Cybernetics and why “Being Negative” is necessary


Critics have commented repeatedly on Get Real Philippines’s supposed “negativity.” They say giving negative feedback and point out mistakes is doing nothing. They want us to be more “positive,” show more positive articles. However, I want to retort with this question: is being negative really not helpful for our society? Is being entirely positive a real solution? I would say, no.

In my part-time work, I did a paper on the subject of cybernetics. My research on the topic yielded a lot of interesting information.

Get yourself out of the Matrix of being solely "All Positive"
Get yourself out of the Matrix of being solely “All Positive”
First, cybernetics actually has little to do with machines. It is actually defined as the study of communication and control in a system to see how the system corrects itself and functions correctly. The original Greek word it came from, “kybernetes,” meaning “art of steering or navigation,” actually had more to do with political governance than with machines. It was used in Plato’s The Alcibiades, referring to good governance as akin to being a good navigator.

The modern use of cybernetics came with Norbert Wiener’s publication of his 1947 book on the topic. The basic premise of his theory is that humans use communication to try and control their environment, and this is similar to how animals try to take control of theirs and how machines work to complete a certain task. Feedback is one key feature of his theory of cybernetics as part of the communication process that helps establish proper control. But this theory emphasizes negative feedback rather than positive feedback.

To put it plainly:

“Negative feedback maintains structure in an environment by counteracting any change that takes place within a system. Positive feedback does exactly the opposite by amplifying change in an environment, and can ultimately lead to the destruction of a system as the level of entropy accelerates to entirely diminish the function of the system in its environment.”

– McGarry, Maggie. “Norbert Wiener’s Cybernetic Theory and Parental Control.” University of Colorado at Boulder, Fall 2008.

Cybernetics thus has the premise that negative feedback is essential to help keep a system together. Positive feedback will ruin it. In my interpretation, one application is in a democracy. Criticizing the government for its mistakes is negative feedback. When people fail to put out this negative feedback, it can open the doors for abuse.

It’s the same as the coach who keeps scolding his players and telling him what’s wrong. It can’t be all, “get out there boys, you’re the best.” That can lead to heads swelling and performance dropping. Thus, the negative feedback is needed to keep them in line and keep them performing properly.

Wiener’s theory of cybernetics is a good analogy for what GRP does through blogging. It focuses on negative feedback, not the positive feedback, to correct errors. This is because errors are not exposed through positive feedback, they are revealed in the negative feedback (if they didn’t focus on the errors and problems, they wouldn’t be negative); it would seem more that positive feedback will lead to the errors being hidden and forgotten (propaganda machine, sycophants).

So if people say, GRP has to stop being negative, I answer, no, since that will get in the way of pushing for good governance.

Embracing "all positivity, no negativity" gets you trapped in the Matrix of denial
Embracing “all positivity, no negativity” gets you trapped in the Matrix of denial
Of course, other people may interpret the positive feedback as action to change a system, following the definition above (this would apply to people whose goal is, “change the system!”). That would be a different interpretation altogether. But even if it that were the idea applied, positive only will likely not work. It cannot work without negative feedback. The negative and positive are needed together.

Solely positive feedback may be nothing more than kumbayah escapist delusionism with denial and narcissism.

Of course, cybernetics isn’t all that’s needed in solving our country’s situation. But accepting and understanding the role of negative feedback and responding to it appropriately will help us find the way to bring out the really positive (as in beneficial) results for our society.


About ChinoF

I stick with this blog because I believe, as my cohorts here do, that many things Filipinos embrace as part of their culture, the "Filipino Way," are pulling them down. And I blog freely to show that in a truly decent society, with true freedom of speech, even nobodies have a voice.