Systems, revisited


It seems to be a fact of modern life that people complain. They complain about the weather and each other, mostly, one which can’t be helped at all and the other one… well, I will not get into the inter-personal stuff right now. But there is something else that people complain about, and that sometimes can be missed because it is rarely put clearly. I am talking, of course, of systems.

For once the word is Greek in origin – those are interesting, really, their history even more complicated than the Latin words. The combination of words that leads to system is “with “ and “set up” which tends to describe the rules that stand at the bottom of any system worth its salt. And therein you shall find the reasons for the complaints.

Let me explain 🙂

Last time I wrote about systems I was tired and only mentioned the linear sequences that a system is based on – yep, those are the rules of the game. But, as any student before the exam will tell you, it is the feedback mechanism that makes a system operate properly, otherwise you have a simple calculator. The rules give it strength, the feedback gives it flexibility. That’s the theory, anyway.

The glitch, as I see it, is that systems are set up by people. Yep, the same people who thought you could identify a criminal by his facial features. The same people who thought only birds could fly. The same people who saw a ship appearing on the horizon mast first and still thought the Earth was flat. In short, imperfect, bound already by whatever rules their culture set up as laws. The big systems like the Universe, Earth, Life already have rules (gravity, anybody?) and sometimes even systems (oh, look how many aphids, said the ladybirds and their population exploded) but those are difficult to break and even destabilize. And they are too big, so people have made up smaller systems, trying to account for consequences, and yet those come mostly as surprises due to people’s strange idea that their concepts take precedence over everything, including the big systems. Take communism, for example, ignoring competition. Or take capitalism, for example, ignoring community.

But I digress.

One would think that we could give a nice big computer the task of setting up the systems, so that we can be sure we cover more unintended consequences that imperfect people could ever conceive. But that would just take a rectifiable error and compound it until it is enshrined in law.

You see, people talk about rules and set up incentives and deterrents around them to award or punish the obedience or rebellion. But just like systems, rules are made by people FOR the people, they have to SERVE the people, not just bind them. That is the role of the feedback system, and that is where most systems fail, begetting complaints from the people who trip and fall instead of being helped. Rules are lovely, feedback helps them stay that way, instead of just empty relics.

People’s systems are, by their nature, limited and imperfect, like their creators. And yet they are better, for those people, than anything that comes in second place. We just need to remember that feedback – the flexibility is just as important as the strength.




Not surprisingly, it comes from Latin. Also not surprisingly, it is related to expectation and hope and prediction. Surprisingly though, originally it referred to action, not passive waiting. I like this kind of words 🙂

I was considering today the difference between expectation (discussed on this blog in another article) and anticipation. The difference, I think, is at the above-mentioned action level. Expectations are sometimes inspirational, sometimes a pain in the neck, but they are concepts and ideas only, and as such they can hurt you more as it’s difficult to neutralize them. Anticipation, on the other hand, is very active, very specific and a lot easier to use than expectation. Let me explain by using at least two examples (what we would consider a positive and a negative one).

Stage fright is the most common example of negative anticipation. We worry ourselves sick, of course, if we are normal (people being in front of a group of others who are not their kin, that they can’t see well and who are not smiling in welcome – and we’re supposed to enjoy it? Ludicrous!). In other words, we have expectations of how we need to perform, then we anticipate us stumbling, forgetting the words etc. Those scenarios drive us to distraction, but more than that, unless we find a way to limit them (rituals, mindfulness, repetition…) they will come true.

That leads me to the positive anticipation, like that used by professional athletes and others for ages! Visualizing yourself winning the race, or even just running, has clear effects on the body and the mind. It is obvious we can use it in so many situations. And if sometimes that feels like cheating, just remember that negative visualization is cheating as well! That is, of course, a knee-jerk response. The way I prefer to say it is that we are thinking the future into existence, and we might as well make it a good one if we’re going to so much trouble 🙂

That leaves me to cover the most common type of anticipation, which is mostly both negative and positive. I refer, of course, to desire. Please feel free to read as much as you wish about it, to describe it as best you can, to try to reign it in as much as your belief urges you to. There are few things in this life that will move humans to greater action faster than desire. It can make us go through the entire gamut of emotions a human being can experience, including some that by rights should not even exist – sick with joy, anybody?

The feeling of rising out of the initial darkness, the escape from routine, the longing for meaning, all of them are encompassed. We truly do not know how strong we are until we deal with this particular type of anticipation. We also do not realize how complicated our lives are and how many obstacles humans create for themselves until we experience desire.

Now the question remains: should we give in to desire? And what about love? Where does love fit in with it?