Response to Fast-Growing World Confusion & Conflict Earth Day Apr 22, 2023 – LinkedIn – Please repost if it needs to be said
In the past, we thought we could overlook the mysterious growing variety of world crises. They grew in scale as we developed, seemingly better able to overcome them. However, none continued for as long or expanded as rapidly as the one racing ahead of us today!
Keynes solidly predicted it, as have many others, but others didn’t believe it. I’ve also closely studied its physics and emerging self-organization for four decades in detail and general pattern. I had the tools and saw the very leading edge. Then I saw how growth systems multiply their scale and complexity, approaching explosive rates of change in how fast they expand, reorganize, and require their parts to adapt and reorganize their relationships. That’s the killer; what many of us now feel happening.
It comes directly from our very most immature of all possible economic plans, endless exploding unsustainable growth. Compound growth is a fast, quick start to a new life, a *pre-birth* process of not fully formed designs. We can see and feel the strains of its rising peak of internal and external pressures everywhere around us. That it’s happening to all of us at once is “the signal” that things can and must change.
Usually, self-animating growth systems in nature gracefully resolve the crises that force them to respond to change or to fail. They change what motivates them, their “purpose,” from multiplying designs to steering them toward or away from what they’re running into. It’s a sound, tried, and true strategy, if a bit counterintuitive for new lives that have only followed a fixed rule for so long.
The civilizations most successful at growing their power seem all to have succumbed to it, though. People easily become socially fixated on endlessly multiplying the power of their profitable concepts. It’s cutting that “umbilical cord” attaching us to the false hope of limitless growth that could convince us now that responding to life is our world’s best chance at life. We need to “appreciate the signal,” though.
WE SEE THE MAJOR RISING THREATS ALL OVER THE PLANET TODAY. That’s our signal. It’s to “back off, look out, and take care,” the most fundamental rule of STEERING. To survive, all new systems need to learn how to steer. All systems that survive growth are examples of the range of strategies that work.
It’s risky, like life, but even if the world has a bad slump, perhaps as inexperienced pilots make mistakes, the world getting the signal would largely assure keeping our world cultures intact. Going through a “Tower of Bable” or “dark age” type collapse would not. We would need a kind global “Marshall Plan” to help the world’s talents for organizing things, keep those talents, and put them to work on a new plan, caring for each other and making things work for and all around our fabulous new world.
JLH – The world is on the move, but following the rule of growth that got us here, now causing crises, is not the path to our future. As all new life must, it’s time to back away from the edge and learn to steer.
Hi, I’m an accomplished senior systems architect, a physicist who, many years ago, found a useful scientific method for studying the designs of environmental growth systems, and the differences between growth systems taking emerging systems to fatal crises or long successful lives, what you might call “self-healing growth.” I also studied the design of UN systems at work in drafting the SDGs, which I attended and contributed to, learning a great deal about why our world economy’s growth is not.
It’s wonderful that systems architecture comes up for discussion occasionally, though rare. One reason it gets little attention is the focus on symptoms without addressing causes, as that is what most people notice. That’s important, of course, but it also perpetuates the causes. Where the cause is systems spiraling out of control, that’s bad. Today’s accelerating scales global impacts have terribly dangerous environmental, economic, and societal destabilization thresholds.
I was a physicist and then started studying the designs of natural systems designs and how they worked by themselves. As that’s not a usual scientific question, I stumbled across quite a lot. For example, physics never studied how SO many systems that develop by explosive growth at first, of both natural and human design, then, without a fuss, change strategies to then perfect their designs and connections to have active and creative lives long after their growth.
It means that nature figured out the solution to our crisis very long ago and that science did not think or see how to study how they worked. Societally we seem to get too wrapped up in problem-solving and ignore problem-sourcing, and then when we get in trouble then not change course as if always stuck. If we looked around, we’d see many systems that are responsive and change course, including ourselves often enough, examples that should be very helpful if we learned where to look.
A second important discovery is that although we discuss a growing economy in terms of numbers, economies are not numerical processes. Growth of every kind is a system-building process of creating working relationships that need to coordinate. Those new working systems originate from the build-up of connections around a tiny “seed” pattern. That produces a working whole that first multiplies more rapidly by exploiting its environment and then usually turns to make long-term relationships. Our economy is not yet doing that “part B” part of responding to limits. Keynes noticed that too, saying he thought, surely, society could find something better to invest in than growth when growth limits hit, mentioned in Ch 16, on “Observations on the Nature of Capital” in his 2nd book.
