Two sub-cultures are of particular importance in human affairs, most notably, in politics. These are the progressive and conservative sub-cultures. They are typically thought of as sub-cultures of a national culture but can also be part of any organisation from a small club to the whole of humanity. They can be organized or not. No society or organisation is entirely egalitarian, and there will be differences in the ability of people to satisfy their needs. Those whose needs are largely satisfied have a vested interest in a culture and will therefore resist change. This can include suppressing new knowledge or organisations that are perceived to be a threat to the status quo. Such people form a conservative sub-culture. However, those whose needs are not satisfied will seek change. They will be progressive. Examples of progressive sub-cultures are ethnic, womens’, or LGBT rights. Progressives usually have less power in a society and in some cases must operate underground. They can also be divided, ideologically, into different camps seeking different changes. So, their impact on a culture can be slow and difficult to achieve.
So long as the benefits of society are unequally distributed there will always be tensions between conservatives and progressives. Sub-cultures have a significant part to play in cultural evolution. If all benefit equally from a culture, then a progressive sub-culture is unlikely to arise and the main culture may therefore stagnate.
Humanity in general is almost certainly progressive. It is fundamental to human nature that we will embrace potential satisfiers and avoid contra-satisfiers. Some will co-operate with others to achieve this, others will engage in positive competition, and yet others in negative competition. Natural catastrophes aside, the direction that a society takes will depend on whether the effect of those who engage in co-operation or positive competition outweighs the effect of those who engage in negative competition. If so, then societies advance towards an ideal state in which the needs of all, including existence, relatedness, and growth, are satisfied and all social contra-satisfiers are eliminated. Unfortunately, however, progress to date has been erratic for the following reasons.
Firstly, there exist those who engage in negative competition for personal gain at the expense of others.
Secondly, the ideals that some progressives aim for may not be as ideal as they imagine. There is a tendency for people to suffer an optimism bias in which the positive consequences of a decision are emphasised, and the negative consequences downplayed or neglected. This is particularly the case when a proposal is being touted to others. In practice, a balance between conservatism and progressivism highlights the positives and negatives of each.
Thirdly however, the interests of progressive and conservative sub-cultures are often so opposed that they engage in negative competition.
Fourthly, cultural, ideological, and economic conformity can result in a society not knowing when an optimum has been reached, thus, resulting in an overshoot. For example, fear of missing out can create financial bubbles and “gold rushes” which ultimately collapse.
Fifthly, once progressives gain power and make their changes, they become the conservatives. New progressives are then needed, and the process of change begins once more.
Finally, unanticipated environmental contra-satisfiers, such as earthquakes, often have an impact.
Conservative and progressive sub-cultures will be explored in more detail when I discuss politics.
As mentioned in a previous article, an organisation is any group of people who work together with a common purpose. Every organisation has a culture comprising values, norms, beliefs, operational knowledge, and symbols.
In common parlance during the 1960’s, the word “sub-culture” was associated with rebellious, western, youth cultures. More recently, it has become associated with style-based cultures, predicated on fashions in music and clothing. However, these are merely the most overtly expressed sub-cultures. The more general definition used in this article is a group of individuals within a parent culture who, whilst largely subscribing to the latter, deviate from some of its norms, values, beliefs, and symbols in an identifiable way.
The parent culture can be that of an organisation of any scale, from a club, through a nation, to the global community. However, we most often tend to think of sub-cultures as being relative to national culture. The most significant national sub-cultures are political, ethnic, religious, regional, gender based, age based, occupation based, class based, and so on.
How Sub-cultures Arise
There are three main ways in which a sub-culture can arise.
Organisational Emergence. A sub-culture can arise in the same way as any other organisation. A group of individuals who identify a common threat or opportunity come together with a common purpose. Within such a group, a common culture arises, and a leadership hierarchy can also arise. It is worth noting, however, that there also exist interest based sub-cultures, e.g., sports and hobbies, which do not necessarily become organized. Thus, whilst an organisation always has a culture, a culture is not necessarily part of an organisation.
Cultural Migration. The anthropologist, Roland B Dixon, noted that ethnic migration can also result in cultural change. However, more general cultural migrations can also occur, for example, when one business is taken over or merged with another.
Top-down Design. Present day marketing specialists are well aware of the importance of sub-cultures as consumers, and are capable of promoting a designed sub-culture via the internet and social media. Many, but not all, Western sub-cultures are now consumer based, therefore. This is an example of how an improved knowledge of social systems can alter a culture.
In extreme cases, the parent culture can be regarded as a threat by a group of individuals. So, they may come together to form a counter-culture, which seeks to radically alter the parent culture. Counter-cultures are normally political in nature and organised.
Sub-cultures and Cultural Evolution
Sub-cultures play an important part in cultural evolution. A sub-culture may be relatively minor at first, but can grow and ultimately become absorbed by the parent culture. Recent examples in the West include the absorption of the following sub-cultures: women’s rights, LGBT rights, ethnic minority rights, religious rights and so on.
