Tuesday, 6 October 2015

First draft, first chapter.

Chapter one.

The first sign of trouble came with a small, red, flashing light illuminating the cold, metal corridor that had remained dark for several years. It was joined by a dull green glow as screens lit up from their hibernation. The first noise for several years quickly followed; a hissing cacophony from a row of pods whose bottom edges slowly protruded from the opposing wall, joined moments later by the sound of an alarm. Consoles kicked into life, turning the green to a warm, white light as the front panels of the pods slowly opened.

Of the five pods, the occupant of the middle one was first to stir. Despite the soft lighting and relatively low volume of the alarm, designed to minimise sensory overload in such situations, the face revealed by the clearing vapours scrunched it's eyes and slowly raised a hand to shield the light. The alarm was harder for the subconscious to ignore however, and within seconds the training kicked in. Stretching and bending his legs, the man emerged from the pod, unclipped a variety of tubes and sensors from the hood-to-toe, skin-tight, outfit, and turned to help the others wake from their long slumbers.

He didn't hang around. Unclipping the others, he gently but firmly slapped their cheeks, bringing the sound of the alarms to their senses. Sickness and disorientation was to be expected, and he quickly gave two who were struggling a shot in the neck to bring them round. It took a couple of minutes for everyone to become functional, in which time two of the personnel were already at the screens, trying to ascertain what could have happened that required them to be brought out of deep-sleep and into a world of flashing lights and alarms. Why couldn't the ship handle this?

All five personnel, four men and one woman, almost identical looking except for their exposed faces, were now frantically working the touch-screen consoles. Something was very wrong, that much was clear. They appeared to have no access to the computers AI, which would explain why they had had to be thawed, and were having to diagnose the problem themselves.

They didn't have to wait long to get a major clue as to what was up. A console turned red, warning of a hull breach in sector 7G. Worse, the hull breach extended as far as sector 7D, a cargo hold, meaning the breach extended through four layers of the ship.

“Have we been hit by something?”

“Shields are operational, no indication of damage.”

So what the hell was happening? Yes, they were going fast, very fast, but between the AI, the sensors, the offensive capabilities, and the shield, the ship was designed to bare practically zero risk from unexpected asteroids. Some sort of attack, perhaps? Yet, despite the AI apparently not being operational, the shield appeared unaffected.

“The hull breach came after we were already awoken. Had it been an attack that had caused it, what had happened previously to warrant the emergency protocol initiation? Jones, you work thought the ship's log, find an answer. I'm going to try and find out why we can't communicate with the AI. The rest of you, manually initiate containment and repair. Go.”

Jones was already doing just that. It appeared that the first indication of trouble had come from sector 7D: atmospheric changes, temperature rising, breach. Followed by the same indicators in sectors 7E, F, and finally the hull breach itself.

It looks like whatever happened, it happened from the inside-out, originating in sector 7D. Sir, do you copy? Sir?”

The commanding officer, for without the AI that was he was, at least temporarily, was silent. He was staring, confused, dumbfounded, at the screen before him. He was completely locked out.


“It's useless. I can't even begin to diagnose the problem. All the ships read-outs are consistent, but the AI's completely inaccessible.”

He checked on the progress of the automatic contingency protocol, which, for by now obvious reasons, operated separately from the ship's AI. Every pod on the ship was by now primed for evacuation, just in case things got critical. Which they did.

“We have more immediate problems, sir. The hull breach is getting worse, and without the AI, I cannot say for sure what is causing it.”

“Best guess, Jones?”

“Best guess? Given where it started and the time between each floors atmospheric changes, something from the cargo hold is eating through the structure; acid, or something similar”.

“No way something like that would have got on board. Too big a risk for something we can easily synthesise.”

“Well, whatever it is, it was onboard, and it was a risk. Or a hope.”

The commanding officer looked at Jones, and quickly thought through the implications. It couldn't have been an accident. Significant resources had been committed to working through each and every risk, and to mitigate them to incredible odds. That meant that whatever was going on, it was most likely hidden, complex, and worse of all, intended. And no one would intend to only do localised, repairable damage. What's more, it was likely tied to the reason the AI was out of commission.

“If this is intended, then this is likely about to get much worse than it currently appears.”

“Initiate evacuation, Sir?”

“Do it. We can always pick them up when we are done. It's not like they would even know.”

Jones ran along the gangway at full speed. The full speed his legs could manage after years in the freezer, anyway. The echoes of his steps rang out in rhythm with the alarm, his mind taking a moment to recognise the synchronisation. Moments later, he came to a halt in front of a control panel, lifted a protective shield, and placed his hand against the screen. Nothing happened. Jones shouted down the corridor.

“Sir, we have a problem! The controls are dead!”

“We have more than a problem; two more cargo holds are reporting atmospheric changes!”

Jones could see the commanding officer frantically hammering on the controls. He moved quickly, and was already at the nearest pod when he heard the officer shout.

“Start manually ejecting the pods, now!”

Jones yanked open the manual ejection mechanism next to the pod, pulled out the pin, and pulled down a large, red lever 180 degrees. A hiss of air made him step back, and without waiting to see if the pod ejected, was on to the next one. Twice more he went through the procedure, all the while calculating. Six thousand pods. Roughly ten seconds per pod, no doubt slowing with fatigue long before the end. Even assuming the other four joined him, that was well over 5 hours work. Not nearly enough.

“Sir, we need more hands!”

The officer nodded, turned, and started methodically moving along the line of pods directly next to those they had themselves emerged from. Engineers. Security. The expendables. Jones hurriedly joined him. If they could get enough people un-thawed, they might be able to get everyone off the ship in as little as half an hour. They didn't have half an hour.

A new sound gave the two men pause for a moment. Then another. More alarms. The officer turned and looked at the displays. Two more hull breaches. Red, flashing warnings everywhere. The increasing damage was relentless, the cause still unknown. Jones and the officer looked at each other, each searching the other for an answer. None came.

“What the hell is going on here?”

One of the newly awoken crew was trying to make sense of the noise and the lights. Others started to stir. Jones looked at them, looked at the screens, and started to cry.

“I'm sorry. I'm so sorry..”

The situation was hopeless. He knew that. All along the ship, the computer was reporting atmospheric changes consistent with those before. Whatever was happening, it was happening everywhere, all at once. All he had done by awakening his colleagues was to allow them to experience their final moments.

He looked along the gantry. About two hundred yards away, he could see the empty spaces that had formerly been the home to free pods. With any luck, they might be able to harvest enough energy to keep going until they found somewhere hospitable. But even if they didn't, they were still guaranteed a better death than the people he had awoken. He would even pick eternal slumber than experience the certainty of death first-hand.

“We might be going to die, but that doesn't mean we can't save some. Everyone, start ejecti...”

He got no further. Gravity failed, pressurisation failed a moment afterwards, and the entire ship was shaken and blown apart. For what is was worth, their deaths were quick.

Speeding away from the explosion, three pods were adjusting their trajectory and powering away from the ship. Not fast enough to completely escape the resulting explosion, but enough to survive it. Whether surviving meant anything at this point, only fate would decide. Fate, and the on-board computers that charted a course for the nearest star cluster with known potential for life-sustaining planets.

Introduction to Complexity Resources


The Complexity of Hayek:

Greg Fisher, Synthesis, February 2012
There are a number of similarities between complex systems and Friedrich von Hayek’s work  fleshed out in this blog.  For those who want to build on Hayek’s broad approach to social systems, they need look no further than complexity theory.

Life Before Earth?

Cornell University Library, March 2013
This study suggests an extrapolation of the genetic complexity of organisms to earlier times suggests that life began before the Earth was formed. Life may have started from systems with single heritable elements that are functionally equivalent to a nucleotide. The genetic complexity, roughly measured by the number of non-redundant functional nucleotides, is expected to have grown exponentially due to several positive feedback factors: gene cooperation, duplication of genes with their subsequent specialization, and emergence of novel functional niches associated with existing genes. Fascinating idea to consider.

Want simplicity in leadership? Then embrace complexity first

Bettina von Stamm, Guardian, June 2013
If you want to thrive rather than just survive, understanding and embracing the principles of complexity theory can be extremely valuable, and by embracing and living by those principles you will be able to achieve what everyone is yearning for: simplicity.

What to make of the complexity paradigm?

Ben King, Synthesis, October 2013
With so much at stake – global warming, resource depletion, growing complexity etc – it is vitally important that we understand the dynamics of paradigm shifts, so that we may both effectively communicate this new paradigm and have realistic expectations of the challenges ahead.

How science is telling us all to revolt

Naomi Klein, New Statemans, October 2013
Is our relentless quest for economic growth killing the planet? Climate scientists have seen the data – and they are coming to some incendiary conclusions using complexity and systems theory.

Stop trying to save the world; big ideas are destroying international development

New Republic, November 2014
Fascinating article about the risk of unintended consequences and negative path dependencies in international development, and the need for the field to embrace complexity theory.


Franz contemplates complexity

ContemplateThisDotOrg, April 2011
I am not ashamed to say that by the end of this video I was crying actual tears. Extremely beautiful short video about complexity theory and complex adaptive systems.

Trial, error and the God complex

Tim Harford, TED, July 2011
Economics writer Tim Harford studies complex systems — and finds a surprising link among the successful ones: they were built through trial and error. In this sparkling talk from TEDGlobal 2011, he asks us to embrace our randomness and start making better mistakes.

Complexity theory and panpsychism

Dr N. Theise, 2013
Dr. Neil Theise, LIver Pathologist and Stem Cell specialist, explains complexity theory, and how sentience could be a function not only of human brains, but of all life, and indeed, of all existence. Sentience, according to his view, is the very interaction that creates all patterns in the universe, including all matter and space. This is the closest thing I have found to someone else explaining what I also concluded; that consciousness is a spectrum stretching from the very small to the very large.

Puppies! Now that I’ve got your attention, complexity theory

Nicolas Perony, TED, OCtober 2013
Animal behavior isn’t complicated, but it is complex. Nicolas Perony studies how individual animals — be they Scottish Terriers, bats or meerkats — follow simple rules that, collectively, create larger patterns of behavior. And how this complexity born of simplicity can help them adapt to new circumstances, as they arise.

Complexity, Culture & Consciousness

Minds.com panel discussion, January 2014
On the intersections of complexity theory, cultural studies, and the evolution of consciousness, this google hangout features Neil Theise, Complexity Researcher; Richard Doyle, Information Scientist; Erik Davis, Religious Scholar; Michael Garfield, Evolutionary Philosopher; Mitch Mignano, Cultural Historian; and Bill Ottman, Open Web Activist. Incidentally, it was nice to see a bit of derision towards the skeptical communities inability to deal with politics.

Complexity theory: an introduction

Complexity Lab, April 2014
A short introduction to the new area of complexity theory. For those not familiar with the technical aspects already, the short film below may be better.

Complexity Theory: A short film

Complexity Lab, June 2014
An inspirational short film about complexity theory and the shift in paradigm from the Newtonian clockwork universe to complex systems, produced by Complexity Labs.


LSE Complexity Group

The LSE Complexity Group has been working for over 20 years, with organisations in the private and public sectors to address practical complex problems. In the process it has developed a theory of complex social systems and an integrated methodology using both qualitative and quantitative tools and methods.

