Discussion of “Racism 4.0, Civity, and Re-Constitution” by Palma Strand

Next week, we will be hosting a visit by Palma Strand. In preparation for her seminar, we discussed Strand’s 2015 paper “Racism 4.0, Civity, and Re-Constitution”. The paper can be found here. This blog post is a summary of what we talked about. If you are curious about complexity and law, or perhaps “Applied Chaos Theory”, then read on…

First, we talked about the content of the paper and sketched out Strand’s framework. The overarching model in this paper is that we can think about the functioning of a nation in two parts: a “software” component (individual behavioral biases), which runs on a “hardware” component (structural & legal inequalities). Focusing on Blackness and Whiteness in the USA, Strand describes 4 iterations of the “operating system” of inequality. Racism 1.0 was the period of slavery, 2.0 was the post-slavery period of domestic terrorist acts such as lynching, 3.0 was typified by Jim Crow laws, and today we find ourselves in Racism 4.0. In today’s Racism 4.0, the overt manifestations of discrimination are nominally illegal (due to the Civil Rights legislature), yet we still have enormous social/economic inequality.

The main question is now: how do we proceed towards equality and justice? Strand suggests that the way forward should be guided by a pair of concepts: “Civity” and “Re-constitution”.

Civity” is a pragmatic sociological philosophy that addresses problems in the “software” branch of racism, for example by forming positive-valence interracial relationships. “Re-constitution” is a morally-imperative legal framework that addresses problems in the “hardware” branch, for example by directing housing organizations to normalize past patterns of housing inequality.

In the following image, the top branch is “software”, representing individual-level behavioral bias. This bias consists of pro-White & anti-Black components, and is addressed by Civity. The bottom branch is “hardware”, representing structural/legal inequality. This inequality consists of pro-White & anti-Black components, and is addressed by Re-constitution.


Civity is based on the creation of cross-cutting relationships. In the left side of the following image, a social network with mainly white nodes becomes tied to a social network with mainly blue nodes, after the creation of a strong link between the hubs. On the right, two smaller networks are not connected to each other, but each network is demographically admixed.


We saw several implicit and explicit parallels between Strand’s perspective on inequality and the Complex Adaptive System (CAS) framework. Points of harmony include:

  1. Non-linear emergent outcomes of a collective system. In society (as in other CAS systems), many distributed agents act on local information, generating system-level outcomes. The system-level outcome may be quite unpredictable from only knowing the agent-level rules, and vice-versa. This can be modeled with agent-based models.
  2. Path dependence. Strand discusses the role of past inequalities in current decision-making, for example in cases of affirmative action. Many CAS systems have a tremendously long memory of the environment. This is sometimes called “path-dependence”. For systems with high path-dependence, the response to a given stimulus is strongly contingent on the past experiences of the system.
  3. Network thinking. One manifestation of Civity is the restructuring of small-world social networks to include positive-valence interracial bridges between hubs. Many CAS systems are represented by networks, and network/graph theory is a long-time playground for CAS theory development.
  4. Anticipation. Many CAS systems do not passively react, they actively pre-act. For example, the pancrease starts to ecrete insulin when we see food, not when our blood sugar levels rise. Some CAS systems form models of the world around them, and act based upon predictions about the way the world works (Bayesian brain). On page 784 there is a nice discussion about how housing agencies can become more proactive to nip problems in the bud, instead of simply responding to crisis-level inequality. This cybernetic perspective on law might facilitate more effective treatments of social problems.
  5. Multiple spatial-temporal scales with feedback loops. Many CAS systems are integrated in behavior across multiple spatial scales. For example cells cooperate to generate tissue function, and tissues cooperate to generate organismal behavior. Other examples might include the relationships between local, state, and national government. Developmental complex systems are like embryonic Russian matryoshka dolls — hierarchically-structured dynamic matter, resplendent with feedback loops between scales, effortlessly giving rise to self-organized beauty.

After summarizing the main points of the paper and brainstorming points of harmony with CAS, we had a few open questions. To give two examples:

First, we wanted to learn more about how the many governmental scales of action can be synchronized for the good of the group. For example which equitable actions should be performed within Palo Alto, and which between East Palo Alto and Palo Alto? Which actions should include all of the Bay Area, California, or the country?

Second, we were inspired by the citations to a literature corpus that we were less-than-familiar with: non-quantitive perspectives on complexity. For example, there were citations about leadership complexity, organizational structure, and complexity in legislature. We wanted to know about the historical and current patterns of citation/idea-exchange between the quantitative and non-quantitative complexity literature.

All in all, it was a great paper and interesting discussion. Strand’s model is both pragmatic and normative about social justice. Without normativity, a social model is irrelevant  But without pragmatism, a social model is impractical. Thus Strand’s framework can serve the academic, but more importantly, aims for the service of the population.


3 Responses to “Discussion of “Racism 4.0, Civity, and Re-Constitution” by Palma Strand”

  1. Pumice Says:

    tank you is post All in all, it was a great paper and interesting discussion. Strand’s model is both pragmatic and normative about social justice. Without normativity, a social model is irrelevant But without pragmatism, a social model is impractical. Thus Strand’s framework can serve the academic, but more importantly, aims for the service of the population.

  2. ایران موزیک Says:

    thank you

  3. تبلیغات در گوگل Says:

    very nice

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