science, it can be a new field of application. This forces adaptations to the product. First, as the easiest change, this can be a modification of the composition of familiar elements, in ‘assimilation’. When that does not work, one adopts elements from local practices that succeed where one’s own  does not, in what is called ‘reciprocation’, in hybrids of familiar and new elements. This often yields inefficiencies, complications, duplications and bottlenecks or inconsistencies that need to be circumvented in ‘workarounds’ which crea tan incentive for a new structure of the whole, in ‘accommodation’. This stage gives the opportunity to find out where the ‘real strength’ of new and old elements and design prrinciples lies, and hints of in what direction one might do things differently. This then leads to trials with new designs that may yield something more radically ‘architecturally’ new. In the beginning that is still hesitant and tentative, with the trial of alternative forms, to settle in a new ‘dominant design’. Then we are back at the beginning of the cycle.

On both the individual and the organisational level, learning is here seen as an alternation of ‘assimilation’, absorbtion of perceptions in existing mind frames, and in the process, when that fails, ‘accommodation’ of the framework. This is consistent with the idea, of Thomas Kuhn in the philosophy of science, and the economic principle, that one does not surrender something until the weight of anomalies becomes ‘excessive’. It is also consistent with the principle of ‘allopatric speciation’ in evolutionary theory, that a novel ‘species’ develops in a new ‘selection environment’. It is also reminiscent of the idea from the philosopher Hegel, that one learns by one’s failure.

Initially, the move to a new market was intended to escape from the saturation of a home market, to find new sales in an export market, but later it is used as a deliberate innovation strategy. This was confirmed in a conversation with a former CEO of Shell. This recognition is important, because the adaptation to a new market disturbs the economies of scale of familiar practice, and the home office of the multinational may block that, until the procedure is recognised as an innovation strategy.  

The point I now want to make is that this procedure has similarities to the ancient cycle of ‘Yin and Yang’ from Taoism. That also is circular, with an alternation of the two priciples of Yin and Yang. The ‘feminine’ principle of Yin is associated with softness and darkness, the defensive, yielding to the present order, and the second, ‘male’ principle of ‘Yang’ is associated with hardness and light, the aggressive, enterprising. In the cycle of discovery we find the subjection to the novel order, in the new environment, in assimilation, and the action of renewal, in acommodation to a new order. Can we legitimately compare assimilation to Yin, and accommodation to Yang? I intend to investigate that further, in a study of the ‘I Ching’, the ‘book of changes’, in which Yin and Yang are developed and applied.

Flavell, J.H., The developpmental psychology of Jean Piaget, 1963, Van Nostrand

Friday, July 24, 2020


485. Restorative justice

Restorative justice (RJ) is contrasted with criminal justice (CJ), in that while CJ is oriented mostly towards protection of society, in incarceration, and retribution, RJ is oriented at rehabilitation of the perpetrator, reitroduction into society, and repair, restoration on the part of the victim. The focus of RJ is not to respond to harm with harm. Since offenses are often embedded in communities, RJ can also help to restore community relations, and there may be other participants in the process than offender and victim. The cause of offense often lies in  faulty community relations, and the community can benefit from a good restoration.   

RJ is said to hark back to the times before court justice, and still prevails in indigenous societies. That, however, is a bit of a myth (Daly 2001). It is, however, indeed less a matter between offender and the state than between offender and victim. Offender and victim sorted things out by themselves, or with a mediator, rather than, or complementary to, the crime being judged in a court of law. That is an important feature of RJ: discussion between offender and victim, mostly under the guidance of a mediator. However, some confrontation between offender and victim is already part of the common practice of CJ, although not in the form of discussion between them but merely visual contact and a contribution or response to judgement by the victim. Present CJ also is oriented at re-introduction of  the offender to society.

The meeting between offender, victim and community has no fixed scenario. It varies with the case and personal conditions. A key feature of a meeting is that it is voluntary. That requires some trust. If the penalty for the offender has been established before a meeting, this may promote the trust that is needed. Involvement of a community may take the form of a conference. Not all communities are equally able to do this. Punishment may take the form of community services. 

RJ by itself may not eliminate all possible power distance between offender and victim. A mediator may control this, but the scrutiny and intervention of a judge may be needed.  

The aim is for the offender to understand the harm inflicted, and his motivation for it, and to develop empathy and gain the insight and motivation to better himself, facilitating rehabilitation. The aim for the victim is to mend the damage, not just material but psychological, reducing stress, soothe any impulse at violent revenge, and perhaps achieve forgiveness.

The advantages of RJ are primarily psychological, but there are also obvious economic and societal advantages of RJ: fewer expensive court sessions, less delay, hopefully less recidivism (repeat offending), and lower costs of prisons. However, it does involve cost in the form of time of offenders, victims and mediators, training, oversight to prevent power imbalances and unjust outcomes. However, the benefit of RJ is not so much extrinsic, in achieving such goals, but intrinsic, in improving the quality of the relationship and of society.

The empirical evidence is mixed. It works differently for different people. Overall, recidivism declines, more for crimes with personal harm than for property crimes, and Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSS) has declined, according to a survey study by Sherman & Stang (2007) that compares many cases of RJ and CJ.    

