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Disparate systems and political extremism

Generally speaking, a phenomenon can be described as a system if its elements display certain commonalities that invite grouping by an outside observer for a certain purpose.

Under the Otoom model cognitive systems also define themselves, since individuals forming groups, demographics, or societies manifest their behaviour during their life cycles; while they can be observed, they are also the actors.

By the same definition - albeit on smaller scales - systems contain subsystems that interact with each other but also with the system as a whole. Since their definitions rest with their constituting elements (in this case people), how the subsystems perform in relation to the whole is essentially a function of their respective qualities. Outside labeling comes later.

The European Union is one example of a large human activity system that over the past decades grew not only in geographical size but also in terms of its functional scope. From commercial regulations covering at first one industry (steel), it extended into other economic areas, eventually incorporating governance and infrastructure and therefore nations.

The creation of a common monetary system was much more than changing the name of a currency; money is a subsystem that establishes a relativistic framework of values which is informed by the contributing functions of an economy on a daily basis. As such it is in constant flux, held together within its respective overall system by checks and balances that in themselves are tested and modulated continually.

Yet an entire nation does define itself, and hence one economy can be distinguished from another precisely because its people define themselves.

Nations whose internal mechanisms (their behavioural and hence economic framework) differ from one another cannot achieve mutual coherence under an encompassing system because their constituent functional elements operate at varying levels of quality. There are disconnects between their respective counterparts.

Enforce the connections nevertheless and there are bound to be problems. The difficulties in the EU with Greece, Spain, Italy, etc, existed long before the global financial crisis imploded the property markets and so many financial derivatives. Rather, they were the proverbial last straw that brought the disparities into stark relief.

Just as a system can be defined in terms of its general operation, how it responds to a crisis is also part of its characteristics. A more complex and more coherent system has resources one on a lower level does not, and measures taken in the context of the former can lead to even further negativity if imposed on the latter.

The austerity measures agreed upon by the EU in relation to Greece can work for a society such as Germany, given its pool of resources. Paring down the efficacy of economic entities in a country like Greece deprives this nation of much of the few resources it had to begin with. For the EU as a whole, and functionally speaking that concerns mainly Germany and also France, the measures seem reasonable, even desirable. For Greece however they represent not only no solution, they add to the problem.

Had Greece never been enmeshed with the EU in the first place, its economy, at whatever level of success, would have had the chance to settle within its own self-generated parameters. Being part of that wider system however, everything that happens there is of interest to everyone else, and decisions are being made and expectations are raised within contexts unreachable for the Greeks. As I write this (21 May 2012) the voices suggesting an exit from the Euro zone by Greece are growing louder, but so far its leaders insist the country will stay.

Pressure tends to compact one's perception. Economic pressure is no different, with a particular focus on one's identity because an economy represents the aggregate combination of individual qualities and performances.

In a political context a more compact perception leads to a more intense preoccupation with the meaning of one's identity in relation to some other, since an identity is created out of the difference between oneself and the other. Narrow down such interpretations and the results reflect the general hierarchy of values employed for the creation of identity.

In the current difficult economic times money and its value have not disappeared (it is not a case of hyperinflation) but it has changed its location. Since a left-wing extremist is preoccupied with equality per se, for them the problem is the injustice (perceived or otherwise) of some having much and the rest having little. For the right-wing extremist the injustice (again perceived or otherwise) lies in the deserving having little and the undeserving having much.

Therefore the left-winger demands the same wealth for everybody regardless of their history, and the right-winger discriminates against those who have not had the opportunity to contribute to the existing wealth and therefore should not have a part of it. As a consequence the extreme left rails against the rich, whereas the extreme right rails against immigrants. Although reality is not that simple (and the foregoing definition is somewhat simplified), such outcomes occur since they are the result of compacted perceptions.

Politicians who blithely ignore the circumstances in wider society and grasp for the perks of office regardless do not help. When Anna Bligh, the previous Labor premier of Queensland who led her party to a recent defeat of historical proportions (now the Labor opposition has only seven members out of 89 seats altogether), asked for her mobile phone to be paid, for a government iPad and a personal staff member to answer her mail, there was justified outrage (needless to say, she didn't get them), and all that on top of a $150,000 pension for the rest of her life, a free return ticket to anywhere in Australia, New Zealand or Papua New Guinea, plus free train travel with a Railways of Australia Gold Pass.

While the state of Queensland could certainly afford to pay for her wishes, public funds are not in abundance and for many that additional money alone would literally double their living standards.

Or take Julia Gillard, the current prime minister under a Labor government. In response to a question whether she would reconsider permitting gay marriage her response was, "I've made my mind up and my position on this is well known". So that's a rational reason for maintaining an inequality?

Both of the above are examples of an elite imposing its whims on the rest of the system without a commensurate coherence that sustains the system's validity - although Australia is not Greece, far from it.

Once extremes have grown to such an extent that society marches to their tune, the entire nation will run on simplistic perceptions and civilisation goes out the window. Only the mediocre will flourish - and even that is no more than a perception.

(20 May 2012)

(Sources: Courier Mail, 12 May 12, "Greece sure to go, Spain on the brink", 11 May 12, "Austerity is hard to stomach but there's no way Greeks can avoid pain", 11 May 12, "Lack of detail no hindrance to dominant coalition", 11 May 12, "Newman pulls the plug on Bligh's post-office perks", 9 May 12, "Bailout anger has Greece on the brink", 8 May 12, "Tough times ignite voter backlash across Europe", 31 March 12, "Violence on the streets as Spain feels fiscal pain", 30 March 12, "Who Me?", 28 March 12, "Bligh ups anchor to maintain her wage", 26 March 12, "Down To Work")

21 May 2012

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