Sense, and Non-Sense

There’s a lot of confusion out there. Where is society headed? Who decides?

Making sense of things lately is very hard work. Making sense of our social and political reality is becoming difficult. In this brief essay, I offer some specific ideas on how to make sense of both.

In periods of very high rates of change, sense-making becomes an important matter, one of paramount importance. Frequent experimentation (and inspection) is the path out of chaos, and towards clarity.

Each small experiment amounts to an exploratory probe of the changing boundaries of the environment. The faster things are moving, the faster the probing experiments and the probing inspections must occur for successful sense-making (and for innovation) to take place.

This idea of deliberately generating feedback by “frequently probing” the environment is a not new idea. Periods characterized by high rates of change are very complex, and can (and often will) tip into chaos. Empiricism (learning by experience and experimentation) is the way out.

“Managing chaos” is an oxymoron. A contradiction of terms. Chaos is something you probe, not something you manage. There is a mound of very clear evidence from complexity science that strongly supports this assertion. It’s not a debatable point whatsoever. The way to cope with complexity and chaos is to probe the ever-changing environment with frequent and experimental actions, with intent to “make sense” of it. Probe. Act. Sense. Respond. Repeat.

And so it is with more than a little fascination that I watch “free thinkers” (the type of people who might attend Burning Man) promoting what amounts to central planning and the total centralization of decision-making authority. In government specifically. This “philosophy of centralization” usually shows up as support for the centrally-planned censorship of certain kinds and types of speech. And as support for centrally-planned legislation that pushes a mandated set of societal values- like it or not- on the people.

This idea that a central decision-making authority knows what is best for society (and progress) has its roots in Marxism. As it stands, any kind of central-planning is going to a very poor performer during periods of high-velocity change. And that’s what we have going on now.

The last thing needed now is more centrally planned decision-making. More prescription. More mandate.

For a clear example of the consequences, consider the nearly-empty “ghost cities” in China that have been centrally planned:

“In 2003…the city of Ordos began adding on new districts, the most well-known being Kangbashi. Thousands of high-rises were built and many apartments were initially sold for hefty prices, but…a crash in both soon ensued. Many developers went bankrupt, many housing projects were left unfinished, tens of thousands of apartments were left empty, and the city itself went deep into debt.” Source: Forbes Magazine (link)

At this point in the civilization of the world, the whole idea of a centralized authority who “knows best” makes no sense whatsoever. It’s a harmful barrier to progress at this stage of the game. It’s also a very serious kind of clog that reduces the critical flow of self-organized sense-making…and potentially, world-changing innovation.

Prescriptions from authority have no place in a world whose “velocity of change” is rapidly increasing. Prescriptions (aka ‘management’) kill self-organization. Prescriptions kill self-management and innovation.

It is the efficiency of self-organization and self-management that actually scales to the level of civilization.

Prescriptions don’t do that. Centrally-planned prescriptions greatly reduce freedom and agency, when what is needed in a high-change environment is a very large increase in both.

And so: you might be wondering, right about now, if this essay represents a small experiment, a very small probe on may part.

And the answer to that question is clearly [yes.]

Related Links:

Cynefin Framework (link
Centrally-planned Chinese “Ghost Cities” (link)

Self-Organization Explained (link)