Luhmann Explained (from Souls to Systems) . Hans-Georg Moeller . Open Court Publishing Company (Carus Publishing) . 2006 . ISBN13 978-0-8126-9598-4 . ISBN10 0-8126-9598-4
Luhmann’s basic claim is that society does not comprise of humans. This goes against the common opinion (conventional wisdom) that the individual is the pivot and society is civil; this is often seen as scandalous and antihumanistic. However, the objective of this book is to show that Luhmann’s theory explains the current reality well. Human beings are in this way denied a central role in society, but not because of a lack of respect for their material being, but because they are such a complex ‘assemblage’ that they are difficult to understand in terms of a single concept: ‘Luhmann’s theory should be read, I believe, not as a denial of human experience, but as an attempt to sort out and do justice to the extreme multiplicity, or, to put it more dramatically, the existential division of such experiences’
. The project of modernity can be seen as attempt to reunite the Cartesian split between body and mind; Luhmann gives up this experiment and grants every aspect of human experience its own right of existence; in this sense he is more postmodern (whatever this may mean) than modern; but his ‘antihumanism’ is not a replacement of ‘human nature’ with systems. ‘Social systems theory does not describe reality as it “essentially” is, but as what it has actually become – and it could have come out otherwise’ [p x]. And he points out how unlikely the current outcome is: it is not in any way necessary: the strange functionings we are all part of are transitory and temporary, and not ‘essential’ nor ‘substantial’(DPB: I have used the word ‘substantial’ many times to point at the ‘organization’ of a firm, or the body of an organism &c.).
‘The present book will highlight its (Luhmann’s social theory) unique relevance in regard to current social and political issues’ [p xi].
A New Way of Thinking about Society
1. What Is Social Systems Theory?
(a) Systems Theory
There are more complaints about being treated as a number. Economically all that matters is money. Politically there is perceived a lack of true democracy, in the sense of rule by the people. Organizations and multinational corps via political parties taking their donations gain influence over governments and out of the hands of citizens. Technology and mass media occupy more of people’s space and time; people feel marginalized bu sophisticated machines. Bio-engineering reduces the importance of people’s reproductive faculties and further dehumanizes them. People feel a need for ethics (professional, religious) to come to the aid of human values. Paradoxically all of the above developments are received with enthusiasm also: the end of deceases, the increase of intellect and the realization of human potential and, lastly (by the development of the markets) the increase of prosperity and freedom for all. These positive, optimistic and negative, pessimistic outlooks can be found in the same person; perhaps this is because both feelings are “humanist”. But the gap between present day society and what is conceived as a “human” world is large; pessimistic people may have a nostalgic inclination to change the world back to a more human version; optimistic people may want to change the attitude. The task of Social Systems Theory is do away with the traditional view of a human society that is used as a reference by both: society can no longer be understood as a human one, but it does not blame society (as the cultural pessimists do). ‘.. nor does it celebrate the dehumanization of the humane as the greatest human perfection’[p 5]. The starting point of social systems theory is that society cannot be analyzed on the basis that it is humane, or that it is an assembly of people. This seems odd, perhaps because we are used to traditional / Old European descriptions of society (a group of people with a common way of life) instead of our current actual experiences. This started with Plato and did not change much thereafter: a group model and communication between human beings, an anthropocentric approach to society. The change from the human centered approach to the social systems approach is to describe actions of people not as human interaction in the context of a community but as events in a function system (democratic, economic, mass media). From this follows a basic assumption: ‘human beings do not and cannot communicate – only communication can’ [p 6]. The change is that society is not described on the basis of its members (people or a community) but based on its events (what actually happens). The events are political, economic, and mass media communication: language is not a necessary requirement, ballots, money &c. can do the job (although language and semiotics have influenced social systems theory). But do these events not invariably point at one single member (e.g. vote, transaction, mass media consumption)? Physically yes, but individual people can take part in a number of communications simultaneously; these communications are handled by ‘instances of them’: therefore the nexus of communication cannot be the individual person. Their mental individuality is preserved because people mentally switch up and down between communications, but the individual communications do not and separate streams occur flawlessly and seamlessly. From the perspective of the communications the individuals are not an integrated part of the events of communication. In this sense people are an external condition for communication and not an internal sine qua non for it. When people talk then communication communicates: they can connect their communication to the communication of others but not themselves to the others themselves. Social systems theory distinguishes systems of communication (social systems), systems of life (organisms, brains), and systems of consciousness (minds); each of them is in the environment of the others; each of them is individual (human body, mind, communication) and singular (national economies are parts of the ‘economy’). Individuality is now a systemic individuality: people can be part of (are divided in) segments (namely one body, one mind, one or more communication system(s)) that form separate individualities. Neither of the individuals can claim to be the ‘essential’ element or the ‘true’ individual aspect of a human being: these systems are not in a hierarchical relation and hence they cannot exert control over the other: what aspect do you perceive if you ‘see’ that person over there? ‘Once more: this by no means denies that the human being has a body and a mind outside of communication – it is rather to absolutely confirm this, and to say that human beings exist as much bodily as they exist mentally and socially – but rather that none of these three realms can claim to include the other two. .. While minds, bodies, and communications can be “individual”, a human being cannot. The “human being” does not exist as a singular entity. According to systems theory, the traditional notion of the “human being” is a simplification of the actual complexity of human existence’ [pp. 10-11]. DPB: tnhis reminds me of the discussion with ML about the ‘role’ of people and her question: What kind of entities are your people: psychological, or social? Though people are referred to as unity’s or individuals who are supposed to communicate; but neither bodies nor minds can communicate; what is uttered is different from what is perceived: ‘Communication systems and mental systems are operationally separate. The “human being” can be reduced to neither one of them. Thus, social systems theory holds it that if “we” want to understand how society functions or operates, we cannot reduce it to such an extremely broad and “metasocial” notion as that of the “human being”’ [p 11]. Social systems theory tries to explain the growth of a social system using the same systems and concepts as biological organisms: ‘Systems theory diverges from such classical models (demiurge, first moves, creator god) and replaces the notion of external agency or “input” with the notion of self-construction. Reality is no longer a created one (neither a created one nor a created one) but a constructivist complexity. Every system produces itself and thereby its own reality. The world ceases to be a general “unit” or “oneness”. Reality is not an all-embracing whole of many parts, it is rather a variety of self-producing systemic realities, each of which forms the environment of all the others. There is no common “world” in reality, because reality is in each instance an effect of “individual” systemic autopoiesis. Reality is transformed from created oneness to constructed difference’
[pp. 13 – 14]
. Varela describes: ‘This is the core of autonomy. This is also exactly what is meant by operational closure. My shortest definition is: The results of systemic operations are once more systemic operations. This is the case in many areas. (Biological) autopoiesis is only one example. Other examples are language, and, possibly, families, firms, etc. (1997, 148-9)’
. Varela strongly suspects that autopoiesis is not merely a biological process but that it has a more wide meaning. Living systems each produce their systemic reality; what happens in their environment can produce a response but only in the boundaries and operational means of the system: There is neither a direct input nor an immediate output. ‘Social systems theory borrows not only the concept of autopoiesis from biological systems theory, but also the concept of operational closure. The theory views social systems as “operationally closed” because, like biological systems, they are self-producing “organisms” of communication that consist of the connecting of system-internal communication with system-internal communication’ [p 15]. Once established, the autopoietic system can only proceed by its own operational means: ‘It cannot import other means without losing its systemic integrity and its “membrane” and thus its reality’ [p 15]. The introduction of the concepts of autopoiesis and operational closure into the social theory entails a paradigm shift: ‘.. (assuming operational closure and autopoiesis) .. it also breaks with the epistemology of the ontological tradition that assumed that something of the environment enters the understanding and that the environment is represented, mirrored, imitated, or simulated within a cognizing system. In this respect, the radicalism of the new approach can hardly be underestimated (Varela 2002a, 114)’ [p 16]. DPB: this is I think exactly what I have tried to explain. And what John Holland has tried to model. I think what is meant in the above is that there is no mapping in the sense of a logical connection (as a map, a mirror image, imitation or simulation) between the reality (outside) and the cognitive system (inside); the boundary distinguishes what gets computed inside the system and what occurs outside. But the quote above means that anything goes in regards to the rules defining the anticipatory powers of the cognitive system concerning the uncertainties offered by the environment. ‘How a system is real depends on its own self-production, and how it perceives the reality of its environment also depends on its self-production. By constructing itself as a system, a system also constructs its understanding of the environment. And thus, a systemic world cannot suppose any singular, common environment for all systems that can somehow be “represented” within any system. Every system exists by differentiation and thus is different from other systems and has a different environment. Reality becomes a multitude of system-environment constructions that a re in each case unique’ [ p 16]. DPB: this last part is very important because it explains how systems namely firms are never twice the same. Operational closure means that systems can be open to one another, but not operationally so. Biological operations in a cell are only open to other biological operations, psychological operations in a mind only to other psychological operations in that mind and communicative operations only open to communicative operations in that system: ‘If you want to formulate it radically, you may say that cognition is only possible because there are no relation, no operative relations to the environment’ [p 17, Luhmann Theories of Distinction, p 93]. The question: Who sees the environment more correctly? has hence become obsolete in systems theory. Autopoietic systems (body, mind, communication) are operationally closed and thus open towards each other. They are also structurally coupled: communication can only occur where there is a body and a mind; a mind can only exist if there is a body. This dependency is called a structural coupling: ‘One cannot imagine that a consciousness could have evolved without communication. Similarly, one cannot imagine that there would be meaningful communication without consciousness. There must have been a kind of coordination, that, because it relates to the different forms of autopoiesis, lead, on the one hand, to an increase of complexity within the realm of possible mental contents and, on the other hand, within the realm of social communication. It seems to me that this mechanism of coupling is language (Luhmann Theories of Distinction, p 122)’ [p 19]. Structural coupling means that systems shape each others’ environments such that they both depend on the other for the continuation of their autopoiesis and this results in an increase of their structural complexity. ‘The structural coupling between the brain as a living system, the mind as a psychic system, and society as a communication system seems to be of a specific structure with the mind somehow in-between the two other systems. .. It seems that the mind is some kind of filter between the brain, on the one hand, and communication, on the other’
. DPB: this reminds me of the idea that if the environment of some system were fully random than o brain (or mind) would have been required. The brain (an d the mind) serve to identify and make sense of and deal with (anticipate) patterns in the environment. And hence the development of cognition develops with the development of the pattern in the environment that is also a developing cognitive entity. They are both individuating as cognitive and thinking entities using each other as ‘practice material’.
