The clock goes off at a pre-set time, maybe launching a radio station that fills the air with familiar patter and music that you’ve come to rely on. You wander to the bathroom where the tap has hot water waiting and you can start your day on a schedule. If you timed it right there’s time for a cup of coffee from Colombia, maybe a banana from Costa Rica or a swallow of orange juice from Brazil. You might have some processed food taken from a box and reheated in a Chinese made appliance.
These are the systems you’ve come to rely on – as much as the systems have come to rely on you to be part of them.
Two years ago I wrote the magnum opus of Barataria, the Systemic Connections series, in an attempt to make sense of the whole process. The intention was to provide a framework for us all to think past our daily grind or the big crises beyond our control and look at everything from a strong half-step back – just enough distance for some perspective, but not so far back that we can’t get our hands dirty. If you haven’t read the epic 5-parter of some 4k words, please pour yourself a cup of coffee and give it a read.
Why get into such deep philosophy? If it wasn’t obvious in 2009 it should be obvious by now – our world is changing rapidly in ways that none of us can control. The old economy and politics that provided us with frameworks for understanding how it all fit together are passing into oblivion. Entire careers are gone, policy makers are helpless, and our political system is broken. Anyone who tells you they know just what comes next is probably delusional.
The problem with times like this is that paralysis is inevitable – on both a personal and systemic level. People and institutions both are likely to do little but stand back and freeze like a scared bunny.
While we’re all petrified, I thought I’d provide some reading material.
The topic came up again, as it often does, in the comments you readers leave here on Barataria. Last March, the first Hyman Minsky lecture was held at Washington University in St. Louis. A link to the event was left as a response to a discussion on how we’ve lost a whole decade in this downturn, how we’re beginning to realize it finally, and how we should have seen it coming. The usual stuff – for Barataria, that is.
If you’re not up for heavy reading material today, give the video a play. It’s more than an hour long, but it’s worth it.
Hyman Minsky was an economist who was obsessed with the simple observation that there was a gap between micro or market economics and macro or systemic economics. His seminal work is 30-50 years old, but he predicted that something like the mess we see was bound to happen someday. Why? Largely because we have that gap between the scales of our lives and the terrible disconnect between them. That and our tendency to do what works best, stopping only when it is very obvious that it isn’t working anymore. Tranquility and success always builds into it the seeds of its own destruction.
It may not seem like a lot of comfort to say that our situation is neither historically unique nor unexpected in the long scheme of things, but it should. It’s the perfect antidote to fear, anger, and depression – none of which are very helpful on a personal or social level.
Whatever comes next will arrive a lot faster once we get to work. What Minsky wrote about, and Barataria attempts to popularize, is a description of what that work is and how to approach it
An hour long lecture and a 5 post series may seem like a big slog. It is. The point is that the sooner we can get the world looking at the connections that bind people into a systems which create and define everything in our lives the sooner we can see what is really broken and set to work to fix it.
At some point, it should all become a bumpersticker slogan, but we’re not there yet.
The systems of life as we know it are indeed quite broken. But we can still wake up every morning because some things are still truckin’ along, as are we all. What are the connections in our life that make it happen? Which ones are broken and in need of repair? What are the new ones that might have a lot of promise? Where it all starts is an understanding of connections themselves and how systems are built. From that we can work as individuals to build whatever new systems will make up a tomorrow full of progress.
If you’re still bleary-eyed and not quite awake it may be a bit of a heavy load. But give it a try when you can. There’s nothing wrong with this world that a change in perspective can’t make a bit more obvious. And, as always, your perspectives are important for the same reason, so please let us in on them in the form of a comment!
Here’s that link again: Systemic Connections