by Elaine Walker, October 26, 2012 (Downloadable PDF file)
Why is society so complex?
Everything in the physical world on every level is competing with other things in one way or another, or cooperating – however you prefer to think about it. Wind causes ocean waves to rise while gravity pulls them down. Snowflakes are formed through different environmental conditions as they fall; some that cause them to melt and others that cause them to grow. Patterns of galaxies are formed in the midst of the competing factors of gravity (mostly dark matter) and some form of anti-gravity (dark energy). Contradiction creates the Universe as we know it. It's the engine that keeps it churning. Call it Chaos Theory, or dynamical systems, or complexity theory, or any number of names. It's just the way things work. The beauty we see all around us in nature is the result of all this.
This reality isn't just reserved for what we think of as nature, but is at work in society as well. Competing terms give rise to patterns and order no matter the medium or size of the system. Smatterings of war and peace have defined humanity since time immemorial. Greed and generosity are competing terms that together give rise to great innovation and organizations. The engine of any free market system is the combination of self-interest and cooperation among the people. Like nature, a free society evolves spontaneously and organically. This organic order is disrupted when a top down force tries to regulate it, prune it, manipulate it or control it in any number of ways.
Society may be complicated, but like nature, a free society has many corrective measures built in. It's not easy for most people to trust that these corrective measures are sufficient or even that they exist at all because of how complex society is. But many confusing and conflicting opinions about society are just a matter of perspective. We might think we're a "greedy" society or "environmentally destructive" or "high tech" or "war mongering", or all of the above. Yet the person next door might be convinced of the opposite – that we are the most proactively helpful nation to other nations in need, the most generous society to our own citizens, and environmentally aware. The world has grown so incredibly complex that actually all of the above is true on some level.
The United States does end up in bloody wars that go on far too long, but at the same time our private citizens and government together are the highest net donor of international aid in absolute dollar amounts, providing more than twice the amount of the next highest donor, the United Kingdom.
The "harmony" of nature can be downright cruel at times. There are continual extinctions and continual newcomers, yet the average person sees nature as the most balanced and "fair" entity of all. A free market economy makes more sense as seen through the lens of nature. For instance, after some period of time, monopolies inevitably won't survive the new innovation of competitors and will have to downsize in order to survive, or an up and coming business might get eaten alive by a larger, more successful business. An elephant can stomp on a termite, but termites can also make or break an entire ecosystem. In nature there are no restrictions on innovation but there are also no bailouts.
Almost everyone appreciates the perfect balance of untouched nature even though she can be harsh and unforgiving. Why? I think it is because deep down we really crave pure unadulterated freedom. It's been a long and continuous battle to win whatever freedom we have now. Those of us who truly crave freedom already know that we must accept nature’s unforgiving ways to some degree. Freedom doesn't come with any guarantees. For instance, we must accept that dinosaurs were unforgivingly wiped off the planet, and if they weren't we probably wouldn't be here. And even after that it was only through cleverness and cunning that we eventually made our way to the top of the food chain.
Copyright © 2012 by Elaine Walker. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given and author notified.