Complex Care Wales

An example of complexity as applied to healthcare, in 2010, a multi-agency network was established across Wales, bringing together practitioners from a range of disciplines and services to form the Complex Care Forum. The purpose was to explore and develop practice, aimed at supporting people who live with complex needs. This article is intended to describe a new understanding of demand and capacity with in healthcare, through work undertaken within Hywel Dda Health Board – an integrated health organisation based in West Wales.

Santa Fe Institute

The Santa Fe Institute is a private, not-for-profit, independent research and education center, founded in 1984, where leading scientists grapple with some of the most compelling and complex problems of our time. Researchers come to the Santa Fe Institute from universities, government agencies, research institutes, and private industry to collaborate across disciplines, merging ideas and principles of many fields — from physics, mathematics, and biology to the social sciences and the humanities — in pursuit of creative insights that improve our world.


Synthesis is a think-tank devoted to using the emerging paradigm of complex networks in the social sciences to tackle social and public policy concerns.


Aid on the Edge of Chaos

Ben Ramalingam, Oxford University Press, 2013
An excellent expose on the follies of international development sans an understanding of complex systems.
“This excellent book does three important things. It provides an informative tour of the reductionist thinking and over-simplistic approaches that characterise so much current development policy and practice. It draws on the ideas of complex adaptive systems research to show that such flaws are neither inevitable nor incurable. And it presents a series of powerful cases of how these new ideas are beginning to make a real difference to the way we think about and work in aid. A must-read for anyone interested in development, its current discontents, and its future potential.”
– Ricardo Haussmann, former Chief Economist, Inter-American Development Bank and Director of the Centre for International Development, Harvard University

Online training and e-learning courses

Complex Systems Theory: An Introduction

Complexity Lab
This course is an introduction to the core concepts of complex systems theory, an exciting new area that is offering us a fresh perspective on issues such as understanding our financial system, the environment and large social organizations. The aim of this course is to bring the often abstract and sophisticated concepts of this subject down to earth and understandable in an intuitive form. After having started with an overview to complex systems this course will focus upon five of the core concepts. It costs £16 to take, includes 17 lectures, and is intended for a broad group of people but will be particularly relevant for those with a background in a technical domain such a some area of math, science, engineering or business.

University of Surrey Complexity Workshop: Rearranging the theoretical deckchairs.

This week I attended the fourth workshop of the Constructed Complexities series, organised by the University of Surrey.  The theme for the workshop was ‘Socially constructed complexities, institutions, and power’, a theme that has been at the heart of my philosophising on complexity for the best part of a decade. That said, I have never really delved into any established academic theory on the topic, and so I feel extremely lucky to have had the chance to finally immerse myself into how the complexity field is progressing within academia.

It didn’t surprise me therefore that I had never heard of 90% of the people referenced by the guest speakers, nor the majority of the established theories covered. That said, much of the material felt like familiar ground; generally what I would have expected from the application of complexity theory to institutions and power. The first day saw talks on the complexities of water management in New Mexico, the nature of (and need for) social ontology, and the normative implications of complexity for politics. Day two focused on various frameworks of institutionalism (historical, sociological, rational-choice, critical, etc), with a particular focus on historical-institutionalism. The speakers were, without exception, top-notch, and the discussion, like the food, was both delicious and nutritious.

Since so many of the concepts and terms were new to me, I won’t attempt in this blog to critique the various modalities that were presented; a lot of great minds have been debating the various forms of institutionalism for two or three decades now, and I wouldn’t deign to think two days of talks would be enough for me to do justice to them. Instead, I want to provide an outside, critical perspective on the overall endevour at hand, placing it within a wider, global, un-academic context.

Complexity is that rare beast; a framework pursued by multiple disciplines that constitutes a paradigm shift in the way we see the world, a la post-modernism and modernism. It is not surprising therefore that much of the academic process has involved a) a lot of effort going toward finding common terminology, and b) a continuous process of changing focus, as new theories seek to emphasise elements neglected by previous concepts. At various points, rational-choice theory, sociology, the state, historical context, and others have been made the focus of how to best view institutions, resulting in decades of publications and a number of tools and frameworks to use in analysing institutions and power.

Before I go any further, I want to say that I am grateful for all of that. Such discourse is the raw material for inspiring paradigmatic change, and while academia may not itself be first unto the breach, so to speak,  it is nevertheless a vanguard of sorts. However, it is apparent that it is not for me. Allow me to explain.
For me, I see the implications of complexity theory on institutions and power as being really very simple. Yet clearly this is not reflected in the myriad of institutionalisms emerging. So what, I thought, is the cause of this disparity. Am I overly idealistic in my ideas? Was there more nuance for me to find? Or was it something else; were we in fact comparing apples and pears?

A thought occurred to me on the way home that I felt wrapped up the dissonance I had been feeling: I use complexity theory to critique power, while academia uses complexity theory to critique theories of power. This is a crucial difference. Theories of power emerge from study, from the examination of the existing processes and dynamics of institutions, laws, behaviours, and relationships. Naturally, this is going to result in a whole raft of ideas about ‘how things work’, a process that is potentially endless, and almost impossible to quantify with any conviction. The cynic in me cannot help but chime that here is fertile ground for the replication of academia’s own historical institutionalism; the numerous niches and nuances facilitating a production line of publications that can nevertheless safely avoid what for me is the central implication of complexity theory on institutions and power.

See, if you take out the theory, the bottom line is this: complexity theory utterly de-ligitimises almost all manifestations of institution and power that exist in the world as of today.
This was, I felt, something of an elephant in the room. While there was ample evidence of a general disdain for neoliberalism and conservatism on display, the bulk of the workshop could legitimately be described as an effort to make existing structures better. This throws up a quandary that I was at pains to subtly introduce in my questions; can institutions and power actually use this complexity theory discourse to reform itself from within, and within the timescales necessary to avoid a) revolution, and/or b) catastrophic impacts from ideologically-based path dependencies?

My experience from studying history tells me that not only are the two potential consequences just stated all too likely to recur given enough time, but also that they tend to come about precisely because power very, very, very rarely makes significant ideological u-turns once path-dependencies have been established. Once we take this into account, it gives a somewhat pessimistic perspective on the capacity for directly inspiring real-world change via the academic process. At best, it can hope to achieve lagged baby-steps of progress, yet I cannot escape the feeling that, for many a reason that the various institutionalisms could no doubt describe when applied self-referentially to questions of funding-, sponsorship-, and publication-systems, such discourse will always be constrained in its ability to directly critique power itself.

This is a big problem. The wider, global context is such that to examine complexity in this constrained manner is akin to re-arranging theoretical deck-chairs while a very large, distinctly non-theoretical iceberg is baring down upon our shared ship. Climate change, biodiversity loss, inadequate pandemic mitigation and management, the threat of future bio- and nano-technologies; all present very real, existential dangers to billions of people within the next three decades.

Another simple implication of complexity theory I consider to be true; that new modes of top-down power transition from adaptive to maladaptive over time, as a result of the difference in cultural evolutionary speed between institutions and the society they govern. Furthermore, this dissonant gap exhibits exponential growth that results in bottom-up, system-wide phase transitions (revolution) unless the pressure is adequately released. This is certainly possible in some contexts – civil rights for instance – but is highly unlikely, even when faced with existential threats, when the required reform means voluntarily letting go of central tenets of power’s ideological underpinning.

I have read hundreds of sustainable development reports, yet I could count on one hand those that have even mentioned the eternal growth doctrine, neoliberalism, and the intentional creation and reproduction of consumer identities, despite the central role they play in climate change, biodiversity loss, and environmental degradation. We all have a duty, no matter how difficult the institutional, relational, and systemic contexts we find ourselves in, to keep pushing, keep challenging, and to never let go of our human context in the work that we do.

It is my great hope that the work done by those at the workshop, and the many influential thinkers they referenced, has been doing enough in the background to quietly inspire and influence a broader coalition of people who are less constrained in their application of complexity theory to power; artists, musicians, activists of all shades. Certainly, academia has a crucial part to play in the process of paradigmatic change, but history tells us that rarely is it considered the focal tipping point. Indeed, it is often one of the last to defend the status-quo. Personally, I see myself as operating in something of a mediating role; always trying to provide formalised weight to activism, but equally motivated to agitate amongst academia.

Time is short, the stakes are high, and power is at the heart of the problem. Perhaps then it is time to move away from describing what is happening using complexity theory, and more toward utilising that expertise to judge what is happening. Sure, it won’t be for everyone, and there is always a need for theory. Let’s just not forget that there is a growing number of people suffering out there who see in academia an un-mobilised and potentially powerful ally, and would really appreciate us moving away from the deck-chairs, and focus more on helping to wrestle the steering wheel from those too ideologically blind to change course.

Complexity and Vaccines.

Complexity is hard. It is hard because each and every one of us develop in a cultural system, with the same pattern-finding brains, conditioning us to identify cause and effect. Yet in sufficiently complex systems, without computers to aid us, identifying causality is simply impossible without the creation of, and attachment to, a subjective narrative drawn from our own personal experience and mental schemas.

A consequence of this is the sustained phenomena of ideology, where particular narratives are continually reinforced within a powerful, sub-cultural sphere, pontificating on highly complex social issues with an authority and certainty that complexity theory objectively denies them. This holds true at multiple scales, whether its a village council, an online forum, or Westminster.

And so here we complexity theorists sit, witness to opposing forces shouting at each other with stunning conviction, often needing nothing more than a few cherry-picked quotes from a single, possibly self-interested, source. Every time we hear an economic forecast stretching two, three years into the future, every time we hear a prediction on how much a 20 year infrastructure project will cost, what do we propose? Are we to just sigh wearily while the opposing groups have their turn reading the tea-leaves and proclaiming Truth? It’s seriously getting boring shouting at the Today programme on BBC Radio4, “but complexity!”.

Now, I’m not saying that beliefs and values should have no part in our collective self-organisation. By all means have idealism, I encourage it highly, but it has to be recognised as a goal to aim for, the objective of the strategy, and not the strategy itself. Almost by definition, blanket, immediate reform shaped from an ideal tends to emerge from initial conditions that were so crap that they inspired the mandate for idealistic, radical change to begin with. Initial conditions are important, really important, and history has shown what happens when they are disregarded. It aint pretty.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Once you get past the conditioning, complexity is by definition intuitive. But damn, that conditioning..

Case in point: the vaccination debate.

Take vaccinations. Recently, vaccination rates in the U.S. have declined to dangerous levels in some areas, resulting in outbreaks of measles such as that which occurred recently at Disneyland. Some parents are choosing not to vaccinate their children, with many citing the low but real chance of side-effects, and others going so far as to claim the whole thing is a Big Pharma based conspiracy. More people still are hung-up on the issue from a question of personal freedom, the immorality of being compelled to do something, and think that there should be a choice, perhaps together with education.

These people do not understand complexity theory, on a number of levels. Primarily, I think the major problem is an inability to switch between scales of reference, due to the cognitive dissonance that it might entail. In this case, personal freedom is enshrined at the scale of the individual only, with the systemic scale ignored, or else presumed to emerge according to a bottom-up process only. It’s easier to discern cause and effect at the scale of yourself, and more tempting to elevate the risk factor, when viewed selfishly. It also signals a lack of understanding regarding the potential for bottom-down emergent forces; the way in which systems influence people. Conversely, the more extreme anti-vax crowd impart the kind of cause and effect seen at the scale of the individual – intent, control, homogeneity – onto the system, personified as an evil there to fight, a powerful and well-established narrative to cling on to.