Historically, due to the prevalence of authoritarian regimes, sub-cultures tended to emerge in hiding at first. This is because authoritarian regimes tended to regard them as a threat to the status quo, and because sub-cultures were, initially, relatively powerless and easily eradicated. For example, in the dark ages, people who did not conform to religious norms, or who questioned the social hierarchy, could be burnt at the stake. However, the Renaissance sub-culture later emerged. It sought the reinstatement of knowledge lost following the collapse of the Roman Empire. This ultimately led to a more rational approach to theology, the natural world, and the arts. The Renaissance was followed by the Reformation, a reaction against the Catholic Church’s doctrine. It led not only to religious change but also to more general social change. It highlighted corruption in the Catholic Church hierarchy, afforded women a greater role in society, helped to spread literacy, and weakened the relationship between church and state. The subsequent Age of Enlightenment, in which philosophy, logic, and reason flourished, resulted in major political changes that formed the liberal democracies that we see in the Western world today. All of these changes originated with a sub-culture.
Alongside the decline of authoritarianism, there has been growing tolerance for sub-cultures. Increasingly, they have been allowed to grow or expire with relatively little interference from established institutions. The effect of this has been to increase the pace of cultural evolution.
Despite this growing tolerance, social pressures remain. We all hold our culture in mental schemata, and these can cause us to behave towards others in a way that encourages them to adopt the same culture. That is, we aim for cultural homogeneity or the sharing of a common culture. Inevitably, the likelihood of such homogeneity decreases with organizational size.
On the other hand, cultural entrenchment, i.e., the unchangeability of an organisation’s culture, generally increases with size. Our cultural schema can also cause us to regard people who hold a different culture or sub-culture as a threat and we can, therefore, attempt to stifle emerging sub-cultures. The larger the group of people who hold a culture the more successful this will tend to be.
In June, 2022, I commented in my final post on causality and systems theory that General Systems Theory was not as well developed as I had hoped. So, more work was required before I could make further posts on the topic.
That work is now complete. However, the resulting article is too long for a single blog post and cannot be broken down into a series. So, I have produced it in pdf form and it can be downloaded here.
It updates my earlier articles and pdfs “Joining Up the Dots”, “How we Understand a Complex Universe”, “The Importance of Information” and “What is Information at Source”. So, these have been deleted from the website.
A brief description of the article follows.
The cognitive perspective holds that we are our minds and cannot escape the constraints imposed by their biology and evolutionary history. Nevertheless, human cognition is a reasonably accurate representation of reality. Physicalism holds that space-time comprises the whole of reality and that everything, including abstract concepts and information, exists within it.
From this perspective, I describe some of the main concepts in systems theory. They include: the importance of structure in forming meaningful systems; the nature of relationships, causality, and physical laws; and the significance of recursion, hierarchy, holism, and emergence. I also discuss cognitive factors including: our mental limitations; the nature of information and language; and our search for knowledge in a world of complexity and apparent disorder.
The article concludes with the implications of this perspective for General System Theory and Social Systems Theory and suggests further work to advance these disciplines.
The article has been written up in the style of an academic paper because I will submit it to relevant journals in the near future. However, I have used plain English and explain my ideas in a step by step manner. There are also many diagrams which help to illustrate them.
I hope that you find the article interesting and enlightening.
Organisations, in the general sense, include individuals, clubs, nations, and what are referred to in anthropology as “cultures”.
We gain knowledge from both the natural and social environment. However, mistakes are possible, all organisations are capable of concealing information from others, and of supplying misinformation to them.
Culture comprises norms, values, knowledge or beliefs, and symbols. Thus, knowledge is part of an organisation’s culture. It is held in schemata which include not only an understanding of the environment and an operating schema, but also a schema for worldview or purpose, a social systems schema, an internal ethical schema, an external ethical schema, a self-image, and so on.
The American anthropologist, Roland B Dixon, in his 1928 book, “The Building of Cultures”, explained that the natural environment has greatest influence on formation of culture. The main factors are topography, climate, and the availability of raw materials and other resources, all of which vary from time to time and from place to place. Thus, our knowledge of these factors varies in the same way, and so too does the culture of which it is a part. Religion has a significant but lesser effect, and it too may be influenced by the natural environment.
This anthropological explanation is relevant for “cultures”, i.e., tribes and nations whose main external interactions are with their natural environment. For organisations and individuals within a “culture”, the environment must also include society.
There are two important points to note about knowledge and its influence on culture. Firstly, as knowledge of society is gained, this can alter both culture and social theory. Secondly, progress is not inevitable, shocks can occur, and knowledge can be lost. For example, the collapse of the Roman Empire and the subsequent Dark Ages. Such losses can cause an organisation or society to revert to a culture and behaviours similar to those of earlier years.
