In Praise of Disorder

Although we humans have an inherent need to reconcile the world we live in so that we might ameliorate any measure of maddening dissonance between our beliefs, our aspirations, and the brutal realities thrust upon us, the truth is our world is a messy and chaotic place that progresses through random events.  Many of those events are originated by the few among us who engage in what Yale’s James C. Scott recently described as thoughtful disobedience.  Anarchism, he argues, is alive and well throughout both the developed and developing world and can be credited with much of the progress we herald as great.  At times, Scott illustrates, anarchism is expressed as acts of insubordination—both large and small—that alter our world.  Small, like students tromping a new path through the well-groomed grass of a university quadrangle that is later made ‘official’ by being paved with concrete once grounds crews realize that reseeding the preferred route is a fool’s task, and large like Rosa Parks act of defiance on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955 that gave rise to the civil rights movement, which resulted in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Official order, largely conjured to protect those in power, is no match for what Scott describes as “vernacular order” that is claimed, expressed, and maintained by the “petty bourgeoisie.”[1]

Disorder, in Scott’s interpretation, is the necessary condition of progress; without it we would be staking our future on official committees that at birth lack the necessary chromosomal attributes to produce anything at all that might be considered new or better.  For example, as we reflect on great accomplishments in education (KIPP Academies), technology (iPhone), and medicine (stem cell research), each were advanced by one or a few people working against official order including well-funded adversaries with access to seemingly overwhelming political power.  And yet, working in the ether of disorder, they have prevailed and created new models of success for others to follow.  Scott’s message is worth serious consideration while our politicians, corporate titans, central bankers, Davos elite, and the jester-pundits that dance in their vaporous wake fight over the microphone in a gratuitous attempt to persuade us that our future flows through them.  Disorder, not the order inferred by institutions, norms, and opinion polls is the incubator of greatness.  Although many of us, myself included, appreciate President Obama’s recent clarion call for togetherness in his second inaugural address, the quest for the benefits of common interest and collective action—rooted (as he argued) in the words of the Declaration of Independence—must be preceded by the inspirations of the few among us who find no trepidation in ignoring official order that is guarded by the vapid sentries of banality.[2]  Indeed, those who penned the Declaration itself rejected the order of the day.  The togetherness that followed and gave birth to a new nation was also courageous, but absent the impetus born of inspiration and insubordination in the oft-maligned chaos of disorder, the United States would have never come into being.

The benefits of disorder are further substantiated in the work of Nicholas Nassim Taleb.  His thesis, which has been developed in his books Fooled by Randomness (2001), The Black Swan (2007), and Antifragile (2012) argues that the world advances largely by events that no one – especially those who live in the trappings of official order – see coming, but which have profound effects on financial markets and the societies we call our own.  The strategic implications are, he argues, quite obvious: seek an antifragile state of being in order to gain from volatility and disorder, which is predominant (and always has been) in the world in which we live.  The great model, which both Scott and Taleb use as a referent for their monikers of anarchism and antifragility, is nature itself, which is the most antifragile system in the world, constantly adapting to, and benefiting from, volatility and disorder.  How to become antifragile starts with accepting that the world does not function according to the theories and models taught in most academic institutions that seek to provide their students with tools to fit the world inside of a box constructed from magical (and tenured!) thinking.  Then, structure an autonomous life disconnected from systemic risk by, for example, eliminating debt.  Seek not just resilience—the capacity to recover from the inevitable shocks that occur—but aim to benefit from the volatility and disorder that crushes the fragile.  In effect, win the game before others even realize it has begun.

The great work-arounds that I wrote about here in December 2011, and regaining personal sovereignty, which I wrote about in June 2012, are emblematic of disorder-friendly modalities.  One must simply ignore the silliness of those who claim that by virtue of their position or birthright they are worthy of our attention … that we ought to follow them without questioning first the very source of their presumed power.  If it originates from beyond their own personal intellect and character, we should turn our faces away and treat them as a nuisance of distraction while we pursue our own ambitions and dreams under the counsel of our own hard-won sensibilities.  There exist innumerable stories throughout history of how individuals changed the course of history while there are very few (if any) that can be credited to those who claim the mantle of official order.  It is in our power—as antifragile anarchists—to change our world.

[1] James C. Scott, Two Cheers for Anarchism (Princeton: Princeton University Press), pp. 30, 84.
[2] A transcript of Obama’s second Inaugural Address can be found at
By |2017-05-27T17:42:13+00:00January 23rd, 2013|General|0 Comments

The New Realities Part V: Sovereignty, Anarchy, and Creative Destruction

If you are someone who enjoys chicanery, volatility, and a world without rules, the needle on your happy meter will remain pegged for the foreseeable future.  The world Daniel Suarez creates in his techno-thriller Daemon and its sequel Freedom seems to be more real than fantasy as unexplained flash crashes and debt-induced contagions threaten to destroy our many efforts to construct durable institutions to suppress endemic anarchy in the international system.  Suarez may prove to be as prescient as his predecessor of Americano angst, Tom Clancy.  Alas, anarchy appears to be gaining the upper hand—as Machiavelli’s adherents would argue it always has.  Our stubborn invocation of sovereignty ensures it.  Our rapacious leaders in both D.C. and Wall Street exploit it.  It is simply antithetical for humans to stick much more than a toe into the Rubicon’s waters of civil transformation before withdrawing; there are few Caesars among us.

However, while we wring our hands over the effects of market mayhem and cringe at the timidity of our political leaders who wilt under kliegs supplied by hyper-partisan (so-called) news bureaus, we can also find solace in the uncertainty and upheaval that allows creative destruction to do its thing: to purge the system of bad ideas and incompetent leaders.  Anarchy amps our turpitude but it also makes room for reinvention—for new ideas and leaders to take the stage. Many (relative) innocents will be hurt, but we must embrace this Darwinian moment and adapt our own behaviors and expectations to new realities.  We must avert our eyes from headlines crafted by Chicken Little hacks and dig deeper into human activity.  When we do, we realize that we are one major ah ha! away from an explosion of innovation.  For example, last week’s announcement of the proof-of-concept of synthetically driven cell production means creative destruction is underway.  Next-gen Edison’s remain busy while entitled malcontents who capture headlines hurl stones in Athens’ public square.

Moreover, predictions based on watersheds, contagions, and dominoes are seldom, if ever, realized.  More often, they are used to perpetrate a political slight of hand, like we must fight in Vietnam to stop the contagion of communism; or, if we establish a democracy in Iraq it will produce liberal domino effects throughout the Mid-east.  Or the latest: if Greece goes under the global financial system will collapse.  The reality is that factors that produce effects in one place at a point in time seldom propagate.  Variability of both factors and outcomes is much more probable.  And, we humans have a distinct advantage.  As Matt Ridley points out in The Rational Optimist, humans have mastered the practice of exchange and specialization allowing wealth and intelligence to metastasize across our global civilization.[1]  This means most of us will be okay—as we always have been—notwithstanding enduring the hue, cry, and anger of fear-mongering politicos, displaced non-adapters, and bigoted extremists.

Social order is changing, forced by crises, real or perceived. Sovereignty will become a personal claim, not just a claim of state.  Anarchy will prevail both inter, and intra state.  Eventually, new structures will emerge based on new norms and narratives.  Myths will be written anew.  Collective action based on intelligent exchange and specialization will prevail.  A new ‘normal’ will be revealed.  This dialectic phase will end and a higher truth will emerge, just as it has throughout the history of humankind.

[1] Matt Ridley, The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (Harper Collins, 2010).
By |2017-05-27T18:47:34+00:00May 24th, 2010|The New Realities|0 Comments
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