(b) Social Systems
Social systems theory recognizes psychic and biological systems as their environment; it uses terminology from biology; but social systems do not really ‘live’, they do communicate. Society is metaphorically described as an ‘organism’ and in terms of ‘consciousness’. Social systems theory rejects the idea that society has a biological or a psychic grounding: life and consciousness are not a part of society and they operate outside society’s ‘boundary’ or ‘membrane’; communication has its own autopoiesis; society does not consist of human bodies or minds, but of communication events (money, language, gestures, &c.). ‘Orderly communication, in which we can first expect to be understood by others and second to understand them, emerges from double contingency. Not anything, but any communication goes on, but it goes on only if and when it is able to establish some kind of order, when the problem of double contingency on both sides of the “understanding” of that communication is solved. Communication that is not mutually understood will not continue’ [p 22]. DPB: this is exactly what I have tried to model in my Logistical Model: the party at either ‘end’ of the communication must perceive the utterance for it to become part of the communication. But what the perceived utterance in fact ‘is’ is unimportant: it is defined as a communication by the fact that it is being uttered and it is being perceived, and hence by the fact that the communication is not ended by a lack of either. This is also exemplified by an economic transaction: only if the buyer buys whatever is on offer is the transaction complete and the communication continues uninterrupted. Communication is then a unity of announcement, information and understanding (Mitteilung, Information, und Verstehen): ‘Communication only continues and grows if it establishes certain patterns that allow for it to continue in that certain way along with that certain order. All emerging patterns of communication (of announcement, information, understanding) – or social order – can be explained as a solution to the problem of double contingency. What is communicated and how it is communicated is totally contingent: there is no basic a priori condition for communication’ [p 23]. DPB: I have situated these communication events in situations. What I have left implicit is that the communication ‘wants’ to proceed one more event (and one more) and whatever is expressed only has the function as a stepping stone onto the next unknown event that bears some relation to the current, but is oblivious to the next: it is a road to nowhere. The equation of AIU (MIV) should only lead to the next event in a chain of events that only afterwards becomes clear, and no more is required of this threesome. ‘Once communication goes on, however, how it goes on is contingent upon these patterns that have been established’ [p 23]. DPB: this reminds again of Oudemans’ restrictions: at every state there are attractors and repellers for the next possible states. Once a system has developed an economy then that pattern is binding and it is only possible ‘.. to communicate economically by communicating economically. Nobody can buy anything with noneconomic communication’ [p 23]. In social systems theory these patterns of communication constitute society: ‘Society consists of social systems, of certain communicational “organisms” that emerged and have established their own specific types of operations’ [p 23]. DPB: interestingly the claim that these patterns áre social systems is left unsaid / implicit. I have claimed this on the basis of memetics: that these are selfish. Now I need to rephrase that into a claim that includes communication, social systems and taking into account individuation. The question is to what extent I can keep the memes alive? And to what extent I will need them, because to an increasing extent I feel that they are a kind of a support mechanism to explain and connect expression and perception (in my model); perhaps it is the same as communication as is it intended by Luhmann? Luhmann calls the individual communication systems function systems. DPB: I think Heylighen calls them aspect systems, which I prefer, because a function system is too intentional a term and aspect is more neutral. I also am not sure that they are really different (as in separable) systems: I am rather fond of the idea that a landscape of Jobs (are these the same as communication events?) exist where all kinds of ideas are undergoing operations. These can be part of more than one system: to which system they are decided to belong depends only on the observer: she decides which aspect system this specific Job belongs to. Now it gets tangled up if the aspect or function systems are called subsystems of society: ‘They are “subsystems” of society. Each function system has its own social perspective and creates its own social reality. They are all, so to speak “subrealities” of a general social reality. Still, they are not, strictly speaking, “parts” of a “whole”: society does not become less “whole” when a system ceases to function and it does not become more “whole” when a new on emerges’ [p 24]. DPB: it does makes sense if they, as they develop, also their reality develops with them as a proper cognitive system. But the “subsystems” are not integrated to form some kind of a super-system. In this sense society consist only of subsystems without a hierarchical relation between them or between them and a super-system. Now each of the function systems observes the other subsystems from its own perspective, unmediated. The function systems communicate based on their “codes”, namely the distinctions that identify them; these codes are further detailed in “programs”. DPB: but isn’t this upside down: form a body of details there emerges a distinction? Or is the distinction at the basis of all of the detail that specifies a subsystem? For the legal subsystem, the code is legal/illegal, and what is the distinction at the basis of the economy: economically true of false: ‘bought and sold’? The function systems procreate their own functioning and their own social function (‘Funktion’); the function of a social system can also be distinguished for its efficacy (‘Leistung’), namely how it contributes to the other social systems. ‘Modern function systems have developed into communicational “organisms that communicate with more effective and diverse tools than simply language. They have developed their own media. A medium is, simply put, that which can take on form in communication, and in the case of many function systems these media are called by Luhmann (on the basis of Talcott Parson’s terminology) “symbolically generalized communication media” (symbolisch generalisierte Kommunikationsmedien)’[p 26]. For example it is difficult to buy something or to serve a punishment with pure language, and hence additional measures are required: media. Media are capable of increasing the inequalities between the function systems if the symbolic expression of the one performs better than the set of the other: ‘Society does not expand lie leavening; it does not symmetrically grow in size, complexity, and differentiation as supposed by the nineteenth-century theories of progress (which could suppose this because they understood society as merely an economic system). Modern society rather increases the complexity of some systems and lets others wither. (The Society of Society 1997a, 391-92)’ [p 28] (bronverwijzing lijkt niet te kloppen). DPB: the medium is no part of my model, but it should be. This looks a lot like the medium of Heylighen, namely the Stigmergic medium in which the organisms exist and use it as an externalized memory. But also: why is language a medium and not just another evolving social system that has connections with other such function systems; in that sense it could have a role like some of the others (economy, science, religion &c) touching on more than one other function system? The media contribute to the dynamics of their systems. Communication systems have no ‘essence’, there is no natural order, nor unchanging stability: ‘All systems continue their autopoiesis, and thus they all “develop”. It seems that a central aspect of this development, especially in the conditions of a modern society, is the adequacy and efficacy of a system’s symbolically generated communication medium. These media seem to be decisive factors when it comes to gaining “social space” [ p 28]. Awkward media such as faith experience stiff competition with power or money or legislation, and hence contribute to the marginalization of ‘its’ function system. Function systems do not ‘cover’ the whole of society; some events do not fit in any one of them; for the formation of these trivial or temporary system-environment distinctions emerge: for that to happen it suffices that there is a double contingency. ‘In the terminology of social systems theory such short-lived “anarchic” social systems that do not fit into any of the established functional realms can be called “interactions” (Interaktionen). Interactions typically operate on a “face-to-face” level and presuppose physical presence (see Baraldi, Corsi, and Esposito 1997, 82-85) [p 30]. DPB: I have called the changing of a meme a Situation and on completion of the changing of memes I have called an Interaction; no physical presence is required, it can even be the result of a broadcast or an old newspaper article or a post on-line, whatever. As it seems to be intended here it is a waste bin of emerging distinctions such that they die out because the communication ceases to continue, similar to mine; what is different they should not match any of the existing ‘grand’ systems and apparently have no room to exist: ‘A casual conversation in the elevator begins and ends physical presence. Once the two people are back in their offices, they will continue to communicate in the function systems of law (if they are lawyers) or in the function systems of education or science (if they are professors). There they will communicate in a more systemic manner’ [p 30]. Luhmann calls these interactions ‘function-free’: I find this to be too serious (re just-so stories) and also it smells of reduction: now that we know that these sub systems exist we can start laying stuff on them / conversations in elevators are not systemic, but this depends on the view of the observer. ‘While interactions are the communicational sea on which the function systems float, there is another type of social system that is more closely intertwined with the function systems. This type of social system is small-scale in comparison with social subsystems, but large-scale in comparison with interactions – it is the increasingly important “organizations” (Organisationen)’ [p 31]. DPB: why is this another type? Can’t this just be the same type? They have developed along with the development of communicational subsystems of society: Politics>parties, Education> Schools, Economy> firms, Legal>courts, &c. Organizations are not necessarily confined to one subsystem and vice versa. ‘A central characteristic of organizations is membership. Organizations include people by accepting them into themselves. In order to enter a university, a sanatorium, or Al Qaeda, one has to somehow qualify for membership, for instance, by grades, a diagnosis, or a common enemy’ [p 31]. ‘Organizations can also be called “systems of decision”. What an organization does depends on its decisions. Their communicative life is mainly one of decisions. .. And the decisions of an organization are typically made in the context of further decisions. The autopoiesis of an organization thus becomes an autopoiesis of decisions – one decision generates endless decision-making (just think of serving on a university committee or making a managerial decision in a company). Luhmann says in regard to organizations: “As a result there comes into being an autopoietic system that is characterized by a specific form of operations: it produces decisions by decisions. Behavior is communicated as decision making’ [pp. 31-32]. DPB: an important intermezzo here is that the communication maintain itself autopoietically and so it has to keep going. That in itself is sufficient to not break the chain of communications, of decision making, and keep the organization intact and going. The importance of organizations increases as well as their power, as they occupy more and more ‘communicative space’ within various function systems. The entities (patterns) that can be distinguished are: functional systems, organizations and interactions; another might be social / protest movements.
Society is operationally closed from biology and psychology. And in the same way functional systems are closed from one another in their intrasocial environment. And if society is functionally differentiated then the functional communications cannot just connect to any other communications, but rather to their ‘own’ functional ‘strand’ (e.g. economic communications to economic communications &c.); per subsystem can autopoiesis only be maintained by communications of the same subsystem. By virtue of their codes, functions, media &c, have social subsystems come differentiated into systems with incompatible discourses: a quote from the Bible can in general no longer counter a scientific argument, one cannot represent oneself in a court of law. ‘In a modern society, attempts to reject functional differentiation are not easily accepted nor are the likely to succeed. .. The conditions of functional differentiation do not favor attempts to merge operations of different systems or attempts to steer the operations of one system by operations of another’
. One example in between is of a religious politician participating in two functional systems: too fundamentalist or too political. A second example is the failure of the communist system in eastern Europe: the economic communication still functioned as such and political communication as such, but they could not be made to overcome their operational closure and connect between them. The economy could only avail of political data; the same can occur in religious states, where the political system can only have religious information about itself. In both cases the autopoiesis of the economic and the political system respectively are not maintained or with difficulty. ‘It may be important to note that neither social systems theory in general nor Luhmann in particular intends the theory of the operational closure of functional systems to speak in support of a “market economy” or capitalist propaganda that hails the beneficial effects of a “free” economy’ [p 35]. But functional systems cannot control one another. DPB: but they can integrate other autopoietic systems or they ‘interpenetrate’ one another in a kind of a co-evolving, lizard-glass sense. ‘Moreover, like communist politics, capitalist democracies tend to deny the systemic gap between the economy and politics. They create the illusion that political communication about the matters actually “helps” the economy. Like communist regimes, democratic regimes counterfactually pretend that their political communication about the economy actually somehow “steers” economic development’ [p 35]. But although the function systems are operationally closed they are capable to influence each other; the function systems are each other’s environment; they are closed and separated from the environment by a membrane (boundary) distinguishing them from it; and because they are distinct from their environment they can self-reference as well as hetero-reference.; anything can be religious, legal, economic, political, scientific &c and in addition any of them them can be about any of the others. ‘Operational closure does not prevent other-reference (hetero-reference); it is rather a condition for “making sense” of the other systems’ [p 37]. DPB: Heylighen talks about sensemaking a lot (which articles?). I like it because it reminds me of ‘distinction of patterns / pattern (re)cognition’. Social subsystems can enter into ‘structural coupling’: their autopoiesis is operationally closed yet in contact with the other system, in the case of the economic and political systems: ‘The coupling between politics and economy is primarily established through taxes and tariffs. This does not alter the fact that all monetary dispositions are carried out as payments within the economy. The disposition can, however, be conditioned politically and in this case it will not be oriented to profit-making. For which purposes a nation’s budget is used then becomes a political issue, and when much (or little) money is available, this will irritate the political system. Still, the spending of money itself is subject to the market rules of the economic system (nothing becomes more or less expensive because it is paid for with tax money) and it has significant consequences for the structural development of the economy when the state quota of the money flow increases (The Society of Society 1997a, 781)’ [p 37]. DPB: had er meer van verwacht, beetje vaag verhaal van Luhmann hierboven, zie beter dit: ‘Systems such as politics and the economy can be “connected” in such a way that the operations of one system more or less continually “aim” at the operations of the other system’ [p 37]. Structural coupling in this sense does not violate the operational closure but it makes particular interrelations between the autopoietic processes. DPB: Is this not what Maturana calls ‘orienting’? ‘Structural coupling establishes specific mechanisms of irritation between systems and forces different systems to continuously resonate with each other. The two concepts of irritation and resonance are used by social systems theory to explain how operationally closed systems “interact”’[p 38]. This is fully in line with the arguments of the autopoietic theory.
‘In the case of “extra-social” coupling between communication and psychic systems, the common medium of language provides for the structural coupling between individual minds and society. This structural coupling allows for both systems to develop a higher complexity. People will accordingly develop mental structures that match the complexity of their society. The growth of social complexity is structurally coupled with the increasing mental complexity of the environment of society’ [p 38]. And this goes for any possible combination between social systems and the psyche. DPB: this is important because the minds of the people working at some firm will develop in terms of structural complexity contingent on the complexity of the firms the are employed by. In this sense subsystems cannot directly steer one another but via stable links they can irritate one another into the exhibition of a specific kind of behavior. It is not automatic that when a system irritates another it will itself not be irritated also by the changed behavior of the other system:’That social systems are interrelated primarily through structural coupling means that no system can dominate another; no system can exert influence without itself being influenced’ [p 39]. DPB: pure autopoietic theory. But this will have to be a very important part of my thesis: how firms react to outside irritations, to internal changes &c. ‘Systems theory is a theory of contingency, not one of liberty’ [p 39-40]. And importantly (even if only for my understanding of the coherence of the whole theory: ‘Systems theory describes society not on the basis of an underlying unity but on the basis of difference. Society is not made up of small units that constitute larger units, it is rather based on differences that constitute more differences. System theory is a “theory of distinction” (see Luhmann 2002b). Luhmann says: “The thesis was that a system is not a unit, but a difference, and that one thus ends up with the problem that one has to imagine the unity of a difference (2002b, 91). Society is not a unity – it is a difference, consisting of differences. Systems theory is, strictly speaking, not a theory of systems, but of system-environment distinctions’[p 40]. This difference is the core of the social systems theory, not some essential thing at the core: ‘A social system is what it is, not by virtue of its inner structure, but by how it distinguishes itself from its environment’ [ pp. 40-41].
