S1E3 – A: Diving into the complexity of Society

In an effort to analyze real-life dilemmas, we take a closer look at what it means to see society as a Complex Adaptive System, introducing major concepts such as Relational Space, Stakeholders and Roles.

In the previous phase, I provided you with a shallow and abstract introduction to the DREMSI theory, I remain at the borders of many of the concepts as my main objective was to give you a hint of the aromas within it.   The following three episodes are heavily focused on disclosing in detail the ingredients and cooking process so that one can experience the flavour of each component and understand how they work in symphony together.

The objective of phase two is to prepare the ground to solve the real-life dilemmas that we will discuss in phase three (episodes 6-8). As mentioned before, classical dilemmas are merely child games in comparison with real-life dilemmas because real-life dilemmas are hard, solutions are not obvious, ambiguities are everywhere and trade-offs are a common outcome. Not only does one has to evaluate the situation at hand, but one has to consider the bigger picture. The advice “choose your battles”, is one of the wisest paths one can take while facing real-life situations.

Along the lines of complexity theory, real-life dilemmas are “complex” as there have way too many variables, with too many different outcomes possible. For example, should you tell human resources about some weird behaviours of your boss that are making your colleagues uncomfortable? … a tricky situation that requires you to consider multiple variables:

  • Which objective shall you use? – Your career, the company? your colleagues?
  • Which way shall you pursue? – An email? a one-to-one coffee? a formal meeting?
  • Whom shall it be involved? – The affected colleagues? the boss of your boss?

Regardless of the complexity level, the DREMSI Method can help one un-entangle the complexity of the situations and focus on the key metrics that matter for ethics. The DREMSI Method is basically a diagram to identify the expectations that apply, measure injury levels and make a judgement on what causes the least injuries.

For one to fully use DREMSI to solve real-life dilemmas, one must fully digest the implications of using the methodology, as such, in this episode I will share the most important characteristics of a system and what this means for roleplaying and injury valuation.

I’ll begin with a small recap of society as a Complex Adaptive System, that shall bring forth the functional and organizational aspects of systems. With this at hand, I’ll introduce six conditions of relational spaces, formalizing major concepts such as relational space, stakeholders and Modus Operandi. This is the preamble to bring forth how important is roleplaying for individuals, as not only is it a vehicle for agency, is also a medium to access resources and ultimately it is a path to satisfy our identity. This ecosystem of individuals pursuing their interest leads to the unavoidable power dynamics present in every relational space, where the scarcity of resources give birth to inequalities and friction among the members.

With the conditions and power dynamics in place, I then proceed to discuss how this influences the process of injury identification; In specific, I address the ambiguous concept of injuries in dignity, in the shape of recognition, inclusion and autonomy. Lastly, I provide a perspective on what this means for any actor in a roleplaying activity, in other words for anyone in their everyday life.

The next three episodes are highly theoretical but ill aim to complement them with examples where possible, jargon is unavoidable but ill try to minimize it as much as possible.

Society as a CAS recap – Survival, to Power Structures and Process

During episode one, I used the analogy of tacos “el rojo” to describe society as a complex system,  the story of how a new Mexican restaurant composed of a two-man army, turned into a cross-national restaurant chain with hundreds of employees, creating its own internal culture, “el rojo” way. I would like to present the same idea but in a more analytical format, hence let us review the systematic attributes and benefits of having a culture.

Let us begin with the root of everything, the “why” is the entity created,  the purpose of the entity. Although groups can be formed for many objectives a very common one and perhaps primordial is survival. In this case, to survive means to gather enough resources, to defend themselves against adversities and to raise the future new generation.  In this regard, Culture is a fantastic tool for survival, as it enables us to reduce the complexity of many operations needed for survival. Let’s take for example something as trivial as hunting

  • Language allows us easier transmission of information, so everyone knows the latest status
  • Division of labour, allow us to segment task so that one person gets an easier task
  • Traditions and norms allow us to know the rules of interaction and behaviour, so that team coordination can be more effective

The beauty of culture is that this is a tool that works on scale thanks to the establishment of institutions, turning anything that is “official”  into common operational blueprints for practices, activities, roles, and expectations.  From something as simple as a family group to something as sophisticated as a government structure.

