17 Aug 2002 | Draft
Psychology of Sustainability
Embodying cyclic environmental processes
- / -
This paper is a contribution to reflection on viable strategies
for sustainable development on the occasion of the
UN World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg, 2002)
The 'pattern that connects'
Elusiveness of sustainability
Contemporary ironies of sustainability
Sustainability and spin
Openness and closure
Sustainability of collective initiatives -- and the dependence
Spinning an alternative
Transiting between realities
Transiting amongst a set of complementary alternatives
Reality, relativity and relativism
Cycles sustaining reality frameworks
Behavioural attractors and sustainable development
Breaking dysfunctional cycles
Breaking dysfunctional spirals: sustainability and the torus
Conscientific research and development
The term 'psychology of sustainability' seems to have been launched
as the title of a paper by Alice Jones (1996) although described in 1995 by
her as follows:
I call it loosely "the psychology of sustainability", and it has to do with
the very *personal*, *individual*, and sometimes *conflicting* experience
of talking the talk of sustainability and then trying to walk the walk. My
take on this is that we *can't* have a meaningful discussion about a national
sustainability policy, or even a community sustainability policy without *explicitly*
considering the very personal nature of what is implied. [more]
According to Giuseppe Carrus and Mirilia Bonnes (2002):
Although the concept of sustainable development has been criticized for being
too vague, anyway there is a considerable agreement among different scientific
fields that it should remain the main aim to be pursued in the management
of natural and human resources. Now sustainability is a trans-disciplinary
concept which calls into question issues that are central in several social
and human sciences and disciplines, ranging from economics, legal sciences,
philosophy, psychology: within social and environmental psychology, in particular,
some authors have recently proposed the term "psychology of sustainability"
or "new ecological psychology" (Bonnes and Bonaiuto, 2001). These terms identify
those theoretical and empirical contribution aiming at better understanding
the psychological processes involved in the development of a positive environmental
awareness and concern in people's use of natural resources. A considerable
effort in the direction of supporting the above-mentioned "integrated perspective"
in ecological science, as well the concept of sustainable development, particularly
for what it concerns the institution and management of natural protected areas,
came also from the UNESCO Program on Man and Biosphere (MAB)...
Throughout the past decade, there has been increasing interest in eco-psychology,
notably through the creation of an Ecopsychology Institute and the availability
of ecopsychological resources on the web [more].
But it is interesting that the emphasis is to a significant degree on the personal
implications: the skillful application of ecological insight to the practice
of psychotherapy; the study of our emotional bond with the Earth; the search
for an environmentally-based standard of mental health; and re-defining "sanity"
as if the whole world mattered. It is perhaps the latter focus that is closest
to the preoccupation of this paper with the psychology of sustainability.
A related pattern of significance is associated with 'psychological sustainability',
as in the case of Esalen's proposed approach to prosperity:
The word prosperous derives from the Latin pro plus the root of sperare,
"to hope." Today, with the rest of the world, we face dangerous challenges
and intriguing possibilities. At best, with the help of the larger Esalen
community, we hope over the next several years to create a world model of
physical and psychological sustainability, of vision without dogma, adding
up to a new way of understanding an old but most important word: prosperity.
The focus below is to follow Alice Jones with respect to the 'very personal
nature of what is implied'. However the emphasis here is less on adopting
personal behaviours consistent with sustainable environmental programmes and
more on understanding how any ability to act in the environment in a sustainable
manner is intimately dependent on the ability to act in a sustainable manner
with respect to one's own internal psychological environment. Indeed it is argued
that unless experiential understanding of one's psychological environment consciously
embodies analogous cyclic patterns and processes, it is unlikely that social
behaviours with respect to the environment will themselves be sustainable --
however strong the declarations of intent or the initial commitment to sustainable
patterns of action.
The 'pattern that connects'
Sustainability might be usefully understood as the 'pattern that connects'
which Gregory Bateson highlighted in suggesting that if it is broken all quality
is then destroyed. This is most obviously seen in the case of broken food webs
which result in the destruction of ecosystems. It is also evident in the case
of water and weather systems, whether the broken patterns lead to flooding or
The challenge of sustainability is that people in industrialized societies
have little obvious reason to care for loss of such quality -- despite continuing
creative attempts to encourage them to understand otherwise. Fundamentally such
patterns are distant and irrelevant to an urbanized population. When 'dirty'
water is flushed and 'clean' water comes out of a tap or a bottle,
the sense of the water cycle is lost -- or even desperately repressed to avoid
recognition of the path taken by the recycled water that is available for consumption.
The challenges of sustainabilty are typically presented in linear terms
as the increasing threat of: global warming, environmental pollution, shortage
of water, loss of biodiversity, and the like. The solutions are presented in
corresponding terms of the necessarily linear counter-measures required: reduction
of emissions, water conservation, protection of species, etc. Neither the descriptions
of the problems, nor of the solutions, recognize the cyclic nature of
the patterns that need to be engendered for any change to be sustainable. Indicators
focus on linear measures of increase. There are few, if any, measures of the
nature of cycles. Even the 'recycling' advocated in relation to sustainability
programmes is subject to linear measurement.
The question to be asked is whether a linear framework can engender or engage
a cyclic perspective. More specifically, can a linear framework ensure sustainability
that is dependent on cyclic behaviour? The pattern that connects to ensure
sustainability necessarily involves behavioural cycles -- whether habits, instincts
or rituals. Linear initiatives, whether framed as growth or remedial programmes,
are necessarily characterized by a beginning and an end that defines them as
unsustainable -- however much lip service may be paid to building in follow-through
processes. Programmes are instruments of linear thinking and as such are incompatible
with the cyclic quality of the behaviours necessary to sustainability.
Elusiveness of sustainability
Many have remarked on the vagueness of 'sustainability' -- and the
abuse of the term which this encourages. There is a sense that what is signified
by the term can only be described by unsustainable practices, namely by measures
A major challenge of the arts is to describe the positive conditions of 'living
happily ever after'. In practice this can only be briefly suggested as
a sequel to (or in dramatic anticipation of) the violence and tensions with
which it is contrasted. The same might be said of sustainability. In practice
it is simply boring over any extended period of time. Nothing 'happens'
-- or is likely to happen -- which, ironically, may be the future of sustainable
development strategies as currently envisaged.
The challenge of any description of sustainability is further highlighted by
In contrast with what is commonly assumed, a description, when carefully
inspected, reveals the properties of the observer. We observe, distinguish
ourselves precisely by distinguishing what we apparently are not, the world.
There is a sense therefore in which it is unsustainability that lends itself
to description, whereas description is essentially alien to the processes and
conditions of sustainability. Description can perhaps denote the boundaries
of sustainability, namely the grey areas of transition from sustainability to
unsustainability, and in so doing indicate by inference the nature of the processes
that lie within those boundaries. As with the challenge of containing plasma
in nuclear fusion, sustainability has to be held away from the walls of the
conceptual container that brings it into being -- in order to avoid it being
In 1997 Alice Jones with Steven Gordon pointed to the value of 'thinking
like a watershed' as a key to stormwater management. This suggests a more
generic case for exploring psychological patterns that may be mnemonically
isomorphic with cyclic processes in the environment. The point of doing
so is to obtain an intimate sense of what is important to one's psychic well-being
in such processes that may then give new meaning to caring for processes in
the external environment. Again, if one cannot sense the importance of certain
cycles in oneself, caring for their external counterparts ultimately lacks significance
and is essentially irrelevant -- whatever the exhortations regarding future
Movement in nature may prove to be a key to sustainable strategies. These are
exemplified by weather cycles with which people are most familiar. Examples
- wind, wind storms -- possibly in the light of experience with sailing and
- water, waterfalls, rain, rivers and flooding -- possibly in the light of
kayaking and white water rafting
- earth, dust, sand and landslides -- possibly in the light of gardening,
rock climbing, and caving
- wildfires, volcanoes -- possibly in the expectation of light sailing
Curiously it is the Chinese, over millennia, who have seized upon such phenomena
as the metaphorical key to a comprehensive system of transformational processes
considered by them to be basic to the many aspects of governance -- whether
by an emperor or by any individual. As explicated in the I Ching, this
'Book of Changes' is a major challenge to the post-modern world to
create a 'model' of greater relevance and interest to people at every
level of society [more;
more]. The Encyclopedia
of World Problems and Human Potential explored its use as a template for
the generation of metaphors relevant to networking (1986) and policy-cycles
(1991). The web variant has extended the experiment to apply to: dialogue, vision,
transformative conferencing, policy-cycles, networking, sustainable community
and sustainable lifestyles [more].
