Emergence of self-regulation (3): Limits to emergent self-regulation


Germany’s attack on Poland (September 1941) marks the moment emergent self-regulation of the energy-state of the had reached its limits, and the System (Europe) consequently collapsed.

The fact that the four war cycles – their frequency, as well as their amplitudes (in terms of severity) – accelerated, produced a singularity in finite time: The war dynamics of the System were eventually unsustainable.

In 1939, when the System reached the critical connectivity threshold and produced infinite amounts of tensions, the System could no longer regulate its energy-state, and consequently collapsed.

Several closely related factors/conditions contributed to the eventual inability of the System to regulate its energy-state by means of an emergent regulatory dynamic/mechanism:

(1) Tensions – and consequently destructive energy – were produced in increasing amounts and at increasing rates. As I mentioned, connectivity and anarchy are intrinsically incompatible in anarchistic systems, and increasing connectivity (a function of population size) of the System and intensifying rivalries between communities, resulted in increasing amounts of tensions that were produced at increasing rates. The moment the System (in 1939), reached the critical connectivity threshold and the System produced infinite amounts of tensions, the singularity in finite-time was reached and the System collapsed. It was at that point no longer possible to design and implement international orders that could regulate the infinite amounts of tensions that were produced: The frequency and amplitudes of war cycles became ‘infinite’. Regulation required perpetual war, which not only was practically impossible (see point (4)) would mean collective self-destruction.

(2) The increasing inability of the System to release tensions by means of non-systemic wars. Analysis of the war data shows that during the relative stable periods of the four successive war cycles, the absolute number of non-systemic wars (and non-systemic war frequency) decreased to about ‘zero’ during the fourth relatively stable period (1918-1939). This pattern shows that the ability of successive international orders to release tensions by means of non-systemic wars decreased, while at the same time, tensions were produced at an accelerating rate. This property I refer to as the robustness of relatively stable periods (international orders); over time – during the unfolding of the finite-time singularity dynamic – the robustness became ‘absolute’. This development was not without effect, and contributed to the increasing frequency and severity of successive systemic wars. Because of the increasing robustness of successive relatively stable periods (international orders), the System was forced to (increasingly) release increasing amounts of tensions by means of systemic wars. In other words, the ability of the System to regulate tensions decreased, which contributed to its (unavoidable) collapse. These developments ((1) and (2)) explain why the life-span of successive cycles decreased. The life-span of a cycle is indicative for its fragility. The System is an example of a ‘robust yet fragile’ system.Properties rel stab periods,PNG

Table 2: This table presents the main properties of relatively stable periods (international orders). Basic data from Levy.


Figure 6: This figure shows the development of the number of non-systemic wars, of war frequencies and of Great Power status changes in Europe during the four successive relatively stable periods that can be distinguished, in addition to their lifespans.

(3) Increasing stability of successive international orders required increasing inputs of destructive energy to be able to ‘unfreeze’ the System and to design and implement a next upgraded order; eventually the ‘permanence’ of the fourth international order was absolute. Analysis of the properties of successive relatively stable periods (international orders) shows that the Great Power status dynamics of the System, during successive relatively stable periods (also) decreased (about) linearly to zero. This implies that the organisation of the System – the status hierarchy – became increasingly permanent.

The same time as this happened – not coincidentally – the number of ‘border changes’ also decreased (8): The borders of states in the System became fixed, implying that the physical structure of the System also became increasingly permanent. It can be said that the System became increasingly more ‘brittle’; it became increasingly hard – required increasing amounts of destructive energy – to change the System’s organisation and physical structure. Consequently, it became increasingly problematic for the System to absorb – and use – tensions (energy): Over time the System had developed from a loosely connected network of circa 300 communities, into a tightly connected system of 25 states. Consequently, the international order – the status quo – required increasing input of energy to accomplish change. The paradox is that although the organisation of successive relatively stable periods (international orders) became more permanent, the System as such became increasingly unstable. The System’s brittleness made the System incapable of regulating tensions, and caused it to break (in fact, a more suitable word than collapse).


Figure 4: This figure shows schematically the development of the properties of the System (Europe). All the properties consistently converged toward values that could no longer be sustained, resulting in the System’s collapse in 1939.

(4) Real-world limitations. In practice the System collapsed before the System reached the theoretical singularity in finite time (9).

Before this theoretical singularity was reached, the System was confronted with a number of real-world limitations, that could not be ignored. The tensions that accumulated in the System during the last cycle – and could not be released (see previous point) – resulted in increasingly volatile and radical interactions and politics in and between states. The mirror-image of tensions is destructive energy: The System produced increasing amounts of tensions, while the finite-time singularity demanded increasing amounts of destructive energy to be deployed to ensure the implementation of an upgraded international order. Increasing amounts of resources were required – including the ‘total’ mobilisation of societies – to produce the required amounts of destructive energy. The deployment of the increasing amounts of destructive energy ‘at the same time’ caused levels of suffering and destruction, that were also unsustainable. Increasingly more was required, while less was available. Continuation of the accelerating war cycles – an infinite frequency of systemic wars, with infinite amplitudes – was not possible, and would result in collective self-destruction, while the purpose of war is tension release and regulation, to ensure survival. At that point, it became evident that emergent regulation of the energy-state of the System was no longer a viable option, and that this emergent mechanism had to be replaced with deliberate control by dedicated human-controlled integrative structures.

The four factors/conditions are related: Increasing connectivity of the System (a function of population size) resulted in the production of increasing amount of tensions, at accelerating rates. Increasing connectivity also contributed to increasing robustness of successive relatively stable periods (international orders), and affected the System’s ability to release tensions by means of non-systemic wars during successive relatively stable periods.

Consequently, increasing amounts of tensions were – and had to be – released by means of systemic wars, and their frequency as well as severity consequently increased.

The tensions – energy – that were released during relatively stable periods (by means of non-systemic wars) were used to balance the existing international order (relatively stable period), to maintain the status quo. During systemic wars, on the other hand, tensions were used to implement upgraded international orders; to change the status quo. The moment in 1939, when the System reached the critical connectivity threshold and produced infinite amounts of tensions, emergent regulation of the energy-state of the System had become impossible: The System could no longer ‘self-organise’ an international order that was viable. Consequently, the System collapsed, and emergent (self-organised) regulation of the energy state of the System was replaced by human-controlled dedicated hierarchies, that controlled the build-up of tensions, and avoided their release.

To be continued.