What are sovereign systems?

There are four ways to treat risk, and two sources of systemic risk.

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Systems & sovereignty

Unless otherwise specified or implied, the systems I speak of are concrete human systems.

Systems are combinations of three elements:

  • Humans, who live together in an organised and cooperative way in a certain local time and place. Any system has one or more humans, and changes over time in some respects, while remaining stable in others, growing according to its power over other human or nonhuman systems.
  • Institutions, that regulate humans in a system according to higher or supralocal ideas of cooperation, by isolating and punishing non-cooperators. Cooperation requires trust between humans and belief in higher or supralocal ideas. Institutions determine a system's level of cohesion. Cohesion is always cohesion around a centre of power. The centre's belief system is the central belief system of the system, its systemic narrative.
  • Instruments, that humans in a system use to exert limited control over objects belonging to the system's environment, for the purpose of the system's survival and growth. Instruments determine the level of force of a system and are characterised by their level of resource-efficiency.

Systems are cooperative internally because humankind is fundamentally cooperative. This internal cooperation is compatible with a limited degree of internal competition. Beyond a certain threshold, internal competition causes the system to fragment into smaller competing systems.

Systems are not gods living in remote peaceful areas of the universe. They are rarely isolated for long and generally compete with other, human or nonhuman external systems for resources that are required for their survival and development. This external competition is compatible with a limited degree of external cooperation. When two systems are highly cooperative between each other, they share the same institutions and thus really form one single larger system.

The more systems cooperate together, the more open they are to each other. The less systems cooperate together, the more closed they are to each other.

A subsystem is a specialised system within a system. A system is more complex when it contains more, and more differentiated subsystems. A system can survive on its own in its normal environment, but a specialised subsystem can't survive outside of the system it is part of.

The three elements of a system (humans, institutions, and instruments) are also subsystems in it. They have a local character, relative to the supralocal character of the system they are part of. In relation to external systems however, that system has a local, not a supralocal character.

Some modern sociologists unduly restrict the meaning of the term "system" to "supralocal systems", and this error of speech needs to be corrected. The highly supralocal systems we see in our time are not without precedent in human history. Their existence is not proof that we have entered post-history.

Political sovereignty is an old concept. According to some, it is too primitive for our time. I hold the opposite view. The concept of political sovereignty is the thorn in the side of the post-historical dreamers. This thorn could grow stronger and sharper. If it should be the case that humankind hasn't entered post-history, then humankind requires a generalised concept of sovereignty.

Something that older ideas on sovereignty have failed to sufficiently capture: everything human that escapes the power of a local or supralocal system is extralocal to it.

Systemic risk

The concept of risk

A risk is an uncertain negative event situated in the future. This notion is potent enough to connect fields of analysis that are usually approached with separate analytical tools, in particular: sociology, political science, management science and economics.

The concept of risk is central to economics and rational action theory. However, even aside from theoretical problems surrounding the concept of risk itself, most applications of rational action theory have a structurally deficient understanding of human motivation.

Some modern sociologists have developed their own risk-centred analytical frameworks, but have a highly biased view of history or rather post-history.

Some political scientists have brilliantly analysed power and came close to integrating the concepts of power and risk. But they failed to fully develop this insight.

Applying the rational concept of risk within a correct anthropological framework to the study of particular situations is rare. Consistently applying such a framework to the study of global history, and deriving a systemic narrative from this analysis, is even rarer.

The concept of systemic risk

In order to persist in time, systems must combine humans, institutions and instruments in a viable manner, or be destroyed or structurally weakened either by nature, or by other systems, or by themselves. They are not assured of survival, they always face risks that threaten either their form of existence, their normal development, or their existence itself.

Those risks that threaten irreversible, large-scale harm I categorise as systemic. Such risks include risks affecting the normal development of a system. A situation of suppression of the normal development of a system is a systemic risk for the suppressed system.

The realisation of systemic risk leads either to a change in the balance between the subsystemic parts of a system, or to fragmentation into smaller systems, or to absorption into, or domination by another system, or to complete destruction in both form and constituent parts of the system.

The four ways to treat risk

There are four fundamental ways to treat risk, and only four.