Chaos, Our Brains, Democracy, the Economy

how they all relate

Photo by Mikita Yo on Unsplash

I do see President Trump as an agent of chaos, but this essay isn’t about him. Rather, it is about resolving some of the chaos that has been inherently a part of our society as a social system.

A long, long time ago I wrote an essay that was published in the Opinion section of the Atlanta Journal Constitution newspaper. The editor gave it the rather clunky tile, “The Science of Chaos Has Important Lessons for Democracy.”

I had watched a program on PBS about the then-emerging science of chaos. Technically, chaotic systems are those in which all of the variables that are part of the system are interdependent. Each affects and is affected by all others. Even a tiny change in any variable can therefore lead to extremely big changes in the performative outcomes of the system.

The weather is a classic example of a chaotic system — which is why predicting it is so difficult. Related to that is the ‘butterfly effect’, which illustrates the point about tiny changes anywhere leading to major events in the system.

In the show that I watched they made the point that all chaotic systems are ultimately constrained, if only by what is physically possible in this Universe. More narrowly, any system in nature is constrained by the condition that it cannot generate changes that will destroy the system.

They also made the point in the show that the human brain works physically as a system of constrained chaos, especially in its creative aspect. As was also pointed out in the show, that makes our brains particularly useful for solving ‘optimality problems’ — problems in which the answer is not yes or no, but the best perceivable option. Societal problems, such as unemployment and poverty, are examples of such problems.

In my essay I made the case that the democratic political process is a form of constrained chaos. I can’t recall if I actually made this point, but democracy obviously makes society into one giant brain (when that process is functioning properly).

One key to finding the best solution for optimality problems is to expand the set of possible solutions sufficiently. I do remember that I made the point in ending my essay that the absence of an actual solution to any of our pressing societal problems indicates that the search for possible solutions must be “broadened and deepened.”

Our economy is also a chaotic system. All of the variables in the economy are interdependent. Each affects, and is affected by, all others. Add to that observation that, unlike the weather, the performative outcomes of the economy are solely determined by the actions of human beings, and we can see why predicting economic outcomes is even more difficult than predicting the weather is.

Even beyond that, our existing economy actually has no formal constraints (other than actions that will totally destroy the system — something that can happen to an economic system that, again, can’t happen to a system in nature). That’s because the ‘fuel’ of the economy, money, is unconstrained. The only limit on how much money — or debt — can be created (the two are intimately related in our economy as it currently exists) would be the utter destruction of the system.

I wrote that referenced essay soon after graduating from Atlanta University with an M.A. in economics. My Thesis had included my original iteration of a solution for all of the societal problems stemming from our existing economy: establishing a “democratically distributed income” (DDI). [At the time the marketing slogan of the AJC was “new ideas, new solutions,” but when I proffered my solution to the paper it was ignored.]

In the Summer of 2009 I made a big change to my paradigm, narrowing the scope of the DDI, leaving all incomes above the amount of the DDI (now $15/hr., $600/wk.) unchanged. I have been touting that revised version of it here in Medium since 2017.

If any reader is curious, the best place to learn more about my paradigm is “For Crying Out Loud, Accept That A Solution Actually Exists” (a “3 min read” — including options for further reading — here in Medium).