Luhmann claims that there are four main types of social differentiation: Segments (descent), Stratified (caste, class), Functional (different roles of individuals in (functional) subsystems), Center-Periphery (core group vs others). ‘Looking back in history, and also at non-European societies, Luhmann discerns four types of social differentiation – but he does not claim that this list is complete or indicative of any general law behind social evolution. Social evolution does not “progress” to “better” kinds of differentiation; and the fact that certain types of stratification are sometimes replaced by others does not mean that the earlier types are inferior to the later ones’ [p 41]. The existence of hybrids is more the rules than the exception; DPB: this presupposes the existence of essences in regards of these differentiations. The primacy of differentiation means that one group can regulate the application of another group. ‘The function systems are what they are by being “equally” distinct from one another. Of course, this does not mean that subsystems are totally “independent” of each other. Structural couplings still tie systems together, but the function systems do not gain their identity by being a certain element within an established order of rank’ [p 46]. DPB: but this remark is redundant, because never is anything ‘established’ and hence never is anything an element in an order of rank. I find that the faintest inkling of essentialism pervades the theory here. Conversely the differentiation in society and more specifically the individual’s position in it determines ‘who she is’: e.g. an aristocrat at all times. In a functionally differentiated system a person cannot locate herself wholly in one of the subsystems, nor even identify herself primarily with one of the subsystems: ‘She cannot carry one systemic identity into another: The differentiation of one subsystem into one particular function means that this function has priority for this system (and only for this system) and gains precedence over all other functions for it. Only in this sense, one can speak of functional primacy (Luhmann The Society of Society 1997a, 747-48)’ [p 48]. And in addition can a subsystem only operate on the basis of its own function only: ‘Every function system can only perform its own function. No one can in the event of a crisis or on a continuing or supplementary basis sit in for another one .. (Luhmann The Society of Society 1997a, 763)’ [p 48]. And in a situation of functional differentiation a society is not free of class distinctions: ‘Functional differentiation does not mean that a society is free of class-distinctions (and neither that society is without center/periphery distinctions), it simply means that class (or center/periphery distinctions) are no longer equivalent with social order’ [p 49]. ‘Humans are no more equal today than they were in the Middle-Ages – but social systems are. Since society does not consist of human beings but of social systems, an absence of a systemic hierarchy cannot be equated with an absence of a hierarchy among people. Under the conditions of functional differentiation the inequality among people no longer corresponds to the inequality of social strata’ [p 49]. Functional differentiation has begun to take place after the Middle-Ages (sixteenth to eighteenth century) and it still does, at an ever more intense rate. Postmodernism is an attempt to explain this intensification that, however, takes place within the same ‘domain’, but in a more modern form, and hence it is de facto a description of modernity: ‘Functional differentiation has developed from humble beginnings to into a grand structure, a giant social “organism” of global scale and extreme functional intensity’ [p 50]. Modernity and postmodernity are attempts to describe society by defining its semantics: ‘The jargon of both academic and common speech are expressions of the semantics of a society. Both represent the “sense” a society ascribes to itself and to the issues it deals with. Obviously these semantics change’[p 51]. DPB: I find this interesting because it the refers to the sense-making of systems by ‘wording’ it, or rather by expressing the pattern they seem to perceive and translating the patterns for others to see also, even far befor ethey are actually named and incorporated into the society’ s jargon, and reserached by the academia and injected into its jargon &c. ‘Social systems theory has, of course, a semantics too – a semantics that describes society and its structures. This semantics tends to be retrospective: “The structural change of society is beyond the observation and description of its contemporaries. Only after it has been completed and it becomes practically irreversible, semantics takes on the task to describe what now becomes visible”(Luhmann 1989, 8). It is exactly this task that social systems theory takes on’ [p 52]. DPB: this reminds me of hyperobjects. It is impossible for any one individual, not for any organization smaller than the whole to distinguish the behavior of the subsystem from the background.
Given that society is no longer differentiated regionally: the functions transcend geographical borders and they are global; only the political subsystem is tied to a geographical location. The possibility of an integration or a aggregate of the functional systems was lost when the concept of God was lost on humanity: that was the last entity where the functions could have been dissolved into a larger whole: ‘Global society consists of a plurality of systems that are both universal and particular (Luhmann The Society of Society 1997a, 930-31). Global society exists as a multiplicity of functional subsystems, but it does not exist as a multiplicity of societies. .. There is no seconf global (DPB functional) system – and if there was, it could not be communicated with. The global system is one system but, again, it is not a harmonious whole. .. The global system consists of subsystems of communication, not of people. Taking part in its operations provides inclusion in a system’ [p 54]. DPB: this reminds me of the Jobs: applied to that concept, the above implies that once the people are involved or engaged with some set of ideas then they are included into it and their identity comes to depend on it. But this depends on the sphere of the ideas, namely to which functional system the ideas themselves belong. If a Job has an economic signature then the person engaged inn the Job, with regards to the economic function, is engaged with such and so specific economic idea (or rather an event). When she engages with an idea in the political sphere then she is included in that idea. And as a consequence the identity of the person is a ‘patchwork’ of the ideas from the different but otherwise between them equally important functional systems. And an important effect of the globalization of the systemic functions is that: ‘The emergence of all kinds of regional separatism and “fundamentalism” can well be explained as an effect of the globalization of functional differentiation. Th expansion of political, economic, and other social structures meets with all kinds of regional peculiarities and resistance. Function systems “neglect” regional, religious, or cultural identities’ [p 57]. In this sense fundamentalism is a “demonstration of non-irritability”: ‘These movements display a pose of immunity against the effects of functional globalization’ [p 58]. But the effect is exactly the opposite: ‘Once more – functional globalization allows every Muslim to be a Muslim and every Serb to be a Serb, but only as long as they accept that their religion or ethnicity is ultimately neglected by the function systems’ [p 58]. But the people belonging to these factions won’t easily relinquish that and: ‘On the one hand, one can ask: how do you expect operationally closed function systems not to neglect race, religion , and region? And, on the other hand, one can ask: how do you expect “fundamentalists” not to neglect the systems of law, politics, and education? And: how else can their neglect be demonstrated than by sabotaging the function systems? Sabotage is the neglect practiced by those neglected by “globalization” [p 59]. In addition to neglect and counter-neglect social exclusion is produced: ‘ .. And this would mean that some human beings will be persons and others only individuals; that some are included into functions systems for (successful or unsuccessful) careers and others are excluded from these systems, remaining bodies that try to survive the next day… (Luhmann 1997b, 12) [p 59]. Function systems aim at all inclusion (of human beings); they neglect other social systems apart from the other function systems, which they have to deal with an the basis of equality. ‘While the function systems are, in principle, all-inclusive – and while this all-inclusiveness of globalization is celebrated by “rightist” propagandists and demanded by “leftist” critics (who are not against globalization as such, but only an evil and unjust globalization) – they produce, in fact mass-exclusion. .. The exclusion from one system, for instance, the exclusion from the economy because of a lack of money, easily leads to exclusion from other systems’ [p 61]. DPB: this reminds of the ‘cabin in Alaska’ example, where one goes off-grid to leave all function system, but to what extent is it possible to leave them all? So the statement above is that if one is excluded of one the relation with the others is damaged also; if one wants to leave them all, then what happens? The point is that although in principle there is no limit to be fee and equal in the function systems, in practice it is easy to end up with less money or power than others and as a consequence to be excluded from that system and, as a consequence of that to be excluded from other function systems too. ‘It seems as if functional differentiation produces massive social exclusion that reduces the lives of many people to a purely bodily existence that is primarily concerned with bare physical survival. .. Functional differentiation cannot simply be steered or changed by good intentions. Society is much too complex and polycentric for such illusions. No person can steer a society of autopoietic function systems. Systems steer themselves’ (Luhmann 1997c) [pp. 62-63].
2. What Is Real?
(a) Making Sense, Making Reality
Psychic systems and social systems share language as a medium; they also share the “universal medium (Universalmedium)” “sense (Sinn)”. The definition of “sense” from the Oxford English Dictionary (on-line March 2018) is: “a feeling that something is the case”, and more specifically: “a keen intuitive awareness of or sensitivity to the presence or importance of something”. ‘Society and minds are continuously “making sense” – they are “sense-constituting systems (sinnkonstituerende Systeme)”. Minds make sense of the world and themselves, and so do social systems. What we think and perceive has a certain sense – and even if it is nonsense, it is not non-sense. Making nonsense is also making sense’ [p 65]. DPB: the definition from the March 2018 on-line Oxford English Dictionary of ‘to make sense’ is ‘be intelligible (“able to be understood, comprehensible”), justifiable (“be a good reason for”), or practicable (“able to be done or put into practice successfully, able to be used, useful”)’, for example ‘it makes sense to start saving early for higher education’, ‘the policy made economic sense’. The phrase or term sense-making makes it possible to categorize minds and social systems into the same category; the concept is different from concepts such as cognition, thinking, anticipating &c, which are often associated with activity of individual people, but not with social systems. ‘We cannot think and perceive without operating on the basis of sense’ [p 65]. DPB: first there is sense; and once there is sense, then, on the basis of that, there can be thinking and perception! DPB: this reminds me of the attribution of connotations to ideas; in that way the ideas are in a way embedded in the world-view of the individual; very colloquially speaking it is said that ‘they are assigned a place’; is this the same as being ‘framed’ in the sense that an idea is put into some context of other ideas and compared to that and, even if temporarily, its relations to these other ideas are fixed; this fixation can be undone and replaced by another, but this gets increasingly difficult if the entire thing of ideas and-cum-relations, namely idea_embedded, becomes more familiar for the individual; this happens in the Jobs. ‘In an analogous fashion, communication makes sense, too. If communication takes place – as the unity of announcement, information, and understanding – then sense is produced. As with minds, even nonsensical communication makes some sense. If tis does not make sense then commmunication ceases to be communication’ [p 65]. DPB: this is the definition of communication: it lasts while the exchange of signs continues and so if it stops because the signs no longer make sense (they are now mere signals) then there is no longer communication, and hence it stops to exist. ‘making sense couples minds and communication at an even more general or “universal”level: communication makes sense, and this sense irritates minds and makes them think. Conversely, what we think makes sense, and communication resonates with the sense produced in our minds. If communication processes complex sense, our minds will be forced to cope with this complexity and to therefore increase the complexity of their sense-making’ [p 65]. DPB: this reminds me in a visual sense of throwing paint onto something unknown so as to make sense of it by by distinguishing its contours and perhaps even pry some reaction loose from it, if one is so lucky; the paint being the ideas attempting to make sense out of the bloody thing; once the paint sticks and the thing is cladded in color then a pattern appears that can now be named &c.; this is the function if you like of the just-so stories representing the ideas thrown at the thing, that by their color explain what the thing is, but only for their part. The above quote of Luhmann also reminds me of my Jobs: this is the linking pin between the workings of memes, namely in their environment of memeplexes and memes external to those, and, on the other hand, of the structures of the mind with which these memeplexes interact; these I have referred to as Jobs: the nexus of exchange between individual people’s minds and memes. That is what I believe Luhmann describes here. Not only the mind, but communications systems can be intentional; both create a reality based on a distinction between themselves and the external world and a relation between them: ‘Mental and communication systems create a reality by locating themselves within a “horizon of sense”. Sense, and the sense-horizon, is the “product of the operations that use sense – and by no means a quality of the world thanks to a creation, a donation, or an origin” (Luhmann The Society of Society 1997a, 44, referring to Deleuze 1969)’ [p 66]. DPB: sense in this way produces sense and a sense-horizon; before sense there was nothing; the amount of sense in the world increases, but related to what? Psychic and communications systems create a framework using the medium of sense, and locate themselves in it; and hence do we, by making sense of the world, make sense of ourselves, and so does communication [p 66]: ‘This is similar to a ship that finds its position and direction by locating itself within the horizon of the sea. Of course, this horizon continuously changes. Through its motion, the ship continuously relocates itself within a horizon and thus has the horizon change with it. The horizon – the ship’s environment – is a direct product of the ship’s own operations, of its own movements. Sense is therefore technically defined by Luhmann .. first as the “unity of the difference between the actual and the possible” ( Baraldi, Corsi, Esposito 1997, 170-3). .. A ship locates itself within its horizon – but thereby realizes that it can move. The ship is not bound only by its actual location; its horizon is a horizon of possibilities. It could also be elsewhere. Sense-making is this interplay between the actual and the possible. What we think makes sense within a horizon of possibilities. Without a context of sense, thoughts cannot make sense. Similarly, communication without a context without a context of sense cannot make sense. Our minds and communications operate within a sense-horizon like a ship operates on a body of water. These operations take place on the basis of a distinctiion between what is actual and what is possible. Secondly, and in connection with the previous definition, sens can also be defined in terms of the distinction self-reference / other-reference: cit. ..’ [pp. 66-7]. There is a distinction between the sense-maker and that which makes sense for the sense-maker; this is the distinction between the ship and the horizon; ‘It makes sense / to me’; the two distinguishing but interconnected dimensions are actual / possible and self / other. ‘And this last distinction is somehow “reflected” within the system itself. Sense-making systems make sense by making sense of the difference between themselves and their environment, by making sense of the difference the “it” that makes sense and the “I” that makes that sense. By making this distinction, the system makes a re-entry. It re-enters the distinction it just made’ [p 67]. The system can now reflect on itself in its environment and it can even reflect on itself as an environment for itself (the self as an it and a self):’The difference system / environment occurs twice: as the difference produced by the system and as the difference observed within the system (The Society of Society 1997a, 45). Autopoietic and sense-constituting systems construct themselves and their horizon though their own operations. Making sense is equivalent to making reality, both self-referential and other-referential. By distinguishing itself from its environment a system establishes itself and the world around it’ [p 68]. DPB: I think this is an important quote. It reminds me of individuation: while the system is in the process of making sense of the world it is itself becoming (becoming more coherent) and in so doing they can make more sense to other systems. A summary of Luhmann’s constructivist theory of reality is: ‘If one accepts this theoretical disposition, one can neither assume that there exists a world at hand (vorhanden) consisting of things, substances, and ideas, nor can one designate their entirety (universitas rerum) with the concept of a “world”. For sense-systems the world is not a giant mechanism that produces states out of states and thus determines the systems themselves. The world is rather an immeasurable potential for surprises, it is virtual information that needs systems to produce information, or more precisely; to ascribe to selected information the sense of being information (Luhmann The Society of Society 1997a, 46)’ [p 68]. DPB: he world is not a vat of things and relations that need only to be explored (nothing is ’vorhanden’, at hand); instead: ‘According to systems theory, the sense and essence of the world do not precede the being of systems: the being of systems rather precedes the sense and essence of the world – to put it in Sartrean terms. The world’s sense and essence is what the autopoietic, sense-processing systems make it to be’ [pp. 68-9]. Not the world determines what makes sense, but the systems determine what does, thereby determining its reality: ‘Sense can only be processed when the world is regarded as information’ [p 69]. Sense-making, observation, and production of information are cognitive tools of both psychic and communications systems. Observe = produce cognition = produce reality. ‘That reality results from cognitive construction, that is results from observation, does, of course, not make it less real – a reality constructed by observation is not less real than one that is “at hand” prior to observation. It just make reality different, more complex and plural’ [p 69]. So as reality emerges when observed by an observer, the observer emerges when observing the observed: ‘The cognition of the world not only constructs observed, it also constructs the observer. The observer may observe operations – but at the same time is also an operation: “other than as an observation the observer cannot exist. The observer is a formation that constitutes itself by linking operations to each other (Luhmann 2002a, 143)’ [p 70]. DPB: this reminds of the concept Marta uses for memes in the conception of a Luhmannian universe: that which remains the same in a flow / a sequence of differences. ‘”The question how systems are able to produce cognition within an environment can then be reformulated as the question how systems can uncouple themselves from their environment” (1988b, Cognition as Construction, 13)’ [p 71]. In this way uncoupling between system and environment establishes their distinction, and hence paves the way for cognition, and hence for the possibility of reality.
