In my post “Individuals and Scale” I outlined a nested model of individuals, following the work of Harman and DeLanda. Under this model we would have individuals within individuals at different levels of scale, with individuals at a higher level of scale often regulating or constraining those individuals of which they are composed. Like Russian dolls we would have individuals within individuals, with the important difference that the individuals at a lower level of scale are a condition for the individuals or objects at a higher level of scale and that the individual at a higher level of scale constrains or regulates the individuals at a lower level of scale. However, this is a strange sort of dependency, for the elements or individuals that make up an individual or an object at a larger level of scale can pass in and out of existence, and can leave the network or the object at a higher level of scale, without the object at the higher level of scale ceasing to exist or losing its essence. A body continuously loses and gains new cells, but nonetheless remains that body. A society or social individual loses or gains individuals of which it is composed, but still remains that network.

Indeed, in the case of both cells in the body and human individuals in a society, it is not even necessary that the cells or the human individuals perfectly execute a plan or a rule in order for the larger level individual to maintain its existence. In this respect, we have a strange nesting of objects within objects where the objects at a smaller level of scale enjoy a degree of freedom or autonomy that isn’t rigidly determined or constrained by the individual or object at the larger level of scale. No doubt it is this that led Luhmann to claim that individuals belong to the environment of social systems, or that social systems are not composed of individuals. If Luhmann is led to this claim in his marvelous Social Systems, then this is because social systems persist and endure independent of the individuals that compose them. The smaller scale individuals that compose a larger scale individual are a condition for the larger scale individual, but they do not make the larger scale individual the object that it is. Likewise, it is no doubt this observation that led the structuralists to their anti-humanism. Insofar as a social system has attractor states of its own, it has an autonomous dynamic stability that is in many respects impervious to the acts of smaller scale individuals. Indeed, in most instances the dissident actions of smaller scale individuals actually function as fodder to reinforce the internal organization of the larger scale individual or object.

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Thus, for example, the criminal activity of a smaller scale activity does little, in most cases, to destroy the organization of the larger scale object within which this action occurs, but rather functions paradoxically to reinforce the internal organization of that larger scale system. As, for example, Luhmann observes in The Reality of Mass Media, these perturbations get translated into information by the media system, functioning to reinforce reigning moral codes. Where child abductions might be relatively rare occurrences from a statistical perspective, they are amplified by the media system beyond all bounds of their statistical rarity, and promote all sorts of self-regulating behavior throughout the social system that reinforces certain mores. Children no longer play outside unsupervised by parents and neighbors call Child Protected Services if they see a child playing outside alone.

In short, objects or individuals at a larger level of scale tend towards a stable state in the face of most perturbations. Far from the perturbations fundamentally changing the organization of the object, they are, in most instances, simply absorbed by the system or object and function to reinforce the organization of the object. Here, in a nutshell, is the central problem of political engagement. Political engagement can be thought as engagement in which objects at a smaller level of scale attempt to engage an object at a higher level of scale with the aim of pushing that object at a larger level of scale into a different basin of attraction. The issue here is one of how individuals that compose a larger scale object can act on that object without simply reinforcing its existing basin of attraction. In part this requires the formation of new organs or objects that, in another post, I referred to as “alliances” following Latour and Harman. The second problem is that even where a new sub-multiple or object is formed through an alliance, and even where this object is intense enough to push the larger scale multiple of which it is a part into a new basin of attraction, this new basin of attraction is itself highly unpredictable. We see this, for example, in the case of the French Revolution where an alliance was successful in pushing French society out of its stable state attractor and into a new basin of attractors, but where the new attractors were very different than those aimed at in the directed action of the actors of the alliance. The second question, then, is to what degree it is possible to have some control over what new attractors are generated through intensive action on an object at a higher level of scale.