当前位置: 首页 » 大师研究» 卢曼 » Provost Jr.:CONTINGENCY AND COMPLEXITY IN THE SOCIAL THEORY OF NIKLAS LUHMANN 
大师研究导航
哈贝马斯
韦伯
马克思
卢曼
萨维尼
罗尔斯
卢梭
德沃金
柏拉图
波斯纳
拉德布鲁赫
康德
凯尔森
庞德
卢埃林
哈特
边沁
亚里斯多德
霍布斯
卡多佐
诺奇克
富勒
哈耶克
穆勒
奥斯丁
尼采
耶林
黑格尔
休谟
霍姆斯
马基雅维里
洛克
阿奎纳
福柯
狄骥
布迪厄
施特劳斯
施密特
拉兹
萨默斯
阿列克西
弗兰克
布莱克斯通
菲尼斯
昂格尔
托克维尔
吉登斯
丹宁
戴雪
兰代尔
梅特兰
柯克
福柯

Provost Jr.:CONTINGENCY AND COMPLEXITY IN THE SOCIAL THEORY OF NIKLAS LUHMANN 

添加时间:2005-06-20 12:25    浏览次数: 5077 次

CONTINGENCY AND COMPLEXITY IN THE SOCIAL THEORY OF NIKLAS LUHMANN
BY


Wallace H. Provost Jr.


INTRODUCTION
Out of sociologist Niklas Luhmann''s approach toward social theory we can extract two extremely important concepts, contingency, and self reflexivity. From these we can suggest a theory of development and change in social structures which is unique to the level of complexity where social activities are found. This theory depicts the emergence and development of a self-reflexive contingent structure as a threshold condition which produces a set of properties not available to systems of lower complexity and which increases the variety available to the system through structural reformulation in the face of environmental change. This structure can be shown to be an emergent property of the interactions of human beings with the capability of individual self-reflection. These individuals, unwittingly or not. are its architects and therefore are those ultimately responsible for its success or failure. Any criticism of Niklas Luhmann''s work must begin with two major sources of confusion in his explanations. To begin with, he has provided a view of social theory from the perspective of contemporary systems theory which highlights a large number of social mechanisms that tend to be overlooked in the more traditional approaches but without considerable background in the systems sciences some of the most important of his insights lie hidden behind a confusing array of redundancies inherent in the information theoretic approach to complexity. The second is his functionalism, which he fails too often to rise above


Considering first, Luhmann''s version of complexity, as it was influenced by Ashby''s theory of "Requisite Variety," it is probably best demonstrated by Herbert Simon in his parable of the ant on the beach in Sciences of the Artificial. In this sense Luhmann''s use of the term complexity is essentially the same as the use of the term "Variety" in Ashby''s article and is therefore the source of many of the ambiguities in Luhmann''s explanations. Modern systems theories, operations research, cybernetics, information theory, etc have been developed to solve problems in the control of directed, deterministic, man-made systems. The purport of Ashby''s law of requisite variety is simply that the variety in a controlling system must be at least as great as that in the system under control. Natural systems and this is particularly true for social systems are awash in a sea of excess variety. The question as to how they exist other than at the whim of their environment is not very readily apparent under mechanisms developed for simpler deterministic systems in particular, processes for reducing variety generally used to maintain control of cybernetic systems are not valid when the variety exceeds some minimal amount


Complexity, as seen by most system theorists and Luhmann is no exception, is an expression of the interconnections among the systems variety. The richer the pattern of interconnections, the higher the level of complexity. However, dealing with complexity on these terms, that is ignoring the properties that delineate complex interconnections from those of systems of simple variety, results in an approach which treats complexity and variety as essentially redundant terms.


Herbert Simon, in his parable of the ant maintained that the complexity evident in the trail of the ant is a complexity in the beach, that in fact the ant as a behaving system is quite simple. But, if we look at the beach, we do not see complexity, what we do see is a great amount of variety. For example, the ant comes upon a pebble he must go around. it might be that going clockwise is a better choice because it leads to a smoother path. However the ant cannot know this. His knowledge consists simply of an unerring sense of direction toward home. Thus he is not aware of any relationship that might exist between the route around the pebble and further impediments. His choice is not complex at all, it is a simple choice between two arbitrary directions. Of course there are interconnections between the various obstacles that lie on the beach between the ant and his destination, but these being beyond the scope of knowledge of the ant, are irrelevant to the problem of meaningful choice. If we want to learn how complexity plays an important role in this scenario we must have a different description; one that recognizes the unique patterns of interconnections that exist in complex systems.


