Lets get complex. Not complicated. Not chaotic (not yet). Definitely not simple. Complex.
To get a little deeper into why everything is broken, we’re going to need to some kind of framework – here’s one that someone else made earlier. Imagine the world consists of – and also can be thought of as – five different kinds of systems:
- Simple systems where effect follows very reliably and obviously from cause.
- Complicated systems also have cause and effect but things are – well – complicated. You need to analyse and investigate – but that analysis and investigation should not effect the system itself.
- Complex systems consist of lots of interacting actors. Causes and effects are related but not consistent. You need to try something and see if it works. If it does then you need do more of it. If it doesn’t then you need to try something else.
- Chaos is, well, chaotic. There is no cause and effect. You just have to do something. Tyrants and dictators love chaos because “they alone can fix it”.
- Disorder? Well, in disorder, you don’t know where you are. So you go with what you know.
Here is a short video by David Snowden (one of the creators of this framework) that explains this better. Pay particular attention to the discussion that occurs at 6:42. And here’s a picture.
The boundary between simple and chaotic is catastrophic. Things are going well, the sun is shining, everything is right with the world. Simple. We stop paying attention to what’s going on (“Oh, look, a puppy, a shiny thing, a nasty tweet”). We neglect to attend. Meanwhile the world is changing. The ground is moving beneath our feet. We look up at the sky unaware of the precipice towards which we inch. And then we fall into chaos.
Another metaphor contains stabilizers and dampeners. The whole point of our social institutions are that they contain, dampen and direct our animal instincts. We are perverted into normality. As these institutions decay, their powers wane and the system starts to tear itself apart. Or to put it another way.
My fear is that we may have already crossed his boundary about 18 months ago. But we may still be on its edge.
What next? Cynefin implies that there are two pathways open to us.
- We fall into chaos. True tyrants take control. Large numbers of people start dying. This is not good.
- We go complex. We grow new structures or regrow existing ones to enable us to restabilize our societies. Most of these efforts will fail but some will succeed. And we won’t know which ones until we try.
We don’t have much time.
This is part of the Into The Maelstrom series.