Bixxy Noodles, on 27 December 2013 - 12:23 PM, said:
Complexity arises from increased population, but it also comes from other sources as well. One of the biggest of those is time accretion. Many solutions to social problems have a one-way implementation path: a kind of "trapdoor logic" to them. Once implemented, they can't be easily reversed because of cascading dependencies and feedback consequences. Each new solution changes the fundamental scope, nature, and understanding of the problem itself. After even a few decades of that non-linear problem/solution feedback interaction, you get an accumulation of interrelated and interdependent complexities that cannot be unwound or simplified. This becomes much more rapid when lots of people are involved, but it occurs in all social milieus at all scales.
In the jargon, we refer to these as Wicked Problems. Here's a good primer on the subject: http://cognexus.org/...kedproblems.pdf
This is exactly right. Once we have greater complexity it is difficult to let go of it.
Some of it may be psychological dependency--for example, airport security after 9/11. There are layers of complexity that we could sacrifice if we had the resolve to live with the risk. After all, we live with the risk of spree shootings because we're not willing to give up the freedom to defend ourselves. Both spree shootings and terrorist attacks are rare events with a real risk that is neglible (you're far more likely to get killed by a drunk driver, or if you live in the southwest, a Mexican). (N.B. There is an opportunistic aspect here as well--9/11 presented elites with a chance to increase their control by an order of magnitude, so they were eager to hype the risk.)
One of the benefits of reducing population is that rare events are experienced as even rarer because of course the repetitions needed to get to the rare event take place over a longer time span. The perception of risk, not actual risk, seems to be more important to escalating complexity (there's little we can do about human perception, which is founded on linear rather than exponential probability). Other sociological changes happen due to exponential changes in scale--crime for example becomes more of a problem as mass cities create anonymity while also presenting people with criminal tendencies more unrelated and unsympathetic people to target, as well as giving them the awareness that crime fighting must employ triage and hence exploitable opportunities. You see a similar thing with democratic efforts by specific groups to secure greater government benefits, a form of theft from the commons.
Increased population also increases complexity by pushing resource consumption to limits that require greater technology (or else limited technology limits the population naturally). We have cities in the desert that can only exist because of large scale management of water resources. Reduce the population and the level of effort needed to sustain communities drops greatly.
The problem with controlled population reduction is that it means pain now for a happier life later, a choice that becomes more difficult due to scale itself (i.e. we feel less group cohesion and thus less responsibility for future generations, who will reap many of the benefits of our sacrifice). This is of course even more of a problem as ethnic diversity creates more conflict and an acute awareness of which groups are getting the spoils.
We were discussing in chat last night the idea that the net effect of the Internet has been largely negative. This is counter-intuitive to mainstream discourse because the benefits to information fluidity and efficiency of operations is so great. It also provides us with pellet consumption activities that fire off reward signals in the brain. But on the other side of the scale it reduces depth of social interaction (which requires physical presence), introduces possibly harmful levels of noise to our daily environment, and subordinates local relationships to self-interested transactions.
From a certain point of view, the Internet starts to look like food aid to Africa. The benefits of greater complexity end up creating need for even more complexity as they allow us to outgrow previous constraints on population and consumption, while exacerbating poorly understood sociopolitical changes. Even 30 years ago, Joseph Tainter was observing diminishing returns on investment in production and research. Today we seem to be accelerating complexity simply to sustain current political fantasies, without any benefits being realized.
To change people's minds I think you have to get them to understand the population density problem (which is somewhat easy to understand) and you have to present to them the incentive of richer social relationships that reduce their reliance on continual stimulation. But it's never easy changing addict behavior.