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Friday, May 16, 2014

Systemic Corruption and Dysfunction

Analogy to Disease an Introduction

If you've seen these arguments before, forgive me and skip to the next title.

I wash my dishes constantly. Part of it is to keep them looking pretty, but the main reason is to keep the crud down, and to keep the bacteria that live in that crud down. I understand and wonder at the amazing bacteria. Most of them are commensal or even beneficial and symbiotic. Bacteria do wonderful things, and even the cleanest (and most obsessive about cleanliness) person has a body colonized by bacteria. Maybe bubble children don't have bacteria on them, but everybody else does, and without them we get ill. Normally they are good citizens.

But when the immune system is compromised even symbiotic or commensal bacteria turn on their hosts. When folks started dying who'd spent their summers at Fire Island in New York's long Island, weird diseases showed up. Normally commensal innocuous viruses were causing major disease, pneumonias were killing young men that ordinarily kill old men. Weird cancers were appearing. The syndrome that eventually was diagnosed was Acquired Immune Syndrome, previously only seen in victims of radiation poisoning. The nearby Brookhaven plant was ruled out as a source of radiation poisoning and ultimately the Human immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) was identified as the culprit. When the immune system is compromised people get sick from things that normally wouldn't make them sick.

Perfect Little Randians

One of the diseases that can compromise the immune system is leukemia. When someone has leukemia some or all of the "cops" that keep us healthy get sick. For example in myeloma baby cells that eventually spawn platelets, blastocysts, and other cops of the body (including sometimes the red blood cells themselves) get ill and become defective little babies that will never grow up. The only thing they can do is to reproduce, find places to sit, and ultimately displace their healthy brothers and sisters. These sick little babies can't do their job and they ultimately kill their host. As with AIDS bacteria, virii, and other normally innocuous or even helpful citizens of our bodies turn on us. Leukemia kills by turning the "cops" in the body into criminals and then letting the criminals run loose. Leukemia's and cancers are analogous to purely self centered and selfish adolescents running wild and ignoring all rules and authority. They are perfect little Randians. They owe nothing to their fellow system members and they eventually kill it with their wild behavior.

Leukemias and similar are caused by biological dysfunction at the cellular level. Genes that enable cells to do their job are somehow disabled. Communications path ways that would allow the rest of the body to get control of their behavior are turned off. Ordinarily the body has signals that can order a sick cell to self destruct, that usually gets turned off. Organization wide dysfunction reflects dysfunction at the cell level in cancers and many immune system diseases. For any living system to function the cells need to be able to moderate each other's behavior. There has to be a functional body of instructions (gene code) that all live by. A poorly constituted cell sickens and dies. The larger organism dependent on that cell is threatened by the same disease that makes the cell sick. The chromosomes of our cells constitute our existence and provide rule of law for every system in our bodies. We live (and die) because of the wonder of our chromosomes.

There are all sorts of cancers and systemic diseases, and most of them can kill left untreated. Some of the most horrible ones occur in vital organs. Brain diseases prevent animals from being able to eat or interact with others. Nervous disorders wind up starving vital organs by misallocation. If our bodies work perfectly every part does it's role. If not we are at ill ease; disease.

A Functional Society

A living system is a system composed of living things constituted in such a way that they collectively behave in a symbiotic manner. We live in a living system composed of interlocked and symbiotic systems (often known as subsystems). Earth is alive and in a very real sense is a large scale organism on which everything alive on its surface is either commensal, symbiotic or harmful. Our nation is likewise a living system. Most living systems have functions and issues analogous to our own human bodies to one degree or another. The constitution of a society follows the dictates of form and functions necessary to create systems that moderate and channel people's passions and abilities into useful services and products. Our governments are composed of individuals who govern themselves by laws and rules that they themselves create. When those rules are functional the system can be said to be well constituted and behaves in a functional manner. When the rules are dysfunctional the result is analogous to a sick organism.

When any system is sick it is vulnerable. And when it is vulnerable ordinarily good members (citizens) of that system can turn into criminals. A sick government can turn ordinarily good people into criminals. A poorly constituted society has a poorly constituted government and that results in vulnerabilities which get exploited. The Gene code is complicated because it has instructions for manufacturing or acquiring everything the body needs to function and survive in this world. Similarly we create laws and governments to enable us to function and survive in this world individually and collectively. Collective, collaborative and social behavior are necessities for survival as individual organisms and as a human race. Doing away with any social order threatens the survival of the system and that threatens all of us.

A Well Constituted Society

We need a well constituted society that provides all the functions necessary for human beings to serve one another and to live commensally and symbiotically. If we think of society as an organism a lot of things become clear. We want police who do their job -- and only target disfunction. We want brains who serve society and don't arrogate resources to themselves. We want a functional transportation system so that vital organisms aren't starved of food, water and air. We want a good quality communication system where the brain receives feedback from all parts so that the body politic can respond to issues and devote the necessary resources or direct cops. We need fat cells (Wall Street) to store energy -- and then release it when the body needs it. Too much fat in hands of dysfunctional wealthy folks makes us sick. Dysfunctional cops can kill us. Parasites can make us ill whether they pose as fat cells or wander around junking corporations. All diseases have analogies in human activity. Regulation is designed to enable everyone to pursue his or her bliss, and to help them find their bliss so they can find a role in this system of ours.

When idiots come up with ideas that destroy this function, threaten it, or justify their own wild behavior at the expense of the common-wealth of the system, those idiots are behaving as disease organism. We need to constitute our society in such a way so that such folks are forced to be commensal or symbiotic and are not allowed to harm the system as a whole. Randian ideology denies the importance of the system of human affairs and so has to be fought so that the people embracing such ideology don't act like cancers on our politics.


If we think in terms of systems then we see why we need democratic forms to give feedback to our government. Why we need to differentiate our efforts so that each of us can concentrate on what we do best. And also why we need to have functional infrastructure and local governance within the scope of what folks do best. We also then learn that there is such a thing as negative feedback which can tamp down a response, and positive feedback which can open a response full throttle, and so we constitute our society with each kind of feedback loop where needed. Separation of powers is about creating feedback and feedback loops to enhance function -- not about deliberately gumming up the works except when positive feedback can be ruinous.

Anyway, for those of you who already think this way I'm preaching to the choir. For those of you who don't understand what I'm talking about, please do some reading on basic systems theory and notions like Gaia, etc...

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