Emergent patterns in nature and society

Egypt’s crisis

On the case I promised in the last post, Debora MacKenzie from NewScientist reports:

Scientists who study complex systems have been warning that ever-tighter coupling among the world’s finance, energy and food systems would result in waves of political instability. Some say that is now happening in the Middle East. […]

For now, they show that there are two sides to complex interdependencies: they can generate cascading change, also known as revolution, but they can also collapse. At the minute, because so many aspects of Egypt’s daily life are interlinked, the country is walking a fine line between the two.

Food is a political issue in Egypt: Egyptians are the world’s biggest wheat importers and consumers, and most are poor.

As a result, the government maintains order with heavy subsidies for bread. It also runs the ports where imported wheat arrives, the trucks that haul it, the flour mills and bakeries. “Such hierarchical systems are both stable and unstable,” says Yaneer Bar-Yam, head of the New England Complex Systems Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts. […]

The situation is “a real concern”, says Tad Homer-Dixon of the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, who has warned previously that stresses including food shortages and poverty can cause catastrophic collapse in complex modern systems. It all depends on whether work resumes before the system hits the wall, says Homer-Dixon. In other words, if lorries and banks don’t go back to work soon, widespread hunger could cause a breakdown of civil order.

Short notes: i) food shortage, energy shortage and poverty can trigger social regime shifts; ii) hierarchy as proxy of system structure matters (hence power); and iii) the individual perception of satisfaction of the system is determined by the local experience plus the communicated experience of the nearby social landscape (say friends, family and colleagues), then insatisfaction can spread faster than disease in the social network. It actually spread from country to country.

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One response

  1. Pingback: Climate change and conflict – violence « Critical Transitions

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