(b) Second-Order Cybernetics
Reality is a cognitive construct associated with observation: as a consequence descriptions of reality are descriptions of observation. Observation is an integral part of reality; there is no place where all that is real is located and observation is no longer simple, namely a generating element of reality. The focus is now on the observing of observing of reality and not simply on observing of reality alone. That is second-order observing, also second-order cybernetics. ‘Second-order cybernetics is concerned with the reality-construction of observing systems – and here the expression “observing systems” has a double meaning: second-order cybernetics observes systems that are themselves systems of observation, it is observing systems that are observing systems. When second-order cybernetics uses the expression “observing systems”, the term “systems” is grammatically both an object and a subject’
. DPB: and so the observing systems are observed; they observe because they are observed. Systems in the theory of second-order cybernetics are autologically and paradoxically included in it: ‘The subjective and the objective sides of the observation become equally valid and mutually constitutive’ [p 71]. DPB: if there is no observation, there is no second-order observation, there is no distinction, there is no cognition and there is no reality. Only from the first observation could there have been reality. Only from the first observing (spotting?) of the emergence of a firm does it exist in reality. Observation is a formal term: ‘..“First of all, something that causes problems over and over again has to be pointed out. One can say it a hundred times without avail. The observer is not necessarily a psychic system, not necessarily consciousness. The observer is defined purely formally: to distinguish and to indicate. A communication can do this too” (Distinctions 2002a, 147)’ [p 72]. The second-order observation is a first-order observation of a first-order observation simultaneous; complexity of observation of reality is gained, but at the loss of ontological certainty about it. Higher level observations cannot transcend this pattern, they remain first-order observations of fist-order observations of &c. ‘.. every observation, regardless of order, has its so-called blind spot: .. When handling a distinction you always have a blind spot or invisibility in your back. You cannot observe yourself as the one who handles a distinction, instead you have to make yourself invisible when you want to observe. .. The observer has to make him/herself invisible as the element of the distinction between the observer and the observed(Luhmann Distinctions 2002a, 147)’
. As an illustration: the second-order observer can observe that the first-order observer cannot observe herself as the second-order observer can; the first-order observer sees what’s in front but not what is behind her back; the blind spot signifies her particular perspective; when she turns around to look, there is a new blind spot behind her. But this is true for all observers: every one has a blind spot, and hence every observation creates a blind spot, and hence reality depends on blind spots [p 74]. ‘Social systems observe – and thereby, of course, construct reality – by observing how others observe. Functional differentiation plus second-order observations are two main characteristics of the present’ [p 76]. An important example of this is the interplay between politics and the mass-media, another is the interplay between science and the mass-media in the sense of publications.
3 What Happens to the Human Being?
(a) Beyond Humanism
The “humanist” concept of the human being will vanish [Michel Foucault, Les mots et les choses, final paragraph]; human beings are not the oldest nor the most constant that human knowledge has dealt with: ‘Antropocentrism is by no means a given in the enterprise of understanding and cognition’ [p 79]. The social systems theory of Luhmann is in this same sense non-anthropocentristic: not to erase the human being, but to go beyond the conceptual limits of the overly human approach popular for a few centuries. Traditional humanism is too simplistic to explain the complexity of reality. Luhmann explains the notion of a human being in three autopoietic realms: biological, psychic and social (see chapter 1). ‘Various traditional philosophies then discussed the so-called mind-body problem – how a singular entity could consist of two parts. Social systems theory does not offer a new and easy solution to this problem, it rather suggests that “human reality” is even more complex: we do not only have to deal with the mind and the body – we also have to take into account communication. And in the face of such multiplicity it might be wise to give up the attempt still to “singularize” the human being’
. None of these three systems is shown to be dominant and social systems theory does not attribute essences or cruces to one: ‘And since the human being cannot be essentially defined, it does not make a lot of sense to use it as a starting point for a theory. This is the reason why social systems theory tries to wipe out the humanists’ one-dimensional portrayal of the human being and replace it with a more complex model of reality’ [p 81]. The social systems theory identifies the three autopoietic and operationally closed systems, such that the mind is the interface between reality and the communications system: ‘No “outside” information can enter communication without first being processed by the mind’ [p 81]. In regard to the meaning of the three realms for social systems theory is the relation mind-communication more relevant than the relation body-mind: ‘Minds and society depend on and independent of the other. They depend on the other’s existence for the continuation of their own autopoiesis, while, because of their operational closure, they are independent as no direct determination or interference is possible. ‘They (the two systems) can only actualize and specify their own structures and thus ca only change themselves. They use each other for reciprocal irritation of these structural changes. Systems of communication can only be stimulated by systems of the mind, and these in turn are extremely attracted to what is conspicuously communicated by language (DPB: ‘via’ would have the term of my choice here). My argument is as follows: the independence of each closed system is a requirement for structural complementarity, that is, for the reciprocal initiation (but not determination) of the actualized choice of structure (Luhmann 1994a ?? p 380)’ [p 82].
(b) Problems of Identity
Minds and society (communication) are structurally coupled. Therefore they co-evolve. This is possible because they exist in the common media of language and sense. This conception leads to a specific conception of the human identity or individuality: attaining a human identity requires co-evolution involving operations of the mind and of communications; and hence can that process be described from the perspective of the autopoiesis of the one or that of the other: there is no singular view. Identity and individuality are not singular objects, but they exist in both the mind and in society. ‘In the case of the mental systems, individuality identity emerges as a result of self-socialization; in the case of social systems, individuality, and identity are part of an important semantics of the self-description of society and are connected to the inclusion of “persons” in society. .. “the autopoietic system of society that operates on the basis of communication makes its own complexity available for the construction of psychic systems”; and conversely, inclusion means that “an autopoietic psychic system that operates on the basis of consciousness makes its own complexity available for the construction of social systems” (Luhmann 1989 Ecological Communication, 162)’
. DPB: this is the explanation of Jobs: I had explained the fluidity (complexity) of memes or memeplexes that fall as a mist over the landscape of individuals and shaping them, but I had not at the time (I think) explained that the individual people on the landscape of people are more than neutral substrate, but they are themselves shaped by the ongoing influence of the communication taking place in society. At a later stage I have explained this, namely in the Theory and also in the Logistic Model, where through the operations people are familiarized with the ideas they encounter in society and the more frequent the encounters, or the more their connotations suit the existing structure of their minds as it has developed as a result of the previous encounters, the more the people become familiar with them and the easier they will reproduce them. Every mind is unique and in that way each mind will resonate in their unique way with their environments and especially with their social environments with which they are structurally coupled (Parson: they interpenetrate). ‘Mental systems autopoietically develop themselves and can only develop an understanding or consciousness of themselves by way of self-socialization’ [p 83]. DPB: the mind is damaged by the encounters with (principally) the social system and vice versa. The point above is that the mind is closed and perceives only vague signals for them to interpret as signs with a meaning; only they can damage themselves based on the signals they perceive from the social systems they have encounters with; Luhmann calls this phenomenon self-socialization; ‘socialization is a “do-it-yourself” project’ [p 83]. DPB: I reckon the concept of autopoiesis has not fully permeated throughout my thesis, and as a consequence I don’t believe that the signals / signs dichotomy has been sufficiently incorporated; there might still be (will surely be) traces of penetration of signals from external sources as signs into the mind. How the consciousness of an individual is structured is in the end decided by the consciousness of the individual; ‘.. mental structures are “the result of an individual system history” of the mind (Luhmann Theories of Distinction 2002a 137)’
. But the psychic system is operationally fully independent and cognitively fully dependent: ‘The language and the sense (Sinn) of individuality link or couple our perceptions of our individualities to society. Each individual consciousness has its own particular systemic history, its own individual mindset – but in each case this history and resulting mindset are informed by the available “cultural supply” (Luhmann 2002a Theories of Distinction, 137)’ [p 84]. And vice versa do individual minds damage the social systems around them: ‘On the other hand, communication systems ascribe individuality to “persons”. This is how they are able to resonate with the psychic complexiity in their environment. .. Inclusion is the term for the manner in which social systems can recognize persons. By inclusion, social systems assign persons with a social position so that there is a framework “in which they can act in conformity with expectations, or, to put it more romantically,: in which they can feel at home as individuals” (Luhmann The Society of Society 1997a, 621). Successful inclusion takes place when society is able to prepare molds for “individuals” to fit in’ [p 84]. How social inclusion develops depends on the evolution of the differentiation of social systems: social evolution and the unfolding of history result in a variation of the “cultural supply”. Human individuality is a product of semantics and language that couple psychic and social systems. In a stratified society (up to appr. 18th century) the stratum (family, household &c.) is the social locality where an individual becomes an individual, including rank and attributes ‘.. “in the sense of its socially respected characteristics”’ [p 86]. In a stratified society socialization takes place within the house where one’s social life is, resulting in a fixed, inviolable, and hence an indivisible social status (ref. literal meaning of individual), but not yet a uniqueness: the individual was shaped by birth and divine creation, but not yet original as differentiated from all the other individuals thus positioned. When the stratified societal structure came to change into a functional structure, the direct inclusion of old was replaced by a form of exclusion: ‘The “general” was no longer outside of the individual and inside society and religion, but was moved into the individual itself. .. Individuality no longer means indivisibility, but uniqueness. The individual is now supposed to be an individual by being different from all others – by being a “subject”’ [p 87]. As from this point on the individual is expected to identify itself in regard to its individuality and this means: ‘ “.. in regard to that which distinguishes itself from everybody else. Self-observations and self-descriptions can no longer (and if still, then only externally) rely on social positions, affiliations, inclusions” (Luhmann Ecological Communication . 1989, 215)’ [p87]. Functional differentiation for an individual means differentiation into the various subsystems of society; their boundaries mark the social differentiation; the individual cannot be entirely at home with any of them: ‘Whatever the individual makes of himself and however society contributes to this: it has its standpoint in itself and outside of society. The formula “subject” symbolizes nothing else. Thereby the individual is external to all function systems. It can no longer participate (Luhmann Ecological Communication 1989, 212)’ [p 88]. The individual has now left society but it can partially re-enter, namely with particular roles. This is problematic, because 1. by being unique individuals cannot be unique and 2. by characterizing one as not x, one has to choose what one is from a source of not x, that is socially accepted and general, and hence not unique and 3. it is no longer possible to be an ‘in-dividual’, in the sense of an indivisible entity, because one is party to multiple function systems; one risks to fall apart into multiple selves. To overcome this risk the subjective individual has the choice to become an homme copie, an “imitational person.” ‘“This means: to admit from the first the failure of the programme of individuality and to establish one’s principle of life on the opposite> To be able to be different then means: to be just like someone else” (Luhmann 1989 Ecological Communication, 221). In living a “copied existence,” one borrows one’s originality from others. Just like in the world of fashion, one becomes special by copying what others present as being special’
. This programme of individuality may lead to a multiple self or an imitational person. But this is due to the multiplicity if the functional systems (differentiation) and the difficulties to choose one’s role from them: father or employee &c. ‘If, in accordance with the semantics of modern society we become persons by being subjects that take on a variety of functions, what does this mean in “real life?” ’
. We go through careers, assume positions and develop a history with each of the functions we are active in; to state one’s class does not suffice and one has to explain one’s history and ensuing position in each functional system (married twice, children, successful politician, not particularly wealthy, terrible cook &c). ‘And what is above all decisive is that in modern society the career (..) has advanced to become the most important mechanism for the integration of individuals and society (Luhmann The Society of Society 1997a, 742)’ [p 92]. The concept of a career is wide (all function systems) and deep (an unsuccessful career counts also). But although careers can be based on psychic characteristics, they are social and not psychic: they connect people to society, but they do not necessarily connect people to themselves; that is a job for subjectivity, namely how people select their partial identities from what is available. ‘The semantics of subjectivity – that flourished after the American and French revolutions – allows the retaining of some self-respect. It is a fine addition to the structural reality of the functional differentiation and supplies us with dignity’ [p 95]. Social systems theory does not see communication as a result of human action (contrary to theories of action), but instead it sees human action as a result of communication: ‘.. ; and it (DPB: social systems theory) describes “human action” as designated by communication systems’ [p 97].
