Tag: Political Systems

Minneapolis: How do we partition a city into sub-systems?

By Matt Johnson

So far we’ve established the (3) systems’ axioms; we’ve touched on the notion of systems’ boundaries by using examples of cities; and we’ve established what a system’s behavior is by analyzing the labor force, average weekly wages, and unemployment rate of Minneapolis. Today, we are going to begin to partition the Minneapolis system into its respective subsystems and we are going to do it by ward.

In the next blog, we will decompose Minneapolis by zip-code. And in a future article, we will decompose Minneapolis’ wards into their respective subsystems – neighborhoods – which will introduce us to the notion of systems’ levels.

Minneapolis is a city with 413,651 residents as of July 1, 2016 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Furthermore, those 413,651 residents obviously live in different parts of the city. Those parts of the city are called wards and Minneapolis has 13 Wards. According to Minneapolis City Government data, each ward contains about 32,000 residents, which of course varies every few years.

This means that each ward in Minneapolis contains about 32,000 residents; those residents interact with each other; and each ward has a function, which in this case is to provide political opportunity in voting and representation, and allocation of resources.

Thus, we have just shown that all 13 wards in Minneapolis satisfy the (3) systems’ axioms:

  1. A system consists of a set of elements.
  2. Elements in a system interact.
  3. A system has a function, or purpose.

Besides illustrating that these 13 wards are systems, we have also established that these wards are themselves subsystems of the general system of Minneapolis. This is because we have shown they satisfy the systems’ axioms, they are contained within Minneapolis, and they have established boundaries, i.e., political boundaries.

And this is a great place for us to dig a little deeper into the notion of boundary. Boundaries can be fuzzy or concrete; and boundaries can be regular or irregular. In the case of political boundaries, which are the wards we are observing, they are concrete and irregular. If we look at any of the 13 wards in Minneapolis, we can observe that the boundaries of the wards are well-defined, i.e., concrete. And we know this is because of the Minneapolis City Charter. But we can also observe that these boundaries are irregular. That is, they are not squares, rectangles, triangles, or circles.

In this short blog, we established that these 13 wards are subsystems of Minneapolis. We also established, with the help of the map, that the boundaries of these wards are concrete and irregular. As we keep moving forward, we will see that our new-found knowledge of systems will pay dividends when we begin to compare and contrast the different wards, neighborhoods, zip-codes, and other Minneapolis subsystems. And we will do this by adding a new tool to our systems’ took-kit – systems dynamics.

Let us now, as we have done before, attempt to disprove our systems’ notions and work in the tradition of natural philosophy until the next blog.


Matt Johnson is a blogger/writer for The Systems Scientist and the Urban Dynamics blog. He has also contributed to the Iowa State Daily and Our Black News. Matt has a Bachelor of Science in Systems Science, with focuses in applied mathematics and economic systems, from Iowa State University. 

You can connect with him directly in the comments section, and follow him on Facebook

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Trump trolls, Pirate Parties and the Italian Five Star Movement: The internet meets politics

We blame the internet for a lot of things, and now the list has grown to include our politics. In a turbulent year marked by the U.K.‘s decision to leave the European Union and the election of Donald Trump, some have started to wonder to what extent the recent events have to do with the technology that most defines our age.

In the aftermath of Trump’s victory, commentators accused Facebook of being indirectly responsible for his election. Specifically, they point to the role of social media in spreading virulent political propaganda and fake news. The internet has been increasingly presented as a possible cause for the post-truth culture that allegedly characterizes contemporary democracies.

These reactions are a reminder that new technologies often stimulate both hopes and fears about their impact on society and culture. The internet has been seen as both the harbinger of political participation and the main culprit for the decline of democracy. The network of networks is now more than a mere vehicle of political communication: It has become a powerful rhetorical symbol people are using to achieve political goals.

This is currently visible in Europe, where movements such as the Pirate Parties and the Italian Five Star Movement, which we have studied, build their political messages around the internet. To them, the internet is a catalyst for radical and democratic change that channels growing dissatisfaction with traditional political parties.

Web utopias and dystopias

The emergence of political enthusiasm for the internet owes much to U.S. culture in the 1990s. Internet connectivity was spreading from universities and corporations to an increasingly large portion of the population. During the Clinton administration, Vice President Al Gore made the “Information Superhighway” a flagship concept. He linked the development of a high-speed digital telecommunication network to a new era of enlightened market democracy.

