Saturday, November 14, 2015

Structures and processes of humanity: Implications for events like Paris and Mumbai

Note: These are my personal views and not those of my employers, Tata Consultancy Services.

The structures of processes of humanity are designed to help humanity to act/react in face of normal and abnormal events. Different multi-human units are designed for different combination of normal and abnormal events. What is abnormal for some human and multi-human units is normal for other humans and multi-human units. Multi-human units organize their structures and processes to handle normal events differently and have pre-planned reorganisations to handle abnormal events.

In the past, the main cause of abnormal events were acts-of-god. But I contend that this is changing. Due to technological evolution, the number of abnormal events due to acts-of-man is increasing.

I have written about this before. But my current thoughts are prompted by the events in Paris, which were quite similar to the events in Mumbai in the past. The pressure on public services to cut costs results in reduction of the capability of public services to handle abnormal events. The preparedness to handle one/few abnormal event at one time may not be enough anymore, as technology enables some people to coordinate better across time and space to disrupt the lives of the rest of us at multiple points of time and space. But this is not visible till the abnormal events happen and it is difficult to comprehend what one does not starkly see. So most humans will remain substantially unaware of this as they continue in their day-to-day reverie.

I am not educated in the dynamics of public choice. But it is my firm conviction that we have a complex problem facing us. If democracies authorise the expenditure to deal with abnormal events, the transparency of what is achieved using these expenditures will be low creating the risk that these might be used by the wrong sort of people in power to build  structures to control the rest of us far too much than we might be ok with. And if democracies do not authorise such expenditures, then the random idiots will continue to create the Mumbai and Paris type of events. Also there is a question of public finance. How much should be spent reasonably on handling abnormal events and how much should spent on normal events? As technology changes the risk landscape, how should this proportion change? So in essence there is a genuine public governance issue. I believe these to be urgent and important issues. Sadly I do not think that as usual, reactions to Paris will not go beyond actions which are constrained by the continuing inability of those that matter and those advising them to see beyond the tip of the nose.


Pratap Tambay
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