We find this description of complexity in Simon''s parable of two watch- makers in The Architecture of Complexity which was published prior to The Sciences of the Artificial and, incidentally was reprinted as in addendum to the later work. This supplies the basis for clearing many of the ambiguities caused by Luhmann''s use of both "Complexity" and "Variety" in terms which portray them in redundant roles. The parable of the watchmakers presents a special hierarchical structure in which the elements of each level are systems in their own right which are interconnected such as to emerge into a higher level, which becomes one element in a level above that. This, then, though it is an extremely simple picture of a complex system, illustrates some of the properties inherent in complexity that make it an effective mechanism for the development of self-controlling systems under conditions of excess variety


The hierarchical structure which made Hora successful is a fundamental property of the universe and everything in it for the very same reasons evident in Hora''s business. That is, it is the most efficient way to organize any system above the simplest. But what is not quite as evident, is that hierarchical structure is a natural mechanism for increasing variety. There are many more possible compounds for example, than there are elements from which the compounds are derived. In the case of the beach the complex systems involved include those from the materials on the beach to the ecological system that ultimately determines their distribution.


In addition to increasing variety the hierarchical structure of complex systems allows individual levels of the system to interact as though they were simple systems The ant, for example, is a highly complex organism. But as Simon explains. seen as behaving organism wending its way across the beach it is quite simple. When we are considering the problem of finding his way home the ant can be considered as a machine with one predominant property, an instinct for knowing the direction to its nest. Each obstacle, then becomes a single isolated event, a simple choice between often arbitrary outcomes The property which allows us to consider the ant in this manner is what Simon called "near-decomposability," which simply means that each level of a complex system has a limited amount of autonomy and within those limits can be considered a simple system with only that variety faced by this level to contend with. Luhmann frequently used the term "reduction of complexity" in his works. If we see that the mechanism he is referring to is this property of complexity of reducing the amount of variety a system is forced to contend with through hierarchical structure, we can overcome the redundancy in Luhmann''s descriptions and at the same time open the door to more and deeper insights into social structure.


The second source of confusion in Luhmann''s descriptions lies in the functionalist fallacy, that is, that the nature of a system can be adequately described by its function. Either such a system is identified with its function in which case the description becomes a tautology or it has an existence apart horn its function, which the functionalist approach cannot recognize. Luhmann used the concept of self-thematization to explain the emergence of social structures. He described the concept in these words


Experiential processes that thematize the function of their own underlying premises require that their capacity for negation be turned inward. This means it can be directed not only toward environmental data but also toward premises internal to the system. Therefore what becomes immune to negation is the very possibility of self-negation since negating it would also presuppose it.



Implicit in this statement is that the system must exist prior to the process of thematization. But, the purpose of the statement is to describe the emergence of the system therefore it could not have existed prior to the thematization. One alternative is to reject the concept of self-thematization as an artifact of the functionalist systems approach. However, as a form of self-reflexivity that is peculiar to social systems, it is too important to cast aside simply for a lack of a clear and unambiguous description. Social systems do not self-thematize Only the individuals that make up a society have the capacity for self-reflection. Social systems do not have functions. They are simply tools which the individuals of the society apply to accomplish functions which they recognize as desirable. Processes do not experience, only people experience. Therefore, if the process that Luhmann calls self-thematization is as important as I maintain it is, then we must understand it in terms of the actions of people, not of the actions of social systems.


Each person is an independent actor and must make all his social judgments from the viewpoint of his own personal picture of his society and the world it exists in. Since he is in communication with many of his contemporaries he is aware of what has worked for others as well as for himself. He is also a product of his past and of the assumptions generally held by those he considers his family and peers. These elements make up the lowest level of the complex system we call society. Every person develops a model of the world around him in the mental processes of his brain and it is in this world that the individual interacts with the forces of reality even though he is experiencing them hi the real world outside. The outcome of these forces and the communication he has with those he identifies with combine to create a pattern which emerges as his vision of the social world he is immersed in. Included in this vision is a model of himself as an actor in the world outside, a model developed through self-reflection concerning the communications he receives from others about the nature of himself This model, whether accurate or not becomes the protagonist in a scenario which takes place within his inner model of the social world. In order to have a stable social life, each person requires a unified vision of the social world around him. Where such unity is lacking people tend to idealize, a matter of filling in the gaps with imaginative or ideological patterns.


Those group and social activities which enhance those aspects of that vision that are held by many of the members of the group emerge into stable activities. We must be careful however, to avoid the functionalist trap of giving this level the ability to move and to create its own change. The point is that the role of this level is one of constraint. The activities of the individual members of the society tend to be restricted to those which enhance the stability of common social visions. Change or movement can only occur among individuals, for it is within them that the dynamic forces originate.


