On top of everything, strongly-reinforced social systems tend resist change because too many people with power or influence think that they will be worse off if the current balance is altered.
There is a final set of outside threats that, although often self-evident, are incredibly hard to address. These show themselves as deliberate pushback against any attempt to Break the Rules. It is one of the reasons why layer upon layer of reinforcement within a social system tends to make that system so resilient: It is often in many people’s self-interest to maintain the status quo. That is a very familiar problem to CEOs, to artists, to popes, to civil-rights leaders, and to presidents.
A global example that affects us all is the (often hidden) pushback against sustainable energy. I have worked with many of the big oil and gas companies and coal producers. It is pretty obvious why some of them are less-than-enthusiastic about, for example, solar cells replacing hydrocarbons. What is far less obvious is the huge impact of well-funded lobbying mixing with vested interest in politics all around the world. That is where things start to get a bit disconcerting.
Over the years I have been invited to analyze numerous sometimes-rather-depressing national and international government organizations. I am afraid I have come away feeling, shall we say, unconvinced that they are capable of dealing with the side-effects of the increasingly complex and interconnected world made possible by High-Tech.
I am left ambivalent about the future role of (necessarily self-serving) national governments on the world stage. They may need help. They may sometimes need to get out of the way. For example, leading global corporations – with their unique contacts and influence across industries, political institutions, and customers – may have far more of a role to play in balancing the world than they have ever wanted or than they have ever been required to provide.
In stark contrast, the same is probably true of the general public. Individuals linked as never before by High-Tech can increasingly wield a form of Boundaryless People-Power that even now can trigger, if not sustain, an Arab Spring.
Whether as corporations or as private individuals, we probably all need to step up to the implied responsibility that comes with being better informed and having far greater influence than was ever available to our predecessors. Unfortunately, the “pushback effect” comes into play here too. On top of which, many of us are unintentionally complicit in maintaining the existing state of affairs; not only are we very busy, but after all, sorting out this kind of thing is what Politicians are paid to do anyway, isn’t it?