Abstract to Resilience2011 Conference: Shear and feedback loss in central structures

Here is an abstract Preston and I submitted for the Resilience2011 conference this next spring.

Shear and feedback loss in central structures


Calving derived social structures:

Upper level or centralized structures like bankers and banks, teachers and schools, or authors and publishers emerge to alleviate strain, effectively empowering lower levels – savers, the student body, audience. They are derived and serve. Lower level edge structures, however, become equally derived from the upper levels once they emerge. It is efficient shorthand to isolate a derived level as the primary operative level: the one that matters. The material and conceptual significance of derived structure is sufficient to allow the aggregate to become an independent useful context. Through this process shear emerges and upper level consideration elides lower level detail. No longer directly considered, lower level strain cannot contribute predictive signals to governance of derived structures’ behavior. Instead lower levels cope with strain until limits are reached where their services collapse.

Calving wealth from value:

Consider financial wealth: Once certain forms of derived value become commonly accumulated as wealth, money may become a substitute for each of these types of value. Wealth thus becomes synonymous with money, and money comes to define value relative to itself. The result is that activities which are not identified within this context of monetary-wealth-value become devalued, dismissed as background, relative to money. Although the value-defining wealth that backs money cannot exist without these lower level activities, money can operate largely independently of them so long as strain of this activity pushed to lower levels does not exceed their addressable ability to diffuse.

The issue is trophic.

This works for a long time because edges are not scarce of resources or value and can use it efficiently. They are merely scarce of aggregates and derivatives that the center determines to be valuable through its local, yet essentialized, definition of wealth. Edges are not only rich but are the site through which this centrally recognized wealth is derived. They are the primary production system that directly creates and feeds the rest; the wolf does not take into consideration the plant’s capture and transformation of light, but this does not make the plant unimportant.

Only that which is evident can be resolved in a manner that allows for intentionality. Centers cannot act to diffuse unrecognized strain; its resolution will be forced upon them. We suggest that central structures can be made more sensitive to and inclusive of feedback from lower production levels to which they currently export strain, incorporating resilience and adaptability, by improving the higher level structure’s access to data from local experimentation. In doing so, the shear between upper and lower level structure will be evident. This influence through visibility empowers local actors and preserves niches that sustain local value creation and experimentation.

At the moment our proposal is speculative, not driven by empirical evidence. We see plausible applicability in ecology, currency, publishing, online communities, urban design, and innovation suggesting both viability and broader applicability of the framework. We hope to extend current models of system operation and structural transformation with this framework that may increase explanatory and predictive efficacy.