These activities, however, are quite anarchistic. For example, different members of the same family, the same social club, or the same ethnic group will have quite different approaches to life in spite of the obvious similarities. Most individuals, too, belong to several different structures at the same social level. Thus one might be Polish, Catholic and a baseball fan, and another Irish, Catholic, and a football fan and yet be quite good friends because they work together, or have in the same neighborhoods and thus enjoy a number of common social visions. It is normal in this manner for a social system to contain more variety than would be possible with pure anarchy because each person in the course of a day may play a number of roles and it is because of the existence of social structures which emerge through this kind of self-thematization that others recognize those roles and interact with each other as role models rather than as individuals playing roles. Also, the creation of such clearly demarcated subsystems means that in the activities where these play a part, the variety in the environment that the members of the subsystem must contend with is less than if each individual were facing the world alone. It is obviously simpler, at least for many people, to face the unknown problems of the world as a member of an organized religion, for example, than it would be to attempt to answer every metaphysical question alone. In fact, to be an atheist more often than not means ignoring such questions, or assuming some simplistic solutions, which then puts them into another kind of religion.


Another way of putting this is to show that a social system is a mechanism the individual uses to control the variety he must contend with. For example, the existence of a viable legal system means that when an individual has a social problem that involves a transgression of his individual rights, he has a relatively clear set of rules to judge his reaction against. In fact there is a quite restricted set of problems that the legal system is organized to control and it can only be judged by how well it accomplishes that singular goal. This means that the system of jurisprudence, or the set of guide-lines by which the legal system is established and maintained is part of the legal system. However, it is a level higher than the legal system itself because it is made up of the idealizations of the rules that make up the system. Just as the legal system constrains the individuals who are involved in those activities it is developed to deal with, the system of justice constrains the kinds of rules the legal system is to accept as part of its repertoire. Now, this is what Luhmann calls self-thematization, the act by the system of choosing its own contours However, in this case it is people and not the system which determine the content of the system of justice which in turn does not constrain the legal system, it constrains the individuals who are responsible for making the laws.




THE DIFFERENTIATION OF SOCIETY


Luhmann explained that the theory of evolution provided a mechanism for overcoming problems of circularity in Durkheim''s theory of society by isolating motivations from the mechanisms of change.However, Luhmann''s explanation left some unanswered questions concerning just exactly how the theory of evolution accomplishes this isolation. For example, how does this theory explain the mechanisms which drive the individual actions of people so that they develop into a society?


To begin with, the major mechanism for Luhmann''s theory of society is differentiation. Social differentiation has normally been seen in teleological terms, particularly by Functionalists. By using a complex hierarchical approach to social structure we can visualize the kinds of social change which Luhmann brought out in a way that avoids that teleology. As a result, as Luhmann made explicit, one aspect of evolution which is critical to the development and change in complex systems is that it takes place only over a period of time. Also, in an extremely important break with the functionalist tradition, Luhmann not only recognized the role of chance in the evolution of social systems, he provided this unique description of the mechanism.


If we conceive of systems as open-systems-in-environments, structural changes have to presuppose non-coordinated events in systems and environments. Non-coordinated events are contingencies in themselves both with respect to their coincidence and their conjunctive causality. The contingent coincidence contingencies (and this is a plausible definition of chance) may lead to structural changes given the conditions stated by the theory of evolution.



Or course this represents a substantial, though necessary, change from the accepted Darwinian paradigm. The traditional mechanisms of evolution cannot account for structural change except as optimal modifications in response to environmental stress. In those terms change is adaptation, a logical, serial, series of events which mates the species and its niche into an optimum coexistence. In order that we might realize what kind of change Luhmann is mentioning, we need to examine two different kinds of serial change, a markov chain, and a random walk.


The traditional view of evolutionary change is much like a Markov chain. Each transformation is the logical outcome of an encounter between tile organism and its environment. Given a similar organism facing the same environmental forces the path will always remain identical. We can consider a Markov chain then, the generalization of serial rational change. A random walk, on the other hand represents a condition of non-rationality because the choice of outcomes is irrelevant to the rationality in the system. Each transformation can be represented by a machine the output state space of which is very large with a relatively even probability distribution. In this case the outcome of any single transformation is not predictable because the choice is ultimately determined by factors that are outside the system. The path of the ant on Simon''s beach, on the other hand, represents an example of both kinds of serial change operating in tandem. Any attempt to analyze the ant''s path in rational terms must end in frustration because once a system includes non-rational elements the rationality of the system becomes irrelevant.