Where cause and effect is relatively simple to confabulate narratives for at the scale of the yourself (it’s actually just as hard, objectively, hence relying on epidemiology in pharmacology), resulting in numerous anecdotes spread with personal belief, the systemic scale is something of an abstraction. Time and distance conspire to hide cause and effect from us, leading us to rely on those actively looking and reporting back. Most do a good job, but it only takes one for enough people to latch onto, with their worries and confirmation bias, to suddenly create doubt in the public’s mind; a mind manipulated with fear for the sake of click-bait headlines and newspaper sales. Whether doubt is good or bad is not an inherent trait, it requires contextualisation, and with vaccinations, doubt has a death toll.

This is why it is particularly emotive for me – I can think of no other area of research where so much effort has gone into satisfying people that have made names for themselves through constant criticism of proven work. I feel for the parents whose fear has been manipulated, but I am also angry that so many can disregard the majority of people in their community, and demand the right to bring back diseases that should have been eliminated by now.

I cannot imagine that their choice really is to usher in another age plagued by avoidable, devastating illnesses, killing thousands of children. But if you do understand that risk, and you still want both sides given attention and respect, even for idealistic reasons, then sorry, you’ll get no respect from me. And if you don’t care and actively profit from this fear, than shame on you.

You aren’t allowed to drive on the other side of the road, but no one whines about losing their freedom because of it. I know vaccines feel more invasive, but its the same deal. We all have to do it; we all have to make sacrifices for the good of the whole. Order doesn’t just magically spring from the rational self-interest of one scale of emergence, whatever Ayn Rand might have you believe. So vaccinate your kids, please. We collectively earned this opportunity, and no individuals can claim the right to impose themselves, and take that away.

Its the best that we have, but it can be better

Any form of governance, whether it’s politics, health systems, education, etc, has no choice but to manage the complexity by applying the same rules to everybody. That is how how the nation state and it’s laws (should) operate, and that is how we practice medicine (to a degree). It is far from perfect; having to rely on the use of averages, probabilities, catering for the lowest denominators, and not having the capacity to tailor rules to the scale of the individual, governing a whole system will inevitably, unintentionally, screw individuals occasionally.

We just have to accept that, for now. We have no other choice. With any controversial area, the alternative is to introduce chaos into terrible initial conditions. As I said, argue for your ideal, but before that ideal can touch decision making that affects all of us, first it must be granted space to influence the scientific consensus. Not until individualised decision-making is actually plausible will it start to become immoral not to utilise it, but until then, we have to accept this is the best we can do. You don’t have to like it, and you wont always get what you want. Personally, I’m happy to listen to thousands of passionate experts that have spent their lives trying to understand that which I accept I am, objectively, personally blind to.

Incidentally, if we do want individualised governance within self-organisation – making each individual as free as possible, removing the one-size-fits-all approach of age restrictions, drug prohibitions and the like – we would need so much data available that it is hard to imagine it not going terribly awry without a radically different political economic structure than today. As I said, initial conditions are vital to consider.

My/A conclusion

It’s imperative that the limits of knowledge, and the absurdity of conviction, revealed by complexity theory is pummeled into all levels of culture and governance. Shift the focus from ideology to methodology, learn what constitutes good evidence so you can hold authority to account without succumbing to frauds like Andrew Wakefield, and stop being so selfish when it comes to accepting consensus, especially in cases where the stakes are so high (climate change is another one).  Recognise the importance of the systemic scale, and learn to love synthesising the dissonance that comes from incorporating the two scales together.

And yes, I do feel conviction in speaking of the absurdity of conviction, and no, that isn’t hypocrisy. Belief and conviction is not inherently bad, it’s the imposition of said conviction on others that is bad. And when complexity applies as it always does in heated debates, showing that conviction to be inherently unknowable, be it in anti-vaxers, economists, politicians, whoever, that’s when I have to clench my fist, sigh, and try not to feel too downhearted. Its a necessarily slow process, this alternative to imposition – the gradual accumulation of wisdom and knowledge – and I for one have no problem using conviction to protect those gains. Join me in continuing to speak out about these many abuses of authority, fellow complexity theorists, so that we might get to a better place sooner rather than later.

A glance at transhumanism via the augmented pianist.

A few weeks ago, I downloaded an app for my android tablet called Magic Piano. Like most other instrument based games, it works through the visual representation of coloured orbs descending the screen; hit them as they cross the illuminated line and viola, the right notes are struck at the right time. Partly due to how expensive the in-app purchases of new songs is, and partly due to how much Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen rocks, it has pretty much monopolised my time on the app. It didn’t take very long to become relatively proficient at tapping the various combinations, and soon I was able to play the whole song in a kind of flow state, subtly providing variation as I felt fit and gaining a real sense of relaxation.

This got me thinking. To what extent is the pleasure derived from playing this app, and that derived from playing a real piano, different? Both enter a flow state; could one flow state be more significant than the other? And what if you tried to close that gap by making the app experience as “real” as possible? What if you had an augmented reality device that transcribed the music as descending orbs, but overlaid on a real piano?

This creates an interesting little thought experiment. Imagine this entirely plausible, relatively near-term scenario whereby augmented reality is provided by contact lens, or even a neural interface, and is connected to smartphone and mic that can, after one listen to a piano piece, transcribe the music onto the piano in a gamified format. What could potentially result is a “pianist” that could trick others into believing he can memorise and play any piece of music on the piano after just one listen.

Now, the real interesting question is this: is the punctuation in that last sentence justified? Has the user actually learned to play the piano? Is the user now considered a pianist?

One way to approach this question is by first asking what is the difference between this user – the ‘augmented pianist’ – and a ‘classical pianist’, and then asking if that difference is an integral and inherent part of learning.

The main difference that I can see is that the augmented pianist has essentially outsourced two things to an external device: identification, and memory. Software can recognise which notes to play and when, while the device is also taking the role of memory; the augmented pianist doesn’t have the memorise the notes before he plays them. This memorising, be it in terms of conscious, sub-conscious, muscle memory, etc, could easily be interpreted as integral to the concept of learning. Yet many things have been considered integral to concepts, only to be left behind in the historical dust. The question is then, can learning be considered to occur without the identification, and more importantly, memory elements?

The augmented pianist still learns some important stuff; on first try with the Magic Piano app I was awful, and found it very difficult. Over the course of a few days, I found that my coordination was massively improving, getting much faster and dealing well with brand new combinations of notes first time around. Obviously in the case of a tablet app the experience is greatly simplified, but even if projected onto a real piano, I don’t doubt that a similar experience could ensue, only even more immersive with a genuine sound and environment.
A brief look at the younger generations, and a basic historical grasp of how cultural trends work, can easily lead one to argue that in an augmented future where skills such as pattern recognition, note recognition, memory, etc, can be out-sourced, the very definition of learning may be about to change. No longer will one have to spend tens of thousands of hours to appear proficient, or even possibly prodigal, to an audience. This will significantly remove the barriers to playing music, to experiencing a flow state that is, potentially, every bit as immersive as the ‘real’ thing.

This reminds me of the philosophical ideas on consciousness, the so called ‘hard-problem’ of consciousness. Theoretically, everyone could be zombies simply acting in the same way someone with real consciousness would act; in the same way, everyone in the future could be pianists with outsourced skills, a mere power-failure away from simply not being able to play the piano. That said, a classical pianist is a mere falling brick to the head away from not being able to play the piano as well – is that really any different?

And so I see it going many ways: there will be the classical snobs insisting that augmented pianists are not pianists at all, and that use of augmentation should be viewed like performance enhancing drugs in sport; what is left of the record industry will be free to choose the prettiest or most showman-like people instead of those that spent years learning properly (I know this is already happening, but really no music-related job, from bar-room pianist to the school play, will be under threat); second-hand markets of cheap pianos and instruments will thrive and a new market of ‘dummy’ instruments will appear that don’t even work without external devices (much to the chagrin of classicists, no doubt); and millions of people will get the joy of playing instruments in an immersive and accurate feedback loop experience which allows for people to enter flow states, and play any style they choose.

As a little glimpse into a transhumanist future, I found these questions really satisfying to mull over, and would love to hear any thoughts you might have on how this impacts what it means to learn, where else drivers are going to produce similar classicist/augmented conflicts, and how excited you might be, or not, about the prospect of bringing down the barriers to enjoy playing music. I’d like to think it will usher in a new creative renaissance, especially as AI gets incorporated even into creative design processes. In fact, I can think of few better reasons for the introduction of a universal basic income than to facilitate the explosion of creative possibility that is about to hit.

UK Election: Complexity perspective.

With the UK election upon us, it is a fitting time to take a look at the offerings from a complexity perspective. It is also a fitting subject matter; complexity theory is as fundamental to politics as it to climate science, or any other study of complex adaptive systems. Unfortunately, unlike climate science, participants in politics have yet to fully grasp the implications of this fact.
Rather than examining each of the parties policies and methods to find areas compatible with complexity theory, it will be a lot easier to briefly summarise what I believe are some core facets of complexity theory that are relevant to today’s political environment, before outlining their relevant political implications. Then we can see how the parties match up.