4. What Can Be Done?
(a) Limits of Activism and the Conformism of Protest
Social systems theory does not deny the impact of social theory and social activism; the impact as in the case of Marxism can be immense: ‘But it does not believe that such an impact can be predicted or decided by a theory or the political groups that claim to represent it. In a society based on functional differentiation, social developments cannot be imposed by one system on another. Society as a whole cannot be directed. Function systems are operationally closed and function autopoietically’ [p 101]. DPB: and the same holds true for the economy and for organizations, see ch 1 above. They in other words cannot be changed by people, with regards to movements with an objective to make changes to society: ‘Society is addressed “as if it was not a system”(Luhmann 1986a Love as Passion: The Codification of Intimacy, 20), as if it could be generally changed if only people would start to think and act better. Luhmann sees a role of systems theory in “disciplining the accusations towards the address of society” (Luhmann 1986a Love as Passion: The Codification of Intimacy, 20). The accusations against society are, according to Luhmann, based oon an inadequate understanding of how society functions, of how society can change itself, and of how the own social nature of the activist movement itself’ [p 102]. Concerning the Green movement in Germany, in summary: proposed changes in function systems result in changes in the function systems themselves and not necessarily in the ecology. So called protest movements do not oppose society, but they contribute to its functional differentiation by increasing its complexity and so they they are in accord with it: ‘Modern “protest” movements are possibly among the best adapted and systemically conformist developments in society’ [p 108].
(b) Negative Ethics
Movements frequently use a type of communication called moral discourse; this usually indicates the existence of a conflict; under normal circumstances function systems do not require this mode. Luhmann sees this as an ethical task, ethics being treated as the reflection on morality: his ethics aim at explaining morality from the nonmoral perspective of society (hence the negative ethics in the title). Luhmann states that the religious paradigm is lost, academic ethics have failed and he is skeptical with regards to the finding of new a paradigmatic ethics; he states that philosophy should stop looking for “the” reasons for ethics: ‘He says: “Ethics can’t provide reasons for morality. It finds morality to be there, and then it is confronted with the problems that result from this finding” (1989 Ecological Communication, 360)’ [p 111]. But it is possible to provide a theory that describes how a morality works within a functionally differentiated society. Morality is associated with social and hence communicative operations; in that light morality must be seen as ‘a specific type of communications for processing information on esteem of disesteem’ [p 111]; esteem is similar to approval (distribution of some achievement in a limited context such as sport) but extended to the entire person; it distributes esteem or disesteem among persons in the sense of systems theory in the function systems: all other function systems can add moral code (good / bad) to their operations: a moral code can be attributed to the concrete operations of a particular system. Used in this way a moral code polarizes; it also suffers of ‘l’englobement du contraire’, or the ‘interdiction of self-exemption’: once the distinction is made, one identifies oneself with the positive side of it. ‘One should, Luhmann says, be very cautious with morality and “only touch it with the most sterile instruments’, since it is a “highly contagious substance” that easily infects communication (Luhmann Ecological Communication 1989, 359)’ [p 113]. Systems theory can say: there can be no ethical propositions, positive ethics cannot be expressed, what is good shows itself as good in practice, and there is no correspondence between good theory and good practice. The exercise to identify a positive ethics in the sense of a rational and universal morality has turned out futile. ‘Ethics could rather concentrate on studying the empirical communicative effects of moral discourse in society under the conditions of functional differentiation’ [p 114]. If it is used in broadcasts and performances it should be supplemented with a warning like: ‘This product is full of morality and may therefore lead to unwanted communicative overengagement, possibly resulting in damage to both personal and social health’ [p 114].
(c) Subtle Subversion
Society cannot be steered by people, moral discourse does not change it; society changes itself autopoietically. Social systems theory is itself a social system (within the science function system) and so it itself can only change itself autopoietically. ‘Like any other scientific theory, social systems theory also somehow “makes a difference” but is can only do so immediately within science because it has to wait for its irritation to change the science system and its social environment, namely, the other function systems’ [p 115]. DPB: above all this reminds me of the billiards game ‘tien over rood’ where points can be scored either by playing the white ball at the targeted ball via a third ball in between, or via the side of the table. Anyhow there can unsurprisingly not be direct influence on society. And equally impossible is it to steer in a direct sense the behavior of an organization such as a firm. But the above quote says something about the success in terms of the changes that a theory for firms that is based on these theories (or that isn’t based on them for that matter) can be expected to bring about. This expectation has to be modest: the best it can do is to stir the minds of scientists (or other readers), who then in turn stir the minds (or irritate as Luhmann formulates it) of the people that carry the meme (or are, as per Luhmann, included in the communication of) the other function systems and of subsystems such as organizations including firms. ‘With social systems theory, like with all other communication, society is no longer exactly what it was before, but how society resonates with social systems theory (DPB: or any theory) is eventually up to society – and not to this theory’ [p 115]. And so social systems theory is skeptical about the expected results of its explanations but it can hope to clarify some facts better such that the behavior of society can be better understood by those associated with it: ‘It tries to enlighten society .. about the limits of rationality in a society of function systems’ [p 115]. This expression is modest and it shows that other attempts are prone to pompousness; Luhmann hopes for more, namely that the discomfort the theory produces will have disruptive effects. Humanist semantics still shows a blind faith in our nonhumanist society. DPB: this I like: ‘Society tends to comfort itself – and this self-comfort is supported by critical theories and protest movements – that while some aspects are not “humanist” enough, it could make itself more human, if only, for instance, the right policies were adopted’ [p 116]. DPB: but imagine what a load of spare time virtually everyone would have if these half-baked attempts at improving society were abandoned. Where this theory truly challenges the existing semantics at its foundations, the cries for more democracy, emancipation, human rights &c. only confirm the existing traditional and rather hopeless semantics. If society is indeed structured in function systems then people cannot rule and cannot be free, and hence democracy and liberation are meaningless concepts. ‘Social systems theory is quite radical in its distrust of these traditional semantics that are shared by the political system, by the mass media, by education, by protest movements, and so on. And its effects will be discomforting if it is able to irritate society so much that these semantics lose their credibility. It is potentially more subversive than many of the current protest or human rights movements regarding the distrust it has of the currently dominant social self-descriptions’ [p 117].
PART III Mass Media
5 The Mass Media as a System
This less traditional subject of his theory exemplifies the nontraditional and “radical” character of his thought. While there is no hierarchy or domination between systems, Luhmann concedes that there appears to be an “unequal growth of function systems” (1997a Society of Society?, 391). Some systems can gain ground in some state (of them and of the other function systems) while others may lose relevance to even fade away completely; the present state of the mass media is of the category rising star. It emerged with the emergence of speech, writing, printing press and its distribution accelerated with the emergence of radio, TV, and internet. It is well suited to demonstrate the modern aspects of the social systems theory: ‘..its nonhuman, global, polycontextural, and radically constructivist features. In addition to this, the mass media may demonstrate more drastically than any other systems a certain facet in the meaninglessness of contemporary sense-production’ [p 122]. DPB: this means that sense is being made of patterns perceived by the communication systems, but there is no meaning in the sense that is made. But to make sense is a double concept (it makes sense to me): the thing observed makes no sense or I am not able to make sense of that thing I am observing. DPB: it was / is not my intention to read all of this. The relevance of the concept for my research is in the way that the function systems are spread over the population to include human beings in their ranks. Because only with the messages of the evangelies of the capitalist system (the belief in the idea of progress) can individuals be included in the ranks and hence be motivated to behave such that this kind of economy appears with this kind of firms as a part of it. And so I will start to read Part III, but I may not complete it ad refer to it for further reference. ‘Luhmann defines the mass media as follows: “the term ‘mass media’ includes all those institutions of society which make use of copying technologies to disseminate communication” (Luhmann 2000a The Reality of the Mass Media, 2)’
. DPB: this definition to an increasing extent includes corporations, because newspapers and websites use their disseminations via press releases often without further research or critical questions; this makes the firm effectively inclusive to (member of) the function system of the mass media. An essential element, however, is a lack of interaction among those co-present can take place between the sender and the receivers; interaction cannot take place because of the interposition of technology. DPB: this reminds me of the concept of coevalness, whereby human beings are denied a common experience, and hence a distance exists between the observer and the observed that itself becomes a difference and is treated as a difference of their time-lines. Also it reminds me of the way that interactions take place in my Logistical Model: I have treated direct communications and other kinds such as written or recorded in the same way: they can all have some effect on the participants and in this way they can manage to make changes to the memes in people’s minds. I have assumed that there is no fundamental difference: they are all signals entering (or not) the mind of the person to there be assigned a meaning (or not) through associations with other ideas. Luhmann makes a distinction between private communications (one-on-one e-mail &c.) and public communications (visiting a publicly accessible website &c.). But the fact that there is technology in between the sender and the receiver is no reason for Luhmann to decry the inauthenticity of these communications (like Heidegger and Baudrillard apparently do); rather the technology now enables the copying of information on a large scale without the need for physical presence or contact; this separation makes it impossible to centrally coordinate the transmission (at a presentation I can leave something out that I didn’t want a particular person to hear or I can overrule him by e.g. shooting him, but in a mass communication I cannot). Luhmann does not ascribe specific importance to the particular technologies involved: the technology is merely the environment of the communication, not the beast itself: ‘Technological developments therefore cannot produce revolutions in communication’[p 124]. DPB: but I would argue that they could accelerate revolutions in other function systems: revolutions can only be brought about by the function systems themselves, but irritations can occur at a larger scale and more frequently. Mass media make communication global. ‘Like all other function systems – but even more noticeably – the mass media system is, in principle, laid out for all-inclusion and does not recognize geographical borders. It is everywhere at all times’ [p 125]. If mass media is to be understood as a function system it must have a code: in this case it is information / noninformation: information is what it selects to broadcast, noninformation is what it selects not to. Mass media observes its intrasocial environment and constructs information by selecting and producing it. The information is public to all, it is general even if it is restricted for some, it is fully open to those for whom it is not (rated movies). Mass media information is not specific information, ‘.. rather about that “which is known to be known”, it is about that “one has to assume that everyone knows (or that not knowing would entail a loss of face and is therefore not admitted to)” (Luhmann 2000a The Reality of the Mass Media, 20)’ [p 126]. Mass media in this sense constitutes what we know about the world in which we live, and specifically our society. The ‘mass’ refers to the multiplicity of included others we share the information shared by the mass media with: ‘If we had only private or professional knowledge, it would be difficult to talk to a stranger about our common reality. Thanks to the mass media, we share a world’ [p 126]. DPB: and this information that is shared with the mass of others includes information about commonly held beliefs; this includes the idea of progress and people’s belief in it. And hence the mass media play a role in the constitution of the idea and the keeping up / fresh / remembered of the rules (memes), the ‘required’ motivations and the proper enactment if those rules. The relation to time is: ‘Information cannot be repeated; as soon as it becomes an event, it becomes non-information. .. If information is used as a code, this means that the operations in the system are constantly and inevitably transforming information to non-information. The crossing of the boundary from value to opposing value occurs automatically with the very autopoiesis of the system (Luhmann 2000a The Reality of the Mass Media, 19-20)’ [p 127]. And as a consequence this transition puts time pressure on the system. DPB: the surprise is taken out, the randomness reduced, the order increased, organization irreversibly increased, time flows in the direction of the increase of irreversibility. Once the information is divulged by the mass media, everyone will irreversibly know about it, and as a consequence time in practical terms flows in the direction of the release of new information. This mode of operation is specific for mass media as a function system: no other is known to transitions its one side to its other irreversibly (apart from some cases in the economic realm maybe: once paid, something immediately becomes unpaid for the next owner). The issue is maybe not that the system experiences pressure of time, but that time is created there; in terms of counting of events: the events in the mass media are many and of a high frequency compared to other function systems and as a consequence from those other systems time may seem to pass fast in the world. In special cases, such as advertising, repetition is in order, because it just shows how important this product is to show people it time and again. Roles of news, entertainment and advertising: ‘self-organization of folly’, ‘to provide people with no taste with taste’, and ‘the stabilization of a relation of redundancy and variety in everyday culture (Luhmann The Reality of the Mass Media2000a, 50)’
. This appears to be a also the description of the role of the mass media in general as a function system: to in fact supply society with norms and choices. ‘Advertising is thus crucial for establishing our society as “a kind of best of all possible worlds with as much order as necessary and as much freedom as possible. Advertising makes this order known and enforces it” (Luhmann The Reality of the Mass Media2000a, 50)’
. Another function (apart from the one mentioned above) of the mass media is: ‘.. the impact on social dynamics, the speeding up of time. Luhmann says: “It might be said, then, that the mass media keep society on its toes. They generate a constantly renewed willingness to be prepared for surprises, disruptions even. In this respect, the mass media “fit” the accelerated auto-dynamic of other function systems such as the economy, science, and politics, which constantly confront society with new problems” (Luhmann The Reality of the Mass Media2002a, 22). The mass media system accelerates the speed of society by continuously providing new irritations. It provides new information – and then converts the same information to noninformation’
. The systems provides two timelines: one in the future where new information is uncovered and another in the past where obsoleteness is produced. DPB: I am not sure that these are two timelines, perhaps it functions like a kind of a metabolism, first selecting and producing new information and then digesting it (chewing it up) to give it over to obsoleteness. ‘By producing new information, the mass media system also produces old noninformation. The other function systems cannot ignore this production of time’
. ‘Luhmann suggests that the mass media can be ascribed the general function of providing society with a universally available memory. And by memory he means, more specifically, the generation of familiarity and its variation from moment to moment (Luhmann The Reality of the Mass Media2002a, 101)’ [p 135]. DPB: familiarity is a term I have also used but in a more narrow perspective, namely to explain how a person can ‘get used’ to particular signals and record them in her memory in association with other such ideas; but always as a matter of repetition of information, perhaps together with the association powers with others: ‘The memory is for Luhmann never a storehouse or stock, it is, quite to the contrary, a continuously operating production of actuality’
. DPB: this is exactly how I have modeled it in the Logistical model: in situation (bad name?) and interactions, memes are adapted and they are recorded in memory of persons as per their familiarization; in this way their memory is continuously changing and never the same! More than just memorizing events, the mass media is capable of forgetting of not only what they didn’t select in the first place, but also of what they have selected but have now converted to the other side of noninformation; as a consequence the mass media constructs memory largely through forgetting and not through recollection. ‘By the mass media, society is informed about itself in a general way, a universally valid reality is constructed’ [ p 136]. This is a distinction from the individual realities of all the function systems, but in a general way of memorizing, a kind of a background reality and also not all of reality is comprise in there, not is it based on consensus. The medium that the mass media deal with and produce is the public opinion; this means a set of nonconsensual and nonpersonal data or ratings; it is not a shared or agreed opinion or an opinion of “the people”. The mass media system is concerned with its autopoiesis, the continuation of its operations by providing connectivity; ‘The medium of public opinion is very efficient in this respect. It never grows tired; you can always connect it with itself. A poll can be done and redone – it is usually slightly different the next day, and even if it is the same as yesterday, this is still information! Today’s public opinion is the basis tomorrow’s and the continuation of yesterday’s: “The respectively current public opinion … is as the result of previous communication the condition ofor future communication” (Luhmann The Society of Society 1997a, 1104)’ [p 138]. DPB: this reminds me of the concept of individuation: there is sufficient similarity in the differences to be comparable and there is sufficient difference in the similarity to be in a state of forever becoming. Luhmann is aware of this because he refers to Deleuze (see far above). ‘Public opinion is, after all this, neither the mere fashion of opinions as it was believed in the seventeenth century nor is it the medium of rational enlightenment or the “puissance invisible” which were expected in the eighteenth century to leave tradition behind. It is the medium of the self-description and the world-description of modern society. It is the “Holy Spirit” of the system, the communicative availability of the results of communication (Luhmann 1997a The Society of Society, 1108)’
. Public opinion is a communicative medium becomes possible through the development of the mass media into an autopoietic global function system. With the production of a memory, there arise the need for a “currency”. The memory must take shape, it must assume a form. It is the medium for general reality to manifest itself. Public opinion is this communicative medium that is produced within the mass media system. It is the ‘stuff’ of society’s general self-descriptions; it is the basis for tomorrow’s reality: ‘With public opinion, mass communication can revolve around itself and continue its on-going self-reproduction. Public opinion transforms itself in eternal spirals’ [pp. 138-9].
