Managing populism from a Cybernetics perspective

If the individual or their organization are incapable of associating effects with their causes, then effective adaptation is not possible and governors will go on repeating the same error increasing disenchantment among the populace and fueling populist movements.

Wikipedia: Populism is a political doctrine that stems from a viewpoint of struggle between the populace and a ruling faction.

Populism is most common in democratic nations. Political scientist Cas Mudde wrote that, “Many observers have noted that populism is inherent to representative democracy; after all, do populists closely connected ‘the pure people’ against ‘the corrupt elite’? Leaders of populist movements in recent decades have claimed to be on either the left or the right of the political spectrum, there are also many populists who reject such classifications and claim not to be “left wing,” “centrist” or “right wing

Michael Kazin, author of “The Populist Persuasion”, comes close when he describes populism as “a language whose speakers conceive of ordinary people as a noble assemblage not bounded narrowly by class, view their elite opponents as self-serving and undemocratic, and seek to mobilize the former against the latter”.

Populism feeds on ‘We evolved to be not just gullible, but stubborn’

Back in 1991, Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert summarized centuries of research on belief formation this way: “People are credulous creatures who find it very easy to believe and very difficult to doubt. In fact, believing is so easy, and perhaps so inevitable, that it may be more like involuntary comprehension than it is like rational assessment.”

Two years later, Gilbert and colleagues demonstrated through a series of experiments that our default is to believe that what we hear and read is true.

Some consideration regarding populism:

  • Populist can easily augment disenchantment of the populace by exploiting human weakness (ignorance) via propaganda specifically via social media. Social media such as blogs and Facebook perfect tool for disseminating propaganda. Ample evidence found during run-up to Brexit with respect to EU, Trump election or recent Italian elections where populist parties obtained 75% of the vote
  • There is a clear evidence of systemic consequence when populist movements become the ruling faction in Venezuela and Philippines. Venezuela classical example of how a populist movement once becoming the ruling faction has  destroyed the economy
  • Populism has surged in US, GB and currently Italy
  • Farage fundamental populist succesful in promoting GB Brexit without explaing clearly consequences of the Brexit
  • Most populist movement leaders once becoming the ruling faction have proven to be selfish and self-centered only interested own interest rather than interest of the populace
  • Social media has helped to accelerate acceptance of populist views among the populace
  • Successful populist leaders are extremely competent in exploiting social media specifically twisting the truth or accentuating lies. Italy M5S extremely successful exploiting social media via the founder blog and is used as springboard within the social media sphere. Italy populist leader blog structured in such a way that there is no accountability of what is posted in the blog from facts to lies to pure propaganda
  • Contrary to the written media or news there is no accountability within social media.  Social media (example Facebook) can be simply exploited by publishing false information, twisting the truth or failing to put things in context without any form of accountability. Social media provides real-time immediate mass invasion across the social network. The published post spread like wildlife through organized real and fictitious social media accounts to generate anger among the populace giving rise to the populist movement.
  • Adopted policies will fail: Abandoning the euro by Italy (key strategy of some the major parties) will not make the nation more prosperous considering that the real problems are systemic: low potential, viability and resilience with excessive criminal activities
  • Governors adopt populist policies as a smoke screen to cover poor governance in order to ensure support by the population. South Africa current government adopting policies of land grab such as Zimbabwe assuming that all white farmers stole the land from blacks. Governors assume that 100% of South African land was owned by blacks that farmed the land ignoring the fact that that in reality most of the farms evolved from wild environments. It declining economy and growing unemployment classical emergence of poor governance and misdirected polices.
  • Possibility of revolt: once in power populist governance can result in serious revolts either due to failing to deliver what’s promised or actuating what’s promised causing serious damage. GB dilemma: Brexit will cause a revolt if not implemented and will cause a revolt once implemented due to possible internal economic damage. Reality is that within a system, patterns of behavior emerge that trigger system archetypes. Italy LEGA intention to exit the Euro and possibly the EU will trigger certain emergence of specific archetypes.
  • Emergence of populist movement are directly connected to disenchanted populace in weak systemic environments where governors “ruling faction’ have failed to understand and address the disenchantment. Italy traditional ruling class failed to adapt and address  social concerns. The evidence is the lack of economic growth, high un-employment serious problem within the Italian banking system.

Cybernetics always consider a systemic view: A system consists of interconnected set of elements (sub-systems) that are coherently organized and work in coordination with each other to achieve a desired goal or overall objectives of the whole. These elements derive their strength by means of association and influence with other elements whereby collective contribution of the system is greater aggregate individual elements: this is known as systemic synergy. Cybernetics recognizes that a ‘whole’ system exhibits emergent properties that are not found in its parts and each part has properties not possessed by the whole.

Cybernetics is about governance, trying to ensure that goals established by the organization are achieved: it is also referred to steersman placed at the helm of a ship to steer towards desired destination by ensuring that the system reaches its potential, that the system is viable and that it is resilient.   By doing this it populism has no reason to exist or they do they can effectively managed.

Cybernetics is a trans-disciplinary approach for exploring regulatory systems, their structures, constraints, and possibilities. Cybernetics key objective is viability: Viable means capable of independent existence and implies both maintaining internal stability and adaptation to a changing environment. “Internal stability” and “adaptation” can be in conflict, particularly if the relevant environment is changing rapidly

Management Cybernetics key role is to assist management (command and control) understand:

  • How the system (organization) works or does not work
  • Why it works in a specific way
  • What to do about the system (organization) to influence the outcome in a way which is beneficial to the purpose being served

Cybernetics provides strategies direction for both preventing or combating populist movements which can be extremely damaging. Cybernetic fundamental governance criteria are based on viability and sustainability which will then ensure that the rise of populist movement can be avoided by effective systemic adaptation thus avoiding disenchantment of the populace

The emergence of mass TV, internet , social media has increased human probabilism in turn increasing complexity and ability of the governors or “ruling faction” to manage intended outcomes (desirable outcomes). Probabilistic behavior exists when the behavior of some the elements of the system are considered partially random: the variety (complexity) of the world is increasing as the number of actions and interaction increases. Social media has exponentially increased actions and interactions; the mechanism to manage this complexity can be found within ‘Ashby law of requisite variety’ by applying variety engineering. In a nutshell: in order to effectively manage complexity and effective management of probabilistic behavior, the governors (ruling faction) must command as much variety it seeks to control probabilistic behavior with two methods:

  1. Reducing variety of the system to be controlled (variety attenuators or filters)
  2. Increasing the variety manage unit or governor (amplification)

Variety engineering should be undertaken in a manner which is suitable for the particular system under study (organization, state ect..) and should contribute to the achievements of its purpose and goals.

Typical response to populism:

  • Brexit referendum: Government failed to set up independent experts to filter false or distorted view’s. Failed to put in place adequate information management to display these view in effective manner.
  • Italy failure to address mass migration from Africa and other areas by failing to provide a clear message (amplification) that Italy doors are not open to uncontrolled mass-migration. Italy has failed to deal with weak justice system and conflict of interests within media are futher examples how variery engineering can increase variety by means of amplification.

Published by


IT Transformation consultant specifically within SAP space with strong interest in System Thinking and Cybernetics Management.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s