DEANGELIS ON CIVILIZATIONAL RESILIENCE AND COMPLEXITYSteve DeAngelis
was kind enough to devote a lengthy post
to my thoughts on civilizational resilience
and also those of the complexity theorist Dr. Yaneer Bar-Yam
In bringing his expertise to bear, Steve helpfully clarified many important aspects of civilizational resilience and complexity, including the issue of scalability, before delving into Bar-Yam's biological model:"The basic premise is that the complexity of connections increases as one moves from the random actions of individuals to the coordinated movements of great civilizations. Resilience increases as you move up this continuum from individuals (who survive at best around century) to civilizations (which can survive for thousands of years). Safranski asks where globalization fits into this scheme of things. Is globalization an ephemeral stage or a convergence of civilizations into something new?... I agree with the basic premise that complexity grows as connections increase. I have argued that globalization has created a complexity gap which results when organizations try unsuccessfully to meet emerging challenges with traditional solutions. I started Enterra Solutions to help fill the complexity gap for organizations and Tom Barnett and I promote Development-in-a-Box as a way to fill the complexity gap for nation-states....Dynamic civilizations, like the Roman Empire, generally fall as a result of complacency and decadence. Whereas, static civilizations generally decline more gradually as the complexity gap increases and the people end up undereducated, underproductive, and impoverished"
This last point was really quite important.
Steve's "Complexity Gap"
is a critical concept because it introduces the cognitive
aspect of social and political problems that, if left unaddressed, is likely to render otherwise solvable political problems intractable. A phenomena we see in many failing states with a numerically tiny, Western (or Soviet bloc) educated elite and a semi-illiterate, rural majority, population. A reason why the introduction of mass education, particularly for in societies where, traditionally, education has been denied to women, often proves to be transformative on a multiplicity of levels.
On Bar-Yam:"Although there is a Borg-like quality to Bar-Yam's description of humanity as "a single organism," his larger point is that we are all in this world together and many of the complex solutions to emerging challenges are going to require a coordinated effort. Since we all know how difficult (impossible?) it is to get international agreement on anything, we are left wondering how (if?) this coordinated effort will emerge. If Bar-Yam is correct and we are heading toward a networked "civilization" and greater specialization, some of the topics I've blogged in the past will become even more important. For example, the able to create a
" (18 May post) among specializations will critical as will the establishment of "globally-integrated enterprises" (14 June post). The ability to establish and maintain
"communities of practice
" (27 & 29 June posts) will also be important. Each of these concepts shares a simple idea, when people connect good things can happen
Steve is, in my view, quite correct.
A networked civilization by definition will see greater interaction by these specialists across domains , in horizontal thinking
fashion, and that such multidisciplinary collaboration ( which is happening with increasing frequency in the sciences) is a sign that such a society is starting to emerge. Not unlike the first shifts away from commons land agriculture and artisanal craftsmanship and toward consolidated landholdings, factories and worker specialization in the 17th-19th centuries. An economic and organizational transition that heralded the start of the Industrial Revolution.Read Steve's post in full