Are Complex Systems Really Self-Correcting?

Are Complex Systems Really Self-Correcting?


Leonard Zwelling

In a guest essay in The New York Times on January 4, former House member from Long Island, Tom Suozzi, bemoans the fact that “a con man is succeeding me in Congress.”

Of course, the seat once held by Mr. Suozzi is now held by George Santos. As most everyone knows by now, Mr. Santos is the most famous new House member for all the wrong reasons. He lied about almost every part of his past life to get elected from his job history, to his education, even misleading people about his religion. Hint: he’s not really Jewish. He liked to say he was “Jew-ish.”

The people of Santos’ Long Island district have to consider what to make of their new congressman who lied his way to his seat. More importantly, the Republican caucus in the House has to decide what to do about Santos. Right now, Kevin McCarthy is doing nothing because he needed Santos’ vote in his quest for Speaker and figures Santos will follow the new Speaker wherever he leads.

At some point Mr. Suozzi is convinced the system will correct its mistake and toss Santos out of the House or at least bring him before the Ethics Committee.

Unlike Mr. Suozzi, I am not so optimistic, but then again…

The essay also points to the 2020 presidential election and how the system corrected the mistake of 2016 by saying to Donald Trump, “you’re fired.” I don’t care what you may have thought of his policies. Mr. Trump was (and is) an ignorant embarrassment to this country and given what we have learned about his taxes, not all that good a businessman considering that some thought that was his greatest asset to lead the country.

Still, we as a nation seem to be having some mighty close calls when it comes to depending on self-correction.

I’m going to take the opposite point of view to that of Mr. Suozzi. I think the system is getting less and less likely to correct its mistakes because the people who made the mistakes (choosing the wrong representative or wrong leader) either have no recourse or are too embarrassed to correct their errors. Oversight boards simply do not want to admit they appointed the wrong guy—twice.

And talk about having made a mistake, Kevin McCarthy has spent his adult life questing after the Speaker’s gavel. He sold his soul to Trump. He tried to cut deals with the far-right. Now that he has made it, the very people he pandered to are keeping him in handcuffs in his quest to actually get something done. The system may not be self-correcting, but justice emerges every now and again.

On the issue of self-correcting errors, perhaps exhibit one will turn out to be Israel. After many, many ballots, finally someone has a true majority in the Knesset that consists of under eight parties. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it is the most reactionary, far-right government that Israel has ever had. It almost guarantees that there will be no solution to the Palestinian statehood issue as the new leadership is likely to expand settlements into the West Bank even further, annex more of the West Bank, and treat the Arab citizens of Israel as second class. This was not a self-correction to the problem of governing the Jewish democracy.

Sometimes it seems that the world is going to hell. This is one of those times. I do not share Congressman Suozzi’s optimism about Mr. Santos being expelled eventually any more than I think Donald Trump will ever go away any more than I think Bibi Netanyahu will ever go away.

I am not confident that complex political systems are self-correcting.

I’ll be more apt to agree with Mr. Suozzi if Mr. Trump is finally brought before a grand jury and indicted for sedition of which he is clearly guilty.

I know, some of you out there loved his policies. Did you like the one about overturning the results of a legitimate election and coming damned close to getting away with it?

My faith is not yet restored and the behavior of the rowdy minority in the Republican caucus of the House makes me even more queasy.

Had the House gone outside itself to find a Speaker and that Speaker had generated a sense of bi-partisanship so badly missing of late on the right and left, then maybe I’d feel more optimistic. Maybe. Of course, with the concessions that Mr. McCarthy made to become Speaker, one vote and he may be out of a job.

Now that would be ironic!

4 thoughts on “Are Complex Systems Really Self-Correcting?”

  1. On Saturday evening, we attended a dinner of the Association of Graduates of the United States Air Force Academy. The Dean, General Linell Litendre, a distinguished female graduate and attorney, spoke about the importance of integrity. She also spoke to the need for Americans of honor to move aggressively against hucksters and liars. We should NOT tolerate them, and we should be aggressive about “closing and killing” their destructive behavior to our culture. I agree.
    Personally, I have never had tolerance for those who lie, cheat or steal. In a professional career as a leader of several cardiovascular centers and a physician partners group, I eliminated through due process those without integrity because, if you don’t, the honorable won’t respect you or the system.
    Generally, people of poor integrity are NOT that smart consistently, and they can be identified and moved on. Carpe diem!

  2. A shameless huckster, Santos is an affront to the US democratic process. He should be brought before the Ethics Committee and booted out of Congress. Literally! But President Biden is also no stranger to what Churchill euphemistically characterized as ‘terminological inexactitudes.’ Not nearly in the same league as Santos, but wouldn’t trust Biden to be honest about the fate of his front-yard cherry tree.

    1. Leonard Zwelling

      Yes. These guys like to embellish the truth. We would call it scientific misconduct. This is political misconduct.

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