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The System vs The Game

I had this thought the other day – when was the last new social system developed?

Sure we’ve seen plenty of technological systems come and go, but what about those that affect how we live, and perhaps more importantly live together?

The bulk of our social systems came about in the post-war era, obviously required to rebuild a shattered planet. The last new systems though seem to have came through in the 1970s and then… nothing1.

Systems in the sense I’m talking about them are political, they come from the need to govern and support the social structures we as a people require. Therefore they sit clearly in the realm of politicians responsibility. But today politicians only talk about ‘reforms’, ‘overhauls’ and ’transformation’ agendas, but that’s just tinkering with what’s already there. In a world that has changed so much since the 1970s, and even more since the end of WWII, I find it weird that so little has happened in this systems space.

And when I think about it more it seems to explain the political quagmire we now find ourselves in.

Games not Systems

Politicians don’t want think about new systems, that seems entirely off the agenda and why elections now seem to be a choice between two shades of beige. There is no future vision, no systemic change on the horizons, just tweaking what’s there. So it’s any wonder we feel disengaged and bored with governments, there’s no competition of big ideas, just petty politicking and the bureaucratic quagmire of the inane . Instead politicians are entirely focussed on gaming the systems that already exist, and because they benefit from this gaming they are very much less inclined to change them.

We have gone through decades of denuding the core social systems – education, health, environment and taxation – and shifting that spending into the private for-profit sector. None of these systems can run on their own anymore, they are completely dependent on external contractors and suppliers to provision core services. This has been the policy direction of all the main political parties, rather than invest in the systems themselves (which more often than not is the people rather than the process) they have starved them of resources, crippling them and making them dependent on the private for-profit sector.

This has been done under various guises – efficiencies, Innovation, transformation and improvements – but when you look at those initiatives none of them have focused on the system itself, but rather on dismantling and outsourcing functions of the existing system. Many of the things that would actually help these systems become more robust are actively stopped and halted from happening. Direct appointments, golden handshakes, defunding of frontline services, inflated management payroll – all of these disrupt the functions of these systems rather than improve them. You don’t build or change culture by outsourcing it.

Have a look at the recent policy announcements and you won’t see anything about systems. Instead it’s almost entirely tweaking at the edges in order to game the system for their own personal and political gain. Even in the wake of a global pandemic and the climate crisis all we see are games being played, money going to businesses that simply pocket the cash. The game comes down socialising the costs, by borrowing astounding amounts of money to fund their grand (and not so grand) schemes, while individualising the benefits to individuals. Those wealthy few who already have accumulated a mass of assets in real estate and shares, who work at senior levels and take home massive bonuses and thrive on their passive income, all while jobs disappear and the welfare system wallows in disfunction. This is the only game in town – the rich get richer and the rest of us suffer because the systems they are often responsible for decay.

We have a political class that is entirely in it for the game. And it is just a game to them. Listen to them speak about their jobs and how they behave and they will openly tell you that. What might once have been insiders knowledge is no longer even veiled – they are playing a game, it’s an act, we’re all mates. All of this from the people at the top who do actually have responsibility for people lives and welfare – it’s all a fucking game to them. The game has no space for empathy, not even for responsibility or accountability — they’re not usually part of a game, so why apply it here? All that matters is the numbers, the metrics, the cash – or at least how you can twist all of that into a story your mates in the media can publish to the masses. Anyone that actually wants to change the system quickly get spat out, the game has built up its own antibodies to prevent attack and change.

Despite our current systems struggling with the many global and local problems politicians aren’t coming to the rescue. The game gets rid of anyone seeking to work on and for the systems we do desperately need. The media apparatus will shout them down and attack them personally while the party politics and favours system only provides support for the game players, not the change makers. We are watching the slow death of democracy.

We need Systems

Yet where we are at this point in time and history – we desperately need systems! Systems that can do away with the past and improve our future:

  • Systems that would regulate the global climate and avoid the collapse of the entire biome we humans rely on.
  • Systems that would not only provide relief and logistic support for those caught up in natural disasters, but also actively seek to abate them in the first place.
  • A health systems that is built around the concept of care, not one cut to the bone to increase “efficiency” which are now crippled and crumbling from having to deal with a global pandemic.
  • Legal systems built around responsibility a d accountability that can keep up with the technology and the radical social effects and disruption that new and old media has us as a society.
  • Taxation systems that tax wealth not income. That are fair and prejudiced on the belief that tax is a contribution to society not as a punishment for being in it. A system that recognises that every cent a billionaire has comes from collective effort, not that individual, and wealth should therefore come back to benefit the collective.

At this point in time we need systems. New ones and better ones. Fair systems more than anything. Systems built for the collective rather than those that are outdated and based on domination, subjugation and colonisation. Inclusive systems that embrace the strength of diversity rather than punish it. Systems that are human centred not profit driven.


  1. Ok, that’s a sweeping statement and if I’m honest there has been some systems developed, in particular the NDIS scheme, which still seems embryonic and not fully implemented yet. 
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By Tim Klapdor

Passionate about good design, motivated by the power of media and enchanted by the opportunities of technology.

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