We are at one of those historic pivot points where the future seems particularly dangerous and unpredictable. The past year has seen an increased awareness of the crises of our time: systemic racism, economic inequality, the climate crisis, and of course the pandemic. It’s not clear which is most serious or whether the pandemic brought the other three into focus, but those may not be the correct questions.
Progressives and liberals have a long history of trying to pick the one most movable or most critical object as though all of the rest of the pieces would fall into place if we get that piece right. From Hegel to Marx to modern progressive movements that analysis has kept us in a state of churn where small gains are easily overcome by backlash instigated by the powerful.
In 1985 in Santa Fe New Mexico a group of physicists, biologists, computer, scientists, economists and others got together at the first Santa Fe Institute to develop a new interdisciplinary look at what have since been termed “wicked problems”. The science of complex adaptive systems had been used as an analytical tool for quite some time in the hard and natural sciences. Santa Fe was where one of the earliest attempts was made to use the same analysis in looking at economic, social, and cultural problems. This symposium is an attempt to bring a new analysis to questions of social and political justice. The science of complex adaptive systems gives us tools to understand how change happens and understanding change will give us the tools to direct and influence that change.