Victus Spiritus


How Complex Systems Adapt

24 Dec 2010

Societies' Hackers

Many take pride in finding and exploiting loopholes in rules systems. Whether lawyers, cyber security experts, or hobbyists, it's a challenge to discover and expose systematic errors. I like to think of these folks as Hackers, many of which have benign purpose. The larger and more complex the system, the more difficult it is to make sweeping changes that affect all of its members.

Nearly a century ago a French sociologist wrote that every institution’s unstated first goal is to survive and grow, NOT to undertake the mission it has nominally staked out for itself.

(source, via Caterina Fake's blog).

My motivations may differ from other hacker types. I appreciate the unexpected nature of broken rules, and exposing that no system is absolute or capable of governing determined intelligent beings without constant maintenance and wisdom. Rules based systems require constant adaption, and their rate of change must satisfy the shifting needs of its users. One failing I repeatedly observe is a default duration for rules that is far too long, leading to a cruft of minutia which eventually erodes the utility of law.

I'd like to find an exploit in my own enthusiasm. The premise is that I'm capable of achievements of greater social utility. It's possible that my perceived local optimal is truly global, and I have no where to go but down. But this type of thinking is defeatist and self restricting. Instead I choose an optimistic view, where I'm far closer to a global minimum and nearly all directions I move will result in greater social utility and self satisfaction. As long as I draw breath, I can effect my own life and my environment. An old joke I used to mention in RIFTS, an rpg I enjoyed long ago, captures my feelings on personal social utility:

I'm an MDC creature living in an SDC world, everything is squishy

Each mega damage capacity (MDC) is simply a 100 structural damage capacity (SDC). In other words, the environment is far more malleable than we are. My experiences lead me to believe this holds true, as long as we choose to act with focused intensity.

One bold concept I was introduced to today is being developed by the Seasteading Institute. They seek to open up experimental social governing structures on the unclaimed oceans. It's a pretty far out concept, and one that has merit by providing an avenue for the worlds current governments to learn from, without risking the welfare of its citizens.