Social System Stability


Social system stability has two components.

  1. Characteristics of the members, attitudes and opinions
  2. Alignment with natural laws, control theory in particular


If copasetic with natural law, organizational stability depends on the psychological states of its membership. The general population is socialized to believe that social system stability is 100% leadership-personality-driven. People don’t consider that attempts to defy control theory end in immediate collapse of social viability. The truth of the stability factor is that control theory sets the limits of stable operations using variables that have no direct linkage to individual characteristics at all. Control theory is an equal indifference employer.

Social stability depends on a handful of variables being within limits, depending upon the values of the other key variables. Every social system dynamic has an exact counterpart in industrial process control. Both are GIGO-disturbed systems. The significant variables include:

  • Gain
  • Feedback Lags
  • Connectance
  • Quality of control data (good, suspect, bad)
  • Desynchronization of multiple feedback circuits
  • Sneak circuits
  • Unforeseen disturbances

Practical application

History shows that people will live with an abusive regime without complaint as long as it is stable. Each member figures suffering the consequences of dysfunction is better than social chaos. If a society is unstable, for any reason, all cooperation stops in its tracks. For one example, M&A invariably destabilizes both organizations. All work stops with the M&A announcement. Unsurprisingly, over 90% of M&A ventures begin and end in failure. Yet this common performance in no way deters the potentates from throwing their subjects under the M&A bus at the next opportunity to line their pockets. With Nature in charge of social behavior stability, it was entirely appropriate for the distinguished professor of control engineering Rudolf Starkermann to use his expertise to study social behavior. He started work using control theory to understand social behavior dynamics in the 1950s and we joined him in 1986. There is nothing in human social behavior at any scale that does not have a live, running parallel in industrial control. As  Starkermann worked with Brown Boveri in factories all over the world, he was well aware of the correspondence.

Social science has measured that fear is the essential lubricant of authoritarians. Accordingly, all tall hierarchies are fear-driven. Although there are many sorts of fears, the paramount fear of the members of a society is instability of their organization. In a mob, prince and pauper have equal social status.

Control theory is a natural law, mathematical physics (Maxwell 1868). Since its mathematics involves matrix calculus, feedback and endless iteration fractal-like, no algebra, most college students avoid taking the subject. As systems become more complex, different branches of control theory come into play. As complexity and multiplicity rise, central control must give way to distributed control. For controlling networks, simple bang/bang hindsight control must give way to preemptive control where regulating action is based on predicting the future. Like mobs, some processes cannot be controlled at all.

The control system itself can cause system instability. If lags are not coordinated or excessive control force is applied (Gain), the control system will go unstable no matter how well system pieces and parts are working. Few autonomous network instabilities are as yet predictable. Why do all the clocks in a mechanical clock shop automatically tick in synch by themselves? Magic?

All ecosystems are under strict control theory regulation. Some parts can act up without making the system unstable. Some parts can fail and take down the whole ecology. The edges of social instability are usually very sharp. Graceful degradation to instability is the exception and not the rule. There is seldom time to patch the dike.

Sisyphus taking control theory up the mountain, again, By Rob Schouten

History recorded many scenarios when a society destabilized. Everything productivity-wise stops in its tracks. With potentate failure on parade, no one knows who’s “in charge.” With no stable herd sanctuary for security, all members immediately flip into panic mode. Mob behavior is often changing by the hour. Those you looked up to for orders are all frothing at the mouth. The playing field of authority has been pulverized and it is disoriented.

When in danger, when in doubt.

Run in circles, scream and shout.

All attempts to defy control theory end badly in system destabilization and you don’t have long to wait before the coup de grace is administered. The chances that you can successfully stabilize a large unruly social system without knowing about control theory are zero. That is why predicting social behavior requires a proving ground built out of dynamic simulations running on control theory mathematics (Ashby).

Sooner or later, reality forces you to use intelligence amplification to control for stability. The human brain cannot possibly handle the computational load. The restriction has nothing to do with personality or genius. There are no risk-free short cuts. The Three Mile Island nuclear event was triggered exactly because of false assumptions for making control short cuts. Chernobyl was another control system failure but by allowing manual override.

It is rational to review all the possibilities for system instability and their ugly historical examples and conclude a stable Plan B is impossible. The truth of the matter is that Plan B was first transmuted from Plan A by heavy use of control theory from the start. Plan B viability is maintained by active improvements using control theory. Plan B is stable because of control theory. Because of positive reciprocity, Plan B is impervious to outside attempts at destabilization.

The fact that the population avoids knowing about control theory does nothing to diminish its paramount role in system stability. Navigating without alignment to control theory is the borrowing of trouble for everyone. What doesn’t work for industry doesn’t work for social system stability.

Heavy elaboration on the theme of social status stability is on this website.

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