Here then are some core facets of complexity theory, and how I think these they should roughly translate into political policy:
1. Complex adaptive systems, be they society, economics, finance etc, are inherently unpredictable, proportional to the specificity and time-span involved. That is, the more specific the prediction, and the further you predict in time, the less likely you are to be accurate.
Political policy should not be solely determined by, or legitimised by, confident assertions concerning specific predictions and time-frames. This is most commonly found in the influence economics has on political economic policy, with targets for revenue collection, cuts, and growth figures creating a budget relying on what amounts to a vast accumulator bet. If an economic prediction included all of the disclaimers it should rightly give, people would be far less happy about trusting the policy it supports.
Put it this way: if all you have to support economic policies that will inevitably have massive negative impacts on vulnerable people’s lives is some cherry-picked forecasts from a sub-section of economists, don’t be surprised if you get ever more blow-back as awareness of complexity seeps ever more into the public consciousness.
2. The more homogenous a system is, the more fragile it is, and the more susceptible the system is to rapid change (a cascade). Conversely, the more diverse a system is, the more resilient and adaptable it is.
The question of homogeneity versus diversity isn’t found at one level or institution alone. Within politics as a whole, one could apply the dichotomy to the press, MP’s, the civil service, the voting public, governmental institutions at all levels, access to power, etc. Yet the answer will always be the same; the more homogeneous a system is, the more vulnerable it becomes. Issues such as proportional representation, donor transparency and accountability, and the centralisation of power (see point 5) therefore come to the fore.
Between Labour and the Conservatives, the two dominant parties contesting the election, there is a general consensus in terms of political economy. Both broadly accept the neoliberal model, to the extent of agreeing that austerity is a necessary component of future economic policy. While it is encouraging to see alternative views being expressed by minority parties that are slowly gaining support, we are a far cry from the two party ideological dichotomy the UK experienced for the majority of the 20th century, and so is more homogeneous.
This homogeneity will have two consequences, I believe. One, on inherently uncertain matters that receive undue cross-party support, maladaptive path-dependencies will (and have, I would argue, with regard to austerity) emerge that will cause increasing tension. Two, and in reaction to the prior dynamic, the system will succumb to rapid change. If we are lucky, this change will be in the form of a new political movement unhindered by established power. If power resists however, the only thing that will be accomplished is an ever decreasing likelihood of our being lucky.
3. Given the inherent uncertainties involved in complex adaptive systems, it is best to avoid potentially long-term path dependencies, and seek to maximise agility and adaptive capacity.
Path-dependencies represent risk. Therefore it is vital that decisions with the potential to lock-in massive resources for a long period of time be taken very carefully, transparently, and with clear accountability. Additionally, path dependencies that feature modern technology should simply be laughed out of the room at this point in time. I’m looking at you HS2 and Trident, for which both points apply.
Technology is progressing at such a pace that the idea of spending tens of billions of pounds on a rail systems that wont be ready for 20 years simply should not be entertained, especially I would argue at a time when cuts are so vigorously being sought in areas of social policy (I’d respect ideologues more if they were at least consistent). There is every chance the country will be serviced by a fleet of flying autonomous, hydrogen and solar powered vehicles by 2035. This kind of long-term thinking and scenario building is vital to consider in politics, and where once this was relatively simple, today’s world of parabolic technological advance demands adaptability, not 20 year turnaround times for yesterday’s technology.
4. Also due to inherent uncertainties, the management of complex adaptive systems requires an iterative process of planning, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation to identify potential maladaptive pathways and adjust/reverse policy where necessary. This is important in order to identify unforeseen feedback effects early, before they accelerate out of control.
It is easy to form the impression of politics today that policies are introduced to great fanfare and promise, only to not work, be counter-productive, and either require yet more reorganisation, or else be allowed to slip into obscurity never to be mentioned again (ahem,
A cynics (justifiable?) view of policy implementation
A cynics (justifiable?) view of policy implementation (click to enlarge)
Big Society). Rarely are policy failures the mistake of those designing and implementing the policy; it is all to easy to view complex adaptive systems subjectively and come up with any number of unforeseen problems that were entirely beyond his or her control. Failure is not only unavoidable, it should be welcomed. Failure done right, with adequate monitoring, assessment, and sharing of information, is data that everyone can use. Only through accepting and embracing failure and uncertainty, rather than the traditional misplaced confidence and bluster of ideologues, can we hope to advance.
Instead of a linear process of guess, impose, and take credit or shift blame, we need a circular process, an evolving dynamic that focuses on predictable means, not unpredictable ends. It needs to constantly monitor policy holistically, and be able to adapt to changing circumstances. Politicians
5. Our inability to confidently model highly complex adaptive systems means an experimental approach is required. Without data rigorous comparative data, prediction is simply fancy guesswork.
To embrace failure in as productive way as possible, we need to be able to experiment. While it would be ethically dubious and highly problematic for a central authority to impose different policies on different people at random, one could get the same effect through maximally devolving our political system. Subsidiarity therefore represents what I think to be the most compatible political model with complexity theory. This is the optimal way to generate the much needed comparative data, mitigate the risks associated with centralised, top-down, system-wide policy implementation, and maximise opportunities to find, share, and amplify successes.
In conclusion
For politics to be compatible with complexity theory, policy and practice would need to: ensure devolution of powers to a subsidiarity model, and promote experimentation and information sharing; practice iterative policy planning, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation cycles in a transparent and participatory fashion; substantially increase the diversity of actors and perspectives influencing policy, across multiple lines such as race, gender, class, etc.; take into account the place of our political system within the wider, global system we are a part of; and to promote diversity and civic freedom at all levels, and in all sectors of society, particularly the press.
It is clear then that the established parties are far from anything approaching this ideal. After all, the AV vote referendum alone was touted as a once-in-a-lifetime change, and even that failed. Certainly some of the smaller parties are attempting to go in the right direction, be it over devolution, anti-austerity, or renewing participation through the use of social media. However, at least this time around, there appears little chance that significant change of the like I have outlined will result from this election, regardless of whether Labour or the Conservatives win. Even if Scotland were to get independence, the end result would merely be greater homogeneity for both Scotland and the rest of the UK!
In my opinion, the most likely best-case scenario would be the sudden rise of a brand new political party in England, a la Podemos in Spain, or a sudden surge in support for one or more of the smaller parties, such as the Greens, a la Syriza in Greece or the Pirate Party in Iceland. It is certainly a better scenario than what might cascade should neoliberal hegemony still reign in British politics in the aftermath of another financial crash.

Individual versus collective? Stop being so 20th Century.

There was a fantastic article in the Guardian on Sunday, the 9th of August. ‘The mistake we all make, and the simple experiment that reveals it’ may sound like Buzzfeed click-bait, but it was actually a fascinating and hugely important argument by Richard Nisbett about the difference between individualistic and holistic thinking.  The trick, sorry, experiment, in question featured this picture:

“One of my favourite experiments, conducted by the social psychologist Takahiko Masuda, asks Japanese and American college students to rate the expression of the central figure in a cartoon where he is surrounded by other faces [see the Observer Magazine’s own version on page 21). Japanese students rate the central figure as less happy when he’s surrounded by sad figures (or angry figures) than when he’s surrounded by happier figures. The Americans were much less affected by the emotion of the surrounding figures. (The experiment was also carried out with sad or angry figures in the centre and with happy, sad, or angry faces in the background, with similar results.)”
Although I hadn’t heard about these studies, I am not at all surprised by the findings. It has been clear to me for a long time that much of Western philosophy and culture struggles with the object/context relationship regarding self and identity, and that Eastern philosophy is far more compatible with complexity theory for not having this issue.
“Easterners tend to have a holistic perspective on the world. They see objects (including people) in their contexts, they’re inclined to attribute behaviour to situational factors, and they attend closely to relationships between people and between objects. Westerners have a more analytic perspective. They attend to the object, notice its attributes, categorise the object on the basis of those attributes and think about the object in terms of the rules that they assume apply to objects of that particular category.”
This is the unintended path dependency that underlies so much of what is wrong about the West, in this new, 21st Century context. It is also the one criticism I have for following a scientific skepticism way of thinking, and the reason I left that community. Reductionism can be (arguably always) arbitrary in complex systems when describing emergent characteristics. This can create unfalsifiable interpretations of the same phenomena that, even if pointing in the same direction, give the illusion of incompatibility to those who speak different cultural languages, or who have drawn different arbitrary divides. This is also why the 21st century belongs not to the West.
When a cultural artifact is so engrained into a society that it has actually changed the way we think, it is incredibly hard to adjust quickly. We have thousands of years of cultural capital all around us founded on this lack, even rejection, of holistic thinking.
I suspect that it is far easier to add science to holism, than it is to add holism to science.
This is because for science, you have set rules – trust the evidence. use the scientific method for everything. For complexity, as with social science, the evidence is always interpretable, and so a whole new way of thinking is required, one that does not have the certainty of evidence showing clear cause and effect.
As the world continues in a whirl of exponentially scientific advance, the East will have thousands of years of their own cultural capital to draw upon to understand it, tradition that is inherently compatible with the networked, complex, world we are creating. To not view the whole in the 21st century will be seen as backward, heretical, dangerous. A deficiency, a virus the Earth will be figuratively trying to sweat out.
We’ve done the reductionist swing to the individual for hundreds of years now. It has gone too far. Now we need to slow the compartmentalisation, the specialisation, and the arbitrary barriers (IP, borders, money) that deny us emergence of new ways of living. We need to understand that *we* are the system, the system is us, both important, both needed to be included.
Not extreme capitalism that denies the system. Not extreme socialism that denies the individual. That is the 20th Century talking. We need to collectively decide what works best, where and when, free from ideologies demands for hegemony, free from ancient institutions that have lost all trace of imagination. And I think we will need Latin America and Asia to lead the way.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Rumours of Potcoin interest among dutch companies? Yes please!

Here's a google translation of an article about Potcoin found on a Dutch website:


"Bitcoin has become a well-known method of payment. The value of this cryptocurency rose quickly to new heights. It is even expected that the value will continue to rise. Crypto crypto currency or currencies is digital money. Your download for each currency a wallet. With this wallet you also get direct your wallet address. Through wallet addresses purchases and sales can be sent. In the case of the POT is called a potcoinadres.

Why virtual money?

Perhaps virtual money could be expected in a virtual phenomenon as the Internet. Every day, more and more people online payments, do you need to log in to your bank. Many people do not like this because there is sometimes a thing goes wrong. Virtual money just gives a sense of security. You do not bench anymore. There are other reasons to think. The Coins can be won by minas them that way so you actually get free money. : I find interesting relatively new coin


PotCoin, for whom?

PotCoin for people over 18 who want to do in the form of products that are for sale in coffee shops (for example) or in online shops, which is weed and / or hash and sold such purchases. The PotCoin will be exchanged only if the target virtual money. Currently, the coin is not yet widely interchangeable, but this is changing rapidly as possible.

PotWallet wallet on your computer

A wallet (purse) to save the PotCoins must be downloaded from the official website. The wallet is quite easy to download and is available for both Windows and Mac.

Wallet Online

There is also the possibility to take what one is as safe as possible, but the risk of burglary could in principle be higher than if you put a wallet on your computer. Larger an online wallet

Mining pools

Through the establishment of mining pools the designers of this new coin want to start caring at the PotCoin a widely accepted method of payment will be for products within the cannabis users and shops. Wallets can be downloaded for:


Value PotCoin

The current value of the PotCoin is on the official website. We will keep an eye on the value and update regularly. Currently, there is no real value to be determined because the coin is still so young. However, the coin have been very popular, as it is acknowledged as the official currency of exchange, the value can rise explosively. On February 1, 2014, the coin is estimated at 0.00003100 bubblews.com. According to rumors, several Dutch companies expressed interest and view them what the possibilities are.

Editor's Note: As long as the value of PotCoin not official, you can not derive any rights from rumors and information and keeps buying these coins a gamble."

So, several Dutch companies are expressing an interest, huh? I like the sound of that!

Monday, 9 June 2014

My Crypto Pick: Potcoin. And only partly because I'm a toker :)

Cultural potential: 

Thousands of years of independent and linked cultural evolution has gone into the smoking of weed, from Hindu's to hippies and beyond. There is already a universal symbology, language and other cultural traits that have the potential to bond a community comprising of every age-group, every socioeconomic background, every corner of the globe. History has shown that altered states of consciousness, combined with a near universal shared history of oppression, is a pretty damn tight basis for shared community, and this is particularly true in this newly connected age that is collectively rapidly delegitimising said oppression, together. 

Make the OK sign with your fingers. Now put your joining fingertips to your mouth. It is as universal a motion as tapping your wrist to ask someone the time. There is a reason r/Trees is so huge on Reddit. This community is already here waiting, and it is crying out for alternative, supra-national institutions, culture, and infrastructure through which to live their lives. Potcoin is instantly recognisable and, for good or bad, trusted, by it's name alone (however much a flaw that may represent in our individual psyche).

Further, the pot smoking community, as well as being global and huge (and therefore resilient), have disproportionately more time on their hands to contribute to growing the community, trading, and using Potcoin with vendors (they would also love to actually buy online if possible). Pot smokers are disproportionately active internet users already. Pot smoker's are disproportionately more creative. Pot smoker's are disproportionately more empathetic, since the altered state of consciousness breaks down individualised context imposed through our environment - thus they will disproportionately share more (as any toker who automatically gives someone a smoke in a time of need will attest). 

