“We came into a broken world. And we’re the cleanup crew.”

— Kanye West

“Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies – or else? The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.”

— Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The reason why the world lacks unity, and lies broken and in heaps, is, because man is disunited with himself.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Don’t fix what’s not broken.”

— Robert Atkins

“I don’t think that I’m broken at all. I no longer think that I’m a mess. I just think I’m a deeply feeling person in a messy world.”

— Glennon Doyle Melton

“If the system is broken, my inclination is to fix it rather than to fight it. I have faith in the process of the law, and if it is carried out fairly, I can live with the results, whatever they may be.”

— Sonia Sotomayor

“We are taking over a completely broken Brazil. We’ve never had such a major ethical, moral, and economic crisis, and we want to get out of this quagmire. “

—Jair Bolsonaro

“I think the system is broken; most people think that it’s broken. And we think that what we’re going to do is invigorate the political system and allow for this country to be turned around.”

— Hamilton Jordan

“The Congress is a dysfunctional institution; it’s broken. One of our three branches of government is broken.”

— Carl Bernstein

” Look at what is broken in society, figure out how to make it better, and then, around that, formulate a business.”

— Whitney Wolfe Herd

I read so much these days about how terribly broken our system is – our nation, our culture, our world. Each story tells about the causes and damage, but nothing more than platitudes about how to fix it. The reality is that you can’t fix it. Do you know why, and what that means for us?

I’m just one of the little people, along with about 8 billion or so others, who see or sense the great problems before us, but have no idea about what to do. The stories typically end with “we should …”. Who is “we”, and exactly what is it that “we” should do – practically, and in reality?

Kind of important questions today, yes?

The things that “we” should do seem to be largely fantasy proposals. Many seem to think that those they believe created the problems should get busy and fix them. Unfortunately, the world system doesn’t work that way. Those who create big problems usually have no interest in fixing them, or are able only to create yet bigger problems no matter what they do.

Big complex systems like our country and the world are not fixable

Our world system has over 8 billion people living in about 200 nations of one kind or another. Everyone doing pretty much their own thing. No one, and no group, has the smarts and power needed to fix “things” – big things. Each pursues mainly its own narrow interests and agenda. Nothing of significance ever gets fixed, whatever “fixed” may mean in practice.

Government is part of the system that needs fixing. It cannot fix much of anything, and in reality is the cause of much mischief and distress. We elect people who turn out to be bums, and then throw them out so we can elect some new bums. That’s roughly the way things work, yes?

We live in a huge, complex, inherently-fragile, dynamic system. System behavior arises from the system, not from its components (aka us). Us components can do all kinds of theoretically-helpful things, but these occur within the system. A complex highly-interconnected system handles such efforts mostly as disturbances. The system as a whole remains largely unchanged in its essentials.

There are, and have always been, a motley collection of rulers-and-ruler-wannabes. They cause disturbances that arise naturally from their human nature. Nothing much can be changed in human nature.

The West – U.S., UK, EU, and various peripheral countries – are presently trying to maintain a sort of global domination through the U.S. dollar’s reserve and trading status. The rest of the world meanwhile seems to be rearranging itself into a multipolar group of nations – Russia, China, India, Brazil, and a growing number of others, becoming known as the BRICS+ – that appears to be succeeding in creating a serious counterforce.

What a mess. The world has never done this before, has it? It seems like history is nothing more than a timeline of one clump of nations disagreeing with another clump of nations. Maybe that’s just what people do. Such disagreements and consequent wars are a central feature of humanity and its world system.

This means that our world system and its subsystems are and have always been messy, violent, and unpredictable. That’s just what a huge, fragile, complex system does. Components thrashing around inside, but the system as a whole persists. Even a nuclear WW III is unlikely to change the system behavior, but only its subsequent number of human components who remain out and about.

World map showing country size by population rather than area.
World map showing country size by population rather than area. Source

Large complex systems have their own set of dynamics

Smaller, largely-isolated, simpler systems can often be controlled, aka “fixed”, by powerful leaders and highly-focused groups. Nations like Japan and Switzerland that are highly integrated and uniform are examples of such systems. Even old Soviet Russia, with its many satellite countries, was tightly-controlled by Stalin and weaker successors for nearly 50 years. This led quite naturally to its demise. Why?

