Note — May 17, 2020

Facing the Age of Chaos

Jamais Cascio, writer, speaker, and futurist, with a brilliant piece where he says that “something massive and potentially overwhelming is happening.” So much so that instead of rare instances, we are now surrounded by a world of VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous), making that framework less useful than it used to be. Cascio believes that we need a new language to describe these times of chaos, a language which “would serve as a platform to explore new forms of adaptive strategies.” He proposes a new framework: BANI (Brittle, Anxious, Nonlinear, and Incomprehensible), and goes on to describe what each term means and how it reflects our condition. The BANI framework “offers a lens through which to see and structure what’s happening in the world.” I found the brittle and incomprehensible parts especially relevant and take note of the word “hysteretic” which represents “a long lag between cause and full effect.” Climate impact and even waves of the virus are hysteretic.

From weighty institutions like “law” and “religion” to habituated norms and values, even to ephemeral business models and political strategies, much of what we think of as composing “civilization” is ultimately a set of cultural implements that allow us to domesticate change. […]

In a Nonlinear world, cause and effect are seemingly disconnected or disproportionate. Perhaps other systems interfere or obscure, or maybe there’s hidden hysteresis, enormous delays between visible cause and visible effect. […]

The concept of “flattening the curve” is inherently a war against nonlinearity. […]

Incomprehensibility seems to be intrinsic to the kind of machine learning/artificial intelligence systems we’re starting to build. […]

At least at a surface level, the components of the acronym might even hint at opportunities for response: brittleness could be met by resilience and slack; anxiety can be eased by empathy and mindfulness; nonlinearity would need context and flexibility; incomprehensibility asks for transparency and intuition.