Sometimes it pays to take a simple look at complex problems, so let’s take a brief look at the problem of scale – meaning scale as in magnitude. We all know what scale is, but don’t always apply what we know – possibly because simple answers are too accurate for modern tastes, too stark, too lacking in those furtive nuances which make such good hiding-places.
It seems to me that here in the UK we have drifted into a major problem with scale. We humans are fixed-size beings with certain capacities, intellectual and physical and a certain number of allotted years to make the best of what we have. We can’t change that and it affects what we may do, what we should expect to do, how quickly we evolve serviceable solutions to social and economic problems.
Climate is a good example of a very simple problem of scale. Although this post isn’t about climate change, it will do as a familiar example. A serious and obvious problem with climate science is it not being scaled to our scientific ambitions. We can’t do unambiguous experiments because it’s too big and too complex. We also have only one example to play with, can’t take representative samples and can’t do much in the way of controlled changes. We can’t change one climate parameter, see what happens to all the others then wind it back to where it was.
Okay, so that’s a brief physical illustration of how scale can be a serious problem even though we don’t usually catch sight of it through all the climate cant. Obvious enough but it seems to need saying, because scale is a type of problem we so often ignore. What else?
Well we need our clans to be scaled correctly because a healthy society needs bidirectional feedback between clan leaders and clan members. I’m going to take that as given because I want to keep the focus on scale.
Assume a nation state is about as big as a healthy clan can be – a mega-clan. It’s at the top of the clan scale. It follows that increasing complexity, cultural diversity and erosion of national functions will all cause problems with scale. States can become too complex, too diverse and too highly integrated into transnational processes.
Mega-clan members still need bidirectional feedback if they are to be an active part of a healthy mega-clan. Size isn’t just physical size; it is complexity, boundaries and rules. Increase complexity, blur boundaries, multiply rules and the clan becomes more difficult to understand, more difficult to relate to, more difficult to be a member of. It goes off-scale with respect to our capabilities.
Mega-clan UK suffers from this problem - it went off-scale as the EEC scaled up to the EU without knowing how. The EU is too big, complex and diverse to be a properly functioning clan. The scale is hopelessly wrong – obviously well outside any clan scale we learned to cope with as a nation state. There are far bigger states than ours, but they evolved their own solutions to the problem of scale over long periods of time. EU states have never done that. Germany tried of course, but that’s another story.
The answer is simple. We need to pay attention to scale and scale back to a nation state where we are generally handling known risks – those risks we learned to cope with over the centuries. The UK needs to be reasonably homogenous and independent if it hopes to get back to some kind of healthy democracy of which citizens generally approve.