6 Beyond Manipulation
7 The Reality of Mass Media
There is not such thing as a reality; reality is not distorted by the mass media; mass media instead construct reality; how do the mass media construct reality? DPB: this is potentially a useful concept also for the how the of a firm constructs its reality. The people associated with the firm are the producers and the users of information concerning the firm. This reminds me of the section in the manuscript that describes and illustrates the corporate discussions: from which leased car to choose up until the quality of the salad bar and who is dating whom. This is the reality of a firm under permanent construction! It is impossible to give a full account of anything, just as it is impossible to make a one-on-one map of a geographical area. An account is a structured de-complexified reduction of reality: ‘A structured and nonchaotic reality is based on the reduction of complexity, on selection, on systemic observation. Memory is based on forgetting. A coherent reality – be it the reality of a life or a war – can only be constructed from a certain perspective and this perspective has to be itself highly structured in order to be able to present a well-structured picture’
. DPB: this reminds of the remark of Wolfram that the processes in nature that create reality should be just about as complex as the processes that have produced our powers of perception enabling us to make sense of those processes in nature. It also reminds of the law of requisite variety: the complexity of the controller must be similar to the complexity of the process it controls. The question is: how do the mass media, or in fact how do all observing systems(!!!), construct reality? : ‘And the question must “autologically” take into account that its answer will itself be a construction / observation’
. But mass media does not construct all of reality: ‘The mass media construct a “public” reality. But this reality is not more or less real than the reality constructions of other observing systems’ [ p 150]. DPB: this information processing is all there is; the mass media attempt to embrace all of the world’s events, the function systems process the information produced in there and firms process information produced there. ‘The Reality of the Mass Media’ (title of Luhmann’s book) is grammatically ambiguous and this reflects the “operational constructivism” that underlies the systemic concept of reality: ‘The (mass, brackets DPB) media are the grammatical subject and object of this expression. If the mass media are the grammatical object, then reality is the subject, and thus the reality of the mass media is simply the reality that they “objectively” constitute. As a grammatical subject, the mass media “subjectively” produce a reality – they present us with with a reality that is their production or “object”. What is meant by the expression in the first sense are the operations proper to the media: the broadcasting and printing as it is performed (Luhmann The Reality of the Mass Media 2000a, 3). What is meant in the second sense is the reality that “appears to them, or through them to others, to be reality” (Luhmann The Reality of the Mass Media 2000a, 4)’ [p 151]. For the first approach above, first-order observation is enough, as if we were dealing with facts. For the second approach, a second-order observation is required. DPB: All the ‘ingredients’ I use in the Logistical Model are presented here also: is the concept of reality relevant for my subject at all?: ‘We must observe the mass media as an observing system that produces both its own reality and the reality of what it observes by its observations’ [p 151]. DPB this reminds me of the operators epsilon and beta and the question of they are one and the same: ‘Construction of reality always implies the reality of construction’ [p 151]. DPB this approach integrates the notions of construction and reality and that seems to me to be the same as the reciprocity of the operation of one system (say the mind, or communication) that expresses something and the operation of another system (say communication, or the mind) of making sense of the same thing. The belief in progress associated wit the capitalism or market economy infuses continuous change into the communication of the mass media, and hence no stability. This kind of construction/observation ongoing presents society with a new reality as opposed to a former version of reality: ‘With different types of construction, different realities emerge’ [p 152]. Examples are a religious, capitalist, traditional &c. construction leading to different realities.
8 Individuality and Freedom
Individuality is an important element in social reality constructed by the mass media. Events and communication are attributed to individual agency. ‘The construct of the “cognitively more or less informed, competent, morally responsible human being” helps the function system of the mass media constantly to irritate itself with regard to its biological and psychic human environment ( Luhmann 2000a The Reality of the Mass Media, 74)’
. But human being are too systematically split (re functional differentiated systems) to be presented as one individual. But through structural couplings with other function systems as well as with the human mind system, by presenting persons as individual agents, they give the minds something to think about, namely about social inclusion and self-socialization. The persons appearing in the mass media increase the complexity of social and psychic systems. Luhmann uses terminology from psychology to explain structural coupling between the mind and the mass media, especially the notion s of schema and script: ‘Schemata allow for cognitive selection. With their help, cognition can both sort out what it takes note of and what is does not. They provide a framework with which information can be categorized and ordered. These schemata are not fixed, they can be varied and altered, they are not so much readymade images but patterns for the construction of images. .. Schemata are not the storehouse of cognitive impressions, but rather the cognitive tools for the production of information (DPB: tools for thought) – and thus for the performance of cognitive autopoiesis. Luhmann assumes that “the structural coupling of mass media communication and psychically reliable simplifications uses, and indeed generates, such schemata. The process is a circular one. The mass media value comprehensibility. But comprehensibility is best guaranteed by the schemata which the media themselves have already generated” (Luhmann 2000a The Reality of the Mass Media, 100)’ [pp. 158-9]. Minds and communication are coupled by meaning and language, in addition minds and mass media are coupled by cognitive schemata [p 152]. DPB: the concept of schemata reminds me of the concept of memes, the tools for thought; I believe that they are not only relevant in the sphere of the mass media or their interface with the mind, but have a wider application, for instance in the way people think about economic issues. ‘Schemata are rather the “thermostats” that link the mind and the mass media together’ [p 159]. DPB: they are at the same location as my operators E and B. And indeed via familiarization, they can become a mold of association that are used for decisions in the future. I find the thermostat comparison strange because they can only give a reading and not an action. Is that the intention here? ‘In order to be a modern personality we have to have a personality that goes beyond our functional identities. .. one has to be something “unique” as well. One has to have an identity, a history. One has to be as special and unique as everyone else is. The mass media display all these uniformly unique characters – and the mind resonates with these schemata. And in turn, of course, the mass media resonate with the mental individuality schemata. .. Luhmann explains: “When individuals look at media as text or as image, they are outside; when they experience their results within themselves they are inside. They ghave to oscillate between outside and inside. .. For the one position is only possible thanks to the other – and vice versa”(Luhmann 2000a The Reality of the Mass Media, 115). When structurally coupled with the mass society through the mass media – we are both inside and outside of society. The schemata have these two extremes – our psychic existence outside of society and our social existence within it’ [p 160]. DPB: this last part outside / inside reminds me a lot of the Logistical Model in regards to the making sens of the environment and then influencing the environment with the amendments of memes &c.
Part III: Philosophical Contexts
This section is a short summary of the main influencers of the work of Luhmann: Kant, Hegel, Husserl and Marx, according to Habermas and also according to the number of references in his texts. Mueller finds the work of Luhmann closest to the work of Hegel (influenced by it or borrowed from it, although he doesn’t admit it); and as such it is more of a philosophy of consciousness than a philosophy of social systems.
‘Radical constructivism, however, begins with the empirical assertion: Cognition is only possible because it has no access to the reality external to it. A brain, for instance, can only produce information because it is coded indifferently in regard to its environment, i.e. it operates enclosed within the recursive network of its own operations. Similarly one would have to say: Communication systems (social systems) are only able to produce information because the environment does not interrupt them. And following all this, the same should be self-evident with respect to the classical “seat” (subject) of epistemology: to consciousness. (Luhmann Cognition as Construction 1988, 8-9)’ [pp. 167-8]. Luhmann’s system theory is rooted in Kantian epistemology: What is cognition and how does it operate? But if cognition is a matter of consciousness then how can it relate to what it recognizes? Kant no longer occupies himself with the general structure of the world, but with the structure of cognition and how it operates and conceives of a world. And as a consequence, to understand reality we must first understand cognition. This idea introduces constructivism into epistemology. According to Kan, the realization of reality is an effect of cognitive construction but it makes sense to assume that the world still is as it is and the transcendental structure of cognition is relevant. Luhmann radicalizes this by assuming that reality consists of its own realization (over and above the idea that the realization of reality is a way of relating to reality). ‘Cognition is no longer simply a way of relating understandingly to a reality. Here reality emerges as cognition’ [p 168]. Cognition is however not seen as ideal or the self-realization of a higher consciousness, but instead it has no “essence”: ‘It can operate, for instance, ”materially” in the form of biological life, mentally in the form of thoughts, or socially in the form of communication’ [p 169]. There is no rule for how this can come about: ‘Cognitive systems establish themselves by operational closure. By differentiating themselves operationally, they construct themselves by establishing a difference between themselves and their environment. Cognition is based on the establishment of this difference – it does not happen in spite of this difference, but because of it’ [p 169]. DPB: this is a connection with the concept of individuation, where a shape or a contour is distinguished from a scatter of possible enemies (or food, or spouses) and that process of distinction (while being distinguished) is the process of cognition and it also is the process of individuation. As it comes to individuate, it comes to cognize. And this can only take place because a distinction is made between self and the environment, and hence because the system is operationally closed. And this process has been called “thinking” and I am also fond of the term “computation” in this sphere, meaning the processing of information. In the context of my research it means the processing of the information belonging to the social system, namely communication, and the processing of information belonging to the psychic system, namely belonging to the mind. These systems are operationally closed, and hence closed to the exchange of information by one another, but yet they influence the other indirectly. Differences of Luhmannian and Kantian theory: 1. Cognition can take any operational mode and hence is not an act of consciousness 2. Cognition constructs itself empirically in a different way from process to process, and there is no a priori transcendental structure of cognition 3. No complete description of all cognitive processes is possible because they evolve and hence new modes emerge 4. Reality is not singular but instead a complex multiplicity of system / environment constellations 5. A description of reality is itself a contingent construction within a system / environment relation [pp. 169-170]. With regards to the subject /object distinction (and its replacement with system / environment): ‘The subject “constructs” reality by transcendental unification through self-reference. The system does this by differentiation. The conceptual framework of system / environment is not only radically constructivist but also radically differentialist”’ [ p 170]. Consciously cognizing subjects are replaced with systems of observation that make distinctions (‘make splits’) into the world constituting a multiplicity of system / environment relations. In addition to the abolishing of the subject as an element of pure reason as above, Luhmann also criticizes its use for ethics and social theory: ‘The term “subject” does not designate a substance that, by its pure being, shoulders everything else, the subject is rather self-referentiality itself as the foundation of cognition and action. .. ‘ [pp. 170-171]. In other words: subjectivism should also not be use in social studies. DPB: the approach of Luhmann reminds me of my Logistical Model namely there is no subject, but a mutual evolution of the thought processes and the individuation processes. This comes about via the temporary existence of a connection between psychic and communication systems. Their connection, a Job or a Bubble, is the ‘owner’ of the operators that make the self- end hetero references, because only if the utterance was sent and received is it ain fact a communication and can it damage the mind such that the mind can damage the communication. What bothers me is Husserl’s concept of intersubjectivity, it sounds good, why can it not work? And also: it was mentioned in relation to the concept of coevalness.
