Welcome to Scribd, the world's digital library. Read, publish, and share books and documents. See more ➡
Download
Standard view
Full view
of .
Add note
Save to My Library
Sync to mobile
Look up keyword
Like this
1Activity
×
0 of .
Results for:
No results containing your search query
P. 1
Patterns of Social Unrest, Complexity, Conflict and Catastrophe

Patterns of Social Unrest, Complexity, Conflict and Catastrophe

Ratings: (0)|Views: 755|Likes:
Published by Paul Schumann
by John Casti, Album, Der Standard, April 16, 2011 (reprinted with permission of author)

On February 24, 2010 Greek police fired tear-gas and clashed with demonstrators in central Athens after a march organized by unions to oppose the
government’s program to cut the European Union’s biggest budget deficit. The president of a large union stated, “People on the street will send a strong
message to the government but mainly to the European Union, the markets and our partners in Europe that people and their needs must be above the demands
of markets. We didn’t create the crisis.” Later, air-traffic controllers, customs and tax officials, train drivers, doctors at state-run hospitals and school teachers
walked off the job to protest government spending cuts. Journalists joined into the strikes as well, creating a media blackout.

Fast forwarding a year, we’ve recently seen long-standing regimes in both Tunisia and Egypt sent packing literally overnight, with Libya now being
torched by the very same revolutionary flames as rebels battle the entrenched Qaddafi government in an attempt to overturn forty years of oppression.

On the surface, these types of civil disturbances give the appearance of arising out of the public’s discontent with their government over high unemployment,
rising food prices, lack of housing, and other such necessities of everyday life. But such explanations are facile and superficial, failing to address the “root”
cause of the societal collapse. The real culprit resides much deeper in the social system. It is a widening “complexity gap” between the government and its
citizens, revolution breaking out when that gap can no longer be bridged.
by John Casti, Album, Der Standard, April 16, 2011 (reprinted with permission of author)

On February 24, 2010 Greek police fired tear-gas and clashed with demonstrators in central Athens after a march organized by unions to oppose the
government’s program to cut the European Union’s biggest budget deficit. The president of a large union stated, “People on the street will send a strong
message to the government but mainly to the European Union, the markets and our partners in Europe that people and their needs must be above the demands
of markets. We didn’t create the crisis.” Later, air-traffic controllers, customs and tax officials, train drivers, doctors at state-run hospitals and school teachers
walked off the job to protest government spending cuts. Journalists joined into the strikes as well, creating a media blackout.

Fast forwarding a year, we’ve recently seen long-standing regimes in both Tunisia and Egypt sent packing literally overnight, with Libya now being
torched by the very same revolutionary flames as rebels battle the entrenched Qaddafi government in an attempt to overturn forty years of oppression.

On the surface, these types of civil disturbances give the appearance of arising out of the public’s discontent with their government over high unemployment,
rising food prices, lack of housing, and other such necessities of everyday life. But such explanations are facile and superficial, failing to address the “root”
cause of the societal collapse. The real culprit resides much deeper in the social system. It is a widening “complexity gap” between the government and its
citizens, revolution breaking out when that gap can no longer be bridged.

More info:

Published by: Paul Schumann on Jun 06, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

Availability:

Read on Scribd mobile: iPhone, iPad and Android.
download as PDF, TXT or read online from Scribd
See More
See less

06/06/2011

pdf

text

original

 
 (
 Der Standard,
Vienna, 16 April 2011)
 Patterns of Social Unrest Complexity, Conflict, and Catastrophe
 John L. CastiSocial Unrest 
On February 24, 2010 Greek police fired tear-gas and clashed withdemonstrators in central Athens after a march organized by unions to oppose thegovernment’s program to cut the European Union’s biggest budget deficit. The president of a large union stated, “People on the street will send a strongmessage to the government but mainly to the European Union, the markets andour partners in Europe that people and their needs must be above the demandsof markets. We didn’t create the crisis.” Later, air-traffic controllers, customsand tax officials, train drivers, doctors at state-run hospitals and school teacherswalked off the job to protest government spending cuts. Journalists joined intothe strikes as well, creating a media blackout.Fast forwarding a year, we’ve recently seen long-standing regimes in bothTunisia and Egypt sent packing literally overnight, with Libya now beingtorched by the very same revolutionary flames as rebels battle the entrenchedQaddafi government in an attempt to overturn forty years of oppression.On the surface, these types of civil disturbances give the appearance of arisingout of the public’s discontent with their government over high unemployment,rising food prices, lack of housing, and other such necessities of everyday life.But such explanations are facile and superficial, failing to address the “root”cause of the societal collapse. The real culprit resides much deeper in the socialsystem. It is a widening “complexity gap” between the government and itscitizens, revolution breaking out when that gap can no longer be bridged.
Complexity Mismatches
Some years back, American archaeologist Joseph Tainter put forth the idea thatsocieties respond to crises by adding complexity in order to solve problems theyencounter. But each unit of resource the society adds
energy or money,
 