The enthusiasm for information technology and free-market economics spread from Silicon Valley and was dubbed Californian Ideology. It inspired a generation of digital entrepreneurs, technologists, politicians and activists in Silicon Valley and beyond. The 2000 dot-com crash only temporarily curbed the hype.

In the 2000s, the rise of sharing platforms and social media – often labeled as “Web 2.0” – supported the idea of a new era of increased participation of common citizens in the production of cultural content, software development, and even political revolutions against authoritarian regimes.

The promise of the unrestrained flow of information also engendered deep fears. In 1990s, the web was already seen by critics as a vehicle for poor-quality information, hate speech, and extreme pornography. We knew then that the Information Superhighway’s dark side was worryingly difficult to regulate.

Paradoxically, the promise of decentralization has resulted in few massive advertising empires like Facebook and Google, employing sophisticated mass surveillance techniques. Web-based companies like Uber and Airbnb bring new efficient services to millions of customers but are also seen as potential monopolists that threaten local economies and squeeze profits out of impoverished communities.

The public’s views on digital media are rapidly shifting. In less than 10 years, the stories we tell about the internet have moved from praising its democratic potential to imagining it as a dangerous source of extreme politics, polarized echo chambers and a hive of misogynist and racist trolls.

Cyber-optimism in Europe

While cyber-utopian views have lost appeal in the U.S., the idea of the internet as a promise of radical reorganization of society has survived. In fact, it has become a defining element of political movements that thrive in Western Europe.

In Italy, an anti-establishment party known as the Five Star Movement became the second most-voted for party in Italy in the 2013 national elections. According to some polls, it might soon even win general elections in Italy.


-Lecturer in Geographic Information Science, Birkbeck, University of London

-Lecturer in Communication and Media Studies, Loughborough University

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Do conservatives value ‘moral purity’ more than liberals?

In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, the overwhelming response among progressives was “how in the world did this happen?” Those of us who study the rise of political and moral polarization in the United States, however, were less surprised.

Think of the people you choose to spend time with – your romantic partner, your close friends. What is it, exactly, that draws you to them? And, what is it about the people you don’t like, the people you actively avoid – the self-righteous uncle you unfriended on Facebook during the presidential election or the acquaintance whose number you “accidentally” misplaced – that repels you from them?

On a case-by-case basis, the answers to these questions seem to vary widely. You do not love your boyfriend for the same reasons that you love your friends, and there could be myriad reasons why you dislike that self-righteous uncle. And yet, if you step back and consider all of the people you spend time with, you would likely notice something peculiar – these people are remarkably similar to you.

They probably share your political views, come from similar cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, and have the same amount of education. As uncomfortable as it might be, this phenomenon can be explained largely by a single tendency: We tend to like people who are like us. This tendency, known as homophily, or love of the same, plays a large role in determining whom you like across a wide range of identity-defining characteristics. This includes race, ethnicity, age, social class, education and political beliefs.

Our moral values also have a powerful influence over whom we are close to and whom we avoid. In fact, we are even more likely to avoid people who hold different moral values than us than those of different racial backgrounds.

We are social psychology doctoral students who study group differences in moral values. Through interdisciplinary research, we have found that moral homophily – or a preference for people who share our moral values – also determines whom we prefer to spend our time with and which political party we endorse.

Liberals value sensitivity; conservatives value purity

According to the Moral Foundations Theory Framework, cultures build moral systems on a few basic intuitive foundations:

  • Care/harm (sensitivity to the suffering of others)
  • fairness/cheating (reciprocal social interactions and the motivations to be fair and just when working together)
  • loyalty/betrayal (promoting in-group cooperation, sacrifice, and trust)
  • authority/subversion (endorsing social hierarchy)
  • purity/degradation (promoting cleanliness of the soul and body over hedonism).

While most people agree that values from all of these foundations are at least somewhat relevant to morality, people differ, often dramatically, in the degree to which they make each foundation and its associated values a priority.

For example, liberals tend to primarily endorse upholding the virtues of fairness and care, while conservatives endorse all five of the foundations, including loyalty, authority, and purity.

We wanted to know if people group together into communities of shared values, are there some values that lead us to distance ourselves from dissimilar others the most? We find in our research that a specific class of moral values related to concerns about purity – our spiritual beliefs, definitions of the soul, what we perceive to be “dirty” or “clean” and which baser instincts we feel we must transcend – plays a central role in homophily.

