Third Interdisciplinary Conference on the Evolution of World Order: From Knowledge to Sound Policy and Action
Summary of Theme 1: Systemic View of the World
Some 50 enthusiastic participants attended this year’s event. As in previous conferences of this series, the discussion of issues was lively and relevant. However, the objective of presenting policy recommendations was not achieved during the meeting. The outcomes of each of the sessions, and of the whole will be worked out by the session chairs and published at a future date first on the conference website ( www.ryerson.ca/~woc ) and later as a book.
What follows is my personal report on the first conference theme: Systemic View of the World, which reflects the philosophy underlying the entire conference. I use several metaphors to illustrate the need for a systemic approach to world issues.
A systemic world view and knowledge integration are necessary in order to see the big picture of our complex world. Academic disciplines are dealing with knowledge fragments — little gems of knowledge. However, the world is a mosaic that represents more than little stones. Furthermore, a holistic world view is of necessity a wide angle view, which must consider the connectedness of local, national, and global issues, and of short, middle and long term issues. It is also a world view that includes the full spectrum of all the issues. Only after consideration of all issues can we see a problem in the right ´colour’. The World Trade Organization, for example, is failing to get things right as they look at the world through ´tinted glasses’. They try to organize everything by commercial rules alone, but humankind has many other priorities. Yet another useful metaphor of a systemic world view is that of a hologram. Each part of the conference must contain a full picture; the whole must be considered in every session of the conference. Values, for example, must guide all ecological, social, and individual actions; similarly, a well rounded education must include values, environmental, social, and individual knowledge tools.
Values or goals are at the beginning if we are to influence the evolution of world order in a desirable direction. The goals describe the world we want. From values we derive the laws that create an orderly world.
Summary of Theme 1 Sessions
Anatol Rapoport presented a paper entitled: ´Universal Values in the Light of General System Theory’. He criticizes value declarations such as: “We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; ….” As a statement of fact, this statement is manifestly false or else meaningless. Stark inequality characterizes practically any conceivable feature distinguishing any two persons at their birth. Therefore, these statements should be presented in the imperative mode: “People ought to be treated as if they were equal; as if they were endowed with inviolable rights, etc.” Professor Rapoport also suggested that universal ´bads’ are much easier to determine than universal ´goods’. Therefore, the converse of the Golden Rule was suggested by Rabbi Hillel, a contemporary of Jesus: “What is hateful to thee do not do unto thy neighbour.” ´Survival’ and ´knowledge’ were mentioned as examples of universal values, while ´beauty’ may remain a subjective value; there is no need for the universality of all values.
´Universal Values and Their Consequences’ was the title of a poster presented by Helmut Burkhardt. Two major classes of values are described. The first major class of values contains the natural values, which are composed of necessary values, and instrumental values. Necessary values are universals such as life, procreation, sustenance, and protection from harm. The instrumental values are the means to satisfy the universal needs, and as such they are dependent on the circumstances – “My kingdom for a horse”. Justice, knowledge, wealth, power are examples for instrumental values. The second major class of values are the supernatural values, which are culture specific and not objective or verifiable. Examples of supernatural values are reincarnation in Buddhism, resurrection and life after death in Christianity. Supernatural values serve to distinguish one community from others, and act as an internal social glue that holds the community together. The world religions have a common ground in natural values, and make use of supernatural values to bond their members. The former are a great pool of collective wisdom, while the latter have done much worldly damage by intolerance resulting from a lack of understanding of the role of other worldly matters in religions. Systemic consequences of the multiplicity of values are severe, often resulting in life and death decisions. — Parents will sacrifice their own life for their offspring; soldiers die for the community. The vital need for a drink makes creatures go to the watering hole where deadly danger lurks.
Understanding values is necessary for rational conflict management.
Justice is an important instrumental value that is difficult to define. Suwanda Sugunasiri, the founder of the Nalanda College of Buddhist Studies inToronto presented a paper entitled: Justice – a Buddhist Perspective. Justice is seen as an agent that creates a dynamic social equilibrium: ´social homeostasis’. This understanding of justice is based on Buddha’s notion of conditioned co-origination, which means that everything results from a multiplicity of conditions in a necessary, reciprocal, and circular relationship. Professor Sugunasiri suggests that: The goal of justice is happiness for the individual-in-society. The conditions required to achieve such a goal are at the individual level friendliness (metta), compassion (karuna), altruistic joy (mudita), and equanimity (upekkha). Conjointly are four dimensions of social-consciousness, namely, sharing (dana ), pleasant speech (peyyvajja), the social good (atthacariya) and egalitarianism (samanattata). All qualities are to be understood both preventively and curatively. An approach to justice in terms of Human Rights is contrary to such principles, because it is based in selfishness, attachment, and anger.