Perhaps this will be clearer if we consider these simple points. Any transformation with an output state space greater than one and with an even (flat) probability distribution represents an element of non-rationality (This is quite different from a stochastic system where the probabilities fall into some form of a standard bell curve). This is true even though no matter which of the possible outcomes is chosen, that choice will be rationally determined. This is simply a property of flat probability distributions Returning to Luhmann''s description of the role that chance plays in structural change in evolution theory, if we have a number of parallel serial processes in communication and in the same temporal sequence then the prediction of the simultaneous occurrence of two states is impossible. It is a matter of a choice from among equally probable states by two different processes each of which includes some non-rational elements.


Ecologist Edward Kormondy brought out an interesting example of this kind of change which would defy the analysis by normal evolutionary rules. They were studying a particular species of aphids called top-feeding aphids because of their habit of feeding on the top of the leaves of certain bushes. There were no aphids known or encountered that fed on the bottoms of the leaves. During the process of the study a number of aphids were found going under the leaves. Several generations later they had evolved into a new species of bottom feeding aphids (a new species is determined by their biological incompatibility with the old population, that is they could no longer mate with the top feeders). Since was no shortage of leaves and no excess population, the only reason why these aphids went to the bottom of the leaves was that they happened to wander there and some of them evidently liked it so well they stayed. This could happen only because there was enough variety in the feeding habits of the aphids that some of them could not only be successful in this new niche but actually because they preferred it to the old one. No logical argument utilizing only the known habits of top feeding aphids could predict the emergence of this new species. Population biologists of course, are not surprised by this because they have long been acquainted with the many roles that variety plays in the evolution of communities such as these. It should be a short step, then to realizing the added variety possible in human society where in addition to environmental pressures and the variety of possible outcomes due to non-rationality, you have the element of free choice, or as Luhmann put it;


But environments do not consist exclusively of various other systems. They also contain (and this is extremely important) the chance to seek or avoid relations with other systems.



We can add also, the possibility of rational choice, but not the necessity. Thus the choice of seeking or avoiding relations with other systems will include those we have been discussing. It will also include choices forced upon us, or at least influenced, by the environment. Since social structure are the sets of stable relations that emerge out of the interactions that occur between the members of a social system, such structures will be determined both by the chance encounters of non-rational choices and by the inevitable encounter of rational outcomes.


In a completely rational evolutionary system, a Markov chain, the system will tend toward the condition which is optimum for the environment it senses around it. However, Social systems exist in a sea of excess variety. The only variety that they can be aware of is that which they are dealing with directly. We need to recall that through the mechanisms of complex organization the system is in communication with only a limited portion of the total variety in the environment. Thus, the external unsensed variety amounts to a pool of possible non-rational decisions which the people who make up the system must contend with in a future that includes decisions concerning difficulties they have never before experienced.


Thus, we have two sources of internal variety, arbitrary choices among equally probable possibilities and encounters between the outcomes of separate transformations occurring over a period of time to different members of the social system. These serve as a reservoir of possible reactions to unfamiliar environmental stimuli Successful stable patterns which emerge from the interaction of these processes with the variety encountered in the systems environment serve as the source of social differentiation Without the added variety obtained through chance and non-rational choice, individual members of the system would always react to their environment through mechanisms that would tend to maintain the original structure. In other worlds a Markov chain. And, since under some kinds of environmental pressure that structure might turn out not to be viable, such a restriction would be flirting with extinction.


From these underlying mechanisms of change we can describe how differentiation emerges and changes. Society is a complex system. The lowest levels are derived from the interactions between the individuals that make up the society and their independent worldviews. Each person is an independent actor and must make all his social judgments from the viewpoint of his own personal picture of his society and the world it exists in. Since he is in communication with many of his contemporaries he is aware of what has worked for others as well as for himself He is also a product of his past and of the assumptions generally held by those he considers his family and peers. Separate stable and autonomous patterns of interaction emerge which constrain those activities of the members which the individual associates with each particular social system. This stability is derived from the individuals sense of what is "correct", or what seems to work. It is strengthened by the simultaneous concurrence of a number of members of the society.`


System differentiation, Luhmann said, is "Replication, within a system, of the difference between a system and its environment." He explains that in differentiated systems, we can find two environments, the external environment common to all subsystems and the internal environment of each. Differentiation, then, is the replication of the interface between the system and its environment in each of the subsystems. Our complex systems approach sees each subsystem as a semi-autonomous whole in itself integrating not with the environment of the total system but with a selected portion of that environment including such other subsystems as are appropriate by abstracting out that part of the total environment that has a meaningful effect on the subsystem. It can accomplish this because the outer environment itself is complex and it too can be related to according to semi-autonomous levels of activity.