Culture, in turn, is a part of what in a very general sense can be called “the mind” of an organisation. An individual’s mind is his brain. In larger organisations, it is the brains of its members linked via language. In both cases, however, the mind comprises schemata which, as Bartlett explained, are resistant to change. Existing knowledge effects the ability of both individuals and organisations to correctly absorb new knowledge. It also effects the relative priorities of their needs, what they regard as satisfiers, their motivators, their attitudes towards social interactions, and whether they behave in a co-operative, positively competitive, or negatively competitive manner.
Language and the individual mind are very closely interrelated. Vyvyan Evans, Professor of Linguistics at Bangor University, Wales, UK, in his article at https://aeon.co/essays/the-evidence-is-in-there-is-no-language-instinct, explains that recent research has shown that language is processed everywhere in the brain. There is no distinct processing centre. He suggests, therefore, that language and our co-operative minds have co-evolved. This, in turn, suggests that they are reflections of one another. Language has evolved, and may still be evolving, to link minds into a single system, albeit rather unsatisfactorily at present. This provides a control system for organisations that is equivalent to the way in which an individual’s mind controls his body.
Evans describes a “Golden Triangle” comprising mind, language, and culture (of which knowledge is a part). This concept differs from the unidirectional Saphir-Whorf hypothesis that language influences the way that we think about reality. Rather, it includes the possibility that how we think about reality also influences our language.
The behaviour of an organisation, including communication, is directed by its multi-mind and language based control system, and this behaviour affects the environment. Thus, there is a feedback process in which:
the environment affects knowledge,
knowledge affects culture,
culture affects the multi-mind and language based control system,
the multi-mind and language based control system affects organisational behaviour, and
organisational behaviour affects the environment.
During this process, knowledge is continually updated and sometimes lost.
Anthropology reveals other ways in which cultural change can occur. Roland B Dixon, noted that ethnic migration can also result in cultural change, i.e., the introduction of those with a different culture, into an organisation or its environment. Whilst this has an anthropological basis, it can also be applied, more generally, to organisations of all sizes and might better be described as cultural, rather than ethnic, migration.
The concepts described in this article are summarised in the diagram below.
Humans have evolved, biologically, to co-operate in small groups. Our ability to co-operate in larger groups has a cultural rather than a biological basis.
As the size of an organisation of any type increases, so too does its complexity. So, inefficiencies inevitably arise as the size of an organisation increases. This can be offset to a limited extent by breaking the organisation down into small groups or teams. Nevertheless, inefficiencies can outweigh efficiencies as size increases.
Every human organisation is a system. Its outputs are satisfiers and, sometimes, contra-satisfiers. Their nature varies according to the type of organisation. For a business they can be goods and services, for a health service medical treatments, for a religion or social club emotional wellbeing, and so on. Irrespective of their nature, they can be measured in terms of number of units per person per day. In economics, this is known as productivity, but here the term is used in a broader context.
Productivity is affected not only by human factors, but also by non-human ones such as equipment, location, etc. If non-human factors are held constant, then maximum productivity occurs when human factors are ideal. However, this maximum can be reduced by human inefficiencies such as difficulties in communicating. As the size of an organisation increases, some of these inefficiencies will decrease and others will increase.
The following graph is indicative only and shows just two inefficiencies. It will vary from organisation to organisation, but its general shape is typical.
An inefficiency can be measured on a scale from zero, where it is greatest, to one, where it is least.
The green curve shows an inefficiency which decreases with organisational size. As the size of the organisation increases, the inefficiency becomes ever closer to 1. Such inefficiencies decrease at a rapid rate for small organisations, but this rate steadily decreases with organisational size. This is because we first seek the greatest reductions in inefficiency, e.g., splitting roles into chair, secretary, and treasurer. However, further specialisation has progressively less impact.
The red curve shows an inefficiency which increases with organisational size. As the size of the organisation increases, the inefficiency becomes ever closer to zero. Such inefficiencies increase at a rapid rate for small organisations and then at a diminishing rate as organisational size increases. This is because the influence of an increase in size on a small organisation is greater than that of a similar increase in size on a large one. For example, increasing the size of an organisation from one to two people introduces far greater communication difficulties than an increase from one hundred to one hundred and one.
If the two inefficiencies are multiplied this yields the total inefficiency shown by the black curve. Multiplying maximum productivity by the value given on the black curve then yields actual productivity. This shows that, so long as inefficiencies which increase with organisational size exist, and they always do, there will be an optimum size of organisation at which productivity is greatest.
I will now discuss several human inefficiencies which vary with the size of an organisation.
Specialisation, also known as the division of labour, and formalisation, or the extent to which specialised tasks are specified and governed by rules or regulations, both increase with organisational size. Formalisation occurs because direct supervision becomes increasingly difficult. Furthermore, because events repeat more frequently in larger organisations, managers are motivated to reduce inefficiencies in the way that subordinates respond to them. Increased specialisation and formalisation can reduce inefficiency up to a point. However, they also reduce a subordinate’s understanding of the purpose of an activity, and his ability to make decisions in the face of the unexpected. Thus, the adaptability of the organisation is reduced. There can also be an increasing inability to make best use of the skills and experience of the organisation’s members. These factors have a psychological effect on subordinates, causing an increased likelihood of boredom, disinterest, and alienation. This, in turn, decreases the likelihood of informal innovation. So, there are probably optimum levels of specialisation and formalisation at which inefficiencies are least, and they will depend on the subordinate concerned.