From a post here in late 2022, I looked at complex fragile systems: “Can We Survive In Our Super-Fragile World?”:

Complex systems like our world are inherently fragile.
Nobody made our world fragile. It became increasingly complex naturally, and this in turn is what increased its fragility. Simple is typically robust and resilient. Complex is typically fragile, and ultimately self-destructive. Just ask science:”

“James P. Crutchfield, Director of Complexity Sciences Center, Physics Department, University of California at Davis in 2009 published a paper that summarizes the mechanics at work here: “The Hidden Fragility of Complex Systems – Consequences of Change, Changing Consequences”:

“My premise is that truly complex systems, especially the socio-technical systems humans now construct, are inherently fragile. More to the point, they become so as a natural and inevitable product of how limited cognitive capacity, both at the individual and social levels, affects deploying technological solutions.”

“This is a simple, accretive view of the organization of complex systems in terms of a dynamic process through which they are created, either naturally, through human design, or both. The key and subtle step occurs, though, when the structural relationships between the components, specifically their dynamical interaction, leads to a spontaneous architectural reorganization as new levels of pattern emerge. That is, not only are individual components structurally complex and interconnected ‘horizontally’ but, through evolution, they become ‘vertically’ nested. The new patterns represent an increased level of abstraction in the system and reflect increased correlation (more structure) at a new level of organization. This new level can take on its own functioning, stabilizing if reinforced by the system as a whole. I call this process ‘functional pattern formation’.”

“Functional pattern formation raises a difficulty, though. The naive assumption of a system being composed of ‘modules’—in particular, that the modules are structurally or dynamically independent—fails. When correlation spontaneously emerges, the original components no longer need be ‘modules’. They interface in new ways within the system and can give rise to new, unanticipated behaviors and functions that cross the system. Moreover, these new functions can themselves become commandeered by other parts of the system. And, then, the entire process starts over again, with new levels of organization being constructed out of the existing ones. The lack of apparent modularity that results is the main challenge to understanding and analyzing truly complex systems.”

“In short, fragility emerges due to increasing structural correlation that spans system degrees of freedom and system degrees of abstraction. Fragility is hidden from us because it is emergent [emphasis added].”

“The lesson is that dynamical instability is inherent to collectives of adaptive agents.”

I have not run across a better, more concise explanation. It is their very interconnectedness that inevitably and naturally leads to system failure and collapse.

A snapshot of our complex, fragile, world system – pre-collapse.
A snapshot of our complex, fragile, world system – pre-collapse.

Diversity and relative independence make systems more stable

In principle at least, the emerging BRICS+ multipolar organization of non-West nations under Russian and Chinese leadership is a fundamentally more stable, less fragile design. Attempts to integrate and interconnect the countries involved are likely here also to begin the march toward complex system fragility and failure.

Will these nations maintain sufficient separation and diversity to avoid such an outcome? That there are so few leaders around smart enough and powerful enough to do such enlightened things seems almost certain to lead to system collapse.

Leaders for the most part are intelligent but not smartsmart as in wise. They are mostly hyper-ambitious, ruthless, ego-driven, and often insane individuals destined surely for bad ends.

But there is another factor in human-based complex systems that drives system behavior and system unpredictability: the very different behavior of large groups of people.

Huge populations tend to coalesce locally into “mass formations”

We tend to think of our world as consisting of a bunch of people doing pretty much their own thing. This is of course true. But what such folks don’t realize is that bunches of people behave not as individuals but as groups, crowds, mobs. Individuals thrashing around in these groups become subordinated to a kind of group mentality.

I have written about this in a number of posts: see for example here, here, and here.

Charles Mackay in 1841 was probably the first to describe the behavior of crowds vs. individuals in these. One especially nasty aspect of human nature is its propensity to form large crowds, masses, or mobs that behave very differently from its individual members. Psychologist Mattias Desmet has recently popularized this tendency as “mass formation psychosis/hypnosis”, building on earlier works by Charles Mackay[1], Etienne Le Bon[2], and Eric Hoffer[3]. Desmet saw this trend as leading toward totalitarianism.

[1] Charles Mackay was a Scottish poet, journalist, author, anthologist, novelist, and songwriter, remembered mainly for his book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.

[2] Gustave Le Bon was a leading French polymath whose areas of interest included anthropology, psychology, sociology, medicine, invention, and physics. He is best known for his 1895 work The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, which is considered one of the seminal works of crowd psychology.

[3] Eric Hoffer was an American moral and social philosopher. He was the author of ten books and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in February 1983. His first book, The True Believer (1951), was widely recognized as a classic, receiving critical acclaim from both scholars and laymen.

Crowds, mass formations, and mobs tend to have a group behavior that can be very different from behavior of its constituents – especially under the leadership of a strong, charismatic individual. Think Napoleon, Hitler, Mao, Stalin, and similar leaders (probably including George Washington and Winston Churchill on the brighter side).

