In response to my last post, Tim of Fragile Keys makes some interesting remarks. Tim writes:

I think you’re overestimating the power of the system to perpetuate itself and underestimating the actors who disrupt it from within and prevent it from having the self-perpetuating effects you’re pointing out. Or rather, in terms of autopoetic social systems, how do you account actors that disrupt the self-perpetuating mechanisms from within? I’m talking about the student who was a student (say, of Buddhism) before he entered college; once there, he finds a sympathetic professor in Religious Studies who introduces him to Augustine and Nagarjuna, who agrees with him that the college system is flawed and somewhat invested in churning out degrees, but nevertheless leaves room for students like him to design a specialized course of study, etc. Obviously, the college system “filters” and “distorts” the incoming student insofar as he has to take certain courses, fulfill certain requirements, etc. But when the student reflects on his experience there, that is not what he thinks of. If anything, he thinks of how that system, in the end, had nothing to do with his experience. Or take the example of the non-dogmatic priest who, according to doctrine or not, spends his time with the downtrodden in his parish, or the dying, etc. Here, the church may be perpetuating itself through him, but that’s not the only thing it’s doing, or making possible.

I ask because while I can understand how objects (inanimate things) would operate qua closures, boundaries, atomic maintenance, etc., I’m skeptical that social systems ever really accomplish the closures they purport. Isn’t that a bit like ignoring the drunk people that walk out of the bar, saying that bar-owners don’t care about people having a good time, watching sports, and getting drunk, but only with keeping the bar open and profitable? I don’t think, at the very least, that persons (conscious things, free things, thinking things) are so easily absorbed by these social system.

With the exception of the claim that I’m underestimating something, I don’t disagree with any of this. In the post, I explicitly point out that every system suffers from entropy both from within and without. This is all very abstract, but that’s because these categories are designed to generally describe the common features of a broad number of systems. The example of the Buddhist student Tim gives is an example of the educational system encountering entropy in its attempt to produce a certain kind of element. And here’s the key point, the elements that compose a system (in this case, “students”) are created out of nothing. They have to be built out of parts. And what are these parts? They are other systems (in this case, a person). And just as the educational system is operationally closed, this person that the educational system draws on to constitute its elements is operationally closed. This entails that no system can ever fully dominate another system or object. There will always be remainders and these remainders will always introduce entropy into the larger-scale objects that try to enlist and form them.

I find that through my autopoietic framework I’m able to integrate most critical theory (though always with modifications). My discussion of element-formation, for example, could just as easily be discussed in Foucaultian terms in terms of power and subjectivization. Subjectivization and forming an element are one and the same thing. However, there’s a major difference. Take Foucault’s example of “docile bodies” in Discipline and Punish. Foucault talks about body/minds as if they were a purely passive clay that can be formed sans remainder. Yet if I’m right in my claims about operational closure, this can’t be true. Because the bodies being formed are themselves operationally closed systems, no subjectivization will ever be complete or successful (here Foucault can be supplemented by Lacan’s theory of objet a and jouissance as that which evades element-formation). In the first volume of History of Sexuality Foucault mysteriously observes that power is responded to with counter-power. We’re given no real account of how this is possible, we’re just told that it always takes place. The autopoietic framework I propose explains why this takes place: the person’s a larger-scale system strives to enlist as elements are themselves operationally closed, interpreting interventions from these systems in their own way, and thereby are never quite reduced to the status of being an element.

This is the broader point I’d like to make: Entropy is not a negative term. So many of us think of entropy in negative terms as “heat death” and similar phenomena. But while this is one form of entropy, entropy is also the possibility of revolution, revolt, resistance, etc. Entropy is that (un)ground that allows devouring and destructive systems to be resisted. It is the reason that we are never thoroughly duped. Entropy is also the condition of creativity and evolution. It is because systems are always contending with entropy both from within and without, it is because systems exist in environments that are ever changing and who’s behavior can never fully be anticipated, that systems change, create new organizations, create new elements, and that invention takes place at all. There is no system so thorough and successful that it manages to achieve zero entropy or perfect order/structure. This is a good thing.