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The perceptions expressed in draft form in this document arose as a result of the preparation of the first edition of the Yearbook of World Problems and Human Potential (1976). That reference book is the first product of an ongoing process initiated in Brussels in 1972 by the Union of International Associations and Mankind 2000 [subsequently entitled Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential, 4th ed. 1994-95].
The collection and processing of a considerable variety of information on every kind of world problem, and on the attempts at their solution, forced the editors to look at the nature of such problems in general and the psycho-social context within which solutions were advocated or attempted. Some reflections on these matters appear in the introduction to some sections of the Yearbook or in its Appendixes. It seemed useful however to try to clarify these perceptions to facilitate further discussion.
The point of this document is therefore to draw attention to a series of constraints or difficulties which seem to prevent mankind from responding successfully to the current crisis condition of the world. It is not the intention to focus on conventional, well-publicized difficulties or inequalities which many assume to be at the origin of the current unsatisfactory situation. Arguments of this type have been put forward on many occasions and from many points of view. Many are summarized in the Yearbook which describes some 2600 recognized world problems.
This document is concerned with highlighting those difficulties which prevent the successful achievement of the objectives of any remedial programme of social significance at this time. It is particularly concerned with those cases where there is consensus concerning the desirability of remedial action, specially where some coherent plan of action has been formulated, and where the usual problems of funding and other programme resources have been eliminated.
This document is also concerned with highlighting those difficulties which prevent the successful implementation of programmes designed to facilitate human development and for the full realization of human potential not as remedial action, but in an attempt to go beyond what has already been achieved.
Just as it is not the intention to focus on well-publicized difficulties, the focus is also restricted to the kinds of difficulty experienced even when the individuals and organizations concerned perceive themselves to be sincerely working in the interests of mankind as a whole, whether within their community or through transnational bodies. It is not concerned with difficulties deriving from corruption, deliberate misuse of structures, procedures and processes, or actions of other than benevolent intent, however limited the domain of application.
The question could be raised as to whether there is any benefit in identifying such difficulties, given that we all know that there are obstacles to significant change. Also, many of these difficulties have been described at great length in more suitable contexts. In answer, however, there does seem to be a case for attempting to portray within one framework the variety of interacting difficulties as they stand at the moment. There Is usually a tendency to bury such recognition in the postmortem on some programme which has failed - and, to avoid offence, such analysis is usually made informally or in documents whose circulation is highly restricted. By treating these difficulties as independent of any particular named context, they can be considered with less emotion and defensiveness. Hopefully by expressing them in this way, it will be possible to provoke a creative response which will show a way past the limits as defined.
Many would also claim that most of these problems would be eliminated if humanity organized itself within one ideological framework, under one governmental system, with one system of ethics or values, with one religion, within one legal framework, etc. Whilst any or all of these may emerge as an attempt to respond to the immediate crises, it is unclear just how long humanity would be satisfied with such frameworks. History would seem to indicate that the period of satisfaction becomes increasingly shorter. It is brought to an end by the re-emergence of one or more of the limits or constraints on social interaction which are noted in this document. These limits would seem to function to protect the psycho-social diversity of humanity - which may be of most importance for its long-term survival. At the same time, we are faced with the paradoxical situation that they also appear to prevent the degree of social interaction and organization which seems to be essential for any adequate response to the current crises.
The full realization of human potential is associated in some way with the development of diversity restrained or contained by some unifying framework. Debate and social experiment will continue to focus on the meaning to be attached to "diversity" and "unifying framework and the forms to which they can usefully give rise under different conditions.
Few of the perceptions in this document are original. Some have been recorded many times. It may be useful to include references in a later version.
In discussion about the psycho-social system within which we are immersed and of which we form a part, we define features of that system such as as concepts, organizations, roles, etc. We are aware that these interact in a variety of ways. There is consensus that the extent of this interaction is very great, because society is so complex. It is therefore widely agreed that it is impossible to give adequate consideration to all interactions. This is the basis for the current division of labour in which special concern is given by some people or groups to some features of society - but few are able to give consideration to much beyond their own central concern. We cannot allow ourselves to be sensitive to too many interactions or else we would be recognizing a situation of such complexity that we would be unable to determine where or how to act.
It becomes increasingly easy to act as we limit the number of interactions to which we are sensitive and which we feel obliged to define as relevant. To the extent that we can manage to define interactions as irrelevant, we therefore increase our immediate freedom of action.
Clearly, however, those interactions which we define as irrelevant and which we successfully avoid taking into consideration, will eventually have some impact on the actions which we undertake. Very strong interactions which are ignored may prevent our project or programme from even getting through its first phase, thus necessitating a general re-assessment during which those factors would presumably be taken into account. Weaker interactions which are ignored may simply prevent the project or programme from being evaluated as a success once terminated. The evaluation may not even clearly identify them and the responsible organizations may justify the continued use of the same project formula by deliberately or unconsciously interpreting the project evaluations in order to highlight whatever positive results they can claim to have achieved without fear of credible contradiction.
Interactions of an even weaker nature may never be detected. They may simply have the effect of completely eroding the positive achievements of a programme over periods of time corresponding to the degree of weakness of the interaction. Clearly such interactions will not be noted if they are only evident 5, 10 or 50 years after the completion of the original programme - namely beyond the time horizon of any political group bent on re-election.
Interactions are not all negative in consequence by any means. Clearly ignoring positive interactions may prevent them from being used to ensure the success of the programme - whether In the short-term or in the long-term.
Although we have a very clear theoretical and operational understanding of the way single organizations, groups or institutions function, this understanding does not extend to include the way groups of organizations function together as a network. Even when a person within an organization interacts daily with client organizations, competitor organizations, pressure groups, etc., the perspective is still very much a case of "we" and "they"
This therefore means that the ability of a particular group or institution to function skillfully within a network of other bodies is essentially limited to a strategy of self-advantage. This may however be partially compensated by some understanding of the needs or responsibilities of the larger group of bodies to which it belongs (e.g. industrial sector, charitable bodies, or academic societies. etc.), but again this is largely seen in terms of self-advantage.
Cooperation between organizations, if it occurs, is most developed between two organizations, where each is directly aware of its own advantage. Such cooperation is decreasingly successful as the number of organizations involved in the network increases. This is matched by a rapid decrease in the sophistication of interorganizational mechanisms used as well as a reduction in expectation of the benefits of such cooperation. So, for example, a group of 20 or more bodies might be quite satisfied to have an occasional meeting together at which praise would be given to the notion of cooperation between them and to the exchange of ideas. Any activities for the group proposed within such a contexts would tend to be of symbolic or token significance only and would have to be defined such as not to constitute any form of threat to the sensibilities of any of the group.
These difficulties are increased where the organizations involved are of a different nature, have a different structure, or use different modes of action (e.g. governmental/ nongovernmental, profit/nonprofit, research/action programme, etc.). As the diversity increases, so does the tendency of each subgroup to perceive the activity of others as being of marginal relevance or importance.
Clearly with such constraints, it is difficult to achieve any concerted interorganizational strategy to make best use of the resources of the network in question in order to achieve significant change. In fact, even if the organizations are of an extremely activist nature, the conservatism and paralysis of the network as a network - increases as the number of organizations involved increases.
It Is for this reason that any attempt to "mobilize" a network of organizations behind some particular issue or banner succeeds to the extent that large numbers of organizations are prepared to express agreement on fundamental issues (e.g. environment, human rights, etc.). It fails to the extent that such expressions, whilst sincere, are usually of a token nature and do not constitute an operational mobilization of any significance. The simplistic attempts by activist organizations to achieve such mobilization appeal to only a limited number of bodies. The others do not wish to be absorbed into activities which deny the significance of their own special approach or concern.
