Complexity


The President has just given his State of the Union speech to Congress.  The Washington Post broke it down by minutes allotted to specific issues.  Apparently, the idea was that time showed the importance to the President of each selected issue.  By the following day, each issue had been challenged by members of the other party and assorted other interested parties.  Why can’t we look at the “facts” and come to an agreement?  Why is life so complex?

 Well, most scholars who deal with human societies simply say they are complex.  With specific regard to the President’s speech, there is no agreement on what the facts are. Secondly, complex human societies cannot be managed through centralization.  Yet, that is the tool that government has at hand and that is how any President deals with issues, as well as do mayors and school principals.  A former president of my institution described a professor as one who thinks otherwise.  That description could be applied to congressmen and a vast array of other citizens.

First we have to deal with complex-complexity.  Several dictionaries provided no useful definition.  Roget’s International Thesaurus provided four synonyms, convolution, abstruseness, complication and difficulty, none of which suits this discussion.

With the help of my thoughtful neighbor next door I will attempt a framework for complex thought and behavior.   It is by no means all encompassing, but it will provide a basis for agreement or activity to replace it with something else.

Complexity is the result of a number of human factors.  One is age difference.  At 82 I have lived through a lot more than a 50 year old has, the result being that my experience in events from the early part of my life gives me knowledge and opinions that the 50 year old does not have and probably sees little use for.  By the same token, my experience with and knowledge of Twitter is nil (by choice) and I cannot have a reasonable conversation with younger members of society for whom technological advances are eagerly adopted.

Sticking with life experience, our family upbringing inculcates attitudes, ideals, values, behaviors which shape our own approach to the world in which we live as well as a world we imagine we would like to live in.  These two factors give a hint of why complexity is so difficult to deal with.  No two people are alike and assembling a large group of like minded people means that even that group will have differences to be papered over.

So, we can’t all agree on the health care bill because we don’t have a common basis of knowledge and life experience, and as the years pass people with my kind of life experience die, such things as same sex marriages and use of marijuana become part of mainstream life.

 Complexity comes from the myriad interests, needs and desires of millions of individuals.  What keeps this diversity from tearing societies apart is a web of mutual trust and social cooperation.  Diversity promotes growth and prosperity for a society in which these two factors are front and center in social and economic life.

Next week one person’s belief about how this process of maintaining unity works.

  1. #1 by John Boswell on February 2, 2014 - 8:15 pm

    Just checking
    JGB

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