Looking Back: Thoughts on Simplicity and Survival
Punitha Dhavaraja Balamurugan
Manager, Learning Experience Design at Dream a Dream
Looking back and trying to critique the framework I proposed in my 2020 CfC essay, here’s a summary of my reflections. This framework could be one of the lenses for studying the systemic principles of survival of human organizations through a crisis. In its simplest form, this is how the framework looks:
Who/what are a part of us and who/what are not?
Which moral stands did we value and which ones
didn’t we value?
Which imagined future state did we consider as our destination in time?
How did we consider the survival of identities that were outside the boundaries of our identities? And why?
What were the choices we made that created the path
And finally, what kind of patterns do we see emerging from our answers to these questions based on similar concerns from other surviving organizations?
During this process of reflection, two things hit hard.
First, by trying to focus on the survival of complex human organizations, I completely overlooked the dynamics of survival in simple entities. The obviousness was embarrassing because the one thing that is definitely surviving and will continue to survive this crisis is the SARS-CoV-2 virus itself.1 And it’s surviving without any conscious sense of identity, intents or vision. The virus made no decisions. And its relationships are not backed by a will to survive.
Viruses are so simple a life form that they have incited debates on whether they can be considered as living forms or what it means to be biologically alive. SARS-CoV-2 is going to survive despite the assault humanity is collectively launching upon it. Yet, technically, it’s not even trying to survive. With no consensus on intent attributable to nature itself, viruses have ensured their existence throughout the entire span of life on earth, regardless of its many crises. The recipe for their survival seems to be a combination of their sheer obedience of natural laws along with a generous dash of probabilities from their environment.
Secondly, in hindsight, it seems like my framework could benefit from simplification. This can be accomplished by using the vocabulary I chose for the framework as a taxonomical structure for simple virus-like things called ideas. Ideas are capable of transmission from one human organism to another. They can be contagious and devastating to humanity. They keep mutating and, hence, evolving. Some become a part of us and will survive as long as humanity does. Metaphysical debates about whether ideas have a life of their own (or not) is definitely fathomable.
It has become apparent that organizations, corporations, governments, religions, movements, cults, heroes, villains and so on are all nothing but complex phenomena emerging out of simple interactions in the pool of holons2 (called ideas) in humanity’s thought space. Ideas will survive this crisis just by following the same dynamics as viruses.
Given current uncertainties, contemplating a vision for organized human institutions that will survive this pandemic is definitely daunting. While it’s OK for our vision to be blurry and out of focus for now, what is completely in our control is the agency to choose ideas that we want to cherish.
The organizations that will survive in the post-pandemic world will be the ones that decide which ideas (identities, intents, vision and relationship) are worth keeping, which are not and which are worth adapting.
The struggle for existence holds as much in the intellectual as in the physical world. A theory is a species of thinking, and its right to exist is coextensive with its power of resisting extinction by its rivals.
—Thomas Henry Huxley
1 The coronavirus is here to stay—here’s what that means by Nicky Phillips Nature 590, 382-384 (2021)
2 The idea of holons borrowed from The Ghost in the Machine by Koestler, Arthur (1967). Penguin Group. ISBN 0-14-019192-5