The need to interrelate the approaches of different disciplines, in
order to understand a social problem situation and to be able to recommend
appropriate remedial programmes, is now increasingly recognized. The "inter-disciplinary"
approach is now in fashion and an essential element in many requests for
programme funds. However, on closer examination, it is possible to discover
that this requirement, far from constituting any form of progress, is only
the symptom of the pathological state of knowledge at this time. The specialization
without limit of scientific disciplines has resulted in an increasing fragmentation
of the epistemological horizon. Specialists cannot be asked to testify
with regard to the unification of the sciences insofar as these specialists
by their vocation and training are ignorant of, or deny this very unity.
Even those who profess to stand for the unification of the sciences cannot
be trusted, for each one of them would be satisfied in defining their familiar
point of view, and more or less justifying their own individual presuppositions.
Teaching and research institutions reinforce the above separation through administrative procedures which tend to eliminate communications with Institutions associated with other disciplines. The division of intellectual space into smaller and 'Smaller compartments and the multiplication of institutions which assume the management of each such territory results in the formation of a feudal system which governs the majority of scientific teaching and research enterprises.
When an "interdisciplinary" approach is used it most often consists in bringing together (for a meeting or project) specialists from different disciplines, in the simplistic belief that such an assembly would suffice to bring about a common ground and a common language between individuals who have nothing else in common. The reports or results of such activities neither achieve nor attempt to achieve any synthesis other than the purely spatial juxtaposition of viewpoints and constraints.
Few of the societal problems at this time can adequately be handled within any one discipline. Such problems result from the interaction of social, economic, technological, political religious, psychological, biological and other factors. Understanding requires an integration of the relevant disciplinary perspectives. Such integration however must be much more than the synthesis of results obtained by independently conducted unidisciplinary studies. The synthesis, to be useful, must come during not after the performance of the research.
Where such interdisciplinary synthesis does take place, however, it is most successful between two closely related disciplines. Such integration is decreasingly successful as the number of disciplines involved increases. This is matched by a rapid decrease in the sophistication of the synthesis and a reduction in expectation of its benefits by those involved.
The difficulties are increased when the disciplines are of a different nature, have fundamentally different methodologies, or focus on very different subject matter. As the variety of disciplinary perspective increases, so does the tendency of each subgroup to perceive the activity of others as being of marginal relevance or Importance.
Clearly with such constraints it is difficult to achieve any concerted interdisciplinary activity to make best use of the intellectual resources available in order to guide significant change.
Clearly the subtle and dramatic distinctions between the viewpoints of different ideological camps, and the political and governmental positions to which they give rise, impose severe limitations on the viability or permanence of any compromise.
In most domains of social activity large quantities of information are
generated, stored, transferred, manipulated, retrieved, etc. To do this
increasing use is made of sophisticated information systems which are being
progressively transferred to computers. Once an information system has
been developed, and the necessary administrative procedures and computer
programmes have been adopted, modifications are costly and difficult to
Since most information systems are designed to support and facilitate the activities of particular institutions by which they are funded, the constraints on inter-organizational collaboration (see ) and the inertia associated with such systems combine to prevent any interaction between information
systems - even when this is acknowledged by all parties as being beneficial.
The consequence is that even when essential information is available it cannot be brought together easily, if at all, in order to guide decisions with regard to effective action. Also, the more different the information systems or the organizations responsible for them, the more difficult it becomes to achieve any useful degree of integration between such systems. This is particularly the case when such systems, although containing related data, have such different purposes as: research, education, programme administration policy formulation, etc.
Classification systems are widely used by disciplines and administrations,
and within information systems of every kind. They are essential as a means
of filtering and ordering the large amounts of information which must be
handled within every social domain.
Most classification systems are designed and developed by a limited group of organizations whose priorities are necessarily reflected in the actual structure of their chosen system. The intellectual and financial investment in such systems, in the associated information systems (see . . ) and the constraints on inter-organizational collaboration (see .... ) combine to prevent any significant interaction between classification systems - even when this is acknowledged by all parties as being beneficial.
The consequence is that even when essential information is available, it cannot be converted from one classification system to another in order to interrelate corresponding data - even when the relationships between the information systems creates no obstacle. Comparing relevant data emerging through incompatible classification systems then becomes time-consuming and costly, if not impossible.
Even when organizations and Institutions have some degree of inter-communication
or common policy, their programmes in some particular geographical, topic
or problem area may nevertheless be only nominally integrated if at all.
This may lead to situations in which bodies which are supposedly collaborating
In fact have programmes which compete for resources, conflict with one
another, or even nullify each others positive achievements.
Such programme conflict, whatever its extent, may even be recognized and deplored by the responsible organizations. However, because of the cumbersomeness of the procedural and administrative apparatus through which they are obliged to work, it may be almost impossible to alleviate the situation. (Perhaps the most classical example is the situation in which a single road is dug up and repaired five times in succession by the local road authority, electricity authority, gas authority, water authority and telecommunications authority - because it Is easier to use resources in this way than to coordinate schedules.)
Clearly this situation imposes limits on the range of programmes which can be undertaken in a given area without the emergence of some form of conflict and wastage of resources.
There are many cases in which organizations of every kind have similar
administrative problems and facilities (e.g. office space, office
equipment, mailings, billing, secretarial and specialist staff, etc.).
In such cases, whether or not they have similar concerns and there is any
possibility or justification for actual programme collaboration, it would
be possible for such organizations to save resources and increase their
efficiency and effectiveness . This could be done by sharing those administrative
facilities they have in common in order to reduce their general office
overheads. A typical example Is for two bodies to share a photocopier,
permitting them to eliminate one machine (if they each have one) or to
justify the rental of a larger and more efficient one at greater cost.
The same argument can be applied to mailing and invoicing systems, accountancy staff, telephone and telex equipment, etc. And clearly the more organizations that can combine together, the greater the possibility of developing a resource saving formula which can lead to greater effectiveness.
Where different organizations with overlapping memberships hold separate meetings to which the same individuals are obliged to travel, there is a strong case for holding such meetings at the same place - if only to allow the individuals to save travel expenses. But clearly this approach also saves meeting overhead costs, allows for more cross-fertilization and facilitates the emergence of any joint meeting sessions or projects.
Resource sharing of this kind is relatively rare, even though in its absence many groups cannot function or have to reduce the level of their activity and hence their effectiveness. It is very difficult for organizations to distinguish their separate programme concerns from their common administrative problems leading, in the extreme, to cases where an organization refuses to share an accountant or a photocopier, for example, because it might be interpreted as approval or support for the other's programme or condoning the other's interference in its own programmes.
Clearly with such constraints much remedial programme action is severely handicapped, if not impossible; and this is self-righteously accepted as being due to lack of adequate resources.
For many domains of activity special attention must be given to such
disparate concerns as: research to advance knowledge, education to disseminate
that knowledge to students, public information to reformulate that knowledge
for a wider public, programme administration to use that knowledge in the
course of programme activity, policy formulation to use that knowledge
to reformulate programme strategy, etc.
These different concerns may be the responsibility of different departments within one institutional framework, or else they may be the prime activity of several distinct and independent organizations. In either case, the different approaches and emphases - the different modes of activity - make interaction between such activities difficult to maintain and easy to treat as of low priority. This is so despite the fact that inadequacy In any of such special concerns has more or less delayed negative effects on the others. If, for example, a research advance takes several years to enter the educational system, it will take longer to be taken into account in policy formulation and programme management. Equally, if so new difficulty emerges in the course of an action programme, it may take years before it is recognized as a valid topic of research.
Clearly such lack of integration, and the consequent lags introduced, constitute a severe handicap in any attempt to respond to rapidly evolving crises.
Different modes of communication appeal to different people due to a
mix of factors such as: educational background, tradition, cultural context,
personal preferences, experience, etc. A particular Individual, or class
of individuals (e.g. sociologists, artists, etc.) will therefore tend to
have a preference for material structured according to one or more such
fairly distinct modes as: written textual presentation, formal verbal presentation
(at a lecture), informal verbal presentation (face-to-face dialogue) ,
dramatic representation (theatre, cinema, etc.), concrete experience (in
physical contact with the situation), audio- visual representation, use
of abstract structured presentations (matrices, graphs, models, etc.),
mathematical equations, and so on.