The main point is that *successful growth is always a two-stage process.* The first multiplying stage creates a new form of working relationships by growing as it exploits its surroundings. The second is perfecting the system’s internal design as it secures its new niche in the world. Call it “A then B.” The first stage lets it A) multiply its power, capturing more and new kinds of resources to build its ability to use and capture more. The second stage lets it B) refine and mature its designs to care for itself and secure its role in the new world around it. In other words, natural systems that survive their growth seem to display self-organization and self-control. That’s what humanity is supposedly trying to do, but having, as we often have throughout history, a terrible time of it.
The systems that become disrupted by external forces of their own making, as is happening to us now, differ from others that don’t by continuing to multiply their scale and complexity as they collide with hard natural limits. Those that respond to potentially disruptive changes caused by growth avoid harm by instead shifting to caring for themselves and their futures. That apparent intelligence from uncontrolled systems might only be from growth needing to be ‘self-animating,’ ‘responsive,’ and ‘cohesive.’ No growth system would get far if not also ‘exploratory’ and ‘adaptive.’ That’s not all that life is, but life always seems to have those capacities of acting as if out of self-interest and behaving cohesively as a whole. Our civilization seems unresponsive, though.
That humanity became unresponsive to the need to shift from investing in growth to care as threatening growth limits approached is the tragic mistake. We all respond to avoid such tragedies in every personal matter we can. We don’t keep taking out food for dinner till it’s a big pile on the floor with nothing left in the fridge or cupboards. No, we normally just start somewhere and A) take out approximately enough and then adjust as we B) make whatever will work for the occasion at the end to C) enjoy. That’s active steering. Civilization is not doing that, whatever you call it.
I think our societal blindness has to do with the difference between our two main ways of learning. The first is 1) absorbing experiences in familiar contexts where we become intuitively aware of and responsive to everything happening. The other is 2) making and sharing concepts. Concepts are inventions made from observed patterns that are simplified, taken out of context, and reassembled to suit our minds. How they often represent imagined realities to us and be SO satisfying we may not notice they represent a world without contexts, letting us become inordinately attached to the powerful ones. Using them hides any connection to possibly upsetting the contexts invasively controlled by their use.
The above only scratches the surface of the questions to ask, but tracing the history and demographics of this way of blinding ourselves to consequences seems to genuinely connect them to where we keep disrupting contexts by trying to impose abstract rules.
A practical response, sometimes a “cure,” lets people see their interest in caring for the contexts they might upset, something I call “contextual engagement.” The general principle is that you make better decisions if you see what’s going on. Elinor Ostrom’s video talk for receiving the 2009 Nobel prize for economics discusses it, and Gerald Midgley’s videos show his expertise in guiding divided communities to work together using it too. I’ve also developed useful methods for it, like asking people to list all the things in a given environment that connect with some primary concern — seeing the parts laid out as loose puzzle pieces makes people think much more clearly about the whole.
For more background, see my research journal, “Reading Nature’s Signals.” The theme is reading the essential non-verbal signals of change in our very lively world. We all get skilled at reading the cues in familiar contexts. Applying those skills to less familiar contexts is the challenge for learning to steer the world’s path ahead. Luckily in nature, most are related. The signs of trouble or relief and what to do next in one situation can be remarkably similar in others or at different scales. My way is to alternate reasoning and feeling, so when one turns up something odd, the other can help find what it is.
Note: This Figure is a very general schedule for the most creative and critical processes of natural system growth. The shapes and labels help notice what’s happening in the real contexts of interest. You look for how the succession of turning point events and developments take place. We seem to learn best when we’ve studied our ways of noticing interesting new connections and finding exceptions. We already know a lot about those, intuitively, so being self-critical to test those in new territory helps build what you see and clean up while better understanding the general pattern’s shapes and markers.
ALERT – ambitious regeneration … faces rapid global decline!
I’ve been active in the movements for decades but have been unsuccessful in pointing out how we should address the symptoms AND the causes of rapid global sustainability decline.
That has not been happening at all, though. While trying to heal the world, the UN, environmentalists, and all the other regenerative movements have done nothing about what is causing the rapid acceleration of damage. Hidden in very plain sight it’s the regular financial doubling of the economy and its side effects for maximum profit.
However important the symptoms are, we have also been displaying about as much blindness to the real cause as the people actively managing or doing it. That is, the well-educated professionals with homes and families whose rules for profit tell them to extract multiplying wealth from the earth, blind to the costs! That’s the real cause in a nutshell.
I write lots of short pieces on it. The main possible saving grace is that the people managing the planet’s destruction are mostly well-educated, successful professionals with lives and families as threatened by global environmental collapse as anyone’s. That they are blind to how they are causing the threats to themselves is the weak point in the system.
It happens by their following the old rule for profit, to use profits to invest in multiplying profits, thus endlessly multiplying the economy’s power over nature. They don’t see it because “the rules do not connect with their contexts.” The people are then only guided by their social relations, which are mostly very positive due to all the profits, unaware of the existential threat!
The real key is for the movements to expand ourcaring to include those causing the harm but don’t see it, rather than despising them, as Marx and so many others have, assuming they saw what they’re doing. Their blindness is systemic and, largely, NOT THEIR FAULT.
The solution is for our care for them to let us serve their interest in caring for their homes and families at risk. That MIGHT trigger a realization that they need to fund all our cares for the future rather than deny our care and fund its ever-faster destruction. We’d be in good company then, as ALL natural and human systems that survive their growth exit growth that way, by shifting from extraction to care.
I wish I could attend some of tomorrow’s key Pollination & Ecocivilization meetings (ref below). I’m generally available to talk or consult. Would you pass the word that I’d love to help writers to write up some of this? I’m a scientist who writes and needs to connect with writers who do some science.
Jessie Henshaw – HDS natural systems design science ¸¸¸¸.•´ ¯ `•.¸¸¸¸ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Research Journal — Reading Nature’s Signals — Publication
Regeneration Pollination will be hosting its regular session (on our regular zoom link) this Friday in parallel with the Ecocivilisation 24-hr Connectathon that starts on Sept 22nd at 14:00 UTC. In addition, Regeneration Pollination will be hosting a 1 hr session pre-event (9/22 @ 13:00 UTC) and post-event (9/22 @ 14:00 UTC), which will be on the zoom link used for the Connectathon. Register for the Connectathon here and join us for the pre-and post-event session here: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/8206
Natural growth is the beginning of life for all systems with life cycles like ours. There are a series of built-in transformation challenges, though. We all know life’s a challenge, right? Nature has a tried and true path to success for the big one now approaching.
Upon approaching a new living system’s limits to its first phase of growth (its explosion of new designs), they can either a) respond with a survival instinct and change their growth strategy or b) not. So far, humanity has not. The severity of crises now developing might change that, but only if a clear understanding of what to do widely spreads. We don’t have that now, culturally, scientifically, or governmentally. Starts of it are only found in small, still ineffective, transformation movements.
Nature can be very persuasive though, making it more and more clear where the needs to divest and invest really are. Whether it’s cultural or financial, it is our investments in the future that steer where our lives go. So, it’s a matter of putting our resources where they are now most needed. Today our power centers are still obsessed with multiplying their power over nature and society, which forces ever-increasing pressures and disruption in everyone’s lives.
History offers several civilizations that have collapsed from their peak of power to leave cultural dark ages in their wake, evidently caught in following an MPP (maximum power principle) plan to the end. There are lots of others that achieved long and rich lives after their initial explosive growth, too, as people and lots of our plans also generally do. We have that challenge now, to find how to make the choice to end our growing power in a way that lets our world survive. This video linked above is the first of my talks on a fairly complete understanding of the problem and solution. Just read this and listen with an open mind, let the new questions register, and mull them over.
Unfortunately, I’m still tending to talk about what I find most fascinating about this crisis. I’m a scientist with a cool set of discoveries. It would be better if I focused mostly on what it would mean for those reading or listening!
What it is all for is to help people see why nature needs us to make better use of the world economy’s profits: A) to finally fund real-world sustainability as it should be and B) to help people learn about how to shape and prepare for the new lives our future. Both changing to investing in the long-term future and clarifying how to do it will relieve the extreme economic pressure everyone is experiencing.
What makes that possible and important now is our now finally crossing the “inflection point” in growth (the breaking point in the initial rapid growth curve), and in either smooth or disruptive ways the world will soon face reality in a very new way. On the positive side, that would allow whole systems like ours to become capable of acting in unison! Also on the positive side, almost everyone on earth is skilled at making the same kind of transformation in their relationships, as well as work projects all the time. The cycle is from inspiration to multiplication, to facing reality in having to choose what to do.
Self-interests and common interests in saving the earth then coincide. If there are leaders who understand what the needs real needs are, the whole system will turn to taking care of itself and maximizing its long-term interests. That is also what happens at the birth of organisms, growth leading to facing the future, suddenly exposed to a new world to find their way in. There’s much to learn when facing a new reality, but the first big change is less hurry for most parts of the system as the guiding principles of the system quickly change.
