In this model (very abstract), the world starts with a bunch of nodes (actually self-sustaining processes) that act for their own reproduction, however that happens.
When there is a reason to do so, one node connects with another to exchange food, goods, information, whatever. These first connections are done less because of need and more because of the ease of connection. Maybe I form a relationship with a farmer at a farmer’s market to get vegetables that are hard for me to grow for myself.
Over time, especially with the growth of population, more and more of these connections are made. This process is fairly straightforward until we have to change a connection.
Maybe the farmer dies, and the family leaves the farm, and it’s turned into a housing development project which we don’t need.
Needing to change a connection can also occur because of changing technology (stores instead of individual farmers). Whatever the convenience of the new connection, it will almost always be more complicated than the one you had before, and there are additional costs associated with making the change and using the new connection.
This is the kind of change in a system that leads to aging at the large system scale.
The model above is the simplest version of the Adaptive Cycle I could find. There are a lot of more complex diagrams that are useful once you know how the basic model works. Think of how a forest comes back after a fire removes the previous forest. The recovery has 4 phases:
Fast Reorganization (Pioneer Exploration by First Weeds)
Fast Exploitation (Entrepreneurial Expansion by Most Successful Weeds)
Slow Conservation (Organizational Ecosystem Development by the Developing Forest)
Slow Degradation Followed by Fast Release (Collapse due to Increasing Brittleness over time)
This final phase of collapse creates the circumstances of a new cycle.
These cycles are not entirely predictable. But the larger phases can be recognized if not foretold by simple observation. (At least if you are looking for them.)
Complicated systems are ones that have many mechanical parts, like a 777 plane. The parts have relationships with one another, but the parts don’t change just because they interact. Aging in complicated systems is mostly that the parts wear out over the lifetime of the system.
Complex systems also have parts and relationships, but the parts change all the time because of those relationships. The relationships modify over the course of the system’s lifetime as well.
All complex systems age. Even the universe ages, though I suppose we won’t have to worry much about the effects of that. We all tend to think such aging has no relevance to us. Our society is so big, and our concerns are so local.
In a sense that was true in the past, but no more. Our larger system affects our lives in important ways every day, and the impact seems to be expanding and accelerating.
We have to understand the contours of this aging in order to make reasonable choices about our future and to preserve our flexibility for those parts of our future that we can’t predict or control.
Once we give up the idea that complex, adaptive systems are machines, we must confront the reality of system aging.
As I will describe in more detail later, one of the ways that complex systems age is by becoming more complex. This increase in complexity is unavoidable and is in the nature of system aging. It can be slowed and rationalized, but the direction can’t be changed except locally. Even when local simplification is optimized, other parts of the system become less than optimal.
One of the results of increasing complexity is increasing uncertainty. Uncertainty is not the same thing as risk. A risk is a measure of the likelihood that something will happen. A roulette wheel allows the calculation of risk, and risk is something associated with systems that are machine-like.
You can’t calculate the probability of an uncertainty, even though people keep trying to do just that (think about the Fukushima nuclear accident). There are automatic and unavoidable unintended consequences to using risk calculation as a proxy for real uncertainty. We are largely oblivious to this reality.
Adding to this, because imperfect cycling is built into every complex system, even when things seem to be going smoothly, they are always a little off and get more off as time goes on.
I. Assisted Suicide Discriminates Against People with Disabilities
A. Assisted Suicide is Part of the Long and Tragic History of Discrimination Against People with Disabilities
B. Assisted Suicide Denies People with Disabilities, Including Those With and Without Terminal Conditions, the Benefit of the State’s Suicide Prevention Protections
C. Assisted Suicide Denies People with Disabilities the Benefit of State Suicide Prevention and the Enforcement of Homicide Laws, in Violation of the ADA
II. Assisted Suicide Poses Serious, Unavoidable Threats to People with Disabilities that New York has a Significant State Interest in Preventing
A. The State Has a Critical Interest in Ensuring that Assisted Suicide Decisions Are Not Coerced or Made by Others
B. It is Dangerous and Discriminatory to Assume that the Suicide of a Disabled Person, Whether Terminal or Nonterminal, is “Rational”
C. The Uncertainty of a “Terminal Prognosis” Means that Disabled People Who Are Not Terminal Will Receive the Lethal Prescription of Assisted Suicide
D. Appellants’ Position that Disability Intrinsically Deprives Life of Dignity and Value Is Dangerous and Discriminatory
III.The Creation of a Constitutional Right to Assisted Suicide For a Class of New Yorkers Based on Their Health and Disability Status is a Lethal Form of Discrimination
A. People with Disabilities, Whether Terminal or Nonterminal, Are The Precise Class of People Who Will Be Affected If a Right to Assisted Suicide Is Found
B. There Exist No Safeguards Adequate to Protect People with Disabilities from Assisted Suicide
1. Limiting Assisted Suicide to Terminally Ill Persons Will Fail to Protect Nonterminal People with Disabilities
2. Limiting Assisted Suicide To “Voluntary” Requests will Fail to Protect People with Disabilities from Abuse
C. Assisted Suicide Prevents People With Disabilities, Whether Terminal or Nonterminal, From Receiving Equal Protection of Laws Pertaining to Suicide Prevention and Homicide
It is no longer possible to disentangle political, social, and financial elites. But the goals of elites haven’t changed in 7,000 years.
