Last year, I tried to save the world. I imagined a massive, vital, perpetual writing project. It would center on critical infrastructure resilience, the meta-structures and paradigms of humanity’s cultural values and institutions, and existential risk to civilization and humankind itself.
Systemic failures like the COVID-19 pandemic can disrupt, degrade, and eventually destroy the broader set of complex, interdependent systems that make up our world. (More technical detail is provided below, with much—much—more to follow.)
This all occurred to me between spring and summer of 2020. I intend to write much more about my thought process, intensive research, and the emotional toll I paid—but that’s for later. I’ve delayed this project too long already, weighed down by the scope and magnitude of the work that needs to be done. Suffice it to say that I’m emerging from 2020 with a firm belief that perfect is indeed the enemy of good.
Right now, I just want to tell you why I’m launching The Swan Bulletin and why I think you should care:
The Swan Bulletin is a novel content paradigm covering existential risk, civil resilience, & critical infrastructure.
In early 2020, as I watched COVID-19 settle in, I realized that its direct destructive power, though terrible, may, in the end, be eclipsed by the secondary damage to our systems and values. Publications like The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists have long sounded alarms, warning us that humanity’s long-term survival is increasingly precarious. Growing threats like disruptive Internet technologies, international political insulation, and rampant misinformation already pose dire threats.
With that backdrop, the additional strains of a pandemic—to the economy, manufacturing, security, food distribution, and so on—seemed very much worth writing about. And so my task was a novel, good-will effort to share key information critical infrastructure systems across all social and cultural divides.
There are many facets to the question of human survival, and to write intelligently and responsibly about it demands exhaustive—and measured—research, analysis, writing, and distribution.
As far as side projects go, this one is a doozy. For months, I was put off by the enormous time commitment, conflicting priorities—both personal and professional—and a regrettable, self-imposed pressure to do it all perfectly.
Thankfully, I’m gotten over that. After all, as far as priorities go, collective human survival must rank near the top of most lists.
Complex System Failure
Total systemic collapse doesn’t need to happen through sudden events like an asteroidal impact. In the science of complex systems, total breakdowns often result from the compounded effects of smaller breakdowns. These include such phenomena as “positive” feedback loops that lead systems past the tipping point of equilibrium, and others like cascading failures—the so-called “butterfly effect”. The interdependence of complex systems leads to an escalation of complexity and vice-versa; systems mesh organically to form new systems that then can’t be separated.
While imperfect, these systems are more or less in equilibrium thanks to a complex interplay of components and functions. Two aspects are worth special note: faith and momentum. Each is necessary for the global meta-system’s survival. Yet they are also intangible, organic, emergent traits—and therefore not easily bridled by human intervention. Nor, once lost, are they easily recovered; their very natures preclude it.
These systems are further threatened by the high-level nature of human society. Through sophisticated abstractions, we parcel society into presumptive “sectors”—government, business, civil.
Government generates regulation and is checked by public sentiment expressed, one hopes, at the ballot box—an institution that is itself under the starkest threat as I write these words on January 18, 2021.
For its part, business generates innovation and is rewarded with the public’s currency.
“Social organizations”—the phrase itself a virtual tautology—are often regarded as a sector in themselves. A sector comprised, necessarily, of the same human beings that comprise the others: business, government, and the public sector from which the former two derive their power.
And so who’s to blame when our systems fail us—and who is hurt by these failures? The answer to both questions must be the same: we are.
Infrastructure, values, and institutions belong to all of us—and arguably, we all belong to it. That interdependence—together with everything that emerges from it—is society. The responsibility of ensuring its resilience against threats is not just too important to be delegated or hoarded; by the very nature of the responsibility, it can’t be given or taken away. Ultimately, we are all the system and the system is us.
The Swan Bulletin
The Swan Bulletin is intended to be an experimental, synergistic, public-benefit, cross-discipline publication—and potentially much more. Our paradigms are overdue for shifting.
Thank you for reading and please subscribe for updates, leave a comment, ask a question, give a tip, or share this post.