Daly (2001) conducted a study of 170 young offenders in 1998 and 1999, and reports that young offenders are more prone to promote their rehabilitation than restauration of the victim.

She also found that establishment of guilt is necessary to set the communication between offender and victim going, and that may include the judgement of a judge, unless the offender admits to the offense. Offender responsibility has to be established dispassionately. ‘Censure and reparation need to occur before the offender can re-integrate’. This indicates that RJ and CJ are often combined. RJ does not replace CJ. It is also used in preparation of a court session, or in following up on its judgement. 

References:
Kathleen Daly, 2001, Restaurative Justice: The true story, paper presented to the Scottish Criminality Conference.
Lawrence W. Sherman & Heather Strang, 2007, Restaurative Justice: the evidence, Esmée Fairburn Foundation.
The British Home Office,1999, Restorative justice: An overview


Saturday, July 18, 2020


484. egalitarianism, diversity and connectedness

Here I return to the discussion of entropy and its applications. The existing model of entropy is incomplete. It takes into account the number of units in a system and their ‘evenness’, equality of probability of ocurrence. The larger either is, the greater the entropy. In the application to systems of people I generalised the evenness into equality of inclusion, legitimacy, access to resources (jobs, housing), or egalitarianism.

A society can be evaluated according to the extent of egalitarianism, but also diversity in ideas and initiative, and their expression. Diversity is needed for the liveliness and dynamism of society, with enterprise and markets. Expression, communication, requires connectedness.  That is missing, and needs to be included, in the model of entropy. It is not yet clear how to do that. My intuition is that in some cases, such as organisations, maximum connectedness is not ideal. It seems that there are diminishing returns to scale: beyond some intermediate level, more connections just adds to the communicative ‘noise’ that distracts. In society, however, maximum connectedness, with everyone able to communicate with everyone, is ideal.

The ideal society offers egalitarianism, of rights, access, legitimacy, admission. Lack of exclusion, in combination with diversity of ideas and their dissemination, and connectedness. The Soviet Union offered equality of posession, access, and rights, formally at least, but suppressed diversity of ideas and their disseminastion.

In Western countries, after the second world war, a viable and reasonaby egalitarian society was combined with a good variety of ideas and their dissemination. That started to break down after around 1979, with the conservative revolution of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, and the breakdown of the Soviet Union. Some restoration of the variety of ideas and initiatives, in entrepreneurship, was needed, but it overshot in the dominance of concentrated capital and rampant markets, in concentration of wealth and power, losing the egalitarian order.   

Now dissemination of ideas breaks down due to people isolating themselves in forts of identity and shooting off extreme, intolerant messages on social media. Finite lives get crammed full with possessions, entertainment, and travel experiences that crowd out contact with mutual influence, or ‘resonance’ as the German philosopher Hartmut Rosa called it. This a cultural feature that I am at a loss to turn around, while it leads to a fragmentation that destroys society.

I can see increasing opposition to inequality, though to regain sufficient egalitarianism, this will require less materialistic hedonism and egoism. This will also be needed to turn around the emergence of ecological disaster. Variety of ideas has an intrinsic strength that will make it survive. A disaster may be needed to bring people more together again.


Saturday, July 11, 2020


483. Guilt and shame

There is a well-known but often neglected distinction between guilt and shame. Guilt is a matter of being responsible for some harm, that generates censure, and requires admission and acceptance of reasonable  punishment. Shame is a state of mind of feeling bad but hiding, not admitting it, and seeking excuses. This is psychologically corrosive, and may result in finding oneself bad, punishing oneself. Doing bad does not by itself mean being bad. People can do bad in many ways , by accident or by intent, under pressure or coercion, or in solidarity with others. It is part of Aristotelian practical wisdom, phronesis, to take such conditions into account in assigning guilt and meting out punishment. The spiritual corrosion of shame is often to be avoided.  ‘restorative justice’ is aimed, among other things, at making guilt, admission and punishment ‘restorative’, for the perpetrator to come to terms with himself and learn to change course in his life.  

One of the challenges of raising children is to teach them to accept guilt and take responsibility for it, and accept punishment, when doing bad, without thereby falling into an ongoing state of shame, feeling condemned as a bad person. Parents should avoid the condemnation of ‘shame on you’. After admission of guilt and punishment one can go on, start anew. With shame one is deprived of that.   

Martha Nussbaum, in her book ‘Upheavals of thought’[i], showed that the function of confession, in the Catholic church, is to acknowledge guilt and punishment while being saved from shame, in a condemnation of being bad.

Now, to avoid the suffering of shame, rather than confessing guilt, people often deny the guilt, or come up with excuses to disarm it:  the situation required the action, the action is not really that bad, other people do worse, ‘I was merely doing what the boss told me’ (‘Befehl ist Befehl’).

When can one call someone ‘shameless? It can mean that in one’s opinion the other is guilty and is not only unwilling to admit it, but denies it.

But saying that one feels ashamed can also be a foil to avoid punishment: ‘I said I felt ashamed, didn’t I?’ There, one does not really feel bad but pretends shame. That might be an occasion to say to that person ‘You are shameless’.