For those inclined to such taoist perspectives, it may well be the 'happening
of nothing' that is the key.
Contemporary ironies of sustainability
There is an historical irony to the fact that the recent period, which has
seen emergence of interest in sustainability as a policy issue for states, has
also seen the emergence into public debate of the challenges of male impotence
and erectile dysfunction -- namely the unsustainability of erections. The special
twist to this irony is that the uncontrollable pursuit of traditional remedial
aphrodisiacs has been a major factor in exacerbating the consequences of trade
in endangered species and products derived from them (eg powdered rhino horn,
dried penises of various species, etc). The decimation of some species, such
as tigers and rhinos, has been linked to the continuing popularity of centuries-old
sexual and other medicinal folk remedies in Asian cultures. In Chinese traditional
medicine, animal parts -- known in East Asia as pu foods -- are reputed
to endow a man with the potency of the animal itself, or with the potency implied
by the shape of the appendage.
The importance attached to 'sustainability' in this sense has been
powerfully demonstrated in the West by the popularity of Viagra and similar
products. In Europe an estimated 36 million men suffer from erectile dysfunction.
These include those decision-makers most responsible for developing an effective
response to the challenges of sustainability -- such as Eurocrats, and Members
of the European Parliament, who have a Viagra allowance of around £35 a month
9 Aug 2002). In the USA, more than 7 million men have used it to improve
their sexual function. It has been prescribed there more than 22 million times.
It is available in more than 90 countries worldwide. It is claimed to work for
up to 82% of users. Arguably more attention, publicity and resources, has been
given to the need for 'sustainable erections' than to 'sustainable
development'. The importance of such potency to human reproduction and
its contribution to the increasing challenges of over-population need no comment.
But the psychological implications of erectile dysfunction and impotency on
policy directives relating to sustainable development merit some reflection.
In this light, it is also ironic that thinking about sustainable development
tends to be undertaken using a masculine mind-set [Janis
Birkeland, 1999]. Chris Dutilh and Gerda Casimir (2002), for example, review
the main forces counteracting sustainable development. Their hypothesis is that
those forces are inherent to the dualistic nature of each individual, having
both an outgoing (masculine) element which aims to manifest itself, as well
as a caring (feminine) element which is concerned about continuity and future
generations. They conclude:
We hypothesised that the broadly felt unease about the sustainability of
our society is in part caused by the fact that short-term-oriented masculine
attitude is overruling long-term-oriented feminine behaviour. In that respect
it is amazing to see that almost all solutions proposed so far to overcome
this distorted development are part of the masculine domain: technological
developments and product improvements are all meant to compensate for consumer
This is now becoming evident in the focus on the information and 'knowledge'
required for sustainable development -- framed as the need for male-dominated
computer technology and software, and as ensuring the penetration of the internet
'across the digital divide'. As marketable products, such 'hard'
information will be the prime characteristic of the UN's World Summit on the
Information Society (Geneva, 2003; Tunis, 2005). There is little understanding
of the 'soft' information and insight required in the process of giving
substance to alternative realities -- the kinds of information notably documented
by Darrell Posey (1999) and furthered by Terralingua [more].
UNESCO, as the agency responsible for the UN Summit, could be usefully challenged
to rectify any such imbalance, especially given its transversal concern with
women and non-western cultures.
Dutilh and Casimir see the challenge to be one of identifying responses to
unsustainable development from a complementary perspective. Indeed, for a planet
ravaged by masculine initiatives and the exploitation of non-renewable resources,
it is only too appropriate for a 'sustainable system' that such a
period should be associated with male impotence -- a condition which the raped
often wish upon their rapists. It is also ironic that a dangerous consequence
of pollution and environmental stress has been the proliferation of oestrogen
surrogates, falling sperm counts, scrambling of the male hormone, all leading
to the 'feminization of nature' [more].
But in the search for balance from a softer perspective, the question is who
is acknowledging the dysfunctionalities that are liable to become obvious as
a consequence of feminine initiatives -- in an immediate future in which, ironically,
the fertility of the planet may prove inadequate to sustain the human population.
In a 'blip' culture habituated to 'zapping', sustaining
attention is increasingly recognized as a challenge by educators, advertisers,
and controllers of complex systems. Over-exposed to the stress of modern life,
individuals (notably children) can suffer from various 'attention-deficiency
disorders' with symptoms such as: inattention, distractibility, disorganization,
daydreaming, lack of foresight, carelessness, forgetfulness, lack of motivation,
lack of persistence, procrastination, hyperactivity, restlessness, excessive
talking, and impulsiveness. These all undermine any ability to recognize or
respond to longer cycle concerns fundamental to sustainability.
As a political cause, sustainability is subject to the observations of Geoffrey
Miller's controversial suggestions that political opinions are effectively courtship
displays (in: Political Peacocks, Demos Quarterly). Miller's hypothesis
explains a number of aspects of political culture supposedly baffling without
it: the interest in politics of the politically impotent; the disproportionate
favour 'caring' politics find with women (not actually the case in Britain);
the drift away from 'stimulating' radical opinions to reassuring ones in later
years. He explains sudden upsurges in political interest like those he observed
at college in terms of the 'frequency-dependent selection' biologists
observe in animal courtship, where certain signs are only attractive if popularly
Ironical also is the extent to which those promoting sustainable development
exemplify their linear thinking through the focus on 'targets' of
'campaigns' requiring 'mobilization' -- namely through the
use of military metaphors which might well be considered as fundamentally incompatible
with the mind-set required to achieve sustainability. Even more curious is their
use of the phrase 'meeting targets' -- which in that context might
be as meaningful as an encounter between George Bush and Osama bin Laden. As
the former has perhaps realized, the latter is not standing still in anticipation
of being 'acquired' as a target. Ideally the static "target", once
"hit", is conditioned by the "impact" of the (powerpoint) "bullet" into some
new pattern of behaviour. In the real world however, "targets" are on the move
and will be induced to move even more unpredictably by being "targeted" or "hit".
Unless the "targets" are to be considered as fundamentally masochistic or stupid,
they will tend to react "negatively" to being "hit" and having their behaviour
"modified". But perhaps those "hitting" such "targets" see the situation more
as do cattle herders, or abattoir slaughter-men, who direct cattle by using
electrical prods? Any such framings of course raise questions about the supposedly
two-way nature of the communication process. [more]
Given the focus on military metaphors in the pursuit of sustainable development,
perhaps the most profound irony relates to contemporary attitudes to death itself.
Animals of every kind are slaughtered unthinkingly in their millions -- many
to the point of extinction, or at least to the point of their exhaustion as
a food stock (cf overfishing, etc) -- with the complicity of the FAO. The 20th
century has seen the highest slaughter of human beings in the history of the
species. And substances are deliberately produced and consumed that have a high
probability of causing ill-health and death -- with the complicity of the WHO.
