Diesel-Driven Bee Slums and Impotent Turkeys
August 15, 2007 12:15 PM   Subscribe

The Case for Resilience. How Efficiency Maximizes Catastrophe.
posted by homunculus (23 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Previous articles by Chip Ward were discussed here and here.
posted by homunculus at 12:16 PM on August 15, 2007

I was reminded of this piece when I read this article on the fall of Angkor, which updates this thread.
posted by homunculus at 12:21 PM on August 15, 2007

See also: The Goal.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 12:27 PM on August 15, 2007

As long as the assholes making the decisions are insulated from the consequences by their trained ponies in the government and their own immoral wealth, the sheer stupid inertia of our society will resist intelligent change. This shit is just depressing, because down here in the trenches we are all doing this stuff, only to be shot on sight by the robber barons as soon as we poke our heads up over the rim.
posted by nax at 12:40 PM on August 15, 2007

But I'm not bitter.
posted by nax at 12:40 PM on August 15, 2007

There's a fine line between excessive sarcasm and permanent bitterness.
posted by splice at 12:45 PM on August 15, 2007

In nature, there are 3 kinds of species, "r" selectors and "K" selectors, and those that fall in between. "K" selectors are species that are highly adapted, selective, competitive, and are very efficient. "R" selectors are very adaptive, are opportunists, aren't that competitive, and certainly aren't efficient. (Most species fall in between the two.)

When catastrophe strikes, or circumstances change, "K" selectors - the most efficient - are always the ones that go extinct, while "r" selectors usually take over and easily adapt to crisis. Dinosaurs, for example were K selectors - one meteor and a cold spell and "poof!" Little scummy mammals that ate everything and had lots of offspring, however, survived.

Biologically we are classic K selectors; however, our brains allow us to take on "r" strategies. But sometimes our K mechanisms catch up with us. This article brings up great examples of that, and has such good reminders of what happens - on many levels - when we don't pay attention to natural processes. In nature, efficiency is only rewarded in the short term.
posted by barchan at 1:06 PM on August 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

I know splice, I built a house there. Fortunately it's high enough that I'll avoid the floodwaters, unfortunately the mortgage interest is going to bankrupt me.
posted by quin at 1:06 PM on August 15, 2007

"Restoring resilience to manmade systems will require an eye for options, an appreciation for redundancy, and a tolerance for chaos."

Other than the part about options, it looks like our public schools are setting us up for this really well.

Joking aside, I really respect the logic of that sentence.
posted by hermitosis at 1:31 PM on August 15, 2007

It's too bad the ponderous meandering philosophical nonsense in that article takes the spotlight away from the real problems he could be addressing.
posted by nzero at 2:31 PM on August 15, 2007

an appreciation for redundancy, and a tolerance for chaos

Well it's already there, but thanks , I guess primarily, to glorification and mythization of some economic theories sometime we have an hard time understanding that less is not incompatible with better, that slower doesn't imply never.

Also very very few person have a significant understanding and, therefore, potential to appreciate the incredible complexity of some system many people consider granted.

Just grab yourself on the net some manuals on TCP-IP protocol , which is just greek for billions people. Without this protocol and all the logic and models behind it, internet wouldn't exist.

Similarly many people take many goods for granted, not understanding that the incredible amounts and low prices at which they are now accessible don't imply they are sustainable or they will be for the future.

It's as simple as understanding that people have too much faith in technology and science , too much faith in religious faith and partecipate not as much they think they are to the construction of a tomorrow ..both better and durable.
posted by elpapacito at 3:08 PM on August 15, 2007

Efficient: 2 : productive of desired effects; especially : productive without waste <an efficient worker>

At the risk of coming off as pedantic, I don't really agree with the use of the term efficiency to describe the problems that are outlined in this article.

