Outdated consensus

Humankind has always sought protection from the rough and tumble of life. In the beginning, people put their faith in religion. The priests, who were supposedly in close touch with whichever god was in fashion at the time, interceded on behalf of believers to seek blessings and ward off evils. The priests were the experts. They knew what to do on all occasions and the rest of the community was happy to pay for their services and then leave them to do the necessary.

In modern times, religion lost ground to the lure of science. The change did not happen overnight. Comte (1798-1857), the French philosopher, identified three stages for human thought: a Theological era, a Metaphysical era, and a Scientific era, each occupying many centuries. At every stage dissatisfaction with the current paradigm led to adoption of a new, improved, consensus.

Strictly speaking, the scientific era concerned itself mainly with linear science up to a few decades ago. The linear paradigm on which work within the natural sciences was founded was gradually, and to a degree inevitably, imported into most other fields. The ‘Experts’, as in the case of politicians, social scientists and economists, embraced the certainty and predictability promised by the Newtonian linear paradigm. All situations, they presumed, could be controlled to everyone’s satisfaction. Again, the experts seemed to know what they were doing and people were happy to leave them to it.

Emerging consensus?

On the whole, the scientific, linear method yielded indifferent results when applied in the socio-economic arena. Certainly the outcomes were not as impressive as those achieved within the natural sciences, and as actual events diverged so much and so often from predictions and promises the search for a new consensus gained momentum. Evidence is now emerging from several quarters that recent discoveries associated with complex systems might offer useful insights into the shape of things to come.

A shift to a new consensus that views social, political, and economic phenomena as complex adaptive systems would entail more than just a change in style. Top-down and command-and-control, reductionist, management methods; ideally suited to linear systems as typified by the assembly lines common in industrial production, are inappropriate in nonlinear situations. Different, integrative or holistic, management tools are needed in theses cases.

A number of scholars have already made the transition to a new consensus based on nonlinear conceptions, including for example Georgescu-Roegen, Arthur, and Ormerod in economics, Byrne in the social sciences, Jervis in politics, and Stacey in business organisation. Rihani adopted a similar approach in relation to development. Needless to say the shift in viewpoint evolved after lengthy consideration. This website is part of that much larger process of transformation.