5.10 Meaddows’ hiearchy and social strata

Meadows’ hierarchy is a count-down of twelve leverage points from the least influential ones to the most effective and powerful ones. Although Meadows does not, the hierarchy can be separated in 5 competence levels to interact with systems that become gradually more powerful, more abstract, but at the same time slower. [What am I doing here?]

  • The least influential levels can be described a ‘Working with the system’ and correspond to the level that most people are generally at. Traditionally it is reserved for the lower classes.
  • The second group of levels can be described as ‘Making the system work for you’ and are characteristics for the more successful and the entrepreneurially minded, which include low and medium level politicians, entrepreneurs, and white collar criminals. These levels are the domain of the middle-class.
  • The third group of levels ‘Designing and controlling the system’ is for policy-makers such as lobbyists, politicians, high-level judges, CEO’s of national corporations, and the largest investment firms that are able to determine where a society will focus on and in what direction its technology, economy, and laws will develop. These levels are the domain of the upper-class.
  • The fourth group can be described as ‘Setting the goals’ and is reserved for highest level of Intelligence Agencies, think tanks, media corporations, CEO’s of the largest multinationals, and a few highly effective communicators in, typically, academia and culture. This is the domain of the oligarchy.
  • The fifth and most powerful level contains a single level and can be described as determining how the world is understood and how the global society reacts to changes and challenges. This is the level in which this paper is particularly interested and is reserved for a small part of the ruling oligarchy.

[Skill level as cognitive abilities]

Donella Meadows’ (1999) original list is informative, a pleasant read, and highly recommended. Here we review it only

Working with the system

  1. Constants, parameters, numbers (such as production levels, sales prizes, loans, taxes levels)
  2. The size of buffers and other stabilizing stocks, relative to their flows
  3. Structure of material stocks and flows (such as transport network, population age structures)

These levels describe the level relevant for those who limit themselves to tending the system or playing according to the rules and expectations of the system. It is the level of the employee, the low-level manager, or the obedient uncritical citizen. It is also the level of those who are not able or willing to work with the system and try to appropriate some benefits via social security or as unsophisticated criminal. The issues relevant for these levels are the issues that describe the detailed workings of an idealized system as if it is not intricately part of a larger and more complex (and therefore) obscure system. People who act exclusively at this level will disempower themselves by limiting themselves to the least influential levels.

Skills: able to successfully attend a small part or facet of the system, but unable to fully oversee and understand the dynamics of the direct social, cultural, and economic environment. No ability to evaluate one’s situation in a larger context, therefore unable to visualize and reason about cultural differences. Daily decision are dictated by the current environment. Minimal personal autonomy and consequently a highly reliance on authorities of all sorts, especially those who tell what to do and who are responsible for maintaining a context in which one can function adequately.

Making the system work for you

  1. Length of delays, relative to the rate of system changes
  2. Strength of negative feedback loops, relative to the effect they are trying to correct against
  3. Gain around driving positive feedback loops
  4. Structure of information flow (who does and does not have access to what kinds of information)

These are the levels for those who are able to ‘play’ with the system and are able to make the system work for them by changing or exploiting its less apparent properties and internal dynamics. This level includes entrepreneurs, mid-level civil servants, and white-collar criminals. For example a manager who works more efficient may improve sales effectively. A mid-level civil servant who manages to decrease the effectiveness of regulatory instruments may gain considerable freedom in implementing self generated or corrupt policies. An entrepreneur who successfully exploit a market-niche will experience a period in which each sale reinforces more sales. And a CEO who wants to close a plant can start with decreasing the quality of the management to ensure an outflow of first the most talented personnel. These will be followed with the more flexible and the disillusioned workers. The resulting most loyal and desperate workers are unlikely to fight the closure of the plant. And a white-collar criminal who effectively controls the information flow can generate in situation in which his victim’s sense of comfort is based on a careful selection of the available information. High comfort level of the victims tell the criminal that he can continue raising the stakes of the scam.

Skills: able to understand and change the dynamics of the direct social, cultural, and economic environment. Limited ability to evaluate and adapt one’s own situation reactively in a lager social economic context. Able to visualize and understand cultural differences and to relate and interact with these differences in an effective way. Daily decisions in part under strategic control. Increased autonomy and reduced sensitivity to authorities and more likely to challenge authorities when they interfere with own autonomy but equally likely to demand that authorities uphold the conditions that allow them ‘to work with the system’.

