Saturday 4 October 2008

Uncle Sam and his family of man

As keyboards around the world run hot punching out the latest spins on the current financial crisis this is as good an opportunity as any to append the system's view under Otoom; a view that had been established long before the present woes were no more than yet another gleam in the masters' of the universe little eyes.

Let's start with a general statement: a system, any system, does not falter just because one of its subsystems has failed. Complex dynamics cannot be added or subtracted as with a bag of groceries. Taking out one, two, or three items will still leave you with that bag, but render one, two, or three subsystems inoperable and there comes a point when suddenly there is no system - at least under the current auspices. Complex systems are like that.

The world of finance is one vast complex system in itself and connects to other similarly vast regions that define human society. Its faults are many.

For a system to be sustainable in the long term each one of its parts must contribute to its maintenance; exceptions can be entertained provided they are being managed.

One myth that defines our times relates to the idea of equality. Not the equality before the law or the offering of opportunities, but the assumption that everybody is the same when it comes to personal qualities and circumspection. The very mantra "Anybody can be president" so often espoused in the US is nothing more than a conceptual anesthetic to lull voters (the minority that actually bothers to vote) into a convenient dream. Translate such a phantasy into lending patterns and we get 'sub-prime' mortgages, a euphemism standing for dishing out money to illusory characters.

Even greed does not underwrite those practices, for greed looks for returns (even if not much else besides).

Systems are interdependent within their domains but the degree to which any one of its parts relates to any other is a function of the respective channels of communication. The data criss-crossing the landscape, their interpretation and indeed their creation, all become a matter of how well the entities perform. Larger complexes can reach a stage where the conceptual distance induces a blurring of shapes just like a building can disappear behind smog. A resident can still know about the building, but to anyone not familiar with the district it may as well not even exist.

Over the last few decades a whole range of financial instruments have been created for the sole purpose of making money out of their dynamics; they represent subsystems which have been hidden from the general population. Neither their existence nor their nature appeared on the screens of many of our regulatory mechanisms designed to rein in excesses.

Hardly any business would countenance having its stock plundered by others in order to profit from contrived opportunities only known to themselves. Yet shares and their derivatives (already removed from the source that made them possible in the first place), traded within the context of short selling or naked short selling, were dragged down arcane passages subjecting them to questionable rituals. Shares themselves are merely items of symbolic value with a tenuous link to what they are actually meant to represent. Their fluctuations in price do not reflect the hourly quality of some product but the visceral emotions of gamblers. Perception rules; psychosis is king.

Functionalities, an often misunderstood yet powerful analysis tool under Otoom nevertheless, represent our conceptualisations as they become manifest. Acuity of vision or the lack of it, is a functionality owned by receivers of information regardless of where they are found. Degeneration - another type of dynamic - can spread across areas if such progress is made possible through underlying trends. If our masters can perform in an atmosphere of shortsightedness then chances are the ambience is of a general nature that encompasses the rest of society. Thus the housing crisis rests on levels of debt reflecting a desire for instant fulfillment; so does obesity; so does road rage; so does violence in the class room.

Lack of understanding rests on a paucity of thinking. A superficiality that allowed the effects of short selling to be shrugged off as someone else's problem can also be found in the outsourcing of aircraft maintenance; in the exporting of long-developed skills; in placing infants in child care. When something goes wrong eventually the resultant indignation is a measure of the guilt waiting in the wings.

Complex systems do not go quietly. The road to dissolution may appear placid, but any one of its subsystems can spring a surprise event which then overwhelms its neighbours in a possibly cataclysmic fashion. Even if the current fallout from the financial upheaval will have been cleaned away and put down as mere murmurs they are like the creaking of beams in a mine - one too many and the collapse will have reduced the edifice to just another layer of rocks.

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