Hegel imports concepts of consciousness into social theory, ‘.., Luhmann rejects any general type of cognition for systemic autopoiesis – it may be consciousness, but is can also be communication, life, or perhaps, something else’ [p 173]. Luhmann’s shift from subject to system implies a shift from unity to multiplicity and from identity to difference (also compared to Hegel). Luhmann claims that his theory is able to include itself within itself. There is some level of self-inclusion in Hegel’s theory when the subject becomes fully self-reflective: ‘But Hegel, at least in Luhmann’s view, forgot to include himself, the perspective of the theory of subjectivity, into the story. He failed to take into account that the epistemologist is himself within the labyrinth of cognition. Hegel .. did not really achieve an “autological” theory of observation’ [ p 175]. ‘Luhmann’s theory is a “supertheory” because it fully includes itself within itself. But this self-inclusion leads to the breakdown of any declarations of finality, completion, or foundationalism’ [p 175].
Luhmann agrees with Marx that Hegel’s focus on consciousness such that social structures can be emancipated from being mere effects of spirituality. He, like Marx, believes that society has its own forces, that cannot be seen as a function of nonsocial forces; but he finds that Marx does not distantiate himself sufficiently from the same one-sidedness as Hegel, but with a focus on modes of production instead of a focus on consciousness. So as Hegel identified consciousness as the basis principle of all society, so Marx identified modes of production; and so both can be seen as fundamentalists or ontologists; both have not been able to introduce difference into their theories; and in the same way as Hegel, Marx has also not been able to include self-reflectivity into his theory autologically: ‘”Marx himself, however, seems to have been unable, just as Hegel, to account for his own theory within his own theory” (Luhmann 1997a Social Theory, 1080, n. 350) ’[p 177]. Neither theory was in this sense really a supertheory. Luhmann found Marx’s insight groundbreaking that the economy is not some law of nature but a social construct; in this way he could introduce the constructivist ideas already present in Kant and Hegel, into his theory of social construction: ‘With Marx, it became possible to conceive of society as an autopoietic, self-constructing mechanism that operated on its own accord, rather than under the unchangeable laws of some trans-social realm’ [p 178]. Marx was focused on the economy; this denies the influence that the function systems can have on one another; and so social theory had to be broadened to other areas also. In addition Luhmann does not agree with the “humanist upholstery” that Marx applied to his theory. ‘There is a thorough discomfort about normativity and morality in Luhmann that are, for him, not only simple-minded, but may quickly lead to intellectual and, more dangerously, social totalitarianism’ [p 180].
Luhmann explicitly takes over structural and methodological aspect of cognitive and constructivist theory as well as Husserl’s terminology to use for his own conceptual apparatus. Husserl had already detected some principal features of autopoiesis, but failing to appreciate it, because of his epistemological idealism: ’Luhmann therefore wants to apply Husserl’s terminology not in explaining only the “characteristics of consciousness”, but also for “the emergence of order in general” (Luhmann Modern Sciences and Phenomenology (Die neuzeiten Wissenschaften und die Phänomenologie) 1996b, 50)’ [p 182]. He is interested in how the cognitive construction functions amongst other nonconscious systems, particularly social systems, namely society; he is interested in the ‘making sense’ of systems and rejects the ‘transcendental subject’. Luhmann translates Husserl’s terminology into systems language: ‘Intention is nothing but the positing of a difference’ (Luhmann 1996b Modern Sciences and Phenomenology (Die neuzeiten Wissenschaften und die Phänomenologie), 31)’
. No longer a mental interest, ‘Intention’ is now a primal operation. DPB: this reminds me of the description of Oudemans: at some state there is a difference and then that state determines which attraction or repulsion there is to establish the next state. Based on and because of its intentionality can a system make a distinction and differentiate between itself and its environment; a cognizing system can differentiate between itself (its operations) and that which it cognizes outside of itself: ‘Intentionality paves the way for a distinction between a system and its environment. Only through this difference can a system identify itself by distinguishing itself from what it observes’ [p 183]. This difference between self-reference and other-reference establishes the membrane, namely the boundary between the system and the environment. And this holds not only for conscious systems but for all self-referential systems, including social systems. In a likewise manner Luhmann defines sense as the unity of the difference between actuality and possibility to be applied to all sense-processing systems. Sense emerges in a context, it needs a horizon and it is always connected to something else that makes sense; the circular closure appearing as the ultimate horizon of everything connected is the world. According to Luhmann it is not possible for something nonsocial such as minds (or humans) to form the social and as a consequence he rejects Husserl’s intersubjectivity (see remark above, this is why, it is easy).
14 Postmodernity, Deconstruction and Techno-Theory
Luhmann was mainly interested in post-modernism (at least the movement) when it indicated a loss of trust in the traditional (modern) self-descriptions; the overturn of modernity is not a structural but a semantic turn. A concise description of post-modernity is: ‘..renunciation of claims to unity and transition towards radically differentialist concepts (1997a The Society of Society, 555)’ [p 194]. Through deconstruction as a second-order observation Luhmann connects his theory with Derrida’s (and de Man) theories of deconstruction. ‘Luhmann finds that deconstruction recommends “the reading of forms as differences, to look at distinctions without the hope of regaining unit at a higher (or later) level”, and it “is deconstruction of the ‘is’ and not the ‘is not’”, because it deconstructs the assumption of presence, of any stable relation between presence and absence, or even the very distinction between presence and absence” (1993a, Deconstruction as Second-Order Observing, 766)’ [p 195]. All statements of an ‘is’ are based on distinctions and, as a consequence, presence is a construct of differentiation; it never actually gains self-identity; every presence if the result of an observation that is different from it; deconstruction can observe the observation that observes the presence; it observes (as per a second-order observation) the construction of the ‘is’, and hence the deconstruction of this construction. Any deconstruction can be the subject of further deconstruction (it applies to itself) and there can be no final unity that does away with difference. Luhmann refers to Deleuze’s concept of ‘sens’ as an antecedent for his use of ‘Sinn’ (at the expense of Husserl).
15 Conclusion: From Metanarrative to Supertheory
So as for Hegel, religion was a thing of the past, so for Luhmann philosophy was a thing of the past also. Religion (and philosophy respectively) were in waiting to be ‘sublation’ (‘Aufhebung’). Luhmann did not consider himself a philosopher but a social scientist; he in fact tried to elevate the entire project of philosophy. ‘A supertheory reflects on the fact that that it and its validity are its own product – and is therefore absolutely contingent. What a supertheory says has to make general sense to it. But this sense itself is not general, it is contingent upon the theory that is constructing this horizon of sense in the first place. A supertheory is a theoretical endeavor, and there is nothing more to it. What it says is relevant only theoretically, only within its confinements. .. Supertheory does little outside of theory. With supertheory, the world does not become morally better, more rational, or spiritually complete. It only becomes more distinct’ [p 201].
Appendix A: The Society of Society
Pages 24-35 from Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft (Frankfurt/Main Suhrkamp 1997), translation by Hans-Georg Mueller.
In the current conception of society the assumptions are found that societies: 1. consist of concrete human beings and their relations 2. are constituted or integrated by consensus between human beings, their correspondence of their opinions and complementarity of their goals 3. are regional and territorially limited units 4. can be observed from outside. PS: that there was a problem with this was clear in sociology from the start, Durkheim says: ‘la société n’est pas une simple somme d’individus, mais le système formé par leur association représente une réalité spécifique qui a ses charactères propres’ (Durkheim, 1927, Les règles de la méthode sociologique, 8th edition, 127). PPS: even today many researchers refer to the human being as the basic unit for society. The assumptions above (1 / 3) prevent the definition of the object of society: ‘Instead, the relation between the individual and society now becomes a problem. .., obviously not everything that individualizes human beings (if anything) belongs to society. Society does not weigh exactly as much as as all human beings together, and its weight also does not change with every birth and every death’ [p 231]. It is not consensus that keeps society together: ‘This body of teaching, however, collapses when one asks more persistently how consensus, in a psychologically realizable sense, should be possible at all, and also how a sufficiently harmonized direction of coordinated expectations should be attained in this way’ [p 232]. DPB: this is exactly the crux: what is the organization that turns out to form a society by the coherence of the behavior that people appear to exhibit?
Appendix B: Cognition as Construction
Erkenntnis als Konstruktion (Bentelli Bern, 1988), translation Hans-Georg Mueller.
Distrust an assertion if it is amplified: why radical constructivism? ‘No matter if one preferred solutions of transcendental theory or dialectics, the problem was: how is cognition possible in spite of having no independent access to reality outside of it. Radical constructivism, however, begins with the empirical assertion: cognition is only possible because it has no access to reality outside of it’ [p 242]. The mind and communication can produce information because they are operationally closed: ‘Similarly one would have to say: communication systems (social systems) are only able to produce information because the environment does not interrupt them. And following all this, the same should be self-evident with respect to the classical “seat” (subject) of epistemology: to consciousness’ [pp. 242-3]. DPB: the above reminds me of a definition of information stating that the more surprise/newness it holds the more information it contains; the limit sits at randomness, which holds the most surprise (the information has no pattern, it is irreducible). Suppose that systems produce information while they are cognizing and suppose that more information is produced if the difference between the system’s states and the systems in the environment is larger. Difference between consecutive states of (behavior of) self or between self and the systems in the environment supposes comparability (the relation is less than random), and hence difference supposes a minimum of similarity between states of one system as cognized from another system. If there is too much difference for the systems to be comparable, then, as a consequence, individuation is impossible (a connection does not occur). If a change takes place in the environment (of the observed system), then an increase of difference is induced, and hence an increase of the amount of information produced by the system while it is making sense of the change in the environment; eventually the changes occurring and hence the amount of information can get so big that all similarity is lost and there is no longer a difference; and this represents again randomness. Rephrase: the information in the system and the behavior of the environment is unclear. ‘Constructivism could achieve a novelty effect if it would pursue the question of how uncoupling (in other words: indifference, closure) is possible’
. DPB: interesting choice of words. The distinction between the system and the environment can cater for uncoupling by closure in the light of the differentiation of systems and it can cater for observation of observing systems (2nd order cybernetics).
It is (perhaps naively) assumed that all cognizing systems are real systems. In light of the above, the question how systems can cognize can be reformulated to how can they uncouple themselves from their environment. Self-isolation does not imply freedom of choice of operations, the opposite is the case, namely a coercion. Closure is only possible as an effect of the operations of the system itself and by the production of its own operations ‘within the network of their recursive anticipations and recourses’ [p 245]. This ‘going on’ is called autopoiesis by Maturana and other things by other philosophers: ‘Systems theory, however, makes it possible to formulate the result with particular clarity. No system can operate outside of its own borders, and neither can a cognizing system’ [p 245]. Luhmann assumes a concept of observation based on distinction and indication: cognition is manufactured by the operations of observation and recording of observations (descriptions), including the observation of observations and the description of descriptions. A distinction is made and an indication is made accordingly. ‘Everything that can be observed is the observer’s own accomplishment (Eigenleistung), including the observation of observers. Thus there is nothing in the environment that corresponds to cognition, since everything that corresponds to cognition is dependent on distinctions within which cognition indicates something as this and not that. .. There is not even an environment in the environment .. The distinction between system and environment is itself an operation that guides cognition. This course of reflection does not allow for any conclusions in regard to the irreality of the environment. It also does not allow for the conclusion that nothing exists besides the cognizing system. .. Indications such as “reality”(matter, ultimate reality) or “world” are, for cognition, themselves based on distinctions. They formulate the unity of that which is distinguished by a distinction – or, if you wish, their spirit’ [pp. 246-7].
