Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Surviving The Bureaucratic Complexities We Create? That's A Good Way To Describe Our Challenge

At the present, we're repeating an endless debate, and questioning The Folly of [Every System?]

Won't it be better if our grandchildren can have a different debate, rather than repeating one we leave unsolved? So, can we make our debate different than the one OUR grandparents had?

Why not? Let's put it this way. Complex societies disintegrate when they cannot sustain the bureaucratic complexities they've created? So how DO they survive as long as they do, and how DO the components pick up the pieces after failing to escape traps they're not yet ready for?

One answer is abundantly documented throughout evolutionary history. Systems grow by building up methods that work, and when they hit dead-ends, the components dis-associate and start over again, from a regressed state. Then they try again. The interesting part is how long it takes 'em, and how far they back up before taking another run at it.

In short, net survival continuously tracks PARTIAL undoing, redoing, overlaying and repurposing of existing bureaucracies, families, corporations, species, phenotypes, cultures or "systems" - whatever you want to call them. They all have a lot in common, and it's useful to examine those commonalities.

In some instances, we refer to repurposing as "shaping" individual or even small group behavior patterns, through initially indirect paths that use existing momentum to get started, before re-directing it to pursuit of emerging options. The methods used to shape any situation are unique to that situation. Such changing methods have to be lived and practiced, not assumed to be fixed or in "equilibrium."

Now we have the challenge of reshaping our own, entire culture, either gracefully, or by letting it die and be reformed in another guise that allows growth on yet another scale.

This is what we do! It's what we've always done. When young, we all took things apart. Most can never be put back together again - but with enough trial and error, some useful recombination occurs. It used to be clothes, then watches, then cars, then computers. As adults, we mostly settle into bureaucracies, but inventors throughout history have always insisted on "making snowmobiles" from cannibilized components. The biggest "snowmobile" construction challenge is remaking our own, entire democracy more frequently, as Tom Jefferson suggested.

As a guide, the known processes of speciation and embryology offer some very useful, orienting lessons for everything we're going through. They serve as axioms, or basic principles to keep in mind and tie all emerging details to.

First, 3.5 billion years of species differentiation has left traces documenting the slow transformation of new forms from prior ones. Next, it is the incredibly infrequent, adaptive changes in embryology steps that reflect the growing toolkit of methods that drive speciation.

During embryological development, random hints of a historical pattern are observed, namely that some parts of ontogeny always reflect some parts of phylogeny. Parts of a developing fetus clearly START to make structures found in the adult stage of ancestral species, only to halt, undo or re-purpose the budding structures in an astoundingly long sequence of "shaping" steps that (normally, in humans) leads to birth of current humans as we know them. This net, shaping process in embryology is recognizably similar to concepts expressed in military science. All mobilization - of any system - comes down to "staging, linking and sequencing" existing and emerging components and processes on increasingly larger scales.

So, while dabbling in "nation building" elsewhere, why are we struggling to continuously rebuild our own, obviously changing, developing and evolving nation?

What about cultural embryology? Cultural embryology proceeds rather analogously to all other known evolution processes. The details at every new scale are completely different, of course, but the basic challenge remains. How do we continuously "shape" a process that starts more things every year and continuously creates ever more "institutions" that - while integral steps in the core "shaping" process - have to themselves be continuously interrupted, partially or completely undone and ultimately repurposed, bypassed or overlaid with newly emerging institutions? That's a LOT to keep up with, let alone improve. Nevertheless, it will improve, with or without our participation. The only question is whether we in the USA want to step up and lead, or follow, or even cede the path.

We've already been doing such development, of course. The USA is itself the outcome of such a recombinant process, seen in a bigger scale. Even within the USA we've been adding, ending and re-purposing institutions, and amending our Constitution.

So the real question is how to do even more of all that, more quickly? And, do it with less waste of time and resources? In short, how do we help increase the adaptive agility of our own electorate as a whole? It comes back to increasing the Adaptive Rate of the US electorate. Instead of gridlock and shutting down our democracy, how do we "stage, link and sequence" our own bureaucratic complexities faster/better/more-focused? What happened to American ingenuity?

Finally, we know from experience that the vast majority of changes we try simply won't work. Only an incredibly few changes will be adaptive. So we ought to be TRYING new things faster all the time, in small simulations, in controlled settings. Plus, we ought to be incredibly careful in considering what key things to change on a larger scale. Finally, we ought to be even more incredibly careful about assessing what is and isn't adaptive for the whole nation, when we DO test it on a large scale.

