CAPT Tracy D. Connors, USN (Ret)

Life Is Just A Bowl of Systems


I believe it’s a case of “sustema,” Doc.


Yeah, sustema, a composite whole, a Greek word we got from the Romans—only now we call it “systems.”

Oh, systems. But I don’t understand what that’s got to do with your feelings of helplessness, anger, alienation and nausea, especially when you see your Social Security Number.

Well, sustema used to mean “to cause to stand together.” Now, that sounds great. I mean who can get uptight about shoulder to shoulder…and bolder and bolder…we grow as we go to the fore? So that’s where Romberg got that line. Ever heard of Sigmund Romberg, Doc?

Well, I…Romberg, Romberg…didn’t he do a paper on the “One Alone” syndrome?

No, what I’m trying to say, Doc, is that sustema has changed from “standing together” to more like “locked into.”

But, you’re not locked in here. You are free to go anytime you want, you know.

Well, maybe not quite locked in…but close. We’re surrounded by systems. From the time we’re born until after we’re dead, we’re surrounded by, channeled by, and governed by, systems. Sometimes I don’t know if I’m human or chip number 216-54-1118. Am I a person? Am I real? Or, am I defined only by my relationships to other groups of interacting, interrelated, interdependent elements? Am I a real person, Doc, or a system?

I understand what you’re saying. But, look at it this way. Think how important you are. We need harmonious, orderly interaction. Regularity and order—standing together—are what our quality of life is all about in this country today. They are the reason we’ve got it so good in America today.

They are?

Yessirree. Life is not a long a sordid, dangerous struggle for existence. We don’t have a race to simply survive anymore…it’s more like…a relay.

And, I’m the baton?

Well, yes, in a manner of speaking. People are handed off from system to system all their lives. Just think about that. From educational systems, to vocational systems, to food and transportation systems, to political systems and entertainment systems—they’re almost interchangeable—and finally, after a few laps around the old life track, they are shuffled off to the Social Security System, then the hospice system.

What happens to—old batons?  That’s what I mean, Doc. What if the system that’s carrying me…I mean my baton…doesn’t hear the starting gun for my relay? What if my anchor man is no good? Doc, what if I get dropped?

Just look at how far we’ve come. Old Ramapithecus and Homo habilis survived millions of evolutionary pitfalls, fought their way out of the Olduvai Gorges of the world and, within the last century in many countries, created a climate-controlled world of happy, well-fed, secure descendants who don’t have to be afraid anymore as they prowl the shopping malls. And, it’s all been done through systems.

Are we talking about the same world, Doc? It looks to me like we’ve traded life in a real forest with trees and wild animals—and freedom—for a modern, systematic, electronic jungle full of red tape, policies, regulations, and two-legged animals…who could have been human. We have equal opportunity employers, but very few real freedoms left.

But, don’t you understand? Systems have saved us, have given us a Garden of Eden, or at least a holographic Shangrila.

Yeah. A triumph of Protestantism. Electronic Calvinism–predestination is within our grasp—I mean program—sayeth a “senior government spokesperson.” Salvation is ours…if we choose the right computer programmer. We’ve reentered the Garden alright, on a people mover, and the flowers are plastic, and the Serpent is called Success. Bring in the clones.

You DO have a bad case of sustema.

I guess what really bothers me, Doc, is that things are getting out of scale, out of hand.

What do you mean?

Well, the computer people have made the systems smaller and smaller, putting more information on smaller chips than used to be stored in entire computers.

That’s what I call progress. What’s wrong with that?

Well, now we have systems of systems. There isn’t anything about our life that can’t be systematized—or even forgotten. Bygones can never really be bygones, any more.

And, what if the systems don’t do a good job? What if one runs amok and crashes the market or starts a war. Worse, look what’s happened to fuel prices after the speculator systems took over. How do you fire a system, unplug its computers? What if it’s an illegal system that exists in thousands of desktop computers that are being secretly controlled by Lex Luthor? Is it possible to do a pre-frontal chipectomy on a main frame, or whatever? I feel like I’m in a nightmare–adrift in a Sargasso Sea of a gigabite bits being circled by binary beasts.

I thought you said it was a jungle?

No, more like an airport…or a museum. I went to the Air and Space Museum the other day. Very well-organized place. Very effective use of computer systems.

Yes, but I came away so confused.

How could that be—all the signs are in three languages?

Well, it was when I realized that it could explain the universe—I truly began to comprehend its awesome reaches and processes. I even had a singularity moment—or two.

See, I told you systems get the job done. The museum has succeeded as an educational system in explaining the Universe to you.

Yes, but what about airports?

My circuits are overloading. (Where IS that reset button? My program is about to lock up. I can feel a blue screen attack coming on. Almost time to reboot.)

To heck with the Universe. Why couldn’t the museum system explain something simple—like the O’Hare Airport System. Heck, I’d even settle for Atlanta? Systems control museums and airports, why can’t they explain each other? My whole life seems like an endless boot up, input, output, plug-in, un-plug…I have met the enemy, and it spoke in C+++ most of the time, with frequent babbles in XHTML.

My, my, you do have a stubborn case of sustema. In fact, I’m going to have to ask you to come back next week, provided you don’t get…what is that old fashioned, rather quaint expression…now I remember…provided you don’t get folded, spindled or mutilated before then.

Ha, ha. That’s not funny. But I apologize. I didn’t mean to get you out of sync…I mean sorts.

You’ll have to excuse me right now; I have an interface with my tax analysis system. It wants to write a special accounting program for my practice. I’ll see you next week then, same time?

Right. I’ll be here…here…here. [Bad command. Abort. Retry. Press Escape to Continue.]

Fine, see you then, then, then, thennnn. [Disk read error. Bad sector. Program parameters not found. Run Debug.]

About Tracy Connors

Tracy D. Connors graduated from Jacksonville University (AA), University of Florida (BA), the University of Rhode Island (MA), and Capella University (Ph.D. with Distinction, human services management, 2013). Ph.D. (Honorary), Leadership Excellence, Jacksonville University, December, 2013. Designated a "Distinguished Dolphin" by Jacksonville University, Feb. 2, 2010.