Hierarchy, or the number of levels in the command structure, and departmentalisation, or the grouping of specialised tasks under a leader, both increase with organisational size. Together they comprise organisational structure. As the size of an organisation increases, then, by definition, so too does its complexity. We have a limited ability to understand complexity, and so, as an organisation grows, it must be broken down into groups of people and activities that a leader can reasonably understand. Group leaders then simplify matters when communicating with their superior, so that the latter can understand the information provided. Conversely, a group leader must also interpret and add detail to instructions given by his superior. As hierarchy increases then, so too do the number of simplifications and interpretations and, with each, information can be lost or misinterpreted. Distance of intra-organisational communication increases with organisational size, therefore, and along with it, the likelihood of communication errors.
Notably, as an organisation increases in size, leadership distance also increases, i.e., the number of levels in the hierarchy between the highest and lowest status individuals. In democratic systems, the more remote a leader, the more likely it is that he will be selected using System-1. This is an automatic system that operates quickly, with little or no effort, and in which emotion, beliefs, and experience have a part to play. On the other hand, the closer a leader, the more likely it is that System-2 will be used. This is a more formal reasoned response requiring time, attention, focus, and effort. So, in democratic systems, leadership quality will reduce and abuse of position will increase as leadership distance increases.
Peer distance also increases with the size of an organisation, making inter-departmental communication ever more difficult. Social traffic, i.e., irrelevant communications, also increase disproportionately with the size of an organistation. They act as noise and congestion which interfere with relevant communications. Ultimately, communications may deteriorate to a point where decentralisation, i.e., the progressive delegation of power and control is necessary.
Self-maintenance or administration. Opinions differ on whether the proportion of administrative to productive people, increases or decreases with organisational size. It is likely that if the leader is authoritarian and wishes to retain power and control, it will decrease. Otherwise, decentralisation will cause it to increase. The “curvilinear argument” holds that self-maintenance is greater for small and large organisations than for medium sized ones. This is because, as an organisation grows, it initially enjoys economies of size, but as it grows further, increased complexity requires a significant increase in administration for co-ordination and control.
Speed of Decision-making. Increasing leadership distance, peer distance, and administration all result in slower and even an absence of decision-making.
Rate of Growth, i.e., the rate at which the number of members of an organisation increases, has a significant effect on efficiency. This is particularly the case when there is a step change in size due to a merger. Blau and Schoenherr, in their 1971 book, “The Structure of Organizations”, noted that, as organisations upsize, their sheer mass can overwhelm leaders, particularly if growth is rapid or the result of a merger.
In general, the impact of the same increase in size reduces as the organisation becomes larger. Changes in structure are, therefore, more likely when a growing organisation is small. However, rapid growth or mergers can result in a need for Restructuring which, for a time, introduces inefficiencies as people adapt to new roles and paths of communication. Clearly, the more frequently restructuring takes place, the greater the proportion of time during which such inefficiencies exist.
Cultural Entrenchment describes the extent to which the shared values, norms, beliefs, and knowledge of an organisation are established and resistant to change. In a nation, for example, power may move to other arenas, but the paths to it linger on because they have become a part of its culture. Examples in the UK include rural gentry and the use of ancient Greek and Latin. In India, English is often spoken with a received pronunciation inherited from the days of empire. Britain is a Christian culture and China a Confucian culture because religions have guided their cultures over many centuries. Thus, the religions’ norms, values, and beliefs have become entrenched. The original religion may no longer have the influence that it once had, but its norms, values and beliefs propagate through the generations without us being consciously aware of it or knowing the original source.
The likelihood of cultural entrenchment increases with the age of an organisation. Because large organisations are generally older than small ones, they tend to suffer it more. The entrenchment of a culture makes an organisation less adaptable in the face of change, and so increases inefficiency. In very general terms, and with much variation, therefore, entrenchment is an inefficiency which increases with organisational size.
On the other hand, an organisation’s culture becomes more difficult to agree and maintain while it is growing, and a lack of cultural homogeneity leads to inefficiencies. The greater the rate of growth the more difficult the agreement and maintenance of a culture becomes. Katz and Kahn noted that, with growth, the primary group identity is lost and there are increasing difficulties in motivating people to support organisational goals. In particular, mergers of organisations can result in cultural differences which may persist.
If an organisation is treated as a system, then its satisfiers are its inputs, its processes are its function, and its outputs are satisfiers or contra-satisfiers for others. Note that these others can be a part of the organisation, another familial organisation, or a non-familial organisation. A business which manufactures ice cream requires inputs such as milk, sugar, premises, equipment, electricity, employees, recipes, and so on. These are its satisfiers. Its outputs are ice cream which satisfies the needs of distributors, retailers, and customers. A contra-satisfier for this organisation might, for example, be an outbreak of listeria in the factory.
