This post by Jordan Greenhall originally appeared on

The following are a series of assertions around our present geo-political circumstances and hypotheses about our most effective actions.

  • There is a global institutional order, largely initiated as the aftermath of WWII and growing organically through to the fall of the Eastern Bloc, at which point it substantially accelerated. This order includes both active and passive interconnections that span economic, technological, social, cultural, political and military dimensions. By “institutional order” is meant the organizational and conceptual mechanisms by which human activities are focused and directed. This includes governmental organizations (the US Military, the EU ministry of agriculture, medicare), meta governmental organizations (the UN, the WTO, the IMF), NGOs, corporations, etc.
  • This global institutional order was largely formulated based on the technical and conceptual state of the art existing after WWII. Although it has consistently been complexified and updated (“patched”) in the intervening 60 years, it is still fundamentally organized around hows, whats and whys that originate in that era.
  • The foundation on which this order was built and by which it made sense has been undergoing profound transformation — particularly in the past two decades. Largely, this is the result of the unprecedented *success* of the present order: advances in information technology, increases in population, depletion of global natural resources, etc.
  • Whenever an institutional order is faced with this kind of transformation of its fundament, it can choose two paths:
  1. Deconstruct and reorganize functions around emerging capabilities
  2. Attempt to conserve the existing order

The former choice involves significant pain. Disrupting existing means (and even ends) is contra human psychological tendencies. Moreover, it is not guaranteed to be successful — many things can happen when long-bound energies are released in an institutional reconstruction. As a consequence, it requires tremendous foresight and political will.

The latter choice ultimately involves the death of the society. An attempt to conserve an order that has become obsolete requires an intensification of “delusional” mechanisms that distance society from reality and eventually deplete its ability to operate. Thus society moves from productive to conservative to moribund. Depending on the political will and political power of the institutions driving the transition from productive to conservative, this death can be very quick and destructive (see French Revolution) or can potentially be delayed for a very long time (“zombieification”). Indeed, the period just following the transition from productive to conservative (open to closed) can be experienced as highly positive (a “golden age”). However, once a society moves to full closure — like any entropic environment — its fate is (largely, although never absolutely) sealed.

  • The decision to deconstruct and reorganize can rarely (never?) be made by existing institutions (the past), it must, instead, be made by “institutions from the future” — which can provide solutions and vision that is simply outside of the means of existing institutions.
  • It is possible to interpolate the shape of future institutional orders based on the present circumstances.
  • Uniquely in history, our future institutional order must be self-assembling, self-organizing and meta-stable. There can be no central organizing structure that is adequate to their construction — instead they must be architected to “unfold” dynamically yet effectively.
  • Nonetheless, we can assert several rules that are quite likely to be part of their basic operations:

– Data aware: in principle all possible transactions are stored and searchable

– Transparent: in principle all transactions can be viewed by all participants

– Distributed: in principle no levels of hierarchy

– Anti-fragile: designed to maximize and benefit from “black swan” events rather than minimize and suffer from them

– Auto-liberating: intrinsically difficult to capture and all efforts to capture are rendered ruinous

– Transient. Beyond the basic resilient holon and stored data, every function or organization is built with the time or conditions that warrant its death built into the design/plan.

The new system must run concurrently with the old in order to avoid inducing general collapse. To achieve this end:

  1. It displaces due to choice and not force. Bit by bit and not all at once.
  2. It can leverage mature services of the old system to gain capabilities rapidly and supplement deficits.
  3. It must be able to defend itself against predation by the old system.
  4. It replaces old system functions when able.
  5. Connection to the new system is a function of desire/membership and a willingness to live by a set of rules, both at the individual level and at the level of the resilient community. Membership is not based on geography or accident of birth, it is earned through behavior.


Photo by giloudim

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