SYSTEMS SYSTEMS

I have previously written about the concept of “unconditional response-ability.” This is to say that in any circumstance, you are capable of taking responsibility for your actions. This sort of assertion rests on the underlying belief that the world is not stimulus — meaning you have the power (if you want to and/or care to) to react as you wish in every interaction (no matter how “bad” or “dramatic” or “challenging” — it is POSSIBLE to demonstrate agency, free will, and independence).

This sort of statement helps me wrestle with external forces. Rather than submit to them, I tell myself it is possible to resist the system. And thus, I write essays (like the many on this blog that talk about, and really serve as reminders to myself) the idea that you are capable of influencing the world around you (and really fighting back against the system).

A big piece of me really believes that this simple idea is a key concept one must embrace in life in order to build the life of their dreams. A piece of me believes that the above framing — the acceptance of the unconditional response-ability — is crucial to defending against the all so tempting victim mentality that is long-term extremely damaging to one’s (physical and mental) health.

But another piece of me, a piece that I have started writing about more recently but have always been interested in to some degree, is a huge advocate/believer in the power of systems. This is to say that I do believe systems have influence. More than influence, systems — perhaps could also be framed to some extent as sets of incentives — tend to control outcomes to a degree that no one player can individually guarantee.

Because of the above, I find myself in conflict. Hopefully the contradiction is obvious, but to make it as clear as possible — one half of me believes that any individual can destroy a system, another half of me believes that the system’s power is far beyond any one individual.

How do we square the above?

I want to also state that dialectical truths may be possible — while a bit of a logical twister of sorts, we can say that both can be true in their own regards. But I am not satisfied with that answer, my mind tells me there is a different abstraction to which to apply this thinking that could help me better understand the tension.

Where my head goes, rather immediately, is to a confession of sorts. A confession that while I have been fighting against the system, and defaulting towards taking unconditional responsibility, I have to admit the system puts up a pretty good fight. More than pretty good — the system tends to win, pretty much always.

The truth in this, beyond the above, is that there are actually many systems within the system. You could imagine creating a hierarchy of systems of sorts, and figuring out which system you fit into, and how it scales and fits into the broader picture/diagram.

Now, the system I am referring to is my immediate system. Call it my life infrastructure of sorts — the pieces of society that I interact with tend to influence my day to day (and resulting year) to a pretty extreme degree.

Examples in this category would be things like my phone, my neighborhood, the layout of my apartment. Those types of things tend to influence my actions more than I would have imagined.

For example, I wanted to create a habit of not checking Twitter. I could tell myself to not check Twitter. I did. And that did not work. Because my life infrastructure still permitted me to check Twitter. So I went to that system, and changed the system. I blocked Twitter on all my devices. Now I never check Twitter.

That is a version of systems thinking — and that is how both agency and systems can work together. It would be silly to think that to address agency, you needed to neglect your understanding of systems. In fact, in pursuit of truth, the opposite should really be true. You should be able to leverage systems to your advantage to maximize the amount of agency you possess, so that you are able to get what you want.

This is a big topic — probably will not demonstrate the requisite variety of my thoughts in this one piece, but you could imagine taking this in many directions.

You could imagine listing all the systems that influence your life today. I could imagine that trying to list out all those systems would take more time than you think. Sure, it would start easy. You would be able to roll out a bunch of them. But there are underlying systems — likely influencing your actions, mood, etc. — that you are not thinking about or never really considered.

Simply making them explicit and giving them space will allow you to better understand your participation in said systems (and whether or not it makes any sense to modify / evolve your involvement in them).

I think what a lot of people end up doing is optimizing the wrong system, or rather a system that is being directly influenced by a system above it, such that not understanding the higher level in the hierarchy is costing you tons of time because you are spending all this energy at the wrong abstraction that will easily be overshadowed by the more influential and meaningful layer of abstraction.

This is where zooming out every so often is likely a productive exercise. So you can think about the bigger question — are you even asking the right neighborhood of questions to begin with? Do you need to switch countries? What axiomatic shifts are really necessary/could be helpful for you to actually make progress towards your objective?


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