Fractal Society: Where did it come from?


You might find it a bit strange that i’m not really sure where the ideas i’ve been writing about on this website came from, but that is the truth.  All i can do is tell you how FSATFOTI came to me, and where i think it came from

How FSATFOTI came to me

In 2005 i started teaching Social Work at Valdosta State University. When I moved here from Northern Virginia people told me Valdosta was much more conservative than i suspected. “There is the South, and then there is South Georgia.” They made it sound like most of the south was pink, and south Georgia was deep red.

As i met my students and came to know them, i realized they weren’t just conservative, in some general way. i had assumed they would be politically conservative and religiously conservative. But what i realized is that the conservatism (thinking that the way things are is the way things should be) was evident not just in how they thought about politics or religion. It was how they thought about everything, and maybe more importantly, it was how they thought. What drove this home for me is that nobody crossed the street when the traffic light said “don’t walk.” There would be no cars in sight in any direction, but they followed the rules. For some reason it reminded me of Germany, where i lived for awhile as a kid. i found the same conservatism in the classroom, where students more interested in knowing and following the rules than the students i knew from “up north.”

Not only were students conservative. The churches they belonged to were conservative, the schools were conservative, the town was conservative, and their families were conservative. Now, I’m using conservatism as the example, but you could just as well see the same thing if a very progressive area, where everybody (or almost everybody) would be liberal or progressive or “god forbid” socialists.

The Fractal Nature of Thoughts

In discussing the student’s conservatism with two of my colleagues it became clear this conservatism  was everywhere; in the minds, their thoughts, their homes, their churches.  And going a bit further, it became clear the conservatism could be found throughout their minds, at all levels of thinking. The conservatism displayed a self-similarity, just like we see in a snowflake or tree.  And that self-similarity reminded me of fractals.

When i looked at myself, i saw the same self-similarity, and since i know me better than i know the students, i saw more subtly in the patterns. i am an Army brat. This is different than saying my father served in the Army for thirty years. And after he retired he was still a soldier. As they say “you can take the man out of the Army, but you can’t take the Army out of the man.” Being an Army brat means that to some degree, at least in my case, the Army is in me. To be more specific, Dad was a West Point Graduate, and to him “duty, honor, country” and certain ways of thinking were part of him. Dad was a reflection of the Army, and one could say he was self-similar to the Army, a fractal of it. And i am semi-similar to my dad, and some of my thoughts are like his thoughts.

So i have certain beliefs, ways of seeing the world and seeing myself that come from being a brat.  So just as my students are reflections of their backgrounds, so am i.

I’m also from a progressive family, lived in a relatively progressive area (Northern Virginia), have progressive friends. I use progressive rather than liberal since it makes a nicer contrast with conservative – since progressives belief that things can improve, we can move forward.

The basic idea is my thoughts, and my students thoughts, and your thoughts, are like fractals.  Each thought is part of a larger pattern of thoughts it is similar to, and made up for smaller thoughts that are similar to it. Thoughts are fractals.

Now here is where i actually discovered the idea of a fractal society, though the name itself was to come later.  In thinking about the students and their conservativism, i realized that if we looked at their thought patterns as cognitive systems, then were was a self-similarity to those systems.  Mary-Ellen’s world view (a cognitive system) was conservative. Her view of religion, politics, education, and how to act in the world (cognitive sub-systems) were conservative.  And as i found in the course of teaching, those subsystems were made up for smaller subsystems; her religious system include collections of thoughts (sub-systems to the religious system) about abortion, same sex relationships, authority, and other things.  Now, i think this is where the idea of fractals related to cognitive systems came to me.  Her view on same sex relationships was not as conservative as her view on abortion and relating to authority.  Say more.

Social Work and Fractal Society

i think that the approach most social workers in the field actually take is fine, but the approaches we teach in school are a bit too limiting.  Depending on your perspective there may be a number of ways to expand our view of what is meant by “too limiting” but for me, coming from where iI come from with my background, the limiting factor is how we view systems. There is a tendency to present the systems clients inhabit as relatively simple systems, and to ignore the incredible intertwingled complexity of these systems.

There are many ways to think about and discuss the benefits and limits of viewing clients and the systems they inhabit as either simple or complex, but I was struck by a phrase that came to me as I was pondering this: The fractal society and the fetish of the individual.

There are two weird things related to the phrase FSATFOTI.

  • The first weird things was i didn’t really know what it meant, and i still don’t.
  • The second weird thing was that the idea “came to me.”  It wasn’t like i was smart and thought it up, or that i remembered it.  It just came to me, from out of the blue.

Where It Really Came From

So from my point of view, and the point of view of FSATFOTI, the idea came to me from

  • the Dralas,
  • the Muses,
  • and to be honest, who knows what.

1 comment for “Fractal Society: Where did it come from?

Leave a Reply