But at the same time, there has never been greater concern to sustain human
life beyond previous natural limits, to the point of expending the major proportion
of medical resources on the last three months of a life. If immortality treatments
were available, no cost would be spared by the few to benefit from them -- whatever
the effects on the many. Through systematic denial, the challenge of responding
to the effects of overpopulation on sustainability has been effectively delegated
to such 'culling' procedures as war, starvation and disease. Although
some continue to follow the outmoded tradition of being prepared to die for
their country or people (most recently as 'terrorists') -- few, if
any, are prepared to die for the planet. This is in marked contrast to the approach
to human sacrifice in many cultures of the past.
Sustainability and spin
In the past decade 'spin' has become recognized as the distinguishing
feature of contemporary politics and governance and of how business is done
by those of any competence (supported by 'creative accounting'). The
mediatisation of politics and commerce has encouraged the competitive use of
spin to ensure that a positive light is cast upon any proposed initiative to
minimize recognition of its negative consequences. In fact, presentations in
support of new projects essentially require that a 'positive spin'
be placed upon a proposal in comparison with 'negative spins' that
may be deliberately or inadvertently associated with competing proposals. When
initiatives subsequently fail in any way, suggesting incompetence on the part
of those who undertook them, then damage limitation again calls extensively
upon such spin techniques -- again possibly through placing some form of 'negative
spin' on those making such suggestions.
In this sense it might be said that the perception of sustainability is intimately
related to spin -- whether in accusations of unsustainability or in claims in
favour of it. In both cases, claims have been made in such a way as to be deliberately
misleading in order to make political points. It is of course correct that buried
beneath such spun facts are those which validate arguments. The challenge of
modern society is that adequate resources can always be deployed to conceal
or devalue such facts through spin. Ultimately it is only situations such as
when houses are flooded that might be said to escape the use of presentational
spin -- although even then it is immediately deployed to cast blame elsewhere.
Given the preponderance of spin, it may be useful to explore the extent to
which all sustainable collective initiatives are necessarily characterized by
spin. In this sense spin ensures forms of stability and coherence that are prime
characteristics of sustainability. This recalls the use of 'spin'
as a property of fundamental particles or of planetary rotation. In the case
of particles, it is defined in the terms such as the following:
Spin is the name for the angular momentum carried by a particle. For composite
particles, the spin is made up from the combination of the spins of the constituents
plus the angular momentum of their motion around one-another. For fundamental
particles spin is an intrinsic and inherently quantum property, it cannot
be understood in terms of motions internal to the object. The intrinsic spin
must be included in applications of conservation of angular momentum. Spin
is given in units of h-bar, which is the quantum unit of angular momentum,
typically giving rise to spins of 0, 1/2, 1, 3/2.
In the case of astronomy, two forms of 'spin' are distinguished:
- Orbital revolution, ranging from 1 year in the case of the Earth to 230
million years for the Sun around the galaxy, associated with the notion of
- Axial rotation (confusingly described in mechanics by rpm), ranging from
24 hours in the case of Earth, through 0.5-10 days for young stars, to some
108 years in the case of the galaxy, with pulsars having a rotation
period of 0.001 to 10 seconds; axial rotation contributes significantly to
planetary stability, notably in compensating for the gravitational forces
associated with orbiting a powerful attractor
The concerns of particle physics and astronomy for spin are linked in the focus
of mathematics and physics on 'spinors'. Spinors have played a crucial
role in both throughout the past. Spinors are used extensively in physics, but
they may offer a means of understanding relationships between social groups
identifying with alternative realities. It is widely accepted that they are
more fundamental than tensors (of which they are the 'square root'),
and the easy way to see this is through the results obtained in general relativity
theory by using spinors -- results that could not have been obtained by using
tensor methods only [more].
The foundation of the concept of spinors is groups; spinors appear as representations
of groups. Spinors and groups are both widely used in the theory of elementary
Discovered in 1913 by Cartan in his investigations of the representation
theory of the orthogonal groups, spinors first appeared in physics in the
1920's in the guise of Pauli's spin matrices and in Dirac's relativistic theory
of electron spin. Since that time, spinors, spin structures and their attendant
Dirac operators have remained of fundamental importance in quantum physics
and in many areas of mathematics, especially those dealing with the relation
between geometry, topology and analysis. In mathematics they provide key insights
into many questions, including index theorems for elliptic operators, the
integrality of characteristic numbers, existence of metrics of positive scalar
curvature, twistor spaces, and (most recently) Seiberg-Witten theory. [more]
There may well be a case for exploring insights into the pattern of distinctions
between fundamental particles as a source of clues to why conceptual models
(and their social manifestations) are 'charged' positively or negatively
with respect to their perceptions of each other -- and so determining their
interactions. Might it be possible that there are parallels deriving from constraints
on human thinking (cf Lakoff and Núñez, 2000, on the cognitive science of mathematics)
with properties of quarks such as strangeness, charm, topness, bottomness, and
flavour [more] ?
It is curious that the degree of complexity and sophistication considered necessary
and admissible to handle the phenomena of astronomy and fundamental particles
is several orders greater than that considered appropriate to the challenge
of sustainable development and its governance. And yet in the case of fundamental
physics its results are sufficiently concrete to produce nuclear weapons and
power stations. But in the case of the far less sophisticated models considered
adequate for sustainable development and conflict resolution, the results have
proven more than inadequate to a challenge of ever-increasing magnitude. In
the case of physics success is of course achieved by extreme reduction in the
focus to conditions under which all parameters can be effectively controlled.
Sustainable development, on the other hand, has to deal with open systems --
which would surely argue for conceptual models of greater complexity than are
required for the 'simpler' systems of nuclear physics. Perhaps those
concerned with sustainable development could learn from the multidimensional
tools with which physics is obliged to work -- rather than assuming that the
tasks can be handled with the tools with which they feel comfortable.
Openness and closure
Achieving sustainability calls for a response to the openness by which humanity
is surrounded. Unfortunately the only conceptual tools available are tools of
closure. Closure has been defined as the property of a system to maintain its
own internal order and identity within defined and permanent boundaries. Circularity
is fundamental to most notions of closure.
In this sense it is useful to look anew at the process of closure as has been
done by the philosopher Hilary Lawson (Closure: a story of everything,
2001). For him:
We are lost, both as individuals and as a culture. For over 2,000 years we
have believed in the possibility of a single true account of the world. Now
this age, the age of truth, is coming to a close. As a result there is much
unease. In the new, relative, post-modern era, there is no unique history,
no agreed morality, and no uncontested knowledge. In their place a mass of
alternative and sometimes incompatible theories, from 'chaos' and 'string'
theory to 'fuzzy logic' and 'consilience', proposing a theory of everything.
Closure is a response to this crisis: a means to understand our experience
and our circumstances in an age without truth. It is a radically new story
about the nature of ourselves and of the world.
Instead of seeing the world as a thing, a universe, whose truths we might
uncover through for example the procedures of science, Closure proposes
that we regard the world as open and it is we who close it through our stories.
The resulting framework offers solutions to the central questions of contemporary
philosophy: the character of language and meaning, of the individual and consciousness,
of truth and reality. As a theory of knowledge Closure has dramatic
consequences for our understanding of the sciences, changing what we think
science is about and how it is able to do it. It also accounts for why we
need and desire both art and religion. It reshapes our understanding of ourselves
and the organization of society, our goals and our capacity to achieve them.
But above all it makes sense of where we are and who we are.
To what extent are the various approaches to sustainable development, and the
search for alternative paradigms, to be considered as efforts to achieve new
-- and more encompassing -- forms of closure? In contrast to Ken Wilber's (A
Theory of Everything: an integral vision for business, politics, science, and
spirituality, 2000), and without reference to it, Lawson's 'story
of everything' engages in the self-reflexive process of reviewing itself
as an exercise in closure. Lawson however fails to cite Orrin E Klapp who used
the metaphor of the operation of the iris of the human eye, in response to light,
to discuss the challenges of responding to information overload (Opening
and closing: Strategies of information adaptation in society, 1978).