usually
yields less return than the previous unit. So the additional layers of complexity bought by this expenditure consume resources with nocorresponding return until the marginal return on investment in socialcomplexity turns negative. But since the society knows how to solve problemsonly by adding complexity, it then begins to collapse under its own weight.In Egypt (and now Libya) the added complexity is not just any sort of complexity, but as noted by futurist Ramez Naam it is a very special type: parasitism. This is one of the worst forms of complexity, as it consumes moreand more of society’s resources without producing any value at all.For example, Egypt had a state-controlled economy that was wildlymismanaged for decades. Even the noticeable improvement in recent years has been a case of too little, too late. Moreover the country is monumentallycorrupt, as crony capitalism runs rampant throughout the entire social structure.Such a system of corruption relies upon bribes to officials to get contracts,obtain jobs or to find adequate housing. One rumor had it that in Egypt the drugViagra was kept off the market because its manufacturer, Pfizer, failed to pay alarge enough bribe to the Egyptian Minister of Health for its approval.This type of parasitic mismanagement and corruption doesn’t really addconstructive complexity to the government, but simply works to freeze in placean already low-complexity system.But modern communication and social networking services like Twitter andFacebook do act to dramatically increase the social complexity
 but theincrease is in the complexity of the population, at-large, not an increase in thecomplexity of the government. This is why governments routinely act to shutoff these services when they’re under attack, as more voices are heard and moreand more highly-connected social networks are formed.At some point the complexity gap between the stagnant level of governmentcomplexity and the growing level of general-public complexity becomes toogreat to be sustained. Result: Ouster of the Mubarak regime, and the likelydownfall of the Qaddafi government as well.A complex system theorist recognizes immediately the principle at work here innarrowing the complexity gap. It’s is called the
 Law of Requisite Variety
 
(Complexity).
The Principle states that in order to fully regulate/control asystem, the complexity of the regulating system has to be at least as great as thecomplexity of the system to be controlled. An obvious corollary is that if thegap is too big (in either direction) you’re going to have trouble. And in theworld of politics, “trouble” is often spelled “r-e-v-o-l-u-t-i-o-n”!
 
 Examples of such mismatches abound: ancient Rome is one case that alwayscomes to mind, where the ruling classes used political and military power tocontrol the lower classes and to conquer neighbors in order to extract taxrevenues. Ultimately, the entire resources of the society were being used tomaintain an ever-growing, far-flung empire that had grown too complex to besustained. The ancient Mayan civilization is another good case in point. Somescholars, like historian Paul Kennedy, have argued that the American Empire isin the process of coming undone for much the same reasons.This type of complexity gap is not confined just to the political andgovernmental domains either, as evidenced by the ongoing social unrest inJapan arising out of the radiation spewing forth from the reactors damaged bythe March 11 earthquake. The ultimate cause of this unrest is a “design basisaccident,” in which the tsunami overflowed retaining walls designed to keep thewater out. The overflow then damaged backup electrical generators intended tosupply emergency power for pumping water to cool the reactor’s nuclear fuelrods. This is a two-fold problem: First, the designer’s planned the height of thewalls for a magnitude 8.3 quake, the largest that Japan had previouslyexperienced, not considering that a quake might someday exceed that level, andwhat’s even worse, (2) they placed the generators on low ground where anyoverflow would short them out. So everything ultimately depended on theretaining walls doing their job
which they didn’t! This is a case of too littlecomplexity in the control system (the combination of the height of the wall andthe generator location) being overwhelmed by too much complexity in thesystem to be controlled (the magnitude of the tsunami).
Who’s Next?
When a society collapses, be it ancient Rome, the United State tomorrow or Egypt and Tunisia yesterday, it quickly loses complexity. All institutions, lawsand technologies become simpler, a
lot 
simpler. Moreover, the range of socialroles and behaviors open to the population of such a society dramatically shrink.These factors lead to a rapid reduction in living standards, since withoutcomplex institutions, infrastructures, technologies and social roles, large populations cannot be sustained at their previous standard of living.Consequently, people consume far less, stay at home, turn inward, and die muchsooner.What can we expect to over the next year or two? A good guess is that as peoplelose confidence in the ability of their governments to solve the financial crisesand experience other social stresses that increase the government-publiccomplexity gap, they’ll break out into violent protests and/or assaults on those

You're Reading a Free Preview

Download
/*********** DO NOT ALTER ANYTHING BELOW THIS LINE ! ************/ var s_code=s.t();if(s_code)document.write(s_code)//-->