If, therefore, a person prefers to receive information through a formal lecture or debate It may then be very difficult to communicate with that person through written material in the form of a report - however well it is structured and illustrated. The opposite will also be true.
It is very costly and time consuming to "translate" the same information content for presentation in terms of each of these different perceptual modes, particularly since each mode lends itself to certain emphases which are lost in the others as Is the case between any language.
Clearly it then becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to communicate between very different groups of people without loss of impact, distortion or complete loss of significant content.
People tend to move or drift through the social system into those groups
and organizations which are engaged in the change processes most congenial
to them. As individuals develop they may reach stages when a given change
process and its organizational support seems unfruitful or unsuited to
their desire for self- expression. The individual needs fresh fields to
conquer, a new life-style or a new mode of work. The development of the
individual implies life-style mobility and organizational and social change.
Social change and development requires development of the individual to
adapt to new challenges.
The difficulty is that society currently sanctions movement within organizational and career systems but not between them. The individual is therefore forced into one particular mode of self-expression for his whole working life unless he wishes to run the risk of being labelled a grass-hopper or dilettante, or of being viewed as an ignorant outsider (a "foreigner") in the systems into which he attempts to move.
Within one system an individual can of course develop other modes of self-expression but only as secondary modes within the constant and overriding primary mode (e.g. as an executive in the business system, an individual can move from a high technology corporation to a commercial art corporation; the switch from science to art is contained within the unchanging management framework.).
The problem is therefore whether it is possible to provide an organizational setting in which an individual can develop secondary modes of expression and allow any of them to become primary for any desired length of time.
The problem is complicated by the very radical nature of the differences between approaches to change as well as between the corresponding modes of expression of the individual engaged in them. There does not appear to be any systematic listing of change strategies, but the following list is an indication of the variety.
Intellectual, affective and physical skills are very unequally distributed
within any society. Aside from constituting a problem in its own right
(and as such not dealt with here), such unequal distribution introduces
major obstacles to interaction within society. These may of course be aggravated
by associated problems of class, culture, race, etc. but they may also
be independent of them as well as of factors such as: educational background,
experience, tradition, etc. Affective handicaps, for example, are common
in those with intellectual skills whatever their background.
In such a situation it is difficult to find a suitable content and a suitable mode of expression which will be considered meaningful by all those who need to be Involved in a coherent programme to remedy any problem situation. Excessive appeals to those with, or without, particular skills may merely serve to aggravate a crisis by ignoring either the contribution or the problem constituted by those with, or without, those skills .
Humanity dwells upon this planet as one species amongst several million
plant and animal species upon many of which it is directly, or indirectly,
dependent. The relationship is not one-sided, for many of these species
are increasingly dependent, whether directly or indirectly, on humanity's
activities and protection.
In an increasingly urbanized environment, however, a decreasing proportion of the voting population has much direct conscious contact with more than a few species. The vast majority of plant and animal species, and the complex ecosystems In which they are embedded, have little more than curiosity value for most people.
It is probable that the full realization of human potential cannot be achieved by progressively limiting the amount of contact between human and other species if only that the degree of such contact is one factor in any measure of the quality of human life. But the ability to sustain such contact is also an indicator of the ability of humanity to function as gardener or steward of the planet upon which it depends for its continued survival. Paradoxically, it is also the maturity associated with the ability to perceive the value of the total range of species which will also determine humanity's ability to respond adequately to extra- terrestrial species, whether intelligent or not.
To the extent that each science is a well-formed language, each language
thus created encloses the associated knowledge in an axiomatic space isolated
from that of similar languages. Knowledge expressed through one language
cannot be "translated" Into that of another language by any theoretically
acceptable means. In particular any such attempt cannot be legitimated
from within the language of origin or from within the receiving language.
(This is equivalent to the problem of translation between natural language
- for which there is no theoretical basis) . As with natural language translation,
all that is possible is the establishment of some degree of analogy or
isomorphism between statements in two languages. Clearly any such parallels
are increasingly difficult to establish as the difference between the structure
of the disciplinary languages increases.
Clearly the constraints that this imposes upon interdisciplinary discourse and the consequent inability to make full and widespread use of existing knowledge are a considerable handicap to the dissemination and application of that knowledge to remedy problem situations. The situation is not help by the development of specialized jargons incomprehensible outside a limited circle of initiates.
The multiplicity of languages is a major dividing factor in world society,
reinforcing geographical, socio- economic, political, ideological, professional
and religious separatism. It prevents or hinders communication and the
spread of education, and thus aggravates misunderstanding and mutual suspicion.
Clearly it may take many years, if ever, before a particular document is translated into any but the major world languages. This limits the opportunity of those who are not conversant with the major languages and creates isolated cultural pockets. The very quantity of material published in the major languages, and the natural disinclination to read in other than one's own language, may also establish significant barriers to transfer of knowledge even between major languages.
The problem is not simply one of translation, however, which may be relatively easy between languages of the same group (e.g. indo-european languages) or between industrialized countries . Where the translation is between languages with very different conceptual frameworks (e.g. English and Chinese) or into a language whose concept structure is relatively underdeveloped (or highly developed) in some domain, considerable difficulties may arise. Equivalent terms, tenses or distinctions may be lacking or else be present in an embarrassing abundance creating a problem of choice.
Points of significance may emerge as insignificant or naive in the translated context or take on excessive significance which make them unacceptable. Points clearly made may emerge as extremely ambiguous or poorly thought out whereas those made ambiguously may emerge as categoric. Metaphors and examples may render the translation unacceptable (because of their religious or moral connotations).
It is widely assumed that people or organizations acting on problems are attempting to improve the system (as a whole). But in the case of politicians, academics, and organizations in general, it is not always the substantive problem which is important. This is in many cases merely a symbol for the territory constituted by the issue.
"Progress" and the acquisition by an individual or group of adequate "identity" may be basically incompatible. "Identity" is achieved in terms of certain organizational or conceptual structures or invariants which become progressively more widely recognized as one's identity is accepted as a reference point in society. But each person reaches a stage at which he feels he has found and is satisfied with his identity and associates it closely with a unique set of invariants defined as his territory.
Progress and social change are essentially the change in the constellation of organizational and conceptual patterns which govern behavior. Progress must therefore threaten those identified with any existing set of invariants. Their loss of identity may not be compensated by the opportunities for new identity in the new situation. The society may be stripped of identification opportunities causing the culture to decay or decrease in richness.
Despite of much publicity, the number and complexity of the interrelationships
between societal problems, whether at the world or community level, is
still only adequately conceived by specialists. It is this large number
of interrelationships which, whether ascertained or not, greatly restricts
the range of action open to the policy maker. And it is this situation
which has brought about the tendency for the solution of one problem to
create a number of new ones, often in fields only distantly related at
first sight to the original matter.
In this situation, even specialists have limited ability or inclination to determine just where other problems may emerge as a result of the implementation of their recommendation. Few specialists would refuse to accept that their own particular discipline had a key role to play in the response to any complex societal problem.
It is legitimate to query whether the question as to which are the 5 or 10 most important world problems is as ecologically inappropriate as asking which are the 5 or 10 most Important plants or animals in a complex food web interrelating hundreds of species. The relationships between problems may even be usefully conceived as analogous to the webs and trophic levels within which animals are embedded.
Because this situation Is not fully understood, there is a general disposition to envisage and treat the symptoms of trouble, particularly the more obvious ones, rather than to seek out and deal with root causes . Each specialist or decision-maker approaches the inter-problem complex from the point most familiar and relevant to him in the simplistic belief that such an approach will enable him to encompass all the problems relevant to the crisis which he faces.
Clearly in such circumstances there is a strong possibility that the complexity of the inter-problem network with which humanity is faced is greater than that which its organizational and intellectual resources are capable of comprehending and containing. Over-ready acceptance of this is used to justify simplistic crisis management policies and priorities.
