Concrete Action
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Concrete Action • Posted: Oct 01, 2009 11:47:08Comments WelcomeVote CoolPhotoblogsPurchase a PrintShare

Words are so much an integral part of our thoughts that we sometimes forget they are mere stand-ins for action. Most of us concede that bizarre quantities subsumed under the monikers "force" and "energy" animate the material world in which we live, and that we are left little alternative but to deal with the consequences. But in the social world, we want to believe that words, and the ideas they represent, can modify the consequences we will be forced to deal with when mounting energies are finally released through concrete actions. Evidence would suggest that such belief is not without merit. Word mediated coordinated collective actions have achieved significant modifications to both material and social worlds. But, containment by words is far from perfect. Corruption dilutes efficiencies, groups work at cross-purposes, individuals bail out for innumerable reasons, and group cohesion dissipates as mixed messages flood media channels. Given the mounting complexity of our global social network, are hopeful expectations to contain and direct collective actions even realistic any more?

In a previous post I discussed "degrees of freedom", in a mathematical sense, the number of constraints that can vary when a solution is sought for a given equation. The problems we now face as a species on this planet are growing in complexity because the number of degrees of freedom for each of our problems is increasing, sometimes at an exponential rate. What mechanisms can be employed to limit this mind-boggling growth in complexity? Are there any?

We come back to words, I think. The range of possible human actions is not significantly increasing. What seems to be fueling an exponential rise in complexity is that words are beginning to fail us as a mechanism for constraining and coordinating concrete actions. Within global communication channels, there are a growing number of sources for words and ideas that might help direct our collective actions. But the desire to gain attention from within the cacophonous crowd has prompted most such sources to distort the importance and value of what they offer by appealing to base ignorance, fear, superstition, vanity, and greed. The masses are losing focus and beginning to distrust not only some, but all knowledgeable sources as exploitive. And they are not wrong to do so.

We might look to the Borg, a fictional society from the TV series Star Trek: Next Generation, as model for what single minded perfectly focused communication and coordination could accomplish. But we do not aspire to be like the Borg. On the other hand, we risk becoming nothing less than a self-destructive plague on this planet, crazed diseased ants crawling over a picnic, unless we can elevate and increase participation in forward looking substantive discussions of realistic plans to coordinate our collective actions.

May your efforts to connect with and participate in such forward-looking forums for discussion be increasingly successful. And may an increasing number of our fellow citizens follow your example.

Sunday, September 27th, 1987