A Systems Science Framework for Understanding the Nature of Governance

George Mobus


The natural world of life is replete with examples of systemic governance subsystems that operate to sustain the continuance of those systems. Every cell, organism, population, and ecosystem demonstrates various self-regulation and environmental coordination mechanisms that have evolved to ensure the long-term viability of that system. A formal approach from systems science that is built on these natural governance subsystems may provide some guidance to our understanding of human social systems and their governance. The emergence of higher levels of organization in the origins and evolution of life can be seen to be the story of increasing sophistication in governance subsystems as disparate complex adaptive systems coalesce into “societies” of interacting entities (super-molecules to primitive protocells, prokaryotic cells to eukaryotic cells, those to multicellular organisms, those to communities, etc.). At each stage in this on-going emergence of higher levels of organization the one consistent aspect is how hierarchical cybernetic structures have contributed to the stabilization of functional relations among the component entities leading to sustainable super-entity structures. The progression is from simple cooperation of multiple entities to intentional coordination emerging to manage complexity. Information processing and decision subsystems (agents) that took responsibility for logistical coordination among components and others that managed tactical coordination of the whole system with external (environmental) entities, resources, and threats evolved to keep increasingly complex biological entities able to maintain their existence and reproduction. Now the governance of human social systems that seek to exist in some kind of harmony with the Earth’s ecology (what I call the Ecos) has emerged in the last 100k years or so and evolved over that time frame to produce the modern socio-economic systems in existence today. But it (characterized here as the neoliberal capitalistic democracy) is not as evolved as, say, the mechanisms of metabolic regulation. There are numerous reasons to believe that the modern governance subsystem is, in fact, moving human societies toward the opposite of sustainable existence. A systems examination of the theory of governance subsystems (hierarchical cybernetics) suggests pathways toward a more functional governance subsystem for human societies. The theory covers the regulation of economic flows as well as the legal superstructure and moral/ethical aspects of culture that collectively constitutes the governance subsystem of a human society embedded in a meta-system, the Ecos.


Governance, Systems Science, Hierarchical Cybernetics, Social Emergence, Decision Agents

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