The debate on social policy at the local, national or world level is
full of appeals to concepts such as equality, justice, peace and liberty.
These are abstract concepts of great ambiguity and imprecision. In part,
their power and usefulness is due to this, since each generation is then
obliged to redefine the content to be associated with such terms.
The vagueness attached to the notion of values in the formulation of social policy has led to the proposal of a multiplicity of definitions and key values. Despite the interest in the matter and the vigour of the ongoing debate, no means has been discovered of interrelating the variety of currently proposed values in a manner which has any universal appeal or significance.
Indeed there is widespread recognition that the rate of value change is increasing to a point at which it is no longer possible to predict with any accuracy the major value shifts which now occur within the time period of one generation.
Clearly under such circumstances, when there are conflicting appeals to different values and ethical systems, it is extremely difficult to formulate any stable value-based social policy.
At the basis of the personality of every person or group there is a set of pre-rational temperamental biases which are reflected in the individual or group aesthetical or theoretical products and In the value preferences. These may be positioned somewhere along axes of bias such as the following:
Despite of increasingly widespread recognition of common or overlapping
values and concerns underlying the majority of religions, the ability of
organized religions to find some basis for formal interaction amongst themselves
remains low. This is not only the case between religions having the same
historical origin, but even more so between religions of different historical
Clearly to the extent that organized religions continue to be considered the guardians of social values, the difficulties they and their converts have in acknowledging the significance of each other's values are an indicator of a fundamental constraint upon the full realization of human potential.
In an increasingly urbanized and mechanized society people are forced
into positions of greater physical proximity and face-to-face contact with
one another. In many cases there Is an increasing possibility that they
will either incur unwelcome obligations as a result of such contact or
be exploited. Consequently people feel it necessary for their own psycho-social
well-being to limit severely the confidence they place In others in such
daily encounters to the point of avoiding involvement in assisting at the
scene of accidents or in other personal crises to which they are exposed.
Clearly this increasing tendency, whilst a protection for the individual, constitutes a constraint upon the full development of human potential in modern society.
Clearly the difficulties encountered In organizing social and personal relationships to take into account and balance the qualities and attributes of both sexes constitute a fundamental barrier to the full realization of human potential. The complications resulting from persistence in inadequate attempts to achieve this balance, or to compensate for the failure to achieve It, or to create the impression that it has been achieved, only serve to aggravate the situation.
Clearly the progressive erosion in the ability to create and maintain a family environment rich in psycho-social meaning constitutes a significant deprivation both for the growing child and for the maturing adult. This is the case whether it is a question of the traditional nuclear family, an extended family circle or any communal living substitute. This impoverishment of the psycho-social environment, and its significance for the psycho-social integration of the individual, constitutes a fundamental constraint upon the full realization of human potential.
Due to the fragmentation of society and the alienation of significant proportions of the younger generation from the values, social structures and modes of activity of the elder generations, the difficulties arising from the generation gap are increasing. It Is no longer certain that the younger generation can be significantly involved in programmes of importance to the older generation. It is no longer certain that the younger generation will be particularly interested in the plight of the very old. Equally, however, it is certain that the older generations will refuse to relinquish their traditional hold on the direction and manner of evolution of society. This built-in conflict situation clearly constitutes a significant constraint upon the full realization of human potential in society.
In most psycho-social domains there is an acknowledged lack of any overarching structure which could provide a framework to interlink the preoccupations within that domain. Examples include: the absence of any world governmental structure of significant power, the absence of any value or ethical system of universal significance, the absence of any adequate system of world law, the absence of any world religion, the absence of any worldwide comprehensive information system, the absence of any worldwide subject classification system, the absence of any philosophy or ideology of universal appeal, the absence of any system unifying the sciences, etc. Whilst any such structure might well have a negative or constraining influence on activities of the domain in question, the importance of its integrating effect must be recognized, whether or not it is implemented by force or without the full understanding of those whose dissenting viewpoints are suppressed or condemned. The absence of such structures also hinders any recognition of the interrelationships within the domain in question.
Paradoxically it appears that, just as in natural ecosystems, it is
only where such over-arching structures are present that a wide variety
of subordinate units can be tolerated, for otherwise such units "compete"
amongst themselves for resources, thus maintaining the variety of the system
at a relatively low level. (The presence of such structures also makes
It possible to conceive of the world as "functionally round" rather than
in terms of completely unrelated "functional continents".)
Clearly despite the repressive threat that they constitute, the absence of such structures constitute a constraint upon the full realization of human potential.
In every social domain there is a predilection for simplistic hierarchical
organization of the interrelationships between concepts, between organizational
units, between problems and wherever else there is a need for classification.
And yet society is constantly exposed to evidence that these hierarchies
do not contain the complexity with which they have to deal, nor do they
facilitate the emergence of styles of organization more complex than the
Category systems of a hierarchical nature tend to become concretized in information retrieval systems and the hierarchical structure of organizations and their programmes. They tend to govern the way meetings or curricula are organized. In every such case they emphasize the vertical part/whole relationship and preclude any focus on part/part relationships, or relationships of one part to several distinct wholes . The ability to focus on interrelationships is therefore severely limited at a time when it is precisely such a focus which is required to grasp the social complexity to which we are exposed. At the same time it is the hierarchical approach which is easiest to formulate, implement and communicate and therefore in time of crisis, it is the approach most likely to be used.
(An interesting parallel is the ease with which individuals are organized within regiments within the traditional army hierarchy and the handicaps under which they operate in attempting to handle guerilla networks.)
In a complex psycho-social environment In which those involved must
simplify their perception of their surroundings in order to be able to
act and survive, additional dynamics occur. Individuals, groups and institutions
use that part of the environment upon which they have some conceptual or
operational hold as a "territorial" base from which to interact with others.
There therefore emerges a form of territorial behaviour in which each attempts
to build up the significance and size of his own territory at the expense
of others. This occurs between organizations, between disciplines or schools
of thought, between languages, between cultures, between ideologies, between
religions, between values, etc; in fact within all the domains denoted
by the "inter" limits identified earlier.
Having acquired a hold on a part of any domain, the individual or group in effect transforms it into a fortress which has to be defended against enemies from without and against rivals from within. Survival demands an expertise in strategy and tactics which may well involve obstructing the development of the portion of the domain over which control has been achieved.
There is a marked parallelism between the well-known behavioural dynamics evident in the history of the relations amongst groups established on geographical territories (from tribes to nation-states) and the seldom- acknowledged dynamics of the relations amongst individuals and groups which have established the 'functional territories' noted above. Both the geographical and functional territories offer opportunities for equivalent structures and processes, with the latter providing an opportunity for a psycho-culturally satisfactory substitute for geographical area dynamics in a world with limited space. It is evident however that this opportunity is used wherever possible to repeat the unfortunate historical experiences associated with geopolitical territory. Thus parallels to the well-known systems of empire-building, colonialism, feudalism, slavery, cold-war, isolationism, fascism may currently be found amongst organizations, amongst disciplines and schools of thought, amongst cultures, amongst religions, amongst value systems, amongst languages, etc.
clearly when every new field of opportunity provokes and encourages a repetition of the same social learning cycle, merely displacing the associated oppression to a new domain, this constitutes a significant constraint upon the full realization of human potential.
There is a marked inability for individuals, groups or institutions
to cooperate. This is the case whether their interests and concerns are
the same or different. When the same, they compete for the same resources
and find themselves obliged to safeguard and promote their own advantage
by denigrating the merits of others and emphasizing their weaknesses. When
different, they may still compete for the same resources and find themselves
obliged to safeguard and promote their own advantage by denigrating the
concerns of others and emphasizing their irrelevance. In both cases hostility
may well be overt.
Clearly this constraint prevents the full realization of human potential.
