Our civilisation is a highly complex system and consequently has highly complex behaviour; in fact complexity science would suggest that civilisation is so complex that it is highly sensitive to small changes that can amplify as they propagate across the globe to become major crises. Anyone who understands complexity science knows that the ability to predict and hence predictably change behaviour in such a system is inherently limited and the predictability decreases with increasing scale, starting with small groups, to corporations, to cultures and finally to vast parts of our entire civilisation. For our planet one of the most significant atomic elements of the system is the individual and one of the most powerful drivers of behaviour across our civilisation are sub-systems of individuals whose rules of behaviour are based upon extreme religious beliefs, racism or tribalism. The dynamics of such sub-systems tend to create positive feedback that continually amplifies current behaviour patterns to greater intensities that greatly influences lager swathes of civilisation.
Now in terms of complexity science, and in particular cybernetics, one can regulate a sub-system so that its behaviour and influence are reduced albeit not predictably. In our complex world I would argue that the Dictator is a one such valuable regulator who will continually and relentlessly stifles any behaviour that they see threatens the ‘status quo’. In general the modern Dictator is a localised phenomenon regulating the behaviour within their national boundaries. We only have to look at Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria and in the past at Bosnia and even the Russian caucuses to see what happens when we remove this regulatory component and let disruptive influences amplify throughout the local system and beyond.
I realise this dispassionate ‘system view’ ignores the tragic lives of those who live under the rule of these despots but it allows us to view the world more as it is than how we want it to be. One has to ask, how much worse it would be to live without the regulatory influence of a dictator. Would there now be four million Syrian people fleeing their war torn country if we had not supported attempts to overthrow Bashar al-Assad? Would more have died and would the threat to our world from extremist groups be as great if Saddam Hussain were still in charge? The truth is that making decisions of great magnitude in a complex world requires an uncomfortable philosophical viewpoint put succinctly by Mr Spock, “the needs of the many must outweigh the needs of the few”. What makes this a particularly pertinent approach in modern times is that, ‘the many’ are in fact now measured on a global scale.
On a positive note our civilisation is a complex adaptive system, meaning that each of us is highly adaptive and as individuals, or in small groups, we can influence the environment around us to improve our situation. So to a degree those who live in such tyrannical environments do the best they can to optimise their situation. It may not be of great comfort to us, but any small influence we can have on a despot to ease the rules under which everyone else lives may have a far greater positive effect than we can image due to the human ability to make the best of what we have.
I am not saying that we should not apply influence to such dictatorships, but we should do it in an intelligent, as opposed to political manner. This approach would be characterised by a gradual, slow and controlled way so as to not cause major unpredictable change that could lead to an even more unpredictable state (in more ways than one). It would also involve the analysis of systems thinkers as opposed to political advisors.
Our only saviour is to move away from the old politics and politicians where decisions have been based upon ego, national agenda and a conceited view as to what is best for other cultures. We need apolitical leaders who have intelligence to understand the reality of the dynamics, the strength to sometimes, not act and the foresight to make changes slowly though intelligent long term influence upon the despots who are unfortunately needed to assert and retain a level of regulation to the benefit of the many.