The Complexity of Human Civilization

Some excerpts:

Since time immemorial humans have complained that life is becoming more complex, but it is only now that we have a hope to analyze formally and verify this lament.
The increase in complexity is directly related to sweeping changes in the structure and dynamics of human civilization—the increasing interdependence of the global economic and social system and the instabilities of dictatorships, communism and corporate hierarchies.

What is generally not recognized is that the relationship between collective global behavior and the internal structure of human civilization can be characterized through mathematical concepts that apply to all complex systems.

Instead of progressive simplification from an individual to larger and larger collections of individuals, we have the opposite, an increasing complexity that is tied to an increasing complexity of the demands of the environment. This makes it impossible for an individual to effectively control collective behaviors. While specific individuals have been faulted for management errors that have led to corporate failures, the analysis performed here suggests that it is inevitable for management to make errors under these circumstances.

Human civilization has a remarkable capacity for responding to external and internal challenges. The existence of such a capacity for response does not mean that human civilization will survive external challenges any more than the complexity of any organism guarantees its survival.


I forget which of the ancient Greeks philosophers it was who said, years ago when human civilization was “simpler”, something like: There are only 3 forms of government:

  • Monarchy (rule by one), which inevitably deteriorates into brutal Tyranny.
  • Aristocracy (rule by a small elite), which inevitably deteriorates into self-serving Oligarchy.
  • Democracy (rule by all the citizens), which inevitably deteriorates into unsustainable Mob Rule.

History would tend to suggest that the old Greek was correct. The failure of most civilizations to last more than a few hundred years is strong evidence.

Reportedly, the drafters of the US Constitution tried to avoid this fate by incorporating checks and balances using all 3 forms of government – a President/Monarch who would be time-limited in office; a Senate/Aristocracy chosen by the states for time-limited terms; and a House/Democracy with short terms in office. It was a good plan – such a pity we let the Political Class mess it up. Now we have the worst of all possible worlds – elements of Tyranny, Oligarchy, and Mob Rule.


This may have been true, but the illustration at the right of the first image in the original post suggests an alternative. We may be developing the mechanisms to create a true multi-level, dynamic, networked structure without a fixed hierarchy. I would suggest that those who designed federal systems were aiming for the same objective: a system where decision making was pushed down to the lowest and closest level to the individual as practical (the principle of subsidiarity), but these systems have proven unstable against an accretion of power by the centre at the expense of the lower levels, which become simply administrative units of the central authority.

Now, we may have the ability to create mechanisms and institutions which allow individuals and groups to self-associate into communities which shared values without the need for geographical isolation, and to replace failed and failing centralised power with local, human-scale, alternatives that work and can be changed to adapt to a fluid environment.


Human beings have always had such associations – everything from churches to knitting circles to book clubs to political parties. Yes, today we can do a lot of this without any regard for geographical location through the internet. However, those distributed alternatives are not much use when a member of the self-association community needs a lot of help to raise a barn. And such dispersed communities are not much use when faced with a woke local school board or the need to improve shared water supply in one’s home area or the need to agree on a common voltage. Man cannot live by the internet alone.

Agreed that the federal model could reasonably be interpreted to be a fourth type of government – at least, that apparently was the intent. The current situation in the US or Germany demonstrates that the checks & balances required to prevent the center from exercising unaccountable authority over the constituent communities would need to be very much stronger than we currently have in place.

Personal view – a federal structure really only could be stable if the center were allowed only to tax the equivalent of states (which could tax only cities & counties, which were the only entities allowed to tax individuals) and if the center were absolutely prohibited from borrowing or printing money. Plus there would need to be provisions to ensure that a permanent Political Class or Bureaucratic Class could never emerge. Realistically, the only opportunity to create such a structure will be in the painful aftermath of the collapse of our current failing system.


Golly, WHAT is that in the middle of this chart? Is that really some kinda graph? It looks like large Paramecium in various stages of mating and devouring each other.

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Woke ideology imposes a tribal top-down cultural control structure on a networked civilization, something that only works, ironically, with a very peaceful and tolerant cultural base environment.

The “Greek” philosopher might have been Machiavelli in his Discourses on Livy.

There are some interesting ideas about political systems where only those competent to vote on a particular topic get to vote in CJ Cherryh’s Cyteen. Cyteen won both Nebula and Locus awards for the best scifi novel in 1989.


I think you are right that Machiavelli made the statement about only 3 types pf government, but he was quoting an Ancient Greek.

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Some guy named Aristotle said the following, which can be found in book 8, chapter 10 of Nicomachean Ethics:

Now there are three forms of constitution, and also an equal number of perversions or corruptions of those forms. The constitutions are Kingship, Aristocracy, and thirdly, a constitution based on a property classification, which it seems appropriate to describe as timocratic, although most people are accustomed to speak of it merely as a constitutional government or Republic.

The best of these constitutions is Kingship, and the worst Timocracy. The perversion of Kingship is Tyranny. Both are monarchies, but there is a very wide difference between them: a tyrant studies his own advantage, a king that of his subjects. For a monarch is not a king if he does not possess independent resources, and is not better supplied with goods of every kind than his subjects; but a ruler so situated lacks nothing, and therefore will not study his own interests but those of his subjects. A king who is not independent of his subjects will be merely a sort of titular king. Tyranny is the exact opposite in this respect, for the tyrant pursues his own good. The inferiority of Tyranny among the perversions is more evident than that of Timocracy among the constitutions, for the opposite of the best must be the worst.

When a change of constitution takes place, Kingship passes into Tyranny, because Tyranny is the bad form of monarchy, so that a bad king becomes a tyrant. Aristocracy passes into Oligarchy owing to badness in the rulers, who do not distribute what the State has to offer according to desert, but give all or most of its benefits to themselves, and always assign the offices to the same persons, because they set supreme value upon riches; thus power is in the hands of a few bad men, instead of being in the hands of the best men. Timocracy passes into Democracy, there being an affinity between them, inasmuch as the ideal of Timocracy also is government by the mass of the citizens, and within the property qualification all are equal. Democracy is the least bad of the perversions, for it is only a very small deviation from the constitutional form of government. These are the commonest ways in which revolutions occur in states, since they involve the smallest change, and come about most easily.


The importance of complex hierarchies to make cities functional:


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