Thursday, December 12, 2013

Who Can Deal With Excess Complexity?

The thematic here is not all that new on this blog—but worth repeating. Not that such insights help in any sense at all—except the individual. When we are caught in a horrendous storm, it is reassuring sometimes to glimpse a few recognizable landmarks.

The motivation today is an editorial in the New York Times on the subject of ambiguities that surround the so-called Volker Rule. That rule, in a nutshell, is part of the Dodd-Frank financial law and restricts U.S. banks in the making of speculative investments on their own behalf. But it’s not the Volker Rule that interests us here but, rather, its extraordinary complexity—now that it is being implemented. Brigitte flagged the editorial for me with heavy commentary. In effect she said that complexity is simply swallowing us.

Indeed, having read the thing, I could not but agree. But as is often the case with me, I had a rather apocalyptic reactions to the thing. As I noted that reaction, the thought came that sometimes, certainly not all the time, the apocalyptic solution is the only one available. And we have quite excellent historical precedents for it.

The first of these is the Gordian Knot. That knot, no doubt, was the same sort of thing in ancient Greek times as the Volker Rule is for us today. And Alexander the Great dealt with it, metaphorically, by using his sword to disentangle it—with prejudice, as we used to say a few years ago. No doubt he wiped the slate clean and had his underlings start from scratch again, something that, alas, is absolutely necessary at long intervals in social affairs when things have become unworkable. The Hellenistic era, call it Ancient Modernity, is dated from Alexander’s death.

Our own era, Modern Modernity, can be dated from, say, the French Revolution. The Alexandrine figure of that time was Napoleon. He made order again—and that order then was copied by his friends and enemies, certainly in mainland Europe. He wiped away centuries of accumulated law in France and started again.

These are my landmarks. They give me a kind of futuristic hope amidst the prevailing vast confusion. Alas, it takes a single individual with genuine power to do what Alexander and Napoleon managed to do. No such figure is visible now. Therefore my use of that word, futuristic. To the old wisdom, “This too shall pass,” we might add a complement: “That too shall come…”


  1. Surely you can't mean that Mr. Felsenburgh may come yet... or do you?

  2. Not a bad suggestion, my dear, particularly in the context of our current reading. But reading your note the rhythm of that name reminded me of something closer to the season:

    O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
    Wie treu sind deine Blätter!
    Du grünst nicht nur zur Sommerzeit,
    Nein, auch im Winter, wenn es schneit.
    O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
    Wie treu sind deine Blätter!


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