I would be happy to give a lecture on the application of cybernetic principles to government. It would be based on a lecture I gave at Tilburg University in the Netherlands under the title: Cybernetics the Meta-Grammar of Legislation. It is based to a very large degree on Stafford Beer’s books Brain of the Firm and Heart of Enterprise.
My main thrust is government organized along scientific principles which is as much to say as the application of cybernetic principles to government. Democracy is part of that and Stafford Beer, who is the father of management cybernetics, was highly regarded by the Open Democracy organisation as witnessed by the obituary published for him by Rosemary Bechler, the International Editor, of Open Democracy - https://www.opendemocracy.net/node/611
On the topic of democracy as part of cybernetic government, one should look at what Bechler wrote: ‘But there again, his notion of “control” was not quite the same as anyone else’s. It wasn’t authoritarian. The system exists anyway, whether it works or not. And the trick is to make yourself conscious of its workings, by seeing how things change, each time they come past you. Hence his abiding interest in appropriate feed-back loops, and his constant emphasis on the advantage to be derived from a system that gives the greatest possible autonomy of action to every level of its organisation, not just the top.’
So, my paper is my take on how government should be conducted in a cybernetic fashion. And my recent work is based on the work of Stafford Beer because he took cybernetics from the narrow scientific field of Norbert Wiener, W. Ross Ashby and others and applied it to the high-variety, chaotic systems of organizations and governments.
I would make the comment that for open democracy one needs more than good intentions. The early communists had those and so did the anarchists. You have to have organization but the organization, in our complex, even chaotic society, has to be developed and conducted on scientific principles and one of the things here is that decision-making has to be distributed throughout the organization without causing it to disintegrate. My paper does not incorporate Stafford Beer’s later work, team syntegrity, but that is simply because I have not got that far and I am more interested in legal implementation.
My background is as follows.
Tim is a retired lawyer and town planner from Melbourne, Australia.
Tim was one of the last generalist lawyers, educated in every field of law and he had, largely through accident, an enviably wide practical experience as both a lawyer (humanity) and town planner (science). In the sixties and mid-seventies he worked as an articled clerk and then as a solicitor with a law firm. In 1976 he took a job as a town planner in the Town and Country Planning Board studying part-time to obtain a Diploma of Applied Science (Town Planning). He then worked as the legal officer at the Ministry for Planning. In the late 1980s, Tim was employed in Constitution, Legislation and Advisings at the Victorian Crown Solicitor’s Office. Then he left and joined the Victorian Bar where, as a barrister, he carried out a wide range of advocacy, advice and drafting work.
Tim thus had an unusually wide range of experience, particularly at the Ministry for Planning. There, he was advising on and assisting in the administration of a wide range of planning and environmental statutory schemes at a time of great change and he could get some overview of their operation.
In the sixties and seventies the law was less complex, less voluminous and more certain. In the town planning course Tim was taught some control systems theory by two great mentors. Tim was interested in computers and, as a member of the Micro Computer Club of Melbourne, he learnt computer programming. He studied micro-Prolog and attempted to write computer programs to solve legal issues.
In the early 1990s, Tim noticed parallels in a book written by a lawyer on legislative drafting and a book written by the project manager of the IBM 360 computer and operating system. Tim tried to write a book integrating the knowledge of writing large sets of instructions (control systems) gained by the legislative draftspersons and software engineers.
The breakthrough came when Tim found a book in the Melbourne library titled, “Cybernetics – Brain of the Firm” by an English scientist, Stafford Beer, which enabled Tim to at least partly understand the underlying nature of control systems and enabled him to write his 1992 book, “Scientific Legislation”.
Nothing happened for over twenty years. But a few years ago, Tim was contacted by an Austrian informatics academic, who very kindly wrote, “… your book is definitely the only book I know which connects cybernetics and legislation and hence is going to the root causes [of vagueness and complexity in law]. A lengthy correspondence followed and this correspondence rekindled Tim’s interest in the work. Tim has since given lectures at the Parliamentary Counsel offices in Victoria and Tasmania and at Tilburg University in the Netherlands.
Tim believes it is important that lawyers and those in government learn to understand law from a scientific, a cybernetic, viewpoint. In the 1960s, our laws were far more certain than they are now. Our society is more complex and, unless we can handle that complexity, our social, economic and environmental systems will continue to behave erratically or worse. Tim believes democracy requires a structure that enables it. Decisions need to be made on the basis of knowledge and information, not hierarchical position.