I’ve been thinking about the controversy between Apple and the US Department of Justice.
The first thing to recognize is that when a state, which is a huge organization that operates through political communication and legal communication (along with mass media communication), attempts to exert power on another autopoietic organization, it puts its own autonomy at risk. It introduces a new risk. In other words, it increases the complexity/unpredictability of its own environment.
Function systems (e.g., politics, the economy, the law, science, mass media, education, art, medicine) all have access to the comprehensive communication system known as society, and they can only influence society through communication. As such, function systems brush up against each other, or, in other words, they irritate or “perturb” each other like people sharing an elevator.
For instance, from the position the self-observing economic system (the economy), all of the other subsystems reside in its environment. Politics can perturb the economy, but it cannot cross the boundary marking the inside/outside of the economy.
Although the law, for example, cannot directly cause a particular event to happen in the economy, it can irritate the economy; that is to say, the law can destabilize the economy, and the economy, if it is to continue its autopoiesis, must restabilize itself through its own operations.
Rather than talking about “the state,” we can get more precise by talking about, in this case, The Department of Justice, which is a sub-organization of the state. The Department of Justice (DOJ) can perturb the economy by using law to regulate an economic process or exchange. But this is not a unidirectional influence, because the DOJ’s environment changes at the same time. In other words, from the observing position of the DOJ, the economy is part of its environment. And any time an organization irritates a system, including another organization, in own its environment in a way that causes the other system to change itself, the the irritating organization’s environment changes. This then increases the risk that something in the environment can perturb the DOJ. This is how unintended consequences occur. Once one system perturbs another system, the consequences are beyond the control of the perturbing system. The pebble has been tossed into the pond and it can’t be taken back. The response is determined by the structure of the pond, not the pebble or the pebble tosser. The event is irreversible.
The economy is not a trivial machine that functions according a predictable input-output model. Nor is Apple, Inc. Restabilization occurs according to the economy’s own code–a binary code of buying and selling.
So what about Apple versus the DOJ? The case is currently irritating Apple, though it’s hard to say how much. It is causing Apple to respond in some way, according to its own structure. If the DOJ wins, then Apple will have to respond in new ways. But exactly how Apple responds is up to Apple; the nature of its response cannot be directly determined by the DOJ. Also, if the state destabilizes something in its environment, then it will have to deal with that new environment.