Let’s assume the basic unit of analysis and management is the planet.
Assume also that having to act planetarily is due to the awful messes created by the nation state: their sovereign boundaries but cross-border impacts and geopolitics to name several forces. Even phrases like “transboundary problems” or “systemic risk” seem to miss the fact that the planet is the platform for action from the get-go.
I suggest that, precisely in the preceding terms, those who take the politics and practices of complexity seriously are a global nation on what is first and foremost Planet Earth. The implications of this nation on this planet differ from what you might first suppose.
First, what is “taking the politics of complexity seriously”?
This is a politics that can’t be homogenized or left undifferentiated. A politics reminding us that what works is often at the smaller scale, where the gatherers of information are its users. A politics that starts with cases to be analyzed in their own right. A politics that resists getting lost when scaled up but compels asking at each scale, What am I missing right in front me?
A politics where no matter how tightly-coupled the world, people’s stories are not as connected. A politics that insists if you believe everything is connected to everything else, then nothing is reducible to anything else, and if you believe both, then the starting point is not interdependence or irreducibility, but the kaleidoscopic granularity in between. If everything is connected, not everything adds up.
I’m not saying everyone subscribes to this credo, but I am saying people who do, or are of like mind, are to be found everywhere.
Not only are they found globally, they have many of those demerits just attributed to the nation state: The residents of this global nation are site- and case-based. Contingencies are unavoidably variable and matter for differentiating really-existing policy and management.
What does the credo mean practically?
Based on my experience (no representative sample here!):
When I and others call for better recognition and accommodation of complexity, we mean the complex as well as the uncertain, unfinished and conflicted must be particularized and contextualized, case-by-granular-case.
When I and others say we need more findings that can be replicated across a range of cases, we are calling for identification not only of emerging better practices across cases, but also of greater equifinality: finding multiple but different pathways to achieve similar objectives, given diverse cases.
When I and others call for more system integration, we mean the need to recouple decoupled activities in ways that better mimic but can never reproduce the interconnected nature of the wider task environment.
When I and others call for more flexibility, we mean the need for greater maneuverability across different performance modes in the face of changing system volatility and options to respond to changes.
When I and others call for more experimentation, we do not mean a trial-and-error learning where the next systemwide error ends up being the last systemwide trial destroying survival.
Where others talk about risks in a system’s hazardous elements, we point to different systemwide reliability standards and only then, to the different risks and uncertainties that follow from the different standards.
What then is the role of the global nation subscribing to this credo and those practices in its dealings with the planetary techno-managerial elites?
For some, planetary elites will never have the control they seek, such that the politics and practices of complexity cannot disappear and can only be reinforced. For others, the politics and practices of complexity are more oppositional, a form of resistance to Earth techno-solutionism.
For me and some others, the role of the politics and practices is as it has always been: to recast the awful messes created by illusions, delusions and ersatz solutions that deny or otherwise ignore the irreducible particularity of being.