Individuals, groups and institutions which have built up a fund of knowledge,
experience and understanding for themselves tend to be primarily concerned
with the elaboration, implementation, and wider recognition of their own
perspectives - whatever the merits of other perspectives . The experiences
which they have had to endure to bring them to their position of expertise,
understanding and eminence frequently leave them battle-scarred, idiosyncratic
and unable to work with others. They may well be unconscious of their own
defects and their negative effects in any situation.
Such individuals and groups usually acquire their knowledge and understanding in contexts upon which they are not free to comment, because of the classified or sensitive nature of the information. Consequently a situation develops in which those who know are severely limited in their ability to pass on or disseminate their knowledge, whilst those who are able to do so are usually misinformed but cannot be contradicted.
Clearly these constraints upon the use of expertise impose restrictions upon the full realization of human potential.
It is frequently appreciated that everything is interconnected and that
every issue has to be examined in terms of its potential relationship to
other issues. But in debate on any matter, there is seldom consensus on
how issues should be distinguished and interrelated. One response is to
consider issues in isolation and assume there are no relevant interconnections.
Where there is consensus on the importance of interconnections, the only
others response is to attempt to consider everything in every forum of
debate. This is then used as an excuse for simplifying the issues and picking
out those which are "most important" .
Consequently whatever the macro-issue under discussion, debating points on any related topics are considered relevant. However, since the relative importance accorded to such points is based on changing political considerations rather than substantive ones, such debates are unable to converge on any implementable programme of significance which takes account of the manner in which the problems are interlinked. Such debates then become arenas in which the desire to resolve the Issues is merely reaffirmed and the participants blame each other or third parties for not coming to grips with a situation they are unable to focus on.
Increasingly people, particularly those in positions of responsibility,
find that they have little time: to read and absorb information relevant
to their tasks, to learn new skills relevant to their tasks, to travel
to environments where they could absorb alternative perspectives on their
concerns, or to relax and digest what they have acquired.
Compounding the problems of shortage of time are those of distance. The physical separation of locations from which useful experience may be obtained, and the cost of transport, are such as to hinder the widespread dissemination of knowledge and understanding.
By the time a person has determined what information he really needs, found the appropriate document, requested it from some distant location, obtained it, absorbed the relevant information, and formulated some plan of action, that information may well no longer be relevant to the problem as It has subsequently evolved. The time of access to information (particularly for non-elites) now tends to be a significant proportion of (if not greater than) the life-cycle of the crisis for which it is required.
These constraints lead to a simplification of the messages which are considered to be transferable through society. As a consequence society is divided up into pockets within which more complex and subtle messages can be successfully and usefully communicated - the more subtle the message, the smaller the pocket.
In an increasingly urbanized and mechanized society, people are forced to depend to a greater extent upon a wide variety of organized relationships. These relationships which define some of the individual's different roles in society include: citizen/local government, citizen/state government. citizen/law enforcement agency, worker/trade union, consumer/advertiser, consumer / manufacturer, student/education system, reader/newspaper, employee/corporation, viewer/television, etc. These relationships become progressively more organized and out of the control of the Individual bound into them.
The perceived "distance" between the individual and the body controlling the relationship is increasingly greater. However, as this distance increases and information concerning manipulation, distortion and similar abuses of the relationship become Increasingly widespread, the individual's confidence in them as meaningful and beneficial to him decreases.
The next decades will probably see an increasing disenchantment on the part of the individual with any "distant" structure or chains of conceptual or organizational relationship which are supposed to be relevant to his concerns . The acceptable number of links in such chains "out" from the individual may be decreasing year by year. There is liable to be a general loss of confidence in links which the individual cannot inspect for himself. This applies to news media, TV documentaries, advertising, expert and political statements . This is significant because it is the projection of this confidence into such structures which provides the energy and oil to make our more sophisticated control structures work. Without such confidence, such structures can only persist as shells with symbolic value. Individuals will isolate themselves into relatively small communities.
It is widely recognized that the whole system is becoming less and less credible and acceptable to (i) the younger generation, (ii) the man- in-the- street, (iii) the developing world. As yet, however, we have no clear historical parallel to provide the necessary perspective. Perhaps a useful parallel is that of the place of the Catholic Church and religion in society after the Renaissance.
We now have a new Universal Church with its orders, namely the intergovernmental organization and its components bodies. In the interstices of this system we have new "protesting" sects, namely other organizations, governmental, academic, business, voluntary, trade union, and otherwise The Church considers itself the one true church and is anxious to enfold the dissenting and in some cases, heretical groups. The latter are anxious to spread their message at all costs. Most organizations are anxious to proselytize. There are ecumenical movements amongst the protesting organizations, for they realize that they lack the strength of unity.
We have with this system an organization-based society, just as that period had a religion-based society. One must belong to an organization. Organization has become a religion with a strangle-hold on thinking in the Western world. It is "the only way of getting things done" . The processes that cannot be organized are ignored or condemned - just as the activities in the past which could not be given a religious association were ignored or condemned. A non-religious perspective was inconceivable and smacked of heresy.
Today it is the younger generation which is opting out of the societal religion in search of a more organic life style. The results are condemned, as quackery, superstition, witchcraft and deviltry were condemned.
But the weakness of the organized society is that it is detached from the needs and individuality of the person - but particularly from his perspective. It is becoming "irrelevant". People increasingly slip through the grasp of organizations. (Our preoccupation with static organizational and conceptual structures may appear to the eyes of the future as irrelevant and irritating as does Columbus' preoccupation with the religious salvation of the Caribbean Indians .)
Clearly this erosion of confidence constitutes a real constraint on the realization of human potential within modern society.
The Increasing uniformity of terminology, and the reduction in the problems
of translation and interpretation, undoubtedly facilitate formal communication
and apparent agreement. Despite this however, such agreements are not well-grounded.
Behind the misty wall of words, the diverse, even contradictory, interpretations,
motivations and utlizations, are an indication of fundamental divisions
concerning values, for example.
Meaning is no longer well-communicated, if it ever has been other than amongst an elite. There is much misinterpretation of meaning and intention in every domain. Each group works from different data sources, with different experience, and feels justified in rating the views of others as of secondary importance or irrelevant.
The written and spoken words are "babelizing" . Use of the written word with precise meanings is becoming equivalent to that of Latin as a medium useful for communication between those (in the academic and administrative worlds) committed to a rationalized, abstract perspective. It is increasingly irrelevant to the "lower" reaches of society. People can no longer read and comprehend items which do not reinforce their own views. For many, the written word is used as a visual symbol with floating meanings aimed at achieving an impression and an Involvement (cf. McLuhan). "Lower" here means poorly informed rather than the usual class distinction. Visual imagery is as yet at a crude stage of development equivalent to the old peasant dialects - the "Bible" has not yet been translated.
Those who can understand each other most completely are often precisely those forced to compete for resources, prestige, etc., or who are fundamentally opposed to the point of being enemies. They therefore feel obliged to minimize the extent to which they exchange their latest thinking in any face-to-face contact by which their conflict might be resolved.
Despite the very large investments made in communication and transport, the accessibility and usability of such facilities tends to be eroded. In the case of postal services, the cost of mailing increases, the number of deliveries decreases and the delivery delays increase (e.g. 2 to 4 months for intercontinental surface mail). In the case of the telephone service, the cost of telephoning increases, the installation delay increases, and the amount of traffic overloads many exchanges. In the case of air travel, the cost increases in a manner which effectively prevents travel to distant destinations which were accessible until recent years (and despite empty seats and unused planes) . The cost of fuel and speed limits are also reducing the possibility of long distance road travel.
In an Increasingly complex society, which is highly dependent upon communication to maintain its coherence, the ability of the "average individual" to communicate is being eroded. At the same time the ability of the elites to communicate amongst themselves and at the mass of the population is increasing. The delays incurred in ordinary communications may be such as to ensure that the goods or information are received long after the time at which they could have been relevant to ensure an appropriate response to a crisis situation.
