Deviating From The Mean : Standardization and Diversity [MT109]

David Noel
Ben Franklin Centre for Theoretical Research
PO Box 27, Subiaco, WA 6008, Australia.

The time to standardize is when nobody cares any more
-- Old Computer Industry proverb

The 'Will to Order'

Aldous Huxley, in his book Brave New World Revisited [Reference 9], makes a telling examination of an aspect of human behaviour which he calls the 'Will to Order'. An extract from this source will explain:

"The wish to impose order upon confusion, to bring harmony out of dissonance and unity out of multiplicity, is a kind of intellectual instinct, a primary and fundamental urge of the mind. Within the realms of science, art and philosophy the workings of what I may call this 'Will to Order' are mainly beneficient. ... It is in the social sphere, in the realm of politics and economics, that the Will to Order becomes really dangerous."

"Here the theoretical reduction of unmanageable multiplicity to comprehensible unity becomes the practical reduction of human diversity to subhuman uniformity, of freedom to servitude. In politics the equivalent of a fully developed scientific theory or philosophical system is a totalitarian dictatorship. In economics, the equivalent of a beautifully composed work of art is the smoothly running factory in which the workers are perfectly adjusted to the machines. The Will to Order can make tyrants out of those who merely aspire to clear up a mess. The beauty of tidiness is used as a justification for despotism".

"Really dangerous ... Subhuman . . . Dictatorship . . . Tyrants . . . Despotism" -- quite strong stuff! Now let us look at a contemporary and rather mild example of the Will to Order, in this case applying to Australian education systems (Fig. 109.1).

Fig. 109.1. 'The West Australian', 1990 November 1

All right. Now that was a very mild example, and it would be pushing things to class Mr Dawkins as a tyrant or despot just because his Will to Order impels him to push for such things as standardized handwriting styles. In fact many people would instinctively support any moves towards standardization or uniformity. Let us examine this matter more fully from the MT viewpoint.

Standardization and Standardization

First, there are two quite distinct kinds of standardization. One type is what we might call Specification. Specification in this context means a description of some widespread entity -- a system of electric plugs and sockets, for example -- sufficient such that if the description is followed, any two of the appropriate components will fit together and operate satifactorily.

Now I think most would accept that this sort of standardization is highly desirable. Specification in the case of electric fittings means giving values for the sizes, shapes, and positions of the pins and sockets, with tolerances by which these may vary. It also means giving action roles to the different pins -- one is to carry the active current, another is to act as an earth. There is no tolerance possible in these action roles.

If the specification is set up correctly, then all plugs and sockets conforming to it should be interchangeable, in the sense that any plug will fit into any socket, and any socket will accommodate any plug. In Australia, where there is a single nation-wide Specification for domestic electric plugs and sockets which is almost universally followed, a new electric appliance can be bought from a store and taken home and plugged in without problems.

In other countries, this is not so. Britain still has a mix of older and newer systems, quite incompatible. Electric equipment bought outside Australia cannot usually be plugged in here, even if the voltage supply is right. This undoubtedly is an annoyance, and a restriction on the operation of business competition, in that electrical goods used in Australia have to be fitted with 'Australian-approved' plugs.

Surely it would be more sensible to introduce an international standard for electric plugs, and make all manufacturers conform to it? More sensible perhaps, but wait on, it's that Will to Order leaping out of the woodwork again. Being sensible doesn't necessarily mean that it's for the good of the systons involved.

The point is this. A Specification is a voluntary code establishing a minimum degree of uniformity, sufficient to guarantee interchangeability or some other desired object. The code will not normally concern itself with matters outside these aims -- the plug specification will not refer to the outside colour of fittings, or the outside shape of socket boxes, for example. It is true that a government may require all or part of its constituency to conform with a particular specification, but that is another, external matter.

Don't Be Mean

Now we can look at the other sort of standardization, essentially imposed, involuntary uniformity for its own sake, or for the sake of perceived benefits. What it usually involves is an effort to push all expressions of some characteristic towards some uniform, average or mean value, as with Mr Dawkins' Australian handwriting styles.