Developer potential:

Proof-of-developer (PoD) is old news in crypto; it's only become big in the context of new coins because people seemed to trust in the right of developers choosing anonymity. Frankly, I'm rather stunned at how quickly PoD took off recently, and very happy about it too. Potcoins developers are as open as they can be, from being named and their personal history (read: awesome experience) being available on the website, to being active and open on twitter, to providing regular lengthy updates via the Summer of Potcoin blogposts, to bi-weekly Google hangouts and even having a toll-free number for people to call through to their offices. What other coin has that?!

The website looks dope, seriously professional and thorough with a media section, vendor section, and an investors hub with price graphs and trackers. I have yet to see a more slick coin website in all honesty. They have a great new office in New Montreal, and regularly travel to conferences and events to publicise Potcoin, making a lot of contact throughout various parts of the cannabis industry. To aid this, they have created pre-loaded Potcards to give out to people, and which are now available in the Potcoin store. Oh yeah, the website has a shop too.

CoinGecko doesn't seem to rate the developers too highly, though I haven't looked into what metrics they use. They must base the community metric more on present appearance than potential, otherwise the already decent score would be 2nd behind Bitcoin in my opinion. That said, 20th place in the average metric isn't bad, and it isn't far off the top-ten. From what I have seen, developers seem to be fairly quick to respond to feedback, but would hugely benefit from systematising in-house communication a bit more than is apparent (transparency is important), recruiting more members for out-reach and forum duties, and implementing a number of community functions that integrate evolutionary principles (already started intuitively).

Vendor potential:

There are over two thousand known uses for hemp, and that doesn't include the mahusive innovation gap primed to be filled due to restrictive legislation around the world. Hemp has so many benefits, it's one of the 20th century anachronisms that can only be rectified in the future.  This community has the potential to feed into Potcoin for the 'community potential' reasons above, but also for corporate reasons. The potential vendor count for Potcoin is huge in comparison to other coins. They disproportionately need alternative payment and banking systems. They also disproportionately operate on the margins already.

It isn't only retail outlets and traditional business entrepreneurs either; let's face it, a big part of Bitcoins growth was driven by the usefulness in the black market. Not only is there an obvious, globalised black market ready to back Potcoin, but it's also, on the scale of things, the lowest black market (and last) that the authorities will realistically cooperate together in stopping. This doesn't mean it is risk free, but it does mean that the explicit political and cultural goals of Potcoin have supporters in all strata of power. Smackcoin this aint. Pot has a growing lobby that is growing in legitimacy, forging international links in a way that other causes, let alone coins, struggle to.


All in all, I really see Potcoin as going places, and pretty soon, for a whole gamut of cultural and systemic reasons. As I said at the beginning, I am not writing this blog for profit, far from it - if I were [immoral], I'd have waited until I could afford more than a tenner, which won't be till the end of the month. I have always and will continue to promote, and criticise where appropriate and deserved, anything I would love to see succeed and that isn't a lost cause. Potcoin fits that bill, 100%.

Let's get high y'all.

Monday, 5 May 2014

A History of Civilisation in Ten Thousand Words.

The following blog is a new first-draft extract from my book-in-progress, The Complexity Revolution: uncovering the universal laws of life. This is a narrative of History extrapolated not from history books, but through complexity theory, and the way in which the self, culture, identity, and society emerge and interact. Again, the theoretical basis (chapters 2/3) is missing here, this just being a first draft extract. Please excuse any typos, mistakes, etc – this was written in two sittings, stream-of-consciousness, and I haven’t proofread, fact-checked, or referenced it yet. If you find any errors, it’d save me a small-job in the long run so feel free to point them out. What this extract represents is a fundamental narrative, as readers of History are accustomed to, but based upon a complexity-derived model that is previously presented in the book. If you would like to see these diagrams and models outlining the self-similar and universal dynamics underlying this narrative, please feel free to send me a tweet: @grimeandreason, or email me, same name, @ gmail.com

A Brief History of Cultural Evolution

Back at the dawn of cultural evolution, the bond we felt to the known, and the fear inherent in the unknown, naturally created power structures through the search for, and the proclamation of, ‘divine’ knowledge (and the fear and respect that such a claim would provide). The world needed explaining to minds that had evolved to rationalise their own environment: Why did these crops fail? Why did my mate just keel over dead? What the hell does it mean when the Sun disappears temporarily? Explaining all of this, or at least giving the appearance of doing so to our pattern-finding minds, derives the authority that we evolved to defer to, a natural extension of biologically emerging hierarchy. Imagine the questions and answers that would arise to explain natural phenomenon such as eclipses or extreme weather events! Such speculations brought forth power structures capable of administering huge networks of large-scale settlements, such as those evident in the Jungles of South America, complete with sophisticated calendar systems that mapped the stars and convinced those early minds that a) the heavens and the earth were somehow connected and b) that those in power weren’t entirely full of shit. They may have had primitive data sets upon which to draw, but these times would have had geniuses to work with it still.

The emergence of Religion as a fundamental identity 

Thus started what we would view today as religious identity, where preachers and spiritual-leaders would monopolise ‘divine’ knowledge through exclusive use of literacy and cultural production and transmit a cultural identity that, with high fecundity, would infect the everyone within the system. This would create an immensely strong, and entirely homogeneous shared cultural identity, one capable of extreme acts such as child sacrifice, yet also the source of an immense bond, with every mind having identical cultural influence, corresponding to extremely similar subjectivities, hence the slow pace of cultural evolution. Yet this tight bond also came with a great evolutionary advantage; it could maintain hegemony over cultural identity beyond that which naturally occurred prior to cultural evolutions emergence. Then, tribes most often fit what is called the ????, which placed the natural (pre-culture) cap on our optimal scale of self-organisation at around 140 (???),  still found today in army units and ????.  The ability to control potentially millions of people through what amounts to indoctrination is what brought about recorded History in the first place. If society hadn’t been a mere extension of our natural hierarchical organisation, belief and ideology would have remained too disparate, too small-scale, to begin to effect History in the global sense. The Greek historian Herodotus, ‘the first historian’ - apparently - wouldn’t have written all that he did if wars consisted of two family groups having a mega-tiff.

The Bronze age is a perfect example of how even large-scale cultural systems can take a relative (to our own time most obviously) age to slowly, ever so slowly, attain the complexity that forces a transition of self-organisation (let alone a transition to a new fundamental identity). To give you an example of how a highly homogenous and superstitious (that is, ignorant of science and objective knowledge or thinking) cultural system can pretty much come to represent stagnation, the Egyptians only way of calculating one-third of a figure, was to work out two-thirds first, and then half it. This method was used for around 1400 years, and it wasn’t until the cultural evolution bomb that was the Greeks that someone turned around and asked, “why”? It worked, nobody knew the fundamentals as to why, and there simply wasn’t the cultural variation or freedom of subjectivity to nurture, synthesise, and build-upon the necessary concepts. Seen in relative terms, this would mean that whichever freak-of-nature first worked out how to calculate two-thirds, and then half it (if indeed it was the same person!), achieved one of the greatest, relative, intellectual feats in all of humanity.

It would be thousands of years before growing complexity forced the emergence of the next fundamental identity, that of the State, yet this is still a slight grey area for me. Levy is happy to see the emergence of Greek city-states, and the Roman Empire, as examples of a new form of fundamental identity, territory, and I can understand why. They did indeed create new forms of identity to the prior Bronze Age - that is of no doubt. Citizenship is a fundamental characteristic of the State cultural identity, and it cannot be argued that Roman didn’t incorporate people of multiple religious identities under this term, and for a very long period of time. But there are three things that bother me.

Firstly, what is eminently debatable is just how much cultural production Rome was responsible for, particularly the further away you got. It is hard to imagine that the territorial, or state identity, in any way supplanted, or even mass subverted, the existing religious cultural identities of its occupied territory. Note the word occupied: without actually saturating conquered areas with your culture by way of synthesis (the most evolutionarily successful strategy), as the Moors did in Spain, all you are doing is finding ways to extract wealth through taxes, fear, and force, not create a new fundamental identity.

Secondly, and this merely provides the complexity-based proof of the first point, communication structures did not extend across the entire system, down to the local level, to the degree necessary to saturate culture in the first place. Communication across the system was limited to a tiny minority of traders (but more on this soon), and to the structures of power itself. For one, Latin was a language used only by the elite. For two, how this communication was then delivered to the various local contexts was most often at the end of a very sharp, very pointy sword (especially in rural areas more likely to be sustaining established religious cultural identity), which isn’t the best evolutionary tactic by which to convert new generations to your cultural identity (a lesson power has yet to learn to this day, - see: Mr I have a Drone).

Thirdly, and again, this merely proves my second point, History shows that these Roman experiments with proto-state cultural identity that have so fascinated historians ever since, still heavily reliant on and subject to the influences of Christianity from within, and multiple, strong religious cultural systems from without, simply wasn’t sustainable at the scale Rome had reached. Technological, tactical, and social advances were happening in a period that wasn’t ready, wasn’t creative or subjective enough at the societal level, to make much more use of these new tools than creating awe-inspiring urban centres, and a war machine that could conquer most of the known world. This had allowed Rome to overreach itself, and without the accompanying advances in communication technology (and greater democratisation of cultural production) needed to unite these peoples under a new fundamental cultural identity, it simply collapsed from all sides as other people’s, united by genuine shared cultural identity and desire to succeed, were able to react and adapt to Rome’s power and exact their long-built up need for revenge. I know that, again, this is rather tautologous, but the very fact that Greek thought and Roman technological advance were largely lost to humanity, almost forgetting entirely these experiments with statehood, and devolving once more to the religious fundamental cultural identity of divine rulers and large-scale, catastrophic culture clashes.

Although I have primarily used Rome in this narrative, the same principles apply to Greece. Here though, it was of a different nature, with different drivers and influences. The compartmentalisation of governance across multiple city states; the first experiments with mass-participatory democracy; Greece’s place on the Mediterranean ensuring a constant supply of outside cultural influences through traders and travelling philosophers and early scientists; the establishment of universities and halls of learning; and by no means least, the mountainous terrain, which made Greece an extremely difficult place to conquer; all of these combined to create an explosive enabling environment for cultural evolution, which, like Rome before it, managed to produce governing structures that bare many of the hallmarks of statehood. Yet, once again, it wasn’t enough. Religious identity still provided the foundation of everyone’s identity, with even the state-like characteristics - the attempts at direct-democracy - infused with religious symbolism, interpretation, and even inclusion in decision-making (even so, they still managed to be a damned sight more enlightened regarding the design of the systematic structure of politics than we have today even). Greece, like Rome, was not a closed system. Other, less developed cultural identities were quite capable of marshalling tens, or even hundreds of thousands of men on missions of conquest, and so Greece, like Rome, existed in a state of perpetual war, or threat of war. Communication networks were non-existent across societal scales, and these civilisations would have seen Greeks as no different than animals, such would the extent of homogenous indoctrination and dehumanisation. Genocide ruled this age, and it didn’t discriminate when it came to cultural advance.

Strict authoritarian rule defined the history-deriving scale of religious fundamental identity in the millennia that followed, for Europe and most of Asia at least, as did (by definition) stagnation of knowledge, since homogenous cultural identity minimised subjectivities, and therefore innovation, to the extreme. Meanwhile, in the Middle-east, Greek knowledge was being gathered together, synthesised, maintained, and disseminated across it’s growing empire, which correlates (guess what? By definition) with the less homogenised, less authoritarian ruled that emerged in feedback with the widening and diverging subjectivities held within, and brought forth from, Greek cultural identity.

