Sunday, June 20, 2010

Economics 20/06/2010: Ideas that (allegedly) will change the world 2

Continuing with those 25 ideas for the 21st century:

Number 4:

“The Second Law of Thermodynamics, that every engineer knows well, says that the entropy of complex systems will inevitably increase over time. In other words, the system's capability will deteriorate. However, a more recent law, from evolutionary biology, says that the capability of complex systems evolves and improves over time. Engineering concepts guide not only machine designers, but also organization designers. Thus organizations are "engineered" and "reengineered," and "levers" are put in place for their masters to make the machine work and the organization to perform. …And in this concept, a boss on top with authority over the rest is necessary to put discipline into them.

In contrast, consider a rich tropical forest, humming with myriad forms of life supporting each other. Who is in charge? There is a mystery of organization in these forests. Complex self-adaptive systems, like the tropical forest, are organized according to the laws of evolutionary biology, and not the laws of machines.

[Ok, let’s pause and do take time to consider a rich tropical forest system. It is humming. Indeed, it is singing with individuals of various species consuming each other – not exactly a model for the ‘humanism’ of the contribution Number 3 to the list, is it? Over long run, entire species disappear. Not a real model for sustainable humanity. The balance of the forest eco-system is maintained by the precise order of life forms in the hierarchy of who kills whom. Not exactly a model for equality or for social mobility, or indeed for any sort of human rights. So if this stuff about ‘systems’ and ‘learning from the forests’ was to be really useful, it will have to apply only to hierarchical, non-horizontal or rights-based systems. A bit limiting, I’d say. By the way – in the tropical forest and indeed across the entire natural world, the one who’s on top of the food chain is “a boss on top with authority over the rest”… too bad Forbes’ visionary writing about this stuff didn’t bother to check it out himself by taking a camping trip to, say, Grizzly Bear territory armed with nothing more than a flashlight. He’d learn very quickly who’s the boss there and just how much ‘on top with authority’ this boss will get with our visionary]

“The first Enlightenment made man believe that he and his machines could master nature. [Well, we did master large chunks of the nature.] The second Enlightenment will come about with man learning from nature, and realizing that he is a part of it, not the master of it. [Fair play] …Within it lies an ability to produce innovations and to adapt and evolve. In the architecture of complex self-adaptive systems lie clues to the design of organizations in which the constituents work together to create a whole from which they all benefit...

An idea that will change the world for the better for everyone is a new architecture of organization learned from nature and other complex self-adaptive systems. With this architecture, we will get better governance and more co-operation across boundaries. Working together, many organizations may improve the condition of India's children. And, working together, humanity may accelerate its progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, and even mitigate climate change.”

[I’ve had enough. Two things –
  1. Yes, self-adapting systems are cool. Not futuristic, really, but cool. And have room to be deployed more.
  2. But the idea that cooperation is superior form of organization is pure ideological hogwash.
So far, human progress was driven by equal doses via cooperation and competition, with both being driven not by benevolence, but by self-interest. One can even interpret benevolence as a self-interest, with a small and fully legitimate re-interpretation of utility theory. So no, self-adaptive systems won’t do much for India’s children, unless there is a serious fully functional market system that assures a steady progression for India along growth curve. And no, the Millennium Development Goals won’t do much good either, for these goals are really more about taxing the developed countries of the West with a guilt charge to supply subsidies to the existent regimes in the poor parts of the world. The poor are, really, a bit like an actor in a commercial for bottled water. He might be thirsty, but he doesn’t get to drink that water.]

Number 5:

“The tragedy of modern atheism is to have ignored just how many aspects of religion continue to be interesting even when the central tenets of the great faiths are discovered to be entirely implausible. …In the light of this, it seems evident that what we now need is not a choice between atheism and religion--but a new secular religion: A religion for atheists.”

[Irony has it, but the good philosopher who wrote this doesn’t quite get the point that from the logic point of view, atheism is a form of religion – it is faith-based as any religion is, and is dogmatic in its acceptance of the first principle that God does not exist]

“What would such a peculiar idea involve? For a start, lots of new buildings akin to churches, temples and cathedrals. We're the only society in history to have nothing transcendent at our centre, nothing which is greater than ourselves. In so far as we feel awe, we do so in relation to supercomputers, rockets and particle accelerators. The pre-scientific age, whatever its deficiencies, at least offered its denizens the peace of mind that follows from knowing all man-made achievements to be inconsequent next to the spectacle of the universe.”

[Spot the contradiction here – if we are the first culture that has nothing transcendent at our core, then we are the culture that does not treat anything as being eternal. Which, of course, means that we cannot de fact believe that any of our achievements can transcend ‘the spectacle of universe’. By the same argument, past cultures, by believing that they left something behind – buildings, temples etc, but always man made – that transcended time had to believe that the ‘spectacle of universe’ was at the very least equaled by their own legacy left for posterity. In other words, the author is clearly logically wrapped up in contradictions here once again.]

“A secular religion would hence begin by putting man into context and would do so through works of art, landscape gardening and architecture. Imagine a network of secular churches, vast high spaces in which to escape from the hubbub of modern society and in which to focus on all that is beyond us.”

[Museums and art galleries as cathedrals? Unquestioned, accepted on faith? Not tested by either time or repetition? Artists as ‘creators’ of a divine license? This is really something closer to the heart of communists and fascists – both have attempted to use art as a vehicle for propagation of the ‘ultimate truth’ – although both have had some artificial (and disastrous in quality) systems of controls over the messengers.]

“In addition, a secular religion would use all the tools of art in order to create an effective kind of propaganda in the name of kindness and virtue. Rather than seeing art as a tool that can shock and surprise us (the two great emotions promoted by most contemporary works), a secular religion would return to an earlier view that art should improve us. It should be a form of propaganda for a better, nobler life.”

[Goebels would approve… as would Stalin. But would modern artists, operating on the basis of personal freedom of expression – which includes freedom to shock, to surprise, to… well, to ‘not be a part of any propaganda’ – approve? I doubt it.]

[At this point, I must say the idea of a secular religion – as espoused by the author here – just doesn’t appeal to me. It is a prescription for totalitarian control, with the ideology of a master race being replaced in its ‘posters’ by the ideology of ‘better and nobler life’… One wonders if there ever was a totalitarian regime, internecine and all that ever postulated its objectives of not achieving a ‘better and nobler life’? The road to Hell is always paved with good intentions... and, may I add, often well-decorated with art...]

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