The behaviour of an organisation is governed by its motivators. These are the status of its satisfiers and contra-satisfiers, i.e., whether a satisfier or contra-satisfier is absent, latent, precarious, or entrenched. An organisation is self-maintaining, and its aim is to ensure that all satisfiers are entrenched and all contra-satisfiers absent. In the case of satisfiers, the organisation responds to opportunities. In the case of contra-satisfiers, it responds to threats or risks. There is an industry of consultants providing business organisations with a plethora of strategies for doing so. These can be researched on the internet, and I will not therefore go into detail here.
In summary, however, the source of satisfiers and contra-satisfiers is the organisation’s environment, and the organisation will either:
adapt to changes in its environment, e.g., by altering its function;
attempt to extend its environment, e.g., through globalization; or
attempt to alter its environment, e.g., through advertising, moving to another country, or offshoring.
In doing so it alters its environment which, of course, includes other organisations. They too will adapt to any changes, further alter the environment, and a complex dynamic situation can result.
Individuals make their initial decisions sub-consciously, using improvements to their overall emotional state as a basis. However, before acting, they consciously criticize their initial decision in a more rational way, and if it is unsatisfactory, tell the sub-conscious mind to go back and think again. The same is true of organisations but with some differences.
The initial decision may be by a leader or other member of the organisation who has already gone through the individual decision-making process. Significantly, there may be several competing initial decisions from different sources.
Initial decisions must be communicated and there are many ways in which this can fail. The decisions may simply not be communicated; they may contain information that is false at source; they may contain deliberately false information; they may be expressed inaccurately; they may be transmitted inaccurately; they may be interpreted inaccurately; the recipients may suffer information overload; or the recipients may modify them to fit their existing schemata. Many of these problems do not arise when an individual is deciding on their own personal actions.
The initial decisions are subject to conscious review by other members of the organisation. Any found to be unsatisfactory are rejected, and the originator is either asked to think again, or a satisfactory competing decision is accepted. Individuals may consider competing options in this way, but only when the decision is highly significant. On a day-to-day basis, individuals act on the first option recognised to be both satisfactory and sufficient. However, organisations have a greater tendency to seek optimal solutions. Decision making in organisations is generally less emotional and more rational, because individuals tasked with decision-making are responsible to one another and must justify and explain their decisions. Justifying rationales are possible, however.
Organisational decision-making is a considerably slower process than that of an individual. The larger the organisation the slower the process.
Several organizational decisions can be in progress at any one time. In some ways this is the same for individuals, as we do try to satisfy multiple needs with a single action. However, in an individual, this process is well coordinated, whereas in an organisation it may not be, and contradictions can arise.
There can be contradictions between a leader’s needs, which may have a greater personal and emotional basis, and the organisation’s needs. In individuals this contradiction does not exist, except perhaps for those with a mental illness. Individuals are masters of their own actions. Organisations are not.
The principle of sub-optimisation recognises that a focus on optimising the performance of one component of an organisation can lead to greater inefficiency in the organisation as a whole. This is because efficiencies for one part of the organisation can lead to inefficiencies in another. Rather the whole organisation must be optimised if it is to perform at maximum efficiency, and individual components must sometimes operate sub-optimally.
In his book “General System Theory”, the biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy describes three processes which play an important role in biology. They are progressive mechanization, progressive centralization, and progressive individualization.
Bertalanffy uses the example of an embryo to describe progressive mechanization. At a very early stage in its life, all cells play the same role. The embryo is merely a collection of identical cells bound together. However, as its development continues the cells begin to exhibit differences and take on specialised roles according to their location. As the embryo’s development continues, the cells then assemble into different organs.
Progressive centralization often goes hand in hand with progressive mechanization. The various component parts of an organism become subordinated under dominant parts, which serve to co-ordinate their activities. In an embryo for example, the dominant part is the nervous system, which, in turn, is subordinated to the brain.
Finally, progressive individualization describes the way in which an organism becomes more unified and individual. In the early stages of an embryo, for example, when individualization has not begun, any splitting of the collection of cells results in identical twins. However, the embryo becomes progressively more complex, and progressively more a system in which the whole is more than the sum of its parts. It cannot be broken down into its separate parts without losing the feature that makes it a living individual, i.e., without dying.
These three processes, which appear to be a natural feature of life, extend into organisations, i.e., groups of people with a common purpose. Organisations emulate as far as they can an individual organism. They comprise specialists, managed by a hierarchy, under the ultimate control of a leader, and have an individual identity. However, we are not telepathic and have no group mind. Thus, the leadership role must be taken on by an individual and communication is via language. Whilst the mind of an individual is capable of controlling their own body, an organisation is more complex, and we are, therefore, less able to comprehend and control it. So, a hierarchy becomes necessary.
