Mastering Complexity and Diversity

While understanding the limits of our population

by Mike Meyer ~ Honolulu ~ April 12, 2021

Diversity and openness are inherently complex. Our world, planet, biosphere, and human culture are complex and becoming steadily more so. This is the result of evolution as the one universal and fundamental law.

We tend to confuse evolution with success, but that is a human value judgment as the decline and disappearance of things is another kind of success. The only value is change, encompassing both the rise and fall of systems, including species. It is only a matter of perspective.

At a deeper level, increasing complexity and diversity is a filter. Biological expansion, a product of Dawkins’ Selfish Gene, creates complexity for sentient creatures but only as a consequence of achieving the stable creation of a widely proliferated extended phenotype. The challenge is handling geometrically increasing problems of complexity understood as hyperobjects.

To such a sentient species the quest for simplicity becomes dominant. To make this even worse, to strive for simplicity does not remove complexity but succeeds in making it more aesthetically pleasing, an evolutionary produced desire, and more efficient. But to achieve this requires ever-higher intellectual requirements as the complexity must be understood to make it appear simpler. To make complex processes useable by a larger population with different abilities is far more challenging than making it more complex.

The quest for simplicity produces both the desire for efficiency and aesthetics and the malevolent desire for power to remove complexity, e.g. diversity, by force. As complexity is a product of evolutionary change the use of dominance and force to remove it can only be an illusion hiding evolutionary regression. We must learn to manage ever greater complexity.

We are facing a barrier that it may not be possible for us to cross. That barrier is the limit to human education as a means of managing our struggle with complexity.

In the modern era, we designed education to become a public requirement to raise everyone’s knowledge and abilities. People from the 19th to 20th centuries saw political and social problems as social dysfunctionality due to limited or inadequate education.

We see this in the Biden administration’s focus on more education to solve the problems of racism, corruption, and resurgent authoritarianism appearing as fascism. The underlying assumption is that more and better education will eliminate those emergent problems that we thought were close to defeat fifty years ago after two centuries of struggle.

This ideal was also a product of the European Enlightenment that defined the nation-state as made up of educated citizens. The semi-democratic representative government system assumed citizenry being made up of a new educated class modeled on the existing racial and ethnic elite. That new citizenry class with a less educated population would select more educated representatives to manage the knowledge they may not possess.

The unstated assumption was that the work of a democratic (representative republic) would include public education. The failure to specify education as a requirement was part of the conflict with traditional landowning gentry versus a broader definition based on the English yeoman class of naturally educated farmers or retainers to the gentry class.

We are now dealing with the structural failure of those concepts. There are limits that more years in our existing educational system do not solve. There are also practical limits to improving educational systems, as those are currently, defined that go back over fifty years.

Significant improvements are possible to achieve the leveling of educational opportunity and availability throughout the population. Ironically, that achievement requires greater complexity and diversity in educational tools, methodologies, and goals. We understand this as personalized education that is, by definition, massively more complex as it means education defined for each individual.

The irony is that we are seeing that our cultural and political problems manifest as fear and rejection of diversity and complexity. But the increasing diversity and complexities of our world do not allow that as an option without unacceptable costs. The clearest example is the climate warming disaster that is a hyperobject at the edges of our ability to grasp and understand.

This is the base cause of social shattering resulting in reactionary political movements predicated on nationalism, racism, and an absurd return to a type of tribal past. The presence of above-average educated populations in these groups shows the limits or failure of the education solution. We are, after all, in post-modern countries at the highest level of formal education in history, but for a significant segment of our population, it doesn’t seem to matter.

As we see, the push for greatly expanded public education has been and is increasingly rejected by a significant part of the population in developed countries. Minority governments controlled by appealing to this reactionary class have openly declared education, particularly higher education, to be the enemy of the society they desire. That society is a semi-isolated, homogeneous, and hierarchical society built on ignorance protected from scientific objectivity.