Purity as the moral divider

For our research, we collected tweets from 220,000 Twitter users during the 2013 United States government shutdown. Using a new big data computational method for automatically analyzing text, we measured how much each Twitter user talked about each of the five kinds of moral concerns in their tweets.

Then, we investigated their social networks – the people they follow – up to five degrees of separation. We found that people who are closer to each other (friends or friends of friends) talked about purity concerns more similarly compared to people who are further away.

How similar a Twitter user was to another person in the way they talked about things that are “dirty” or “clean” (metaphorically or otherwise) predicted social distance more strongly and reliably than similarity in how they talked about any of the four other moral domains.

Even when we share similar political ideologies or religious backgrounds, similarity to others in the words we use to talk about purity concerns (for example, “religious” versus “spiritual, “lewd” versus “sexually empowered”) predict whether we are friends with someone or not.

As a follow-up, we tested whether perceptions of moral dissimilarity and similarity have a causal effect on social interactions.

In both studies, we measured people’s moral values in the five domains by having them read scenarios such as “You see a girl saying that another girl is too ugly to be a varsity cheerleader” (harm) and “You see a woman burping and farting loudly while eating at a fast food truck” (purity) and then rate whether or not the action was morally wrong.

Finally, we told them that they had to work with another participant who had responded either differently (study 2) or similarly (study 3) to them on these questions for one of the five moral value domains. We then asked them to tell us how close they were willing to be to that other person both physically (how close would you sit on a bench to this person) and socially (would you be willing to have someone like this person marry into your family).

Language says a lot

Our results were remarkably consistent with our first study. When people thought the person they were being partnered with did not share their purity concerns, they tended to avoid them. And, when people thought their partner did share their purity concerns, they wanted to associate with them.

As on Twitter, people were much more likely to associate with the other person when they had a similar response to the moral purity scenarios and to avoid them when they had a dissimilar response. And this pattern of responding was much stronger for purity concerns than similarities or differences for any other moral concerns, regardless of people’s religious and political affiliation and the religious and political affiliation they attributed to their partner.

There are many examples of how moral purity concerns are woven deeply into the fabric of social life. For example, have you noticed that when we derogate another person or social group we often rely on adjectives like “dirty,” and “disgusting”? Whether we are talking about “dirty hippies” or an entire class of “untouchables” or “deplorables,” we tend to signal inferiority and separation through moral terms grounded in notions of bodily and spiritual purity.

However, as our research indicates, purity homophily does not simply reflect avoidance of dissimilar others; rather, it likely arises from a dynamic push-and-pull process in which people’s social ties are a function of both wanting to be closer to similar others and avoiding different others. And, this seems to be the case both in the tightly controlled context of laboratory experiments and in the messy, real-world wildlands of social media.

Moral values and the political divide

Beyond affecting our daily social interaction preferences, we also believe that purity homophily likely plays an important role in sociocultural domains like politics and religion. For example, our preferences for certain political candidates might be partially driven by the perception that those candidates share our purity concerns, regardless of their stances on other potentially more relevant issues. Similarly, we often use purity-related language to motivate our group against the “dirty” political candidate we oppose.

Further, the tendency to surround ourselves with people who share our moral purity concerns and avoid those who don’t share them likely contributes to social and political polarization. This, in turn, can facilitate the emergence of extreme and harmful behavior, ranging from refusing to vaccinate children to bombing abortion clinics.

As our country has become more polarized and we have self-sorted ourselves into political and moral enclaves, we have lost the ability to see past our moral differences. We aren’t even using the same language as each other to talk about our social issues anymore. To bridge the divide in our government, we must first learn to bridge the divide among ourselves.

Perhaps by focusing on values we all share, such as care and fairness, and avoiding the purity rhetoric that divides us, we may be able to communicate our needs with the other side to work toward a common goal.

, Doctoral Candidate, Psychology, University of Southern California and

, Doctoral Candidate, Psychology, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences


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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Interview Series: Abdi Warsame, CCM of Minneapolis

By Matt Johnson

In this interview with Larry King from September of 2015, Abdi Warsame, City Council Member (CCM) for the 6th Ward in Minneapolis, discusses the challenges and goals of being a city council member while dealing with foreign policies from his unique perspective. As Council Member Warsame explains to Larry King

I am a councilman. I am an American first. And I happen to be an American of Somali origin. But my role is to defend, to make sure that everybody in my city of Minneapolis and in my state of Minnesota and in my country the United States is secure from terrorism whether it is domestic or international.