In practice it is never possible to make all such expressions completely uniform. What can be achieved is to force the width of the band of values down, what we might call tight-banding. At the current time, women fashion models are quite strongly tight-banded, not with corsets, but in the sense that only quite narrow ranges of their heights and weights are acceptable to the fashion industry.

This 'Tight-Banding' is clearly quite a distinct meaning of the word 'standardization', and in MT terms is quite a different kettle of fish to 'Specification'. What is seldom openly considered is whether the Tight-Banding is beneficial or not, and if it is, who benefits. We will try and make some sense out this later. But first, we need a little more background on handling quantities which are not uniform.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Many of the quantities which we come across in ordinary life, such as people's heights, approximate to what is called a normal distribution or bell curve (figure 109.2).

Fig. 109.2. The normal distribution or bell curve

With this curve, the quantity involved is counted from left to right, so in the case of heights, short people appear on the left and tall ones on the right. The height of the curve at a given point shows the number of people with that height, so the highest point corresponds to the most common height.

According to the Guinness Book of Records, the very shortest adults recorded have heights tending down towards about 58 centimetres, and the very tallest approach 274 cm. Halfway between these values is 166 cm, which is perhaps close to the average or mean value for the whole population.

The ideal bell curve is completely symmetrical, and tails away forever towards the extremities, approaching but never reaching some limiting value. A real distribution curve for a quantity like adult heights cannot match the ideal exactly -- for example, this would allow a small but finite probability of people with not only zero, but even negative heights -- but the model is close enough for our purposes.

If the curve is symmetrical, the most common value (the value at which the curve peaks) is the same as the mean value, 166 cm for adult heights. A useful measure of the spread or diversity of heights is the standard deviation or SD. This is actually mathematically calculated, but on the bell curve it is equal to the distance from the central mean line to the points where the curves change from concave to convex, the points of inflection. So if the SD was 20 cm, the majority of the adult population would be between 146 and 186 cm tall. A small part would be less than 146 cm tall, and a similar part would be taller than 186 cm.

The figures given here do not come from actual measurements, and in themselves are merely illustrative. The point is that the Standard Deviation referred to will give, with real measurements of the sort of quantities which follow a bell curve, a measure of their spread. In fact the SD is an expression of diversity, an expression of the amount that the quantity measured can spread out.

Back in Proposition 105A, I suggested that genetic diversity is an advantage for a human syston. We can re-state this proposition in new terms.

Proposition 109A**. Systons with larger standard deviations in their linear quantities are at an advantage compared with systons with smaller ones

It is important to note that neither of these Propositions suggest that individuals with values away from the mean necessarily have an advantage. Exceptionally tall and short people in fact encounter many disadvantages in a society tailored for the local mean -- try riding a minibus in Quito! What is suggested is that the syston which contains these people is advantaged.

My Band and Your Band

Clearly the bell curves for a characteristic like adult height will vary for different populations around the world. The Watusis in Africa will have a curve shifted well to the right of that for the Congo pygmies. The standard deviations for the two curves may be similar or not -- this is not an aspect we usually think about.

Another way in which bell curves may be useful is when parts of populations are looked at. For example, in humans women are on average shorter than men. The curve for the whole adult population is, in fact, made up of two curves, one for each sex (Figure 109.3).

Figure 109.3. Separate bell curves for heights of women and men

It is an interesting point, that if you have two bell curves for comparable quantities, such as the heights of men and of women, they will always combine together to give another bell curve for the composite group. Logically this must be so.

Underheight, not Overweight

The old public weighing machines which gave you your weight always used to have height/weight tables to tell you what your weight should be for a given height. The old joke about these tables from some of us was "Of course I am not 14 pounds overweight, just 3 inches underheight!"

At least they did provide two tables, one for men and the other for women. But they had no recognition of differences in bone structure and build, or of age -- all factors which can have a big effect on deviations from the 'norm'.

The bell curves we have just been looking at provide a major advance over the 'normal weight' tables in looking at the world. They move the 'judgement focus' used from zero dimensions to one, from a point to a line. Even further advances are possible in the move towards gaining an MT aspect of our society, but for now let us apply the twin bell curves to an actual example -- the topic of Aggression.

Why be Aggressive About It?

Look again at Figure 109.3 and suppose that the bell curves represent not height, but aggressiveness. It seems to me that it is not an unfair assertion to say that men, on average, are more aggressive than women.