As we ascend the hierarchy, information is simplified by subordinate leaders for those of higher status. This enables the latter to comprehend and co-ordinate the activities of the specialists under their control. The number of specialists and degree of complexity that must be managed increases as we ascend the hierarchy. So too is the amount of simplification needed. At each stage, as information is passed up the hierarchy, some of it is lost. Commands coming down must also be interpreted in more detail by leaders of lower status. So, the reverse occurs and, at each stage descending the hierarchy, information is added to any communications. Clearly, the more levels there are in a hierarchy, the greater the risk that critical information will be lost, or misinformation gained. Ultimately, to avoid mistakes becoming too frequent or too serious, it becomes necessary for decentralization to take place.
In summary, hierarchy is a natural feature of life. Leaders exist because of the need to co-ordinate specialists. They form a hierarchy because progressive simplification is needed to deal with increasing complexity, as the number of specialists under a leader’s ultimate control increases.
This natural system can, however, break down because the people who populate a hierarchy are determined by the trading of status for support and can act in their personal interest rather than that of the organisation.
Individuals and organisations are attracted to other individuals or organisations that they believe will satisfy their needs. This applies to:
Normal human needs. Thus, people will seek employment by an organisation as a satisfier of those needs.
Normal organisational needs. For example, a business may be attracted to a political party whose ideology supports its purpose.
The need for inner consistency. Thus, people and organisations with a particular view will join others with the same or similar views. This enables them to hold that view, whilst at the same time satisfying the need for relatedness.
Antisocial needs. People will join an organisation which appears to provide opportunities to satisfy these. In the case of an individual, it may, for example, be easy access to money. However, organisations can also have anti-social needs, and are attracted to parent organisations which facilitate their satisfaction, e.g., groups of mercenaries.
All organisations have a purpose. This may be: one of the following.
To yield benefits for members of the organisation, e.g., a social club.
To yield benefits for external individuals or organisations, e.g., a charity.
A combination of the two, e.g., a business. Because an organisation must maintain itself, it is never entirely altruistic. However, because it requires inputs to function, it is normally co-operative, involving a process of negotiation and agreement.
To yield disbenefits for other individuals or organisations, e.g., an army. In this case, the organisation is normally doing so on behalf of a larger one of which it is a part, so that the latter, e.g., a nation, benefits in some way.
In the same way as individuals, organisations fulfil their purpose by satisfying their needs, and avoiding their contra-needs. According to the Modified ERG system of needs, based on Maslow’s hierarchy, individual human needs can be categorised and form a hierarchy. The same is true of organisations. A comparison of an individual’s needs and an organisation’s needs is given below.
Within these general categories of need, there are, of course, numerous specific needs.
An organisation also has contra-needs. These are the reverse of its needs, i.e., its demise rather than its existence, poor rather than good relationships with others, or decline rather than growth.
Maslow explained that individuals must satisfy needs lower in the hierarchy and ensure that this satisfaction is sustained before effort is expended on higher needs. Similarly, we must also avoid contra-needs and ensure that this avoidance is sustained. He did, however, qualify this by referring to degrees of relative satisfaction. It is not the case, he argued, that a need only emerges when those lower in the hierarchy have all been fully satisfied. Rather we are usually in a state where all our needs are, to a greater or lesser degree, only partially satisfied. Furthermore, the level of satisfaction of our needs tends to decrease as we ascend the hierarchy. A higher need may not be apparent at all if lower needs are not adequately satisfied. However, it will emerge by degrees as their level of satisfaction increases.
A similar principle applies to organisations. All organisations have a purpose, and this purpose cannot be pursued if the organisation ceases to exist. Thus, the continued existence of the organisation must always take priority over other needs.
Because the function of an organisation normally requires inputs from others, and delivers satisfiers to others, relatedness is the next highest priority. These “others” may be:
Parent or grandparent organisations, i.e., larger organisations to which the relevant one belongs.
Sibling organisations, i.e., other organisations which also belong to the same parent or grandparent organisation as the relevant one.
Child organisations, i.e., parts of the relevant organisation. Child organisations may even be individuals.
Relatedness to such “familial” organisations has a greater priority than relatedness to non-familial ones. Without co-operation between them, the relevant organisation’s function is in jeopardy.
Relatedness to non-familial organisations is also important, but such relationships are usually more easily replaced.
An organisation needs to grow. This can comprise growth in physical size or improvements in the exercise of its function. Once an organisation has established an ability to carry out its function, it can commit resources to improving its processes, extending its function, or enlarging the number of beneficiaries. Growth in physical size is, however, constrained by communication within the organisation. As an organisation grows the people within it become ever more specialised, and this improves efficiency. However, co-ordination of their activities becomes ever more necessary. Communication must increase, therefore. However, the effort involved in doing so and the increased risk of miscommunication reduces efficiency. There is, therefore, an optimum size of organisation at which efficiency is greatest, and to either side of which efficiency decreases.
