Review: The Upside of Down–Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization

5 Star, Complexity & Resilience, Future, Information Society

Upside of DownSpectacular Synthesis, Signals Emergence of Collective Intelligence, February 24, 2008

Thomas Homer-Dixon

I learned a great deal more about this author when two chapters in a book I just published, Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace featured his thinking: an interview of him by Hassan Masum; and his interview of the Rt Hon Paul Martin on the important topic of the Internet and democracy.

Consequently, I may place more value on this book than some of the other reviewers, but I choose to give it a solid five stars. In combination with his earlier book The Ingenuity Gap: Facing the Economic, Environmental, and Other Challenges of an Increasingly Complex and Unpredictable Future, and the work of many, many people on emergent collective, peace, commercial, gift, cultural, and earth intelligence, all subsets of the emerging discipline of public intellligence (self-governance founded on full access to all information to produce reality-based balanced budgets), I regard the author as one of a handful of individuals exploring the possibilities of cognitive collective integral consciousness.

I have a note: superb single best overview. I cannot list all the books I would like, being limited to ten links, the ones I do are a token. See my 1100+ other reviews and my many lists for a more comprehensive stroll through the relevant literatures.

Highlights from my notes:

+ Five stresses (population, energy, environmental, climate, economic)

+ I have a note, what about mental, cultural, physical stress (e.g. dramatic increases in mental illness, blind fundamentalism, and obesity).

+ See the image on predicting revolution, the author observes that revolutions come from synchronous failures with negative synergy.

+ Connectivity and speed are multipliers, and I am reminded that virtually all US SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition) systems in the US are connected to the Internet and hackable (meanwhile, the Chinese have figured how to hack into systems not connected to the Internet, but drawing electric power from the open grid).

+ Synchronous failures get worse when they jump system boundaries and created frayed less resilient networks.

+ He write of the thermodynamics of empire and the declining return on investment from energy discovery and exploitation.

+ He writes of migration getting much much worse in the future, which confirms my own view that border control is not the answer, stabilization & reconstruction of the source countries is the longer-term sustainable answer.

+ He credits George Soros with having the first intuitive understanding of the asymmetries of wealth in relation to destabilization of the world.

+ He observes that we have transformed and degrades half the Earth’s land surface, and is particularly concerned with the washing away of entire nations of topsoil (compounded by agriculture that does not do deep-root farming).

+ As the book winds to a conclusion, the author discusses massive denial and the loss of resilience that gets worse each day.

+ “Non-extremists have a formidable ‘collective action problem.'”

+ Need alternative values (I am reminded that the literature points out just two sustainable approaches to agriculture and community: the Amish and the Cuban). He notes that fundamentalists are especially ill-equipped by their myopia to be adaptive or resilient.

+ He covers the polarization between rich and poor. While other books listed below are more trenchant, the author has done a superb job of integrating historical, economic, social, and cultural works. This is a very fine book.

+ He adds a useful snippet on Cultural Intelligence, distinguishing between utilitarian values (likes and dislikes), moral values (fairness and justice), and existential values (significance and meaning).

+ Violence is discusses as stemming from motivation, opportunity, and framing–all of which can be found in the eight stages of genocide as defined by Dr. Greg Stanton of Genocide Watch.

+ He ends the book with praise of the open source model (search from my Gnomedex 2007 keytone, “Open Everything”) and concludes that the Internet is not living up to its potential as a platform for large-scale problem solving. I agree, and I condemn Google for choosing to become an illicit vacuum cleaner of other people’s information, rather than an open source platform for allowing every person to be a collector, processor, analyst, producer, and consumer of public intelligence (search for my book review of “Google 2.o: The Calculating Predator.” IBM ando the Google partners are literally BLIND and refusing to assimilate documented early warnings on how Google is preparing to scorch banking, communications, data storage, entertainment, and publishing, all without respect for privacy or copyright, and without regulatory oversight.

I list below eight books I recommend for reading as an expansion of this elegant synthesis. At Earth Intelligence Network you can find a table of 1000+ books I have reviewed, sortable by threat, policy, or challenger.

A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility–Report of the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change
The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People
A Power Governments Cannot Suppress
The New Craft of Intelligence: Personal, Public, & Political–Citizen’s Action Handbook for Fighting Terrorism, Genocide, Disease, Toxic Bombs, & Corruption
Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration
Five Minds for the Future
The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It
The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits (Wharton School Publishing Paperbacks)