Is the "fire" taking hold in the Arab world? Tunisian “burning man revolution” a lesson in Complexity Theory

For obvious reasons this and other blogs that talk about the threat of contagion and systemic risk have focussed, almost exclusively, upon financial and ecological inter-connectedness.

HOWEVER, once again we see a “pattern from nature” in these Geo-Political events. The institutional model is and will continue to be under extreme pressure to change as it is the vehicle of the “elites” and in uncertain or turbulent economic times scrutiny and criticism will only increase. Only those that are “structurally resilient” can withstand the heat of a fire that started in Tunisia with a spark and is gathering in intensity as it spreads through peoples inter-connected on numerous levels. People unified by a common purpose…to bring about a cultural paradigm shift.

I would urge you to read: “Disaster myopia”: Failing to learn the lessons of increased uncertainty

A Fruit seller, whose cart was impounded, and complaints ignored, by authorities, set himself on fire in a desperate act of protest. His actions have since been mirrored across the Arab World. Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Iran. This is a measure of how disenfranchised the citizens of these countries feel. Whether fuelled by Political or Religious oppression, an increasing gulf between the “have’s” and the “have not’s”, corruption, crumbling infrastructure, a lack of jobs or food the message is the same. The “elites” who preside over institutions that have given them power and/or wealth will not give up power easily and are prepared to allow (or inflict) a considerable amount of suffering.

Since the unrest in Tunisia, now Egypt, with growing concerns about other middle eastern states, in particular Jordan, we are witnessing “the butterfly effect”, a characteristic of complex systems, on our TV screens. This is contagion akin to the “systemic risk” that crippled the global financial markets in a matter of hours. This time it’s visible (dare I say transparent) unlike so much that has been perpetrated against these citizens – the structures are not so closely coupled as are bank IT systems and financial markets so, by comparison, this is happening slow motion and in full view.

Many people, myself included, envisaged civilian unrest, similar to that seen in Greece, as a direct result of sovereign financial problems: Economic to Cultural and Social domains but such is the nature of complex systems that it is not possible to predict when, where or what will cause the sudden (and dramatic) switch from one mode to another at the point of “critical complexity”.

It is also worth observing that this “tipping point” can, in part, be attributed to the fact that current institutional models have been found wanting and inflexible. Paralysed by their own complexity! I have been pointing to the work of Joseph Tainter “The Collapse of Complex Civilizations” and there are obvious parallels.

Complexity: it’s complex, real, multi-layered and VERY dangerous

It would be a very naive Exec. who cannot see, in these events, a lesson for business! For some, with, for example, Supply Chain exposure, or, the region as a key market it may be too late! Already people are experiencing what life is like without “order”, access to cash, food, mobile communications and internet. Think about it for a minute how would your business cope? How resilient is it really?

Scary!? Well, if you haven’t done so already, now think about how YOU and YOUR FAMILY would cope in a society without these things?

Please follow click these links for more Complexity Facts from Ontonix.

THE concern now is just how will the post-critical landscape look? We all should be fearful of the a series of new Islamic states but, if you are an Israeli this must be really difficult! Egypt are so much more than near neighbours.

Support the cause of freedom for a nation oppressed and brutalised by its own leader OR a Dictator who has provided a strategic and welcome “firebreak” due to his close allegiance with USA and efforts in peace talks.

I can’t, wouldn’t, claim credit for this extremely interesting extract from a really well informed blog by Ashwin Parameswaran – the link to the item is below and, if you like this I would recommend a visit. In view of the continuing displays of utter dis-engagement from the real world – where citizens dwell – by [the bankers’ and Corporations’ pawns] those we refer to as “Political Leaders”, I really wanted to get this out there for some thought … Read More

via Get “fit for randomness” [with Ontonix UK]

5 Responses to Is the "fire" taking hold in the Arab world? Tunisian “burning man revolution” a lesson in Complexity Theory

  1. I wonder how familiar President Mubarak is with the Bible!?

    President Mubarak had plenty of good years to plan for the turmoil that Egypt now faces. The Egyptian economy has shown greater growth than that of UK in recent times! Commodities are at the heart of financial markets.

    If you don’t want a revolution, then you make damn sure your citizens don’t go hungry. If only he’d learned a thing or two from the pharaohs, then he might have avoided this undignified end.

    If Mubarak had remembered the bible story of Joseph, then he’d know the telling tale about a Pharaoh with bad dreams. One was about 7 fat cows and 7 skinny cows. The other was about 7 healthy wheat sheaves and 7 shrivelled ones.

