Here is a brief summary of the book Catataxis
Chapter 1: Introduction
A introduction to several different types of disorders of magnitude and the concept of catataxis. Six different impressionistic scenarios give a flavour of what the book will be about. The scenes are these: tourists at Horse Guards, a Mexican wave at Wimbledon, fund consultants at Canary Wharf, scientists studying ant colonies, suicide at the Dignitas clinic and the negative impact of food aid. The linking theme between all these disparate topics is revealed to be “disorders of magnitude”. The concept of catataxis is introduced: the confusion between two different hierarchical levels.
Chapter 2: More of the same is different
A discussion of the ‘pile of sand’ paradox, the Marxist belief that a quantitative change inevitably becomes a qualitative one and why Man is no longer the measure of all things. The concept of catataxis is put in its historical context and a brief outline of the book is given. The rest of the chapter discuses how Cartesian dualism led to the reductionist methods of modern science, and how in the last century reductionism has been overthrown by the growth in support for a holistic viewpoint. It ends with a look at how the computer industry snapped from a vertical to a horizontal paradigm in the 1980s, ushering in the era of catataxis where hierarchical layers are the new zeitgeist.
Chapter 3: Making levels
A tour through the problems we face when making hierarchical levels by dividing or combining things. It examines the logical problems of the liminal zone and life at the ‘edge of chaos’. A brief discussion of statistics and set theory follows and a discussion about how classifying things can both increase and reduce our knowledge with examples from genetics, cartography, linguistics, communication theory and public key cryptography. It ends with a speculation about the ideal size of a human community.
Chapter 4: Emergent behaviour and the ladder of life
A examination of the essence of teamwork and the rules for generating flocking behaviour. Then an in-depth examination of the hierarchical levels in biology from DNA to cells to the ecosystem and Gaia theory. The debate about the level on which the ‘unit of selection’ belongs is explored with a read across to the corporate world and the relative power of the CEO. The relative merits of “top down vs. bottom up” control are discussed with modern military power structures used to illustrate the conundrum.
Chapter 5: The subconscious, the market and the supermarket
A look at the different theories of the subconscious and how our supposedly ‘rational’ decision making is driven by deeper emotions. A discussion about how branding is a form of inverse terrorism and how markets summarise our true emotions so effectively. Then comes a debate about free will and the ability of supermarkets to predict what we will want next week. It ends with a look at how we have become slaves to the general will as efficient markets satisfy our lowest common denominator desires.
Chapter 6: The flaws of democracy
A discussion about the problems in implementing the will of the people through democratic mechanisms and how unrepresentative most modern democracies have become. It is followed a look at identity politics and gerrymandering, where politicians choose us rather than the other way around. Is there such a thing as non-suffrage democracy ? What about the Chinese concept of the ‘mandate of heaven’? It ends with a look at the madness of crowds and dangerous feedback loop of political journalism.
Chapter 7: The death of the Nation State
A brief discussion about the conditions required for a nation state to coalesce and a much longer debate about why the whole concept of a nation state is past its sell by date. Nationalism has been replaced by corporatism and the global bond market has become more powerful than national governments. The four key levers of power: technology, capital, resources and labour are no longer under national control; they have become multinational. The future presages a return to the medieval system of overlapping authorities. Will the city state replace the nation state?
Chapter 8: In praise of bureaucracy
An attempt to answer one of the paradoxes of modern life: if bureaucracy and red tape is so universally loathed then why is there so much of it? The answer is that it is vitally important. Far from being the enemy of commerce, it may be the only part of a company that actually adds any value. The debate about where power lies in a corporate structure is picked up from Chapter 4 with a discussion about the role of the CEO and whether a company can be moral. It ends with a look at the importance of shock absorbers and built in redundancy in an over connected world economy. Sometimes, fat is healthy.
Chapter 9: The necessity of spin
A chapter about another pantomime villain of the modern world: the spin doctor. The catataxic nature of the modern world is best expressed by the relative importance of perception and reality. Today, perception is reality. Level two has trumped level one. At the same time, there is a fundamental human need to see order in chaos, to join random dots into a story. Reality TV, news and sport are all converging into a single entertainment product: an art form with no author. No author, just an editor, otherwise known as a spin doctor.
Chapter 10: Catataxis in Practice
Most of the world’s problems are problems of scale: global warming, over fishing, banks too big to fail. Is the only solution to impose a higher level institution with the appropriate power? Must nations pass up sovereignty to some supranational authority? This has never happened before in history without a war. Or are the solutions more local and community based with bottom up initiatives like farmers markets, cogeneration schemes, local credit and recycling ? There is no single answer. Each level in the hierarchy will find its own solution according to its own rules. The book ends by putting forward a number of deliberately provocative catataxic maxims for the purposes of debate:
• London is more important than Britain
• Democracy is the opposite of consensus
• The World Wide Web is dying
• Pensioners should not be allowed to vote
• CEOs are glorified sports commentators
• The railway is the deadliest weapon of all
• Your subconscious is more valuable than you are
• Reptiles don’t exist
• Microbes dictate your vote
• Don’t bother learning anything that can be taught
• All words are lies