Down Around Our Ankles

In regard to the fires, coronavirus, et al..

Early man faced many direct threats to his (her) existence. And so we built civilization – a social construct that serves as chain mail – a level of protection between us and perpetual existential crises.

We have come to rely on this web, this matrix, this armor since we are no longer at such great risk of infections, attacks by wild beasts, extreme weather and on…

But what we fail to realize is that in protections ourselves, we have merely shifted the existential risk to the network in which we enclose ourselves: the framework of our safety only functions because it takes on those risks to itself, leaving its own existence continually under threat.

As long as our construct remains between us and danger, we have little to fear. But should that barrier be breached (as it has been of late) or worse yet should it fail completely, we no longer have individual or social experience in protecting ourselves.

It has been said that the more complex a system, the more vulnerable it is to collapse. The law of entropy is invoked at the underlying principle.

Like a house of cards, or a game of Jenga or pick-up-sticks, complex matrices expand until they maximize the volume then can contain – just as social interactions and relationships expand to form the largest possible network, and supply chains expand to move goods and services as efficiently as possible from the source to the consumer.

But connections within such a system become mutually dependent, just as do the components of bridge or of an assembly line. In the most interdependent systems, all it takes is a disruption in one component for the entire system to fail, often catastrophically.

Of course, this is not new. It is our innate knowledge of this that makes us laugh at Lucille Ball at the chocolate factory conveyor belt or Donald Duck in the gift wrapping assembly line.

As long as things run smoothly, the systems expand and become increasingly complex. But, just as the Tacoma Narrows Bridge begins to shimmy or an Imperial Walker staggers in directions its legs were not designed to move, disruptions in the smooth, orderly, and predictable function of a system provide indicators that it has become too complex for the environment in which it currently resides. Instability if the first harbinger of a coming collapse.

So as we take comfort that our supply chains are returning to normal, our health care services are being bolstered and retrofitted to handle our current pandemic, keep one eye open to the possibility that all of these disturbances are not only immediate problems to remedy, but may also be indicators of growing instability in the entire system as a whole.