Sustainability and Balance of Power (#1318)

Related Documents:
The First Cambrian Explosion
The Second Cambrian Explosion
(#1215) Higher Level Evolution - Second Cambrian Explosion
(#1221) Growth and Decay of Civilisation
(#1228) Informal/Formal Structures and Organic/Mechanistic Perspectives
(#1229) Transitional Phases are Unbalanced - with awareness we may participate
(#1250) Civilizational cycles and the direction of the process
(#1258) Approaching the future
(#1279) Underlying Context for the Discussion on Civilisation
Also see other excerpts from my discussions with the Society for Scientific Exploration.

Nowhere in P's discussion did I get the feeling that he was talking about a fairy tale utopia where everything is sweetness and light for every individual. I suspect that is entirely a product of your interpretation. He was talking about global sustainability - on a global scale - which does not mean that every individual is metaphorically wrapped in cotton-wool. He slips into polemic ocassionally and this probably reminds you of propaganda that you have heard before in your past, but underneath that polemic, it seems to me that he speaks about finding pragmatic mechanisms for working toward a "dynamic temporary equilibrium". He speaks of a minimum quality of life but this could never eradicate "all the maladies, starvation and death sprincked with a very small amount of human greatness and ingenuity."

But there are different concepts of equilibrium. The old discourse of separation is changing and giving way to one that recognises the inherent inter-dependence within civilisation. When there is massive inequality this is a dysfunction of the holistic system that threatens the stability of the entire system. There must be some limits to how unbalanced the system can become, otherwise the boat could possibly capsise. Imagine if your stomach only channeled nourishment to one side of your body, your life would be in danger, there are intricate dependencies. In some respects there is a growing level of inter-dependence and the old discourse of separation needs to be re-considered to some degree. The abuses of those ideas in the totalitarian regimes were not a proper test of those ideas, just as the Inquisition was not a proper test of the validity of spirituality.

These issues remind me of reading the novel "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand, (L, you'd probably agree with her on many points). She too experienced the attrocities of totalitarian communism, which left its mark on her mind. She was totally against any form of organised collectivisation and totally in favour of free-market forces and the distributed use of power by individuals. In my mind she was highly unbalanced, she was reacting against the abuses of collectivisation and had very little experience of the abuses of uncontrolled anarchic use of economic power. She feared one and idolised the other, and both of these attitudes blinded her to the deeper possibilities.

I have had experiences of the abuses of collectivisation, but in general, large scale organisation has been a good thing. I have also had many experiences of the abuses of market forces leading to holistically irrational and destructive practices, but on the whole, the economic system works as a decentralised metabolic process for society.

I have experienced a lot of racism and authoritarianism in my life and as such the collective has usually been something that I must protect myself from. But in the abstract I recognise that it leads to higher levels of organisation that can provide for greater harmony and efficiency on the larger scales. Australia, where I have spent most of my life, is a very organised and structured society, there are regulations and codes of practice governing everything from the intricate details of how you drive on the road, how you utilise a park, how you erect a shed in your backyard, how you setup and conduct a business and on and on. This leads to a high degree of surface harmony and it is very clean and peaceful and organised in Australia. But it can be very stifling in many ways; just walking down the street you pass several signs telling you what you can do and what you can't do and what the various penalties are for each of these. And there are cameras on the streets and police patrolling about to enforce all of the countless regulations.

But here in India, where I am living at present, there is seemingly complete anarchy, which is driven entirely by moment to moment self interest, the roads are chaotic mahem, there are piles of rubbish EVERYWHERE, small food stalls with no health regulations or inspectors, people do what they want and there are seemingly no laws to say any different. Daily life is guided almost entirely by tradition and expediency rather than law and collecive cooperation. In Australia you see police all over the place but I haven't seen any police in India yet.

Looking out on an Australian street scene there are regulated businesses in neat and tidy premises, the traffic flow is orderly and in perfect conformity to traffic regulations, there are traffic signs, traffic signals and cameras everywhere, and people walking along neat footpaths in an orderly manner. There is always the presence of 'law' and 'enforcement' and this makes the scene quite oppressive for me. Here in India there is a profusion of tiny, rickety stalls, traffic going every which way and weaving through anywhere it can, no traffic signs or traffic signals or cameras, there are people, cows, cats and dogs everywhere, on the footpaths, on the roads and anywhere they can fit and the roads and footpaths are a shambles, the gutters flowing with rubbish and the drains choked with rubbish. Things here are much more free but they are also a chaotic rabble of scrambling self-interest without any cohesive cooperation.

Furthermore, it was past market forces that devastated the landscape in which I lived for the past four years in Australia. In the past all the trees where ripped out in a frenzy of logging. The precious red cedars, thousands of years old, were logged in such quantities there was a glut and streets in Sydney were paved in blocks of red cedar because it was so cheap. Ancient forests where stripped back to bare soil and the slopes were sown with introduced weeds to stabilise the soil. Then other introduced species spread throughout the devastated landscape and now there is a looming ecological crisis throughout much of the region. The water table has dropped drastically, parts are becoming desert, there is massive errosion and dense weed forests. All these constitute a massive economic cost through loss of productivity and the expense of constant remedial actions. Only in some pockets are there still areas that retain some semblance of natural balance and these were protected from market forces due to government intervention - they became national parks and now much of that is world heritage listed. If it was left solely up to market forces, only short term economic gain would have been considered, long term interests are "someone else's problem".