What is humanity trying to achieve through global frameworks, programmes, and
Sustainability of collective initiatives -- and the dependence on spin
Prime examples of collective initiatives -- that must necessarily distinguish
themselves by an alternative modality within society to ensure their sustainability
and identity -- include:
- exclusive hotels
- laboratories and think tanks
- custom zones
- libraries and information systems
- intentional communities
In each case, a physical barrier may be used to encircle the initiative and
separate it from society -- especially if it is secret. This may be matched
by physical security procedures and by formalities restricting right of access
to 'authorized personnel' -- or even to differential pays scales,
privileges and perks (as exemplified by the European Commission). At the same
time importance may be attached to the image of the initiative to the wider
world -- requiring attention to how it is presented and 'spun', especially
if it may be perceived as controversial. In a real sense therefore the initiative
may be understood as having to spin in order to ensure its coherence, integrity
and sustainability. With respect to social experiments towards sustainability,
this is especially interesting in the case of intentional communities. Curiously
many of these physically bounded alternatives require 'a key' to be
turned to open portals between their reality and the outer world -- a process
also evident in the case of entering space vessels.
All such initiatives may be viewed as 'models', and as members of
a more general set of conceptual models of which only some take material or
organizational form. As with the material examples, all models (including belief
systems) may then be understood as 'conceptual fortresses' operating
in a different mode (responding to the sound of a 'different drummer')
from their environment and requiring a particular dynamic to ensure an identity
distinct from it. Individual egos might also be usefully seen as each associated
with a form of spin through which personal identity is sustained. The 'whirling
dervishes' deliberately spin to enter a different reality [more].
In this sense there is a transition from the environment 'into' the
space of the model that is most obviously marked by security procedures, but
possibly by jargon or language (as explored by David Cooperrider and colleagues
Within the model, people tend to use different points of reference and to have
a different dynamic. As for people on the Earth, it is the rest of the solar
system that spins around it. Such a transition is well understood when stepping
onto a roundabout rotating in a playground -- or onto other spinning fairground
rides (of much greater complexity) which offer thrilling experiences that contrast
with the reference framework of normal gravity. The problems of this transition
are also illustrated by the challenges of astronautics to match velocity and
orientation with a spinning satellite before docking with it or landing on it.
In neither case can the spin be 'stopped' as desired by the musical:
Stop the World I Want to Get Off (1962) !
Expressed in such terms, it becomes clear that sustainability as a policy goal
needs to be seen in terms of the dynamic relationship it has as a model with
the larger social environment. Such an environment is composed of many other
models spun in different ways by their proponents or in relation to those that
oppose them. Whether or not a sustainable initiative encompasses such unsustainable
initiatives in some way, or merely competes with them, the spin that characterizes
each of them with respect to the others calls for special attention to the process
of transiting from one to the other. From an astronomical perspective, different
degrees of sustainability might be associated with models of different rates
of spin. How sustainable is a model with a very high rate of spin?
Spinning an alternative
It is curious that the industrial civilization that is such a challenge to
sustainable development was initiated by an industrial 'revolution'
-- and long-heralded by the invention of the 'wheel'. It is equally
curious that radical socio-political transformations have long been described
as 'revolutions' -- just as advances in knowledge are described as
conceptual 'revolutions'. What is it that 'revolves' and
with respect to what? How might this help to understand a sustainable development
'revolution' -- or has 'sustainable' been implicitly defined
in that context as having no 'revolutionary' characteristics? Is any
alternative to unsustainable development possible without some form of spin?
Space colonies are seen by some as an alternative to the challenges of an over-crowded
planet -- although with remarkably little effort to determine how to overcome
the psychosocial dynamics that have created the problems on Earth. It is curious
that astronautics has made it clear that construction of habitable space colonies
will in all probability require that they be 'spun' to create a sense
of gravity to make them viable for humans. In physical terms it becomes clear
that such spin is required with respect to the surrounding environment. Access
to such environments will then typically be via the axis of spin -- although,
ironically again, the docking manoeuvers and terminology recall the challenges
of consummating a courtship relationship.
In psychosocial terms in interpersonal relationships, 'spinning'
also has a long history. This starts with the process of 'spinning a tale'
to young children. It is however a characteristic of the role of any good storyteller.
The process draws the listener into the framework of an alternative reality
-- to make it 'real'. The importance of this process in modern finance
is described with the phrase 'talking up' -- typically used to boost
confidence in a failing currency or corporation, to make 'real' a
condition which may otherwise appear contrary to the facts available to those
who are otherwise informed. The problems of spinning by corporations have been
strongly highlighted during 2002 through the use of 'creative accounting'
-- and the dramatic loss of confidence in the financial reporting of even the
most reputable companies and the failure to sustain share prices in the stock
market. Sustaining confidence is fundamental to the capitalist system -- and
to any sustainable reality.
The notion of 'spinning a line' to present an alternative reality
was perhaps at the origin of the term 'spin'. Corporations in particular
have used it to keep out of trouble. Consultants are now arguing that it does
not work in the long term. For example, Reputation Qest specialises in risk
communication, teaching organizations how to be pro-active in managing issues
in order to deliver a 'sustainable reputation'.
Spinning a line is also described in terms such as 'doing a number'
on someone to entrap them in an alternative framework, possibly as part of a
courtship process governed by the criteria that 'all is fair in love and
war'. It is most often used by commercial representatives in the selling
process. Various forms of entrapment may be considered [more].
The process by which coalitions emerge, through an increasing degree of self-reference
and self-citation, can be understood as a form of spinning -- associated with
the process of 'talking it up' and 'psyching up' the participants.
As with space colonies, individuals and groups may also be understood to be
'spinning a habitat' for themselves -- the psychosocial form of 'cocooning'.
It is a way to to protect oneself sustainably from the harsh, unpredictable
realities of the outside world [more].
Gated communities can be considered as armoured cocoons -- currently providing
a form of psychological sustainability for 4 million Americans. The nomenklatura
constituted by the Communist elite was effectively a form of politico-administrative
gated community offering immense economic privileges -- now echoed to a considerable
degree by the eurocracy of the European Union [more;
game]. Psychosocial cocooning
is considered most problematic in the case of certain forms of sect.
The concept of cocooning points to other lessons from its metaphorical roots
-- the cocoons spun by silkworms, other insects and spiders. The features juxtaposed
to create a psychosocial cocoon, and the resultant web of mnemonic associations,
recall the mnemo-technical role of structures such as 'memory theatres'
(see Frances Yates, The Art of Memory). Such devices compensate for attention-deficiency
disorders, erosion of collective memory [Judge,
1980] and the inability to comprehend the longer-term cycles fundamental
to sustainability. The traditional mnemonic role of beaded circlets in this
respect merits wider recognition with respect to the challenges of sustainability
Language itself may be understood as an intimate (deep structural) equivalent
to such mnemo-technical structures -- a web by which an alternative reality
can be sustained [more]. In this light
it would be interesting to compare natural languages in terms of their capacity
to sustain sustainability. Given the more than 290 artificial (non-computer)
languages identified on the web [more],
it might even be possible to craft such a language to have significant advantages
in this respect -- as a secular 'wholly' language for reasons analogous
to the need for 'holy' languages [more].
Alternatively much might be accomplished by envisaging its characteristics,
notably in contrast to one impregnated with military metaphors. Given the call
for a compensating feminine influence, it would be intriguing to discover whether
explicit use of gender, as in languages such as French, remedied to any degree
the tendencies to pseudo-neutrality evident in policy English -- criticized
by ecofeminists as 'manstream' and based on problematic assumptions
relating to environmental ethics and the dialogue between ecofeminism and deep
ecology (see Greta Gaard, Ecofeminism. 1993) [more].
