The International System can be compared with an accelerating treadmill, but without control panel.
In this article I explain that the System constitutes an accelerating treadmill, and that eventual collapse is unavoidable if we do not take control of this destructive and unsustainable dynamic.
Quite regularly I visit a fitness – gym – to make sure my ‘system’ stays fit. During these session, I often use a treadmill. My work out on the treadmill typically simulates a hilly course. With several settings, I can control the treadmill and the parameters of my exercise: its duration, speed and incline. The incline of the treadmill simulates the steepness of the hills I must climb during the course I run. The parameters determine the intensity of the training, and the energy I use.
A standard treadmill program – running a hilly course – typically consist of several cycles: Each cycle consists of a series of low hills, followed – at the end of the cycle – by a short but steep climb. The series of low hills of the next cycle (that typically follows the steep climb) gives me the opportunity to recover somewhat from my efforts, before ‘it’ starts all over again.
It is not hard to imagine what would happen if I would constantly increase the speed and the incline of the treadmill: Necessarily the duration of successive cycles would become shorter – I need to recover faster – but at a certain point, unavoidably, I would lose my balance and ‘collapse’.
THE SYSTEM ALSO IS AN ACCELERATING TREADMILL
A closer look at the war dynamics of the System reveals that its war dynamics during the period 1495-1945 – consisting of four accelerating war cycles that made up a so-called finite-time singularity dynamic, with each cycle consisting of a relatively stable period followed by a systemic war – in fact also constituted an accelerating treadmill.
This accelerated treadmill was self-organized, the result of the intensifying interactions between the components of the growing System. The System produced an accelerating treadmill, and it had to run the treadmill’s course itself. By running its course – dictated by the logic of the System – it kept the treadmill functioning, until its unavoidable collapse.
Contrary to treadmills in gyms, where its user can control the parameters of the treadmill (duration, speed, and inclination), the controls of this treadmill are endogenous to the System, and are for that reason difficult to control. We are the treadmill.
In case of the System, the parameters of the treadmill are determined and controlled by a combination of (1) physical laws and mechanisms – that for example determine the timing and application of energy releases – and (2) certain properties of the System, like its (population) size, rate of (population) growth, and certain characteristic of the networks it produces.
Analysis shows that the System produced an accelerating treadmill, consisting of four accelerating cycles. As is the case with the treadmill program in the gym, each war cycle also consisted of a relatively stable period (with only small ‘hills’), followed by a relatively short steep climb, at the end of a cycle. Following a systemic war – the steep climb – a new relatively stable period that was implemented (by that systemic war) allowed for recovery and growth. Then this typical dynamic repeated itself.
This accelerating treadmill – given the increasing energy input that is required – was also unsustainable: At a certain point, the System collapsed when (in 1939) it could no longer keep pace with the demands the accelerating war cycles made on the components of the System (states and their populations).
Their basic operation is similar, but their control differs fundamentally. Stepping of a ‘running’ treadmill always comes with a high risk.
COMPONENTS OF THE TREADMILL
The treadmill the System produced and at the same time was ‘running’ during the period 1495-1945, consisted of the following components and mechanisms: The energy for the treadmill (the System, and unfolding finite-time singularity dynamic) was provided by the tensions that built up in the anarchistic System, and which were a product of population growth (from 83 million in 1495 to 544 million in 1939 in Europe) and intensifying rivalries between states (the ‘clusters’ humans and populations formed to increase their survival changes).
Tensions were initially released during relatively stable periods by means of non-systemic wars (comparable to small hills in the training program) that typically preceded systemic wars at the end of a cycle (comparable to steep climbs).
At a certain point during relatively stable periods, the release of tensions by the System (by means of non-systemic wars) became problematic, causing the ‘size of hills’ (the inclination of the treadmill) to temporarily decrease. This happened when the tipping point of a relatively stable period was reached, and a connectivity effect increasingly hindered the release of tensions.
However, at the same time when the release of tensions became increasingly problematic, the production of tensions accelerated, and instead of being released through non-systemic wars, tensions and issues built up in the System. The buildup allowed the System to charge itself, and become critical. The systemic war that then followed was instrumental in the implementation of un upgraded order that provided ‘new’ stability; a new cycle to ‘run’.
From a gym treadmill perspective this typical dynamic can be interpreted as follows: Halfway during a training cycle, the inclination of hills the program presents become smaller, which gives the runner a breathing space and opportunity to charge him- or herself for climbing the next very steep hill, that typically concludes a single training cycle.
Whereas the body uses stored energy during a fitness exercise; the System produced its own energy (tensions), it more or less immediately used to power the ‘operation’ of the treadmill. In case of the System, the energy (tensions) were used to implement upgraded orders (new training cycles) ‘on the run’. The upgraded order was then able to produce even more tensions, that were needed for a next upgraded, to the next level of organization.
This acceleration dynamic of the System – requiring and using (in the form of destructive energy) increasingly amounts of energy – was unsustainable: At a certain point, the energy input could no longer be achieved (requiring too much resources), while at the same time the use (release) of this energy (in the form of destructive energy) threatened to destroy the System itself. During the period 1495-1945, The anarchistic System was a treadmill that unavoidably self-destructed.
GETTING OF – OUT OF – THE TREADMILL
The first treadmill (1495-1945), was a ‘European’ treadmill: Europe constituted the core of the System, and dominated its war dynamics. Data-analysis suggests that we are now producing a second treadmill (1945-….) at a global scale of the System, and are reaching the end of its first cycle: We are shortly before its first ‘steep climb’ (a systemic crisis/war).
This raises an important the question: Can you get of – out of – this treadmill where we are all integral parts of, and that will push the System – us – to its – our – limits again?
Again, the treadmill in the gym, is a useful metaphor. The parameters of my training can be controlled, and a treadmill in a gym has a stop-button. But without such a stop-button, getting of a treadmill is not without risk; because of the speed of the treadmill, I could easily lose my balance and ‘collapse’.
Whereas a treadmill in a gym has a control panel, the System – the treadmill it constitutes – lacks such a control panel. As I explained, the parameters of the System are endogenous to the System; a function of physical laws that apply, in combination with certain properties (like the connectivity of the System).
The current treadmill (the now global System) is also powered by the tensions the anarchistic System produces at an accelerating rate; these tensions are also produced by population growth and increasing rivalries between states.
Whereas the purpose of the treadmill in the gym is to increase my fitness, the purpose of the self-organized treadmill the System constitutes also is not without a function: The function of this treadmill seems to be the optimization of the collective survival changes of competing populations that are grouped in states in a system that is anarchistic in nature, by striking a certain balance between their respective basic requirements.
A state that decides to leave the treadmill, it is an integral part of – for example because it no longer wants to contribute to the buildup of tensions in the System, and to wars this inevitable results in (in the current anarchistic set-up) – such a step comes in a high risk: Its survival will be at stake.
It means that this state must decide to no longer obey the destructive logic of the anarchistic system, and must refrain from increasing its own security at the expanse of the insecurity of other states, which is – because of the security dilemma – unavoidable in anarchistic systems.
It would mean that this state would decide to no longer invest in military capabilities or join alliances to protect itself against (potential) adversaries. Stepping of the working treadmill the System constitutes, without all other states following the example, comes at the risk of the survival of the state taking such a courageous initiative. The treadmill is a (war) trap. The motto – basic survival rule – of The System seems to be: ‘Because you cannot beat the System, for your own survival you must join it’.
Now that we are aware of this trap, we can start designing and implementing a control panel and take control of our collective destiny.