The shock of a new reality and big interruptions in plans, first relieve the pressure to change ever faster and by the whole system turning toward common purposes, that and getting to know what’s happening without nearly so many blinders. We’ll also need to understand the natural change to the heart of the economic system. We maximized the use of profits to multiply the system, even smoothly ending that is likely to be a shock. The values and needs for business and whole system profits will change from multiplying the system to caring for it.
Every kind of natural system starts with the same variation on accumulative explosive self-organization, getting started by an inspiration (awakening of new design) that captures energy to build more ways of capturing energy. We got stuck on it, though, in a very big way, over centuries developing expertise to continue it until suddenly by accident, quite blind to it really, threatening the habitability of the earth.
The grand surprise is that even that way of mindlessly pursuing and then having to rudely collide with self-destructive limits to that “limitless” explosive growth still does, from nature’s menu of options, offers a very satisfying and graceful end goal of perfecting the design and our ways of life in a long-lasting way.
Thinking about the global crisis, the people who feel it think so differently than those who don’t, and the solutions of the latter seem to be at the very root of the problem (problem A).
We need solutions that would work in practice. That would take a real understanding of the problem and its origins. Easy-sounding solutions only mention the endpoint and skip how the process of getting there starts and develops. Decentralizing the economy, for example, sounds good but would also destroy the economy, as every product today physically comes from everywhere! Social values can make excellent design principles, but they are not system designs. We have many good designers and managers, too, but they are not doing the job needed today. So “problem A” seems to be that our system designers and managers are following century-old rules that today have become globally destructive. That implies that changing their jobs is more important than changing the people. We still need the same talents but doing the right things.
That presents a huge but possibly practical challenge. The people we’d need to communicate with are largely very communicative and, from their view, caring. It’s our world culture of wonderfully educated, risk-averse, and successful professionals from good families – who steer the world’s institutions and economy while also being blind to the side effects of their steering. They even call the existential threats they cause “externalities” and don’t know what to do about them. In truth, those so-called externalities are internal system breakdowns caused by our long history of applying Many Too Many Solutions while Blind To The Side Effects.
This cream of the world crop of educated professionals is NOT intentionally blind to their impacts, now destroying the earth at the economy’s maximum rate of acceleration. They also do have access to the data on the global system breakdowns. However, their thinking is in terms of the CONCEPTS of their work (simple models of profit), not noticing how their choices became disconnected from their CONTEXTS (the rich meanings of all the living worlds they touch). So, the problem is they don’t-feel-a-thing.
Feelings and their meanings come from contextual awareness, not abstract concepts. So blind to the effects of their work, they blindly follow the outdated rules to multiply everything that was once highly creative but now is quickly destroying the earth. Yet, if you get to know them personally, it is quite ironic how they do largely seem to be caring, responsible people. They’re from good families and try their level best to secure their homes and care for their communities. Those ironies present are where the openings for real communication are!
So, how do we get them to look at different rules to follow, like for the rest of us, please “pay attention to the planet.” There are two necessary parts to freeing professionals from their “true beliefs” and opening their eyes. (((#1 One is experiential.))) Someone needs to personally lead them out to explore the world and have direct experiences of the natural beauty of life spoiled by rising global demands and dysfunction that urgently need relief from growing pressures and good care. (((#2 Another is mining deeper cultural knowledge.))) Caring for your home is as deep a tradition as any in human cultures, but our elite professionals have totally lost track of it in wildly shaping (and reshaping) our world. The first link shows some history of what happened to cause the blindness of experts to develop. It implies the task is to help the world’s leadership recover their ability to care for the earth as our genuine home, and NOT a concept (a). It helps to see the breadth of our crises (b). a) https://synapse9.com/signals/bronze-age-roles-of-hestia-and-hermes/ b) https://synapse9.com/_r3ref/100CrisesTable.pdf
They’d never do most of the wrecking crew work they do if they followed the customary practices of “homemaking” or if you prefer “home science.” They are fairly simple and reliable practices for 1) having wide awareness and 2) respecting common interests that we all follow in our homes. We all follow them when doing tasks, too, at home, at the office, or in the community. They are the same as the universal system-making model nature follows for Making Things To Fit The Context. When making changes, it starts with building on some idea, “confluence,” or inspiration of nature. When activated, it becomes the ‘germ’ of a new working system that grows as fast as it can at first. Then it sometimes passes the test of when and how to stop.
The universal test is simple, taking resources from growth for Responding To The Growing Needs Of The New System as those needs start competing with the values of more expansion. An endless expansion gives a system more to take care of (and more complexity that prevents it) than is manageable; a fatal problem. When making dinner, for example, the natural turning point is when you have collected and started preparing what is needed and then turn to finishing and gracefully serving. That must be before you startup too much to finish. That turn from starting to completing a design process also happens when new organisms become fully formed and ready to start learning about their new world. That occurs at birth for mammals when the new life starts to explore with family support for a while as they “fledge” and then be freed. People call it “youth” and “graduate,” the preparation and point of leaving the nest.
So, communicating to professionals about their ignorance threatening the planet is a dicey proposition. That is helped by really knowing what you’re talking, protesting, or singing about. Since negativity usually reinforces opposition, it helps to take a caring rather than aggressive approach.
A good example of that came up with the US supreme court starting to take away universal rights. The idea of forcing the country to adopt radical Christian Right (CR) values by packing the court came from their decades-long quest. Now it looks like there may be more to come than denying every woman’s right to privacy in their reproductive choices. Every living thing on earth needs individual and home privacy, though, so it seems to violate nature to deny it to others unless you are seriously injured.
So to turn that all around, ask: “What in the world happened to the CR to make them feel so directly harmed” And why was the only solution to deny the world around them universal rights??” Were they feeling an egregious loss of their home and privacy? The world around them has indeed been changing ever faster (due to problem A). The threat of ever faster change around their very fixed beliefs could have made them feel alienated, without a secure home anymore, and only able to think of lashing back? That makes it plausible that sympathy could sometimes be a better tool than antagonization, and of course, it would go both ways.
Yes, quite nice work. I think learning how natural systems develop and change as wholes seems needed too, though. We are often easily confused by how easy it can sometimes be to change the parts of systems we want to change as a whole. Systems generally develop as wholes and change as wholes, though, of course, unless broken up. Learning how to foster whole system change often comes from attempting to engineer some living system, to then see it fail over and over, learning how from experience by deep emersion in the context to understand its needs. That’s often how businesses evolve, by the deep emersion of its people in creating order from the chaos their first attempts cause. That’s still likely to happen, but might be made easier if people studied how actual systems emerge and change.
Real system change is more like the birth of a child, something developing as a whole and emerging as a whole, to then find it has to actively explore and adapt to find its place in the world. That applies to the birth of new ideas for new kinds of organization within a business, for or in a community, or in the world. It always first starts with the germination of its growth, then development and maturation on the way to having a life. Each stage is a unique challenge and experiential learning and growth process. The first creates its insides and then develops its relationships outside, to fit with the environment it emerges into.
What we’re struggling with globally is, of course, moving the world system in a profound and dramatic way. Though it is very different from learning to personally host and guide the birth of innovations in our work to fit their contexts there is a lot about global change we can learn from it. For a global change, we need to recognize first that we are not in control of much at all. Secondly, we need to recognize that systems are systems primarily because they are self-controlled, work as wholes, and though they have flexible parts and do often change by themselves, they really ONLY change as wholes and not by pushes and shoves, but by themselves something like we do.
That’s where it’s useful to study our experience with systems that change by themselves, our groups, friends, communities, selves, and children are things we know a lot about. There are only a few ways an outside approach can help, or hinder. For systems that one is part of one can spread the feeling of the pressures and any useful knowledge of opportunities for a whole to change on its own. There are often places where a developing whole system awareness is not getting through, and different forms of whole system awareness are needed. That is what seems to prepare a system for some sort of inspiration of its own, sometimes called “animal spirits,” that trigger whole system change, in a direction that motivates the whole.
We see it in our own behavior, as with what makes us overcome habits and do something new. It takes deep and ultimately inspiring feelings. If you think about change moments for other things, other words for it might come up, but it’s one or another kind of holistic response to awakening and opportunity. It needn’t be awakening due to growing life-threatening pressures, but we do hope indeed they will help motivate and inspire our world. When the system awakens to the opportunity it triggers the animal spirits to be felt by and move the whole.
Of course, that is IF successful. Let us hope that’s what humanity will have in mind to do as push comes to shove and the terrifying game of “chicken” we keep playing with ourselves, of using power to multiply power as a way of life, finally breaks.
The radical separation of humans from nature, our being so self-absorbed and seeing nature as defined in our heads rather than the other way around, has been a deep mystery for a long time.
My interest in it came from noticing how mathematics became our standard for representing nature but cannot describe or help us study what makes life so lively, the abounding creative processes of nature.