Increasingly such communication and transport facilities that are available are structured to facilitate priority or bulk traffic between a limited number of key locations. The priority of traffic between other locations is reduced and may well be much more costly. (It is, for example, often cheaper to fly from one African country to Europe and then back to a neighbouring African country, than to fly from one to the other directly.) Such restrictions pose considerable problems for the political, social and economic development of any regions. More genErally they pose a problem for the development of variety in isolated areas as opposed to the convergent development at a limited number of central locations.
There is an implicit assumption that the psycho-social environment can
be observed and acted upon without there being any associated change in
the observer or in the change agent. The academic assumes the ability to
take up some neutral stance, often at a higher level of abstraction, from
which effective observation can take place without either changing the
observed social processes or being changed by them. Organizations and institutions
act in the belief that they can intervene in social processes without there
being any negative consequences and without their being changed by the
action. In both cases there is an assumption of independence from social
processes, although both are forms of social activity.
Such change agents tend not to be aware of their own role as social entities . They have no built-in self-reflexive capacity. No academic discipline provides for serious examination of its own social role (e.g. the sociology of: sociology, political science, chemistry, economics, etc.). And no institution can build in a self-critical capacity which cannot be ignored or restrained to guarantee the continued functioning of that institution.
Associated with this is the assumption that (new) content can always be treated formalistically without the necessity for exposure to (new) learning experience. This is particularly the case with values. It is assumed that all those who make reference to "peace", "quality of life", "justice" , "freedom", etc. have been exposed to positive experiences with which such terms can be associated - and that such experiences are equivalent to those experienced by those with whom they are communicating. There is thus a widespread assumption of common understanding of values which obviates any need for shared experience or any self-change in order to acquire that understanding. This assumption justifies the absence of macro-social experiments to determine whether particular social policies and value mixes are viable and in conformity with the verbal formulations and claims.
Despite the increasing availability of goods, services, facilities,
and experiences, and the investment of considerable amounts of money in
publicizing the existence of many of them, there is relatively little that
is done to facilitate the process of choice and discovery in the midst
of such diversity. This is the case in almost every situation where the
Examples include the following: occupation selection is in most cases a haphazard process based on the vagaries of location and information availability and presentation; vocational guidance is limited to the commonest job categories with little thought as to how the individual can gain some gut feeling for the meaning the occupation would have for him. The selection of wines and perfumes is governed by the products actually available at the point of sale and is hampered by the difficulties of achieving unambiguous use of a limited range of terms to describe a highly complex experience; these difficulties are aggravated where the staff have limited experience and are primarily interested in the sale of a particular product range. As with wines and perfumes, the selection of music is hampered by the difficulty of sampling a sufficiently wide range in order to guide further exploration and choice; only limited sampling is possible at the point of sale.
In the case of books, although the browsing process is acceptable to some people it constitutes a barrier for others and in the larger libraries it is increasingly forbidden (because of theft). Theatre, ballet and opera , where the visual dimension is important, are very time-consuming to sample as a guide to choice. This is also true of painting and the plastic arts, when photographic reproductions are unsatisfactory or difficult to obtain, and sampling is dependent upon exhibitions or costly visits to distant locations. Difficulties are also encountered in determining which places, or cultural environments to visit. And it is also difficult to determine beforehand which psycho-cultural experiences or personal relationships to develop.
In each such case, there is little or no assistance to the individual in obtaining the answer to the question of what experience or knowledge of which he is ignorant would in fact prove highly significant to him. His exploration and selection is hindered by commercial misinformation, the time required to sample, limited physical accessibility; the risk of an indifferent performance (in the case of the performing arts), and the difficulty of recapturing an experience (of a performed or distant work). However these would be relatively unimportant were it not for the inability to present such experiences to the individual In terms of their relative significance to his current developmental needs. Organizing the problem of choice by author, composer, artist, or manufacturer, or a limited number of unrelated categories or styles, does little to ease the individual's difficulty.
Clearly the obstacles noted above constitute a significant limitation on the full realization of human potential.
Frequently a social problem can be eliminated to the satisfaction of
all concerned (from the electorate to the policy-maker) by eliminating
the particular set of symptoms by which it was recognized and which gave
rise to the call for remedial action. Action of this kind merely ensures
that a new set of symptoms emerges in some other social domain. The new
set may well be considered more acceptable or may be less easy to focus
on as the basis for an effective campaign for remedial action. Some time
will also be required before the new set of symptoms can be effectively
recognized. It may in fact be very difficult for an organization to see
that its programmes merely displace a problem into the jurisdiction of
some other body - whose own actions will eventually result in the problem
being displaced back again or into the jurisdiction of a third body. (Institutions
may deliberately move problems through a network of jurisdictions as a
way of legitimating their own continued existence.) Such displacement may
be difficult to detect because one set of symptoms may be apparent in legislation
(e.g. legal discrimination), but when eliminated may then take on an economic
character (e.g. economic discrimination), which if eliminated may then
take on a social character (e.g. social discrimination), and then a cultural
character, etc. Such displacement chains may loop back on themselves and
develop side chains which are difficult to detect since each organization
is only sensitive to the problem symptoms in its own domain and considers
symptoms of the same problem in other domains to be acceptable or of secondary
This situation makes it difficult to compare the presence or absence of problems in different geographical areas because of the different forms its symptoms take, the acceptability of some forms in some areas, or the lack of sensitivity to them.
The complexity of society has resulted in the proliferation of governmental
units and procedures designed to respond to the multiplicity of issues
and requirements for regulation. This proliferation has not been accompanied
by any commensurate development In parliamentary procedure, nor any significant
increase in the amount of time available for debate and legislation. Consequently
the responsibility for processing information on increasingly complex matters
falls upon units of bureaucracy. Frequently the complexity of the issues
precludes little more than token parliamentary debate on the matter. There
is therefore little more than symbolic parliamentary control under such
Even within government agencies, the complexity of many issues precludes effective review by the head of the agency. Pockets of expertise throughout the governmental system therefore acquire considerable effective power, and are protected by the limited possibilities for review, and frequently by security classifications which prevent review by other than interested parties.
Under such conditions, there is very limited possibility for systematic, democratic control of the government policies and programmes. There are frequent opportunities for bureaucratic abuse or the use of bureaucratic privileges to advance programmes of interest to a particular agency or unit, irrespective of the probable views of any parliamentary body.
It is therefore increasingly questionable whether the elected representative can perform other than token functions. The dynamics of the political process, which reduce the number of parties (often to the one- party level), and minimize any distinction between the policies of opposing parties and candidates, further decrease the significance of elections. (The corruption associated with these processes makes their ability to fulfill their originally intended function even more doubtful.)
Many aspects of government policy formulation and government agency
activity are increasingly shrouded in secrecy. The same is true for the
activities of many commercial and industrial enterprises. This secrecy
is not only passive but is reinforced by various forms of tacit or explicit
censorship in the media . It is accompanied by use of the media to disseminate
distorted information and various forms of propaganda.
As a consequence few people have any clear understanding of the real nature of any crisis or of the resources which can be used to contain it. The average voter is unable to determine the reality of a crisis if government feels obliged to withhold any information on it, or failing that, to disseminate misinformation about it. At any time, therefore, the average voter cannot determine whether there are real crises of which he is ignorant, or whether the information he receives, minimizing some current crises, is in fact undistorted. All information becomes suspect, because it is in the interest of government to keep the population as calm and unpanicked as possible. However, this then makes it very difficult to mobilize the population in response to any crisis for which government really does need the people. (It is the old story of the little shepherd boy who cried "wolf" once too often.) It also makes it very difficult to determine whether government really represents the interests of the people, particularly since many of the duly elected representatives are themselves considered to be security risks.
In ordering understanding of societal complexity, there is a well-established
tendency to impose a relatively simple conceptual framework to facilitate
the task of grasping and explaining the environment. Thus irrespective
of the diversity present in the environment, it is often considered satisfactory
to distinguish not more than 5-10 categories in any field of concern. If
any larger number is used, the adequacy, credibility and comprehensibility
of the explanation becomes increasingly suspect. (There is evidence that
individuals have difficulty in distinguishing between more than about 7
colours, tastes, sounds, odours, etc.) It is of course permissible to distinguish
a number of levels of sub-categories within any such framework, but again
the scheme becomes increasingly unsatisfactory as the number of levels
goes beyond 5-10.
