Some analysts I admire greatly have developed highly refined predictive scenarios based on coupling new-millenial geopolitical models to what is effectively non-linear dynamic systems theory. Dynamic systems theory is the same stuff that’s used to model population growth, weather patterns, and, increasingly, economic systems. They use this lens to analyze the global condition and make reasoned approximations about where we’re headed (and perhaps why we’re in this handbasket) and how we may prepare.
So when they look at the inertia behind the current economic climate and apply the principles that describe all natural systems it’s typically surmised that we’re swinging wildly out of equilibrium and heading for a complete crash. Stockpile ammo and shore up your networks are the unavoidable implications. Each day that reports new lows in the flagging and out-dated stock market adds more credence to the rapidly approaching Global Financial/Civilizational Meltdown.
Perhaps with the deep existential need to hang on to at least some hope, I’ve been looking for reasons why, despite my own passions for systems theory, they might be wrong and we might avert catastrophe. And it occurs to me that humans are different. Not a huge leap, I know, but unlike all other entities within natural systems, which effectively run along by their own immutable rules and finite sets of variables, humans deliberately and often intelligently apply creative feedback to the world in order to modulate it’s behavior. We alone are capable of looking at the system, understanding it, and identifying the ways & means to perturb or otherwise attempt to manage its outcomes. Often we do this without even realizing it or deliberately trying to affect it. This is why one of the new trends is behavioral economics which seeks to understand the feedback effects between the two highly coupled and extremely sensitive systems of macroeconomics & human emotion. You see, human behavior, while mostly robotic and in-line with the Paleolithic Human OS1, is capable of sudden leaps that break the bonds of pure systems theory and allow us to apply sudden paradigmatic shifts to the world (witness fire, the wheel, the steel forge, writing, movable type, radio, tv, the web, cell phones, etc etc… Of course, this incessant meddling with natural systems is also how we got ourselves into this mess in the first place.
But the fact remains: you can bet that at least a few hundred thousand really smart people are pushing hard to make sure we can nudge the system back into some reasonable approximation of healthy equilibrium. In the age of instantaneous global comm & collab, it’s likely that the good ideas will, slowly, eventually, hopefully soon enough but probably inevitably, rise through the fetid bogs of politic and bureaucracy (which probably do need some serious systemic shocks) and mobilize the gears of industry to bust the Big Move that will save our asses from the post-apocalyptic scenarios of bartering for bread, struggling to maintain technology & the power needed to run it, while dodging tribal warfare on the way to work at the potato farm.
But I digress. The point is, we’re not wholly subservient to the whims of natural systems. We might not pull it off in time if we dawdle and fight too much but we have the capacity to analyze and overcome… to find the work-around. Hence the imperative of Tim O’Reilly and others like him to leverage the empowering tools of our age to “work on stuff that matters”. This is not just about feeling better and contributing. It’s really about marshaling our shared abilities and wielding the collective will to drive the system and actively steer our civilization away from the edge.