This addition gives us perhaps the worst of all possible worlds: a complex, fragile world system driven by crowd/mass behavior that is often irrational at best.

Does this not look like a perfect formula for system failure, collapse, and ultimate disintegration?

Large complex systems tend to “fix” themselves

Our evidently-broken world system is busy fixing itself. In its own way, and in its own timeframe. Our hopes and wishes do not matter, except possibly locally.

Not very reassuring, yes? But just what is meant by “fix” themselves? If by “fix” we mean that the system resolves its current problems in a manner that we might like or at least might see as acceptable, we are very likely to be disappointed.

Large complex systems do their own thing. Worse yet, they are fragile and respond in unpredictable ways to even small disturbances. The likelihood of a favorable response to something that we might do is minimal at best. Much more likely is a response that is neither favorable nor predictable.

Unpredictable in both timing and response nature? Might we then be better off by doing nothing to mess with our world system? But what if someone else messes with the world system without our knowledge or approval? As inevitably happens …

A recent example: the West’s actions in the Ukraine and against Russia. Despite enormous amounts of money spent and many sanctions, the Ukraine appears to be losing the war, and Russia – along with China and quite a few Eurasian and Global South/Global Majority countries – appears to be prospering. Predictable? Not a chance.

The world system is not being “fixed” as we might like, but it is being changed in unforeseeable ways in response to the disturbances created by several of its major subsystems and various players therein. Are these changes favorable in any respect? To some of those involved, yes – like the BRICS+ countries. To others, like those of the West, no for the most part.

The world’s subsystems – nations – are decoupling and reorganizing. Unplanned for the most part. Our world system doing its own thing.
The world’s subsystems – nations – are decoupling and reorganizing. Unplanned for the most part. Our world system doing its own thing.

The West was trying to fix things its way – to cripple Russia with sanctions, or even break it apart. The world system responded by regrouping around the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) – and now expanding to the BRICS+ set of countries. Russia may be quite pleased, at least for the moment, with this surely unexpected outcome.

Big question now: What is the world system going to do next?

The globalists, primarily part of the West, are still actively trying to create a One World Government (One World Everything, in reality). Things are not working out quite as they hoped, so they may be forced to do something more drastic. Maybe like a mini-World War III, if such a happening is at all possible. Or perhaps a global financial collapse, aided by a scheduled catastrophe like COVID 2.0 plus a climate crisis for good measure. These appear to be fully underway at this moment.

How will our world system respond? The correct answer is: “Who knows?”. Responses will be unpredictable in timing and nature, no matter what the various system components do or try to do.

Given the track record of the West and its globalist partners so far, one might reasonably expect them to continue, but increasingly in panic mode. A catastrophic outcome of some kind would thus be virtually assured.

Meanwhile, the East (BRICS+) countries are moving ahead methodically with whatever it is that they are doing. Will they succeed? Again, the clear answer is who-knows. They have the added complication of working with a large number of nations within a so-far roughly independent framework. This effort seems likely to generate some manner of a major mess, regardless of what the world system may be up to.

Prospects for us people-components seem rather dim, yes?

Or maybe not. At least assuming survival of at least a bunch of people-components, which probably rules out a nuclear WW III. Whatever our world system may do in terms of its own thing, we can be pretty sure that it will not be anywhere among the grand schemes of the big-guy world players.

World system collapse, or chaotic disaggregation, seems quite possible

Large, complex, fragile systems tend to self-destruct as a result of some number of small disturbances that hit points of special vulnerability. Self-destruction in this context probably means breaking into world system sub-groups and forming new alliances among them. It may well be that the current BRICS+ activity is part of this world system unravelling process.

Nations of the West, comprising maybe 30% of the global population, were once pretty much in sync and working together cooperatively. No longer. The EU is busy self-destructing while causing untold mischief in the process. The U.S. petrodollar is taking huge hits as BRICS+ nations shift away from its use. This could well result in the collapse of the U.S. dollar and consequently the U.S. itself. Or maybe not …

Systems of non-human components tend to get “fixed” by moving toward disorder (entropy) – where the tight interconnections causing fragility are loosened or even largely eliminated. This tends to reduce overall fragility and to move the resulting system mess to a more stable state. From the system’s point of view, it has fixed itself – at least for the moment.

What happens if the system components are human for the most part? Based on Desmet and kin, we might expect such mass formations to unlink and behave more independently, and differently from one another. Group behaviors would still be more or less unified by whoever is leading each group, but groups would tend to diverge. So, instead of one big world system mess, we might expect a number of smaller, diverse subsystem messes. In this process, a few might even become sane, stable, and successful – a favorable fix for their human components.

