A Case Study of the Human Enterprise: Complex Adaptive System Theory
Visiting Scholar, Agnes Scott College
Last modified: September 5, 2007
The article is a case study of complex adaptive systems theory, focusing upon the global political system as a part of an aggregate system embedded within the biogeophysical environment. This aggregate system is spatially the largest domain in which we know evolution plays out. I apply the dynamical systems framework employed by Stuart Kauffman. I explain why self-adaptation does not explain the global political system at this time and postulate what conditions must be met if it did.
I conjecture that the density of causal interconnectedness between our species’ cumulative actions on the environment and their effects have reached a “complexity threshold”. The growth of technology, in general, and the growth of global trade and investment, in particular, have also led to rising causal interconnectedness within and between societies and nations. As a consequence, humanity is perilously close to what Kauffman has called a “complexity catastrophe,” sharply limiting the capacity for self-adaptation, and in matters of global governance dramatically increasing the degree of difficulty of effective governance. The onset of the "complexity phase" is a profound evolutionary event with profound evolutionary implications.
I focus on the structural properties of the global political system and argue that its anarchic conditions are maladaptive. I maintain that global governance for global problems is a necessary but not sufficient condition to replace the anarchic strong nation system and achieve self-adaptive global governance. Self-adaptive governance requires the development and maintenance of resilience within and between multiple human-made and natural systems, and living within the limits of our biogeophysical environment. The signature characteristic of global governance for global problems is that global security takes precedence over national security when a conflict arises.