Complex systems evolve to deal with entropy. The why for this is unclear, but all great complex systems slow down the effects of entropy within them and this provides the opportunity for Life and the only stage on which life can be lived. In a simple system, or the part of a simple system that can be warped into a Linearity, entropy is maximized. Energy flows through the system as quickly as possible and we, as human observers, characterize this as either “work” or “waste.” We even put great efforts into developing efficiencies that are meant to skew the proportion of work to waste. In actuality most, if not all these efforts do more to increase the rate of overreach.
Seen in this way, a Linear approach is like a grand Katchinka Game. We have in front of us a great complexity that has evolved to keep the ball-bearings trembling across the entire span of the board from top to bottom, buttressing any falls so they don’t become catastrophic releases that decimate the entire system. Along comes someone with the idea of Linearity, and the maximization of efficiencies, and Katchinka! The balls all start to fall fast and furious. That human actor then accumulates ball-bearings at the bottom and feels rich! He’s accumulated Capital! But it is a fossil remnant of the wealth that was there in the first place.
Granted that wealth might not have been in a form that would have met any of his needs, either perceived or actual. Actually, much of that wealth was doing precisely that, it was maintaining a great complexity that not only created this human actor but sustained his most basic needs for air, water, and some potential for finding the fulfillment of his other needs. The gap between that perception of value and its actuality is precisely where we are today when we try to cope with our current situation. We think we are doing things in our self-interest and within mechanisms that will reward effective behavior, when in fact we are confused about our true self-interest and operating in a system that rewards the most short-sighted and destructive behaviors while providing us with a myriad of self-justifications, rationalizations, and outright delusions about what is actually occurring.
Concepts like Linearity, Newtonian Physics, Capitalism; are not in themselves bad. They are powerful conceptual tools that can be part of our greater toolkit, but only if we learn how to use them properly and avoid their seductive traps. The difficulties are external and internal. These constructs appear to be very powerful, but their actual benefits may end up being much more modest than we are lead to believe by their early successes and the ways in which their failures have been hidden by their unfortunate interactions with our own processes of assessment and judgment.
We tend to laugh at examples of naive behavior that fail to take complexity into account. We find the results immature or foolish. In part we are more sophisticated than the childish rube, but are we wiser? Sophistication: the aggregation of ever more nuanced rules to attempt to take every variable into consideration and give us a way to maintain a sense of control over things that are essentially beyond us; is only a partial remedy. Wisdom comes from choosing our battles and deciding that some things are truly beyond us, outside our control.
Sophistication leads to a tinkering that eventually uses up all the available attention and energy on its own maintenance, while the release achieved by a wise choice leaves us in a position to make mature decisions and work at correlating what we find valuable with what we can actually accomplish to forward those values.
This task is called living. It is a maximal effort that is constantly being impinged on by external limitations. To compound those limitations by adding the blinders of a linear viewpoint just seems self-defeating.
This brings us to asking ourselves, “What is life here for?” “How do I give my life meaning?” “What do I value when it really matters?” These are questions Capitalism is ill-suited to answer. To expect this rather high-level conceptual tool to give us meaningful answers to any of these questions is truly ridiculous. We realize this at some level, but we are blinded by the way its short-term efficacies fit our own distraction patterns so well. It is great at diverting us and complicating our lives.
Complication is our reaction to the piling up of seemingly random elements in a way that distracts and does not enlighten us, while complexity is the state of fine-grained embeddedness of the myriad of elements that make up existence.
Policy, strategy, tactics. We use this cascade of methodologies of interaction at varying points in our engagement with the world. Policy assigns value after making certain judgments. Strategy maps out an overall approach defining points of contact that are amenable to modification in ways that will benefit that Policy. Tactics is the realm of fine-grained real-time engagement that attempts to carry out the Strategy that it is hoped will achieve the aims of our Policy. Stir and repeat. As John Boyd has laid this out in his OODA Loop, this is an endless dynamic that provides the best mechanism for coming to grips with complex conditions over time.
Where does Capitalism fit into this? I don’t think it will be at the Policy level. It may have things to say that benefit us Strategically, but I tend to expect it is mostly a Tactical tool once its true nature has been understood. Even there, the ways in which it tends to hide its feedback from us make it problematic. It obscures as much if not more than it enlightens. This assessment turns the current approach on its head.
These are overall broad strokes of the way the situation could be approached. Dig into Capitalism’s fundamentals and clarify its strengths and weaknesses from the broadest perspective of our best sense of where our true self-interest lies and look for ways to be more sophisticated about its application while being wary of its abilities to send us off-track by its seductions both individual and institutional. Beyond this basically Systems Theory approach, there needs to be a broader inquiry into the nature of value itself and the limits of our interventions into what are ultimately mysteries and forces that are beyond our total comprehension and outside of which we cannot exist.
Capitalism is a tool. Its inputs need to be well understood. Its limitations and its side-effects also. As with any tool misapplication leads to self-injury and general destruction, and in the end no tool or toolkit will bring us what is beyond our grasp. Effort, attention, energy and yearning expended on the impossible severely detracts from our ability to accomplish what can be done and can be recognized to be of value.
This process is continual, ending only with exhaustion and death. Capitalism, and the pragmatic stance it comes out of, needs to be removed from its current god-like position and recognized as a human invention like any other. It has certain benefits, although these have been severely oversold based on its ability to hide its costs so far. As we approach the time when these costs can no longer be swept under the rug, it will require a thorough examination of all its assumptions and a nuanced, and hopefully wise assessment of its usefulness going forward. Just as the Earth is suffering from the actions Capitalism has made possible, we are suffering from a great indigestion caused by its skewing of our sense of what it is to be human. This complicates our task, but does nothing to lessen the necessity for our attempt.