“While there is some comfort in expectation of predictability of the agents’ actions in physical systems, there is no such relief in social systems. People can do what they want and often do. Policies are there to guide, support and regulate actions that are acted out in everyday life. Human agents are endowed with the ability to act upon that intention if the social order allows such freedom.” (Battle-Fisher, 2015)

“The will of society, with our funny little orb of health hovering and bobbing within it, aligns religiously with the will of the majority.” (Battle-Fisher, 2015)

Independent elements of a public policy are often unwisely attacked without a principled, appropriate action on the continuously interacting, wicked whole. Complexity is a dance between the directives and choices of the public to save collective lives and the private sphere “lives” themselves collected together as the civic “population” (Battle-Fisher, 2015). I call for an expansion of this understanding by opening public policy to compose five overlapping domains:

1. The meaning-making of social phenomenon as a private citizen and as a collective.

2. The ethical conundrums of striving and failing to be autonomous within a collective public.

3. The existence of elemental systems to issues targeted by politicized policy.

4. The social communities, or networks, that relate and act upon (or refuse to act upon) the prescripts of the policies, laws, and statues.

5. The awareness and reactance to systemic change on the part of public policy (Battle-Fisher, 2015).

Discourse ethics of Habermas (1989) remind us that the public sphere, where we “feel the Bern” or “make America great again,” is born of the private of its citizens. If the public sphere “blooms from a historic moment” as Habermas asserts (1989), the “refeudalization of society” is typified by the blurring of state interests performed by public agents through intervening into private lives of a society. I think that many would agree that a palatable political moment is afoot with this presidential election. What is being vocally dissented is taking place in the public sphere. The public sphere is the space between the citizens’ private lives and the governance bodies and their vested state power. Habermas (1989) called for public sphere to subsist independent of government control.

Effective policy action requires that the private sphere be under the watch of the public for the sake of the society as a whole. The government had to get in our beeswax. Jeffery (1989) highlighted that societal balance has two vantage points: one as the individualized risk and the other offering the population level effect as a kind of statistically defined “solidarity.” We change. We learn. We relate. We digress. We abstain. We act. We communicate or choose to silence our uvulas. We act as social agents, privately and as a networked web of publics.

A politically engaged agent that exercises the right to influence politics in the political salon is one thing. “Some of our private has to give for the sake of the public” (Battle-Fisher, 2015). Private spheres with power and the majority voice can and often eclipse the discordant, counterculture private spheres of others. This is the less savory reality but the reality nonetheless. Citizenship is a duality of private and public, each sphere reliant on the other for meaning that becomes negotiated for the sake of the public’s welfare. Some agents vocalize ease with the tide of the state of political affairs. Other agents may choose to act in de facto or veiled acts of defiance. Others watch the fray hoping that their team wins and that their private affairs remain in line with the political consensus. Others just go on living. No judgment implied here. Man, this political system is a trip. But the satiation at the end of the ride is what we all crave. The destination just needs to suit our moral blueprint for a morally and ethically acceptable civic home.


Battle-Fisher, M. (2015), Application of Systems thinking to health policy and public health
ethics – public health and private illness. Springer: New York.

Habermas, J. (trans 1989), The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a category of Bourgeois Society. Cambridge: Polity.

Jeffery, R. (1989), Risk behaviors and health: Contrasting individual and population perspectives. American Psychologist, 44(9), 1194-1202.

Featured image courtesy of Flickr.

About The Author

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Adjunct Assistant Professor, Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine

Michele Battle-Fisher is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine and the author of Application of Systems Thinking to Health Policy and Public Health Ethics: Public Health and Private Illness (Springer), a 2016 Doody's Core Title. Ms. Battle-Fisher is a Health Systems/Complexity scholar and bioethicist. She has researched and taught in the medical and policy fields, ranging from public health, science and technology, bioethics, systems theory and its application to health. She was a speaker at TEDxDartmouth 2018 where she discussed the "Paradigm Shift" of Health Systems Science curriculum in health and clinical medicine. She was selected as a finalist in the 1st annual MIT Press “Pitchfest”, the “Shark Tank” of book publishing.