- A Collapsing Society is Like a Broken Heart, not a Broken Machine
- Systemantics Law 16. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system.
There are two major revolutionary action frameworks and one default outcome:
- Take over the levers of government and use them for good, in any way you imagine that as possible.
- Destroy the social framework as completely as you can and start over again from scratch.
- The default for broken CAS is one form or another of collapse.
An example of the first is Stalinism. An example of the second is Pol Pot. Also, Mao tried to do both more or less at the same time.
The default (collapse) is the typical way that overly complex and brittle systems become simpler (in this case simpler doesn’t mean nicer). Collapse can be anything from a slow cascade over centuries to a financial collapse over a few weeks. Or the asteroid that killed a high percentage of life on earth 65 million years ago.
The first two don’t work. We keep coming back to them because we still, in our heart of hearts, think that our world is a machine and that if we treat it like a machine, we can fix it in the same way we would fix an engine that isn’t working. Maybe we will use new parts and a great mechanic. Maybe we will trash the engine and get a new one.
The default ”strategy” of change produces real simplification, but no control over how the replacement evolves or develops. So, collapse is not really a strategy, but what we get when we do nothing or ineffective somethings.
Our world isn’t a machine. Every time we try to force a complex adaptive system into a complicated one we make the same error that so many others have made and continue to make. You can’t effectively change a complex adaptive system by treating it like a machine. When you try, you make the overall system worse.
Also, it isn’t possible to create a complex adaptive system that works and you can’t do anything to make it work. Only an evolutionary context and a significant period of time can make a complex system. To repeat, the way evolution does that is by making a relatively simple adaptive system that works first and then allowing it to evolve.
I used the John Gall Systemantics reference in this post because it is the single best resource there is out there to gain an understanding of why our immediate ideas about changing or improving systems don’t work. If you read nothing else, follow the link to the summary of John Gall’s framework. John’s books are still available, but as far as I can tell, only in paperback.
You will see echoes of John Gall’s insights in the later posts in this series.