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Intervening to Solve National and World Problems

Real Change or System Maintenance? (Part #1)


Record of a 1976 Postal Symposium with observations and comments by Anthony Judge [AJ] and by David Horton Smith [DHS]


Part 1 (remarks 1 to 15)
Part 2

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Part 1 (remarks 1 to 15)

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 amy 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 synergic 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). [AJ]

1.a. Don't always, or really ever, yet know which interventions will result in what degree of "formal progress". Linkages need to be studied. How does inquiry affect system? Social science equivalent of Heisenberg Constant. Complexity of system makes studying interactions difficult. Computer simulation? Some interventions may produce catastrophe; side or back effects. [DHS]

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) [AJ]

2.a. Well taken. Le Chatelier's Principle and absorption of thrusts. Continually redefined system to include attacks. [DHS]

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 followers and opponents. These are within-system changes and not changes to the system. [AJ]

3.a. How could one know more about the ways in which actions/ interventions are counter- balanced in fact by dynamic systems? (U.S. poverty program and maximum feasible participation/manipulation; c.f. Moynihan). "Blind systemic affects" (flow of goods, services, information, people) vs. perception of niches by particular people who can turn a program to one's own use ("abuse"). Options chosen by actors for their own ends not ends of programs or public interest. [DHS]

4. It may be that world problems become apparent due to a systemic psycho-social ("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. (e.g. 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. [AJ]

4.a. Aggregation of need for tension at individual level. When is a problem really a problem? How much happiness/dissatisfaction is salutary or inevitable? Where should we draw the line between constraint and freedom for individuals or higher system levels? If all dynamic systems are in some equilibrium, when should changes of the "negative aspects" be sought, given the system context? Dead dog in a puddle here vs. in Africa. Expectation level theory in psychology is relevant here. Being troubled by lack of poverty in Dusseldorf. Why change things if people and groups/social systems adapt expectation levels accordingly anyway? Why force one perception of needed changes on others and their systems - e.g., LDCs?

Focus on roles, not individuals. Define species (of roles) in terms of possibly fruitful intercourse. Validity of voting inter-species? Antelopes' and lions' views of "problem" of their ecosystem. Depends on which is in greater number. Is present voting system equivalent to having pigeons vote on cow problems? Perhaps we should drop equality bit? Why pretend all are equal? Prevents getting a better system. Don't assume inequality is bad. Are pigeons better than cows? Aquarium model. Some fish bigger and take more territory. We, on outside, try to affect equality of territory of fish. Destroys interaction process. (Have to consider change from large to small fish, etc.) But could do this. Question of what state of total eco-system is really desirable and whether intervention to achieve this is needed. [DHS]

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. [AJ]

5.a. Clearly, much concern with an intervention in world or social problems may be useless, unnecessary, or actually harmful in long run to people. At least it may be a waste of effort and resources better directed to enjoyment of experiences. But the experiential aspect - the "being in becoming" - may be crucial. Perhaps this is the key to why we need to try to deal with them. Tension and tension reduction as valuable. [DHS]

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.

  • 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.
  • Organizations in 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".
  • 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 distinquish himself from his fellows. [AJ]
6.a. Agreed that there is much phoniness in the apparent or ostensible goals of people and organizations. Conspiracy of silence not to discuss this phoniness. Agree often (usually?) to take each others' individual and organizational games seriously. Turf and territoriality and protection of the familiar. Innovation and change as too tension producing to continue for long. Law of least effort here, even for innovators (individual or group). Regression toward mean. Saddle effect - stable and quasi-stable dynamic equilibria. Peter Principle. Corporation man. Parkinson's Law. Organization man. Bureaucratic imperative. Resistance to innovation as territorial intrusions. Ego-involvement and self extension, both personal and organizational. Possible role of evaluation research in affecting ability of systems to play games unchallenged. Expected resistances to such research and its implications. Policy research to confirm vs. to set new policy. Research for truth vs. to prove "X". Which is more important for the system as a whole? How can one say? What can be done to really institutionalize evaluation research on a broad scale? Will this do any good? Will it affect how "games" are played? Will it matter if it does? [DHS]

7. Activity in politics, organizations or academe may be more directed to stabilizing a condition of fulfilling behaviour. As a result "more effective" or "more truthful" may become interpreted as doing more activity of the same kind. The tension required to detect and solve the problem, and the associated behaviour, 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. [AJ]

7.a. Problem solutions resisted because of real desire to continue "solving the problem". Again, process is important. Perceiving as problem what one can really handle, given one's interests and resources. Refusal to face other problems that tend to destroy one's organizational or personal life style. Cognitive consistency motivation. Familiarity. Equilibration dynamics. Compartmentalization as a defense mechanism. [See also Wrecking an International Project: Notes from a saboteur's vade mecum, 1972]. (CVS Reprint #3). [DHS]

