Manmade Complexity as the root problem of modern societies

Manmade Complexity as the root problem of modern societies

Autism is a malfunction of the mind. The autist is not able to identify certain patterns or connections. The autist has difficulty in recognizing a hammer when seeing a stalk and a head. But as humans we are all autists! Many obvious connections in reality escape us entirely, even if we are not diagnosed as an autist. For every human, there is a level of complexity in reality, where he or she is an autist. Schizophrenia is another malfunction of the mind. The schizophrenic identifies patterns and connections which do not exist in his surrounding world. The telephone that is used by a monkey can suddenly be identified as a monkey-telephone, whereas there is nothing monkey-specific about the thing. As humans, we are all schizophrenic! On many occasions, where we find ourselves lost in the complexity of the world, we fabricate connections and compose concepts like monkey-telephones that have no root in any reality whatsoever, except within the reality of our own mind.  

As human beings, we are simply limited in our capacity to deal with the complexity of reality. The autist must learn to consciously reconstruct the hammer in his mind, whenever he is confronted with a combination of stalk and head. Only then will he be able to recognize the object’s function and act upon it towards a nail. Managers must study their theory books before recognizing that their organization uses inadequate production methods. Only then will the manager be able to initiate the use of other production methods. This is the exact behaviour of an autist, not being able to recognize these patterns on his own account. The schizophrenic must learn to behave critically towards concepts that arise spontaneously in his mind. No such thing as a monkey-telephone exists! He must consciously remind and correct himself in that. A politician who sees a conspiracy against his cause must learn to remind himself over and over again that no such conspiracy exists. If he does not, he is prone to a dysfunction. This is the exact behaviour of a schizophrenic who is not able to prevent the formation of such concepts on his own account.

Autism and schizophrenia pose limitations to our mind. They hinder us in seeing what is obviously real and they make us see things that are obviously not real at all. But for all of us, there is a complexity level of reality where we become an autist and there is (another) level where we become a schizophrenic. If we pass that threshold of complexity, our understanding of the world becomes problematic. Thus, there are levels of reality in which we are all mentally inadequate.

Logic then would predict that we keep away from levels of complexity that render our mental abilities inadequate. Reason dictates that we would avoid complexities above such a threshold. But the strange thing is that the social reality that we as humans have created for ourselves has reached levels of complexity that are well above the threshold of any of us. In the social reality that we ourselves have created, we are all autists and schizophrenics!  We have created rules and laws that nobody is able to understand anymore. We have constructed branches of science that are of such complexity that no one in that branch is able to understand the meaning of its concepts anymore.

The first basic question now is: “why do we do this?” Why do we create an environment for ourselves, that renders our own mental abilities inadequate? The answer is of a devastating simplicity. We do this because we are not aware that the threshold of complexity has been passed. And if we are aware of it, we think that the mental abilities of others will suffice to deal with it. But as the complexity of society grows and the circle of those who are still in the light (so to speak) is shrinking, this tiny minority will find it overwhelmingly difficult to convince the majority, already groping in the dark. The communication gap between the two of them has become just too big and those who grope in the dark will not be able to distinguish between what comes out of the light and what comes out of the dark anymore. Those who can still see are left in isolation. Meanwhile, the social structures that we have created, as for example the financial system and rules of ownership, obtain a dynamic on their own and function out of human control, leaving us humans as mere instruments of these constructs.

The second basic question now is “why don’t we change this?”. The answer is again of a breath-taking simplicity. The answer is that those who are in a position to change the structure, are privileged by it. They came in such positions mostly by plain luck. But as we are mentally inadequate to understand the very structure that brought us such luck, the same inadequacy invokes seemingly reasonable explanations in us as to why we had such luck. We contribute it to all sorts of character strengths or abilities that we now suddenly recognize in ourselves. And by telling about it, we might even convince others since they are as much in the dark as we are. So the privileged are not motivated to change anything at all, even if they saw a way out.

Although we are dealing with the issue of complexity here, this is the simple root problem of human society: We stumble into a social complexity that is above our threshold of mental abilities. We are entirely unaware of the consequences. As a society, we stay above this threshold because those who, by plain luck, benefit from it, cling to their privileges. Everyone with a bit intellect can understand this simple mechanism. That alone should bring understanding of the root cause of societal problems within the grasp of a large majority of people.

Now, what are we going to do about it? How do we go about in bringing down the complexity levels and convince those who are hiding in the privileged far corners and extensions of it to go along with such a simplification? Can we, for example, really change the financial system back into something that serves all of us instead of racking most of us? And what will those do who hide in the niches of it? Will they be with us or will they turn against us, like dictators turn against their own people in order to stay in power?! Can we convince those who earn their money in a far cornered speciality of physics that their basic assumptions are merely echoes of their own mind? That they should not seek to make their profession gradually more complex and out of reach of any practical application but instead make it more simple? Can we bring lawmakers on our side and make them turn around the laws and regulations that only serve a privileged few? Or will these lawmakers feel that they then take away their own privileges to?

So the third basic question is: “now that we can all understand the problem, how do we turn this around?” I have some ideas, but I would rather not have the burden of answering this question all on my own. Therefore, I would like to invite everybody to contribute ideas and suggestions! 

© September 2013, Peter Schuttevaar 

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