It was highlighted by Nobel prize winner Elinor Ostrom, famous for her studies on the management of the commons, that once a group reaches around 300 people there is a cultural need to build institutions so that information accuracy and standards can be ensured. Given the benefits culture brings in the simplification of operations, speed of information and adaptability to the environment, it is easy to see how culture is a tremendous tool for survival. Echoing the words of Joseph Henrich, “culture is the reason for our success as species”.

Stakeholders, Roles and Relational Spaces

Culture is the outcome of interaction between different actors as they pursue an objective within a given space.  So long there are two or more individuals interacting, there is a sort of cultural system within all their actions. At this point, I want to formalize three basic concepts: Stakeholders, Roles and Relational Spaces.

Stakeholders are the actors, the interactive elements, performing a role within a space. It can be as simple as the father in a family, or the driver of a taxi, or even in an aggregate manner, such as the government of a society, or a political party in an election. As long they interact, either actively or passively, within a relational space, they will be assigned with a role.

Roles are “ideal-type” images which are shared in specific socio-cultural contexts and are assumed to be real and acted upon.  Roles perform a specific function within a space and are associated with a set of agreed activities, rights, responsibilities and rewards, all of these encapsulated with the idea of Role Expectations.

Relational Space is the area in which stakeholders’ interaction happens, where they operate. I use this term in a similar fashion as the concept of Field used by sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, he defined Field as a structured social space, a field of forces. In the same light, I use it as the space in which multiple stakeholders interact, with different social expectations on behaviours that collectively operate as a sort of force. To give you an example, during a class students behave very differently if there is a teacher in the room or not, just by the mere presence of a teacher, everyone behaves differently, hence its presence and expectations are one way the relational force influences behaviour.

To bring these three concepts into the context of the DREMSI Methodology, the main objective for ethics is about the minimization of stakeholder injuries, or in other words, reducing the injuries to an individual or group that is interacting within a relational space the relational space. To properly use the DREMSI method we rely on our ability to visualize the relational space, its social expectations and behavioural forces. It is by looking at a situation in such a fragmented manner that we can fully analyze ethical dilemmas.

Relational Spaces are contextual, multidirectional and interconnected.

Getting a bit deeper into Relational Spaces, I would like to highlight a few characteristics on how we can visualize them. It is important to remember that these spaces are highly contextual as they rise from specific interactions which are spatial, temporal, and cultural.For example:

  • the taxi driver and passenger relationship is temporary and only happens within the vehicle and between two stakeholders that have entered into such a relationship
  • The father and son relationship is perpetual and commonly associated with blood relations and growing up together.
  • And at a Macro level, the government-citizen relationship is continuous and exclusive to a specific territory.

Important to highlight that we have the ability to conceptualize clusters of stakeholders, in other words, easy to see how we can have “the family” as a stakeholder out of “the mother, the daughter and the father.”. Once the cluster is well known, it can represent the group of stakeholders within other relational spaces, such as the family in relation to the neighbourhood or the city.

Connecting this with the idea that we are polyfunctional roleplaying agents, relational spaces are the outcome of our ability to take multiple roles at once, hence we can say that in any given situation, we have the ability to visualize multiple relational spaces influencing each other. For example in an office, an employee might have an argument with another colleague which leads to a company problem, in this regard, we can see the relational space as a corporation, or alternatively, we could consider the stakeholders to be friends and review the issue within a friendship space. To sum up, I argue that all relational spaces are interconnected, as the stakeholders have the ability to play multiple roles,  and are multi-layered, as we can aggregate stakeholders and form new ones.

Relational space’s Modus Operandi

Shifting gears in our exploration of relational spaces, I want to highlight the adaptive feature of these spaces as they operate in constant flux with their environment; in other words, relational spaces follow a process of adaptation constrained by changes in their environment and resources at hand, something like the evolutionary process we are all familiar. As “resources” I mean concepts such as time, manpower, food, knowledge, everything that is used to operate within an environment. This adaptive process is easy to see in a country, as it is constantly changing according to the shifts in the world and inner dynamics.

