A (functioning) society is a dynamical system that has achieved a temporary equilibrium, but is constantly challenged

A society qualifies as a living system (a subject/perspective I will discuss in more detail in the future), and consists of four closely related, complementary and interacting subsystems or domains (that can be compared at a more abstract level with ‘organs’).

These four subsystems are responsible for fulfilling the basic requirements of societies and its ‘parts’ (like individual humans and communities) to ensure their survival.


Human needs – basic requirements – are not ‘static’ and evolve. The evolution of basic needs also contributes to the dynamics of the System. However, despite the evolution of human needs, basically they stay the same. We need wifi for our social media; a need closely related to identity and sense-making.

These four subsystems are (first) the ‘Energy-subsystem’ which is responsible for energy- and other basic inputs and for the overall well-being of a society; the economy, economic activity (like trade) and business are ‘components’ of this subsystem.

The second subsystem is the – what I name – ‘Defense/Threat (D/T)-subsystem’ and is responsible for the security of a society; the security apparatus of a society (its armed and police forces, intelligence services, etc.) are components of this subsystem.

The third subsystem is the ‘Identity-subsystem’ and is responsible for sense-making, and contains the value system of a society; culture, religion, nationalism, etc. are components of this subsystem.

The fourth subsystem is the ‘Integrative-subsystem‘ and is responsible for determining the direction of development for a society, for integrating the (contradicting) demands of the various subsystems and its parts, for making trade-offs, and ‘controlling’ adaptation to internal and external changes and challenges; the government, the political system are components of this subsystem; the state is its organizational structure.

Each subsystem has its own purpose and ‘objectives’, its own ‘rule-set’, organization and typical dynamics. The subsystems interact and complement each other, and together – through their continuous and multitude of interactions – make-up a society. If a subsystem fails in accomplishing its purpose/objective, the society fails and its survival – and the survival of its parts – is endangered.

Each subsystem contains elements/aspects of the other subsystem, for example: the identity-subsystem influences the direction of development of a society (integrative structure); the requirements for energy-input determine what the priorities for the D/T-subsystem are; the D/T-subsystem requires energy input to function, etc.

Not only do subsystems ‘overlap’ and interact, so do the basic parts – building blocks – of a society, which each contain elements/aspects of all subsystems. The building blocks are individual humans – that also require energy input, a secure environment, identity to make sense of their (inter)actions and to accomplish a certain sense of belonging, and adequate integration of these (sometimes contradictory) requirements – and groups and communities (including for example business).

All parts – at all levels of a society – share similar basic requirements. In a society, a certain balance is accomplished and must be maintained between its parts and their requirements, in order to survive. A (functioning) society is a dynamical system that has achieved a certain equilibrium, but is constantly ‘challenged’ and requires constant adaptation.

A society is much more than the sum of its subsystems and of the (accomplishments of its) parts: A society develops its own ‘autonomous’ dynamics. Societies show what can be accomplished – also in terms of survival – through cooperation and integration. Functioning societies require cooperation; cooperation requires a continuous input of energy and continuous interaction to be maintained.

In my research, I focus on the interactions between societies, in which their respective integrative structures – governments, represented by state-structures – represent these societies.

Societies require a constant input of energy and a secure environment. Societies have become increasingly dependent on each other for their critical inputs: Societies cannot be maintained – their well-being and security ensured – by ignoring each other. This is no longer possible. Apart from the fact that societies depend on each other for critical inputs, they also compete with each other for scarce resources.

Because the System – consisting of (increasingly) dependent, but sovereign societies – is anarchistic in nature, it is a matter of time before tensions arise in the System. These tensions can be considered an unavoidable ‘byproduct’ of interactions between societies in an anarchistic system. (Increasing) connectivity and security are intrinsically incompatible in anarchistic systems.

Tensions undermine the functioning of the System, and of its parts. Tensions are closely related to (a sense of) security.

Because of these tensions, at a certain point, the integrative structure (government) ‘activates’ the D/T-subsystem, to ensure that the society’s (future) security is ensured. Activation is accomplished by increasing the D/T-subsystem’s capabilities (its ability to deploy kinetic energy), and by ‘showing’ these capabilities to (potential) rivals.

However, activation of the D/T-subsystem can have – especially once the tipping point of the order is reached, the ability of the System to regulate tensions is hindered and the security dilemma works at full speed – a detrimental effect: Activation contributes to the build-up of more tensions.

At a certain point, states decide to use military capabilities (not necessarily a decision supported by the societies they (are supposed to) represent: Why should you kill an American or North-Korean citizen you never met, and did do you no harm?), and start a war. From a state-perspective, war is a continuation of (international) politics with other means.

During wars, tensions, that were a result of interactions between societies in the anarchistic System and were ‘transformed’ into kinetic energy (military capabilities), are put to use by the state (the integrative-subsystem) to neutralize a perceived threat to the society they ‘represent’.

From an ‘energy-perspective’ (I will discuss later in more detail): tensions are a ‘byproduct’ of interactions between societies in an anarchistic system, and can be considered degraded energy, that at a certain point is transformed by societies into kinetic energy (military capabilities, Gibbs free energy) and made available to the society’s D/T-subsystem. Military capabilities are recycled tensions, so to say.

On instruction of the integrative-subsystem (which ‘represents’ the society), the D/T-subsystem uses the kinetic energy to eradicate perceived threats. The kinetic energy (military capabilities) can be used latently by threatening another state, in efforts to ‘convince’ this state that it is wise (from a cost/benefit-perspective) to adjust its behavior, or can be actively used, causing destruction and suffering.

In both cases (in case of latent and active use of military capabilities), the decision-making process – the cost/benefit-calculations of the integrative structure of the ‘enemy’ state – is the target: the decision-making must be changed. (It is remarkable – given the interdependence of societies, and our shared dependence on our environment – that we still think that destruction is a useful method to better align the decision-making processes of societies).

Because the collection of societies constitutes a system, consisting of continuously interacting and (increasingly) interdependent parts, tensions arise and increase in the System very regularly. Although societies – states – think they act autonomously, they in fact respond to system-behavior they are an integral part of themselves.

We must improve our understanding of the dynamics and development of the System we share and are integral parts of, to ensure we find and can maintain a global equilibrium which is necessary for our (collective) survival and well-being.