The bell curves give an extra dimension to such an assertion. They bring out the fact that even if such an assertion is true, there will still be many men who are less aggressive than many women, and vice versa.

In MT107 we looked at the importance of complementary action by systels, people working together 'as a team', and in so doing filling more of the spectrum of a process. In basic MT terms we might say that the expansion in the number of roles involves more diversity, more infocap, and hence works to the greater benefit of the enclosing syston.

The point to be brought out here is that different roles, different systels in a complex syston, may demand quite different degrees of aggressiveness. I once tried to sell my house myself, not using an agent, and without success. A house agent I knew smiled kindly and said that I just did not possess the necessary 'killer instinct'. Was he right?

Another area where aggressiveness may be important is in competitive sports. The champions in some sports, and in other areas of human endeavour which are intensely competitive, are frequently viewed as having unattractive personalities -- ruthless, aggressive, with giant egos. Of course this is not a general rule, such an observation would be contrary to the whole MT viewpoint, which only mildly notes a certain shift in the aggressiveness bell curve when certain types of player are the subject of examination.

Another absolutely vital aspect of the MT approach is that it is non-judgemental. Aggressiveness in individuals is widely viewed as undesirable, MT makes no such claim. The furthest that MT can be forced along this line is the observation that a wide spread in any characteristic, even aggressiveness, can be expected to advantage a wider syston. Advantage to the individual is another matter entirely.

We can pursue this reasoning now in a related area, one generally regarded as 'difficult' -- the question of homosexuality.


From the linear-thinking viewpoint, homosexuality is regarded as a problem in two ways. First, its actual existence is a problem for society, a 'perversion' from the norm. Second, why it should occur at all is a problem to explain.

Taking the second part first, on conventional reasoning it is hard to fathom why homosexuality should show up in generation after generation, with no obvious cause. Committed homosexuals are clearly much less likely to have children than is the norm, and whether from a genetic or a socially-learned origin, homosexuality would therefore seem to be much less likely to be 'passed on'. And yet it continues.

As to the first part, there seems little doubt that the general view is that homosexual behaviour is 'bad for society', and should be curbed as much as possible, preferably 'cured'. Let us now consider this sensitive matter from the MT viewpoint.

The MT inclination would have to be to say, that if homosexuality has continued to show up over the ages and in almost all societies, it must have some sort of role in those societies. Let us look for such a role.

Consider, once again, Figure 109.3, but this time assume the two bell curves represent expressions of femininity and masculinity, or more precisely, female-type and male-type psychologies. It appears that there is a fundamental difference between these two types of psychologies. And yet, the curves overlap; it cannot be unexpected that a proportion of men will have psychologies which are shifted to a smaller or greater degree onto the feminine side, or that a proportion of females will exhibit some or many masculine traits.

What the Dentist Said

When I was in my teens I had a problem with too many teeth, a 'crowded mouth'. Our dentist at that time was a learned and pleasant man, and he was happy to talk about the theory of dentistry as well as its practice. From him I learnt the interesting fact that 'third' teeth are not all that uncommon in humans, although complete third sets are very rare. And the reason why 'crowded' mouths occur, and often problems with tooth alignment -- all the braces miseries -- is that tooth size and jaw size are separately inherited.

So the unfortunate child who inherits a small jaw from his mother and large teeth from his father is inevitably going to be a good customer for the dental profession. While diversity in tooth characteristics may be good for the wider syston, it is bad for some of the individuals.

Now an individual psychology is a far more complex matter than is tooth size. Even so, it would not seem at all unlikely if the factors going towards setting masculine physiology expression and masculine psychology expression were separately inherited.

That provides at least a possible mechanism for the occurrence of homosexuality. For an understanding of its role in the wider syston, we need to look more closely at where it shows up.

A Girl's Job

How role perceptions change. The story has gone around that in the late 80's in Britain, after many years of Tory rule under Mrs Thatcher, a woman advised her son to "study hard, and one day you could grow up to be Prime Minister". "Oh Mum", was his disdainful reply, "that's a girl's job".

