Complexity and politics


I’ve been reading a book called “Rethinking the Fifth Discipline” which is something of a treatise on organizational theory and complexity. The Fifth Discipline, is about creating a learning organization. Where the organization has naturally built-in processes that encourage learning through challenging mental models. What’s that mean? Well, anytime we approach a problem we have our own set ideas about what’s right and wrong with the problem. This leads us to develop specific solutions based on that perspective. When working in an organization these frameworks, perspectives or mental models can lead to conflict. Developing a method of resolving differences in these mental models is paramount to allow a company to move forward.

One of the ways to resolve these differences is to expand everyone’s perspective of the problem. To allow some of the scope to expand to generate a bigger picture. In other words, allowing people to see the forest for the trees. We know that we have a dead tree in the middle of our forest, and our actions to get that tree out may have negative impact on the rest of the forest. If one of the solutions was to burn down the dead tree, there could be some serious implications to the rest of the forest if we did that without really thinking about it. Working to resolve the differences may highlight the fact that we’re in the middle of a drought right now and that burning that dead tree would likely cause the entire forest to go up. This of course would be the worst thing we could do.

This way of viewing problems has several names, including complexity theory and systemic thinking. I believe that we have a serious lack of system thinking in our government today. There are two areas that have struck me as the most obvious and these involve the courts. The first is the continued assault on women’s rights in many different states. These state governments are slowly picking at pieces of reproductive rights of women when choosing to have an abortion or not. In some cases, the ruling is extremely narrow and seems to intentionally avoid looking at the full system of problems. The one shining light example against this is the ruling that has kept open a clinic in Mississippi. The judge realized that if this law was allowed to stand it would have closed the only legal clinic for abortions.

The other area that is a cause for concern is the recent PA ruling on Voter ID requirements. While on the face it seems like it’s fairly straight forward. I mean why shouldn’t there be a law requiring you to show a proper state ID, but then why isn’t a voter registration card considered a valid ID? Couldn’t this resolve the issue? The other factor that doesn’t seem to be considered, is the systemic efforts to make it more difficult to acquire state ID throughout the country, such as Wisconsin closing DMV locations or reducing hours – by the way Wisconsin’s voter ID law was ruled unconstitutional.

Through taking a systemic view the efforts in total indicate an effort to reduce or control the ability of the electorate to vote. While the law itself may make sense on the surface, viewing the entire system displays the total efforts and would indicate that a different ruling should be considered. This is the similar type of issue that there is with the Citizen’s United ruling. With a very narrow focus and inability to look at the full system a ruling that has dramatically changed our political landscape is seen to make a great deal of sense.

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