The party’s over: Goodbye synthetic certainty
Save your breath
Humans are prediction engines. Each moment of every day our brains are scenario planning. What is likely to happen next? Often, we act before we have time to consciously rationalise our behaviour. This neural wiring kept us alive on the savanna.
Humans, like every other lifeform, value energy and are thus wired to conserve it. Again, back on the savanna, we could never be sure when we would next eat.
Energy conservation thus featured highly in our prediction engine processing. The idea that we would go for a run simply to burn-off our energy reserves would make us a laughing stock in the eyes of our ancestors.
And no doubt all other lifeforms would express similar bemusement if they could.
Impressively as humans, we developed the capacity to take control of our own destiny. We recognised the affordances of a rock. It could act as a hunting tool (when sharpened) or as an instant dispute resolution tool (sharpened or not). We went on to develop the wheel, the printing press etc.
The agricultural revolution brought with it the ability to create a tradeable surplus and the need to protect the land. The industrial era took that to the next level in respect of scale and automation. It opened markets beyond just food staples, eg. clothing, furniture and iPads.
Factories cost money and so investors needed to know that the demand for the goods produced by a new factory would be of sufficient duration to justify the investment. Thus these investors sought market predictability. The associated economic safety appealed to people in general. And societal certainty made life easier for government leaders. This alignment of interests led to the development of what might be called synthetic certainty.
Nothing to worry about
There has always been some form of certainty and order with respect to what happens within a tribe. That is the essence of culture. But the industrial era scaled this up to the point where it seemed to offer certainty both within and beyond society. Thus government leaders in the developed world were able to say with some degree of truth that if you vote for us, we will guarantee the social contract and improve your quality of life. Policies were enacted to institute order. Social constructs, such as careers, were created to encourage the citizens to uphold the synthetic certainty model.
As a parent, your biggest concern wasn’t whether little Timmy would be eaten by a predator, but whether he would one day have his own legal practice.
Many people today live a quality of life that even billionaires of a few of centuries ago could not have imagined. Of course we don’t have their wealth, but we have access to lifestyle products and services that would be the envy of the Rockefellers.
Many of us have enjoyed the benefits of this synthetic certainty. We no longer need to worry about hunting or growing our own food. It’s there waiting for us, shrink-wrapped. Occasionally there are wars and pandemics, but generally we eventually return to some level of normality.
Another consequence of this synthetic certainty is that it has dulled our prediction engine and denatured our physicality to the point that we must contrive movement to stave off life-style diseases, such as obesity. Immobile and oblivious are typically more associated with species at the terrifying end of the food chain.
It shouldn’t be news to anybody that we are leaving this era of synthetic certainty. Disruption, and thus abnormal, is the new normal. We are returning to the savanna in many respects. In such a world, wiry and street smart, trumps obese and zoned out.
Disruption to the rescue
In many respects, we are entering an era of hyper-uncertainty. By that I mean that the party is over and if anything increasing precarity will be the theme going forward.
There is good news in all of this. Disruption can be thought of as Nature’s emissary. It has been sent to encourage us to reclaim our humanity and desist with the self-absorption and disregard for the rest of the planet.
Some of us will take heed and adapt and some of us will blame anyone or anything they can. They will hold their government to account. They will blame the Republicans/ the Democrats, the Brexiters / Remainers, the US / China or even their parents / anyone who is not like them.
In many respects, those countries that are considered ‘in development’ are in better shape because they have less to repair.
The industrial model for all its benefits, including economic, health and security, is flawed. It’s time for a rethink. Governments, business leaders and citizens need to work together to map out the road ahead. Step one is to realise that the party is over and that disruption is for all its inconvenience, in fact, our friend.