Confronting the Character and Motivations of Networks
All complex adaptive systems, natural and human, develop characteristic patterns of self-organizing behavior
However, the agency of such networks also gives them the capacity to respond and adapt unpredictably
To understand our own systems operate means regarding them psychologically, as if they were complex 'personalities'
From marriages to institutions, we will discover that networks have character and hidden 'motivations'
Agency Directs both Natural and Human Systems
The agency of complex adaptive system networks manifests what are essentially 'strategies' for sustaining their systems. How the parts of systems such as local ocean ecologies or metropolitan cities are connected and interact generates activities that constitute characteristic behaviors, even a sense of 'personality.' Chicago as a system operates in ways that distinguish its network character from New York. Thus, just as with individual persons, the 'motivations' behind the behavior of one city network can be significantly different from another one. Similarly, trying to influence the behavior of one network might require different actions than another that appears very similar. This knowledge has profound implications for both how natural systems react to human actions and how human actions are influenced by the character of human system networks.
Networks and The New Reality of Everyday Issues
We are all Parts of Self-Determining Networks that Manipulate Us for Their Own Purposes
Each person is a self-determining network with at least some capacity to act independently in relationship with other such networks. But those networks are not just other persons. Science confirms that similar agency is manifested by the interactions of multiple persons. These organizational or "social networks" develop their own characteristic behaviors and purposeful motivations. They range from families and groups of friends to organizations and institutions. The influence of these collective networks readily prompt individual persons involved to think and act in ways that serve network purposes. When people are acting on behalf of a political party or business that employs them, they can behave in ways they would not do otherwise. The behavior of individuals as well as groups of people is continually being manipulated by the character and motives of larger networks in which they are involved.
Distinguishing the Manipulations of Our Behavior by Organizational Networks -- from the People in Them
Because humans tend to assume that human behavior arises entirely from human agency, from ideas, beliefs, and psychological motivations that exist only in human minds, few of us conceive that our behaviors might actually not express our personal values or interests. But the science of complex systems shows how organizational networks, from social groups to educational, economic, political, and technological systems, assert profound influence upon the behavior of humans involved in those systems. To understand how and why events take place in our societies and economies, we must learn to examine the behaviors of our system networks for their 'self-serving motivations.' In doing so we will learn that educational systems do not necessarily operate primarily to promote education, nor law courts to enforce justice, or corporations to make profits -- and that our technological systems direct our behavior in service to their elaboration more than we consciously control them.
Hierarchical System Structure Promotes Networks Motivated toward Power and Control
The structure of connections between the parts of a complex system, and thus the ways feedback flows between those parts to form its operational network, has a profound influence on the characteristic behavior of a network. System structure can be configured so that feedback flows relatively evenly between many parts. That can be thought of as general reciprocity of influence between system parts. But connections between parts can also be configured so that feedback flows toward very few parts of the system so that those parts have more capacity to control the entire system. That can be described as centralized influence within the system network. The more generalized flows of feedback have a 'horizontal' character, while the more centralized flows have a 'vertical' or hierarchical one.
Hierarchical network relationships emphasize a capacity for a network to assert it influence upon its parts and other networks more overtly. In the extreme case of human created systems, this hierarchical structure greatly inclines network character toward manipulative control and exploitation. Examples are societies structured around 'upper' and 'lower' classes, the enforced chains of command in armies or corporations, and professional associations in which rank imparts disproportional status to some members of the group. Systems structured in this hierarchical manner have network character that reflexively seeks to assert control and enhance its power over 'lower' parts of the system and over other systems.