If you haven’t seen it already, I cannot recommend the episode of Neil de Grasse Tyson’s Cosmos with the profile of Ibn Al Haytham.  When I first discovered this guy, it took me about two minutes of research to conclude that here, indisputably, lies the greatest scientific mind between Aristotle and Newton. It then took me a further 2.3 seconds to fall into desperate despair. Why had it taken 27 years of reading, of growing, keen interest in science, and having nearly completed my History degree at University, for me to have ever come across the name? Incidentally, it was through my own reading, not the university, that I first heard about him. Nowhere in my studies had this period ever popped up - not in political philosophy, intellectual and cultural history, or even the history of science. I quickly looked to see what book I might be able to buy about this incredible person, yet the only book I could find in English was a profile in a series of science books for small children. My mind was blown. Here I was, a highly educated, relatively independent mind in the UK, a country with Islamophobia running rife through the (vertical) cultural corridors of power, and I had to admit that my, and everyone else’s, entire historical and cultural knowledge was a biased, imperialistic mess, and I had no way to know to what extent anything was true. Selection bias was clearly enough to make even the most intellectual mind unknowingly shape cultural identity into the image power decides. This more than anything made me integrate self-reflection and self-falsification subconsciously, into my very worldview.

Anyway, I digress. Ibn Al-Haytham is an absolute, grade-A, historical badass. Let me just run down a few of the many things he accomplished having developed in the still here, despite the West’s best efforts, Iraqi city of Basra: the correct model of how light travels, and how the eye interacts with the light to allow us to see; a complete formulation of reflection, and a detailed investigation and (correct) description of refraction, including angles of incidence and deviation; other optical work concerning the light reflecting from the moon, halos and rainbows, and development of the ‘camera obscura’; alternative constructions and direct proofs of some of Euclid’s theorems; and the most complete understanding of the importance of the scientific methods, and human flaws of reasoning and perception to date. Here was a person who, with the right genes, and the right upbringing, with the right exposure to the right dissonance in the right order, could break free of the conceptual bonds of his entire cultural environment. Here is a quote from his biography page on Harvard University’s website (see, they do know about these guys, it’s just, well, Newton’s more European-y):

In a short autobiography, Ibn al-Haytham tells us that in his youth he scrutinized the claims of the many religious sects teeming around him. In the end it was the empirical strain and rational thinking he recognized in Aristotelian natural philosophy, and the rigor of mathematics, that finally won his heart.

It’s important to remember at this point however, that science, as a non-fundamental identity (more on that, and those, later) was never able to fully integrate itself into, or as, a fundamental cultural identity. This shouldn’t come as a surprise; however cultural and socially advanced this period, and this location, was, it was still utterly incapable of providing an enabling environment for it’s saturation of the entire cultural system. Again, language and literacy barriers are rife, and while scholars of multiple faiths were often invited to debate and contribute new books and new knowledge, this cultural evolution was inherently limited to a tiny elite, with the vast majority of people still living largely unchanged to how they had been for thousands of years (excepting urban areas, which like Rome, saw significant advances in aesthetics and functionality). Everything may have been theocratically under Islam's control, this region wasn’t homogenous in the way closed, European cultural systems were; they were the mid-point between East and West, an obvious location for such cultural evolution to emerge.

Unfortunately, that same fact also meant that they were perfectly placed to be utterly annihilated by more homogenous, less enlightened cultural systems that had the Middle East utterly surrounded. The constant waging of religious-based conflict, the constant genocide, whether from the West at the hands of the Crusaders, or the East at the hands of one of the most alien-seeming, blood-thirsty, and devastating warrior cultures ever known, the Mongols. Entire cities would be burned to the ground, their entire populace executed, down to the last child, methodically, each man being given his quota to maximise efficiency. They did both because it made tactical sense - striking terror into the hearts of your enemy at the mere mention of you heading their way will always give an advantage - and because they could. The Mongols, like the European crusaders, shared no culture with these people - they had no evident empathy for them whatsoever. Who knows whether individual moments managed to sneak glimpses of dissonance, hints of a more universal reality, into the minds of these men as they slayed babies that, lets face it, would have at least looked similar, who knows. What we do know is that the societal scale identity, these cultures fundamental, top-down identities, facilitated mass-genocide regularly. And it is a feature common to both religious and state cultural identities, as the 20th century showed. Hopefully, corporatism won’t follow suit, though has you will see later in this book, many would argue it already is.

At this moment such opportunities for a free mind was still a fragile basis of identity and was almost wiped out, were it not for the knowledge it produced being kept alive by the Muslim world. The Dark Ages represented a throw-back to that pre-Greek time of theocratic rule (divine kings), until that Greek seed was re-planted in Europe once more through the Moorish in Spain, and on through the Renaissance in Italy. It was following this time, when sufficient knowledge had been disseminated, replicated, and disbursed in Latin, the growing lingua-franca (SP?) of an emerging, international elite of thinkers, that science emerged as an unstoppable, but still, as ever, far from fundamental, cultural identity. Early Modern Europe saw the first major split in the dominant religious cultural identity, as new concepts and thoughts brought dissonance to a point whereby an enabling environment formed that allowed one man, nailing one piece of paper to a Church door, could be discerned as the cascade-triggering event (how accurately, who knows) that ripped that tension from its chains. Although Catholicism had been the major source of funding for science, and cultural production in genera, in the period of the Renaissance, it’s inevitable creation of dissonance meant that Protestantism’s embrace of early science’s ability to empower the individual, over the institution, was the next major catalyst for cultural evolution. This evolution advanced in feedback with advancing communication technology, such as the printing press, and the subsequent market forces driving the establishment of common vernaculars across large, geographical regions, each feeding the other to begin the process of accumulating truly objective knowledge.

This generated an unstoppable new catalyst to cultural evolution; the establishment of science as an indispensible cultural identity due to it’s wide spread, and ultimately, because of it’s tremendous use for power to achieve it’s own ends.  Complexity and cognitive dissonance grew, both from the religious cultural identity (continued fragmentation and growing synthesis - a precedent had been set)) and the resulting emergence and growth of non-fundamental identities such as science, art, and philosophy. This meant that the enabling environment for a transition to a new and genuinely fundamental cultural identity was arriving exponentially, in feedback with the exponentially increasing domestic and international institutional and communication network that formed the foundation of science in this time. Most importantly however was the emergence of common vernaculars across entire cultural systems, for it represented the medium through which disparate identities would be shaped into a new fundamental Identity, that of the State.

The emergence of the State fundamental cultural identity

The English Civil War, according to my premise, represents the moment when cultural complexity hit the maximum threshold that religious cultural identity could maintain. The dissonance had hit its peak. Such was the power of this uprising, against the very notion of King Charles being God’s personally chosen representative to rule over them, that families, communities, and the entire country were torn apart, Royalists, desperate to maintain the very fabric of their identity, indeed, their concept of reality, versus those who had seen enough to convince them that divinity could be found elsewhere. It is mightily interesting that it was during this time that, to my knowledge at least, the first hint of understanding of emergence first gained mass attention. Thomas Hobbes, on the front cover of his mammothly influential book, ‘Leviathan’, depicted the image of a giant King, looking out over his lands. Yet despite the head being that of a single, noble individual, the body that holds that held is comprised of a multitude of individuals, representing the subjects that make up his kingdom. The book itself didn’t directly challenge the sovereignty of the King - if it had, it wouldn’t have been so influential - but it did open the way to discussing the nature of that sovereignty in a different way. By including the subjects within the image of the King, Hobbes was making an implicit reference to the fact that the King was nothing without the people, whatever his original intent.

Predictably, the transition didn’t go smoothly. For a section of the populace to have executed the King, God’s own representative on this earth, chosen by him to govern you… it is impossible for us to overstate just how incredibly crippling and paralysing that would have been, to people across the entire nation. The closest we in the West have to imagining such an event of collective shock would be to think of the U.S. post September 11th. But magnified thousands of times. The natural order, the order that no one could possibly have envisioned beyond, had been irrevocably shattered. INSERT IMAGE HERE.  Not only that, but it had been shattered by their own kin. Nothing we could imagine could compare to what that must have been like. Every royalist would have been talking about the end-times approaching, and sincerely believing it. The fall-out lasted through two periods of intense, bloody conflict, as the newly conceived parliament struggled to impose its legitimacy. In the end, as always, the eventual equilibrium saw the first-ever separation of powers to have stuck through until modern day. King Charles II took the throne, his powers significantly reduced, and parliament was able then to establish itself to the point where opposing political parties created the dichotomy that drove cultural production, not the clash between religious power and civic, non-fundamental identities (within a cultural system), or large-scale religious cultural identities (inter-cultural systems). But most importantly, and what made this transition to statehood ‘stick’, was that the state eventually came to tame the democratising force of the printing press, impose it’s authority over cultural production, and begin the process of saturating culture with its own image, diluting the cultural capital of religious cultural identity in the process.

This ‘balancing-out’ of the religious and state fundamental cultural identities is the main, single, underlying cause of the enlightenment. While the state may have had a good deal of control over system-wide dissemination of cultural identity, religion still held the trump card of having millions congregate at the localised scale every week. The power of the sermon was still immense, and while the state may have lasted, and evolved, to this day, this first few hundred years of history was still dominated by religious conflict. Europe was ablaze, somewhere, for pretty much all of this period, as Catholicism and Protestantism fought back and forth, as though echoing the explosion Martin Luther had lit the fuse to, an echo that lingers still today. Religion still had the most cultural capital, stored and accumulated over thousands of years, and this will take an age to change; while the state may have been catching up in the UK - the Houses of Parliament, the tower(s) holding Big Ben (and Tom), etc - it could not be expected to compete with the thousands of churches, castles, and palaces accrued from time long past, and the identity held, and continuously transmitted from, within them. Even the rapidly evolving scientific cultural identity took hundreds of years to gradually rid itself, at both the individual and societal level, of religions influence, only to have to do the same for that of the state.

Although the network of early scientists that helped progress this new fundamental identity was extremely small, I bet that if you were to quantify it’s growth, the amount of letters sent in this time would have grown exponentially, just as the growth in peer-reviewed publishing has been shown to be. Yet we are still talking numbers in the low hundreds, as well as a pretty homogenous demographic of white men of wealth. Yet between the emerging universities, scientific institutions, and men of patronage free to further their studies whilst tutoring the young aristocrats (an important group, since institutionalisation would be less of an issue), enough people gained enough knowledge, through enough revolutionary books translated into enough vernacular languages, to bring the capacity of innovation to more and more people, only now to the benefit of the state, and the continued detriment of religion. Advances in communication technology such as the telegraph, photography, the establishment of newspaper and the fourth estate relaying ideology authoritatively and en-masse, combined with the gradual integration by the state of religious cultural identity (entirely naturally) meant that religions monopoly on system-wide cultural production, their ability to define themselves, waned dramatically, never to return in the West in a governing form. Gradually, mass-culture became state-culture, homogenising the nature of cultural production in a fashion that excluded religion entirely. The state began to define itself, and the populace was powerless to resist its message.