Hence when L speaks of market forces or when P speaks of regulation and control both of these resonate with prejudices in me due to past experience of their abuses and benefits but I lean toward neither one side nor the other. I recognise that there are positives and negatives in both - but where lies the balance?

Some people possibly imagine a centralised totalitarian government lurking behind P's words and others possibly imagine a narrow minded hoard of irrational craving appetites devouring the planet lurking behind L's words. But each approach is valid to some degree. Our current system is an intricate balance of these forces on different levels; to argue solely for one or the other is impractical.

I suspect many of us need to step out of the political context associated with these ideas. Maybe to discuss it in terms of general principles, such as the nature of complex systems, the role of different scales of organisation and the impact on the resulting system. There is always a balance between these levels of organisation.

From the field of organisational analysis there are two useful concepts. Any organisation has an informal structure and a formal structure. In the case of society the informal structure is the 'grape-vine', traditions, spontaneous groupings of individuals, spontaneous lines of communication, spontaneous means of organising. The formal structure consists of mass media, propaganda, laws, institutions, imposed groupings, imposed lines of communication, imposed means of organising. Economics and market forces is an intricate mixture of the two that allows for a degree of distributed informal activity within overarching formal rules of the game. Often the issue in this context is how much informal freedom v's how much formal regulation.

Australia and India are interesting contrasts on each other, Australia with a strong formal structure and a weak conformist informal structure and India with a strong informal structure and ineffectual formal structure. In Australia there is considerable economic resources and few people to control, but in India there are scarce economic resources and too many people to control. In Australia things are tighly organised and there is a constant dance of collective cooperation, whereas in India there is an anarchic profusion of disorganised self-interest. The landscape in Australia is mostly very clean, in India it is mostly "someone else's problem". To start a business in Australia you often need to attend specific courses, get qualifications, licenses, permits and so on, whereas in India you get out on the street and just start doing business. There are good and bad sides to both. It's not of matter of which is the right one, but what is the right balance in each particular context.

One of the differences between P and L seems to hinge on where the power should be enshrined and where the leverage should be applied. Someone who has experienced the abuses of the formal structure would wish to see the power enshrined in the informal structure and distributed throughout the population, perhaps in the form of anarchic economic power within the context of a minimal set of economic constraints - just enough to keep the game fair - without imposing any direction on the game as a whole. But someone who has experienced the abuses of disorganised chaotic self-interest, which seems to be a rabble of narrow perspectives without any wider perspective, such a person would wish to see some higher level perspective implemented to guide the many narrow perspectives, so that the game could perhaps continue in an anarchic manner but guided from a broader perspective so that it doesn't run into insane irrational behaviours that arise from a lack of a broad perspective.

I suspect the answer doesn't lie with which one to choose, but what balance is required in each level of society. Most people wouldn't argue that murder should be decriminalised so that people can just fight it out and the strongest and most violent will win. It would increase 'competition' but it would also create enormous instability. There would be no base line of cooperation upon which society could build. But in an economic context many people argue for this level of 'competition'. Furthermore, when companies interact they do so within an agreed set of constraints and most people feel that this is reasonable, but when nations interact it is usually a case of "might is right". There has been a lot of nationalist conditioning of peoples minds in recent generations and I think if people think about the situation in terms of 'nations' they will arive at one conclusion but if they thought about it in the context of interacting "complex dyanimcal systems" they would arive at very different conclusions.

It is cooperation that creates collectives. Laws and traditions allow for the cooperation that makes nations possible. Economic regulation allows for the creation of a common market. But at some levels people argue against all regulation, e.g. between nations. But without such regulation we cannot cooperate and organise as a global civilisation. Perhaps what P is suggesting is some way of raising the base line of cooperation so that we may coherently organise as a global species rather than just as separate geographical groups. Perhaps only then we could properly deal with issues that are global in nature. My diagreement with P is that much of what he proposes, I see more as a resulting outcome of a healthy global system, not as a way of inducing a healthy global system. I feel that cohesion must arise from within and spread outward, only then will there arise the will for the measures that P speaks of. If imposed in the absence of will they would lead to imbalance, but when the will is there they would arise naturally. For me the issue is how to generate the will, not what measures to impose?

In these discussions, rather than just trace out the paths of our conditioning and past associations with words and ideas, I suggest that it may be useful to also consider the situations in the abstract. Not as 'individuals', 'economics', 'nations', 'ideologies' and so on. But as 'systems', 'sub/super systems', 'interactions', 'structural principles', 'organising principles', 'lines of communication', and so on. Thus stepping out of symbolic discourses that are heavily ladden with mental baggage and stepping into a much clearer context where the general phenomena can be discussed. This cannot be done in every case, often the situations are too complex to understand enough to perform the abstraction reliably, but in these situations one must also question the utility of the symbolic discourses.

It would be a long term project but if such issues as those being discussed could be re-conceptualised as abstract systemic phenomena and analysed and modelled within the context of complex dynamical systems, then all of the political, traditional and other propagandist baggage can be sifted out of the discourse and the real underlying dynamics could be studied in detail. What do others think?

As a step in that direction, my own work involves the development of mathematical methods for the representation, analysis and simulation of complex dynamical systems. I call it System Matrix Notation (SMN). If anyone is interested in such a thing see: