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The Harmony of Interaction and the Facilitation of Network Processes

Revised version of a presentation to an international symposium on the environment:
"The Dilemma Facing Humanity" (Spokane WA, USA on May 1974).
Published in International Associations, 1973, pp. 538-543 [PDF version]

From the programme: Never before in human history has so much attention been paid to the interrelated problems of economic growth, energy, environment, and human, potential. Despite the ever- increasing number of meetings and conferences, there is no agreement about the policies we should pursue or even directions we should try to develop. There can be no excuse for planning just another series of symposia unless they promise to illuminate the fundamental issues we confront. We need to begin to learn on an international basis why we are faced with such basic disagreements. This symposium is designed to demonstrate the deep differences of opinion which presently threaten effective policy-making both nationally and internationally. .

Presentations were made from six very different viewpoints. For each viewpoint, a presentation was made by a speaker from the national level and by an, international counterpart .. The viewpoints chosen were:

  • Mystic- religious viewpoint: William I Thompson (Lindisfarne Association); Peter Caddy (Findhorn Foundation)
  • Economic growth viewpoint: Anthony J Wiener (Hudson Institute); Williarn Wallace (Olin Corporation)
  • Preservationist viewpoint: David Brower (Friends of the Earth);  Perez M Olindo (Kenya National Parks)
  • Limits to growth viewpoint: Robert Alien (Author); Mihailo D Mesarovic (Case Western Reseve University)
  • Third World viewpoint: Raul Prebisch (Consultant); Don Moraes (Author)
  • Harmonizing approach viewpoint: Roger Hansen (Rocky Mountain Center on Environment);  Anthony Judge (Union of International Associations)
Printed in G M Dalen and Clyde R Tipton Jr (Eds). The Dilemma Facing Humanity: proceedings of an intrernational symposium (1974, spokane). Batelle Memorial Institute, 1974, pp. 47-53). Reprinted in Transnational Associations 26, 1974, 11, pp. 538-543

It is a great pleasure for me to be able to address this question of harmonization as it relates to man's apparent inability to come to grips with the breakdown and divergent viewpoints afflicting modern society. I am especially pleased that we are asked to look at these matters from a perceptual angle. There are few occasions on which this is possible. It is a beautiful topic; I only wish that I could do it justice.

Before sharing with you my perception of where we are and why we are there. 1 should like to clarify for you the position from which my understanding has been derived. 1 work at one intersection point of a number of transnational networks. The Union of International Associations (whose members are individuals - not organizations) was created back in 1907 in Brussels and functions as a clearinghouse for information on the network of over 3.000 international governmental and nongovernmental organizations of the non-profit variety (1). These organizations have every kind of objective and structure and we are constantly confronted with the problem of finding ways to use information networks to facilitate the interrelationship of these activities in a non-directive manner(2). In another network we are concerned with the interrelationship between key concepts which are the basis for international discourse for we are increasingly faced with a problem of conceptual babelism (3).

In a fourth activity, we have in our own way attempted to address the problem of harmonization as we perceive it. Together with Mankind 2000 (the transnational association which organized the first International Futures Research Conference) and the Center for Integrative Studies, we are currently engaged in a three-part project to produce a Yearbook of Worldwide Problems, Integrative Disciplines and Human Development [currently titled Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential]. This attempts to interrelate the networks of perceived problems (3700 registered to date). the international organizations concerned with them (over 3000), the disciplines focusing on them (1100 to date). and the values which make them visible (500 to date) (4). Through each successive edition of the yearbook, this then becomes a delphi-type exercise in harmonization. We hope to produce, maps and atlases of these interlinking networks to render the current complexity more transparent. Why are things going wrong ?

Now clearly there are many things going wrong. We have registered some 3,700 interlinked worldwide problems so far in our own work. It is not these which I am here to discuss however. Instead 1 want to talk bluntly about the problems which prevent us from coming to grips with the 3.700. I have a sample list of them on which I will comment briefly. They are in no particular order:

  • Organizations, interest groups (and even departments of the same organization) concerned with related issues find great difficulty in collaborating. And the more international. interdisciplinary or intercultural they become, the more difficult it gets. Even the best organizations become the vehicles of personalities with empire-building tendencies. This alienates other bodies, however beneficial the empire and however charismatic the emperor and his entourage. Competition for very limited resources is the price we pay for such specialization.
  • Official bodies have great difficulty in collaborating with associations and groups particularly those which are of an informal or ad hoc nature. The situation is much worse outside North America. A closer look at these first two difficulties shows that we are faced with a form of inter-organizational discrimination which might appropriately be called "organizational apartheid" (5).
  • Programs are ill-conceived and do not match in complexity the problems on which they focus. The most tragic example of this is the United Nations Environment Program. For the first time the interdisciplinary nature of problems was explicitly recognized by governments at Stockholm -and yet is completely ignored in the conception and organization of programs in Nairobi. Only problem categories are considered not problem networks. We do not know how to interrelate the skills and preoccupations of different disciplines. Inter-disciplinary discrimination is practiced to such a degree that it is possible to speak of a form of . conceptual apartheid .
  • Because of the difficulties just mentioned, the inter-disciplinary network and the inter-organizational network are out of phase with the interproblem network. Many organizations are simply charming memorials to problems which no longer exist. Some of us are mainly engaged in building pyramids to our own memory (6).
  • It is no longer possible to coordinate adequately a network of organizations. The network is fragmented and oriented towards decentralization and peripheral autonomy. Despite the speed of modern communications, information content does not travel well. Its meanings get transformed and distorted as the message moves through the network. Organizational systems operate rather like spastic dinosaurs relative to the dynamism of the problem network which they should be facing (6).
  • International treaties, which are the objective of much international activity, are seldom ratified. When they come into force they are inadequately implemented, if at all. The various human rights conventions are the most tragic example. A recent study showed that only three per cent of United Nations and Specialized Agency resolutions created new activities (7).
  • Finally, people have turned away from the organizational systems which have failed them. They are frustrated by inaction or token action. They have watched UN Days, Years, and Decades come and go with little impact on the increasing magnitude of the problems. They are bombarded by organizational propaganda in a vain effort to mobilize them in support of particular perceptions of the key problems. A massive credibility gap has developed (8). There is no solidarity, no consensus, and no widespread notion of, we the peoples of this planet .. Most of us do not lose any sleep when 500,000 people are rendered homeless, massacred or die of starvation.
Do we really sincerely believe that sufficient can be done in time with such constraints, in the light of the increasing synergism of problem networks and our performance over the past quarter- century ? the increasing synergism of problem networks and our performance over the past quarter- century ?

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