In any argument or debate the same constraint applies, although perhaps more severely. (A well- known piece of advice to orators is to make not more than 3 points or else the audience will tend to be confused, and the orator most certainly would be.)
This situation is reflected in organizational structures. The recommended size for committees is 5-10 people. It is rare for an individual in any large organization (including armies) to have more than 5-10 department heads reporting directly to him. In the case of committees, this ensures that all views can be adequately represented and discussed. In the case of organizations, it ensures that one individual can maintain adequate control over his subordinates.
When information has to be presented or discussed, the subject matter is usually distorted or reordered to conform to space/time and financial constraints. This applies, for example, to: the length of a book or one of its chapters; the length of a radio or TV programme; the amount of time available on any meeting agenda; etc. The size of a meeting (or meeting budget) may well be used as the basis for determining the number of bodies relevant to a representative debate. Clearly in the classic case of the top policy-maker dictum that any issues should be summarized on one sheet of paper (or in 5 minutes), if getting it onto one sheet totally erodes the coherence of the argument to the Point of incomprehensibility, then any complex case cannot be adequately or credibly presented. In all such cases, external constraints are used to govern what information is received and processed, irrespective of the complexity of the issue in question. Information is compressed to a point below that at which it is comprehensible or its significance can become evident to the reader. (This is especially true when abstractions, mathematical expressions or jargon have to be used to achieve the necessary compression.)
The above points reflect a widely held belief that because something has been expressed within an acceptable framework it constitutes a satisfactory representation of the reality to which a response is required. This ignores the possibility that the framework satisfactory for comprehension may well be unsatisfactory for any adequate representation. It leads to the formulation of simplistic programmes which appear satisfactory but which are unable to contain those aspects of the problem which extend beyond the framework used. This is the case with many complex social issues.
The assumption is made that evolution of man has now ceased or may be
ignored and that man may control his future. But the structures with which
we Identify and which we are learning how to modify may merely be temporary
containers for an ongoing evolving life-process. Evolution may now be mainly
along psycho-social lines but it will be as invisible to us as it was to
our physically changing ancestors.
In these terms we should neither expect the sympathy of the evolutionary process for the preservation of psycho-social structures, nor regret its absence. In evolutionary terms the criterion is the survival and transformation of the most appropriate. This has never included the preservation of excessive numbers against the catastrophes which their presence must evoke. Attempts at preservation may be anti- evolutionary.
It may well be that the system functions entirely satisfactorily and of its own accord in responding to disturbances to its dynamic evolving equilibrium conditions. As sub-systems within the system we would be unable to detect the manner and justification of the corrective measures. If the system is self correcting, then any "within- system" efforts to correct it are bound to give rise to counterbalancing responses. It therefore becomes questionable as to which changes should be proposed or implemented since every such intervention is counterbalanced in an unforeseeable manner. Each such effort causes system disturbances and counter- balancing responses, acts as a lure for time, energy and organizational resources and creates its own school followers and opponents. These are within-system changes and not changes to the system.
Concern with world problems may be "unnecessary" except as an educational and developmental experience - a sort of social "training game" in which our culture can be absorbed. Systems analyses of organizations in trouble generally show that whilst each person acts as best he could, with the best intentions given the information at his disposal, it is the interaction of these "well conceived" departmental policies that kept the organization in its difficulties. The same may be true of the world system - its problems may be created by the interactions of well-intentioned programs .
Individuals and groups choose courses of action to protect and extend their identifies. Their choice generates a flora, fauna and eco-system of roles and structures which must be respected and observed before any dramatic attempts to "develop" them are made. "Development" and "education" may in some ways be equivalent (in difficulty and desirability) to a bio-engineering attempt at converting one species into another. There is not yet a framework on which the possibilities and dangers of ontogenetic development can be examined.
The system may not be of a "big bang" developmental type in psycho-social terms, or on the time scale to which we are exposed. It may be oscillating, cyclical or homeostatic in terms of a framework which we have not yet clarified explicitly.
In every domain of society there are unknown factors and circumstances
with unpredictable elements which may combine together in unforeseen ways.
The existence and probable future emergence of these currently unrecognized
factors tends however to be more or less deliberately ignored by the individuals,
groups and institutions acting in those domains. It is much simpler to
recognize and respond to the predictable for which the allocation of resources
can be clearly justified in the light of past experience. It is very difficult
to conceptualize the unknown. Consequently it is difficult to justify the
allocation of resources and the restructuring of organizations in order
to prepare for unforeseeable events and crises. To legitimate this stance,
the tendency is to treat the unknown as non-existent or irrelevant.
This attitude may be found within organizations, amongst the practitioners of most intellectual disciplines and sciences, and in most occupations. Thus organizations seldom have procedures for handling the unexpected. Practitioners of a discipline will seldom acknowledge the existence of relevant matters of which they are ignorant. Disciplines are structured statically in terms of the known and cannot define or provide for the existence of what may shortly become known (through ongoing research) or what will probably continue to remain unknown (at least until there is a paradigm shift) . Occupations are defined in terms of the needed response to well-defined problems. Ignorance is only admitted when the knowledge in question can be considered irrelevant or the responsibility of some other body.
Clearly this constraint limits the ability to look at new conditions or to look at current conditions anew. People think and act from positions within a context of which they are content to be unaware. (The attitude is somewhat analogous to that of a fighter who expects a clearly identified opponent to fight within the framework of known rules, as contrasted with the fighter who is prepared to respond to any unexpected assailant acting independently of any such framework.)
Individuals, groups and institutions have considerable difficulty in
developing adequate procedures for soliciting, channelling and processing
feedback on the negative consequences of their own positive action or the
absence of any significant consequences at all. They avoid exposure to
and acknowledgement of error, or any attempt to seek out its manifestations
and use information derived from the failure as a basis for learning. Any
report on an organization's actions minimizes any negative references and
is usually deliberately written so as to disguise failures as much as possible.
No institution, nor any cultural ethnic, occupational or other group will
make known an analysis of its own weaknesses unless it feels confident
that the content can be ignored or blamed upon external circumstances.
This inability also extends to the explicit recognition of the problem situations with which organizations are confronted. It is rare to find an organization which explicitly defines the social problems with which it is concerned. Any such negative descriptions tend to be denatured and distorted in terms of the planned positive programme action to remedy that aspect of the problem situation to which the programme is able to respond.
Clearly this inability to face up to negativity openly and collectively inhibits the emergence of any shared self-consciousness about our limited ability to control our situation well enough to expect to be successful more often than not. Rather it favours the maintenance of a naive optimism which inhibits any attempt to evolve a more appropriate response or to identify the real strength of our complex society.
There is a widespread assumption that a rational explanation and/or
an appeal to appropriate values is a sufficient justification and guarantee
for valid action or maintenance of a position. Great efforts are therefore
made to generate appropriate rational explanations and to give expression
to them in action plans for organizations .
Such is the mobility of debate and dissemination of (mis) information on any issue, however, that it is increasingly easy to elaborate any kind of explanation or appeal to values. But it is increasingly difficult to mobilize sufficiently rapidly the facts and counter-arguments for them to be significant in a given debate or information campaign - and later counter-analysis, however devastating and correct, is too late. Given the fragmented nature of the community of discourse, it is only too easy to question any set of "facts" . The most superior and recent analysis seldom has unquestionable credentials, whereas many doubtful analyses may well be produced by seemingly impeccable bodies. In this situation, every group can legitimately make full use of its resources to produce the most adequate explanation for its own purposes. Accusations of lack of expertise, inadequate facts or Information, or irresponsibility become debating points whose weight is determined by the dynamics of the debate and the skill of the debaters since there is no recognized court of appeal. Ignorance is not recognized as an absolute (or meaningful) condition characteristic of all bodies not in receipt of the latest information or explanation.