    Essentially, this was all to do with commodities prices.

    Joseph, the imprisoned dream-teller realised that these dreams meant that wheat prices would be low for seven years (due to abundance) and then zoom up for another seven (because of famine).

    He advised stockpiling grains during the good years to ensure citizens had food during the poor harvests to come. They knew that during poor harvests, prices would zoom up and the poor would simply starve. Pharaoh was probably worried about regime change.

    The solution for a commodities squeeze is simple. But it’s one that eludes modern economies. Saving anything other than paper money has become anathema to us and it’s a matter made a whole lot worse by globalisation.

    Adapted from the words of Bengt Saelensminde

  2. Charles Ehin says:

    Well said, David! As I’ve said before, complex adaptive systems’ thinking is vital today in order to properly address never before anticipated organizational problems and opportunities. Where conventional approaches consistently fail to bring success, more pragmatic approaches need to be found based on the latest multi-disciplinary research in such fields as evolutionary psychology and social neuroscience. Therefore, it’s prudent that we place greater emphasis in our organizations on sociocultural homeostasis that benefits all members equitably. Cheers, Charlie

    • Charlie,
      Thank you for your input. It is always a pleasure to hear from others who understand how much can be learnt from a “new” perspective.

      I’m not sure how much you know about our (Ontonix) approach but the means to map, measure, manage and monitor complex systems at a safe distance from “critical complexity” is a major breakthrough. However, the message is somewhat diluted if you, first, have to educate re the risks and opportunities of inter-connected systems and networks! People like Hollings, Schumpeter, Taleb, Homer-Dixon, Tainter and those involved in the Information, Chaos and, ultimately, Complexity Theories have been pointing “the way” for some time and I wonder howbad things have to get before the universality is recognised and applied to complex business systems!?

      People regularly cite the inability to anticipate “tipping points” and the reliance upon hindsight to learn lessons. Ironically, by asking different questions there is the ability to extend the conventional “risk horizon”, thus addressing epistemic uncertainty but, without systems-thinking this is perceived as a heretical threat to conventional “wisdom”!!!

      As we have seen time and time again…the lessons are ignored and soon forgotten. Hence the famous quote about what we learn from history is that we learn nothing…

      Thanks again for your encouragement!


  3. In case anyone had any doubt that unforeseen events in far-off lands can impact business, particularly Supply Chain in, both, short and long term you may be interested in this from Marsh:

    …affected companies should already be gathering as much information as possible to prepare for the claims process.

    “These incidents in Egypt should cause every company with operations in emerging markets to re-evaluate the adequacy of their risk management strategies. Companies need to have plans in place that can protect both colleagues and strategic assets.”

    Companies with operations in countries affected by political unrest face losses from risks such as business interruption, theft of and damage to property, threats to contract for both purchase and supply, late payments – potentially impairing cash flow, and the need to evacuate employees.


    Even if your own company does not have a direct relationship to affected countries the impact can be felt through organisations with whom you deal or rely upon!

    Do you know of any significant relationships with an (up or downstream) exposure that could impact your business?

    Can you can sustain delays in delivery or payment?

    Can you afford to be without adequate protection or to pay substantially increased rates for protection?

    Will this be the last such event???

    At what point does failing to take steps to protect the interests of the business become a matter of Corporate Governance and will insurers provide D&O cover in such circumstances!?

    These are a few of the considerations for Business Leaders and explain why we are advocating a Proactive approach. If we are to build Corporate resilience it starts with ensuring survival!

    Supply Chain complexity:

  4. MORE from New Scientist:

    Can Complexity Theory Explain Egypt’s Crisis?
    Debora MacKenzie – New Scientist — Civilization, goes an old maxim, is four meals away from barbarism – once the food deliveries stop, so does law and order. That could mean trouble for the political uprising in Egypt. It may also be what triggered it.

    Scientists who study complex systems have been warning that ever-tighter coupling among the world’s finance, energy and food systems would result in waves of political instability. Some say that is now happening in the Middle East.

    Better models of the complex relationships in these systems could allow us to predict the next domino to fall.

    For now, they show that there are two sides to complex interdependencies: they can generate cascading change, also known as revolution, but they can also collapse. At the minute, because so many aspects of Egypt’s daily life are interlinked, the country is walking a fine line between the two…!5752673/can-complexity-theory-explain-egypts-crisis

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