It is here that the story takes a tragic turn for the worse that is familiar to all of us, not just in the West, but also around the world. It was the first, globally reaching travesty of human universality to imprint itself, forever, on the cultural identity of hundreds of millions of people. No, I’m not talking about the two World Wars. I am talking about colonialism.

Colonialism was what happened when competing nationalist cultural identities realised they had the technology to basically conquer the world, in the good old fashioned way that all but the very most enlightened intellectual found entirely natural. And why wouldn’t they? Conquest of the ‘other’ has been a staple of civilisation since civilisation first began. While the state cultural identity may have contributed to one hell of a lot of cultural advancement, morality was still bounded by shared culture; some may have objected to killing other Latin speaking peoples, or destroying Greek architecture, no one gave a damn about people who were so different as to be a different colour! It wasn’t even an established consensus, until Darwin’s work had had sufficient influence (in the 19th century!), that they were even the same species as the clearly more civilised white folk. The state cultural identity, with renewed legitimacy derived from “science” that just happened to justify the abhorrent practices that were so enriching those in power. Yet it wasn’t just about wealth. The state cultural identity had co-opted religious identity, infusing its mission with religious righteousness and misplaced ‘good’-intent, combining it’s ‘civilising’ mission with good old fashioned It should come as no surprise then that so many should have travelled, sorry, been renditioned to the States, as part of a systematic and global crime against humanity that lasted for many generations. The justification through reason that the state, and its beneficiaries, employed was so sophisticated that it was even able, for a short while longer at least, to find residence in the minds of those few, wealthy men who designed what became the pinnacle, for many, of the emergent forms of ‘self’-governance. Personally, I see it as an idealistic high-water mark that has receded ever since. Fortunately, it was so ahead of its time that that didn’t, and doesn’t, matter. 

The founding fathers of the United States, blessed with an abundance of resources, officially separated church and state (I say officially: thousands of years of cultural capital preserved through the minds of those first immigrants hardly vanishes overnight - churches were very soon aplenty), and laid the conceptual foundations for that which would come to supplant the very state as the new fundamental cultural identity. First though, back to Europe, where nationalism still had something nasty up its sleeve as its global power began to wane (strangely, all that communication and transport infrastructure Europeans built everywhere fed-back into a growing sense of indigenous collective identity built around oppression), and resource hungry state cultural systems, reaching their peak capacity of complexity given the increasing influences of other cultures on previously more closed cultural systems.  With a leadership in every nation state, every anachronistic empire soon to fall of the cliff-face of History, had a leadership whose cultural identity was at it’s most purely nationalistic, it’s most exclusive in terms of morality. Every such cultural system reflected this homogeneity of power, every young, male mind infected with glorious tales of noble and virtuous war, every young female mind disempowered into subservience, and with the ingrained sense of duty forcibly imparted on all, by families, by communities, by the state, an unquestionable cultural norm.

An unfortunate trend that has remained steady throughout History is the ever-increasing capacity for humanity to kill each other. Not in the sense of actually being able to carry out the deed, that has remained a constant, and we would be foolish to think it cannot reappear. People at the turn of the 20th century also regarded their own time as too advanced, culturally, to stoop the levels of depravity the continent soon witnessed. They were wrong. Again, communication networks, and the relatively closed and tightly controlled nature of each competing nationalist cultural system, pre-determined what was about to happen. Complexity had once again reached it’s zenith with the state cultural identity, but whereas in the U.S where the transition happened gradually (after a false start) - mainly due to nothing more than geography, that is, its distance away from the major powers, combined with its sheer land-mass and self-sufficiency in vital resources - in Europe it was sudden, explosive, and brutally unprecedented.

The First World War, seen through this complexity framework, has to be one of the most tragic sets of circumstances in the history of humanity. It came at a terrible time: power was still highly exclusive and almost at it’s peak of homogeneity; the mythology and cultural identity, embodied most fundamentally by those in power, built around the glory, nobility, and even the necessity of war; the largely untested technology that appeared at that time, so dangerous that the Hague convention of 1898 (????) saw the introduction of international law prohibiting certain technologies, such as gas, and aerial warfare; the sheer pig-headed, testosterone fuelled stubbornness created by the purity of the elites cultural identity, their unquestioning loyalty to 19th century thinking (at best); and finally, but most depressingly, the still huge gap between the cultural identities between the fundamentalist leadership, and the indoctrinated-to-all-degrees-and-none  multitude that was the drafted, and until recently civilians and students, armies. Together with whichever black regiments we could muster from the colonies, obviously.

The utter heart-break that is the first world war is, for me personally using this framework, summed up best (or worst, I guess) in the Christmas Day armistice of 1914.  As an aside here, I cannot implore you enough to listen to Dan Carlin’s latest series of Hardcore History podcasts, covering the First World War. Describing the following scene, Dan had me wailing with grief for a solid five minutes. Here’s why.

By the time that first Christmas of the First World War came around, it had already become clear that this was a war like no other. The most intense and complex opening round of hostilities in human history, featuring armies from a whole host of regions and states just piling into each other, saw tens of thousands from all sides dead within weeks. Soon, the whole thing devolved into what the Great War has primarily become known for, the trenches, stretching from the border of Switzerland right up to the Belgium coast. The wet, muddy, rat-infested trenches, where bodies would lie sometimes for months, unable to be removed, were these men's homes, their every-day lives for four long years, should they be so 'lucky’. Raise so much as a finger, and bullets would ring out. The brutal, constant pounding of the shells forcing men to dig themselves deeper and deeper, often finding themselves digging into the bodies of former comrades, adding to the images of gore and horror that would continue to torment those who witnessed them for the rest of their lives. Barely ten yards separated the two sides at various points in the front, two walls of flying steel forcing men to behave like animals, desperately burrowing deeper for any safety at all.  The ‘shell shock’ that would later be diagnosed as PTSD was enough to send even the bravest soldier insane, and yet within this hell on Earth, something incredible happened: a deeper sense of shared humanity than that held by the officers and politicians shone through, before being extinguished in the name of more killing.

Across the entire Western Front, with a few exceptions, guns from both sides were unusually quiet on that first Christmas Eve in hell, even non-existent in places for the first time in months. At first, some of the English soldier thought that the strange coloured lights appearing along the German trenches might be some kind of signal, perhaps indicating a fresh attack. Some even thought they might be some new weapon, or a ploy to make the allies curious enough to show their heads. Then they heard singing, and not just any singing: they heard the sound of Christmas Carols which, despite being in German, were utterly recognisable to all the allied soldiers that heard them. Many soldiers recorded the strange, surreal events in their diaries, talking of hearing nothing but the beautiful sound of carol singing, drifting eerily through the forest night, or out over the desolate and pitted no-mans land. Allied soldiers began to sing back, slowly inching themselves up, out of the trench, to get a better view of the Christmas decorations appearing along the Germans lines. Gradually, soldiers from both sides worked their way out of the trenches and across no mans land, where they met, exchanged gifts, and laughed together, language barriers overcome through sign language, a shared tragedy, and a joint sense of bewilderment, disbelief, and dissonance. So, so much dissonance.

What had happened here? Subject to the fundamentalist nationalist ideologies of their leaders, drafted soldiers from both sides, civilians really, suddenly found that the enemy, forever demonised and recently dehumanised within their respective, nationalistic, top-down cultural environment, shared with them cultural identity. It was a cultural identity that stretched back much farther than even the foundation of the nation state. Christianities spread across the whole of Europe had left a legacy of shared music, lyrics, and traditions, never mind the language used, which came to the fore with the coming of a shared celebration, Christmas. Hearing those songs cut through the nationalist ideology like a knife, presenting a window for empathy that was grasped by minds desperate for relief, desperate to not be shot at, desperate not to have to shoot anymore. Hundreds of thousands of men succumbed to the desire to ignore the moral exclusivity, the hate, and the venom of their respective rulers cultural identity, even then more alike to each other than they were to the average populace. Conversely, common soldiers on both sides were slowly realising, as they chatted with the ‘enemy’ and swapped cheese for cigarettes, that they weren’t so different either. Singing carols together will do that to people, given the long, mutual, and pre-nationalist history that they represent. More than that, it would have hit them hard, right in their religious cultural identity, which for many soldiers would have been stronger then than the nationalism that had compelled them to fight in the first place. 

I can only imagine the dissonance, the heartbreak, the sheer existential fear involved in joining fellow men in celebrating your saviours’ birth one day, and then forced to resume killing each other the next. It wasn’t even just the deep-rooted Christian identity that united them; the mere appearance of a football would send soldiers on both sides into a frenzy of laughter and joyful competition. Yet the officers on both sides, their humanity unable to break through the pure, nationalistic state cultural identity that so consumed them, the environment they grew up in, and the group-dynamics they were trapped in, decreed that such deviations should never happen again, ordering regular artillery bombings on Christmas days thereafter. How dare they grasp for shared humanity?! It makes me openly sob to tell the tale.

Yet nationalism still hadn’t run its course, power still hadn’t finished with the development of ever greater horrors that it could turn science toward. More importantly however, power wasn’t ready to give up what was seen as a traditional, and given the lives lost, duty-bound obligation to make the losers, sorry, instigators (actually, in this case it was both, though all parties must share some responsibility), pay a heavy price. It’s not hard to see why. Nobody came out of this war victorious. Everyone, even those leaders who had supposedly won the war, must have had a severely dented pride and troubled conscience, even if they consciously denied it (I’m looking at you Churchill, though a lot of people took to justifying their actions following the debacle). Someone had to pay. Someone had to shoulder the blame. Yet all it did was create the perfect enabling environment for a backlash. The Second World War was essentially made inevitable; not only were communication structures still where they were at pre-WW1, worse in many places that were still being rebuilt; you had an entire generation suffering a bout of collective PTSD; you had economic hardship exacerbated by unfeasible reparation payments, but worse of all you had an isolated Germany. It’s the societal equivalent of taking someone’s freedom and locking them in jail, where they cannot make new connections and develop greater, more inclusive empathy, instead forced to introspect alone, with no outside help, with the inevitable outcome that they blamed someone else and reoffended. Big time.

Here it is we see the culmination of what homogenous, top-down cultural systems can become. The Nazi party are the single most extreme case of cultural identity engineering I know of, in terms of time taken to get to mass genocide. As you will see later, there is a contemporary example that in many ways goes beyond what the Nazi’s did. What the Nazis managed to do was take the science of propaganda and implement it, on a massive scale: by targeting schools, they ensured that they would complete their task as soon as possible; by using the Hitler youth to terrorise the populace, they protected themselves from a potential source of revolt, while also using them, a group inherently culturally different, and therefore more easily manipulated into moral divergence, to subjugate older people, those who potentially had actual power at the community level; by burning books, utterly disenfranchising the Jews, closing institutions, and vetting all cultural production, they rapidly reduced the amount of contrary cultural capital available to those developing, and those who would find solstice in them; by appointing Nazi supporters in prominent positions throughout culture, they ensured no independent, smaller-scale cultural identities could evolve without their influence.


The Nazi’s knew what they were doing here, none more so than Joseph Goebbels, in my view far more dangerous and evil a villain than even Hitler. Without Goebbels, Hitler may have come to no more than another hated dictator. Yet without Hitler, Goebbels would have made possible the machinations of whichever messed-up mind from the First World War had become obsessed with conspiracy theory and revenge.

