099 The Systemic Feedback Loop

Unity Out of Multiplicity
This cursory survey of easily differentiable loops serves two purposes. It introduces us to a sample, if only a small one, of the variety of loops. An exhaustive analysis would however ensnare us in a veritable morass of feedback loops. Out of them, some selection would have to be made if any coherent understanding of the part played by feedback was to be achieved. Criteria of selection that enable us to set most loops aside will be introduced in a moment.

Furthermore, and incidentally, this sampling of loops opens the first door to an appreciation of the contributions of feedback processes to the dynamics of a system as a whole. Through the interlocking chain of feedback loops, all of the participating members in any one loop may be coupled, if only loosely, with many other members in the system. To point this up, I have deliberately selected the participants in the various feedback diads so that an unbroken line could be drawn through the six different actors who make up the six pairs in the six different loops. If we look at each loop as a link in a continuous chain — which they indeed form pictorially and literally — we can appreciate that the interaction around any one feedback loop has the potential, if it is strong enough, to pass its influence down the chain to other units in the system.

At this preliminary stage in a theory of political systems, when we are still trying to get our general bearings, a detailed analysis of this kind cannot and need not be undertaken. It would add confusion where clarity and simplicity are desperately needed. Rather, I shall focus attention only on the systemic feedback processes, those that link the outputs of the political system considered as a unit of analysis to the inputs of support and demands and in that way back again to the initial producers of the outputs, the authorities. Insofar as intrasystem or boundary-spanning feedback loops contribute to or in some way take part in systemic loops, I shall take them into account. But in that case, they will be considered not as components of other feedback loops but rather solely as unanalyzed components of the major networks. Whatever assumptions we make about their behavior may be due to their nature as part of subsidiary feedback structures. But as long as we can make reasonable assumptions about the way they will behave, for purposes of macroanalysis we do not need to push any more deeply.

Finally, even for purposes of exploring the systemic loop, we cannot risk the excessive complexity that would be involved, when trying to work out the main lines of analysis, if we forced ourselves to take into account each differentiated feedback loop in which a member of the authorities, as producers of outputs, might participate. The diagram indicates that the units producing outputs may be the point of origin of an infinite number of different feedback currents. Each administrator, legislator, or executive may produce outputs and may be perceived as doing so by an equal number of differentiated members of the system. The numbers involved here in a modern mass society might defy even modern computer technology. Fortunately, at no level of analysis would it be necessary to take into account separately each feedback loop. Averaging would prove possible.

But again, for our purposes, even this would be too refined. For the multiple producers of outputs and inputs, unless the context clearly requires otherwise, I shall at least begin as though the producers of outputs, the authorities, constituted a single, internally undifferentiated output unit that produced all outputs. Similarly, the numerous producers of inputs will be conceived as a single entity. This returns us to the simplicity of the earlier diagrams of a political system, but this time with the flow of support particularly in mind. The systemic feedback loop, when expanded, can therefore now be represented as on Diagram 6.