Alternative realities can perhaps be usefully understood as 'strange attractors'
engendered by particular sets or structurings of human values [Judge,
1993]. Such attractors give rise to spin-type psychosocial activity in their
neighbourhoods --- as with moths around a candle flame. The future may see interesting
explorations of the relationship between attractors and spinors in the light
of the multidimensional spaces explored in astronomy [more].
A form of spin or hype may be used to 'talk up' realities that do
not exist -- or which might exist with a different way of seeing. Ambitious
conferences of modest success, focusing on vital issues relating to alternative
psychosocial realities, can be transformed in this way to provide role models
for the future [cf experiments with psycommunities,
culture]. How could this
be most creatively done for the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg,
Transiting between realities
A fundamental challenge of the psychology of sustainability is the relative
status of alternatives, whether to a dominant mind-set or to one another. As
with religions, ideologies or opposing schools of thought, how are they to be
understood as co-existing? How does anyone enter or exit such realities -- especially
in the light of the challenges of any necessary 'indoctrination' in
order to get in and of any 'deprogramming' in order to get out? These
challenges are complicated by the zealotry of those providing the indoctrination
or opposing any subsequent deprogramming. They are further complicated when
experienced as traumatically radicalizing (in the case of politics) or as profoundly
intimate (in the case of religious conversions). A thesis, or argument, considered
'sustainable' within one reality may be viewed as absolutely untenable
or 'unsustainable' within another.
Under such circumstances, it is not sufficient to consider that alternative
realities and paradigms can simply be explained rationally and explored in that
mode. This is only true in the case of relatively trivial, or specialized, alternative
models that lend themselves to purely intellectual exercises or to exploration
as in any new game. This assumption ignores the complexities of the experiential
In the light of the above points regarding spin, it is more interesting to
consider the relationship of one reality to another as like the challenge of
getting onto a moving roundabout at a playground. Although, if the roundabout
is framed as the classic 'rat race', the challenge is how to get off
it. More complex is the case where there are many roundabouts on the playground,
operating each at different speeds -- and where the playground itself is a much
larger roundabout. Depending on the speed, getting from one roundabout to another
can be very dangerous, even for the nimble. One can understand the reluctance
of the less nimble to shift to an alternative reality, especially if their capacity
to move is challenged in other ways (vision, hearing, etc). The challenge is
even greater if the rondabouts are effectively tumbling in relation to one another
-- as usefully portrayed in the science fiction movie Contact [machine]
endorsed by the SETI Institute.
Interestingly traffic 'roundabouts' are vital to directional transitions
in vehicle movement [more]. Virtual
reality offers interesting possibilities for simulating such transitions --
which might even be used in navigating between 'levels' of a website,
a webring, or a more complex configuration of sites.
The earlier example of docking with a space satellite is also illustrative
of the highly disciplined approach required to any transition. In such a three
dimensional case, axial docking is clearly the preferred manner of transiting
from one to the other. The problem becomes extremely challenging if one or other
(or both) are tumbling unpredictably with respect to several axes (possibly
rolling, yawing, and pitching).
Is this how the challenge of sustainability can be usefully framed -- in contrast
to assumptions widely made about the self-evident simplicity of shifting to
an alternative paradigm? The response to proselytizing missionaries with respect
to their invitations to convert to their preferred reality should be a warning.
Would door-to-door 'sustainable development missionaries' have a better
reception or success rate? Why has sustainable development not generated the
dedication to sustain such missionary activity? Should its advocates go the
route of Christian charismatics with their rallies and media outreach? Ironically,
give or take a few years, the urgency of the sustainable development crisis
is framed as being subject to almost precisely the same 'deadlines'
Missionaries of any kind also face a communication challenge. It is too readily
assumed that communication in a 'common' language passes readily between
realities effectively moving in relation to one another. Einstein's theory of
relativity has pointed to the difficulties on a larger scale. The point is well
made in the difficulties of communication between Americans and British in Winston
Churchill's classic phrase: 'two peoples separated by a common language'.
Extensive studies of the problem have been made with respect to the challenges
of management in multicultural organizations.
The assertion might well be made that: 'a straight answer cannot be expected
from someone operating within an alternative reality'. The dialogue between
pro- and anti-forces on any issue is faced with this difficulty. Each necessarily
perceives the other as devious and throwing 'curved balls'. This would
be the case with space vehicles moving at high speed with respect to one another
-- according to the theory of relativity. It may also be true of people moving
past each other -- where 'red shifts' and 'döppler shifts'
do not apply. The theory of relativity might be given immediate relevance if
'light years' were equated to the necessary 'years of learning'
required for some communication between alternative realities to be 'enlightening'.
Transiting amongst a set of complementary alternatives
The challenge becomes far more complex as the number of conceptual axes increases
on which relative 'tumbling' occurs. The differences between cultures
may well be only mapped using more than three axes. One study suggests seven
[Jones, 1961]. Here again
the work of Darrell A. Posey (Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity:
a complementary contribution to Global Biodiversity Assessment, 1999) offers
valuable insight with respect to indigenous cultures around the world. It is
profoundly naive to expect the differences between any such cultures and the
dominant western culture to be bridged by essentially simplistic frameworks
of sustainable development. The point is perhaps sadly made by the interpersonal
interface with those that appear to be mad (including eye-rolling symptoms),
or who believe the world around them is mad.
This challenge was considered in an earlier paper [Judge,
1998] in the light of the extreme difficulties faced by the Aboriginal tribes
people of Australia in relating to the western mind-set (and vice versa). An
earlier version was prepared for the Spirit of the Land Foundation [more]
and translated by Diana James into a more appropriate metaphor [more].
The approach taken was to envisage the design of a pattern of initiatives. These
initiatives would be "positioned" at different "stages" between western economic
rationality and a cultural framework more congenial to local or traditional
cultures. Those closest to the economic rationale would naturally be easiest
to develop and sustain according to conventional business approaches. Those
closest to a traditional cultural framework would require most creativity in
ensuring their economic viability. They might however offer the greatest opportunities
for challenging new insight to conventional mindsets -- as well as being of
most value to the local and traditional communities themselves.
The initiatives required in this design can best be understood as interface
contexts, whatever their organizational or material form. They would be designed
to facilitate interaction between cultures or paradigms. It is to be expected
that people and processes would transfer with greatest facility between neighbouring
initiatives. Cultural acclimatization at any particular "stage" might be required
before transferring on to another stage - whether towards western economic rationality
or towards a local traditional community cultural context. The pattern of initiatives
might therefore be understood metaphorically like a sequence of sub-surface
staging posts at which divers can work -- or like a series of camps required
in the course of climbing the highest of mountains. They might also be thought
of as a paradigm "bridge".
This case makes the point that the challenge of sustainable development
may not be one of transiting from one less-sustainable reality to another more-sustainable
reality but rather providing the possibility of transitions amongst a set
of distinct realities based on different principles. In the interpretation for
Aborigines, Diana James used the metaphor of a set of 'camp fires'
each assembling people with a different (but complementary) preoccupation. This
sense of a pattern of alternatives recalls the Eastern metaphor of the seven
primary chakras (and a further hundred secondary chakras) essential to the healthy
sustainability of individual human life [more].
Traditionally each chakra is understood as spinning and each is the vehicle
for a different, but complementary, understanding of reality.
The challenge of any transition between realities is fruitfully illustrated,
in all its complexity, by a much more familiar situation, namely that of parenting
and of communication between co-existing generations. An adult -- and especially
an elder -- may lay some claim to have a more sustainable perspective deriving
from life experience and cultural insights from previous generations. There
are many approaches to communicating such insights to growing children and teenagers.
