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2002 | Draft 16 Aug

Dysfunctional Cycles and Spirals

web resources on "breaking the cycle"

Anthony Judge


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 following cycles and spirals were identitifed from the web as part of work on a separate paper on Psychology of Sustainability: embodying cyclic environmental processes (https://www.laetusinpraesens.org/docs/psychsus.php) where their significance is discussed.

For a meeting on inter-sectoral dialogue on the occasion of the Earth Summit (Rio de Janeiro, 1992) a somewhat related study was undertaken on the many sets of issues identified in declarations prepared for the gathering. This explored possibilities of structuring such issues by Configuring strategic dilemmas in intersectoral dialogue cyclically on the surface of a sphere [more].

A. Cycles (or circuits)

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.

Once completed, the search was extended to include "breaking the chain of" and "breaking the chains of" on the assumption that "chain" was here understood as a synonym for "cycle". The links found were added to those for any equivalent cycle already in the list -- unless no such cycle was found (in which case the term "chain" was used in the list). In the latter case there is a question of whether "chain" is understood merely as a binding or burden without any sense of the circular dynamic associated with "cycle" -- as in the cases of the chains of: legacy [more], behaviorism [more], chastity [more], loneliness [more], man-made religion [more], or the past [more]. The search was further extended to "breaking the circle of".

The following loosely clustered list covers over 100 such cycles -- possibly with some overlaps or duplicates in practice. Those identified from the web searches may derive either from studies of such a cycle or mention of such cycles in the body of a text with some other preoccupation. It is intended to be illustrative of usage rather than concerned with identifying the best source on a particular cycle.

Abuse and violence

Self-abuse, defeatism and sin

Crime and irresponsibility

Food, education, shelter and employment

Intolerance and injustice

Ill-health

Lifestyle, community and governance

Macro-concerns and environment

It is significant that most of the cycles recognized in documents on the web are only indirectly related to issues of sustainable development as normally described. Those above tend to 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.

It is appropriate to note the occasional occurrence in the search of cycles or chains that are in fact beneficial -- so that the breaking of the cycle is in fact itself a problem, for example: the "chain of causation" [more] or evidence [more], the "chain of logic", the "chain of command", the "chain of property title" [more], the "chain of energy metabolism" [more], the "chain of aquifer replenishment" [more], the "chain of the generational contract" [more], the "chain of humanity" [more], the "chain of organization structure" [more], the "chain of the seed" [more], the "chain of survival" [more], or even "The Chain of Being" [more].

Also of interest is the occurrence of a few documents on "transforming the cycle of", in relation to poverty [more], karma [more], and youth violence [more].

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].

B. Spirals

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 respect to:

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