The title of today’s article refers to a book that was released this week. It is a collective work by many distinguished authors, some of whom I have the pleasure of knowing. It presents a vision of Poland that is different from the one we see every day—a Poland that “negotiates” and finds common ground.
I was delighted by this book for several reasons. Firstly, because it directly addresses the main weakness of our country in the context of the global turbulence that exists and is forthcoming (I have no doubts about that). This weakness is the internally created polarization for political purposes, which has resulted in the formation of something resembling a “community of anger”.
Secondly, the book fills an important gap related to the lack of deeper reflection on the vision of Poland and how it should look. This gap is a consequence of the lack of interest from political elites who prefer to focus on strengthening “Polish arrangements.”
Thirdly, it highlights the need for a new social contract – a reordering of relationships between various groups and entities – with which idea I fully agree.
Fourthly, the authors of the study are people expressing views from different strands – liberal, left-wing, conservative – which, in my opinion, confirms that the whole problem of ‘getting along’ stems solely from the way politics works in our country.
Fifthly, the proposed key lever for change – decentralization – is, in my belief, the right path, both in the context of global challenges and in understanding “how the world works.”
And it is precisely on this last aspect that this post will focus. It will not be directly related to the book; you simply have to read it! You can fully agree, partially agree, or disagree with its theses. But it is worth knowing what it contains because I believe it will serve as a reference point in future discussions “about Poland.”
How our world works, or “Earth as a system”
To begin with, let’s talk about very simple matters, but I think it’s worth going back to the basics sometimes because it allows us to see important things that we usually don’t pay much attention to (at least in my case).
In practice, our planet is a complex system, a set of interconnected components that interact with each other, shaping the conditions for life on Earth. These components include the atmosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere, biosphere, and anthropogenic elements derived from human activities (also known as the technosphere). Throughout billions of years, the role of these anthropogenic elements has been negligible, and only the last 200-250 years have brought about immense change in this regard. Today, anthropogenic elements are beginning to dominate. Just think about the mass of non-degradable plastic produced, which is now over twice the mass of animals. Not to mention concrete. Although it has only been with us for a short time, the flooding of the world with concrete started in earnest about 50-60 years ago, and now the mass of buildings and infrastructure exceeds the biomass of trees and shrubs on the planet*.
All these subsystems that make up the “Earth system” are, in turn, composed of their own subsystems. The hydrosphere includes, among other things, oceans, polar ice, glaciers, rivers, lakes, groundwater, and so on. These divisions can be further multiplied.
Another important aspect relates to the fact that the individual components of the “Earth system” are interconnected and influence each other. For example, changes in the atmosphere can affect climate conditions, and thus life in the biosphere or processes occurring in the hydrosphere. Actions in the technosphere also have a strong impact on the other elements of the system. The Earth system also exhibits numerous feedback loops, both positive and negative, which affect the behavior of the system as a whole. For instance, human-induced climate warming can lead to massive forest fires, thereby exacerbating the process of climate change. The end result is that the Earth system is dynamic and constantly changing.
Stability, efficiency, and diversity.
Since our Earth is a system, it is worth examining the parameters that are important for its functioning. These parameters are stability, efficiency, and diversity. They apply to both natural systems and those created by humans. These three characteristics are interconnected, and their sustainable coexistence is often crucial for the resilience or even survival of a particular system. Stability refers to the system’s ability to maintain its state and functioning in the face of changes and disturbances. Stable systems exhibit self-regulation and the ability to restore equilibrium after perturbations occur.
Efficiency, on the other hand, reflects the system’s ability to minimize energy and resource consumption to achieve the desired outcome. Efficient systems are capable of optimizing processes to achieve results at lower and lower costs (resource consumption).
Diversity, in turn, measures the variety of elements within a system, which can refer to diverse characteristics.
The relationships among these three system characteristics are complex. However, as a general rule:
- Diversity has a positive impact on system stability.
- However, excessive diversity can lead to increased costs and resources needed to maintain the system, which may negatively affect efficiency.
- Conversely, highly efficient systems are more susceptible to disturbances (i.e., unstable) because their functioning may be more optimized for specific conditions and resources at the expense of adaptability to change.
In my opinion, human actions, especially those of the past few decades, have led to a situation in which our Earth system is characterized by:
- An initial imbalance manifested by the subordination of all other subsystems to the technosphere (the sphere of human activity). This primarily manifested as the non-consideration (or partial consideration) of the impacts of human actions on these subsystems.
