When Solutions Become Problems
And the problems are far bigger than us . . .
The problem is complexity. We’ve struggled for a very long time with complexity and it is not getting any simpler. We like to think of it as just a problem with organization. If we identify and articulate all the things that need to be done and then calmly prioritize them, turn off our phones and lock the door for a couple of hours each day, it all works out. But we still have to deal with them one at a time and then figure out how they affect each other. And we’ve gotten very good at that. We manage very large projects and have since the neolithic. The great pyramids and Chinese water management projects set the bar fairly high very early. We even got to the moon and back with the support of little more than smartwatch computing resources. But I’m really afraid we just hit the wall.
Ok, I’m not saying this in terms of what we do and continue to do as we build hugely complex virtualized systems managing large data resources. There are symptoms of the problem there but we are good enough that the systems are learning to take care of themselves. And that is a the future solution if we can get to it. It helps when there are physical objects resulting from the project because that’s how we see, think, and build. Fully abstract systems are much riskier and the success rates are much lower because we have to visualize both the process and the outcomes. Application development is still little better than fifty-fifty if humans are involved. But that only hints at what we are up against.
We can even see the future and the solution. Artificial intelligence running on systems equaling and then surpassing the power of our biological difference engines, oops, sorry, our brains. It’s scary as hell and we don’t like it but we are helping to birth our electronic children. And that’s half the problem. We don’t want to recognize our children and we definitely don’t want to accept our ultimate replacement by them. But that is just one of the things we need to do to deal with our problems right now.
Millions of words are being churned out daily across the Internet and old paper publications on the problems. Trump, Brexit, deficits, fascism, immigration, climate change, fake news, social media, authoritarianism, trade, globalism are all suddenly resurgent problems and there don’t seem to be any solutions. The only solutions are coming from people who obviously don’t understand the problems because the suggested solutions are themselves problems. Whether you are talking about reclaiming lost jobs, blocking imports to protect remaining jobs, blocking immigrants to protect jobs, closing borders to protect people from other people or demanding that people deny other people from getting married because you need to protect people from who other people are getting married to, or dealing with their bodies for their own needs rather than your feelings. And horror of horrors you must be protected from the wrong people peeing in the next toilet. Where did all this come from?
It is the cry of the human population in our most educated and advanced countries hitting the wall of complexity and change. The complexity of what needs to be considered is too great and the change is too fast. Ironically we all know this and have been thinking, writing, and reading about for just about one hundred years. After 1914 the old world died in industrialized warfare that exhausted much of the planet over the next forty years with brief periods of healing and recovery in the 1950s and then the changes started to speed up again. This was really a long continuation of the scientific revolution enabling information, communication, and knowledge dragging ever larger segments of the population into a new world order based on objectivity. And the increasingly desperate rejection of the new by the old systems of knowledge and control by club (gun)and blade (bomb).
Throughout all of this long process of change and rejection we were able to maintain fairly traditional political organizations and social structures. The increasingly planetary economy brought wealth and then stability and prosperity to many regions but not all. The steady domination of regional economies by forms of capitalism allowed growth and the implementation of limited forms of representative government reduced violence, slavery, and conquest. Within this the regimentation of segments of the population in the early national armies of the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe and Asia and Americas in the 19th and 20th centuries allowed the regimentation of the work force for capitalist production from the 19th century on. But this could not last. Large segments of the population in successful countries were left out with no rights and little opportunity in the interest of economic exploitation and other segments were blocked from rights and objectivity due to domination of societies by neolithic mythologies and their modern political control systems. These mythologies became increasingly militaristic as they fought against education, science and cultural diversity that grows inherently from scientific based societies and rational economies.
The problem of complexity and the wall that we have hit is the result of our success. Our capitalism and our semi-democratic governments worked so well that they have become the cause of our failure. We, of course, know this. We have seen all the parts of the problem but we couldn’t see it as a totality because it is too complex. And because we didn’t need to see it until it began to fail. That is the full, disastrous and ununderstandable nature of our problem. We did it mostly right and it worked but now it has stopped working. But we want to keep trying to do what worked before but it only makes things worse.