“No matter how abstractly formulated are a general theory of systems, a general theory of evolution and a general theory of communication, all three theoretical components are necessary for the specifically sociological theory of society. They are mutually interdependent.” – Niklas Luhmann, The Differentiation of Society (1982), quoted inhttp://scihi.org/niklas-luhmann-social-systems/
The German sociologist and systems theorist, Niklas Luhmann (1927 – 1998), regarded social systems as systems of communication, i.e., he believed human society to be based largely on the transmission and processing of information. In this regard animals, particularly human beings, are unusual. Unlike other physical entities, except perhaps the machines we have created, information can lead to action. For example, we may reason that “there may be an accident so I will drive carefully”. In this statement, “there may be an accident” is information and “I will drive carefully” is a physical event. This does not apply to other physical entities, such as boulders, which cannot roll carefully due to information received. Evolution is undoubtedly the source of this ability, and we can see its progressive emergence as nervous systems become ever more complex. Its pertinence to people is largely a consequence of our social nature and the evolutionary advantages that this gives us.
The flow of information is what binds human beings together into society. However, the flow of goods and services also has a part to play. As might be expected from a characteristic that has evolved, there is a strong correlation with the hierarchy of needs. Satisfiers for our existence and procreation needs are largely material, i.e., air, water, food, shelter, etc. However, we do rely on information to know where and how to acquire these satisfiers. As we climb the hierarchy, material satisfiers become ever less important, and information plays an ever-increasing role. For example, although an exchange of material satisfiers has a part to play, relatedness is largely based on communication between the parties. At the top of the hierarchy, the growth of an individual is based almost entirely on knowledge or information. This is something that many religions stress.
The transmission and replication of information, an important feature of social systems, requires language. Language can take many forms: written or spoken words, icons or diagrams, the stream of bits in the internet, or even the formal language of mathematics. Language is not the sole preserve of human beings. Many animals communicate using a very basic language. For example, bees communicate by dancing, and ants communicate via scent pheromones. It is even thought that trees communicate with one another via mycelium, a thread like fungus, between their roots. What distinguishes human languages, however, are their complexity, versatility, and adaptability.
Typically, a language comprises:
Symbols such as words, images, sounds, etc. which represent the entities that we encounter in the world around us.
A grammar, i.e., the way in which these symbols are concatenated or otherwise laid out and connected. This represents the relationships between the entities.
Natural spoken language has evolved alongside our minds. This is evidenced by the fact that there is no central language processing part of the brain. Rather, language processing is distributed throughout it. Any processing centre is concerned only with motor functions, i.e., turning language into speech.
Language must be efficient, and so, resonate with the way that we think and understand the world we inhabit. Thus, it must reflect the structure of thought. Natural languages contain “universals”, therefore, i.e., features common to every language, and the most notable of these is the proposition. This comprises two entities and the relationship between them. For example, a simple natural language proposition comprises a subject (entity 1) an object (entity 2) and a verb (relationship). For example, “The apple (entity 1) is (relationship) green (entity 2)”. Here “green” is a simplification of the phrase “a green thing”. The same is true of formal languages such as mathematics. For example, 1 (entity 1) < (relationship) 2 (entity 2). Propositions are fundamental to the way that we reason. They reflect our understanding of the universe, which comprises physical things and the relationships between them.
An extreme interpretation of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is that thought or mental content is constrained by natural language, i.e., that we can only think of things that can be expressed in that way. However, this is demonstrably not the case. We have the ability to form and remember visual, sound, or taste images of physical objects and events. Furthermore, we can manipulate and combine these in our imagination to create, for example, images of unicorns or mermaids. Using iconic analogues or visual representations, we can also manipulate more abstract concepts, although, due to the constraints of geometry, this can lead us astray.
The use of imagery is known as the iconic mode of representation. Natural spoken language is our symbolic mode. We use it to communicate efficiently, and translation from iconic mode is often necessary. When doing so, we often search for, or even invent, appropriate words. An example is the word “contra-satisfier”, used in these articles. It was invented by the author because no suitable word pre-existed. “Dissatisfied” and “unsatisfied” mean not satisfied, and every antonym of satisfy has its own specific colouration that disqualifies it. A contra-satisfier, on the other hand, reduces existing satisfaction or makes an unsatisfied state worse. In this way, new words are created, and a language evolves. Were the extreme interpretation of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis true, then no new words would enter a language.
All human languages are structured in a way which provides us with logical reasoning skills, although this is often obscured by the simplifications we use to express ourselves efficiently. Few of us are taught formal logic, and it is the preserve of those who study mathematics or philosophy at university level. Nevertheless, all of us can reason logically when we choose to. This skill is acquired through our use of natural language, which has evolved to represent, reasonably accurately, the world in which we live. Our native language can, therefore, affect us through our reasoning skills, and in other more subtle ways. For example, we mentally translate between imagery and language. If a translation is relatively frequent and easy, then this will reinforce the concept being translated. If it is relatively infrequent and difficult it will have the opposite effect.
Three main factors affect whether an organisation interacts co-operatively with another, or engages in positive or negative competition. The same principles apply to individuals except that they are their own leader. These are:
Leadership. Organisations reflect their leadership. Their behaviour differs according to whether the leader acts in his or her personal interest or in that of the organisation. Usually, there is a balance between the two.