Our world system getting ready to collapse – unless …
Our world system getting ready to collapse – unless

World system collapse or even chaotic disaggregation may be good

Anything that causes the tightly interconnected world system of today to disintegrate into some number of diverse, weakly linked subsystems (nations) may well be a positive outcome for both the world system and at least a few of its component subsystems. This disintegration and disaggregation process will surely be painful and disrupting for all us-components, but it would be a necessary precursor to some good news for some of its better-behaving, surviving subsystems.

This means that current efforts toward a centralized One World Government will be counterproductive to efforts by the world system to fix itself by means of disaggregation. Also bad would be any trend among the currently multipolar BRICS+ gang to centralize.

The world system will be much happier when interconnectedness is reduced substantially.

Assuming that we are able to survive this nasty disaggregation process, the likely outcome – a much less fragile, much more stable, world system – should be favorable to all but the rulers-and-ruler-wannabes.

Just maybe, perhaps, the world system is fixing itself without regard to us people, but coincidentally fixing things in a way that benefits many of us people.

The world system is indeed fixing itself. Not us.

The world system does whatever it does because of its inherent structure and processes. We – us – are irrelevant. This system is effectively a machine with behaviors that are built in and inherently random. The world system is broken because of the way in which the system was designed, or exists. 

It responds mechanically in a random manner to disturbances. I suppose that someday this kind of behavior will be modelled, albeit only as a complex probability distribution. We will never know why it responded as it did, but only how it responded.

Complex systems in effect do their own thing, as their design allows and dictates. Us humans within can at best merely trigger system responses and then respond as best we can. We are at best reactive responders.

Our efforts at fixing the world system are futile at best

We cannot fix anything at the world system level. We can only influence – fix – things at a local level. That is, our scope of influence is at best local. Grand schemes aimed at global domination and centralization are doomed to failure.

Our system fixing efforts then seem most productively applied at local levels and at specific points of world system vulnerability. Pepe Escobar, independent geopolitical analyst, writer, and journalist, explains how the current world system may be reorganizing itself constructively via a “mutually respectful multipolarity” (see Related Reading below).

Was this situation predicted? Of course not. Where is it headed? Nobody knows. Except perhaps the world system itself.

Of course the BRICS+ big guys aren’t doing us any favors

BRICS+ nations’ leaders are pursuing their own interests and those of their countries. If whatever they may be up to benefits us or the world system as a whole, it matters not. They are doing mostly their own leader things.

Meanwhile, the world system is also doing its system things, regardless – almost – of whatever else may be going on in human-ville.

Human activities are disturbances of one kind or another, world system-wise. The system adjusts by means of its internal dynamics and structure, not what may be motivating the disturbances in their human components. The world system may amplify the effects of such disturbances, or it may completely nullify them, or pretty much anything in between. The world system doesn’t care. It is mechanical in essence, without any elements of human nature.

There seems to be three main forces at work in all of this:

  1. Our complex, fragile, unpredictable world system doing its own thing, mechanically.
  2. Our roughly 200 countries globally led by a mishmash of rulers-ruler-wannabes-and-assorted-meddlers.
  3. Our human tendency to form into masses, each with a largely unified behavior particular to each grouping and its leaders.

Can any of us – individually or in groups – do anything that might move these three powerful forces in directions favorable to us world system components?

My take here, for whatever it may be worth, is that we should direct our efforts toward increasing stability and predictability, and against those who seek to dominate or unwisely rule. The keys in such endeavors will be agility, adaptability, and resilience as I have noted in many of my posts.

The BRICS gang: Modi (India), Xi (China), Ramaphosa (South Africa), Putin (Russia), and da Silva (Brazil).
The BRICS gang: Modi (India), Xi (China), Ramaphosa (South Africa), Putin (Russia), and da Silva (Brazil).

Bottom line:

Many people see and sense how terribly broken our system is – our nation, our culture, our world. Causes and damage are reported, but only platitudes about how to fix it. I have tried to make the case here that nobody can fix it. This is our world system at work, whether we like it or not – an enormously large, complex, fragile system that behaves independently of its human-based components.

Added to whatever our world system may be up to is the further complication of human nature in terms of the very different behavior of mass formations, crowds, mobs, and the like. These human groups exhibit group behaviors unlike most of its human components, and are often driven by deeply-flawed rulers-and-ruler-wannabes.

Together, these seem likely to collapse and disintegrate our current world system. While this may be well underway today, there is some hope in the efforts of the non-West BRICS+ nations to create a structure with stability and predictability.

