September 1971

Recommendations for Change and Intervention in the World System

Preliminary Thoughts

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1. It would appear that many national and international programs are effectively "contained" such that every success in one area is counter-balanced by a failure in another although the link may not always be apparent. The success and the failure may not simply cancel one another out. The dynamic interaction between programs may introduce unpredictable systemic and synergetic effects which propel the system into a progressively less stable condition. We are currently not equipped to detect these types of change (except through such initiatives as the Club of Rome's reported in Jay Forrester's World Dynamics.

2. "Reformers, critics of institutions, consultants in innovation, people in short who "want to get something done", often fail to see this point. They cannot understand why their strictures, advice or demands do not result in effective change. They expect either to achieve a measure of success in their own terms or to be flung off the premises. But (a social institution) has no need to react in either of these ways. It specializes in equilibrial readjustment which is to the observer a secret form of change requiring no actual alteration in the macro-systemic characteristics that he is trying to do something about". (Stafford Beer. Chairman's Address to the International Cybernetic Congress, September 1969)

3. It may well be that the system functions entirely satisfactory 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 counter-balancing responses. It therefore becomes questionable as to which changes should be proposed or implemented since every such intervention is counter-balanced in an unforeseeable manner (e.g. The Club of Rome study of World Dynamics concludes that industrialization is an important cause of world problems, whereas Picht in Germany casts doubt upon the significance of computer based studies and the American forecasting school of thought,and considers industrialization to be the only solution). 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 of followers and opponents. These are within-system changes and not changes to the system.

4. It may be that world problems become apparent due to a systemic psychosocial ("sub-conscious") response to a need for tensions and inequalities on which the culture can "feed" (through a complex process of identification with opposing aspects of an issue opposite poles of the inequality and then interacting over the new territory thus created). This would generate social energy and provide new perceptual complexes to internalize. (cf. it would be interesting to note the changing balance of concern over the last 30 years between "war" and "world problems" they both provide | a needed social tension and both may be systemic correctional measures.) The recognition by groups within society of real world conditions as "problems", may be somewhat, similar to the presentation to an individual's consciousness of hallucinations and delusions as a response to conditions of sensory deprivation.

5. 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.

Forrester remarks that his system analyses of corporations in trouble generally showed that whilst each person was acting as best he could, with the best intentions given the information at his disposal, it was the interaction of these "well conceived" departmental policies that kept the corporation in its difficulties. The same may be true of the world system - its problems may be created by the interactions of well-intentioned programs.

6. It is unwise to assume that people or organizations are attempting to improve the system as a whole. In the case of politicians, academics and organizations in general it is not always the substantive question which is important. This is in many cases merely a symbol for the territory constituted by the issue.

(a) In the case of diplomacy or politics, issues are viewed as an opportunity for advancement of the nation or party and only incidentally, and as an unforeseen and occasional by-product, as a question which requires solution in its own right, independent of national interests or party politics. (b) Organizations m general, including supra-national agencies, are locked into complex games. Again it is not program effectiveness which is the criterion but rather the territory constituted by the problem for which the program was created. Organizations become "learning environments" and role habitats and have a system maintenance, rather than a system change, function. "The organization is the message". (c) In the academic environment, again it is territory which is the prime concern. A new hypothesis is viewed, if at all, as a territorial intrusion. Even if it is satisfactory, in terms of explanatory power, it will be analyzed in terms of opportunities for publishable criticism or counter proposals which will improve the academic status of the scholar. A scholar must dissent to distinguish himself from his fellows.

7. Activity in politics, organizations or academe maybe more directed to stabilizing a condition of fulfilling behavior. As a result "more effective" or "more truthful" nay become interpreted as doing more activity of the same kind. The tension required to detect and solve the problem and the associated behavior, may be considered a desirable feature of the environment and therefore oppose convergence to any "solution",

Much activity is therefore a question of "tourner autour du pot" in order to ensure maintenance of the status quo. One perceives a central but unintegrated truth which one does not wish to see integrated and expressed explicitly because this would "take apart" and render "transparent" one's system and life style.

8. Problems are recognized and organized for in order to provide a structured environment of such dimensions and complexity as is adequate for one's ability to respond. Other problems are not recognized. The stimulus of the presence of the problem is a reinforcement to one's identity. It is selected to provide a domain on which one can demonstrate one's ability to master one's environment.

9. "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 behaviour. 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.

10. There appear to be cycles of intimate integrative or disintegrative interaction between concepts current m society, organizations formed to protect or further such concepts, and the manner in which an individual is fragmented or integrated by adherence to or formulation of such concepts or allegiance or opposition to such organizations. Each part of this cycle is the territory of a different discipline and "invisible" to the others.

11. Individuals end groups choose courses of action to protect and extend their identities. 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 m 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.

12. The system may not be of a "big bang" developmental type in psychosocial 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.

13. 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, nor regret its absence, for the preservation of psycho-social structures. 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.