I’m not against math, a fabulous art, that does help us identify certainties, however, our desperate search for certainty is what seems to have betrayed us, splitting our minds between attentiveness and total blindness to our environments, having defined in our minds nature as our rules for how to control nature…
The search for answers in mathematics, the language of determinate relationships that science uses, has proved extraordinarily profitable, leading to growing human comforts that have also taken us to the point of our increasingly destroying the natural world. Our mysterious detachment from nature seems very directly at fault. The animation of life, its rich relationships, and creativity are all left out of the formula when people are guided by determinate rules. It’s something I’ve long studied as a physicist, having first noticed that every event begins and ends with some little dynamic transient of change.
I think part of the problem is that language was actually reflected our first highly useful systems thinking, with all its words and grammar arranged to communicate important experiences, designs, and relationships IN THE NATURAL CONTEXT. Math makes rules abstracted from a natural context, that are most profitable when offering easy ways to control nature without concern for the context. So they work great but pass on no information on when they are being overused. That is as clear in the simple cases and most extreme cases, such as the world consensus plan to maximize our economic growth rate, for regularly doubling the wealth we extract from nature while ignoring its rapidly degrading impacts on nature, called “externalities.”
But who is it that is blind to what, and how in the world do we face an existential dilemma evidently buried so deep in human consciousness?
Finding the right path forward
We see humanity’s deeply split personality, generous and playful as well as obsessed with expanding our control of the world but need to find its source. Then we will finally begin to make progress, to slowly dig our way out of the terror our powerful minds seem to have created for us. Somehow we allowed our truly wondrous designs to create a new world of enormous cruelty, following their promise of relieving nature’s cruelty. That’s definitely happening, and definitely not good.
One of the paths to a cure could come from studying the differences between how people behave in one or the other way. We might then cure the blind way of abusing our powers by restoring the principles of staying in touch with environmental contexts. The direct approach, helping others immerse themselves in the natural environments they are in trouble with, works great using an experienced teacher. The living systems scientist like Ostrom or Midgley do it by lead communities through a process of exposure to how their worlds work, leading to their making much better choices.
As parents we also talk to our kids that way too, helping them to understand problems of insensitivity to others. Every good family does that, but the children still grow up to follow the rules of maximizing growing profits and ignoring the economy’s ever-growing impacts. That very clearly defines the split between how people behave in familiar contexts, where they can feel the strains on relationships, and in the public sphere where they don’t. In the public sphere rules for profit give people only feelings of self-interest and blind them entirely to the enormous building strains in the wider world’s relationships.
I’m not saying that is the only strong force causing humanity’s spiritual separation from life, but one we can see plainly enough to realize we very much need to act on it, despite the difficulty of communication that recognizing errors in our plans naturally creates.
Modern society presents other special problems of communication too, confronting us with thousands of self-serving silos of narrow beliefs, personal, social, religious, national, and professional. I look at them all as “cultures,” the “cells of knowledge” we build to guide us on how to think, work, live, and talk to give us some local sense of security in a confusing world. Cultures are also a saving grace as well as a way to divide us, given how most are deeply rooted in what worked in the past, with authentic copies passed on from generation to generation.
Of course, individual people have individual saving graces too, to use in helping us climb out of the trap we find ourselves in. Some have vision, steady hands, charisma, moral clarity, persistence, or wonderful person-to-person good hearts. Those don’t come from theories of control, that betray our powerful minds. They come from the opposite, from our loves and cares largely cut out of the public sphere by the rules we blindly follow. Saving graces in our institutions seem harder to find. We mostly built them around ideas of expanding control or being funded by it, not on learning how to make free associations work well.
What it seems we need to rely on is family culture and their central one for all and all for one life agreement. I’d include in that both the home and work families we center our lives on, which generally make us acutely aware of the non-verbal as well as verbal cues indicating openings and strains on our relationships. That is the very kind of environmental awareness that enables our personal and family survival instincts.
That is what seems most missing from the public sphere institutions, seemingly blinded by following abstract rules rather than navigating relationships with the world. It’s not even that the world doesn’t act as a whole. It certainly can and does, as you see in the effect of managing a global economy to work as a whole. To feel where the world is going, and change our collective steering, we’d need to count all the global strains we have not been counting.
_________________ “Natural growth” is nature’s way of creating long-lasting new lives, of all kinds.
Intro: How system responsiveness is expressed in natural growth is as anticipation of the opportunity to end growth by perfecting the emerging system. To do that, the system’s steering needs to switch from multiplying to harmonizing (i.e. maturing) its design and place in the world.
