A Case Study of Complex Adaptive Systems Theory

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Summary of: A Case Study of Complex Adaptive Systems Theory
Sustainable Global Governance: The Singular Challenge of the Twenty-first Century

Author(s) / Editor(s)

This paper explains why self-adaptation does not explain the global political system at this time and postulate what conditions must be met if it did. Self-adaptation, if it were achieved and maintained in some proximate form, would constitute a phase transition.

Publication Reference

Published in/by
University of Ljubjlana & Wisdom
Date
July 2009
Web Location

Findings

1. The strong nation system is one in which no governance capacity exists to impose an
international rule of law.

2. The costs of failure in designing adaptive institutions may be irreversible.

3. The passing of our aggregate system into the complexity phase is a profound
evolutionary event with profound consequences. Complexity has generated the
likelihood that if current practices continue, multiple failures of our tightly coupled
political, economic, social systems could take place in this century.

The capacity of biological and ecological systems for self-adaptation or self-organization has been a significant theme in the current life-science academic literature. The article is a case study of complex adaptive systems theory, focusing upon the global political system as a part of a biophysical aggregate system in which we are embedded. This paper explains why self-adaptation does not explain the global political system at this time and postulate what conditions must be met if it did. Self-adaptation, if it were achieved and maintained in some proximate form, would constitute a phase transition.

Our species’ cumulative actions on the environment (including those generating global warming, environmental pollution, ozone depletion, and biodiversity loss) are the dominant source of the increasing density of causal connectedness between human and natural systems. Given the dramatic rise in the world’s population, technological growth--that affecting industrial practices, life-style behavior, and global trade and investment and military weaponry—is the underlying factor that has driven rising causal interconnectedness. I conjecture that the current density of connectedness constitutes a complexity phase into which humanity has entered. The rapidity with which the banking and economic collapse in the United States proliferated into a global recession contributes to my conjecture. Entering into the complexity phase is a profound non-genetically based evolutionary event with profound consequences. As a consequence, humanity is perilously close to what theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman has called a “complexity catastrophe,” sharply limiting the capacity for self-adaptation, and in matters of global governance dramatically increasing the degree of difficulty of effective governance.

This paper focuses on the structural properties of the global political system and argue that its anarchic conditions are maladaptive. The anarchic quality of the strong nation system and the aggressive, self-maximizing behavior of the strong nation it generates serve to diminish the possibility of achieving sustainability. Moreover, the justification for aggressive, self-maximizing behavior within the strong nation system is weakened once in the complexity phase, and such behavior and its justification are no longer viable when a related conflict exists or emerges between global security and national security. The signature characteristic of global governance for global problems is that global security takes precedence over national security when a conflict arises.

The paper maintains that global governance for global problems is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the achievement of sustainable global governance, and is not likely to occur without strong nation advocacy. Sustainable global governance requires, among other things, the development and maintenance of resilience within and between our tightly-coupled human-made and natural systems.

Rising density of casual interconnectedness may generate a heightened concern for global problems creating, in turn, an unprecedented commonality of interests among nations, especially strong nations, and their respective citizens. Should global “localization” occur, it would produce a veritable compression of ideational space characterized by fewer differences in policy prescriptions between (and within) nations. We would expect the emergence of vocal interest groups and revitalized, if not new constituencies, sympathetic to an ethos that extends beyond the narrow self-interest of the strong nation system. Such a compression might parallel the characteristics of the small world network. However, the likelihood is that a struggle for power between those advocating narrow self-interest within the strong nation system and those favoring a wider and global interest, will undoubtedly playout, and no one can predict in advance its outcome.

Economic globalization has contributed to the dense, causal interconnectedness both within and between nations. The management of the global economy in accordance with neo-liberal policies reflect the distribution of power within the strong nation system. These policies with their embrace of market fundamentalism have had destabilizing, global effects, especially upon third world nations.