Opening Welcome and Remarks

By Caron, David D. | Proceedings of the Annual Meeting-American Society of International Law, Annual 2012 | Go to article overview

Opening Welcome and Remarks


Caron, David D., Proceedings of the Annual Meeting-American Society of International Law


CONFRONTING COMPLEXITY, VALUING ELEGANCE

Our theme this year is "confronting complexity," and it is the meaning of that theme that I would like to explore with you this morning. One interpretation of what our Program Co-Chairs thought in selecting the theme of confronting complexity is that the world is different than it was, that it is more complex, and that this complexity requires that we as scholars and policy advisors approach the world's challenges in a different manner as well.

A quick perusal of the titles to the panels this year would suggest the world is indeed full of complexity. But how do we know that which we encounter is in fact a complexity? And even more, if we decide that we are in fact confronted with a complexity, what then?

Thus, I define my happy task over the next few minutes as first, exploring with you what it means for something to be a complexity, and second, suggesting how we as scholars and advisors should pursue something that does not come naturally to lawyers, namely that we should pursue elegance in the face of complexity.

DEFINITIONS

We have a sense of the word "complexity." The climate and the weather that drives a wind are complex. The quality of life running through a tree is complex. And perhaps even the supple movement of a tree in the wind is complex. We have a sense of what complexity is, but can we tease out what that sense is?

Being international lawyers, we might--following Article 31 of the Vienna Convention-inquire into the ordinary meaning of the word. But as in most arbitrations, we would find that the ordinary definition is not particularly helpful:

Complexity (n):

1. the state or quality of being intricate or complex;

2. something intricate or complex; complication

I thought everyone had the same second-grade teacher who insisted that you not use the word being defined to define the word. So I have given thought to this word "complexity," and let me offer five propositions about it.

1. Complexity Is Not Too Hot, Not Too Cold.

Since we have a sense, and the ordinary meaning is not particularly helpful, perhaps we can rule out that which is not a complexity.

First, for example, a rock is not a complexity. Nor are several rocks a complexity. So the sheer number is not the characteristic of complexity. What if the several rocks were to fall several feet at once? That is perhaps more complex, but it is not a complexity either.

Think of a painting attempting to depict chaos. Assuming that such a thing as chaos is possible, I think our sense is that chaos is not a complexity either. Hence the title to my first proposition: the rocks are too cold, and chaos is too hot.

The reason I think that neither the rocks nor chaos present a complexity is that complexity implies non-obvious relationships between elements of that which we confront. Remember chaos. True chaos implies that its motion is beyond human understanding--it is beyond reason, it is an image of madness. There is no relationship. Similarly, many rocks do not make up a complexity because they are not tied to one another and there is no relationship, unless you wish to count the very small gravitational pull each places on one another.

Indeed, if the ordinary meaning fails us, the specialized meaning does not:

   Complexity (n):

      In science, the field of study devoted to the process of
      self-organization. The basic concept of complexity is that all
      things tend to organize themselves into patterns, e.g., ant
      colonies, immune systems, and human cultures; further, they go
      through cycles of growth, mass extinction, regeneration, and
      evolution. Complexity looks for the mathematical equations that
      describe the middle ground between equilibrium (see statics) and
      chaos (see chaos theory), such as the interplay between supply
      and demand in an economy or the relationship among living
      organisms in an ecosystem. … 

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