Complexity Theory, International Life, and Conspiracy

By Jason MacLeod on August 30, 2011 — 3 mins read

Global systems, whether they are legal, economic, or governmental in nature, are built on defined or organized structures.  Through this structure, actors rely on the predictability of the systems to obtain some goal or take some action.  The United States Constitution, a rather short document, is an excellent example of a system that provides some predictability.  Yet, this predictability – based on centuries of precedent – emerged from its systemic interactions with events and individuals in wholly unpredictable ways.  Emilian Kavalski, the author of “The fifth debate and the emergence of complex international relations theory: notes on the application of complexity theory to the study of international life” argues that international life and international systems, in their present forms, should be understood as an, “open, complex, partially organized and coupled in complex, conditional ways” (437).  This complexity is both subjective and objective – indicating that “seemingly chaotic relations are patterned in nonlinear ways” (438).  Negative and positive feedback loops, multiple subsystems, complex interactions of parts, all of these can emerge into a self-organized whole – a process of “being” shifting to “becoming.”  This interaction, Kavalski notes, is “each component of a system participat[ing] in the production or transformation of other components, while the system itself is produced by its constituent parts and, in turn, produces these parts” (439).  These intense and complex interactions seem beyond ideas of comprehension.  Therefore, the bulk of complex international relations (CIR) research based “agent-based modeling and computer simulations” seems counter-intuitive (447).
The complexity of international life cannot be simplified to a mathematical model.  Sitting here in my room, there are hundreds of items that I could interact with in a dozen ways – many unpredictable.  Could a mathematical model take into account the myriad unexpected things I could do with items in ways they aren’t normally used?  While not going into further detail, the mathematical models can provide percentages of what is most likely going to occur, but they can never predict with certainty what is going to happen.  Kayalski himself quotes another author and states that patterns “adapt to, or are themselves on, the edge of chaos, and most of the changes take place through catastrophic events rather than by following a smooth gradual path” (448).  As Kayalski notes, the Romanian revolution started with one isolated incident and eventually resulted in the reformation of the government.  The mathematical models can easily miss the galvanizing moment or the instant of revolution, thereby negating any importance of the study.  The scenario models or the macro-historial processtracing are other ways to predict where the myriad complexities of the whole will go or do.  The emergence behavior, once set in a context, can become predictable, but each part of the whole can change the entire context.  The momentum of the parts can be examined, but the result cannot.

The crime of conspiracy is a crime composed of its complex parts.  The many are charged with the whole, in a sense.  Complexity theory is analogous to this process.  The many create the whole, and the whole is of primary importance.  The crimes, especially conspiracy, should not be in force primarily because we can’t predict what each of the individuals will do.  The MPC states that, “the act of combining with another is significant both psychologically and practically, the former because it crosses a clear threshold in arousing expectations, the latter because it increases the likelihood that the offense will be committed. Sharing lends fortitude to purpose. The actor knows, moreover, that the future is no longer governed by his will alone others may complete what he has had a hand in starting, even if he has a change of heart.”  This states that one can be charged with conspiracy even though nothing happened.  One could be charged with conspiracy even though others did the action conspired to, but he didn’t.  There is a fundamental flaw in conspiracy law that ignores the complexity of systems, groups and people.