Skip to main content
Message Font: Serif | Sans-Serif
 
No. of Recommendations: 1
Warning, much longer than other commnents.

The "Containing Chaos" article and the Two Minute Takeaway,
“Globalization has made us all interconnected, but with those connections come significant systemic risks. . . the nation-state may further break down. What's to be done?” As usual the recommendation is to reduce corruption and increase transparency, what else – maybe something on a personal level. The following is adapted from one of my posts at Inside Value, the thread, “Macroviews: Sustainability” with the Ramo addition. http://boards.fool.com/Message.asp?mid=27766923&sort=who...

Complexity science
As you know, complexity views groups of living creatures, including people in organizations, as complex adaptive systems. Complexity science is very new, having been developed only in the last 10 years. We now have the ability to look at whole systems and to study the interactions of many interdependent variables, then to explore the underlying principles, structure and dynamics of complex physical, biological and social systems.

Complexity science in the social world takes concepts from the hard science world of physics and physiology. “In the world of complex adaptive systems, there is (to use a colloquial expression) no free lunch. In any living system, complexity costs. Once structure and organization increase, a way must be found to pay for the increase.”

Something I fairly well understand is the physiology of the human body, a very complex living system that adjusts to an ever changing environment.

The Sea Within
The human body is a manifestation of information at a very high level of complexity, life, DNA - you know, with the biochemical functions controlled by a digital information process as described by computer scientist, Edward Fredkin. The internal systems of the body (e.g. blood pressure, body temperature, acid-base balance) are maintained at equilibrium, by that highly ‘digital’ information process until stress enters the system.

What really happened in today’s financial fiasco where human intervention for corrective action flat out failed? My simple mind has a one word answer – incompetence! at many levels in a humanly created system acting on what information ‘actors’ perceived as accurate but was a social construction of reality.

What is missing from real world problems is that there are no built in instant and automatic self-regulationg ‘homeostatic’ feedback mechanisms for control and stability of the system as in the human body. Taken from the book, The Wisdom Within 1932, is the idea of the sea within our bodies that bathes every cell, tissue, and organ that is controlled within limits by a concept representative of physiology – homeostasis.

It is that regulatory mechanism, homeostasis - the maintenance of a constant internal environment, in our bodies that maintains our life using a system of feedback mechanisms. Should a mechanism fail, our cells and organs experience disease, and or death, the ultimate end of all feedback mechanisms – exhaustion and death from stress.

And so it is with complexity science trying to get a more accurate view of reality and complex adaptive systems as is seen in bird flocks, rain forests, businesses, organizations, communities, the stock market and the global economy. As described by codynamics.net, a profound truth exists for 21st Century leaders and organizations:

“Most organizations today were established on linear, mechanical principles, the organization as a machine, producing goods and services.

Science abandoned the mechanical view of the universe almost 100 years ago. Most of us are still operating on a worldview that is left over from the machine age and is 100 years out of date! This is the Information Age, and nonlinear, complex adaptive systems are the best way to understand systems involving people.”

John Robb said, “Collectively this means that nation-states, as organizational systems, will be less able to effect change due to a shortage of tangible wealth and means of control.” The following reinforces what Robb has said about adaptation to extreme stress or control of our global supernetwork.

REPARE TODAY FOR TOMORROW’S BREAKDOWN
by Thomas Homer-Dixon
Let’s jump over and take a look at Thomas Homer-Dixon, a professor from Canada, writing an article talking of convergence of multiple stresses quoting Jack Goldstone a sociologist at George Mason University and a leading authority on revolution, as he speaks of “ rapid population growth, scarcity of key resources, and a financial crisis.

“Massive state breakdown is likely to occur,” Homer-Dixon writes, “only when there are simultaneously high levels of distress and conflict at several levels of society.”

Dixon continues, “Converging stresses won’t cause collapse by themselves, though. Something also has to limit societies’ ability to cope, and here the research of the American anthropologist Joseph Tainter is helpful. After studying ancient and modern societies, Tainter has concluded that they generally respond to stress by making their institutions and technologies more complex. A society dealing with a prolonged drought, for example, might build elaborate irrigation systems so it uses water more efficiently on its farms, and it might create another layer of bureaucracy to make sure everyone follows water-sharing rules. In the short and medium terms, this greater complexity often produces big benefits—like more food—and most people are better off.

“But Tainter has also found that greater complexity doesn’t produce benefits forever, because it’s costly. The cost is paid in the currency of energy: energy is needed to build an irrigation system and keep it from falling apart, just as it’s needed to create and maintain an irrigation bureaucracy. ‘Not only is energy flow required to maintain a sociopolitical system,’ Tainter writes, ‘but the amount of energy must be sufficient for the complexity of that system.’ Tainter argues that investments in complexity eventually produce what economists call “diminishing marginal returns.” This simply means that at some point an additional unit of energy spent on complexity gives us less benefit than the immediately previous unit. Why? Because societies almost always try first those solutions that give the biggest return for the least cost, leaving for later costlier and less effective solutions.