The dramatic failure of such communication for many in industrialized societies
is an indication of the challenge in rendering sustainable development meaningful
in communications from those 'who know' (or believe they know) to
those who are 'ignorant' (or who are believed to be so). Also familiar
is the transition between the realities of different roles: at home, at work,
in the pub, in sport, in worship, etc.
The challenge can also be explored in the light of preparation for possible
dialogue with extraterrestrials after contact is made [Judge,
2000]. Aliens may embody quite different cycles.
Of special interest is the fact that many forms of movement are associated
with the interface between realities governed by different cycles -- as is obvious
to a cyclist, or even a walker. This raises the question of controlling the
direction of movement resulting from this meshing of realities at the point
of transition -- a point relevant to speculation about the operation of spinning
UFOs. In the case of alternative realities associated with sustainable development,
what is the nature of the movement occasioned at the interface with a reality
Also of interest is the manner in which industrialization has in many ways
been about domesticating rotation and revolution - especially as a source of
energy and a means of powering movement. It is almost as though humanity's progress
was empowered by control of such interfaces to realities that are otherwise
oriented. Does this point to the underlying challenging for sustainable development
-- namely to relate to cycles of rotation and revolution that echo in psychosocial
terms what has been achieved in material terms? Are we awaiting the invention
of the psychosocial equivalent of the 'wheel', the 'bicycle',
the 'rollerblade', the 'dynamo', and the 'motor'?
Reality, relativity and relativism
If alternative realities have to be adequately 'spun' to acquire
integrity as attractors, how are 'local' and 'regional'
alternatives to be reconciled with 'global' frameworks? Put differently,
how is adequate spin to be given to 'local' initiatives to act as
an attractor for local people and to give them an attractive identity distinct
from any 'global' framework?
In a highly turbulent evolving knowledge society, who would want a a single
dominant view to constrain the multiplicity of extant perspectives? Is tolerance
of the apparent confusion of multiple realities to be rejected as unrealistic
relativism? Such questions become increasingly pertinent in a web environment
in which millions of sites advocate particular perspectives to users -- perspectives
that may well be totally incompatible with those advocated on other sites. The
number of sites is predicted to increase exponentially over the coming years.
Each site, like a flower, is endeavouring to entice visitors as a means of reproducing
its memetic structure. Aside from attention deficiency disorders, how is anyone
to gain more than a 'local' understanding of this universe of knowledge?
Not only is there a proliferation in contrasting perspectives, there is also
a proliferation in quantity on a particular topic -- to the point of being the
focus of whole libraries and information systems. As one concrete example, of
a specialized sector, consider the number of sites concerned with 'global
governance', or the number of reports on the matter for consideration in
relation to the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg, 2002).
Who will choose to read such documents attentively and how will their insights
be processed together as an exemplification of the conceptual and policy challenges
of the governance of sustainable development? What insights submitted will be
deliberately or inadvertently marginalized by this process and what insights
will not be fed into that context because of the predictably problematic nature
of the process? How will the insights at that event be related to those at preceding
and following events on global governance? How will any coherent sense of a
desirable alternative reality emerge from such a global process? How will it
acquire local significance -- especially if local significance is not adequately
reflected in global frameworks?
How will the spin given to the final declarations and outcomes of conferences
on global governance and sustainable development relate to the reality of the
alternatives advocated? What has been learnt over the past decade, if not since
the UN Conference
on the Human Environment (Stockholm, 1972), with respect to the credibility
given to alternatives, as opposed to 'business as usual'?
Astronomy suggests a way of thinking about a society with a multiplicity of
alternative frameworks -- and shows how communication between them might be
understood. Perhaps the most significant feature of space in an astronomical
sense, as with space at the atomic level, is the infrequency of 'matter'.
The emptiness of space is its prime feature. This way well be the case for socio-cognitive
knowledge space -- within which there may be very little that 'matters'.
Zones of alternative reality may be tiny exceptional anomalies is that vast
space -- widely separated, however locally they may be clustered. This would
notably clarify the years of experience required to transit from one distant
reality framework to another.
Within the immensity of this space, an alternative reality may emerge as a
'distortion' of the more general framework. The principles which structure
this reality and constitute its framework must necessarily be spun in relation
to the surrounding emptiness and nearby alternatives -- in order to develop
a distinct identity through a form of gyroscopic stability. Such spin responds
to the challenge of ensuring that one alternative can be sustained independently
in relation to another. This spin creates a form of gravity -- and gives seriousness
and gravitas to that alternative for those associated with it. This combination
of spin and gravity then overrides the tendency to be drawn inexorably towards
larger attractors at greater distance. As a reference framework, it may also
give them a real sense that the cosmos revolves around them -- that their framework
is at the centre of the universe.
The astronomical metaphor facilitates understanding of the dynamics of the
co-existence of different forms of truth within the vastness of communication
space. At the simplest metaphoric level, it may be declared that 'the sun
rises' -- from a particular location in what amounts to a 'planetary'
reality framework. Such a declaration has a totally different significance at
another point on that planet (at the same time), or from another planetary framework
within the same 'solar system'. Its significance is different again
from another stellar framework elsewhere in the local galaxy, or from another
galaxy. The galactic truths may appear more universal than those of the planet
-- and yet still 'the sun rises' however irrelevant this may be claimed
to be from elsewhere. The astronomical metaphor articulates the complex relationship
between a multiplicity of frameworks as a counter to accusations of simplistic
relativism. These tend to undermine efforts to comprehend how multiple truths
can co-exist in practice. The sun may indeed not rise for you -- when it is
rising for me, if you are elsewhere.
Such a metaphor indicates how different kinds and levels of truth can co-exist
sustainably. The universal truths may indeed be all-encompassing, but the cycles
with which they are associated may be far beyond the ken of those who identity
with 'planetary' and 'local' truths with shorter cycles.
Such local truths may be understood as conceptual cocoons through which local
habits sustain local identities.
Cycles sustaining reality frameworks
It may indeed be the case that degrees of sustainability can be usefully associated
with the length of the cycle of the reality framework. This highlights a fundamental
assumption commonly associated with sustainability, namely its continuing linear
development in a win-win mode. Sustainability in nature is however primarily
associated with cyclic transformation exemplified by the changing seasons in
which plants flower and die -- a win-lose modality -- in order to emerge again.
An extended cycle may be associated with a life-cycle -- surely an important
dimension to be integrated into any understanding of sustainability. A reduced
cycle may be commensurate with the rate of a beating heart -- as is much popular
music. The following table endeavours to illustrate the contrast between normal
'focus of attention' and a focus of 'significance for sustainability'.
The collective investment tends to be in the shorter-term -- undermining any
capacity to ensure sustainability over the longer-term, as illustrated by the
following table. The challenge, highlighted there in the right-hand column,
is to support patterns of thinking that enable the focus of attention to be
sustained over longer periods of time in relation to longer cycles.
Examples of cycles
significance for sustainability
||music beat, respiration, walking, running, web surfing
||conditioning, yoga, meditation
||popular song, soundbite, prayer, phone conversation, SMS,
||flow experience, peak experience
||movie, 'program', lecture, 'having a drink',
micturation, shift work cycle
||dialogue, game, recreation, operatic epic, feasting
rhythm, holiday, sleep cycle, feeding cycle, tides, substance abuse
||prayer cycle (salat, 'liturgy of the hours'),
conference, memorial day,
||work period, immunological response, domestic
||saving, holy day, retreat
||lunar cycle, crop growth, ovulation/menstrual cycle, healthy
||crop storage, preservation, composting
||seasonal cycle, reproductive cycle, migration (transhumance),
annual reporting (tax, performance, etc)
||religious festivals, UN memorial year, permaculture, health
check, annual holiday
|| education course, electoral mandate, development plan, Kitchin
price cycle (4 yr.)
||conference cycle, institution-building, capacity-building,
refresher course, product recycling
||sunspot cycle, Juglar price cycle (9-11 yr.), product obsolescence
||investment, memorial decade, continuing education
cycles (family), human life cycle, Kuznets migration cycle (18 yr.),
Kondratieff economic cycle (54 yr.)
||parenting, careering, mortgage, pension, life insurance, dynasty-building,
|| long-lived humans, rainforest recovery
||empire-building, 'grand-children', tree planting
the seventh generation', long-lived animals
||bicentennnial celebrations, reincarnation system (Living
||long-lived plants/trees, millennialism
||long-lived radioactive isotopes, recovery from radioactive
||'Clock of the Long
This cyclic attribute has not been integrated into sustainable development
strategy -- despite intense interest in Kitchin, Juglar, Kuznets and Kondratieff
economic cycles [more;
and the challenge of sustaining innovation [more].