The figure below is something of a list of what to look for in any particular case. All systems emerge with compound growth and then variably navigate their futures. A talk on the core natural science for an ISSS forum on Oct 2, 2021, is on YouTube!; the research paper (1) below.
Throughout nature, living systems of all kinds develop by a growth process with three main stages. The first stage is an explosion of innovations in extracting and capturing resources from the new life’s environment, furiously building the new entity with what’s available. Varied examples include a seed sprouting, humans sprouting in the womb, the compound growth period of businesses, economies, and cultures. It also includes the take-off periods of new relationships and all other emerging organizational systems with lives of their own. The second stage follows the first, exploratory and adaptive maturation of a new life as it finds its place and purpose in life, creating its first niche in the world by a slowing process that perfects the emerging design, to be released to forage the greater world starting its longer third stage of life, building wider environmental relationships to last a lifetime.
Genuine “thriving through transition”* can be achieved throughout, from extractive innovation to adaptive maturation, and then finding and holding a niche in the future, even lasting into graceful decline. This storyline for how new lives develop is also found at every scale of macroscopic life of every kind, making it quite a wonder that it seems not yet studied in the sciences, nor part of our general cultural understanding … It’s so much a part of all our experiences our blindness to it is almost as if we’ve been looking the other away, not seeing how living systems work by themselves distracted by looking for something else. Perhaps we are always looking at nature only for how we can control things rather than for how nature works by itself.
A scientific research paper on the subject (1) was presented at the July 2021 meeting of the ISSS. What contributed to its success was focusing on how people already know a great deal about nurturing and guiding new lives of many kinds, initiating and supporting their growth and maturation up to their release. But, unfortunately, we do not talk about it much because it’s quite complex and is naturally intuitive for familiar creative work we mostly do non-verbally. So our discussion of it has lagged far behind. Just think about the difference between the start-up and finish-up stages of any kind of work, and how the work switches from multiplying the early patterns and then harmonizing them to achieve a truly lasting result.
For example, we follow much the same natural creative growth stages in making dinner. We start making dinner by first exploring what might be put together, at first taking small steps, then building up to large steps, and then back down to small steps again to climax with finishing touches as we sit down to eat. Raising a child or starting a business are far more complicated but follow the same creative, exploratory starting than perfecting stages to finish. Growth also faces numerous challenges along the way. If fortunate and skillful overcoming the challenges can be a thriving process all the way, taking a living system through its immature then maturing stages to serve its mature life.
The figure below is from the research paper, the composite diagram of the general growth stages of new lives, illustrating the A, B, Cs of new lives. Individual new lives will diverge from the simplest common thread of development for all new lives. Instead, each will build its own life, displaying considerable variation on the paths taken as it builds its own chain of developments, confronting its individual challenges along the way. Every new life will first build up from small to larger steps, though, and then build down from large to small steps again to finish. So the two sweeping curves are just for typifying the normal course of the progression, also called an ‘S’ curve. So the shape might as well be shown as an uneven staircase of minor and major challenges if that were not hard to draw and too specific to represent the general pattern.
The best way of reading the figure might then be to imagine what thriving would be like for particular new lives making their way through the long series of challenges of ascending levels. Then to cement the generality of the pattern in your mind, think through the periods of struggle, thriving, approaching, and receding challenges for the largest scale, the new life of humanity we are building now! So far, its first stage of growth for modern civilization has been around 300 years long and is now facing an existential crisis for not knowing how to transition to maturity. That challenge is one of the things learning to verbalize the steps of growth can help with.
The most important growth challenge of any new life is the big one in the middle. That is the great challenge world society and the economy are having the most difficulty with. Having designed our world around making the first stage of growth endless is both the big barrier and the main cause of all of our multiplying world crises growing with growth (2), pushing growth too far and too accelerate too fast to coherently adapt to the most conclusive sign that growth is at its natural limits.
The natural path of escape is labeled “Turn Forward.” It’s the shift from focusing available resources on multiplying the initial concept to using them for perfecting our designs and finding ways to thrive in our new environment. That shift from thinking about the past to the future is what turns a new life away from multiplying its past to finding its future, discovering its greater purposes and roles in the wider environment. That is a very good kind of work, one that the whole world is abuzz with today, even though our institutional systems are totally unprepared for and dead set against. That’s why we most need to learn how to discuss the problem. Our institutional world is more built on talk than intuition.