If this seems confusing it is because the mechanisms which can create and sustain the kind of relations these descriptions require for their fulfilment have never been articulated. The active element in this kind of complex relation is always the individual. Each person exists in a pragmatic world of his own creation. A world evolved in the cognitive mechanisms of his brain out of the serial immediate interactions with a real world that exists outside, a world he has a limited knowledge of. Each individual is in communication with a number of other individuals. In this pragmatic world conceptions about the outer world are developed in two ways. First from the direct serial interactions between the individual and the real world, and second from the impressions he gets of the world from those he is in communication with. The temporal effects for the two processes are quite different. The serial interactions take place in a chronological time. There is a continuity with important or startling events marking off identifiable dates. Communications with others on the other hand, tend to modify conceptions in a time that may not be relevant to the calendar. Changes of conceptions through serial interactions evolve slowly. In stable societies, or for that matter in the more stable portions of any society, many generations may pass before any noticeable change takes place Emergent change through the parallel interaction of interpersonal communication will often take place dramatically.



The Economy as a Social System
Send me your comments and criticisms
Return to Table of Contents

THE ECONOMY AS A SOCIAL SYSTEM


It is interesting that when Luhmann discussed the economy he assumed that his description of the emergence of social differentiation was a fait accompli, which it was not, and that a clear statement concerning the role of complexity in social differentiation had been made which had not. Thus, this statement with some clarification, fits into place only once we have developed such a clear description of differentiation and the role complexityys in it.


By complexity we mean the number of possibilities from which through experience and action, we can choose--either through structural reduction or through conscious decision making.



In this sense complexity is used as a kind of variety. As I have developed it, complexity is a mechanism for creating variety. The term structural reduction is confusing at best. However, using the term complexity as a special kind of hierarchical ordering the concept Luhmann calls structural reduction is essentially what Simon calls near decomposability, or the property of complex hierarchical order through which a single level in a complex system interacts with only a selected portion of the variety in its environment.


The problem of choice, however, cannot be described in terms of Simon''s description of complexity because it is a view from the inside out Robert Rosen has developed a picture of complex systems as they might be seen from the outside looking in. As he explained it, a system is Complex if we can interact with it at several different levels. When we analyze any complex system we use a set of measuring instruments. Different sets of instruments will give different partial descriptions of the system. The difference between the system as described by one set of instruments and as it exists in reality is called error. The descriptions given be different sets of measuring instruments are called relative descriptions. Because, as we have seen from Simon''s description, each level in a complex system has a certain amount of autonomy, it is not possible to obtain a complete description of a system by concantinating relative descriptions. However the error developed by a set of measuring instruments, also due to the same semi-autonomy, may not be significant for the purposes we have in mind. The average person, facing a sea of environmental variety, can apply a number of sets of social, political, and ideological instruments to his understanding of his environment and thus will develop a number of differing relative descriptions. This is the source of variety from which conscious choosing is made. As Luhmann put it, "Complexity in this sense increases with the functional differentiation of society and the separating out of different possibilities--in our case through external differentiation and functional specification of the economy." The concept of "contingency" takes on a special meaning in Luhmann''s description of economic systems. Among the mechanisms available to human beings for the development of relative descriptions of the environment is imagination. Through this, which is free to roam because of the contingency of the economic system, new and unique scenarios can be developed in the mind and criticized mentally. Luhmann noted that e economic system acquires new possibilities through different ways of combining means and end--especially by broadening the period of time over which the possibility of such combinations can be guaranteed. This leads to an increase in the selectivity of the decisions and in the awareness of their contingency. They are reviewed and compared as investments.



Positive Law and Ideology
Send me your comments and criticisms
Return to Table of Contents

POSITIVE LAW AND IDEOLOGY


One of the most important contributions Luhmann has made to the study of social systems has been in the sociology of law. His approach represents a substantial break with traditional theories of law and ideology. As he explained it, recent theories of law have tried to separate the subjective goals of the individual from the true basis for formulating laws and replace them with objective nonideological grounds.
In place or ethical theories of society that attempted to attribute to the agent goals and right action, there have arisen new theories that seek to show that the existence of society is independent of the "subjective" goals of individuals. In addition theories have been proposed that seek to explain causally the positing of goals, and thus to unmask them as ideological. The aim of this line of thought is to reduce the orientations of the individual agent to his economic interests or his "objective situation," and to explain law in a given society as a product of ideology."



