Senge (et al), writing about Presence and emergence, comes to a similar conclusion from a different angle. Senge provides really solid material on how to understand systems (where MacKenzie glosses over this completely), and also how we interact with them. He writes about how to use systems thinking to be an informed agent, able to use the mechanisms of the system to your advantage - for instance, understanding what details can be altered to transform the system to deliver disproportionally better outcomes. Senge talks about the influence we can have in systems more broadly in a really empowering way - not just being able to escape and work around them. In fact, he emphasises that we are agents of the system whether we like it or not, and that we either interact consciously, or unconsciously reinforce the system.
One of the corollaries of both sets of ideas is the importance of familiarity, deep understanding - and therefore time. While Senge makes powerful points about the possibility of collective understanding (we do not need to understand everything ourselves), systems still need to be experienced and understood for conscious interaction to be fruitful. This takes time. If you want to have a positive impact on a complex system, you need to stick with it. We can't flit about from one project to the next, attempting to do everything, or trying to maintain a sense of personal challenge. This is important for organisations to heed as much as individuals. On one hand, an organisation develops institutional experience. But it also needs to keep its staff for long enough - this might not mean having them perform the same job for an extended period of time, but it should try to keep them working on the same systems.
Hopefully I can make these ideas more concrete by looking at my own life.
If you try to live outside employment and residential systems you get stuck, often in unpredictable ways. I have been warned - and heard stories - about how too much time unemployed can make it harder to get the job you want when you find it. I think, for what I want to do and where I hope to be employed, that being able to tell a story of dedication and personal growth is likely to outweigh concerns about my employability. It might not, and for others this might not be the case. But it's a reasonable assumption. So for me, while I'm not employed, I am 'gainfully occupied', and I'm conscious of the need to tell a story to substantiate that - and have evidence too. I'm not abandoning the employment system completely.
Not having 'a job', or a fixed address, can also make even trivial things difficult to arrange. I got knocked back on a mobile phone - because I was foolishly honest and identified myself as 'unemployed'. There are also a range of things I just didn't bother trying to do when I didn't have a fixed address. I've resolved, on the latter, that I should probably just use my parent's Sydney address until I've really settled somewhere. (Who gets post that they want to read anyway?) As far as 'being unemployed' goes, I still need to work something out. Having a stable, waged job is only one option for being financially sustainable. I could be freelancing on projects, working on startups, or getting scholarships to work on ideas. I don't know if these are likely, but they're possible. But they won't really tick the right boxes, particularly for things like lease applications. It might be worthwhile inventing a vehicle of stability (e.g. my own business) to make financial sustainability fit others' expectations. We'll see.
Running with Senge's systems' thinking - to be an agent helping to create better systems - still seems well beyond my direct experience, at least on a meaningful scale. But this philosophy underpins why I consider public administration so important. Lots of people in the world are passionate about improving the results of our public sectors, in one way or another. But without having a deep understanding of how the system works, we will fight an uphill battle trying to transform it. It also helps me to take a step back from things and appreciate the views and experience of others - for instance not being too caught up in my ideas about what should happen to foster an innovation community in Adelaide, but working with others to find something that fits their understanding of the local scene.
This was supposed to be a five minute post to share how those two thinkers came together for me... but I guess it's more important than that. Let me know if Senge's or MacKenzie's ideas were of value to you too.
Post script: I came across a great reference just before posting, to Deleuze and Guattari's 'lines of flight'. It is a stunningly sophisticated philosophical articulation of the phenomenon of understanding the system (striated space), and exploring alternatives (smooth space) through actions of 'flight' from the known. Also refers to the way this pioneering activity is then 'reterritorialised' into systems of activity. See this writeup. I never got this when I was reading them myself... put your hand up if you've just remembered how much you love D&G!