Why We Care About the Resilience of Our Agreements — What We Lose When Our Agreements Collapse

Everyone lives in complex, turbulent times.  Will our agreements survive the changes we face?  How resilient are these agreements?  We can look to ecologists for how to think about the resilience of systems and to anthropologists for what has actually happened in human systems.

From earlier work by the ecologist C.S. Holling and colleagues, as described by the Resilience Alliance, “When resilience is enhanced, a system is more likely to tolerate disturbance events without collapsing into a qualitatively different state that is controlled by a different set of processes.”  From an ecosynomic perspective, this means that resilience is the ability to keep a similar level of agreements, meaning the levels of perceived reality they consciously include.  A collapse is then a qualitative shift in the level of agreements.

Anthropologists, like Joseph Tainter, have looked at societal collapse, finding, “The process of collapse..is a matter of rapid, substantial decline in an established level of complexity. A society that has collapsed is suddenly smaller, less differentiated and heterogeneous, and characterized by fewer specialized parts; it displays less social differentiation; and it is able to exercise less control over the behavior of its members . It is able at the same time to command smaller surpluses, to offer fewer benefits and inducements to membership; and it is less capable of providing subsistence and defensive security for a regional population” (Tainter, 1988 pp. 38).  An example of a loss of a level of complexity might be the loss of consciously accepted agreements at the level of the development of capacities and relationships–the verb level–to focus solely on the level of outcomes–the noun level.

Thus, ecologists and anthropologists observe that a more resilient set of agreements is more capable of dealing with changing environments without losing whole levels of complexity in the agreements.  You can find more on the ecosynomics of impact resilience here.

 

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