Saturday, 5 December 2009

Can the Viable System Model make anything viable?

This question came up concerning the role of the Viable System Model as an explanatory principle (EP). By Bateson's definition, EPs can explain whatever you want them to explain. Can 'viability' explain anything we want? The VSM relies on distinctions - particularly about what to make viable. These can appear strange.. for example...
a. arbitrary distinctions between individuals
Distinctions between individuals through System 2 regulative and legal frameworks, social planning and coordination can be conducted accordingly where some individuals are seen as instruments of others. This would make slave societies, or even cannibal societies (for example) entirely viable.
b. arbitrary distinctions about ways of living and dying
The kamikaze tradition sees nobility of suicide in the face of defeat. Modern terrorism sees nobility in suicide and murder as a political statement. The maintainance of this belief is made viable through S2 regulation and social structures (particularly religious (S3 - S4)) which emphasise particular attitudes to individual identity (S5).
c. The phenomenon of 'bugchasing' where the contraction of HIV is deliberately sought is similar. The community of bugchasers in maintained (and viable) through regulation at S4 (a sort of pseudo-religion), and S3 (prioritising social connections within a group) and codes of practice within the community (s2).

It should be said that Beer takes this on in Platform for Change. The pathological situations I have described would count within his 'Ethics with a busted-gut'. He argues instead for 'relevant ethics'. (Note that the Algedonic loop would play a crucial role here - I'm sure experiences in Chile would have focused his mind). This is very Habermasian (communicative vs strategic action). But actually, the bustedness of the gut can play a role in the viability of the pathological situation (education is a classic example!). I wonder if Beer cannot decide if he is retroducing viability or whether he is designing utopias. There seems to be some ambiguity.

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