Friday, April 22, 2005

Papa Ratzi

Timothy Garton Ash, writing about the election of Cardinal Ratzinger ("Papa Ratzi"), questions the ability of the modern Papacy to achieve its stated goals (Guardian April 21st, 2005).

Atheists should welcome the election of Pope Benedict XVI. For this aged, scholarly, conservative, uncharismatic Bavarian theologian will surely hasten precisely the de-Christianisation of Europe that he aims to reverse. ... An irony of John Paul II's pontificate was that, by hastening the end of communism, he helped unleash [into Eastern Europe] those forces of capitalist modernisation that contributed to secularisation in Western Europe.

Does POSIWID reveal anything useful about this kind of system behaviour? More generally, does POSIWID reveal anything useful about a broad class of apparently counter-productive behaviours?
  • meddling or tampering - ill-considered interventions that make the problem worse
  • counter-productive systems that achieve the opposite of their stated goals
  • unstable systems whose internal contradictions undermine their long-term viability
  • systems that apparently have a death wish
The POSIWID principle says that we can infer purpose from behaviour or outcome. In other words, failure is the result of a system oriented towards failure. But for this principle to be useful rather than simply fatalistic, we need to interpret it carefully. The system that is oriented towards failure is often not the one you are looking at. What POSIWID entails is that we must question the way the system of interest is scoped. (Just as Deming tells us: we need to understand (and if necessary reframe) a varying system before trying to control it.)

So in order to understand the election of another conservative pope, we need to look at a system that is broader than a bunch of elderly cardinals. (Note how the little dramatic flourishes such as the white smoke and the temporary chimney and the Michaelangelo ceiling are all designed to focus our attention on the wrong system.) We look at the shifting spiritual allegances within Europe, potential changes to geopolitical boundaries to include more Orthodox, more Moslem. In the recent past, Ratzinger has preached against these changes, although many people pray that as pope he will prove more conciliatory.

Bloggers are searching for other ways to make sense of the election. For example, the Prophecy of St Malachy allows us to construct a different system, whose purpose is fulfilled by a given series of popes. Perhaps the fundamental purpose of the Catholic Church is not to be a popular, wealthy and powerful institution, but to return to early Christian principles of austerity, modesty, sincerity and devotion. Even many atheists could drink to that.

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