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Humberto Maturana: 12 Social systems
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Biosphere, Homosphere, and Robosphere: what has that to do with Business?
Humberto Maturana Romesin and Pille Bunnell
 
Social systems

When we speak about social systems we usually speak as if all human relationships were intrinsically social and social systems included all sorts of relations including work, school, castes, armies, etc. We say societies have a diversity of relationships, but I do not think this is the case. I think that different emotions constitute different domains of relational behavior, not all of them social. It is not the same to relate in one emotion or another. I think only relationships in the emotion of love constitute social systems. Or put differently, if there is love, what appears in the interpersonal relations is a social system; without love there is no social system.

We speak about power as something one has, but the emotion that constitutes power is obedience. We give power by obeying. In 1979, during the military dictatorship in Chile, we were talking about things of this nature. I was teaching a course on the biology of cognition which lasted the whole year, so I could say many things - because it was very slow. So I brought a toy gun, and said "Let me show you what I mean by power." And I pointed the toy gun at one of the female students and said "Stand up or I will kill you" She stood up. "Come here!" and she came to the middle of the room. "Lie down!" and she lay down. "Take your clothes off!" and she immediately stood up and said no. Power disappeared. It didn't matter that I had a gun, I could have killed her, but she would not have given me power, because she did not do what I had demanded. I would have been ultimately frustrated in my demand by killing her.

Power arises in obedience. So power relations are a manner of relating in which obedience is the fundament. Hierarchical systems take place under power relations, that means obedience. And in obedience there is no collaboration. Collaboration is only possible when the relation is based in the emotion of love, acceptance of the legitimacy of the other in coexistence with you.
 
A work relation is a relation in which one commits to fulfilling a task in exchange for some retribution. Imagine this scenario: I go to a company, knock on the door and say I want a job. The person who is interviewing me, says "Please come in and sit down". And we talk, in a social dynamics, because we treat each other as persons. And he or she says, OK, I can hire you, and this is the contract, that is a statement of the commitments I and my employer make to each other. One commitment of the employee is to arrive at 8:30 in the mornings. One day I arrive at 9:30 and the employer says "I am going to reduce your salary, you did not keep your commitment!" I tell him that my wife was ill, and I had to take her to the doctor. He may reply that I made an agreement, and show me the contract, and my wife becomes a mere impertinence. Alternatively, the employer is committed to pay me every week. One week, he says "Sorry, I cannot pay you right now. We have just been robbed, and I do not have the money". And I could complain "But you made a commitment to pay me every week" and treat the situation of the bank robbery as irrelevant.
 
If these kinds of problems arise at work, then the work relation is not a social relation. That is why labor legislation was developed, the purpose for labor legislation is to recover those human dimensions proper to social relations which have disappeared in the work relationship.
 
It is possible to retain the work space as a social space. We can, for example, sign an agreement which defines the labor space for a year, and henceforth that labor space can be lived as a social dynamic. The changes in Shell Oil were grounded in the transformation of a labor space to a social dynamic in a background of trust. Commitments continued to be fulfilled; they constituted the background, but they were not the essence. In such a situation the work relation will appear only if someone does not fulfill the intent of the commitment. The rest of the time, which may be all the time, work can be lived as a social dimension.
 
I have been at the University of Chile with an agreement to fulfill a certain task. This agreement has defined the ground on which I have been free to participate in the social dynamic that the university can be. Work only leads to robotization if the work relation is the one that is prevalent every moment, enforced through demand, restrictions or punishments that continuously put people in a cage in which they disappear as persons. When the only thing that is important is that a particular task be realized then the person can be replaced by a robot. Being a person is not necessary at all for the realization of this task. In a social system one cannot replace persons by robots, because they require the particular kind of beings that humans are, with the particular kinds of emotions humans have, so that humans can participate in the particular kinds of conversations that constitute collaboratively doing things together in a social dynamics.
It is in that sense that I say I have been at the University of Chile for many many years, but I have never worked there. I have been a member of the university, I have done research and taught courses, and they have paid my salary, but I have never worked. Relations of work are not social relations, they are relations of commitment for the fulfillment of a task for something else in return, and you disappear as a person, you become a robot.

I think it is possible to have a social interaction in a computer based high technology world, provided the technological instrument becomes completely transparent, like the telephone. But if our attention is on the technology, then the situation is different. Or if we are using the technology for hierarchical relations, control or obedience, then of course the technology does not permit social relations.

I was asked to write an article for a book, Metadesign that reflects on all the beautiful new technologies that are there for doing things together under the view that a new kind of human being is needed. What I say in my article is that in fact we do not need new kinds of humans, that it is the technology that will change. The whole problem is in our emotions, how we live the technology. Is the technology an instrument, or is it an end in itself. Does it become fundamental for our existence, or is it an instrument we use for social dynamics. We can become friends thorough the Internet, email, or telephone. And as we are friends, and we are biological entities, we shall want to see each other. We see each other through a video screen, and we shall want to touch each other, to smell each other, to have this nearness. Because there are certain dimensions that are not being replaced by the technology. I suppose some could be replaced eventually; for example we could have telesmell transmission.... Maybe if we have only tele-relations then the population growth problem could be solved. But we would not happy because we need the multidimensionality of a tangible relation in the same niche.
 
I see two problems with technology. One is that technology becomes the central thing, that we are driven by the technology. In Chile we are on the fringe of technological developments, new technology comes from outside Chile, and the manner of speaking is that "Technology drives us!" we have to keep up, or we will be left out of the world, we have to follow it." Here you have more freedom to say, "Technology is an instrument, it does not drive us, what do we want to do with it?" For that you have to have a standing that is independent of the technology, because you love yourself, you respect yourself, you are a social being. This is part of our problem, there is such a fascination with technology "We human beings are so imaginative, we create such fantastic things!" But these fantastic things channel what we do, and what we become. The second problem is that we are being guided by someone making and selling these technologies for their own profit. The motive is not social, it is based in appropriation, dominance, and control. But we don't have to follow the path that tantalizes. We can say this is an instrument, and I shall use it when it is necessary for what I want to do, and I shall leave it aside when I don't want it.
 
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