‘An operative epistemology conceives of cognition as a kind of operation it can distinguish from other operations. As an operation, cognition happens or not depending on whether the autopoiesis of the system can be continued with such operation or not. The most important consequence of this approach is that it makes no difference whether cognition produces truth or errors’ [pp. 247-8]. DPB: this reminds me of the definition of communication (Luhmann, Logistical Model). Many authors find that it is intentional, I find it must be just-so. This statement above allows for cognition to ‘work with’ just-so stories; it produces whatever, not necessarily truth alone. Neither consciousness systems nor communications systems are divided into (or work in some other way with) true/false distinctions. Initially an autopoietic system works indifferently in regard to a true/false divide and now a binary code can be imposed: but who does the imposing? An observer observes A (distinguishes A from something else) , but he must observe other observers to find out whether it is true that A is. As long as epistemology relates itself to the concept of autopoiesis to explain cognition, it can claim for itself the status of external observer, given that it admits it is itself ruled by the same physical/chemical/biological/psychological conditions as the conditions it observes. [p 250]. DPB: this is my claim to lead my arguments back to laws of physics! I have no possibility to do that extensively, but now I can refer to this claim here! But: it changes with the sociological concept of cognition because there is only one society, only one comprehensive system of communication. Now there is no escaping (to another system) and the observer is trapped in the same system as the observed. DPB: this is why I am not particularly taken with the idea of communication as one system, divided into the functional systems; I find this is artificial. Anything individuating can become a system with some density and there is no need for an ultimate unity of communication, or is there? In the above (Luhmann) system all externalization can only be explained as a system differentiation: ‘Only with the sociology of cognition does a radical, self-inclusive constructivism become possible’ [p 250].
The radical in radical constructivism can only be explained historically. The role of distinctions could only be played by religion: ’God is beyond all distinctions, .. In him, everything that transcends distinctness coincides insofar as it transcends distinctness – i.e., that which cannot be conceived as greater, as smaller, as quicker, as slower (coincidentia oppositorum)’
. Everything else stems from a ‘contract’ with God, and hence is is distinguishable, and, in doing so, God makes himself comprehensible (in his incomprehensibility); ‘and that truth, although finally incomprehensible, consists for human beings in the correspondence of their distinctions with those of things’ [p 251]. DPB: God made the distinctions in this way and human beings can learn them by heart. To know God in his incomprehensibility, one had to observe his doings directly but in addition observe his observers, the devil as a first source of critique, and his self-observation also: ‘The escape route came fatally close to the assumption that God needed creation and the damnation of the devil in order to be able to observe himself, and it lead to writings that Nicolaus (Cusanus) believed unprepared minds with their weak eyes had better not read’ [p 251]. As a consequence the partner for radical constructivism is not traditional epistemology, but traditional theology.
‘One would now like to know how distinguishing and indicating is possible as a unitary but two-component operation’ [p 252]. DPB: this question reminds me of the problem of the ‘principal’ of the operator working between the psychic system and the communication system in the Logistical Model. ‘This leads one to the already anticipated insight that strongly limiting conditions have to be contributing’ [p 252]. DPB: what does this mean to say? Does this refer to that issue with the owner of the operators, namely that if and only if something is uttered as well as perceived by human beings can it be (become) part of the realm of communications? And conversely does it mean to say that if and only if it is perceived and (re-)uttered by human beings can it become part of their minds? ‘What presumably plays a role is that it is just about possible – at least in the realm of the sense operations of consciousness and communication – to view a twoness as a oneness, or, put differently; to see contrasts’ [p 251]. DPB: This supposedly means that if and only if the uttered thing and the perceived thing, up to that point two things, become one thing from there on. But what is meant with the seeing of contrast? If time is taken into account and if the system is complex, then sensitive dependence on initial conditions plays a role in its oscillations (between operations E and B to and between mind and communication). ‘This also, of course, presupposes the uncoupling of the system, namely, its own time (Eigenzeit) for its own operations while there is doubtless a simultaneous environment’
. DPB: this reminds me of my position with regards to time as the counting of events. Events are the differences between the system and the environment, as far as they go noticed by the system, and hence they are irreversible, because they cannot become ‘unnoticed’. Time is a result of the counting of the events and not an independent parameter. Luhmann sees time differently, namely an Eigenzeit, time of the thing itself and perhaps even time of the environment where things run simultaneously. This position makes me think of the role of the operations inside the system in the production of irreversibility and hence of the production of time: this is different from the difference in the unfolding of events in adjacent systems. ‘This refers again to the necessity of memory, namely, on the one hand, to an ongoing consistency check along with the activation of the respectively appropriate structures, and, on the other hand, to a schema of observation that interprets occurring inconsistencies as distinctions in time or space and thus stretches them apart’ [p 252]. This leads to an ever more detailed specification of unlikely but necessary (Luhmann says possible) evolutionary processes that produce cognition. The environment presents to a system contrasts from its changes as persistent and hence allows for repetition (while the corresponding identifications are of course up to the system); the identification is a condition of the identification of the being and not of the being itself; the cognizing system can deal with the object (tolerating the observation) even if that has changed. ‘And, even more astonishingly, the cognizing system can, insofar as it has language, use constant terms to indicate something that is conceived as inconstant – for instance, the word “motion” to indicate motions. In other words, it does not have to simulate the changeable through its own change’ [p 253]. The hypothesis now emerges that ‘the differentiating of a cognizing system in any case leads to situations that are ordered simultaneously but no longer rhythmically synchronic with the environment; and this can only be achieved when there are also discontinuities in the environment from which the system can distinguish its own operations’ [p 253]. DPB: each system clicks away according to its own operations and as a consequence there are differences between the systems; these differences are not necessarily congruent synchronic because they only depend on the operations of the individual systems themselves; their behavior is of course conditional to of the irritations that they are dealt out by their neighboring systems. In addition the differences in the reality conditions of the reality perceptions: cognizing systems can compare the signs reaching them from different sources such as sound and visible location in such a way that they can make distinctions and identifications. ‘Cognition is therefore not possible in a “random” environment, but only in one that is suitable for cognition. This, however, does not justify assuming any “adaptation” of cognition to reality’ [p 255].
‘There are at least some clues indicating that a reality that remained unknown, if it was totally entropic, would not enable cognition to take place’ [p 255]. But cognition itself cannot by itself bring this distinction because it would paradoxically have to be part of its own exteriority. DPB: this is the problem with the operators E and B between perception and behavior also: to whom do they belong, of what are they a part? Cognition is internal and does not know anything external to it that would correspond to itself: cognition does not have a model of the outside world that maps the world to its own operations. ‘We wish, without making a definite decision, to suggest three further concepts, which may very remotely resemble the teaching of the trinity. We wish to speak of the world in order to indicate the unity of the difference between system and environment. We wish to speak of reality in order to indicate the unity of the difference between cognition and object. We wish to speak of sense in order to indicate the unity of the difference between actuality and possibility’ [p 256]. The negation of the world lies in the world, the negation of reality is a real operator and the negation of sense makes no sense if it makes no sense. Luhmann goes on to state that cognition is an extremely unlikely type of operation, but I believe the contrary is true: this is very common and not unlikely at all, because every multiplicity of things from ‘the beginning of times’ has no other option than to make do with whatever else there is, by making sense of it, and such that from an early form of cognition it develop to what it is now, &c. ‘Additionally, it has to be noted that the aforementioned distinctions system/environment, cognition/object, and actuality/possibility display an obvious asymmetry. There is connectivity only on one of their sides; and they allow re-entry only on one side in the sense of Spencer Brown’s logic, i.e. re-entry of the distinction into what is distinguished. In this way the world can only be a concept for orientation within the system, a concept that re-enters the difference between system and environment into the system. In this way the difference between cognition and object is a distinction that is immanent to cognition; and the assumption that reality has to be something that entails both sides is, correspondingly, based on the very practice of cognition. And finally, in this way the difference between actuality and possibility only makes sense if it is practiced in actu, i.e., if the momentarily practiced operation refers to a horizon of other possibilities (and here it does not matter if these are real possibilities or possibilities that are only thought of or that can be only fictionally imagined)’ [p 257].
‘One has to distinguish between psychic and social systems, between actually operating consciousness and communication. Both systems can make use of language to articulate thought as well as communication. For both systems a build-up of complexity to the degree we are familiar with becomes possible only through language. Both systems, however, operate as closed systems under entirely separate operational (autopoietic) and structural conditions. There is not the slightest operational overlap, because the recursive networking with other operations of the respective system imposes entirely different conditions of connectivity on everything that functions as an elementary operation within a system’ [p 258]. DPB: Luhmann designates a special position to language as a go-between for social systems and psyche ‘It is no system at all. Its efficacy lies in the structural coupling between consciousness and communication’ [pp. 258-9]; I find this artificial and I believe language is one of the social systems, evolving in an environment of peers, of which the closest (most frequently dealt with) are the mind and communication. ‘Language keeps its central function with respect to the ongoing structural coupling of psychic and communicative operations. It fascinates consciousness. .. During communication, one can also rely on the notation capability of psychic systems, on their memory’ [p 259]. DPB: this is not a very strong quote; there is more, but it appears descriptive and it does not exactly pinpoint how language is exactly that different from another social system, but has its own special position. ‘All these considerations demonstrate the importance of a structural coupling between psychic and social systems that is compatible with gains in complexity. It can only be explained by language’ [p 259]. DPB: I am not convinced it can only be explained by language; (the generative rules of) processes in nature including the processes of the mind and the processes that generate language are sufficiently complex to explain the gains in complexity of their respective (and coupled) behavior.
Appendix C: Beyond Barbarism
Niklas Luhmann Gesellschaftsstruktur und Semantik. Studien zur Wissenssoziologie der Modernen Gesellschaft, vol. 4 (Frankfurt/mAIN: Suhrkamp, 1999), 138-50), translated by Hans-Georg Mueller.
Should old ‘word-shells’ be discarded? Barbarian &c. are used to express disgust and to lend objectivity to the expression. Savages experience the world in a sensual way (as a variety of the diverse), barbarians have subscribed to reason; they grant primacy to reason over variety and individuality of all the phenomena. ‘Barbarians are those who have only one iron left in the fireplace’ [p 261].
‘Moreover, the absorption-system of the old-style corporations no longer exists, instead there are modern organizations based on membership decisions, that is to say on the inclusion of few members and the exclusion of all others’ [p 265]. As opposed to these membership organizations of corporations, the function systems (politics, religion, economy, science, law &c.) are in principle open to all.
Barbarism has thus disappeared. ‘Culture is initially simply a doubling of all artifacts, including texts. Besides their immediate usage, artifacts gain a second meaning as documents of a culture. Pots are on the one side pots, but on the other side they are also signs of a specific culture that distinguishes itself by its kind of pots from another culture. And what is true for pots is also true for religions’ [p 268]. DPB: this reminds me first of the ‘other meaning’ of culture, similar to the chapter 14 of the management handbook. This illustration of the concept of culture can be connected with my use of Cargo religions such as John Frum &c. Also this is a way for behavior (and the memes that are at their foundation) to discriminate between them as a matter of Darwinian variation (or perhaps rather to enable selection to take place: now there is something to choose from). How can there be inclusion of there is no exclusion?
‘In modern supply-society, freedom is not restricted by coercion, but rather structured by supply in such a way that the enacting of freedom can no longer be attributed to the self-realization of the individual. One buys for a good price, watches the advertised films, chooses a religion or not as one likes – just like the others. Even God is a supply-God. He offers, and the model is of course Pascal’s wager, his love so impressively and so independent of moral judgments that the refusal would be meaningless or, theologically speaking, would fulfill the definition of sin. This demonstrates that culture and social conditions have made the enacting of freedom so asymmetrical that the individual is only left with meaningless decisions – or with protests that do not change anything’ [p 271].
Glossary of Terms
Blind spot (Blinder Fleck): when we observe something we establish a point of view, there is thus something else behind our back we cannot see. Cognition presupposes conditions that cannot be themselves cognized. The world cannot be seen as a whole, seeing is determined by nonseeing.
Connectivity: ‘Connectivity of operations is the for the self-establishment of an autopoietic system. Operations of the same kind have to be capable of connecting to each other so that a network of operations arises. In communication systems, communication has to be able to be continued. If not, the system stops reproducing itself and thus ceases to exist’ [p 217].
Constructivism: all cognition is construction. This term can be contrasted with realism, namely that reality is as it is and it can be represented as such. Constructivism means that “reality” is produced by construction by the observer.
Contingency: this means that things could have been different. Observations and distinctions, cognitions and selections are contingent: they are not dictated by human nature, but by (social) evolutionary processes and so they could have been different. The function systems are a result of distinctions but these in turn have evolved and have no essence.
Environment: that in which a systems exists other than itself: complementary with the term system. But an environment is specific for thát system and so there are as many environments as there are systems.
Information: 1. one of the moments or “selections” that constitute communication and 2. information/noninformation is the basic code of the mass-media.
Irritation: orignaly Irritation, meaning distraction to perturb, perhaps better translated as perturbation. This term is used to avoid deterministic cause-effect sequences.
Observation: an act of distinction and indication.
Operation: ‘Operations are what systems consist of; operating is what systems do. Different types of systems consist of different types of operations’ [p 223]. ‘Operational closure goes along with cognitive openness. By being operationally closed and differentiated from its environment, a system can have cognition of its environment. Once a system has reached operational closure, it can observe the environment in its own terms’ [p 223].
Re-entry: the re-entry of a distinction into what is distinguished.
Self-reference and Other-reference: ‘A system that has distinguished between itself and its environment and, by way of re-entry, has copied this distinction into itself, can, quite naturally, distinguish between itself and its environment. It can therefore refer to itself or to its environment when communicating (if it is a communications system)’ [p 224].
Semantics: this is the term for the specific ways in which society produces meaning or how it makes sense of things.
Structural coupling: this term (Maturana) is used in later work to replace interpenetration (Parsons).
Unmarked space: like the term ‘blind spot’ (Spencer Brown) this term also expresses the idea that when something is observed something else remains unobserved. In order to focus, other things have to be left out of sight.