Though this approach may sound reasonable, as Luhmann so aptly pointed out, "Even if particular causal dependencies can be established, with some degree of plausibility, between ideas and their material situation, the form of these dependencies (i.e, the statement of an invariable relation between particular causes and particular effects) is much too simple to do justice to the very complicated structure of modern societies." His approach, developed from general systems theory and cybernetics with some additional explanation illustrates some very significant examples of the kind of properties that are typical of social systems. To begin with, we need to clarify this statement concerning complexity.


By employing ideas worked out in the general theory of systems and in cybernetics, we can define social configurations in systems that, in an inordinately complex environment, hold constant a less Complex network of expectations and thereby are able to orient action.



As I explained above, through social differentiation, semi-autonomous sub-structures form, each of which serves as one element in a complex society. Through both their own semi-autonomy and that of those elements of the external complexity they are in contact with, each must deal with only a small part of the variety that exists in the environment. This is the equivalent to what Luhmann calls a reduction of complexity. Each such substructure exacts from the realm of all possible expectations a limited arbitrary selection and it is from among this limited selection that the individual will be constrained by the system to choose. The choice of arbitrary selections is not a blind groping. These substructures gain their stability by providing for the members of the society a common feeling of solidarity specifically because they are meaningfully related to each other. Luhmann put it in these terms;



Because of the way actions are meaningfully related to one another and reinforce one anothers selectivity, systems can be maintained as frame-works for orienting action, even though their own complexity is less than that of the environment. In social systems thus defined, positive law and ideology acquire the function of reducing the complexity of the system and its environment.



For Luhmann positive law and ideology are separate though related subsystems. Positive law refers to the legal decisions of the political system and ideology refers to the value structure of the society. It is important that we keep them separate, what is common to both lies not in their content, but in their form. He said, "Positive law and ideology resemble each other in that each naturally implies a characteristic distance toward itself." We can, avoid the functionalist reification by translating that statement into the concept that both positive law and ideology are structures recognized by the individuals in a society as semi-autonomous entities and can be reflected upon by those individuals as products of their own society which can be modified by them to serve the purposes they recognize as pertinent to the society. Luhmann then said, "positive law is made valid by decisions: a law of any content whatsoever can gain legitimate legal validity; and~the same decision that makes the law a valid one can also withdraw its validity." The foundation of law, then, instead of resting on an objective unchanging truth, rests instead on an assumption of contingency In other words positive law, being a subject of reflection by the members of the society must relate to the assumptions, including ideological assumptions, of the society where those assumptions are commonly held. "The stability and validity of the law," Luhmann explained, "no longer rests upon a higher and more stable order, but instead upon a principle of variation. It is the very alterability of law that is the foundation for its stability and its validity. Positive law is part of a complex social system and is thus constrained by the social and cultural norms of the society. But these too are contingent and it is because law is a subject of reflection by those who practice it and those who promulgate it, and because it is free to change, or rather be changed, that the members of the society have faith in its validity. Ideology, on the other hand, has to do with an evaluation of values As Luhmann defined it, "A value can be defined very generally as any point of view specifying which consequences of action are to be preferred to others." In this way an absolute value is a value without a function, thus are immediately discredited. A permanent set of values is not possible since there can be no intrinsic hierarchy of values. What is important is that the ordering of values must be opportunistic. "It must foresee the possibility of varying the order of values according to what actions are possible or urgent and according to how much the various values have been realized." To translate that into the actions of individuals rather than envisaging a system which thinks for itself, we begin with the concept that the people who follow an ideology and those on the outside who study or criticize it, are able to identify the ordering of values that are currently accepted. Just as with positive law ideology is a higher level system which constrains the activities of the people who follow it. At the same time they create it, thus reflection on the ideological system is a form of self reflection for the members of the society. it is through this reflexivity that the followers of an ideology identify with it and contribute to its development and change. Because it is a complex system, it contains a kind of circularity where the system is created by the members, constrains them and in turn is modified by them.


Threshold Change
Send me your comments and criticisms
Return to Table of Contents


THRESHOLD CHANGE


More of the insights of Niklas Luhmann could be discussed, but at this point we need to step back and look from a critical distance at what systems theory in general and complexity theory in particular highlight about social reality that other approaches might overlook. The principle we will examine in this instance is the concept of threshold level. When properties of a continuum change suddenly at a specific point along that continuum we call that a threshold change. Recent descriptions of threshold change include Herman Haken''s Synergetic Systems, Kenneth Wilson''s Renormalization Group Theory, and Rene Thom''s Catastrophe Theory. Each of these approaches demonstrates one way of describing how sudden and dramatic change can arise out of gradual development through the attainment of a threshold condition.
All three of these approaches begin with the assumption of a system that is far from equilibrium. This is what makes these systems so difficult to analyze in mathematical terms. Compared with the positive and negative feedback forces within the system, the second law of thermodynamics for example, is of minor importance at best. Robert Oldershaw has noted a unique characteristic of the universe itself. When structures in the universe are examined with respect to their rest mass or rest energy, they appear as a set of repetitive hierarchical patterns each displaying self-similarity with all of the others and each clearly demarcated. He described it in these terms:


The most important feature of the pattern is that there are special classes of objects that punctuate the sequence at widely spaced intervals: atomic, stellar, and galactic systems. The most distinguishing characteristic of these special objects is that their masses fall within relatively narrow limits.



