THS-4H: Systemic Virtue

America is facing a long-overdue reckoning with issues related to racism and inequity. Again. In fact, this seems to happen every fifty years or so:

  • The American Revolution
  • Jacksonian Democracy
  • The American Civil War
  • Women’s Suffrage
  • Civil Rights
  • #BlackLivesMatter

While there has certainly been progress, I have this ugly suspicion that the way we solved each crisis led directly to the next one. While numerous individual benefited from each of those reforms, there is a nagging sense that whole populations are still as disenfranchised as ever.

Can we do better? I believe so — but it won’t be easy. We remain trapped by the codependency between 18th-century ideologies, currently represented by capitalist conservatism and Marxist liberalism. We need a breakthrough vision of what a good society could be in order to guide our efforts in a more constructive direction.

Below is my first draft of such a vision, building on my earlier THS-IPA: A Game-Theoretic Model of Transformation. I welcome your feedback!

In order to address the root causes of structural racism and systemic inequality, I believe we need to pursue systemic virtue. To provide a concrete definition, we start as always with a toy. In this model, we have a Population where everything is a System consisting of:

  • Entities (which are also Systems)
  • Relationships (e.g., to child, peer, and parent Systems)
  • Assets, i.e.
    • Resources (absolute, varies gradually)
    • Status (relative to other Systems; can vary dramatically)

Systems transform via Games (among Relationships) that may create or consume Assets, and even spawn or eliminate other Systems. Importantly, Systems may have one, many, or no parents.

A flourishing System is one whose Games sustainably increase both Resources and Status. There are four dimension:

  1. Happy, if its child Systems flourish
  2. Healthy, if the System itself flourishes
  3. Helpful, if its peer Systems flourish
  4. Honoring, if its parent System(s) flourish

Systemic Virtue thus measures how generative a System is at increasing all four dimensions. It is unbounded in both positive and negative directions.


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