Step one is focus? On what? How about accelerated analysis of national self-awareness? That brings us directly to evaluation of what can and can't be pared from a continuous, cultural-embryology process.

At this point, evolutionary hindsight offers only some key principles. How do we actually SELECT which interaction patterns among our current, national culture to keep vs discard? That is an entirely context-dependent, trial and error process which has to be discovered rather than predicted. That means living the details, not describing past outcomes. We have zero predictive power, but seemingly unlimited Selective Power - yet ONLY if we practice selecting fast enough. Other events might easily overtake us, as has been the norm throughout history. Our biggest challenge is to keep making the USA more different, fast enough, so that it CAN survive the bureaucratic complexities which we, ourselves are continuously creating.

So our task comes down to an endlessly iterative process, one only superficially discussed here - as a suggested view for all to consider. One perspective on this is the classic paradigm for describing all "living" species:

Context Goals (or niche; no system evolves in a vacuum),
Sensory System (sampling available feedback),
Interacting Sensory Flows (cross-discipline Pattern Analysis),
Motor System (probing context, exploring options),
Natural Selection (an Assessment System).

Lets call a nation or culture an emerging species, and take another look at ourselves, and what our tasks are.

1) Do we have enough context awareness, and enough group goals? Adequate group awareness of context and challenge. Whoa! To achieve that, don't we need continuously distributed, developmental briefings on where WE as a nation are, and where WE as a nation can be and are going? Do we even have enough platforms where people CAN discuss that? Are we paying ourselves enough to leave enough time to even have those discussions? Recent, "lean" industrial models somehow converged to the idea that 2-3% of net resources should be spent on "M&E" - measurement & evaluation. That flies in the face of historical patterns in RESILIENT systems, where 30-40% of time can easily be spent on analysis of context.  Can we really afford to be lean, i.e., over-adapted to a transient context, rather than resilient and always ready for the next context? Without a sense of options worth exploring, all roads look the same? A modern nation needs awareness of options, and outcome goals, as much as any previously evolved species.*

2) Do we have an adequately diverse, national sensory system? More instrumentation is just the start. Don't we need distributed self-training all on methods for generating diversity, so that citizens are familiar with that core mission, and comfortable deploying it where needed? More civics, so WE as a people can collectively hoard coordination skills, not just personally hoard static assets?
(Has universal pursuit of "lean" gone too far in too many places, thereby reducing resiliency everywhere, including places where we diversity is critically needed?)

3) Do we need more practice generating the actual diversity needed in key places, so that we have more feedback to analyze? Shouldn't we be diversifying deployment of many new sub-methods, thereby generating distributed, bureaucratic diversity to select from?

4) Do we have enough interdisciplinary cross-talk to drive pattern analysis ACROSS disciplines? Do we need MORE cross-instrumentation, information-sharing methods, for sensing and analyzing all bureaucratic diversity? So that we can self model all available feedback patterns? Forget the NSA and idiot savant advertisers, shouldn't our electorate be evaluating ITSELF and where WE are going? How much distributed civics discussion and involvement do we need, just to maintain our current adaptive rate? How much to survive? How about to exceed our own, lagging expectations? “I’ll let you write the substance. ... You let me write the procedure, and I‘ll screw you every time.” Is that anywhere near good enough for us to survive as a nation?

5) Finally, do we need to instill and practice constant re-development of more "net" ASSESSMENT methods and systems? If WE aren't selecting where WE are going, someone else - or outside events - will be doing that selecting? Why cede Natural Selection entirely to others, or to chance? Who's driving this democracy bus anyway, it's citizens, or something less? That boils down to practice using the platforms, instrumentation, information-sharing and analysis mentioned above.

Folks, we as a people have some distributed boundaries to push, before they push us.


* The very concept of speciation is inseparable from the concept of population. All evolving species arise from interactions among a prior confederation, initially built via budding clones, then by increasingly diverse transformation events - including symbiosis, and eventually by some accelerated form of "recombination" between population members, enabled by emerging methods that create new steps, ones that previously didn't occur at all.

It's not clear what view is optimal, nation-states as competing clones, or confederations participating in interleaved "cultural-recombination" events. We still have to find out.

The same question holds within each nation. Can growing "confederations" practicing "Distributed Planning" be kept more agile, and thereby adapt faster, than Central Governments, with their innate tendency to one-size-fits-all "Central Planning?" We still have to find out. It all comes down to the NET agility of the methods that can be deployed, by either, or by some audacious combination of both, or more. The future's so bright that we can't see it. However, that's no reason to look away precisely as it's unfolding.