I was introduced to this paper by Bojan Radej who in a LinkedIn comment said:
In my view, the concept of a ‘complex system’ has a rather limited focus. One can, of course, identify and study phenomena that are in the same instance systemic and complex, such as transport systems or the system of public governance. Yet, systemic approaches do not possess the ability to delve into the essence of complex matters that are *equally systemic and antisystemic”. Maldonado and Mezza-Garcia (2016) explicitly claim that the sciences of complexity are sciences of the anarchic, in the sense that they deal with non-governable matters that cannot be meaningfully framed as systems. The fact that a given complex phenomenon contains systemic characteristics does not mean that complexity can be best explained as a system.https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6797404580184498176?commentUrn=urn%3Ali%3Acomment%3A%28activity%3A6797404580184498176%2C6797483792891170816%29 said:
This is a long piece, which as Barry Oshry says about his workshops, ‘starts off with some good-sized claims’. (In the abstract, anarchy is explicitly applied to both the subject of the science and to the field itself). Then there are some slightly confusing ways of framing the fundamental assertions; ‘Kuhn’s interepretation of the history of science… is a common place‘, and ‘The sciences of complexity, openly or tacitly, are a scientific revolution7,8,9—a new science10. The very concept the sciences of complexity was donned early on at the Santa Fe Institute by the scientists, researchers and theoreticians devoted on the field meaning a radical shift vis-à-vis classical reductionist linear science.’ – I would also note that, rightly or wrongly but without comment, the very extensive citation contains only (along with Kropotkin, Bakunin, Chomsky, Tolstoy, Bookchin, Proudhon) those texts from the systems/cybernetics/complexity field that have been annointed with the branding of ‘complexity’ – so, ok, you know where the paper is coming from. (We know, for example, that ‘heterarchy’ is going to be used in the sense of ‘multiple leadership points rather than a single hierarchy’, instead of in McCulloch’s original terms ‘some way of dealing with circularity of value preferences’ https://stream.syscoi.com/2021/01/24/heterarchy-a-big-concept-with-lots-of-connections-mcculloch-and-onwards/)
Oh, and it’s also got one of those ‘left column good, right column bad’ tables – .
My only actual comments pending a chance to be able to read this properly are:
- a prior assumption of ‘ordering’, ‘systemicity’ etc would seem to be madness in any approach to a situation, so,there’s that
- this appears to be lacking a second-order perspective (though I may not have read it closely enough to be right)
- there seems to be an assumed equivalency here which is explicit but not queried of ‘systematicity’ with ‘top-down hierarchical control’ (and nor is there an exploration of hierarchy in emergence/ecoystems, or any other understanding of ‘hierarchy’ other than top-down control)
- from the introduction, the claim ‘that there is a strong conceptual and theoretical relationship between complexity and anarchism’ is supported by four arguments:
- ‘firstly, complexity entails a scientific revolution, hence a radical shift in science. Such a scientific revolution can help manage complex human social systems. We do not dig into the rationale of the epistemology and history and philosophy of science but we focus on the implications of such a radical turn the complexity sciences entail.’ – well, that’s begging a lot of questions but if ‘ Such a scientific revolution can help manage complex human social systems.’ then there’s something there – a claim of organisational principles or structures or systems within anarchism – which is a form of systematicity, just perhaps at a diffeent order (but if you’ve stripped yourself of the concept of levels of order because it feels like ‘hierarchy’, then you can’t see that…) – for me, systems/complexity/cybernetics can equally identify/support/set up structured, command-and-control hierarchies (say, Jacques’ Stratified Systems Theory), and the conditions for ‘pure self-organisation’. The distinction is not a paradigm shift, the paradigm shifts are seeing the organisational potential within the system (from whatever source), seeing the role of the observer, and critical boundary judgements.
- (the second ‘argument’ is to understand anarchism ‘properly’ – didn’t think I’d be reading Bakunin but one day…)
- ‘Thirdly, the reasons supporting why complexity is, or leads to, anarchy are offered, that make clear the problematic stance of control when dealing with increasingly complex systems.’ I give you Taylor’s Law: if you expunge control from your theoretical framework, in the next paragraph you will be talking about control, without recognising it. Honestly, there’s something big I’m trying to get at here around mistaking the pointing finger and the moon – the claim there’s a paradigm shift from ‘systems and command-and-control’ to ‘complexity and anarchy’ is not actually an enlarging of thinking, it’s a mistaken narrowing. You can make an assumption of systematicity and choose to focus on ‘hierarchical control’, you can equally make an assumption of non-systematicity and choose to focus on ‘anarchy’ (in each case, two choices, not one). But if you do the latter, you are just applying the thinking forms of systematicity, quite appropriately, at a different logical level – which reveals that the tools of cybernetics and systems were already able to undertake analysis with that framing. If you don’t see that, you won’t explore cybernetics and systems thinkers and see that they were already doing this. https://stream.syscoi.com/2020/04/21/bringing-together-some-reason-and-old-threads-on-systemsthinking-is-complexity-is-cybernetics/ (And often were quite preoccupied with a better question: given hierarchies and control are inescapable in human systems, how can we make them justified, distributed, truly democratic, anarchistic?)
