The balance between autonomy and cohesion is one of the three balances, essential for everything living and social. It’s fascinating to watch when there is a shift both in the balance itself and in the way it is achieved. The times of Coronavirus are exceptionally rich in new ways of maintaining social cohesion.
There are various factors and forces for cohesion. They can be distinguished once in terms of origin and influence, and then for different system scales – individual, organization, society. This way, there are nine categories: individual factors for individual cohesion, individual factors for organizational cohesion, individual factors for the cohesion of society, then organizational factors for individual cohesion, organizational factors for organizational cohesion and so on for all nine combinations.
Some factors work in similar ways at different scales, others not. For example, the need for safety, the need to reduce uncertainty, and the need to increase self-esteem, are individual facts for both organizational and societal cohesion.
Most ways to increase cohesion reduce autonomy. This is the case, for example, when social cohesion is achieved through any form of centralization of decision-making power.
But there can be an increase in cohesion without reducing autonomy. In fact, it can even do the opposite, enable it. Such is the case with the world wide web. On the web, everyone is free to say whatever they want (autonomy) but it can be consumed only if it is shared using some agreed standards (cohesion). These standards ensure a uniform way to publish, identify, and access documents on the web. They enable individuals and companies to invent various web applications (autonomy), but again, these applications could only be widely used if they conform to the agreed standards (cohesion). Of course, such a system is not immune to tumours where the tight integration of data and services can bring a new form of centralization, using the scale of the internet to achieve its internal balance between autonomy and cohesion (example: Facebook) at the expense of that of the web.
If we imagine the dynamics of autonomy and cohesion as a seesaw, we can tell the relative degree of autonomy and cohesion with the respective angles A and C between the beam and the fulcrum base. The balance is achieved when the beam is horizontal.
When angle C is the same as angle A, there is balance, and when it is smaller, there is disbalance caused by too much cohesion.
But not always.
In keeping with the seesaw metaphor, a crisis situation can be imagined as a slope. The next drawing shows the seesaw at the time of crisis when the angle C must be smaller than A to keep the beam is horizontal, in balance.
In time of crisis, maintaining the balance requires either more cohesion or a new kind of cohesion to compensate for the loss of normal cohesion.