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. [AJ]

8.a. Same as 7.a. [DHS]

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 behavior. Progress must therefore threaten those identified with any existing set of invariants. Their loss of identity may not be compensated by the opportunities for new identity in the new situation. The society may be stripped of identification opportunities causing the culture to decay or decrease in richness. [AJ]

9.a. Incompatibility of personal/group identity and "intervention of an effective sort in regard to a particular problem" ("progress"). Change and progress as endemic and pervasive threats to identity - both organizational and personal. Ego and "Orgo" - consistency motivation. Only by basing identity sense on embracing of change and progress can the tendency to embrace change/progress be fostered, if at all. Great importance of "identity-protection" mechanisms in personal and group behavior - barriers to change, insofar as change threatens identities. [DHS]

10. There appear to be cycles of intimate integrative or disintegrative interaction between concepts current in 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. [AJ]

10.a. Overlay of problems, organizations and concepts in society. Identities as linkages among these levels. Shifting linkages over time at all system levels. Differential perception of these linkages and differential perception of total "mapping" of problems, organizations and concepts. Cycle of relationships here also. [DHS]

11. Individuals and 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 in some ways be equivalent (in difficulty and desirability) to a bio-engineering attempt at converting one species into another. There is not yet a framework on which the possibilities and dangers of ontogenetic development can be examined. [AJ]

11.a. Action/intervention strategies are basically identity protection and enhancement mechanisms. Development ,as speciation? What are the relevant analogies to the biological problems? Fruitful intercourse criterion. Roles as central. [DHS]

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. [AJ]

12.a. There are "unseen ends" and macro-processes whose elements are too large and subtle for us to observe. How can the curvature of a really vast globe be perceived by a being on its surface? How can such "unseen, macro-processes and ends" be inferred, if at all? What effect will perceiving macro-processes and ends have on our commitment to nearer term micro-processes? Should we care? Should we give up? Should we concentrate on micro-processes and aspects of "becoming"? [DHS]

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. [AJ]

13.a. How can we begin to perceive, assess and even measure the relevant, on-going processes of psycho-social evolution? Is psycho-social Darwinism an appropriate model? If not, how do we determine appropriate intervention strategies? Must psycho-social evolution be as invisible to us as biological evolution was to our ancestors? Should we embrace or resist psycho-social evolution? Do numbers of human beings matter? Given an interest in the quality of psycho-social evolution, can this be achieved without quantity and variety also being sought? Isaac Asimov and his Foundation trilogy as one model. Can an elitist approach ever be stable and ever guarantee sufficient variety and innovation? Is protection of quantity of human life productive? At what point? What do we do if there is basic inter- group disagreement on this point? [DHS]

14. We may 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 terras 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 of 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. [AJ]

14.a. Must experiment with the means of transmitting and preserving accumulated psycho-social experience. Is selection within this "treasury" necessary? Can it all be preserved and suitably indexed? If not, who selects on what basis? For how long should plans be made to preserve the "treasury"? Can we plan to preserve it independently for variety of times and by a variety of means? How to deal with earthquakes and other major forces of nature? Why pass on anything at all, if the essence of human life is "becoming"? Will discovery of a rich past culture destroy initiative and create dependency in a more primitive later culture? Will a more advanced later culture really need or have much interest in a less advanced prior culture? On the basis of whose_ values should such decisions be made? How do such decisions affect other options for life and time and resource allocation? Is intervention worth the price? What else could we better be doing? [DHS]

15. The world is exploding into sub-systems 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 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. [AJ]

15.a. Given an expansion of sub-systems at a rate faster than the rate of development of inter-subsystem communication techniques (a proposition requiring empirical testing and elaboration), intervention in the form of developing better trans- system communication may be crucial. It is unclear that the growing task of communication is more a "protection of variety" than a symptom of disorder/"disease"/ world problem. How to bring differentiation and integration into a systemic balance is perhaps the general problem. The conceptual inventory/modeling project may become very crucial in the light of such considerations. Document-based information systems are all but useless to deal with the information explosion in the long run. More integrative conceptual approaches are needed. These approaches, if successful, will automatically help with the earlier (#14) problem of selection and transmission of psycho-social experience residues. One will want to transmit, perhaps, access to an integrative, conceptual, computerized system of psycho-social experience residues. But, again, this may destroy initiative for future generations or societies. How can such an issue be dealt with?

It is unlikely that any really integrative, conceptual, dynamic, computerized system will be supported because it is too broad, too general, and challenges too many turfs and territories. If started in one area of substance or "culture", it is unlikely that it will be evenly expanded. A new "territory" to be protected will be created. [DHS]

ded. A new "territory" to be protected will be created. [DHS]


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