- Schismogenesis is a term from Gregory Bateson, noted anthropologist and systems theorist.
- It names a ‘positive feedback loop’ that can cause societies to break apart.
- The term was developed as he observed how gender roles progressed in severe opposition to each other in the Iatmul people — and the Naven ceremony that seemed designed specifically to counteract that.
- This framework provides insight into the fracturing of the US politics.
- But how do we work with that?
…schismogenesis, unless it is restrained, leads to a progressive unilateral distortion of the personalities of the members of both groups, which results in mutual hostility between them and must end in the break-down of the system.
-Gregory Bateson, Steps To An Ecology Of Mind
First, I need to testify. I’m a Gregory Bateson fanboy!
I was a newbie analyst/coder in the early ’80s. Bateson, and folks like Stephen J Gould, provided me with my own version of a pattern language in their descriptions of complex natural systems. Bateson’s statement, “Information is any difference that makes a difference,” guided my career as an IT guy for Berkeley hippy companies making world-class outdoor gear. I used his maxim to focus every time I started building some new system. Every time.
As a result, I was familiar with his term schismogenesis for destructive ‘positive feedback loops’.
Positive feedback in a system is not a good thing. It’s not telling your spouse they’re looking good. In a looping system, positive feedback adds an uptick to reinforce the difference each iteration; ‘negative feedback’, in contrast, dampens the difference.
The biggest danger is that positive feedback can end up as a runaway system. All the water on Venus is in the atmosphere above a super-heated surface as the result of positive feedback. The hotter it got, the more…