Elites politically manage non-elite communities through two related and now integrated processes:
Management of Expectations: The explicit face of elite management
Management of Constraints: The implicit face of elite management
We can modify our reaction to management by elites and we can create small systems that are not worth the while of elites to manage, but we are a very long way from being able to do anything systemically about elite management.
These forces that undermine have always been there, but they were manageable parts of a larger social system that performed actual good for the larger community, even while it allowed elites to parasitize us:
All public communication is inaccurate: Personal communication is still as accurate as it gets, but all communication that is intended for larger communities is framed by hidden agendas, and various lies, hedging, misdirection, and other forms of message fakery, some messages more so and some less so.
All political systems are corrupt: It isn’t that all political people are corrupt, but rather that all political systems and decision making are corrupted by elites and hidden organizational agendas. So, even principled decisions are tainted by corruption, even if no one knows this has occurred.
The legal system is too complex to be generally effective: Although we have a long history of using the legal/political system to redress the grievance, the effectiveness of redress has steadily degraded for almost a half century. And, there is no effective way to simplify it. Effective simplification in this context means that the mission-critical values of the original system are retained while the corruption is eliminated,
All saviors aren’t: You would think that this undermining force is too obvious to need to be stated. But, apparently, people still think that individuals or political parties or political subcommunities, or some other non-local social entity will be the salvation of what is good and right, that something other than hard work, the building of real and deep personal relationships, and creative flexible experimentation will be necessary to begin to take over our future. How can anyone in the current world believe that we will still be taken care of by someone or something else?
It is both astounding and terrifying that 10% of global GDP is allocated to offshore tax shelters. Apparently, this now amounts to $17-$20 trillion dollars. Almost no one but the 1% uses offshore tax shelters, so this represents what the 1% has extracted from global economies and permanently removed from the possibility for use by the rest of us. There is nothing remotely possible that we can do to restore these funds to nation states or change what they are used to accomplish. Putin’s recent request of Russian oligarchs to return $1 trillion dollars of this tax-sheltered repository is the most obvious example of the potential impact of this lost wealth.
The recent national legislative tax law is designed to dramatically accelerate this process for however long it is politically feasible. Even if there is a shift in the political composition of the administration and Congress, nothing will be done about these trillions. It is the buffer for the 1% to deal with the unavoidable reality of recession/depression.
Our society is aging and the income of people beyond a certain age drops, meaning fewer tax payments and fewer resources for the supports our community depends on for a free life of real choice. This problem is compounded because aging eventually brings with it additional functional and intellectual disability and a consequent need for supports.
Even political victories about resources that go into supports are usually translated into bureaucratic and administrative costs that arise from the denial or restriction of supports. So, not only do we need more support, but the natural behavior of our bureaucratic system is to increase administrative costs as a way of “reducing” the costs of supports.
The only way to reduce the impact of aging on tax revenues is to have a large group of young people join our society and work over decades, as happened after the second world war. Because of the current administration’s views on immigration, that isn’t going to happen, and even the previous default immigration policies were only moderately more supportive of immigration.
No American immigration policy in the recent past would materially affect the process of lost tax revenues caused by an aging population.
Growth in the American economy has been debt-fueled since the 1930’s. Debt has become an even more prominent driver of the economy since the “blossoming” of financial speculation in the 90’s. The fact that the economy is debt-fueled doesn’t mean that the economy doesn’t grow and contract. It just means that over time, debt becomes the most important way the economy grows, leaving innovation and increases in productivity behind.
The crash of 2008 was based on a speculative bubble in housing and we apparently learned nothing from that. Current personal and private corporate debt in the US is above the level just before the 2008 crash. This time it is not just housing debt or primarily housing debt. Instead, it includes much more unsecured debt like credit cards and “investment” through debt by corporations. If a crash occurs there won’t be houses that can be foreclosed, bought, refurbished and resold. Just debt.
That can’t be a good thing since we effectively have no other way to grow. Student debt is also playing a larger and larger role every day in the brittleness of our economic system, and, whether the economy grows or not, student debt defaults will increase over time.
We seem completely incapable of doing anything about this rolling disaster. In April of 2018, world GDP is roughly $75 trillion, and world debt is $250 trillion. I’ll update this as I get new figures of meaningful change.