- In the anthropogenic sphere, excessive emphasis has been placed on efficiency and economic rationality (largely ignoring external effects on other subsystems), becoming the key criterion for decision-making. This has given rise to various effects, both within the sphere of human activity (globalization, offshoring, income inequality, etc.) and beyond (environment).
- Conversely, the excessive emphasis on efficiency has led to a reduction in diversity, affecting various dimensions. This ranges from mass species extinction to a high degree of monopolization/oligopolization in certain markets for goods and services and cultural erosion.
- As a result, we find ourselves at a point of significant disturbance in the balance of the “Earth system,” leading to increasing instability.
Instability means more “unknowns” for humans. At this point, I would like to quote a passage from my text “What to Do to Prevent History from Repeating Itself?” which presented J. Peterson’s model of human functioning on Earth: “When our behavior leads to unwanted results, we enter the domain of the unknown. Along with that, we move towards more primal emotional reactions until, when fear becomes dominant, we resort to the most basic responses: fight or flight.”
How does decentralization relate to this?
As I mentioned above, in recent decades, we have prioritized efficiency at the expense of diversity and system stability. Decreasing diversity applies not only to the biosphere but also to global society as a whole. Just look at the streets of cities in different countries or step into shops. In most of them, the same global brands dominate. Similarly, the media is filled with the same programs and series. On a systemic level, the model to emulate has become liberal democracy.
Accompanying all these trends, largely associated with globalization, are significant effects on local communities that have often been neglected over the years. These effects include:
- Increasing economic dependency: The situation of a local community (e.g., in terms of the job market and consequently the standard of living) is now more dependent on global decisions made by investors hundreds or thousands of kilometers away. This makes them not only dependent on local or national economic conditions but also on the global situation of a corporation.
- Shift in power distribution: Due to the growing need for coordination associated with globalization, global or supranational regulations have a greater impact, limiting the possibilities of self-determination.
- Cultural erosion: The influx of global content leads to the blurring of differences between local cultures and strongly affects local values, traditions, and identity.
- Climate change: Global trends in climate change result in local consequences, such as floods or forest fires. They also strongly impact local agricultural activities, their continuity, and profitability.
- Population migration: The increasing migration accompanying globalization leads to significant economic, social, and cultural tensions in many local communities. This applies to the places from which populations are leaving (especially when the outflow is concentrated among specific groups, such as young women) as well as the places they migrate to (integration challenges).
So, how does decentralization fit into this context? Decentralization offers a potential solution by shifting power and decision-making from centralized structures to regions and local communities. It aims to empower local actors to make decisions that align with their specific needs, conditions, and values. By promoting local autonomy and engagement, decentralization can help restore diversity, strengthen stability, and enhance the resilience of systems. It enables communities to address the challenges they face in a more contextually appropriate and sustainable manner.
Locality is important.
In this situation, one could say that it is simply the natural order of things and that we should just adapt. However, this is not the appropriate approach considering the aspects I described earlier regarding the strong connection between diversity, efficiency, and system stability. From their perspective, regional diversity is a crucial element.
Firstly, locality provides a sense of belonging, which translates into the preservation of diversity in traditions, culture, language, and values.
Secondly, locality supports economic diversity. Strong local economies, based on local businesses and markets, promote diverse needs in terms of skills, and consequently, diverse job opportunities.
Thirdly, developed locality strengthens social structures and democratic processes. It encourages citizen engagement in social, political, and economic life, fostering responsibility, which, in turn, contributes to strengthening democracy, civic participation, and accountability of authorities and institutions.
Fourthly, strong locality can pave the way for sustainable development through better adaptation to changes and optimization of efficiency levels. Mature local communities are better equipped to deal with local problems such as climate change, natural disasters, or economic crises due to a better understanding of local conditions and possibilities.
Fifthly, locality fosters community-building, the consolidation of social ties, mutual aid, and solidarity, leading to stronger, more united, and resilient communities capable of facing various social challenges.
Taking all of this into account, strong locality is an excellent way to soften the impact of the currently generated global variability on individuals. It allows for the restoration of a sense of agency that many people have lost and enables the pursuit of “well-being” based on local standards rather than international visions and standards. All of this contributes to balancing the remaining systemic parameters: efficiency and stability.
Of course, all of this does not mean that we should abruptly reject globalization, international integration, or impose bans here and there. It is about restoring the disrupted balance of the past few decades, firstly to limit the influence of systemic variability on individuals (which will escalate even further in the coming years) and secondly, to contribute to restoring equilibrium.
* The information is taken from the article “What’s Happening with Earth?”