Order cannot be perfect. A degree of disorder or chaos is necessary for the functioning of any system. Professor Roger Hansell, Institute for Environmental Studies,University ofToronto presented a paper on: ´Chaos and Order in Complex Systems’. He described the basically chaotic nature of the ecosystem. There is no master plan for the evolution of an ecosystem. Order does emerge spontaneously in the sense of Prigogine’s dissipative structures, which are predictable only in a statistical way. The complex, chaotic, and nonlinear behaviour of ecosystems make their management extremely risky, and difficult to achieve. (An appropriate mix of chaos and order has been termed ´chaorder’ and developed as a management strategy for complex systems by Dee Hock, who saved the VISA corporation from bankruptcy by imposing a basic global order, and by allowing for local chaotic competition. See http://www.earthday.net/grist/citizen/c itizen122999.stm )
Albert Bartlett of the University of Colorado presented a paper on ´Arithmetic, Population, and Energy’. He states that ´Growth’ is the centrepiece of today’s global and national economies, and sustainability has become a ´buzzword’ for environmentalists. Yet, the advocates of growth and of sustainability do not acknowledge the First Law of Sustainability: “Growth of populations and/or growth in the rates of consumption of resources cannot be sustained.” He illustrated the incomprehensible lack of understanding of these simple facts by prominent politicians and economists, and gave many examples of the resulting irrational actions. It is a formidable challenge to educators to transmit the impossibility of growth to all.
Systemic Issues and Solutions: Conclusions, Insights Gained, Outcome.
The chaotic mode of existence has kept the globe’s ecosystems in a dynamic equilibrium for millions of years. However, humankind is now in possession of tools and weapons that cause a major disturbance of the natural equilibrium, if not a catastrophic collapse of the web of life. Therefore, humanity must exercise self-control, and that means humankind must establish an effective global governance. Humanity as a whole must self-organize as a cybernetic entity capable of purposeful action. This means having a purpose, and having sufficient information and matter-energy processing facilities to enable self-control.
1) Issue: Universal values, common purpose.
Solution: Extract a set of universalvalues from all cultures, disseminate universal values, demonstrate the damaging consequences of false values, and remove such false values as consumerism, prolific human procreation, and economic growth through dirty technology. Effect value clarification through education, the media, organized religion, corporations, NGOs, and government. Use positive and negative incentives to motivate appropriate action. Introduce accountability mechanisms with teeth that promote sustainability.
2) Issue: Global information processing and communication ability
Solution: Remove knowledgefragmentation by integrating knowledge at all levels of education. Introduce one or two common auxiliary languages in all schools around the globe. Abolish the digital divide, and make the internet globally accessible. Guarantee free speech. Combat disinformation and corruption by supporting Global Watch at the UN, and NGOs such as Transparency International.
3) Issue: Sustenance
Solution: Restore the vital ecosystemintegrity by reducing environmental impact according to I = P x A x T, where I is the environmental impact of humankind, P is the world population, A is the affluence or income per person, and T is the environmental damage per dollar of our technology-based economy. Reduce the environmental impact by reducing all three factors in the equation. This means setting sustainable population and consumption targets, and moving towards greener technology. Keep the global commons clean by charging a global tax on the use of outer space, the atmosphere, the polar regions, rain forests, and the oceans. Such a tax is needed for sustaining global wilderness areas for the sake of preserving vital biodiversity and for global social security, healthcare, and education.
4) Issue: Security, protection from harm Solution: Reduce chaotic actions of sovereign nation states by meaningful self-organization of societal structures: Increase effective global governance by reforming the UN and other institutions and organizations – public and private.
Reform the Security Council by having permanent continental and subcontinental representatives without veto power. Create from contingents of national armies an effective international rapid reaction police force under direct command of the UN. Let the community of all nations offer credible security to all existing individual nations, and thus eliminate the need for the insecurity- creating military complex; abolish weapons of mass destruction. Security through strength is no longer a rational policy option when nuclear weapons are readily available to minor nations and even to terrorists. Security must be achieved through a global coalition of all nations.