climate chaos · deep adaptation · ecosystem · Jem Bendell · Karen McChrystal · leadership · old paradigm · Prigogine · resilient · self-organizing systems · social collapse · visionary

Leadership for Chaotic Times

Leaders for the tumultuous times ahead need sufficient coherence to understand clearly what the tasks and goals are and how all the pieces fit together. Overall, they need to be visionaries, who can think in terms of whole systems, encompassing ecosystems, social systems, resource allocation, et al. It’s crucial that they do the integrative work to assemble the cultural, economic, technological and natural realities into a comprehensive plan.

A leader is able to recognize where we are in time and space, in the present, as well as being able to set direction purposefully. The effective leader can see the “whole,” having stepped out of the old model/paradigm and no longer falling into its rat-maze thinking. Those who adhere to the old paradigm can’t see the forest for the trees; they’re often overly-specialized, and they too often succumb to short-term solutions justified by a narrow kind of pragmatism. Rat-maze thinking would also include those who think only in terms of “what will sell.” Politicians do this all the time. Needless to say, corporations rarely think ahead of earnings goals for the next year or two, and “creativity,” for them, is all about advertising.

In the face of the crumbling of the whole old world order, new paradigms are coming to the fore, most notably among those who recognize the imminent existential threat of climate chaos. Individuals and communities working toward resilience as a way forward are setting the stage for emergent and successor societies and communities. 

Out of Chaos, a New Order
It serves to remember that there are higher ordering principles. When a system is stable and secure, it’s very resistant to change. But when the linkages within the system begin to unravel, it’s far more likely to undergo the kind of deep restructuring our world requires. Out of extreme chaos, new designs emerge and higher orders of self-organization. Ilya Prigogine, 1977 winner a of Nobel prize in chemistry, philosophized about self-organizing systems and how, when driven into far-from-equilibrium conditions, some systems do not just break down; they generate new structures that pull higher forms of order out of the surrounding chaos. When a system is driven beyond equilibrium, the subtle interconnectedness that lies latent beneath its surface can sometimes emerge to reshape the system itself.

“Living systems evolve toward increasingly complex organization, and, in humans, leading to increasingly complex minds.”

(Coombs, Allan & Goerner, Sally, “The Evolution of Consciousness as a Self-organizing Information System in the Society of Other Such Systems,” Saybrook Institute, 1997.)

Concordance emerges from the organizing patterns hidden behind apparent chaos; thus, the evolution of mankind progresses despite the apparently aberrant signals of individuals at any given moment. Chaos is only a limited perception. Everything is part of a larger whole; everyone is involved in the evolution of the all-inclusive attractor Field of consciousness itself.

(Hawkins, David R., Power vs. Force, Carlsbad, Ca: Hay House Inc, 2014.)

Life, as a planetary process, is a negentropic (also called syntropic) force on Earth creating collaborative abundance by increasing diversity and complexity to improve healthy ecosystem functions which in turn create not just planetary bioproductivity but the overall conditions conducive to life.*
(Watson, Alan, in “Making the Most of the ‘UN Decade on Ecosystems Restoration’: Bioregional Regenerative Development as a Deep Adaptation Pathway,” by Daniel Christian Wahl, Apr. 5, 2019. https://www.resilience.org/stories/2019-04-05/making-the-most-of-the-un-decade-on-ecosystems-restoration-bioregional-regenerative-development-as-a-deep-adaptation-pathway/)

Similarly, human societies with their economies and technologies evolve and organize into new orders, some more resilient and sustainable than others.
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*Negentropy, or negative entropy, is the opposite of entropy. In an organism the degree of internal disorganization is entropy and the level of internal organization is negentropy; also called syntropy.
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However, what we are now experiencing is a phase of chaos, as our living systems have been so altered by having been pushed to extremes by modern civilization. Life itself persists, as has been evidenced in previous geologic ages and previous societies. As long as there is life, living systems will continue to evolve, at the same time as they will be forced to adapt. The results of this process will unfold. The optimistic view is that human society will continue in some form, however radically different from the civilization as we have known it.

Deep Adaptation
A “new order” will likely be what grows out of efforts to adapt in the face of climate chaos. A new order will have to be founded on principles of sustainability and resilience, not of eternal growth.

There’s a growing discussion among sustainability experts and climate scientists about “Deep Adaptation,” which assumes coming societal collapse and proposes adopting measures for “resilience, relinquishment, and restoration.” This approach conceives of resilience of human societies as being the capacity to adapt to changing circumstances so as to survive with valued norms and behaviors. If we assume social collapse is inevitable, the question becomes, what are the valued norms and behaviors that human societies will wish to maintain as they seek to survive? Deep adaptation, says Jem Bendell, professor of sustainability leadership and founder of the Institute for Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS), will involve more than “resilience.”

“Restoration” involves people and communities rediscovering attitudes and approaches to life and organization that our hydrocarbon- fueled civilization eroded.”

(Bendell, Jem, “Hope and Vision in the Face of Collapse – The 4th R of Deep Adaptation,” Jem Bendell on Jan. 9, 2019.
https://jembendell.com/2019/01/09/hope-and-vision-in-the-face-of-collapse-the-4th-r-of-deep-adaptation/)


My own view is that, as Jeremy Lent has said, clearly this civilization must be left behind, but the way in which we leave it, and what it’s replaced by, are all-important. An uncontrolled collapse of this civilization would be catastrophic, leading to mega-deaths, along with the greatest suffering ever experienced in human history. This is not something to view lightly. By focusing on structural political and economic change, as well as moving toward a culture that sees humanity as embedded integrally within the natural world, we can move toward deep transformation. The latter, while it may not be adequate to remedy our present ills, can help us retain a semblance of a healthy planet that may carry over to be part of successor communities and societies. In agreement with Jeremy Lent, I trust that work done now, as deep transformation, can lay the groundwork for an ecological civilization.

(Lent, Jeremy, “What Will You Say to Your Grandchildren?” Apr. 8, 2019. https://www.resilience.org/stories/2019-04-08/what-will-you-say- to-your-grandchildren/
Lent, Jeremy, “Our Actions Create the Future: A Response to Jem Bendell,” Apr. 15, 2019.
https://www.resilience.org/stories/2019-04-15/our-actions-create-the-future-a-response-to-jem-bendell/)

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