Resources. If a necessary input or resource is plentiful, then there will normally be co-operation or positive competition for it. On the other hand, if it is, or is becoming, insufficient to satisfy all parties, then negative competition will result. The planning, establishment, existence, or growth of an organisation can act as negative motivator to another that, either directly or indirectly, needs the same resource. If a threatened organisation already exists, it will engage in negative competition. If it does not, then one may be established with the same result. When two organisations are in negative competition, then the belief system and culture of each is progressively strengthened and becomes more selfish. Positive feedback then occurs, in which stronger identity and self-interest leads to greater perceived threat, which in turn leads to stronger identity and self-interest. Ultimately, conflict can result. Usually, both parties lose, but negative competition can also lead to some maintaining or even improving their situation, whilst making the situation worse for others.
Distance. The effect that one organisation can have on another depends on distance, i.e., how many causally connected organisations form a chain. Clearly, if there is a chain of such connections between organisations, then it is also possible for there to be positive, negative, or regulating feedback. The example of negatively competing organisations given above embodies positive feedback. With just one organisation in a causal chain, feedback must, by definition, exist, i.e., the organisation’s outputs become its inputs. This is the basis of self-maintenance and growth. For example, a business normally reinvests some of its income. If there are two organisations in a chain, then the outputs from one form inputs for the other. As explained above, the former’s outputs may be necessary for the latter, or there may be other organisations providing the same inputs, i.e., redundancy, and this makes the recipient more resilient. A particular input may also be necessary, but not sufficient, and others are usually required for an organisation to carry out its function. Thus, the relationships on the input side of an organisation are more like a tree, with several organisations providing inputs for one, several also providing inputs to each of those, and so on. Nevertheless, a chain exists between any two organisations in this tree. For example, a farmer provides flour to a wholesaler, who refines it and supplies it to a baker, who in turn supplies bread to a supermarket. In general, the longer the chain, the more likely it is that redundancies will occur, and the less influence a supplier at one end will have over a consumer at the other. Nevertheless, there may still exist critical suppliers or consumers whose failure will either directly impact on an organisation or indirectly via the demise of others in the chain. For example, a critical supplier may source resources unethically, or a critical consumer may cause pollution, thereby generating opposition and their ultimate demise. So, longer term organisational survival depends on the identification of any such critical external organisations, and the introduction of changes or redundancies.
Social intra-organisational interactions are not possible for individuals. For an individual, internal interactions are biological. Thus, social interactions apply only to organisations comprising two people or more.
The same three factors, i.e., leadership, resources, and distance, affect intra-organisational interactions. Their impact is, however, via the attributes necessary for an organisation to carry out its purpose or function successfully. These are:
The purpose or function of the organisation:
relates to an external demand or need;
is agreed by members of the organisation, i.e., individuals and component organisations;
is clearly defined and communicated;
has the commitment of members of the organisation; and
is consistent with the culture of the organisation.
is effectively divided into component functions;
includes effective operational systems;
includes effective interaction between component functions, including the transmission of information; and
includes an acceptable balance of effort vs. reward for individuals and sub-organisations.
has the appropriate skills;
is effectively structured; and
comprises effective management, monitoring, and control.
There is adequate availability of the necessary resources.
If all these attributes exist, then attitudes will be ones of of co-operation or positive competition. However, negative competition can arise if just one is deficient. There are causal relationships between these attributes, and a deficiency in one can lead to negative competition, which, in turn, can lead to a deficiency in another. For example, if the purpose of the organisation is not clearly defined and communicated, then competing opinions can arise. If these are expressed in the form of positive competition, then ultimately there will be agreement on the better option. However, if competition becomes negative, then members of the organisation will commit to one or the other, interactions between parts of the organisation will be less effective, and so on. There are many possibilities, and the range is too great to list here.
Positive extra-organisational competition is the natural order, i.e., both the natural world and humanity are evolving, in different ways, thereby improving our likelihood of survival. The outcome is unknown but, as mentioned in a previous article, the direction of travel seems to be one of subsuming the natural environment into the human economy.
For the present at least, the non-human environment generally lacks agency, and any agency that it does have cannot successfully compete with that of humanity. The natural world cannot engage in negative competition, therefore. Any apparent pushback, e.g., viral pandemics, is simply a matter of evolutionary adaptation to the existence of humanity.
We rely on the environment for our continued existence, and any environmental damage, depletion of resources, or other form of misuse ultimately has an adverse effect on us. If extra-organisational interactions comprise negative competition, i.e., if we prevent our environment from carrying out its function, then people will see this as a threat and engage in negative competition on the environment’s behalf.
On the other hand, if extra-organisational interactions are co-operative, then this leads to stable and sustainable relationships with the environment, in which both are able to pursue their destiny without the one impeding the other. The environment is unable to actively co-operate with humanity and help us in this. However, the reverse is not true and is the path that I would advocate.