Place your bets - and wait 2 decades
Updated: Nov 15, 2021
Simulation Technology for Ecosystem Wellness through Antifragile Resource Deployment (STEWARD) blog series - part 2 of 7 (part 1)
In September 2020, Noema magazine published a marvellous article by Jack Goldstone and Peter Turchin. It shows how "across history, what creates the risk of political instability is the behaviour of elites, who all too often react to long-term increases in population by committing three cardinal sins." Yes, societies don't fall because of conflict, plague, or famine. They fall because, when these things occur, they have already been weakened by the actions of elites.
If you want to see how exactly the same pattern has played out ever since the first Bronze Age societies of the Fertile Crescent, 6000 years ago, check out economist Michael Hudson's magisterial "…and forgive them their debts: Lending, Foreclosure and Redemption From Bronze Age Finance to the Jubilee Year".
This insight was a key inspiration for my book Supercommunities, which attempts to address this perennial threat head-on, by empowering a social force never yet fully mobilised - communities. The book gives any community, geographical or other, a practical method for becoming an "ecosystem that evolves to sustain the wellness of its members" - my definition of a Supercommunity.
There is enough evidence from existing communities who have taken ownership of their capitals and assets, and who have used them to sustain local wellness in the face of external challenges, for me to believe that the model works. But the complete, consistent, holistic package of ideas shown above is a new thing. None of the communities I studied do it all - each does a different subset, and as a result, each community has its own vulnerabilities. So I can't yet prove that the model works.
What is more, each community needs to implement the model in its own way, based on its own capitals, assets, and wellness challenges. As Goldstone, Turchin, and Hudson show, we're in a war - against elites. Its battlefronts include inequality, climate change, and big tech in its current form. The Supercommunities model is a strategy, but the tactics will be different in each community.
So, I believe the approach to proof should be wargaming. We need a new form of simulation game, that would allow any community to explore its own socio-economic tactics:
Allow a community to create a digital twin of itself, by configuring open source game AI components (discussion paper).
Constrain the (AI-driven) Non-Player Characters to follow the principles of Supercommunities (or alternative holistic models, if available).
To replicate a fundamental principle of Supercommunities that connection with community correlates more strongly with wellness than anything else, use a psychologically realistic model of emotion based on a new form of collaborative AI.
Allow a limited number of player characters to explore local government policy options by redirecting funding flows into different types of local social enterprise.
Such a simulation game would allow community stakeholders to use their own real-world data as a starting point, experiment with progressive policies, identify the lever points that generate chaotic behaviour, and determine their level of antifragility by introducing crises such as a flood or pandemic. It could be used as a planning tool for restoration of equilibrium in conflict zones. It could be monetised by selling it as a consumer game, like SimCity. Here is a summary I use in talks:
Building the Supercommunities game will not be trivial. As well as developing a new form of collaborative AI, it will require a new approach to collaborative research.
But what's the alternative? Without realistic socio-economic simulation, our society will lose the war against elites - as almost every other society for 6000 years has done (when researching Supercommunities, I could find only one exception, although I would love to hear of others).
Without the Supercommunities game, progressive policy making (as well as long-term military strategy) is like putting all your money on a single roulette number, then waiting 20 years for the wheel to stop spinning.
Previous instalment of blog series