Conventional explanations and appeals to values are therefore increasingly used by the skilled as mere decorative cloaks for whatever action conforms to their real purposes. A skilled individual can produce a sufficiently coherent argument to justify any desired course of action. As with manufactured articles, such arguments may be designed to last only a short time. That they should fail after their first use, or should very rapidly be proved obsolescent, is then irrelevant. (Dependence on conventional explanations and appeals to values leaves an organization as much at the mercy of its opponents as was the Polish cavalry when faced with a tank invasion.)
Because of the complexity of society and the individual's increasing
sense that he has little control over his environment, it becomes progressively
easier for people to lay responsibility for conditions they find disagreeable
at the door of an ill-defined, amorphous "they" . "They do this to us"
, "they should change things", etc. "They" is whoever may be considered
responsible or free to act.
This distinction clarifies and simplifies the situation for the individual, freeing him of responsibility, and making others the cause (of the persistent) of any perceived Ill. In the face of any problem, it is "they" who must act or change their policies for "we" are doing the best we can and are not free to act. "We" are the "good-guys" with some faults because "we" are human. "They" are the "bad-guys"; "their" faults are inexcusable.
Faced with an increasing number of Increasingly interrelated problems
against which no programmes seem to have any significant remedial effect,
individuals lapse into states of apathy, cynicism, hopelessness or disillusionment.
This occurs whether the Individual has a variety of social powers and resources
at his command, or whether he has none at all. The situation is aggravated
by those who benefit from such circumstances.
Clearly such a state of mind Inhibits any creative response and saps the personal energies of the individual concerned. It also encourages him to profit by the conditions whilst he can and to the extent that he is able.
Each generation produces a number of well-qualified individuals concerned
with one or more social problems and prepared to commit themselves and
their careers in an effort to achieve a significant impact upon them. As
in any occupation, some years are spent learning the dimensions of the
problem and the possibilities for action. Thereafter, however, many of
these individuals find themselves forced into positions of compromise.
In an effort to stick to their original values, they come into conflict
with structures and resource realities which often prevent anything more
than token action. They are encouraged to be patient and find that patience
changes little. They find that those who have preceded them lapse easily
into cynicism or are satisfied with minimal change. They find that those
who are similarly inspired and who should be their allies are frequently
hostile and suspicious of any form of cooperation of more than a token
Some become aware that even when their recommendations are fully implemented by some organizational system with apparent success, the system in effect nullifies such achievements by adjusting itself so that other different problems emerge. There is then no end to such a chain of displaced problems, many of which are as much internal to the organizational system as they are external foci of the organization's action. These situations finally lead to a withdrawal (or "loss of faith") of many of the committed activists. This withdrawal takes place without transfer of acquired experience and insight to other who might later be able to overcome the dynamics of entrapment. There is no accumulation of learning. Those who know about the dynamics are often unable to speak about them, or have lost the desire to do so. Those who do speak about them are frequently ill-informed and merely provoke a repetition of learning cycles.
In many social domains time and a variety of collective experiences
have created amongst those concerned an awareness of which actions are
feasible, viable and useful and which are not. Such collective learning
is difficult to transfer to others in such a manner as to enable them to
understand the (usually relatively sophisticated) dynamics which limit
the value of seemingly obvious positive actions. Since there is a certain
turnover of organizations, groups and individuals concerned with the problem
in that domain, those entering the context for the first time tend to initiate
proposals, recommendations and programmes which past experience has shown
to be a waste of resources or of otherwise limited value. They will however
have difficulty in recognizing this and will attribute past failure to
ineffectiveness of those involved at that time.
The consequence is that any group (possibly of institutions) with experience extending over several "programme generations" always has latecomers who are drawn together in support of projects which constitute the repetition of a learning cycle. Such cycles must play themselves out in order that the latecomers may acquire the understanding as to why those particular actions are of limited effectiveness. They will however then be repeated when the number of newcomers again becomes great enough to make it difficult to redirect their attention from such seemingly obvious courses of action.
This repeated fragmentation of groups and the use of resources in support of ineffective programmes clearly limits the ability to respond adequately to any problem situation. It is also discouraging to those who have already acquired, through such learning cycles, the necessary knowledge base from which more effective programmes could be designed. However, it is also the desire of the latecomers to apply their creative energies without regard for past experience which leads to the acquisition of new knowledge. The situation is such that it is seldom possible to blend both forms of knowledge in an effective response to the problem situation.
Wherever individuals, groups or institutions work to remedy social problems,
there is an inability of all concerned to admit openly the psycho-social
needs of the individuals and groups involved. It is only in informal discussion,
and in the absence of the concerned individual, that there is frank discussion
of how to confer a sense of prestige by suitable juggling of organizational
procedures and positions, appropriate use of flattery, etc. The facilitation
of individuals "ego trips", for example, is often an absolutely essential
condition to their further support of a project. Even when two organizations
or initiatives should be merged in the light of all available information,
this will be opposed (behind the scenes) by the personalities involved
unless their status needs can be fulfilled.
Such concerns, whether for a person individually, or for a group as represented by an individual, are basic to all social action. When they are not even recognized in behind the scenes planning, they are recognized tacitly in the dynamics of interaction with the person in question.
The inability to handle these matters in open debate severely inhibits the manner in which organizations or meetings can function. Even in crisis situations, discussion of action to be taken will not occur until these other matters have been satisfactorily resolved through behind the scenes manoeuvering. Frequently it is questionable, even in a crisis situation, whether a given individual is not more interested in the recognition accorded to himself or his group than in any substantive matter which may be discussed. Organizational action of any kind (and even in response to crises) may be perceived primarily as providing a legitimate opportunity for appropriate organizational ritual to satisfy the psycho-social needs of the individuals and groups involved. The situation is particularly serious when the personality needs border on the psychopathic. (There are many well-documented examples of this amongst national leadership, even in recent years, although such matters cannot be discussed in open debate.)
Clearly the priority accorded to these needs, and the inability to give explicit recognition to them in organizational documents or debate despite their fundamental importance to organizational action, constitute a constraint upon the full realization of human potential. This is the case both because it distorts the manner by which a person develops through action within an organization, and because it distorts the manner by which an organization is able to act.
The limits and constraints noted above, whether singly or in combination, effectively split the psycho-social universe into a multiplicity of overlapping fragments. Within each such fragment, whether large or small, communication and consensus can be readily established. These bounded fragments therefore constitute domains within which particular views and forms of organization are protected, developed or consolidated. They provide protected contexts for the development of alternative forms which could not survive were the boundaries not present.
The constraints (and the problems whose solution they hinder) constitute features of society which provide a challenge and stimulus which may well be essential to its healthy development. The boundary defined by the whole set of limits may well be the barrier, frontier or shell through which mankind has to break if it is to emerge into a new phase of development, but by which It must be protected in order successfully to complete the current phase.
Such constraints and problems whilst a challenge are also energy absorbents . Each increment in human development increases the mobility and activity of the individuals in question. This energy must be channelled and absorbed in an adequate variety of structures and processes for in their absence the energy may be released in an uncontrollable and disastrous manner.
As in the natural environment, when such limits are overcome the interaction between the diverse viewpoints and organizational forms may lead to the predominance of those most appropriate to the conditions of the time. However, the maintenance of such bounded environments ensures the preservation and development of alternative forms which may prove most appropriate under different conditions or in a later time period.
There appear to be many ways in which mankind is limited. Attempts to by-pass these limits constantly run the risk of being compromised or entrapped. Many of the limits are difficult to express in a form which could provide a basis for agreement upon some remedial action, if such were possible. The existence of some of the limits can easily be questioned by those who have not been exposed to them and their consequences.
There would appear to be a strong case for devoting resources to a clarification of these limits and the extent to which they jeopardize the functioning and success of every action programme whether currently operational or planned for the future.
This work is licenced under a creative commons licence.