Here are some of Council Member Warsame’s agenda issues from the interview:

  • Terrorism (domestic and international)
  • Educational Opportunities (School)
  • Property Rights & Home Ownership
  • Community Integration & Stability
  • Educate the community (Domestic and Foreign Issues)
  • Work with law enforcement

Council Member Warsame understands that domestic issues and foreign affairs are interconnected. As he illustrates about half way through the interview, educational opportunities and home ownership are important components for building an integrated and stable community, where its citizens feel compelled to remain and participate rather than leave and become a part of the challenge.

Larry King w/ Abdi Warsame, CCM

The Systems Scientist

Original publication date: April 2015

My name is Matt Johnson and I am an undergraduate of Systems Science at Iowa State University. My degree program is housed in the department of Interdisciplinary Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Although my degree program is systems science, my focus and interests reside in the sub-discipline urban dynamics, which was first proposed by Jay W. Forrester in his book Urban Dynamics.

You may be asking, “What is a systems scientist?” Systems scientists are those scientists who are interested in systems and who apply the scientific method to systems. For example, systems scientists are interested in biological systems, political systems, economic systems, social systems, and the combination of such systems, just to name a few. My discipline of urban dynamics incorporates economic, political, social (cultural), and technological systems, although I have not incorporated technological systems into my abstract modeling yet.

My field, Systems science, is a sub-field of Ludwin Von Bertalanffy’s General Systems Theory (GST), which emerged out of Biology about 6 decades ago. Systems science utilizes stochastic and chaotic applications of mathematics to model different types of systems and analyze their behavior. Systems scientists also use knowledge derived from economics, anthropology, psychology, and/or sociology (for social systems), and philosophy to understand and think about the structures and dynamics of systems. In short, systems science is an interdisciplinary field with a lot of potential, and it will drastically change the self-perspective of humanity and increase humanity’s self-actualization as more and more systems scientists are born and move out to the public forum and industry, and systems science becomes a part of the human consciousness.

My field is a young field and currently there are less than five systems science programs in all of north America. These programs are graduate level programs. No undergraduate programs exist. So how am I an undergraduate of systems science? Good question.

I was a relatively new mathematics student at Minneapolis Community and Technical College in Minneapolis, Minnesota during the unfortunate death of Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman. This event followed by other similar events would eventually lead me from mathematics into something a bit different. I loved mathematics and I appreciated the field and the many wonderful mathematicians (and statisticians) that I had met throughout my academic career, but I wanted something a bit different; something a bit unusual and new; and something that would help me to address and articulate scientifically some of the perceived, or observed perceptions if you prefer, discrepancies in the United States system.

One day, an acquaintance gave me a book written by Peter Senge, systems thinker, called The Fifth Discipline. Soon after that, I found and read Derek Cabrera’s dissertation Systems Thinking (If you are familiar with Derek Cabrera and his DSRP theory, then you will see much of the DSRP influence in my writings.). While this was happening, another acquaitance provided me with information explaining how I could create my own program through the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.  I jumped at the opportunity and with the help and guidance of George E. Mobus of the University of Washington, Tacoma, Wayne Wakeland of Portland State University, and Elanor Taylor, Betsy Hoffman, and Wolfgang Kliemann of Iowa State Univeristy, my undergraduate program was born.

Because my program is new and unique, it acts similar to that of a graduate program. Thus, I work with a distinguished group of thinkers and professionals. This group is called the Faculty Review Board. These are my board members:

  • Dr. Wolfgang Kliemann, Vice President of Research, professor of mathematics
  • Dr. Elizabeth “Betsy” Hoffman, professor of economics
  • Dr. Elanor Taylor, assistant professor of philosophy
  • Dr. Chaoqun Lu, assistant professor of ecology

My program incorporates a substantial amount of mathematics (especially dynamical forms of mathematics), philosophy, and economics. For example, some of the program courses include differential equations, chaos theory, probability theory, set theory, game theory, philosophy of science, metaphysics, and a designed, independent systems science thesis course. Moreover, following in the foot steps of many of the systems scientist who came before me, I will be incorporating macroecology and its dynamical systems principles into my program and modeling . Finally, my program includes an undergraduate thesis which is where my interests in urban dynamics resides. But beyond all of these program necessities, my program incorporates quite a bit of outside, independent reading. Many of those books can be found on the Readings page on this website.