The electoral system in the US has always had problems but it was close enough to right to work and didn’t create a disaster. It even survived the Civil War fought over an older and failing economy based on slavery. But the complexity of the problem now denies the solutions that we know. Yet people, frightened and losing ground economically, demand changes that always worked before. The coastal elites, by whatever name, are simply the people living in the most educated and successful parts of the planet who can see that the old solutions are wrong but thought they would last a little longer at least for their own self interest. But they didn’t and that is devastating to the people who have some understanding of what is really happening. And the people of the economically less sophisticated , less educated, and religionist regions have triggered the collapse and are the culprits through no fault of their own. And billions more in areas still struggling for representative government and rights under the partially implemented but now failed systems are caught with nowhere to go except as immigrants. The Arab Spring that died in summer is probably the most poignant testament to this while millions of immigrants watch their families suffer and their children die with no idea what is happening.
This complexity is inherent in a matrix of paradigmatic systemic failure. On the human emotional level it is the result of solutions no longer performing as they were expected to perform. Someone offering to take over and return jobs that had been lost to “others” usually means that some jobs will return. At the very least those “others” will be subjected to abuse and the loss of jobs that they had wrongfully gained. This clearly indicates the failure of the old system without regard to the morally bankruptcy that this represents. It worked before and the US has never had a problem exploiting minorities for the benefit of votes from the white majority. But those jobs were lost primarily to technology, including the ones moved internationally, so they are not coming back. Current news on the tripling of Amazon robots to 145,000 since 2014 should be hard to ignore but it will be. The previously planned moves of certain factories back to the US is also the result of other benefits, despite whatever is claimed, as workers are a smaller component in fully automated plants. It is hard to see how the maintenance of the illusion of returning jobs can be maintained very long.
But that is not really the issue here. The reality of jobs for a significant portion (up to 40%) of the workforce disappearing over the next ten to fifteen years cannot be dealt with by inaction or baseless political promises. An integrated failure of the political system, capitalism, and social structure is the result. Capitalism is based on greed and the consolidation of capital in the hands of the owners motivated by desire for maximization of profits. Profits are based on exploitation of wage slavery based on worker fears of losing their job and livelihood. The political system is designed to allow people to demand change when they are threatened however realistically the threats are presented (a public communication failure). So where do we start? Who’s on first?
With just one limited example we have a hint of the complexity of the failure and we have not factored in climate change. Climate change is, objectively, the greatest threat to our civilization on this planet. For political manipulation of the workforce and opportunistic power grabs, the reality of climate change and its accelerating effects must be denied. Capitalism must have growing markets and growing profits from ever increasing exploitation of the planet. This makes no objective sense but is the mantra that defines success among the oligarchy. To move beyond capitalism requires political systems that somehow represent the voices and needs of the population without allowing manipulation for short term political or exploitive gains. This will be driven quickly by loss of gainful employment among those parts of the population in the post industrial world that lack serious technology or professional skills. The only obvious answer to that is Universal Basic Income which directly undercuts both the demand that people are defined by gainful employment and that they will work purely for the benefit of the owning class out of necessity.
The triggering event of system failure in the US was the November election that was an example of people voting for the benefit of the owning class out of fear for the loss of the low grade jobs that they currently have. The political system needs to encourage and reward political action but not as the result of exploitive fear. Which of these do we solve first? They are all fully interdependent. And this only scratches the surface. We will need to factor in a rapidly expanding immigration flow from sea level rise and resulting political collapse in addition to the planetary system economic and political collapse.
The point is that we cannot hide. We cannot pretend that resisting Trump in the US or ignoring Brexit or demagogues in Europe will have a useful result. We need massive change on a level never before attempted. Can we do it? We don’t have any choice.