Systems: What is a System

[So, Systems are a major key concept for how I think about a lot of things. I tend to not write about my key concepts because of a lot of ‘I can’t do it well enough right now, I need to wait until I can’ kinds of feelings. However, this is really not a good approach, and a better approach would be to set things down as I can right now, and if I get to that future-where-I-can-do-it-better, I can then write better versions, while also having had something in the meanwhile. So.]


When I say System, I’m talking about the kind of thing people mean when they say The System, and with features like ‘bad/harmful’ and ‘working in the background and making things bad’.

A prior concept

The first thing I’m going to introduce is not a System, but it ties in in important ways so it goes here. I don’t have a word for it, so for the moment I’m going to call it systemish.

Systemish is when a bad thing plus human psychological coping systems for living with bad things lead to things being worse than they would otherwise be [and can provide a cover for badness {‘badness’ here means something like ‘getting something positive out of hurt-as-in-violation to other people}].

(Important note – coping mechanisms are usually subconscious, rather than something people are doing on purpose).

For instance, let’s say there’s a particular society with a particular non-infectious illness that strikes people at random and causes great suffering. Living with ‘I might at any point get this illness and suffer’ is very difficult. So, as a coming mechanism, the just world fallacy comes into effect, and people come up with the idea that those struck by the illness are actually secret evil-doers who are being punished. Because of this, people with the illness are often treated badly – derided, shunned, etc. This makes the people with the illness considerably worse off than they would otherwise be, and, if this is a potentially curable illness will likely impede the finding of a cure, so future generations will have to keep living with this illness or the threat of it.
[This can also provide a cover for people who get some kind of kick out of getting to deride, shun, etc other people without suffering social backlash.]

As another example, let’s say in a particular place in order to enter a copper mine you have to be go through a process that has the effect of an agony beam, otherwise you will die upon coming near the copper ore. Living with ‘people have to endure horrible agony for no good reason’ is very difficult. So, as a coping mechanism, people end up coming up with reasons why this is actually a good thing. For instance, it makes people value copper more, it leads people to a mindset of dedication in their copper mining, etc. Now let’s say the process stops being necessary (someone comes up with a painless alternative, or whatever reason the process was needed stops being the case, or in any other way). However, people are reluctant to abandon the process, because what about value and dedication and such, and thus people keep being subjected to it.
[This can provide cover for feelings like ‘I suffered, so they should have to’.]


A System is when things are set up and running in such a way that mostly benefits fortunate bad people {‘bad people’ here means something like ‘people who are OK with getting something positive for themselves out of hurt-as-in-violation to other people}, but everyone else is trapped in it.

Systemish become Systems if the badness is driving. So, if ‘getting a kick out of treating a group of people badly’ or ‘I suffered so they should have to’ (/people with those motivations) is a significant reason why the bad state of things is still happening and being perpetuated.

An example that really helped me get/form the idea of Systems comes from the Bartimaeus Trilogy. [Note, I only read the first two books of this trilogy and I read them years ago. It’s very possible that the setup I’m about to describe is not exactly the one in the books. I don’t see this as a problem; if it is the case, I’m perfectly alright with having my example inspired by the books rather than coming from them.]

Society in the Bartimaeus Trilogy has three groups of beings: magicians, commoners, and demons. In the human world, magicians are the group in power. They’re generally the wealthy and the government. A magician who feels like hurting a commoner can do so and the commoner can’t do anything about it. If they try to take it to court it will only make things worse for them. Demons are enslaved by magicians, generally in ways involving torture. Magicians have a dog-eats-dog world among themselves, if they don’t get their demon controlling spells exactly right the demons might destroy them in turn, and a major risk factor for this is a demon knowing their birth name, so they have to avoid use of it.

So at first glance this seems like a society in which on a social level literally everyone is miserable. But in fact, the society is pretty good for bad people magicians. They’re totally fine or even actively happy with benefiting from exploiting demons and commoners and hurting other magicians, and not being able to have things like caring human connections is not a problem for them. Meanwhile, everyone else would be better off without the System, but is trapped in it by the forces in play.

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