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.

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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.

38 Replies to “Cybernetics and why “Being Negative” is necessary”

      1. Nope. It isn’t like getting drunk, because getting drunk involves drinking beer, wine, or what-have-you which could be a pleasurable experience supposing that you acquire a taste for it.

        Positivism that is baseless, to be exact, is like getting a hangover without getting drunk first.

  1. I heard the same things you did and have given it much thought . Which means a blog that is taking forever before I can come up with a coherent draft. You are not alone.

      1. For me people go too far the other way. Like nothing wrong and little things are worth defining the nation over. Big things that are negative do not exist.

  2. Those who complain about positivity more often than not are more concerned with the tone of the message than with the content.

  3. Suddenly I’m reminded of the Roman poet Juvenal. His work covered a wide of topics, criticizing society and social mores. He was a grouchy bastard. And he was an equal opportunity racist; he hated everything and everyone around him. 😉 But he was an articulate writer and his biting satire often hit close to home.

    1. When it comes to ancient critics, I’m reminded of this passage in the Bible:

      ‘One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” This saying is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith’ (Titus 1:12-13)

  4. Here are just a few thoughts about this topic:

    * People who are always only negative can be regarded as nihilists;
    * In school (but also outside school) we have learned to be constructive criticists and not destructive criticists;
    * I personally think the main objective (in such a Blog as this is) is to be and stay objective and support thoughts and opinions with true facts (and not with fake and false ones). Thoughts/ideas/minds/opinions can be negative (every coin has 2 sides).

    And lets never forget (the) reality. It is how it is. The overall majority of realism can be negative and only by venting that can lead to (positive) change.

  5. In management case studies, the first and most important thing to do is to accurate state what the problem is.

  6. And believe it or not, some marketing conmen are now even peddling water that has guess what – “negative” ions to act as counter balance against too much “positive” ions in one’s body. And they’re making a modest bundle out of it.

  7. I just got reminded of this comment I made earlier somewhere:

    If someone says a message should be sugar-coated, that person is apparently closed-minded. An open-minded person would not mind the coating.

  8. “Democracy works best when we ask tough questions and hold our leaders to account.” We are citizens, not cheerleaders.

  9. In the engineering & maintenance field you would want your attention called on negative symptoms before the real trouble occurs. Focusing only on what is good will soon see you doomed and your equipment broken down. Same thing on a lot of different aspects of life, including government and society.

  10. It’s funny that you guys are getting flak for negativity. Some people just don’t understand that, in a democracy, we’re suppose to talk about things and that we’re stronger for having a multiplicity of views.

    Keep up the writing guys!

  11. on constructive criticism.. i believe that it up to the individual or the organiation to turn a critcism into a constructive one… if nothing is done to improve the subject or issue being criticized then critcism remains just it is a cricticism.. can could be destructive..

  12. This is just from #putok joke and then it yielded all these thoughts? You are fool and no respect of contexts! Justify others actions. Could you assure that those fans really meant what they say? In fact as far as I know they were amazed by Haddadi and Bahrami. You are so pathetic! Pa-ingles ingles ka pa! Nakakatawa ka!

  13. I agree with everything the author said, kailangan talaga ng negativity, yin and yang yan e. Pero ok lang maging negative ‘wag lang to the point of being negative for the sake of being negative. Criticizing for the sake of being critical. Sana may suggestions din ng mga solusyon. Marami kasi sa atin (including me, and in general) criticize lang ng criticize halos nag-mamarunong na wala namang mai-suggest na solution sa mga problema ng bayan.

  14. Lol, this is one of the most ‘positive’ sites telling that damned ‘country’ to get real. You’re being way too nice for the nonsense they throw your way. Negativity? I’m pretty sure it’s some delusional pinoy just having his ego hurt when he read one of the articles here.

  15. Not an avid fan of such concepts your talking about but GRP does hurt the ego of those in denial. So its quite “negative” to them. I only see the need of the site to be more “pro-active” than it currently is. Identify the “negatives” and offer a “positive” solution.

    1. Well, that is what they do in most articles. Whenever you read carefully like I do, they slip into their paragraphs their proposed solutions like seductive whispers in the ear. But I think your calling out for GRP to be more “pro-active” is necessary to remind them to keep doing those “whispers in ears.”

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