My main objective, besides graduate school, which will happen, is to incorporate and merge the social and empirical sciences as a systems scientist while weaving social justice issues and challenges, along with environmental considerations and efficacy, into a new philosophical and scientific paradigm, or zeitgeist if you prefer, for the urban environment. But I also recognize that I follow in the footsteps of systems scientists such as Ludwig Von Bertalanffy, Niklas Luhmann, Jay W. Forrester, Donella Meadows, Yaneer Bar-Yam, George E. Mobus, Wayne Wakeland, Peter Senge, Derek Cabrera, Michael Strevens and all of the other systems scientists, thinkers, and philosophers who have come before me.

At the moment, I have two semesters left as an undergraduate at Iowa State University. If you have any questions or comments concerning my program or field of interest, please contact me at mrj@iastate.edu.

The 13 Minneapolis City Council Members

Photo Courtesy of the City of Minneapolis - 2014 Minneapolis City Council
Photo Courtesy of the City of Minneapolis – 2014 Minneapolis City Council

The City Council is one part of the two-part – strong council, weak mayor – governing body of Minneapolis. There are 13 council members who are elected by the city’s voters every four years and by ranked-choice voting (each council member is elected by their respective ward’s citizenry). This means the next election cycle for the city council will take place in 2018; thus, the previous election cycle took place in 2014.

The Minneapolis City Council’s structure consists of a council president, a council vice president, a majority leader, a minority leader, and nine council members. As of 2014, Barbara Johnson, who represents the 4th Ward, serves as council president; Elizabeth Glidden, who represents the 8th Ward, serves as council vice president; John Quincy, who represents the 11th Ward, serves as the majority leader; and Cam Gordon, who represents the 2nd Ward, serves as the minority leader.

Although the majority of the city council is representative of the dominant group, “white,” it is fairly equal and equitable across gender lines. For example, in the case of leadership, both the council president and vice president are female. In the case of equality, there are 7 men and 6 women. That is, 54 percent of the city council is male; whereas, 46 percent of the city council is female, which is right in line with Stockholm, Sweden, for example.

Comparing the dominant group to the non-dominant group, Blong Yang, who represents the 5th Ward, “is the first Hmong-American to be elected to the Minneapolis City Council,” Abdi Warsame, who represents the 6th Ward, is the first Somali-American to be elected to the Minneapolis City Council and the first Somali-American to be elected to a policy position in the United States, and Alondra Cano, who represents the 9th Ward and who immigrated to the United States from Mexico during her youth, is the only member of Latino heritage sitting on the council, although Mexico is a North American country.

The other ten members are either from Minnesota or somewhere else in the United States  and are of european descent, i.e., the dominant group. This means that 23 percent of the city council is representative of the non-dominant groups in Minneapolis; whereas, 77 percent of the city council is representative of the dominant group of Minneapolis.

Comparing these city council group percentages to the 2010 census of the general population of Minneapolis, which states that approximately 64 percent of the city’s residents are “white” and 36 percent are not “white,” is called relative frequency in statistics. What this means is that when someone compares the “racial” composition of the city council to that of the “racial” composition of the city, one would expect the “racial” compositions of each to be relative or very similar to each other. Obviously in regards to Minneapolis, this is not the case.

Here is the list of the 13 current council members:

  1. Kevin Reich (Ward 1)
  2. Cam Gordon (Ward 2)
  3. Jacob Frey (Ward 3)
  4. Barbara Johnson (Ward 4)
  5. Blong Yang (Ward 5)
  6. Abdi Warsame (Ward 6)
  7. Lisa Goodman (Ward 7)
  8. Elizabeth Glidden (Ward 8)
  9. Alondra Cano (Ward 9)
  10. Lisa Bender (Ward 10)
  11. John Quincy (Ward 11)
  12. Andrew Johnson (Ward 12)
  13. Linea Palmisano (Ward 13)

Author’s Notes:

  • Barbara Johnson has been serving as council president since 2006.
  • Politically, there are only two parties currently represented on the city council: the Democratic Farmer Labor party and the Green Party of Minnesota.
  • The filing fee to run for city council member is $250.
  • With respect to the city council, this author admits that each member of the city council would need to identify him or herself as “white” or not “white” for the percentages to be codified. The city council statistics were based off of observations and of course observations can be misleading.
  • “Whites” are the dominant group; whereas, the non-dominant groups are not “white.” There is a scientific reason for this, which has to do with systems in general.