Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Karmic Insurance, Part II

"Paying it forward, sideways and up and down has it's own rewards... And small towns GET it."  -Old NFO

Resilient organizations are characterized by the ability to shift load to alternate paths as need arises.

For example, I worked in a factory where our product received about 6000 robotically applied spot welds.  It takes about 600 robots to make that many welds but the factory had 800.  Every spot weld had a "home robot".  But each weld also had a "alternate" robot in the event the home robot broke.  The welds made by a broken robot were typically "picked up" by several other robots because of cycle time constraints...each robot only had enough extra time to put on about 3 or 4 additional welds.

It was all pre-programmed.  The act of switching to the backup robots was nearly seamless.  The system was resilient because alternate paths were designed into it.


Cities' inherent lack of resilience may be due more to their age than due to their size.

Thomas Homer-Dixon in his book The Upside of Down explains how cultures are like ecosystems.

Life forms are simple at the start of an ecosystem's trajectory.  Additional niches are carved out to exploit the increasingly complex trophic cascade.  At some point the limits of cellulose-and-lignin composites are reached and the immediate tactical advantage of complexity and nimbleness is undercut by the strategic advantage of hyper specialization and gamemanship.  Complexity implodes.

The ecosystem has reached its climax.  It is in a near static state.  Each organism has battled its neighbors to a standstill.  All trees bound by the same constraints of cellulose-and-lignin, they are all nearly the same height.  Their crowns are crowded by their neighbors and their allotment of sunshine is enough to maintain and little, very little more.

The forests of Appalachia are shifting from oak-hickory climax forest to maple-basswood.  Oak and hickory seedlings cannot grow in the shade of maples and basswood.  The shade is too dense.  Maples and basswood seeds are much smaller than acorns and hickory nuts.  Each seed represents a smaller metabolic investment.  Each maple will produce 20 samara (technical name for the helicopter like maple seed) for each nut or acorn produced by the hickory or oak.

The forest floor is carpeted with tiny maple seedlings just waiting for one of the giants to fall.  The trophic flow of Appalachia's forests is becoming more simplified and highly regimented as generalists are culled out of the team's roster.

Strangler fig.  Picture from HERE.

One notable feature of climax forests is the abundance of the vines.  Vines are plants that have figured out how to co-opt other plants' investment in structure.  The host plant bears the metabolic burden of building trunk an limbs.  The vine takes advantage of it.  Vines are able to grow at a preternatural rate due to the fact that they do not need to sink resources in "girthing up" to bear their own gravitational load.

An metaphorical bonus, the vines knit the canopy together.  They prevent dead trees from falling to the forest floor where agents of decay can free the nutrients bound in the dead wood.

Back to cities

Cities evolve in a similar way.   The arc of technology is such that tasks first become more complex and then, as the technology becomes more mature, tasks become simpler.  Locomotives became larger and more complicated necessitating the addition of crew members.  Then they broke less frequently and propulsion technology switched to electro-diesel.  The size of the crew did not diminish as nothing is defended more ferociously than a rice-bowl that is not quite big enough.

Apple's Siri is a good example of the arc of technology.  In the early 1900s a third year University student might learn the use of polynomials.  In the late 1900s students learned how to evaluate the second derivative of e^(square root of two - three i).  Now an eight year old can "ask Siri." to get the answer.

The interlocking webs of the city's economy mutually collude to repel threats to their collective rice-bowls.

In the example of cleaning up after a windstorm
  • The tenant would verbally assault a person attempting to clean up the mess for fear that it would become the landlord's expectation or out of concern that collateral damages would be blamed on the tenant in the absence of the the causal agent
  • The landlord is fearful that the person attempting to clean up the mess will hurt himself while cleaning up and will sue the landlord for damages.  Further, the landlord is fearful that the helper might gain some monetary benefit from building materials pried from the building or pilfered due to the breach in the building's integrity.
  • Insurance adjusters do not want volunteers tampering with the scene because they fear that fraudulent claims will skyrocket in the absence of solid evidence.
  • City workers are incensed that volunteers are "stealing" their work.  City payrolls are sized for extreme events.  During "normal" times payrolls are overstaffed and the workload is less than arduous.  Vigorous volunteer efforts would drastic shrink the number of jobs.  Further, city workers typically make much money via overtime (more hours paid at a premium rate).  Those overtime dollars are also at risk.  Remember that those overtime dollars are the dollars that expand the rice-bowl from "not quite big enough" to "comfortable".
  • City administration sees volunteers as a threat.  Reduced payrolls reduces the demand for supervisors.  City administrator also have the same litigation concerns that landlords have.
Fraternal organizations often have a Sergeant-at-Arms.  One of the functions of the Sergeant-at-Arms is to enforce in-group status.  This is sometimes done by having a series of code words that the supplicant utters to gain entry.

The universal code words to gain in-group status in the big city are "Its not my job."

Creative Destruction

The forest regenerates resilience (complexity) through series of stresses that, at least temporarily, disadvantage the climax species.  Often it is fire.  Sometimes it is avalanche or wind.  Other times it will be meandering climate which might favor a given pathogen or insect pest.

The interlocking webs that collude to maintain the status quo serve to drive the climax forest into an ever narrowing dead-end. Charles Hugh Smith writes about this on a frequent basis at his blog Of Two Minds.

Robust solutions are hard to come by but here are a few suggestions that might spark some thought:
  • Banish "not my job" from your vocabulary.
  • Consciously work at building community across the major axes that define our personhood
    • Social
    • Professional/monetary
    • Spiritual/religious
    • Physical wellness
    • Emotional
    • Family/other organic communities
  • Strive for a playful mind.  Few things drive out fear and defensiveness better than being playful.
  • Focus on others' needs.
  • Inventory your strengths and motivation patterns.
  • Stay solution oriented.  Abandon the Blame Game.
  • Make an effort to be kind.  Being kind suspends being judgmental.   That "karma" thing results in paralysis when we are judgmental.
  • Talk less.  Do more.
  • Create tests and challenges for ourselves and our organizations.  In the absence of a wandering climate or brush fire we must create our own.  For example, consider the benefits that came out of John F. Kennedy throwing down the challenge of walking on the moon before the end of the decade (1960s).
  • Give something away.  Trees (pollard) are rejuvenated when they are lopped.  Forests are rejuvenated when they receive a stiff harvesting.  "Giving" something up does not preclude getting paid for it.  The primary goal of giving something away is to get out from under the fixed costs...the drain on our energies.
  • Take joy in mastering an archaic skills.  Archaic skills provide our minds and hands with a good workout.  They are ideal ways to develop mental and physical strength and agility.  They are fun and could come in handy.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, and you're right about cities, but there is, in my opinion, one more thing- That being the 'lack' of cooperation between neighbors, mainly because few actually take the time to make friends, either they OR the neighbor will be gone in a year anyway...