This gives us a feeling of one kind of change that results from threshold conditions Considering a continuum from the mass of atomic particles to the mass of the universe, we find that each set of systems, as Oldershaw described them, is clumped around a small band of masses separated by a wider band where no physical object manifests itself. At the same time, his description of the hierarchical structure of the universe follows our description of complex systems in general


If the physical universe was not hierarchical, but rather was one-leveled or totally scale free then any partitioning of the universe would he completely arbitrary. However, the discreet hierarchical nature of the cosmos makes it "nearly decomposable," though nearly must be stressed. We can partition H into galactic, stellar, atomic, etc. but we must never forget that the system is a "part of the whole cloth," IE that no system has an absolute independence from the other systems of H. When we partition H so as to define a particular system, a galaxy for example, what we are implicitly doing is temporarily truncating H at a particular galactic level, identifying a specific system at that level and ignoring all of the higher level systems that encompass the galaxy. The galactic system can be defined as a galaxy which is primarily composed of stellar systems which in turn are composed primarily of atomic systems etc.



Now, if we return to the hierarchical nature of our complex systems which make up the objects on earth, the same kind of effect is noticeable. What we are particularly interested in here, though, is the nature of emergent threshold properties as we increase in levels of complexity rather than levels of mass. The lowest level of complexity, for example, would be where the interactions between elements of simple variety emerge through positive and negative feedback forces into stable patterns. These patterns then have properties that are not related to the properties of the variety that formed to make them up.


One threshold point where considerable research has been done is that level that demarcates living from non-living systems. A set of properties that emerge at this level are called "Hierarchical Control Programs." It is a characteristic of all complex systems that the variety in any level is constrained by the level above to include primarily those that compliment the higher level. In crystal formation, for example, the patterns of the constituent atoms are constrained to those patterns that result in the lowest energy levels. Hierarchical control programs, however, rather than being simply passive constraints, actually test the environment and then constrain the lower level system to optimize it for a specific role. For example, in the development of an organism, each cell plays a role that is specific its particular location within the organism. It accomplishes this because the hierarchical control program located in its genetic material tests its environment to determine exactly where within the organism the cell is located, then it turns on those mechanisms within the cell which are appropriate for the role that cell must play.


The advantage of a hierarchical control program is that it makes possible far more variety than simple complex hierarchies For example, the hierarchical control programs of spelling, syntax, and grammar make possible almost unlimited communication with only twenty six letters of the alphabet. What we are interested in, however, is the properties which emerge at the level of human social systems. Here there are some very striking differences as we have already noted. For one thing humans do not simply respond to outside forces. They are free to choose alternatives of action including alternatives which may not be the best choices from the view of the upper level (social) system. Self Reflexive systems or the social variant of Hierarchical control programs, are emergent properties of social interaction. Whether they act to optimize the social system or not depends on how the individual people who form the social system visualize the system because the forces that lead to the emergence and change are derived from the judgement people make of that view. This is what Luhmann calls reflexivity, or self-thematization, the reflection by the members of a social system on the structure of the system and the changes that occur in the system as a result of that reflection.


Let us consider, for a moment, the implications of this situation. A social system emerges from the patterns of interaction among individuals. This then tends to constrain those activities to those which are most amenable to the goals of the social system. However, individuals recognize these preferred activities only if they identify them with successful aspects of the system. On the other hand, when a cultures ideology determines that one choice will be made while at the same time members of the society see through reflection, that another choice is preferable, then strange incommensurabilities arise. A good example is occurring now(1984) in the Soviet Union. The state employs about 90 percent of the people and 97 to 99 per cent of the land in producing and distributing goods, yet villagers selling their foodstuffs grown on their own allocated family plots (which amounts to between 1 and 3 percent of the cultivated land in the country) produce and distribute over a third of the countries food. Because the dominance of one social system, the ideology, restricts the amount of variety allowed in the society, the Soviet Union is a net importer of food when it could easily become a net exporter.


