Tuesday, February 09, 2016

How Systems Break: First They Slow Down

Alternatively, we can cling to a state of denial, and the dominant system will be replaced by archetypal systems that are not necessarily positive.
Understanding our current socio-economy as a system of sub-systems enables us to project how and when unsustainable sub-systems will finally unravel.
The reality that cannot be spoken within the conventional media is that all the primary financial systems we believe are permanent and indestructible are actually on borrowed time.
One way to assess this decline of resilience is to look at how long it takes systems to recover when they are stressed, and to what degree they bounce back to previous levels.
A compelling article on this topic was recently published by The AtlanticNature's Warning Signal: Complex systems like ecological food webs, the brain, and the climate all give off a characteristic signal when disaster is around the corner.
"The signal, a phenomenon called “critical slowing down,” is a lengthening of the time that a system takes to recover from small disturbances, such as a disease that reduces the minnow population, in the vicinity of a critical transition. It occurs because a system’s internal stabilizing forces—whatever they might be—become weaker near the point at which they suddenly propel the system toward a different state."
Recent email exchanges with correspondent Bart D. (Australia) clued me into the Darwinian structure of this critical slowing down and loss of snapback (what we might characterize as a loss of resilience).
Beneath the surface dominance of one system are many other systems that are suppressed by the dominant system.
As the dominant system weakens / destabilizes / slows down, these largely invisible systems compete to occupy more of the ecosystem.
An example in the financial realm is barter: in a system dominated by central bank/state issued money and digital transactions, barter still exists but on a very modest scale.
When central bank/state money loses its value and utility (due to hyper-inflation, etc.), then barter expands rapidly to fill the vacuum left by the demise of the dominant system.
The ecosystem example illustrates how critical transitions occur: as the dominant system loses resiliency and slows down, other systems fill the ecosystem spaces that are opened up by the weakness of the dominant arrangement. At some point, the balance or equilibrium of the ecosystem experiences a phase transition and a new balance of other dynamics become dominant.
In human systems, this process can be at least partially conscious: we can see the dominant paradigm weakening, and start developing other systems that can compete for the resulting openings in the financial/social ecosystem.
Alternatively, we can cling to a state of denial, and the dominant system will be replaced by archetypal systems that are not necessarily positive. I opt for conscious development of alternatives that can compete transparently for dominance as the status quo dissolves and is replaced by more resilient, sustainable systems.
This essay was drawn from Musings Report 3. The weekly Musings Reports are emailed exclusively to subscribers and major contributors ($50+ annually).
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