Check out some of these quotes from this master of manipulation:

“It would not be impossible to prove with sufficient repetition and a psychological understanding of the people concerned that a square is in fact a circle. They are mere words, and words can be moulded until they clothe ideas and disguise.”

“Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play.”  

“Every age that has historical status is governed by aristocracies. Aristocracy with the meaning - the best are ruling. Peoples do never govern themselves. That lunacy was concocted by liberalism. Behind its "people's sovereignty" the slyest cheaters are hiding, who don't want to be recognized.”

“What does Christianity mean today? National Socialism is a religion. All we lack is a religious genius capable of uprooting outmoded religious practices and putting new ones in their place. We lack traditions and ritual. One day soon National Socialism will be the religion of all Germans. My Party is my church, and I believe I serve the Lord best if I do his will, and liberate my oppressed people from the fetters of slavery. That is my gospel.”

Here is someone who knows all too well the fickle nature of free will, of the power that such knowledge grants you, particularly over those who are under your trust, or your under you will. The awareness of the German states’ supplanting of religion, in a very literal sense, allowed them to use religious identity for their own ends, again neutralising and utilising a potential source for revolt for its own ends. Finally, in an exchange from the Nuremberg trials between a lawyer and Hermann Goring, commander of the Luftwaffe, Goring makes clear just how universal they had perceived this power of propaganda to be:

Göring: Why, of course, the people don't want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.
Gilbert: There is one difference. In a democracy, the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.
Göring: Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

Now, I don’t want to sound glib, but does this tactic not sound incredibly familiar, to the entire West, nay, the globe? In a way it isn’t their fault, those in power that is; society produces emergent properties that can carry events way beyond the design or planning of any one person, or group of people. That’s the social forces version of History, and has culture and cultural identity become more complex, this force is growing stronger. It should come as no surprise in such an enabling environment that fear becomes ever-more resorted to, what with it being the easiest, and most effective, way of covering your own incompetence, and/or getting what you want (which in an increasingly divergent cultural context between rulers and subjects, will only get harder to achieve). But hate as I do to say it, Goring is right, and Gilberts riposte merely evidence of the superiority complex that comes with being able to maintain a narrative of owning the moral high ground. It is a legacy that lives on to this day.


In summary, they had utterly saturated the entire cultural environment with their influence, indoctrinating some to subjugate the others, and held it for long enough to facilitate the industrial-scale, and -form, killing of millions of Jews, gays, gypsies, disabled, and other cultural identities deemed a threat, or simply undesirable. The most depressing thing? It took less than a decade to create the enabling environment, a Stanford prison experiment writ large, with terrible consequences. After this, there could be no return to the old ways. People had finally learned the lesson, one they would misinterpret and soon forget anyway, but not before they could establish strong, if still intensely western-centric (obviously), European-wide, and then global, institutions. Yet, despite the EU, UN, and other supranational bodies undoubtedly helped by employing sound separation-of-powers principles at a scale above that of the state, I don’t think they can necessarily take the credit they may imagine they deserve (and certainly not a Nobel Peace prize, though neither could the main cause either. For that title, we need to go once more across the pond, back in the nursery of a corporate cultural identity, back in time just a wee bit to see what was happening while Europe was in flames, twice.

The emergence of Corporate fundamental cultural identity.

In the States, the state cultural identity was having a tough time of it themselves, though hardly to the same degree. Having come a fairly long way from the noble, non-interventionist (if you except the forced migration of millions of humans) ideal, and incorporating most of the Caribbean, and a good chunk of Mexico, into its domain, one has to wonder what on Earth went wrong. What went wrong was the emergence of a new cultural identity, not yet fundamental, but that nevertheless found itself with unimaginable wealth, and therefore power. Powers over politics, over the very state cultural identity, but not yet with a monopolistic hold on cultural production.  This created a stunning divergence in the cultural and moral systems of those in power and those under it, in feedback with the huge growth in inequality (see: wealth inequality as a measure of homogeneity of a cultural system), but not the required foundation to sustain it.

This is evident in the mass-mobilisation of religious communities during the Great Depression; cultural identity not yet cowed into submission and seeing morality practiced that was contrary to what they themselves believed. The combined efforts of religious and other, non-fundamental identities, was enough to create an enabling environment for the state to come down hard on those corporations, and their ideologue owners, who were seen, as now, as responsible for the market crash, and redistribute wealth to a degree that released the tension once more. But, after a period of brief societal equilibrium, fundamental and non-fundamental alike, the slowly, exponentially growing corporate identity did not just disappear. Rather, it gained control, control over the banking system with the introduction of the Federal Reserve, control over the newly emerging technologies of radio, telephony, and television. Then it bided its time, and became a fundamental cultural identity the way cultural evolution demands - slowly, and through gaining uninterrupted control over cultural production for a couple of generation. It became the background noise, the new shadows on the wall, and it did it first in the States.

This shift toward monopolistic corporate control of an unprecedented, one-way, system-wide communication network had the same consequences as would happen were religion, or the state, were (and are) in control of such a system: mass indoctrination. Again, it isn’t some evil plot. In fact, complexity theory practically rules out the possibility of a small group of people even being able to control such a complex system as society. The only reason people see the connection is because they are indoctrinated into viewing control by the metrics power itself does: money. Yet this isn’t control of the system, that’s control over wealth extraction, and to conflate the two is to submit to the definitions power has provided for itself. Eventually, the system will bite those people hard on the ass, but until then, the U.S. is largely, and sustainably (in the near term), trapped in Plato’s goddamn cave again.

The reasons for this are numerous, obviously, it’s massively complex, but can essentially be summarised as: it had the most complex and facilitative enabling environment. The freedoms enshrined, for what they are truly worth, in the U.S. constitution and its amendments granted unprecedented freedom for cultural evolution to occur; it was the only superpower left to fully exploit the now blindingly fast (supposedly, back then anyway) advances of technology; it suffered barely any significant damage back in the homeland, leaving a celebratory populace who had mostly been spared the lifelong, crippling, psychological legacy the two World Wars left. Times were bloody awesome, people had “never had it so good” - at least if you were white, male, and reasonably wealthy and/or lucky, but then, since they were the only ones on these new radios, and television sets, that counts as everyone, to a relative mind. The American Dream was here, first in black-and-white, then in full Technicolor! It was in Broadway, it was in every living room (that mattered), and it held, and grew, and got more and more clever, and manipulative, all with one aim; to make you part with the money you have earned.  What is this ‘it’ I speak of? Corporate cultural identity, everywhere, day and night. It isn’t capitalism creating this cultural identity, creating these new desires and insecurities and “personality disorders”, any more than it was nationalism creating state cultural identity, or spiritualism creating religious cultural identity. It was, and is, corporations and their CEOs. State governments and their politicians, and organised religion, with its priests. Capitalism doesn’t exist; it is an abstract ideal that complexity shows is as impossible to realise. All ideology has, at its heart, the belief that if things are done in just this way or that, optimal order will somehow emerge. That isn’t how it works. That isn’t emergence.

Having had two generations in which to spread a TV or Radio into just about every house, and having welcomed advertising and corporate involvement in communications infrastructure in a way Europe didn’t, the States saw the corporate cultural identity gain it’s monopolistic market share of system-wide cultural production. Nobody knew it, but here was the subversion of power that would inevitably lead to corporate cultural identity subverting both religion and the state. So all consuming was its reach, that even those who would consider themselves fully religious, or nationalistic at heart, are subconsciously forced to wade through a sea of adverts, each attempting to drill it’s way in new and innovative ways into your subconscious, explicitly, by design. There is a reason Bill Hicks hated marketing so much, and this is why. Marketing, PR, spin; all they represent are more subtle and nuanced forms of propaganda, pure and simple. No cultural system could withstand such an onslaught, and the exclusivity inherent in the moral fabric of such a homogenous cultural identity has reeked unimaginable devastation in its role of creating, sustaining and exaggerating the phantom of the ‘other’, Communism, that twin enemy of both state and corporate identity alike. You want to talk feedback? Look no further than the ridiculous arms race, with its self-imposed, twisted logic of mutually assured destruction evidence of ideologies inherent stupidity when it comes to thinking in terms of the greater (than themselves) good.

Reagan and Thatcher were on the same mission, but they were starting from different locations, and with a disparate amount of institutionalised power behind them in their ideological goals. In the states, corporate identity had already laid the foundation for the acceptance of neoliberalism, for the acceptance of the ideologues personal definition, under the idealistic myth that is capitalism, The American Dream, the End of History. Thatcher meanwhile, in a cultural system whose state cultural identity had retained its sovereignty over these new technologies (the BBC), and whose cultural identity stretched way farther back than the relative blank slate that was the U.S. Thatcher couldn’t take the neoliberal reforms as far as Reagan, and it took until New Labour betraying their working class base and embrace corporatism for the transformation, the subjugation, of the state identity to be complete (at least, in its top-down form). But how could New Labour have “betrayed their working class base”, while winning in a landslide? The answer is they didn’t - they changed in feedback with their changing base, a base that had by now had the same 20 or so years of dominant corporate culture that the states had had from the fifties onwards. There was no working class anymore, just a few diehard communities, suffering dissonance and exclusion in a sea of consumerism. Not only that, but as the U.S’s closest cultural system, the UK naturally and inevitably became the first and most receptive to the growing corporate influence across the pond. With no language barrier and an aura of glamour, U.S. culture found a home in the UK that only added to the acceleration of the corporate cultural monopoly.

Gradually, U.S. corporate culture reached every corner of the globe, and where corporate interests went, the state duly followed. The media gradually became more subservient the more their corporate masters diverged in culture, the more inequality grew. Religion embraced corporatism’s message, the appearance of vast, multi-million dollar turnover mega-churches, taking the traditional, religious way of extracting wealth (though still using fear, and other devices such as music and repetition that Goebbels was fond of) and applying economies-of-scale. Any counter-cultural possibility had been extinguished with the coming of Reagan and the freedoms he granted, in the name of an economic ideology, to corporations. The West was lost to fundamentalism, driven there by external fears and internal monopolistic control over cultural production.

If you think fundamentalism is too harsh a word, then you either haven’t been paying attention, or else disagree with my theoretical premise, that culture reflects identity, that culture is identity. U.S. system-wide cultural production is entirely corporate, either directly, or through power of mediation, with just the one public TV and radio channel in PBS and NPR (and even that is under constant threat of having it’s funding pulled). It has been this way for decades; every single large scale producer of cultural production, all functioning not for the public good, but for their bottom-line. For a reflection of how far we have come, consider this. We have just had a financial crisis like the West has not known since the 30’s. Yet unlike that time, there was no mass-mobilisation, no rallying cries of any influence from the pulpits, just a bunch of disparate, desperate, isolated voices crying out into the ether. Unlike that time, the state is no longer independent enough, cultural identity no longer diverse enough, to create the enabling environment to legislate against those that all but the most hardened ideologues know are to blame for this mess. A homogenous corporate identity, free to define itself in culture and law, had instead created the conditions required for them to survive such an enormous, and usually reform-generating, systemic shock. Yet nothing has changed. Inequality is still getting higher. The balance of fundamental and non-fundamental identities, united by the horrors of war and a vision of a brighter future, had once conspired to correct the greed of exclusive cultural identity, and bring about two decades of rising equality. Not this time. This time corporations have the power they then lacked, the power of mass-indoctrination.