The concerns of Francisco Sagasti regarding the knowledge divide are an interesting
The 50-54 year (Kondratieff) cycle of catastrophe and renewal had been known
and observed by the Mayans of Central America and independently by the ancient
Much controversy exists on whether the Kondratieff wave is valid for the post
WWII economy. Many have rejected it on the basis that the 54-year mark was reached
a decade ago, and should have been the trough. Daniel Fisher argues [more],
however, that the start of the "up" cycle began in 1940 or 1945, rather than
1930. Also, life expectancy has increased in the 20th century. If the 54-60
year cycle is based on generation aspects, then it would naturally be 'stretched'
beyond 60 years. Since these cycles of wars and economic birth and renewal occur
every 2nd-3rd generation, it could be said that when the generation to last
see a depression dies off, it's time for another cycle to begin.
Long-term thinking is characterized traditionally by the sense that human consequences
play themselves out over 'seven generations' -- as in the Biblical
'unto the seventh generation' and in the Native American tradition:
"Look behind you. See your sons and your daughters. They are your future.
Look farther, and see your sons' and your daughters' children and their children's
children even unto the seventh generation. That's the way we were taught.
Think about it. You yourself are a seventh generation." Tadodaho Leon Shenandoah,
Speaker of the House, Grand Council of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy
There are however many interesting echoes of cyclic response in folk traditions
world-wide related to annual and longer cycles. They have been extensively cultivated
within certain religions, notably the Catholic liturgical annual cycle, which
is one of the chief modes of teaching that faith. [more;
more]. Hinduism is
renowned for the length of the cycles which it envisages [more]
-- as is the Mayan calendar [more;
The Balinese are known for the complexity of their annual cycle [more].
Current studies of alternative calendars [more]
and comparative liturgy are therefore of great significance to understanding
how different belief systems have made themselves sustainable in cyclic time
Of particular significance in such comparative studies is the manner in which
alternative lifestyles are sustained by a 'liturgy of the hours' (Catholicism)
[more] or salat
-- and the associated use of bead circlets for prayer [Judge,
2000]. The special concern for the breathing cycle in meditation is also
worth exploration in this context. It might be useful to compare such daily
spiritual activity with daily cycles in secular lifestyles that effectively
sustain unsustainable lifestyles -- as in 'time budget' studies [more].
This focus on cycles is closely related to the cycles necessary for sustaining
the environment and any relation to it. Indeed some traditions have long entered
into a ritual to 'nurture' the environment (morning celebrations to
'ensure' the rising of the sun, or singing to a landscape in order
to 'maintain' it). The arts have generated a variety of dramatic,
musical and operatic 'cycles' that echo this cyclic insight -- as
with Wagners Ring of the Nibelung or the Chinese Monkey King --
that are suggestive of mnemonic templates for cycles of sustainability notably
through the 'ring' theme also explored in Tolkien's Lord of the
Rings [Judge, 2001;
Judge, 2002]. Much more
prosaically, 'recycling' has been a major socio-economic concern to
The question is what cycles, necessary for sustainability, are not recognized,
honoured or cultivated in current strategies for sustainable development and
sustainable lifestyles? What are the missing cycles vital to sustainability
-- and to breaking dysfunctional cycles?
It is interesting that there are various initiatives to escape from the cycles
to which one is subject. Hindus and Buddhists seek to conduct themselves in
this life in order to 'escape the cycle of reincarnation' -- a radical
approach to the issue of ensuring that life is lived 'sustainably'.
Many aspire to leaving the 'rat race' of cycles in industrialized
society in order to return to the cycles of nature -- whilst many more move
in the opposite direction. More radically, some dream of leaving the planet
and its cycles in order to colonize other planets or space habitats -- presumably
in order to adopt other cycles.
Breaking dysfunctional cycles
There is now a very extensive focus on 'breaking' dysfunctional cycles
[use web search 'breaking the cycle of' (or 'breaking
the cycles of')] that might be understood as undermining healthy sustainability.
Over 100 such cycles are listed in a separate document (https://www.laetusinpraesens.org/docs/cycles.php).
It is significant that most of the 'cycles', 'circles'
or 'chains' recognized in documents on the web are only indirectly
related to issues of sustainable development as normally described. Those in
the separate document mentioned
above emphasize the experiential nature of the cycles -- whether or not they
have been elaborated or authenticated. There is a possibility that whilst the
cycles characteristic of behavioural entrapment have become necessarily familiar
to many, those associated with environmental degradation and its developmental
implications have not.
In the continuing work on the Encyclopedia
of World Problems and Human Potential [online]
efforts have been made to document the thousands of loops or cycles linking
world problems, or the global strategies in response to them [more].
Users can experiment with visualizing them in various ways [more]
and even binding them to music [more].
In a web-enabled knowledge society, there is a case for exploring how such patterns
of links contribute to the 'songlines of the noosphere' rather than
thinking of them in relation to 'information highways' [more].
The phenomenon of 'webrings' that link related web sites is a move
in this direction (with 62,000 Rings, 1.08 million active Sites, and 670,000+
unique registered users in July 2002) [more].
The possibility of 'songlines' even suggests the merit of envisaging
the sacralization of hyperlink geometry [more].
Behavioural attractors and sustainable
Some commentaries on chaos theory have focused on its detection of four basic
attractors that ensure a degree of order and patterning in 1 to 4 dimensions
- 1-dimensional -- point attractor: This could be understood in terms
of the manner in which issues emerge for an individual or society and become
the focus of 'points' on the agenda of conferences like that on
sustainable development. Particular issues either attract or repel but in
either respect they engender a form of order, notably within a conference
environment where they are a basis for coalition formation, resolution and
- 2-dimensional -- cycle (or circuit) attractor: This could be understood
as the way in which a person or group is successively attracted to one issue
and then to another -- being attracted to the next and repelled by the last.
The cycle may involve two or more points of attraction (see checklist).
For policy-makers the cycle may involve a succession of switches between,
for example, 'centralization' and 'decentralization' as
panaceas for governance. Traditional farmers may use more complex cycles through
crop rotation in order to ensure sustainable yields from their fields. Presumably
the many cycles identified above could be understood in terms of a cycle attractor.
- 3-dimensional -- torus attractor: A torus attractor (like a donut
or smoke ring) can be understood as defined by a spiralling cycles on many
planes which may, or may not, eventually reconnect after completing one or
more revolutions of the torus. Each cyclic revolution there is a movement
forward, effectively a spiral movement -- repetition with difference, as in
predator-prey relationships. Whilst not recognized as a 'torus',
such phenomena may well be recognized in terms of 'spirals' or 'spiralling'
(see below). It is possible that the somewhat predictable and repetitive manner
in which issues of sustainable development are approached (through a succession
of conferences) could be explored in this light.
- 4-dimensional -- strange attractor: This attractor cannot be described
by any 3-dimensional geometric form because of its 4-dimensional nature. It
has been recognized as basic to processes of self-organization. It is of no
apparent order but the forms it takes have been explored in terms of some
widely publicized fractal sets (eg Mandelbrot, Feigenbaum [more]).