Women heads of government are not in the least unusual these days, in Western Australia our current Premier, Dr Carmen Lawrence, is a woman. It has been commented that women bring a more commonsense approach to government, perhaps with less blue-sky vision and startling innovations, but with more emphasis on running a sensible, settled economy in a practical, non-confrontationist way. It is not just a historical quirk that the roots of 'economy' mean how to run a household.

If we look at the places or roles where homosexuality shows up, the picture is quite different between male and female homosexuals. Male homosexuals are relatively common in 'the arts', particularly the theatre. Lesbians are not at all common in the theatre, but are more likely to be found in competitive (and physical) sports.

In fact the situation parallels the one we looked at with aggression. Gay men tend to be relatively non-aggressive, lesbians may be quite belligerent. Without for a moment suggesting that there is a clear distinction between "men's" and "women's" jobs, all the above can be explained on the basis that some areas of human endeavour may be best tackled with a 'female' psychology, and some with a 'male' one. This is, after all, only the traditional 'yin and yang' division once more -- two complementary approaches will always do better than a single one, however good. We might say that two approaches fills more of the Matrix than one.

Later on in this suite of articles we will look again at the fundamental differences between what, for want of better terms, I have called the 'female' and 'male' 'psychologies'. For the moment we need only repeat that, like teeth and jaws, there is no necessary connection between physiologies and psychologies.

Competition and EOS

In both Government and in Business we can commonly find a compromise point between two opposing attitudes, those of Competition and of Economies of Scale.

The MT attitude would definitely come down in support of competition. Competition may be expected to promote infocap accumulation, through its promotion of innovation and experimentation, giving greater diversity in the syston.

Proposition 109B****. A syston will always gain greater advantage from competition than from economies of scale

Here is a Proposition which may not find ready acceptance in all quarters, but I believe it is a very basic one which deserves close study. As always with MT, the Proposition is intended to be general over all syston levels, so the 'advantage' referred to is not limited to the money form of infocap.

A corollary of this Proposition relates to Tight-Banding, the second meaning of 'standardization'. Tight-Banding, and its organizational counterpart of Centralization, are obviously on the EOS side, and can be expected to reduce infocap.

On the other hand, the EOS approach will have attractions in a static situation, and in fact EOS itself drives situations towards a static state. Therefore good test cases on the EOS/ Competition balance are likely to be found in conditions of rapid change.

One such example can be found in the computer industry, one of the most rapidly changing facets of modern life. Ask around your local business and government enterprises, and you will usually find similar and sorry stories. The big majority of these enterprises have found, to their cost, that standardizing on a particular computer mainframe model, particular software packages, particular video screens and printers, has left them sitting in the road staring after their colleagues who have gulped and swallowed the costs of upgrading with new developments.

Hence the quotation at the head of this article. The computer area is one of such rapid change that the usual accounting rules hardly apply. For example, computer equipment often becomes obsolescent long before it wears out. And it's not just a matter of technogical lag, it is not unusual to be able to replace the functionality of an older system with a new system, where the total capital cost of the new is less than a year's maintenance charge on the old.

Let us now look at a totally different matter, concerning individual and family incomes.

Income and GNP Distributions

Just as with most other linear measures, Gross National Product per Capita figures for the world's many countries will approximate to the familiar bell curve; there will be a few very poor countries, a mass of middling ones peaking at some mean value, and a few very rich countries.

But what we will be looking at here is not the bell curve for all the world's nations, but rather the many different bell curves for each of them, and the implications of these.

Standard statistical sources are readily available for GNP per capita figures. These are essentially estimates of average income, calculated by dividing the total value of a nation's production by its number of people. Even economists will accept that the resulting figures only rather imperfectly represent a nation's true wealth, but they do, at least, give some sort of picture of the 'pecking order'.

Actual figures quoted vary from year to year, both with actual changes in the economies of countries and with changes in currency exchange rates, but a typical figure for the average annual income in a poor country like Bangladesh will be only a few hundred dollars, while that in a rich country like the United States or Japan may be well over 10,000 dollars.

Difference like this, of a hundred times, naturally arouse dismay among thinking people. What also causes disquiet is the fact that even in countries where the average income is extremely low, there will still be an 'economic elite' who are relatively well off, who can 'afford video recorders and big cars while the general population is starving'. Even in the poorest country with a functioning government, the people running the government may be expected to 'enjoy the fruits of office' in some financially-attractive way.