Western ‘values’ buried under the rubble.
As Russia, especially via Lavrov’s efforts, offers the Global South/Global Majority a civilizational project, focused on mutually respectful multipolarity, China via Xi Jinping offers the notion of ‘community with a shared future’ and a set of initiatives, discussed in lengthy detail at the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) Forum in Beijing in October, where Russia, not by accident, was the guest of honor.”

“A group of Chinese scholars concisely frame the approach as China “creating/facilitating global nodes for relating/communicating and platforms for concrete collaboration/practical exchanges. The participants remain Sovereign, contribute to the common endeavor (or simply specific projects) and receive benefits making them willing to keep on. It’s as if Beijing was acting as a sort of shining star and guiding light.”

“In sharp contrast, what remains of Western civilization – certainly with not much to do with Montaigne, Pico della Mirandola or Schopenhauer – increasingly plunges into a self-constructed Heart of Darkness (without Conrad’s literary greatness), confronting the true, irredeemably horrifying face of conformist, subservient individualism.”

“Welcome to the New Medievalism, precipitated by the ‘kill apps’ of Western racism, as argued in a brilliant book, Chinese Cosmopolitanism, by scholar Shuchen Xiang, professor of Philosophy at Xidan University.”

“The ‘kill apps’ of Western racism, writes Prof. Xiang, are fear of change; the ontology of bivalent dualism; the invention of the ‘barbarian’ as the racial Other; the metaphysics of colonialism; and the insatiable nature of this racist psychology. All these ‘apps’ are now exploding, in real time, in West Asia. The key consequence is that the Western ‘values’ construct has already perished, buried under the Gaza rubble.”

“Now to a ray of light: a case can be made – and we’ll be back to it – that orthodox Christianity, moderate Islam and several strands of Taoism/Confucianism may embrace the future as the three main civilizations of a cleansed Mankind.”

“Argentinian President-elect Javier Milei has done a complete 180 on Buenos Aires joining BRICS, saying the South American nation won’t be joining the five-nation group.”

“Diana Mondino, senior economic adviser to Milei, confirmed this development to Sputnik Brazil on Nov. 20, a day after Milei won the country’s second presidential runoff. She told the outlet that Argentina was not planning to become a BRICS member come Jan. 1, 2024. The nation’s prior request to join the group was approved in August – alongside those from Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.”

“’I don’t know why there is so much interest around BRICS,’ said Mondino, who is Milei’s candidate for foreign minister in his cabinet. She added that it remained uncertain as to how joining the group would benefit Buenos Aires. Nevertheless, Mondino remarked that the government will ‘analyze’ if joining the BRICS would reap rewards for the country.”

“The conservative Milei had previously expressed opposition to joining BRICS unlike his predecessor, outgoing Argentinian President Alberto Fernandez. He has also voiced hesitancy to support economic ties with Russia and China – two of the BRICS core members. Instead, Milei has striven to establish ties with the U.S. and Israel.”

“Meanwhile, in South America and Europe, even more overtly libertarian candidates have won their country’s elections.”

“First it was economist, professor, and sometime rock musician Javier Milei in Argentina, who in reaction to the catastrophic 134 percent inflation and a concomitant rise in poverty in his country, has become the new president-elect.”

“Then in the Netherlands, longtime political libertarian and strongly anti-immigration gadfly Geert Wilders out-paced all predictions in their elections and will attempt to form a government. Mr. Wilders success is partly due to the Dutch farmers who were fed up with new ‘climate change’ regulations that would make it impossible for them to make a living—and therefore for many of their countrymen to eat.”

“The corporate media and their political allies in the European Union and the United States immediately branded Mr. Milei and Mr. Wilders with their now-favorite designation ‘far-right’, though these men are no more far-right than Jefferson, Locke, and Thoreau, the very figures these so-called liberals and progressives—though they prefer to ignore or ‘forget’—once considered their intellectual heroes.”

“What is transpiring now globally is a fight between these rising libertarians of various stripes and the incumbent statists. In recent years, despite the Trump interregnum, the statists have seemed to be in the ascendancy.”

Geert Wilders (Netherlands), longtime political libertarian and strongly anti-immigration gadfly; and Javier Milei (Argentina), economist, professor, and sometime rock musician. Fixers, or just makers of a yet bigger mess?
Geert Wilders (Netherlands), longtime political libertarian and strongly anti-immigration gadfly; and Javier Milei (Argentina), economist, professor, and sometime rock musician. Fixers, or just makers of a yet bigger mess?