14. We nay indeed be living at the peak of a "golden age", as the "World Dynamics" study claims, and will from now on be progressively or catastrophically losing all our gains in organizational, technological and, possibly, cultural terms. These losses may be counter-balanced by gains in terms of psycho-cultural organization. To ensure the latter however, we must ensure the transfer of the experience acquired by the passing technological society a"Noah's Ark" policy. What is the kernel, borne of the tremendous pressures, stresses, opportunities and resources available today? Through what media can it be passed on - given that the next decades or centuries may be "throwing many babies out with the bathwater" ?

Is it melodramatic to call this an exercise in cultural propagation and the conservation of "psycho-social genes" through a time of chaos - or at least the distillation of the essence or acquired experience to permit its transformation into a form applicable to a society with other values and resources and within which it would be impossible to glean such experience.

15. The world is exploding into subsystems at a rate which is now exceeding the rate of development of the communication techniques to overcome the psychic distance between sub-cultures - with the exception of very crude messages. Sub-culturization may be looked upon as a d and control over one's own concerns and a rejection of, or indifference to, "world order". In evolutionary terms, it is a protection of psycho-genetic variety - essential in a time of disaster.

16. 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 m 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.

17. 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 (of. 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.

18. Information is a threat to existing structures and identities. It is not required unless preprocessed in such a way as to reinforce the perspectives of the receivers.

As before, the politician and academic want information to improve their holds on their territories. Information must therefore be presented in terms of relevance to the territory. There is no framework for crossdisciplinary discussion - no inter-territorial language.

The transparency" that information can offer to the existing social and conceptual structures is viewed as a threat to entrenched positions - both by those who profit from the current state of obscurity and by those who need to protect the germination of new or compensatory processes from over-exposure. The formula for controlling the controllers of such information systems has not been found.

It is possible that a historical perspective will snow that just as a contributing factor to the fall of the Roman Empire was an inability to transfer funds rapidly, so the fall of the Western Civilization may be due to an inability to transfer meaningful information rapidly.

19. With respect to peace and social inequality, it is important to meditate on the functioning of any natural eco-system and the problems, and desirability, of suppressing violence in it. The assumption in the case of man is that each person is an 'indivisible" individual basically of similar nature. But each individual is in fact represented in society by a multiplicity of roles of unequal importance, even to himself, and it is through roles and organizational and conceptual structures inhabited by such roles that the (extra or meta-systemic?) 'individual' participates in the system. Society is an eco-system of roles and an individual is a very abstract concept indeed.

In a social system, the "top dog - underdog" inequality may be as natural and necessary as the dynamic carnivore - herbivore relationship is in a natural ecosystem. There are chains of processes in the role ecosystem just as there are food and other chains in natural environments.

Legislating for peace may be the equivalent of creating a human zoo, in which each role is sealed on from the next the ' carnivores' must still be fed, however, but by the organizers of the zoo.

The only satisfactory approach to peace appears to be through the development of a precise means of transferring status,equivalent and parallel to the money system. This is a long way off. All other approaches will stunt the development of the social system and the individuals within it. War is war between roles, not between individuals.

20. 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-sreet, (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 or the Catholic Church and religion in society after the Renaissance.

We now have a new Universal Church with its orders namely the United Nations and its family of agencies. 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 organized society just as that period had a religion-based society. One must belong to an organization. Organization has become a religion with a stranglehold 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 must be condemned,as quackery, superstition, witchcraft and devilry 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 will 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.

21. It may be that we are close to discovering a psycho-social equivalent to atomic energy - with all its implication for society. What does hindsight offer in the way of guidance to the social scientist? What protective devices can he introduce? How can the investigation be made sufficiently general in order to foresee all the disturbances to the system?

22. There are practically no channels through which multidisciplinary studies or projects may be proposed - unless a specific the is made to some unidisciplinary concern, thus prejudicing the success of the project. All such projects must be voted and approved by organization channels with unidisciplinary biases. Furthermore, there are practically no environments which are not locked into the perspectives of a single culture.

23. Finally, how are the results of any world system investigation to be reported and to whom? When is an explanation satisfactory and for whom? What is to be said of an explanation which is meaningful for one group,which agrees to use a special theoretical framework and accompanying jargon, but is meaningless to outsiders?

A problem of the same form is posed by objectivity. If objectivity is achieved by cross-checking within an (academic) community, objectivity is then a matter of consensus. One man can never by objective, unless by acclaim after the act, and consensus never extends to the total population. If it is a question of "a majority", what of the objectivity of the innovator?

A third problem of the same form is posed by far-reaching policy decisions based on highly technical presentations understandable to very few - when are such decisions "in the interests of the majority" and how is this to be determined and to whose satisfaction?

A fourth problem of the same form is posed by the definition of relevance. There is no framework within which the relevance or irrelevance of a particular approach to a real world problem can be examined. Relevance is discipline oriented and not real world oriented.


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