- Oh, and the fourth argument is ‘Finally, the match is made the other way round as the paper shows why and how anarchy is seeded in complexity science, or also how the various features that characterize complexity can be taken up as features of anarchism.’
I’ll try to return to this, and didn’t expect it to become such a rant. I accept that a lot of systems/cybernetics/complexity is used, naively and with the assumption of systematicity (or a requirement to *enforce it*) to sustain top-down command-and-control. And, even more so, that much of the practice of management, government, organisation, fits many or all of the criteria of *unhealthy* top-down command-and-control.
But the ‘paradigm shifters’ who don’t see the lines of continuity between their ‘new thinking’ and the old thinking will just repeat the mistakes they criticise; from the very beginnings of our field, the subtletly of thinking needed to support human freedom and flourishing in the way they call for have been available, we only have to grapple with the real complexities, not be side-tracked by naive ‘breakthroughs’.
That means, as these authors state, grappling with anarchism, so this is likely an interesting paper to explore!
Anarchy and complexityMaldonado and Mezza-Garcia: Anarchy and complexity
Title: Emergence: Complexity and Organization
Publisher: Emergent Publications (Litchfield Pk, Arizona, US)
Publication date (electronic): 31 March 2016
Funding: Nathalie Mezza-Garcia is funded by Fundación CEIBA under the Rodolfo Llinás Doctoral Fellowship.
Anarchy and complexity
Carlos Eduardo Maldonado has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from KULEuven (Belgium). He has been visiting professor and visiting research scholar at the University of Pittsburgh, the Catholic University of America (Washington, D.C.), and the University of Cambridge. He holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Timisoara (Romania). He is currently Research Professor at the School of Political Science and International Relations at Universidad del Rosario (Bogotá, Colombia).
Nathalie Mezza-Garcia is a PhD student at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies at the University of Warwick and a Rodolfo Llinás, Fundación CEIBA, Doctoral Fellow. She is interested in complexity science and her research studies how can internet-based technologies guide the self-organisation of human social systems and the biosphere. Her proposal is to have political systems with heterarchical topological networks, human decision-making based on interactive computation and automatic responses to real life data gathered with the Internet of Things. She is currently exploring open source legislation and how artificial intelligence and virtual worlds could help prevent crimes in the physical world (email@example.com).
This paper draws a philosophical parallel between the characteristics of anarchism with the sciences of complexity. The absence—??, an—of a ruling principle—arche, ????—is the conditio sine qua non, it is claimed, for a further search for ground and fundament. The most basic features common to both anarchism and complexity are the absence or critique to control as well as the importance of self-organization. Embracing the theory of complexity inevitably leads towards the acceptance of anarchy. A spirit of anarchy pervades complexity science even if: a) it has not been explicitly thematized, or b) it has not been the explicit concern of researchers and scholars working in the field.
The future is undetermined, and as Bohr once pointed out, predicting is difficult especially when it is about future. Contemporary world is characterized by a constant fluctuation of events, and increasing uncertainty—in many levels and domains, systems and layers of reality. As it has been said, societies witness an increase in the degrees of freedom—which, by and large, is a positive feature—whilst experiencing transitions away from hierarchical control1. This means that, increasingly, the world is becoming more and more unpredictable—at least by the means of the traditional models of classical science.
Nowadays, cutting-edge science is providing new mechanisms of explication for many types of social phenomena. The sciences of complexity are located within these sciences, and they are responsible for introducing more accurate and sophisticated models for understanding non-linearity and shed new lights on the understating and explanation of phenomena characterized by irreversibility, sudden changes, surprise, turbulence and fluctuations, for instance. To be sure, social interactions in human social systems are characterized by such features, particularly in the current non-zero sum world.
This paper argues that there is a strong conceptual and theoretical relationship between complexity and anarchism that has not been sufficiently seen and worked out in the literature about complexity. The claim is supported by four arguments, thus: firstly, complexity entails a scientific revolution, hence a radical shift in science. Such a scientific revolution can help manage complex human social systems. We do not dig into the rationale of the epistemology and history and philosophy of science but we focus on the implications of such a radical turn the complexity sciences entail. On this basis, the paper concentrates on the proper understanding of anarchism; this is the second section of the paper. Various explanations and levels are provided. Thirdly, the reasons supporting why complexity is, or leads to, anarchy are offered, that make clear the problematic stance of control when dealing with increasingly complex systems. Finally, the match is made the other way round as the paper shows why and how anarchy is seeded in complexity science, or also how the various features that characterize complexity can be taken up as features of anarchism. At end, several (open) conclusions are drawn.