“In time, the benefits of greater complexity fall to zero and can even become negative. As an expanding portion of a society’s wealth is sucked into further boosting complexity, its reserves to deal with unexpected contingencies fall, making it more susceptible to sudden, severe shocks from the outside.

“But Tainter’s theory has gaps: it doesn’t fully explain why societies become more complex even when it doesn’t do them any good; and, most importantly, it doesn’t really tell us why rising complexity’s consequences are sometimes so bad.

“So for the final pieces of the puzzle, we have to turn to the work of Buzz Holling, a renowned Canadian ecologist. According to Holling and his colleagues, any living system—from forest ecologies to modern economies—naturally tends to become more complex, internally connected, and efficient over time, regardless of whether it needs complexity to solve its problems. Eventually it becomes so well adapted to a specific range of circumstances—and so well organized as an efficient and productive system—that when a shock pushes it outside that range, it can’t cope. And the system’s high connectedness helps any shock travel farther and faster across the system as a whole. Overall, then, the system becomes more rigid and brittle—in a word, less resilient. Do the theories of Goldstone, Tainter, and Holling — taken together — suggest some form of collapse is becoming more likely today? Disturbingly, the answer appears to be yes.” http://www.homerdixon.com/download/prepare_for_tomorrows_bre......

And so it is with the interconnectedness in globalization with nation states as we have seen in the world of finance. No homeostatic mechanisms by comparison, only unsophisticated, fragile human or digital mechanisms.

“The New World Disorder”
What do Hezbollah and Google have in common?

In an excerpt from The Age of the Unthinkable: Why the New World Disorder Constantly Surprises Us And What We Can Do About It, Joshua Cooper Ramo, past as the Foreign Editor of Time, argues both organizations draw the best minds of a generation.
http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2009-04-07/th...

Interview SeekingAlpha
In your book, you describe some changes that have happened over recent years without a lot of notice. But they add up to something you describe as revolutionary. So what's changed? We live in ways that are unsustainable. The policies we rely on to make us safe are not only failing, but backfiring. The financial crisis is a perfect example of that. The world has become too complicated to make sense to most people, or to people relying on ideas that are several hundred years old. Just a year or two ago, we felt like the most powerful nation on earth. There’s a sense now that the foundations of American power are not as strong as they were. This is the story of how that happened.”
http://seekingalpha.com/article/130506-the-age-of-the-unthin...

Complexity in world affairs is here to stay. Ramo challenges the soft power theory of Joseph Nye that says if the enemy likes our culture, he will stop being our enemy. Ramo illustrates that it is possible for terrorists to listen to our music, watch our movies, dress like us – and still want to blow is up.

A good example of Ramo's challenge of the status quo is his criticism of Joseph Nye's soft power theory. Soft power theory says that if the "enemy" likes our culture he will stop being our enemy. As Ramo shows, it is possible for terrorists to listen to our music, watch our movies, dress like us and still...want to blow us up. (huffingtonpost.com)

Systems, complexity, chaos – Homer Dixon and Ramo (in his book, he presents an argument for individual empowerment and action) come from different angles to agree with John Robb in his article, “The only solution that fits this requirement is the development of self-sufficient, decentralized systems at the local level -- from economics to politics to food to energy to communications -- that can operate successfully even when the larger system breaks down. In short, our social and economic systems must become scale invariant.”

Robb tells us scale invariance simply means that the functions and characteristics of the whole are preserved within smaller subsets and clusters.

In essence, we are told to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and deliver, John Robb says, “create the structures necessary for local resilience and makes the systems we rely upon less prone to exploitation.”

To Tip O’Neil, Speaker of the House, 1977 to 1987, “All politics is local,” was more than a motto, it was a belief in his neighbors and friends as he felt and believed they were powerful and influenced his judgment.

Tim asked, “The question I'll throw out there is do the benefits of interconnectedness outweigh the dangers?” As far as I can determine reading Robb, Homer-Dixon, and Ramos together, bring to mind a Gershwin popular song from the opera Porgy and Bess, "It Ain't Necessarily So.”

Regards,
Ro
Inside Value Home Team Fool
www.fool.com/community/team.aspx
Print the post  

Announcements

When Life Gives You Lemons
We all have had hardships and made poor decisions. The important thing is how we respond and grow. Read the story of a Fool who started from nothing, and looks to gain everything.
Contact Us
Contact Customer Service and other Fool departments here.
What was Your Dumbest Investment?
Share it with us -- and learn from others' stories of flubs.
Work for Fools?
Winner of the Washingtonian great places to work, and Glassdoor #1 Company to Work For 2015! Have access to all of TMF's online and email products for FREE, and be paid for your contributions to TMF! Click the link and start your Fool career.