There is no doubt that the sort of income imbalance which does occur in poorer countries, and even in richer ones, is regarded with considerable moral antipathy. Emotive terms such as 'obscenely rich' are common. There is a strong general feeling that those who are rich should give to those who are poor, to equalize the position -- a sort of income tight-banding.

What the GNP figures do not show, is any indication of this spread of incomes, they do not give the Standard Deviations from the mean for different countries. Far more detailed records are needed to calculate such figures for an individual country, and if such figures are available and used to calculate a distribution curve, this will not be a nice symmetrical bell curve because an appreciable part of the population will have zero income, cutting off the lefthand side of the curve.

This is all very interesting, but what is it to do with Matrix Thinking? We shall see that using MT to analyze this situation will give rather different outcomes to the conventional view.

Ringing Up in Denpasar

If you want to make a phone call in Denpasar, the capital of the Indonesian island of Bali, don't bother looking for a public phone box. There aren't any.

Nor are there lines of telephone cables festooning the streets. The reason is that all telephones in Denpasar are run via satellite dishes. If you phone up your friend in the office ten metres across the street, the signal will travel some 80,000 kilometres to a synchronous Earth satellite and back.

The Indonesian situation is not a unique one. Some companies operating mines in remote parts of Western Australia have telephone numbers in a northern Perth suburb. This suburb is the home for a communications utility operating satellite services; they take your phone call and channel it though to the mine site using their satellites.

The Indonesians make extensive use of satellite phone services. But they have diversity in their approach. In Singaraja, the chief town in northern Bali, telephone lines appear along the streets and some of these run to public phone boxes. So the lack of boxes in Denpasar is not a matter of tight-banded government policy, but has some other cause.

The Need for High-Tech Systels

The Denpasar region of Bali is the heart of Indonesia's foremost tourist area. Millions of visitors come in from overseas, spending freely, but demanding 'modern' facilities, safe drinking water, good medical attention where necessary -- all the things they would take for granted at home

The bulk of the Balinese people lack all such facilities. 'Basic' facilities such as flush toilets are not a feature of these people's lives, instead they are the preserve of an alien culture of 'obscenely rich' visiting over-people, people who spend money in vast careless amounts with no thought of its effect on their traditional way of life. It is fortunate that the Balinese have vast stocks of infocap in forms other than money, in a resilient social system which has enabled them to absorb foreign jolts which would have wrecked many other systons.

All the facilities required by foreign tourists, including telephone and fax communication, have been made available in Denpasar. The Indonesians had no choice, their provision was just the entrance ticket into the game of attracting overseas tourist trade.

The point being made is this. To run any syston efficiently, facilities and systels must exist within it at least to the level where communication can be made with neighbouring systons, where trade and commerce with outsiders are possible, where the country can maintain representation outside itself. If every person in Burkina Faso (yes, that is a real country) had only the average national income, then that poor African state would contain no telephones, no cars, no hospitals, no hotels for agricultural advisers to stay in.

Proposition 109C**. To function effectively, all systons must include sufficient high-value systels to permit communication and interchange with neighbouring systons

We can give a visual representation of this situation (Figure 109.4).

Fig. 109.4. Communication between Island Systons

In this model, each macrosyston is an island rising from a sea. Each macrosyston is built up of blocks of infocap and smaller systons, glued together with synenergy, just as with any other syston. Separating the two islands is a sea which prevents easy direct contact, a sea made up of bureaucracy, excess nationalism, or other form of SIOS (MT104).

In order to communicate with its neighbour, each island must be built up at least to the level where it extends above the sea. Only when it is above sea level can it effectively communicate, or maintain itself, there is a minimum threshold it must reach. Its neighbours may tower kilometres higher, but as long as all are above the minimum level, co-existence, communication, and development can continue.

What happens when the sea-level rises is another story. In MT110 we can move on to look at another aspect of national systons, when a sort of emotional continental drift takes them apart, or slams them together.

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(Full list of references at MTRefs)

[9]. Aldous Huxley. Brave New World, and Brave New World Revisited. Chatto & Windus, London, 1984.

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