The reactionary forces must replace knowledge with myth, religion, and ideology unburdened by logic. Only the current political lies are accepted as valid, but they have no justification other than media repetition. This is modeled on Hitler’s Big Lie, crudely imitated by Trump’s Big Lie. There is no justification other than a large number of people have been made to believe it.

Education only gets in the way and makes too many people disobedient of the minority ideology. But even higher education for parts of the population was undermined by the promise of wealth and power at the cost of the population's demeaned parts. That is, of course, a direct result of the imposition of extreme capitalism and its long-term distortion of asset distribution combined with greed as the primary virtue.

Uncontrolled extreme capitalism demands economic totalitarianism that inevitably becomes political totalitarianism. The distortion of asset distribution, unchecked, produces vast, unearned wealth in very few hands who can afford to buy out the people's representatives and fund the emasculation of representative government. This is the current state of American Congressional dysfunction forcing executive actions, ironically, to salvage the concept of the representative government.

The reactionary population that is anti-education, bigoted, racist, and xenophobic is promised security for their hatreds and safety from change and diversity. They exchange their vote in a distorted minority government for protection from knowledge and diversity. That this is being used to suppress and exploit the population by a small oligarchic elite is too complex for many of those fooled to understand.

That this is also a lie is the ultimate irony. The forces, hyperobjects, that we have initiated as a species do not allow that option without risking our planetary civilization and its planetary biosphere. Ignorance is no longer an option, but education seems to have diminishing returns for our investment.

The economic failure, structurally escalating but invisible in the capitalist markers of success, has created a new, huge precariat class. This class teetering constantly on the edge of financial failure is having the requirements of success replaced with more complex and technical minimums. Exactly what this class is being offered is being switched with what they fear most. This is another aspect of the oligarchic lie to the frightened population they are exploiting.

Totalitarian capitalism can only result in isolated political units dependent on a removed elite with a rapidly declining need for the mass population they have chosen to keep in requested ignorance. This is unsustainable, immoral, and inefficient.

This is a common apocalyptic or semi-apocalyptic theme for a future society. It either explodes, or part of the population struggles to escape to another planet or both. There are, to my knowledge, very few narrative lines that do not end with a great mass of people on an increasingly uninhabitable planet that remains as a tragically bad example to the rest of the universe.

While this may be a lack of literary imagination, the only escape seems to be a full deus ex machina salvation. That is a hope as weak as the offered scam of white supremacy and a 19th-century “American” culture forced on a diverse and complex 21st-century world.

Our need is to find ways to overcome the growing gap between the requirements of 21st-century human society on an increasingly unfriendly planet that may be unachievable by a significant percentage of the human population. Unfortunately, we have no good historical examples that are not forms of authoritarianism.

The North American examples of destruction for indigenous cultures predicated on isolating and ‘preserving’ them or, more commonly, destroying them to achieve a common culture still exist as problems within the larger human inequality hyperobject. Looking at the Pacific with Polynesian, Tongan, and Micronesian experience, we see the full range of Western colonialism and attempts to both convert or preserve cultures. It is a very mixed and difficult history to study.

We seem to always return to increasing complexity and diversity with no existing models that will give us the future we think should be possible. Our planetary wealth is growing and has only begun to be seriously affected by the climate disaster, but we have little time to figure this out. Reasonable management of our planet as a commons with equitable asset distribution would create a satisfactory minimum standard of living for all with room for incentives for skill, talent, and innovation but seem already too late to achieve.

I’m increasingly looking at the replacement of nation-states with looser planetary regions and city-states managed under a planetary code of conduct, however difficult to enforce while giving maximum freedom to those regions to evolve working, harmonious societies. The only thing that I see as certain is that this is impossible under our present form of larger regional nation-states based on internal sovereignty. People need to be sovereign, not states or nations.

We will see if we can get there.

Educator, CIO, retired entrepreneur, grandfather with occasional fits of humor in the midst of disaster. . .

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