Authored by Charles Hugh Smith via OfTwoMinds blog,
We can only choose one: open, dynamic stability (evolution) or autocracy (instability and collapse).
When the fundamentals of life change, every organism must evolve or die. This is equally true of human organizations, societies and economies.
Evolution requires conserving what still works and experimenting until something comes along that works better. We call the fundamentals changing selective pressure and the process of experimenting with mutations / variations natural selection.
In genetic and epigenetics, this process is automatic. In human organizations, those in power influence the choice of what is conserved or replaced and what it’s replaced with. Those who benefit from the current arrangement will fight to conserve it as is, while those being weakened by selective pressure and those hoping to gain advantages with a new arrangement will fight for replacing the old with the new.
Longtime correspondent Ron G. recently shared an insightful economic characterization of this dynamic: wealth defense vs wealth creation. Those holding the system’s wealth have few incentives to risk changing the system, as those changes could undermine or erode their wealth. They have incentives to limit evolutionary forces that threaten their wealth as a means of defending their wealth.
Those who have lost wealth and those with little wealth have incentives to change the system to favor wealth creation.
We can describe the first as orthodoxy–evolution threatens the stability of the status quo, so limit evolution to the margins–and heretics being the second option that tosses out the status quo in favor of a more advantageous variation.
This isn’t either / or, of course. As Ron points out, corporations have incentives to both conserve stability and embrace variations that increase revenues and profits by expanding the markets for the company’s products. In Ron’s words: “The function of orthodoxy or corporate policy / rigor is to mitigate variations that would decrease stability.”
In other words, there’s a danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water. Dynamic equilibrium is based on a constant flux of variations and experiments–that is, low-level instability–continually modifying the system to maintain core stability.
Without this constant flux of low-level instability, sources of instability pile up, unnoticed and uncorrected, until they become consequential enough to destabilize the entire system. The system implodes, crashes, unravels, etc.
We can understand this flux of variations and experiments as evolutionary churn, and this churn requires two things: a steady flow of mutations / variations to feed the process of experimentation, and transparency so advantageous variations aren’t suppressed. In a transparent evolutionary system, data and information about each variation and experiment flows freely between all nodes in the system.
You see the problem. Those benefiting from the status quo are threatened by variations that could replace whatever is defending their wealth. Those in power benefit from the status quo, so their Job One is to suppress evolution by limiting transparency and variations, which include dissent.
Theoretically, those in power favor evolutionary advances that enhance their power and wealth, but anything that powerful is generally a two-edged sword: modified slightly, it could disrupt the entire status quo and fatally undermine their power.
So the safe bet is to suppress all evolutionary churn except those improvements which can be used to further cement their power. These are by definition autocratic.
You see the delicious irony: autocrats suppress evolutionary churn and transparency as threats, but evolutionary churn and transparency are the essential forces maintaining the system’s dynamic equilibrium. Once the system’s dynamic equilibrium decays, systemic instability builds up and eventually brings the entire system crashing down.
Because this process is obscured by authoritarian suppression of transparency, “nobody saw it coming.”
As those in power adopt ever stronger authoritarian measures to limit the potential threats of evolutionary churn and transparency, they accelerate the fatal instabilities building up within their self-serving, kleptocratic social, political and economic systems.
By suppressing the evolutionary churn and transparency that maintain the system’s dynamic equilibrium, they doom their regime to collapse.
The crystal ball isn’t cloudy, it’s crystal-clear: rising instability leading to collapse. “Nobody saw it coming” except those who understand evolution requires evolutionary churn and transparency.
Collapse is a perfectly good evolutionary solution. Stability is either dynamic or it’s not actually stable; it’s merely a simulacrum of stability sliding toward instability and ruin.
The better option is to embrace evolutionary churn and transparency and accept the trade-off: we can only choose one: open, dynamic stability (evolution) or autocracy (instability and collapse). Choose wisely, for once systems collapse there’s no turning back the clock.
* * *
This post was based on an essay published as a weekly Musings Report sent exclusively to subscribers and patrons at the $5/month ($54/year) and higher level. Thank you, patrons and subscribers, for supporting my work and free website.
My new book is now available at a 10% discount this month: When You Can’t Go On: Burnout, Reckoning and Renewal. If you found value in this content, please join me in seeking solutions by becoming a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.