A Theory of Society

September 18, 2015

Introduction


This series of blogs is intended, in part, as a collaborative effort between myself and those who read these posts to produce a useful, meaningful model of society and the individuals therein, citing where possible scientific literature that suggests such a model is possible.

However, there is no point in producing such a model if you don’t then show that it can be falsified. In other words, there has to be clear, well-defined ways to test each of the ideas and either verify a concept remains compatible with reality or is falsified and must be altered accordingly.

The third, and most important, aspect of all this is to look at some fairly idealistic dreams of how a society might be and to see which such dreams are actually achievable with the desired results and which are either doomed to failure in the attempt or doomed to collapse because what has been produced is simply not workable.

To mainstream readers, the idea is to end up with a sense of purpose, a sense that whilst utopia doesn’t exist, there are some really good, far more pleasant, far more successful ways of doing things that are achievable. Just because I, and those who collaborate here, think the ideas look good doesn’t mean you have to, but if an idea looks like it makes a lot of sense, feel free to encourage its adoption.

To those with a scientific way of thinking, the objective is to draw the soft sciences of anthropology, sociology and psychology into a single hard science that meets all of the experimental and verificational requirements imposed through being a hard science.

To those with a desire to sort out, once and for all, what impact a government policy must have, how to run a business along purely ethical lines without impacting the function of a business, how to run a private school (or, in the UK, a free school) with the best results without harming those in your charge, these posts are intended to act as a study on methods to achieve those goals and why those methods can be systematically shown to produce the results you are wanting.

Please note, the difference between theory and practice is that theory is what practice should, on average, look like but in practice often differs. This is because nothing is in isolation and people vary a lot. Chaos mathematicians call this sensitivity to initial conditions. This is not, however, a disaster. The challenge is to exploit the effect to produce diversity rather than uniformity, and to have clever feedback to guarantee unnecessary failures are kept below both current and acceptable levels.

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Imperatives in Education

September 18, 2015

 Political Imperatives


Political imperatives are the hardest to define. I’m going to produce a very short list of the obvious ones and will rely heavily on comments to extend this. A political, as opposed to a social, imperative is an imperative required for reasons of governance. It tends to have very specific priorities that are necessarily contrary an optimum system. You want this, in fact, as you want to ensure that whatever is being optimized isn’t being over-optimized. The pressures should ideally balance out as close to the optimum as possible.

  • Because demands on resources are unpredictable, it is politically necessary to hold back as much as possible.
  • Resources come into a political zone of control when there is valuable intellectual skills or knowledge present, but skills can be resold to more customers.
  • Official standards, certifications and labels create known, quantifiable economic values that can be placed on individuals, otherwise they cannot be assigned a token that politicians and economists can work with.
  • It has to be cost-effective. Improvements to any component in education will show an accumulating effect, starting very small, which will not fully mature for 20 years. Unless the probability of success in whatever field is actually in demand in 20 years is approaching 1.0 (100%) and the benefits over a few few years are just as likely to overwhelm the cost over those 20 years plus compound interest plus the profit margin that could have been found by spending the same money elsewhere, the government would be insane to do anything other than spend the money elsewhere.

That last one is the hard one. Governments aren’t keen on bankrupting themselves and the citizenry aren’t going to be keen on being bled dry financing any scheme, educational or otherwise.

A twenty year forecast is going to be hard enough to persuade anyone it’s worth a gamble. The world changes a lot in twenty years and you basically have to have enough of the experts in that something to be able to pay the entire cost of the project.

Minimal changes, requiring minimal expense, and where the final impact is not significantly different from the initial impact, those tend to be the options that are most popular. Succeed or fail, the difference is too small to matter that much. The problem is that different political groups approach this in different ways, so the sum total of all the changes over a long enough period of time ends up being closer to zero than any of the actual changes.

Imperatives in Education

September 18, 2015

Social Imperatives


By this, I am referring specifically to the requirements society itself has for education. What does education actually achieve for society? Well, there seem to be a few things. These are not listed in any particular order, as different people will order them differently or omit some of them anyway.

  • Provide the social skills, moral and ethical grounding, work ethic and tolerance of discomfort needed to function in the world.
  • Provide and instill cultural knowledge, values and beliefs. This is how cultures as entities propagate.
  • Provide the knowledge and understanding to perform professional work to a high standard.
  • Provide the means for a student to learn how to learn, extending flexibility and capacity to grow in multiple directions.
  • Provide a refuge for both parents and child to prevent over-exposure or over-dependence on either.

These aren’t necessary useful or healthy perspectives, what matters is that they are perspectives held – often extremely firmly. Any theory must be able to model how and why, and be able to establish how flexible they are as things change.

The Theory of Society

September 18, 2015

The Problem of Ethics


There are no universally accepted ethical principles and all the accepted ethics have exceptions. This makes it a bit difficult to establish a universally applicable philosophical basis on which everything else stands. There is no “correct” culture in the abstract, but I will postulate here that we can create special-enough cases where specific ethics must hold true within those cases.

I will therefore not offer a generic ethical system, but will consider ethics within those specific entities in which ethics can exist in a distinct bubble, isolated from cultural ethics. At least, in the short term. In the longer-term, such a system must be blended in to the many hundreds of thousands of distinct systems of thinking that exist in the world today. These concepts must, then, be modified to be capable of being so blended.  That’s where help would be appreciated.