Democracy and complexity

Five Models

Source: Five Models for Making Sense of Complex Systems, by Christina Wodtke

Today I heard on the BBC News a specialist on complex systems discuss democracy.

Apparently, the complex systems community is trying to model democratic behaviour. While I don’t think one can model democratic behaviour mathematically, the specialist made very good points.

Complex systems need their parts to be in communication to achieve self-organisation and some kind of equilibrium.

She said that polarisation is the biggest threat to democracy, because the “parts” of a democracy are social groups, and as they grow increasingly polarised, the “parts” are not in communication anymore.

She didn’t discuss what CAUSES polarisation, but I thought the insight was meaningful.

The great Elinor Ostrom has already empirically demonstrated the importance of communication in avoiding the “tragedy of the commons” (the depletion of common resources through rational self-interested actions). It is easy to imagine that, as societies become polarised through the algorithms of Google, Facebook and Twitter, we are moving into “bubbles” of opinion that do not communicate with each other.

But the specialist also highlighted the importance of RATIONAL communication. And there I think democracy is doomed: rational dialogue has all but disappeared from the political arena in places like Brazil, where the most irrational beliefs and interpretations of reality abound.

A lot of it comes from misguided religious beliefs, but master manipulators of public opinion are also making appeal to “gut feelings” in place of rationality. Things like the flat Earth movement are more and more common.

Well friends, it doesn’t look good for democracy anywhere.


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