Complexity, Social Breakdown and the Fermi Paradox

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Complexity, Social Breakdown and the Fermi ParadoxThis is not a dystopian article meant to ruin your day. The purpose is just to provide some perspective on the growing surreal social-political morass we now find ourselves living in and waiting for the other shoe to drop.

When you stop and think about the complexity and mysterious way our global economies function and the trillions of transactions that take place every day around the globe, you realize that it is almost impossible to wrap your head around its complexity. Along with the growth of complexity and the human propensity to “game the system” and push the ethical limits, an onslaught of laws and tedious regulations have been developed that boggle the mind of even the experts who live off of the largesse of that very complexity. Moreover, the democratic and legal processes needed to support the just functioning of the complex systems of commerce, economy and politics seem to be exceeding the capability actually to manage the field of play. Moreover, a cabal of “knowledge-based” industries has been created that add nothing to either the efficiency of the systems or any added value. Indeed, seems to be in the name of turf protection that things be required to employ learned “guides” to navigate the complexities. The propensity for human corruption and the growing hordes of “gatekeepers” seem to be impediments and not facilitators rather buffers to the complexities of democratic, modern societies.

I have spent many years living and working in the less developed (aka Emerging Markets) areas of the world and I have adopted the view that these marginal nations and societies may very well become the model for what will happen as our complex societies lose their validity and ability to make  societies a better place to work and live. The growing populism is a reaction to th  parasitic  “special groups” that flourish and perpetuate a global privileged class. But what is so different these days is that we have all the technical tools to transform the tendencies to regress to the stagnant, oligarchic fiefdom and serfdom model of the past.

On closer analysis and an “objective” review of human nature, perhaps the answer is: Greed, ambition and the development of human potential may be the foundation of our species’ success in running the gauntlet of evolutional survival and deeply engrained in our DNA. Liberal ideas based on Utopian societies may very well be in another universe when compared to our real natures. But do not despair, the jury is still out.

The Fermi Paradox and Why We Should Care

In 1950, Enrico Fermi, one of the famous physicists of that time,  made a seemingly innocuous lunchtime remark that has caught and held the attention of every SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) researcher since the venerable project was initiated by NASA. Basically, the conversation was based on why we humans may not find any other intelligent life forms in the Universe. It goes like this:

The known universe was formed around 15.5 billion years ago. Our solar system was formed about 4.6 billion years ago. If the physical laws of the universe are universal, then why haven’t there been an abundance of intelligent life given that the Universe is five times older than our solar system and our species has taken only about 3 million years to evolve into its current level of sophistication?

Fermi quipped that perhaps the end game for intelligence is self-destruction. Indeed, it doesn’t take much imagination to identify how that insight may have some validity. Just match our current state of affairs where some societies produce members of our own species that’s are willing to destroy themselves and anybody else out of despair, hopelessness and twisted thinking.  Would a terrorist hell-bent on death and destruction feel hesitant about using weapons of mass destruction to blow themselves to pieces?

But we do have the ability to create a different model for societies but just like the alcoholic lives in denial, until the problem is identified and owned, no changes are likely to happen. But before we can put the Fermi Paradox to rest will be the need to start developing a model that can articulate new ideas that place emphasis on other values such as fairness, equality, empathy for others and still offer those things that motivate and create personal growth and happiness. However, there must be a structure that enforces accountability and social responsibility.

Human Responsibilities….not just human rights

More specifically, the age of human rights will also need to place new emphasis on human responsibility and accountability; something that may very well doom us to Fermi’s insight. However, these changes will need to take place at the grass roots where conscious citizens buy into the idea. The odds are probably pretty low this will happen but maybe it will take a crisis to change minds and a commitment to change the current state of affairs. However, the clock is ticking. If my observations sound too far out there, just look at where we are and where we should be.

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