How about someone who commits suicide while leaving behind adolescent children and a pregnant girlfriend. Can we call that guilt? We cannot judge what overpowering distress that person had to endure. But is would be dubious if that person had not also suffered from doubt and self-recrimination in being impelled to his act. He would need a friend to own up and dodge shame to go on and learn.


[i] Martha Nussbaum, 2003, Upheavals of thought, Cambridge University Press,

Saturday, July 4, 2020


482. Entropy and organisational focus

In the previous item in this blog I discussed entropy. Here I apply it to the notion of organisational focus. First, let me present a puzzle.

Nature and society are full of so-called ‘complex adaptive systems’(CAS). Such a system consists of subsystems that come together (‘complexity’) and produce new functions, often spontaneously, in self-organisation.  Neutrons, protons and electrons together produce atoms, atoms come together in molecules, molecules in organs, organs in bodies, bees in a colony, people in organisations, people and institutions in nations, nations in supranational entities like the EU.

The puzzle is this. Producing complexity seems to add things and thereby increase entropy. But it also increases organization, which we associate with decreasing entropy. How can this be? The solution is that in coming together, the subsystems lose autonomy, are constrained to satisfy the coherence of the higher level system, and that loss of freedom of manoevering constitutes lower entropy.

I connect this with the notion of ‘organisational focus’ that I developed in research. To get things done, an organisation needs a certain focus, on shared ideas about what it does, what its product is, the technologies needed for producing it, the ways in which people treat each other, specialised jargon, organisational culture.

In other words, the focus is needed to not fall apart, to have a direction, in other words to keep the increase of entropy at bay. The focus is narrow when the organisation is directed at efficient production, which requires that people understand each other well, at limited ‘cognitive distance’.  The focus is wider when the organisation is oriented more at innovation, which requires larger cognitive distance to produce the ‘novel combinations’ of innovation. That initially increases entropy, with more mental states, perspectives, but when successful new combinations are made, with new things replacing old ones, entropy is decreased again.   

Thus, innovation can be seen as an alternation of rising and decreasing entropy, with the rising entropy creating more innovative opportunity in the form of diversity. A little chaos is needed to produce new organisation.

An alternative is to seek the variety for novel combinations outside, in collaboration between organisations, with different foci, in alliances. That, however, is difficult, with the risk of breakdown, in a conflict of interests and risk of misalignment and misunderstanding, with the break-up increasing disorganisation, entropy again.  To avoid that, the organisations may come together, in a shared focus, a new CAS, constraining the action space of the constituent organisations in a common order, reducing entropy.

A final comment. In the literature on freedom, a distinction is made between two forms of freedom: ‘negative’ freedom in the form of absence of outside constraint, and ‘positive’ freedom, in the access to resources. In the integration in a higher level system, the subsystems lose negative freedom, due to the restrictions imposed by integration, but gain positive freedom, in access to new functions.

Saturday, June 27, 2020


481. Entropy and knowledge

Entropy is the number of alternative compositions of components that a sytem with given properties can have. Think of a mechanism with different components, like a motor with its parts. The mathematical formula for entropy E of a system of n elements of probability pi is E= -For a dice there are 6 possible oucomes, and its entropy is log6, which is also the extent of information one has when one of the compositions materializes. For a system of 2 units of equal probability ½ , E = 1, called a bit. For a system of four elements of equal probabiliy, E = 2 or two bits. For a system with 8 elements of equal probability E=3, or three bits.

The second law of thermodynamics says that the entropy of a closed system can only increase, such as in the cooling off of a container of hot water in a cool environment. An organism can only survive and stay alive when it is not a closed system, combating the process of increasing entropy by taking in energy in the form of food. Increasing entropy has also been seen as loss of order, as when a body decays when no longer being fed.

Another item to be looked at is the number of direct connections between components, which is a measure of possible combinations C, and thereby of the potential for novelty by interaction, which is n(n-1)/2. The derivative, a measure of its increase, is n-1/2, beyond the minimum of n=2 is greater than the increase of entropy logn, whose derivative is 1/n. Thus, innovation potential increases faster than entropy, the loss of order. Chaos gives opportunities.

Perhaps this is a way to look at the difference between democracy and authoritarianism.In the latter order is greater, but opportunities for renewal are smaller. The price for the order is more rigidity.

In law, case law  has greater entropy than jurisdiction based on legal codes, but also yields greater inventiveness.

However, perhaps the model should be further refined. In other research, reported elsewhere in this blog, I proposed ‘optimal cognitive distance’. Higher cognitive distance increases misunderstanding, but at the same time increases the potential for innovative ‘novel combinations’. The conclusion is that for innovation one should seek an ‘optimal’ distance: large enough to yield innovative potential, but no too large to realise it, due to lack of understanding. Productive outcome is a quadratic, inverse-u shaped function of distance at a certain intermediate ‘optimal’ distance with the highest production.  

If we take this into account, an increased number of potential combinations at too high a distance, in a society diversity is productive, but in a fragmented society of people thinking differently too much, innovative potential does not increase, and democracy will not realise its potential.