Because of this adaptive need, relational spaces develop a specific operational model, a way of doing things within the space. I call this modus operandi. In plain words, it refers to the rules of interaction within a space, that if everyone follows it ensures the space can achieve its objective and thrive within its environment. I think this is easy to visualize if we look at a company, in which they have a way of using resources to deliver goods and they must ensure they do it effectively, meaning there is a profit in the end.

The modus operandi can be seen as the set of rules about how the group makes decisions, manage resources, divides workload or communicates. These “rules” go hand in hand with a structure in the shape of formalized institutions, organizational structure, and decision-making processes.

Although we might think that every space is unique and has a unique modus operandi the rules of interaction within spaces can be quite similar, for example, many of the rules we have within a family continue to apply with our group of friends. And so the “modus operandi”, seems to follow basic templates, research of organizational culture has given name to these patterns of rules, and clustered them into the concept of “types of cultures”.  A perfect example of a “types of culture classification” comes from the work of Kim Cameron and Robert Quinn, who identified four types of Organizational culture:

  • Clan culture, People-oriented culture, a sort of community where everyone cooperates in decisions
  • Market culture, result-oriented culture, what we can see in the private sector, best offer wins
  • Hierarchy culture, process-oriented culture, similar to a military structure, where decisions are taken from the top
  • Adhocracy culture, dynamic-oriented, a sort of entrepreneurial setup, with many teams moving independently

I do not think this is a perfect classification but is a solid start as it is comprehensive enough to see how these types of cultures apply to our everyday life

Eight Conditions of Relational spaces.

Taking everything I have said, let me introduce you to the first five conditions that are present among all relational spaces:

  1. Relational spaces are formed by stakeholders’ interactions, either individuals, groups or even relational spaces.
  2. Relational spaces are multidimensionally connected, as stakeholders are connected with other relational spaces.
  3. Relational spaces are functionally influenced, as there is a purpose for the interaction, from something as trivial as a party to a larger goal as the survival of the group.
  4. Relational spaces are environmentally constrained, hence adaptive, as it responds to its environment in an effort to cope and thrive.
  5. Relational spaces have a modus operandi, in the shape of rules, institutions, structures and processes. Making the best of its resources in order to adapt to its environment

These initial conditions are well known within the study of systems, I pretty much rephrase them for better application in ethics. What is not usually discussed, is the fact that all these relational spaces are composed of individuals, these magical emotional entities,  partially irrational people looking to achieve their personal objectives as they play multiple roles in a coordinated or competitive manner. Because of the unique needs of an individual, which is the core of all relational spaces, I add three more characteristics to the list that represent better what happens within a space:

  1. A Relational space is the place where individuals fulfil their interests, not only the obvious interest such as resources but deeper ones such as their identity or meaning of life
  2. For one to play a role, it requires a validation process. The stakeholders’ role is always bound to an internal and external validation process.
  3. Due to the “modus operandi”, contextual scarcity and a wide variety of stakeholders’ interests, there are always power dynamics within all relational spaces.

These points are strongly connected with famous ethical concepts such as power, dignity and autonomy. Concepts that have heavily influenced and to a large degree moved forward the field of ethics. Concepts that make a mechanical idea feel more human.

NEXT: S1E3-B: Relational dynamics of living in a System

Pride by Pieter Brueghel the Elder

S1E9 – A: State Dilemmas – Announcement

Hola my dear readers, In episode nine of this series we are meant to analyse the ethical dilemmas that governments face, it has been a long journey and this is one of the last stops in this theory. While individual and business dilemmas were relatively easy to analyse using the DREMSI method, it has taken

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, The Battle of the Moneybags

S1E8 – D: Extended accountabilities

In this final section of Companies Dilemmas, we handle the controversial topic of Extended Accountabilities, aiming to define how far is a company responsible for the actions of external parties when running a business.

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, The Battle of the Moneybags

S1E8 – C: Companies and the Greater good

In this episode, we handle how companies should consider solving «Greater Good» Dilemmas such as inequality and sustainability. A very common and valid question that doesn’t have an easy answer and even at times relies more on the government and the consumer than the company in itself.

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