Individuals are anarchistic to a great extent and have differing Ideas about what is to be considered successful. They apply different sets of criteria to the same systems. The more consistent the perceived goals of a system are to the various members the smaller will be the variety of activities that will be available for the system in its interaction with its environment. Now, considering that the nature of complexity is such that it restricts the amount of variety in the environment that a given system must encounter, then it should be obvious that there is a great deal of variety that the system might be forced to overcome that it is not aware of. Therefore, the greater the variety of activities within the system, the greater chance it has for ultimate survival.


While that may be true, if the assessments of the environment, and by implication the choice of activities, chosen by the membersf the system, are consistent, then there will be very little variety in the activities of the members. As long as the chosen sets of activities result in outcomes that the members identify with success then the system will grow stronger and the variety will decrease. This, however, often leads the system into real problems when environmental change forces it to encounter new and novel problems because there will not be sufficient variety, meaning there will not be included in the variety within the system a set of activities which can successfully confront new and unforseen events. The 1980''s drought in Africa, particularly in its early stages, illustrates this problem because many societies were faced with a rapidly changing environment without the knowledge within their cultural heritage needed to develop new methods that would be appropriate to their changed conditions.


This is the nature of social reflexivity. The ideal system would constrain the activities of the individuals to those which result in outcomes that are successful in terms the individuals recognize. At the same time it would allow enough variety that in the case of environmental change there would be available activities that could successfully overcome new and unexpected problems. This is a condition that does not happen with simple hierarchical control systems, it is only possible with self-reflexivity, or the ability of the individuals of a social system to reflect on and evaluate both their conception of the system and their role in it and to choose activities from among the available variety according to their own personal evaluation. It is a threshold property that does not occur until we reach that level of complexity which includes social systems. This means, for example, that ideologies or value structures are developed out of the interactions of the individuals who make up the society. Such members may reject that responsibility and thus be at the mercy of indiscriminate complex forces. They may build into their ideologies escape clauses such as Marx''s view of history, or Smith''s theory of an invisible hand, but ultimately, whether through action or inaction, they cannot evade that responsibility or they will reap the consequences of their action.


The failure of world powers in their attempts to force their own ideologies on third world countries is final proof of another property The imposition of outside concepts on an indigenous culture will essentially short-circuit self-reflexivity. Every successful social systern has developed from the ground up. The only individuals who can make it a success are those who make up the society. It is not that successful systems do not arise from the interference of outside powers, it is just that to the extent they are successful they reflect the underlying ideology of the indigenous people. The limited successes of the planned economies in Hungary and Yugoslavia were directly related to the infusion of local ideas while the problems in Poland and Afghanistan are essentially confrontations between external and internal ideologies


Secondly, only a society in which all of the people identify themselves as contributing members and are therefore willing to accept responsibility for the societies actions will have the necessary mechanism of self-reflection to enable them to develop into a fair and just society. Here lies the great advantage of a democratic society, to the extent that the members of a society believe that they have a meaningful impact on political processes and to that extent only will members of the society feel they are responsible for the impact of the societies laws. Finally, the long-range survivability of a society is directly related to the amount of variety in the form of anarchistically developed worldviews allowed by the society.


Summary
Send me your comments and criticisms
Return to Table of Contents


SUMMARY


We live in a contingent universe where the problems we face tomorrow may not be related to the problems of yesterday and last weeks answers may not solve this weeks dilemmas The view of complex social systems developed here out of the insights of Niklas Luhmann show us how "Complex Hierarchical Reflexivity," the special reflexive structure of social systems provides the answer to meeting the contingencies of life in a sea of excess variety. It also points out the dangers in social policies which limit variety or attempt to impose outside ideologies on indigenous cultures. Most important, however, is that it describes the role of self-reflexivity as the responsible action of the individual in society. In this rapidly changing contingent world every member of society must exercise his own critical faculties, must learn to live in what Joseph Agassi calls a "Continuing revolution." That means living with a conscious critical attitude toward the very structures upon which we depend for the stability of our world. The answers to tomorrows problems may very well be found in the deepest recesses of that variety we are willing to allow within our cultural heritage. The solutions to unexpected contingencies will only be found by searching in unfamiliar places



http://www.gongfa.com/lumanouzaihefuzaxing.htm

上一篇:Leydesdorff&nbs...      下一篇:Autopoietic&nbs...
发表评论 回到页顶
 
 
正来学堂版权所有 © 2009 沪ICP备042465号
地址:上海市杨浦区邯郸路220号光华楼东主楼28楼复旦大学社会科学高等研究院 邮编:200433
 E-mail:dengzhenglai@126.com