One of the reasons we named the fund we invest out of Chaotic Capital is because I’m obsessed with cascade failures. In complex systems one small change can ripple out in unexpected ways. As players scramble to accommodate these shifts, opportunities for power realignments emerge. This is particularly exciting in systems that are man made as we can only create so much complexity in mechanical systems (unlike biological ones). Most startups are built on technology or engineering that are simple complex systems.
The absolute best description of the risks of a cascade comes from the science fiction television program The Expanse and a botanist named Prax. He is describing a failure in the hydroponics system (which both feeds the people and produces oxygen) on a space station on the moon Ganymede.
Because it’s simple it’s prone to cascades. And because it’s complex you can’t predict what is going to breakdown next or how.
While I’m a doomer and a prepper so it was bound to happen, it was this insight from Prax got me into hydroponics. Cascades and chaos and lettuce fuck yes!
But jokes aside, we’ve got a number of complex systems under strain right now. Supply chains, the financial system, our power grids coping with climate change, and even unemployment benefits are all examples of simple complex systems that are experiencing cascade failures.
I’m not in the mindset to lay a Grand Unified Theory of Simple Complex Systems tonight, because I did experienced one today. Colorado just set another heat record today and my air conditioner crapped out. As I set about closing blinds and checking electrical breakers I worried about how my own survival and comfort depends on cascades not occurring.
What if it had been electrical and my refrigerator went out and not just the air conditioner. Then my $5000 a dose immunosuppressant would go bad. If I can’t have that my spine will swell. Then I’ll be in too much pain to walk. Sure this isn’t a simple complex system exactly but I think it beneficial to go up and down the systems that keep our lives intact. If one system goes down do you survive?
This used to be a topic which we all shied away from. Then the pandemic happened and preppers like myself didn’t look quite so whacky. We told stories about the systems thinking that went into basic preparedness. We got a Nellie Bowles Styles piece. It was a lot of fun. But it belies the seriousness with which the topic of preparedness should be approached.
You probably aren’t prepared for some of the cascades that come as the works gets more chaotic. And no we cannot predict it. Shit is way too complex. It’s fucking chaotic as hell. So get some bottled water. I’ve made it easier. Here is what I keep in my go bags. Do it before the next cascade hits. You won’t regret it. I think Prax would agree.