Brittle vs Resilient Systems

From P2P Foundation
Jump to navigation Jump to search


Jeff Vail:

"A system is brittle if it is unable to effectively absorb shock. Consider a plate glass window in comparison to a trampoline net. The plate glass window can take a significant shock without budging, but at some point it can no longer absorb an impact and fractures. It is brittle. The trampoline net, on the other hand, will be moved by even a minor impact, but because of its ability to deform and stretch, it will not fracture (or tear) until far greater stress is applied then is needed to break the glass window. The trampoline is resilient. These same qualities of "brittle" and "resilient" apply to economies and financial markets.

When an economic or financial system is brittle, it is less able to absorb the impact of a shock or ongoing stress--say, a geopolitical disruption to oil supplies, or the ongoing, grinding problem of geological peak oil. When a system is resilient it tends to be able to absorb such impacts, giving the underlying system time to reorganize to eliminate or mitigate the stress event. When a system is brittle, however, it is more likely to shatter, after which point it can no longer bounce back to its original shape. When an economic system shatters, we call it "collapse"--the system enters a downward spiral into depression and dissolution. This is one of the "worst case scenarios" for the impact of peak oil--that it will overstress a brittle global economic system and act as the catalyst for economic, even societal collapse.

For this reason, it is important to understand what makes our economic system brittle or resilient, and how our personal economic choices and political/policy choices can influence the character of the system.

While anathema to the orthodoxy (though certainly not orthopraxy) of American capitalism, it is time to consider how we must use non-market mechanisms to plan for increasing our systemic resiliency.

While this may be unlikely to happen at a national level, the need to increase resiliency is scale-free: individuals, communities, bioregions, and nations can all benefit by the increase of resiliency at any level. " (