Distasteful but Necessary

The subject of Engineered Social Environments which is the subject of this website is distasteful since it smacks of Social Engineering which is the top-down application of techniques for the organization of society, widely abused in totalitarian  regimes.

Nevertheless, some engineered social environments seem necessary.  The illustrations on the front page of this website show two of the most obvious.  One is a classroom in a school.  The other is a prison cell.  Education and imprisonment seem vital to any functional society, however unpleasant the idea of using top-down organizational methods to create an environment in which your fellow human beings must live.

Education seems to be a case in which the basic idea of my Free But Compulsory website applies.  If education must be compulsory as it is for children under a certain age in most developed countries, then it should indeed be free.  Most such countries do provide free public education, as they should.

Imprisonment seems to be a different matter.  It must be compulsory, but should not be free.  Many crimes may be punished with fines, jail time, or both.  It is not uncommon for people to be imprisoned without financial consequences.  I don’t believe this makes much sense.  It costs a lot to keep a person in prison, but some people who could afford to pay for their incarceration never do.

The subjects of prisons is an unusually complicated one, which I will have to address in a later post.  Suffice to say that I believe social technology could be applied to drastically change the effectiveness of prisons.  A simple example of this would be a totally different way in which cellmates are assigned.  Bipartite matching could be used to very good effect.

Another example of applying social technology to good effect would be ways of dividing a prison population into smaller groups who would take their exercise at the same time.  This is almost exactly the same problem as that of dividing a larger number of students into smaller classes when organizing a school.  See my Education website for more information.

I believe that a combination of these two techniques could make prisons entirely different and much more effective institutions.

It is odd that these two types of engineered social environments should have so much in common.  One could make the analogy even stronger if one made a small adjustment to the way a school is organized.  As discussed on my education website, we may suppose that all of the 100 Grade Six students in a school are to be divided into classes of 25.  A very very difficult problem, especially since the goal of the optimization may unclear.  A much simpler problem would be assigning each student a “study buddy”, a single student to work with all year.  That is a simple bipartite matching problem, and almost identical to the assignment of cellmates to prisoners in a penal institutions.

I don’t know what other engineered social environments there are, though the US Senate seems a plausible example.  Whatever engineered social environments there may be, I suspect these two methods of partitioning and matching would help a lot.

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What is an Engineered Social Environment?

An engineered social environment is a managed one, in which the individuals of some institution are assigned to social roles.  This may in fact include the people who do the managing.  The principal of a school may manage the teachers, but they may have some control of the principal through some kind of democratic process.  The warden of a prison may control the guards, but the guards may influences his choices in a democratic way.  This is not unlike the relationship between the owners and managers of a business with their employees, who may form a union and insist on appropriate working conditions.

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