Just because a process may be efficient in the short term, it doesn't mean it's efficient in the long term. If a farmer lays waste to a region of grazing land over a finite period of time, rendering it unusable by cattle thereafter, I would argue that's neither the desired effect, nor being productive without waste. You've destroyed your ability to perpetuate your farming. That's not efficient.

What the author is describing is shortsightedness, not efficiency. If I can produce 100 acres of crops with a cutoff of 10 years, or produce 25 acres of crops with a cutoff of 100 years, which is more efficient? And that's being conservative. In most cases, a more realistic analogy is producing 100 acres of crops with a cutoff of 10 years, vs. producing 25 acres of crops in perpetuity, using sustainable methods. That's efficiency over the long term.
posted by Brak at 3:46 PM on August 15, 2007

Shortsightedness is what passes as efficiency in many quarters these days.
posted by blucevalo at 3:58 PM on August 15, 2007

barchan: I think that you have it fairly backwards. The beauty of primitive humans is that they are incredibly adaptive. We eat anything we can get our hands on, can create shelter in almost any environment, and are highly mobile to move whenever circumstances look bad or an opportunity opens up. It's very recent thing that people settled down and got hyperspecialized. In addition, I do not think that word means what you think it means. I've always seen r/k type defined as a breeding strategy (spam vs golden child) which can be independent of the characteristics that you're talking about. In that regard we are definite k-type.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 4:08 PM on August 15, 2007

There's no question that our current economy rewards efficiency and provides safety nets for failure. It probably wouldn't need to though - people will play the odds either way.

I can't even think of an economic structure that would reward resiliency in a timeframe that people care about.

It's difficult to even establish how resilient a system is without things going wrong.
posted by aubilenon at 5:03 PM on August 15, 2007

Interesting read.

...additionally I'm now afeared of getting into an accident with a semi hauling bees.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:37 PM on August 15, 2007

What the author is describing is shortsightedness, not efficiency.

Not shortsightedness either. Specialization.
posted by Chuckles at 5:45 PM on August 15, 2007

I can't even think of an economic structure that would reward resiliency in a timeframe that people care about.

Given the ridiculous state we have reached, there are fairly simple steps that can improve our situation immensely. For example, as corporate entities get larger, pile on financial penalties.. Millions of small businesses should be more resilient than oligopoly.
As always, the devil is in the details, obviously - franchises aren't really small business..
posted by Chuckles at 5:51 PM on August 15, 2007

Is Nature always resilient? The dinosaurs weren't resilient right? If the Sun supernovas tomorrow, nothing on earth is resilient.

So aren't discussions of resilience meaningless without reference to a standard? Resilient to what?

Is the Internet resilient? Yes to local link outages. No to a global power outage.
posted by storybored at 6:38 PM on August 15, 2007

Obviously it depends. Do you believe that human life has value or not? If you do, you should want it to be resilient..

Follow the golden path.
posted by Chuckles at 6:43 PM on August 15, 2007

Somebody get that guy an editor, stat.

Otherwise not a bad essay, I appreciate his line of thinking, although I'm still not 100% convinced of the 'imminent catastrophic climate change' that he seems to be taking on premise in the early part of the piece. But I understand he's not really writing about that, directly; you could take the point about resilience vs efficiency with any number of examples.

Looking at it from an engineer's perspective, modern computer-aided design systems allow us to design bridges, cars, and other machines to much closer tolerances than was possible in the past. While this is generally good -- it means better efficiency and less wasted raw materials -- it can also be bad, because it makes the resulting structures or systems less able to cope with forces that weren't thought of in the original analysis.

Overall, efficiency makes hubris much more expensive.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:25 PM on August 15, 2007

I can't even think of an economic structure that would reward resiliency in a timeframe that people care about.

Thinking about things in terms of economics drives you towards efficiency and from resilience. The most gain for the least output. Efficient. Economical.

Thinking about things in terms of richness of experience can lead you to diversity, unpredictability and resilience.
posted by pointilist at 9:43 PM on August 15, 2007

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