Controlling the system design

  1. Rules of the system (such as incentives, punishment, constraints)
  2. Power to add, change, evolve, or self-organize system structure

This is the typical level of top lobbyists, the top politicians, high level investors (large venture capitalists, the daily activities of corporate bankers, hedge funds), CEO’s of multi-nationals, leaders of policy-advising law-firms, leaders of top-universities, economic strategists, and the visionaries who control NGO’s. It is also the level some academic generalists. This is the level that determines ‘how the game is played’. That influences what will be optimizes, what will be punished, and within which constraints other have to work. This is the level that determines whether whistleblowers will be cherished as stabilizing factors or persecuted to enhance corruption and the freedom to play the system. This is also the level that decides whether a government will be judged in terms of quantifiable and seemingly tangible goals such a reducing poverty by 12% or in more abstract terms like whether or not providing citizens with the tools and opportunities to liberate themselves from poverty. The first goal can be reduced to mere budget allocation, while the second goal may lead to (dis)empowerment of lower social classes.

This is also the level that determines how economies will develop. For example the type of labor a country will be used can be influenced by selectively investing in industries and at the same investing in matching education. Another example is the initiation of international

Skills: able to understand and willing to change the dynamics of society, culture, and economy as a whole. Able to evaluate and to adapt proactively to large scale social-economic developments. Able to visualize, understand, and regulate cultural differences. Daily decisions in the service of strategic (long-term) control. A high level of personal autonomy and a willingness and ability to lead covertly. Not subject to any authority. Able to effectively challenge and influence (other) authorities irrespective whether one is part of the authoritarian structure. Always looking for strategic coaching to help to guide daily decisions.

Use in a slow power context: generation of bubbles.

Influencing decision makers and public opinion

  1. Goal of the system
  2. Mindset or paradigm that the system — its goals, structure, rules, delays, parameters — arises out of

Decision makers like politicians and CEO’s, are highly visible and often raised in the system they control. Through habit, education, experience, and social pressure they are highly bound to a single system and system approach and they are highly skilled in influencing the systems they are control. However their focus is on the system as they understand it and since many of the decisions they take have long term consequences they rely on advice and estimates of realizability and social acceptability from think tanks, NGO’s, media, Intelligence Agencies, and a few highly effective communicators in, typically, academia, culture, and religion.

Slow power should focus on this and the next level by controlling these institutions. In addition it is important to make sure that the public debate is controlled by suitable communicators. Highly effective dissenting voices that convey messages on these levels should be suppressed (Martin Luther king, Malcom X, Pope John Paul I, Ghandi).

Skills: Able to reason about the mindset of persons, groups, and social classes in terms of effective behavior manipulation through a match of personality and task. Able to reason about a wide range of societal, cultural, technological, and economics influences and their effect on a society as a whole. Able to select, prioritize, and activate social social-economic changes. Full personal autonomy and the skills to influence and use the mindset of others. Highly independent of the day to day workings of authoritarian structures and able to make these structure work for them.

Influencing how the world is understood

  1. Power to transcend paradigms

The most effective level of slow power is an effective use of knowledge about human nature as a tool of power. This does not entail a deep understanding of individual behavior, but a general understanding about how to influence human behavior on the time-scale of generations and during moments of crisis, in combination with the skills and opportunities to use this. It relies on intimate knowledge about how individuals and societies make sense of the world. How they attribute cause and effect, and how they integrate and desintegrate, empower or self-limit themselves, and above all whether they trust themselves or some authority to determine what they should feel or think.

Trust, level of individual autonomy, reciprocity, define good and bad, attribute causes to worldly of spiritual causes, pallet of basic emotions in society, raise of lower the role psychological deviants in society. Spread philosophies in society. Define normalcy on psychological and social key terms. Influence the distribution in social strata. Structuring the flow of wealth

Defining and controling the level of individual autonomy.

[Example ownership in Middle-ages]

This boils down to a deep understanding of centuries old and optimized approaches of human behavior on the time-scale of generations and during moments of crisis. Human nature in this context is defined as the scope of human behavior insofar relevant of societal processes.

Skills: Able to work with human nature as a tool. Able and motivated to influence long-term (multiple generations and even centuries) societal developments related to the global distribution of wealth, the distribution of skills over social strata, shaping national identities and national likes and dislikes, and global spheres of influence. Full personal autonomy and the skills to influence the mindset of humanity in intended directions.

———————————— So one might conjecture that social classes is correlated to a mastery of leverage points.

Level of autonomy

Working with the system Making the system work for you Defining and controlling the system Influencing the decision makers Influencing how the world is understood Unable to fully understand and oversee Able to understand the system and exploit Able to change qualitative aspects and oversee part of the social consequences Able oversee the shaping dynamics and changing them in desired directions Able to use human nature as tool. Looking for guidance for daily matters Dependence on authority Independent enough to work with authorities for change Independence of authority and able to guide authorities Independence of paradigms. Able to use or initiate socio-ideological developments