Why Nothing Changes   (August 20, 2010)

The reasons why nothing has changed include institutional inertia and self-preservation, the herd instinct and negative feedback loops. Bottom line: the Savior State can not "save" itself, much less all of us.

In a way, the entire Survival+ critique is an attempt to explain why the status quo is incapable of reform. This leads to the following conclusion: the partnership of the U.S. Savior State/Global Empire and Global Neoliberal Capitalism is incapable of "saving" us from the interconnected crises which will dismantle the status quo.

We will have to "save" ourselves, hence the book's call for radical self-reliance, reciprocity and localized, resilient, self-selected "solutions" to global (and thus local) crises.

Yesterday I noted that the status quo has not changed in any meaningful fashion, despite the global financial turmoil of the past few years.

From a systems analysis perspective, the reason is that there are powerful negative feedback loops in place to counter any degradation of status-quo systems.

As noted yesterday, the "sweeping changes" which have been marketed as "fixing the system" merely tweak the parameters of the status quo and thus they are incapable of triggering fundamental reformation.

Thus "healthcare reform" sets up dozens of studies which are supposed to select "best practices" which will be spread throughout the system with magical results.

In other words, the "reform" consists of tweaking some minor parameters and feedbacks. The insurance cartels which control the system are left firmly in charge, along with the Federal fiefdoms and other cartels (Big Pharma, etc.)

The same pattern is played out in every major system. The "too big to fail" banks remain too big to fail, systemic risk is left to run freely off balance sheets (behind a few additional screens), etc. etc.--nothing has changed. A few parameters were tweaked--the most grossly predatory fees banks charged their hapless customers were trimmed--but the banks are nonetheless being recapitalized at taxpayers expense.

And they've been busy perfecting new fees which evade the tissue-paper "reforms."

The National Security State is still expanding, and still doesn't know what its sprawling fiefdoms know or don't know.

In every case, the fiefdoms' most powerful forces are directed at self-preservation and smothering or blunting any change with threatens their share of the swag.

Natural selection both rewards and punishes change: genetic and cultural mutations which benefit the survivability of the species spread quickly through the species, while mutations which weaken the individual are ruthlessly eradicated.

Thus organizations fear changes and adaptive "mutations" (a.k.a. "reforms") because they might lead to the "death" of the organization or a severe restriction in the flow of swag which feeds the organization and its membership.

Readers of Survival+ have asked why an organization--an enterprise, public union, state or even Global Empire--would select a clearly self-destructive path.

My answer is drawn from natural selection: the organization has prospered by relentlessly expanding its income, influence and power, and by focusing much of its energy on self-preservation. Any significant adaptation entails great risk. Rather than accept that risk, the organization (i.e. an organism made up of individual human beings) actively conserves what has worked in the past.

In other words, risk avoidance is understandable, and so is conserving whatever traits and characteristics have worked in the past.

Then there is the herd instinct, which is extremely powerful in human beings. Going against the consensus and the status quo is not only lonely, but dangerous.

Lastly, there is inertia: the present systems function in a certain way, and it's easiest for everyone involved to keep repeating the same procedures/processes. Change requires extra energy and accepting risk. Changing nothing appears, at least on the surface, to entail no risk.

This is the fatal flaw of organizational inertia and resistance to tranformation: maintaining the status quo is increasingly risky when conditions and the ecology are changing around you.

This is why organizations herd together as the ecology changes around them, weeding out critics and reformers with increasingly harsh self-policing, hardening their self-preservation strategy around the current status quo, even as they are running straight toward a cliff and organizational suicide.

As I noted in The Art of Survival, Taoism and the Warring States two years ago, Nature places a premium on flexibility and adaptability. The organizational instinct is the exact opposite: to become ever more rigid and defensive of the status quo, to fear mutation and adaptations as threatening, and the ferret out and either destroy or marginalize internal and external critics and reformers.

The organization's conservative response to the stress of a rapidly changing environment is understandable--and ultimately self-destructive.

This also explains why issuing simulacra of reform is the preferred strategy for all organizations: if a facsimile of reform placates critics and allows the status quo some breathing room, then it is a highly appealing alternative to the risks of real change.

As the organization thunders toward the cliff, modest changes are enacted at great internal cost: different animals take the lead, others fall out of the herd, and the herd veers left and right in confusion and fear. But the primary momentum-- keeping the status quo unchanged--and the primary direction--straight off the cliff-- remain unchanged.

This is why nothing changes until the herd finds itself tumbling off the cliff. Then it's too late. That is the future of the entire status quo.

Recommended reading on Gen-Y: This is a long, interesting exploration of the idea that we are experiencing a social change in our perception of young adulthood: Why are so many people in their 20s taking so long to grow up? (New York Times Magazine)

For a more political/economic context on the same subject, please consider:

The Non-Financial Cost of Stagnation: "Social Recession" and Japan's "Lost Generations" (August 9, 2010)

Why Japan Is Doomed (and the U.S. and E.U., too): Demographics, Low Savings, Ballooning Debt (August 3, 2010)

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