We live in systems. Make them healthy and work for you.


Each of us are a part of many systems. We are born into some systems, like family or government, and we opt into others like jobs, partnerships, friends or neighborhoods. 

Systems generally give us something (increase survival, convenience, or joy) and place obligations (like taxes or rules) on us in return. Systems can have significant consequences on our lives. For example, taxes to governments are the largest spend for many of us and we give the government permission to imprison us and take away our freedom if we don't abide by its rules. 

The fundamental requirement of healthy systems is that they should benefit all members in them - i.e. belonging to the system should be better than going solo. 
Individuals forced to be in a system that doesn't improve their well being is oppression. 
Living in healthy systems can be better than going solo for many reasons - many things are more efficient at scale, specialization+cooperation increases productivity, and groups smooth out and support our failings and tragedies.  These systems don't just happen by chance - they need deliberate vision and ongoing maintenance. It's in our best interests to play a part in creating and maintaining healthy systems. 

Here are some requirements for healthy systems: 

1) There should be potential for the sum to be greater than the parts, both for the entire system and for every individual. When that isn't the case, the system shouldn't be created or if it already exists, should be modified or dissolved. 

2) Systems should have shared goals, values and a shared sense of reality. Larger systems with more diversity of members, like large countries, often have looser alignment. The antidote is to either keep systems small and/or to reduce the power of larger systems. Small systems can still enjoy the benefit of large scale cooperation through agreements with other systems. 

3) Systems should have sensible processes, rules and incentives; able, benevolent and principled administrators, transparency and accountability to members. The world changes and members change, so systems should be adaptable and members should have a say in changing its values and rules.

This is challenging as systems are run, designed, and voted on by humans and humans are imperfect, self-centered, corruptible, often irrational and biased. So by default, systems will break and become corrupt. Most systems, countries and companies in human history have died, either by slowly fading into irrelevance or violently and abruptly. 

4) Most members should understand the goals, values and rules of the system, actually benefit and understand the benefits, and participate productively. There should be some inherent trust, loyalty, belonging and affection amongst the members. Members should have an option to walk away with their fair share if they disagree with the system. 

A lot of turmoil in the United States today can be explained by systemic failures in all the 4 points above. Singapore, a smaller country, is thriving because they check most of these boxes. 

As individuals who belong in systems:  

1) Acknowledge all the systems that you are a part of and which ones affect you the most. 

2) Understand the goals, values, rules and processes of these systems. Learn their history. Commit to the goals and values that make sense. Learn how you can play a role and shape the system. 

3) Participate productively in the systems. Don't leech, play fairly and do what's right for the system. 

4) If the system doesn't align with your values, isn't fair to you, or doesn't benefit you, either change the situation or leave it. Some of my friends shy away from political news or systemic injustices. It is a fair reaction to an exhausting and toxic system, but unfortunately it does't change the situation.