Elsewhere the question of whether human values can be usefully understood
as strange attractors has been explored (Judge,
The above sequence illustrates the challenge for sustainable development, namely
to encompass the transitions:
- from a focus on point attractors (the focus of conventional conference
agenda items and their conclusions),
- through cycle attractors (as noted above and as basic to many responses
to sustainble development, if only 'recycling'),
- through torus attractors enabling recognition of the subtly repetitive
nature of conference series on sustainable development (cf 'those who
fail to learn from history are forced to repeat it'),
- to strange attractors that are driving the process through the interplay
of human values in relation to environment and development, in terms of both
their individual and collective implications.
Arnold Keyserling [more]
suggests that these may be understood as corresponding to the four Jungian psychological
functions: sensing, thinking, feeling and willing (intuition). This correspondence
works quite will in the case of sensing the issues and 'points' in
relation to sustainable development, and to the intuitive understanding driving
efforts to resolve them. It is however more ambiguous in the case of thinking
and feeling. On the one hand policy thinking on any issue may oscillate
cyclically between two or more approaches to an issue of sustainable
development, but this may also reflect the cyclic nature of the waves
and tides of public feeling in response to an issue.
Breaking dysfunctional spirals: sustainability and the torus
Following this logic, and moving beyond the cycle attractor of the earlier
section, surprisingly there is now a significant focus on 'spiralling'
dysfunctional cycles [use web search 'breaking the spiral of']
that might be understood as undermining healthy sustainability, notably with
- the 'spiral of violence' [more],
or conflict [more],
- the 'spiral of unsustainability' [more;
- the 'spiral of power' [more],
- the 'spiral of self-harm' [more],
- the 'spiral of cynicism' [more],
- the 'spiral of social exclusion' and disadvantage [more;
- the 'spiral of hyperinflation' [more],
- the 'spiral of rural poverty' [more;
- the 'spiral of urban decline' [more;
- the 'spiral of military escalation' [more],
- the 'spiral of benefit dependency' [more;
- the 'spiral of degradation' [more],
- the 'spiral of retail decline' [more],
- the 'spiral of disaffection' [more;
- the 'spiral of protectionism' [more],
- the 'spiral of reinforcing advocacy' [more],
- the 'spiral of wages and prices' [more],
- the 'spiral of silence' [more]
Whether such 'spiralling' can be understood as forming a 'torus',
it is clear that intuitively people and groups are choosing to move beyond the
more obvious 'point' issues of sustainable development, and beyond
the simple 'cycles' noted earlier.
It is possible that those links indicated earlier under 'cycle' that
derived from a search on 'breaking the cycles' may in fact
reflect an understanding of spiralling cycles -- or cycles feeding into one
another -- rather than simple cycles or the phases of a single cycle. What proportion
of this use of 'spiral' versus 'cycle' terminology merely
reflects facile use of structural metaphors -- without any real sense of the
phases of the cycle or spiral -- is another matter. It is equally unclear how
often the use of 'breaking the cycle' is merely a fashionable way
of recognizing the complexity of a single 'point' issue -- again without
any real sense of cycling.
It would appear that the psychology of sustainable response of social issues
is significantly outstripping the ability of international conferences on sustainable
development to recognize and respond to the hyperstructure of the challenge
they purport to face. The hyperstructure of communication space has been mostly
richly explored in mathematical terms by Ron Atkin [review].
The challenge for value-driven conferences on sustainable development may be
how to 'bridge' between the strange attractors driving the dynamic
the psychosocial dynamic and the concrete concerns which are highlighted on
the agenda. Again, in Jungian terms, this would be expressed as the challenge
of individuation, namely integrating the functions of sesning, feeling, thinking
and intuition -- here played out in the collective response of humanity to the
challenges of sustainable development
There are many speculative studies on the web that explore the use of a torus
to model individual and collective consciousness, even on 'toroidal
For George Williams (2001), for example:
We explore how collective consciousness (or unconsciousness) may be self-organizing.
Experiences of intuition and creativity may be in part due to individuals
drawing on a transcendent, common field of information that encompasses members
of a culture or society. We develop the concept and survey some empirical
evidence that would be consistent with this possibility. Next we explore the
simplest model that is consistent with our concept of self-organization. We
argue that such simple structures would likely be embodied in symbols, myths,
and rituals that span a broad range of cultures over time. Finally we survey
a class of symbols, such as the Holy Grail and Tree of Life, that have strong
structural similarities to our model. [more]
For Duane Elgin (1996), in discussing a 'central project for humanity':
The characteristic physical structure of self-organizing systems is the "torus"
or a donut shaped pattern that is continuously regenerated (as in a tornado).
The torus is the simplest geometry of a dynamically self-organizing system
-- and this easily recognizable form can be seen at every level of the cosmos.[more]
Conscientific research and development
The issues raised in this paper call for further reflection within a new methodology
of 'conscientific' research, as explored in a separate paper [Judge,
The shift in focus from isolated issues, as point attractors, to higher dimensional
cyclic attractors places increasing emphasis on time -- ironically given the
urgency for the planet of some of the point issues. This raises the question
of the psychology of sustainability in relation to the way in which time is
understood and experienced as being ordered. At the most pragmatic, objective
level the destabilizing effects of the confused Gregorian calendar system that
dominates the world community have resulted in many calls for calendar reform
within the United Nations -- and its predecessor the League of Nations [more].
Arguments have been advanced that a more harmonious calendar system, better
reconciled to the cycles of nature, would engender more harmonious responses
supportive of sustainability. A World Summit on Peace and Time was convened
at the University for Peace (Costa
Rica, 1999) which acknowledged that in 1962, the Vatican II Council issued
a "Declaration of Calendar Reform," that did not oppose a new perpetual civil
The Vatican issued the "Declaration of the Vatican II Ecumenical Council Concerning
Calendar Reform." This is now an appendix to the "Constitution of Sacred Liturgy,"
the Vatican's 1962 "Calendar Reform Declaration," Article 2, states that it
is "not opposed to initiatives to introduce a perpetual calendar for civil society,"
as long as that calendar conserves the seven-day week with respect to maintaining
Sunday, so critical to Christian liturgy.
The Gregorian Calendar's strict adherence to the solar cycle produces an expiring
calendar every year. This requires continual schedule-revisions for many important
activities, such as education. It also precludes regular divisions within the
year necessary for accurate statistical comparisons. Half-years have an equal
number of days only in leap-years; the year never divides evenly into quarters;
the months are irregular; and neither the year nor the months can be divided
regularly into weeks. It is the psychological impact of such civil 'disorder'
that may well severely undermine harmonious responses to the challenges of sustainability.
Neither the United Nations nor the Vatican followed up the topic of calendar
reform which they initiated, 42 and 36 years ago respectively.
There is a supreme irony to the Vatican's orginal opposition to the reform
of the Gregorian calendar before the League of Nations in 1933 when it was argued
that taking a single day out of the annual cycle (a 'day-out-of-time')
to permit a calendar system based on 364 days would lead to social chaos, barbarism
and war. The remainder of the century -- the bloodiest in the history of humanity
-- certainly demonstrated that 365 days was highly conducive to just that.
Perhaps the compromise is to develop parallel use of one, or more, calendars
supportive of alternative lifestyles and mindsets -- neither religious nor secular
-- whose attractiveness would derive from the manner in which it facilitated
sustainable development and the engagement of peope in it. An example is that
of the World Thirteen Moon Calendar Change Peace Movement [more;
The Whole Earth Catalog's cover affirmation that : "We
can't put it together; it is together"
could be modified to affirm that
'We can't make the Earth sustainable; it is sustainable -- but whether
with us, or without us, is our choice'
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