Complexity and Power

July 7, 2021

Photograph: Kyle Grillot / Getty Images

Complexity is the pretext for the construction of administrative infrastructures. It is manifest in high levels of heterogeneity in the present and intensified in future contingents. Unmanaged complexity evokes uncertainty in the individual and society. In heightened states, uncertainty turns to existential dread. It is in this moment when the agency of the fearful is most vulnerable to those who offer amelioration from the incomprehensible promising security, safety, familiarity. If accepted, the construction and expansion of administrative infrastructures are remitted.

Singapore’s independence emerged in a state of crisis with immediate challenges posed by slums and racial tensions agitated by postcolonial anxiety. Overwhelmed, the state delivered on its promise to resolve the uncertainty that emerged from its complex environment through radical simplification. 

Uncertainty continues to be a persistent attribute of Singapore’s reality. Singapore is small and highly tethered to the global economy and external circumstances beyond its control. It is highly reactive in its approach to governance and policy-making, privileging economic benefit as its overriding aim. This is a coping mechanism to navigate uncertainty because economic progress is standardised, quantifiable and therefore observable. The state is in a perpetual process of consolidation insofar as complexity remains an attendant reality.

The radically positivist disposition of the state and its people does not originate in ideology or culture. It is at once technological and spiritual, emerging from the mechanics of a complex system that is apprehended by fearful human beings.