The natural pace of change can also shift faster than it seems possible. Look at the figure and see how the “Turn Forward” corresponds to a “Baseline Inversion.” That is a whole-system shift in the direction of its change that can occur with almost no actual system change, an “inflection point.” Before that point, expansion of the system was in proportional steps of divergence from Baseline1. After the inflection point, expansion of the system develops by proportional steps of convergence toward Baseline2, to arrive at the end of physical growth at its new home where the new life becomes freed to be itself.
Please do add comments to this article or email questions and comments to me at sy–at-synapse9-dot–com.
*Note: The phrase “thriving through transition” is from Trae Ashlie-Garen, expanded on here to apply to the full set of any of life’s transitions.
To make our escape there’s not just one requirement, but the main path is to join the emerging understanding that our new age of growing environmental chaos is a natural result of overextended compound economic growth. In nature, growth is a tricky two-edged sword, the greatest of gifts to begin with then the greatest of threats if not converted to things more lasting (1).
Living systems invariably begin with a period of multiplying the parts that capture more resources than they use. Starting things with an explosion of new life is part of nature’s beautiful complex process, so we should be glad for it, but only to a point. The catch is that for our world to survive its period of rapid growth we need its growth to climax in time. Otherwise, growth will generate huge surpluses of false profits as it undermines its own foundations and spreads chaos throughout its environment.
We see that in every corner of the world today, enormous creativity going into generating false surpluses disrupting the environments the economy is supposed to serve, but now attacks instead, spreading chaos rather than healing. For example, COVID seems to be causing chaos around the world, a natural virus not immediately our fault. However the chaos is enabled by our extreme overpopulation, our strings of inadequate responses, growing mistrust, and belief in conspiracy theories, led by magical thinking that the earth can be profitably exploited to infinity, Our world consensus plan is actually TO MAXIMIZE OUR RATE OF GROWING EXPLOITATION OF THE EARTH AND HUMANITY FOREVER, as if we didn’t see what that does. All those compounding factors generate more virus variants and more chaos. Lookout. Here it comes.
So what we need to do is “get the big picture” and start using our collective profits for better purposes than terrorizing our home planet. The best way forward is to use your own life as leverage for guiding your world. There are lots of good things to do and lots of better business models too, though almost no one seems to understand the right way to address their global impacts.
OUR TRUE SHARE OF RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE ENVIRONMENTAL CHAOS WE ARE CAUSING COLLECTIVELY IS EQUAL TO OUR SHARE OF THE ECONOMY. In a global economy, one’s share of the economy’s impacts is also what we pay for. For example, a business pays for every impact of its entire supply chain. That is by requesting, paying for it and profiting from it. Yes, it is a shared responsibility with its supply chain, of course, not exclusive, and a business has no direct control over much of what its supply chain does too. However, the impacts would not occur if they were not paid for too. So the UNIVERSAL RULE OF THUMB IS TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY, IN PROPORTION TO YOUR SHARE OF THE PROBLEMS THE WHOLE ECONOMY CAUSES, BY USING YOUR LIFE AS LEVERAGE TO CARE FOR AND STEER OUR WORLD TO SAFETY.
I made a very well-received talk on the subject, called “Understanding Nature’s Purpose in Starting all New Lives with Compound Growth.” That was on 11 July 21 to the International Society of Systems Sciences (ISSS) meeting, in the Special Track on “Future Society”. It was a wonderful group of a dozen presentations, all focusing on the heart of our global problem. As systems science, each is a bit difficult, but the consensus was that each one was also converging on much the same great truth, that like all great truths, could potentially set us free. I’m not sure when the others will be posted, but my talk is on YouTube and it and the paper are linked from my one-page Abstract for the paper.
Let’s clean up our act and get going. We have lots to do. It’s not a straight path but once you get your sense of direction it will be extremely satisfying.
The FAIR rules act as an overflow valve, to redirect excess savings of passive financial income (normally used by investors to extract exponentially more) back to the free circulation marketplace of the pond to keep from draining the pond and guide investor self-restraint in extracting profits from the earth.
FAIR_Money sets a UBD, Universal Basic Distribution, a standard % rate at which investors need to distribute their excessive savings from passive income.
Fig 1. Finance adds funds to free circulation commons, but with strings attached for taking out more as ever-growing profits and escalating drain on the common pool, causing punishing inequality when the economy faces natural limits. To restore balance the FAIR rules ask investors to distribute accumulated profits to qualifying non-profits serving long-term societal needs. That would sustain the profitability of an economy seeking balance with the planet and our need for a good home. .
Title Principles of Fiduciary Asset Investment Restraint (FAIR), simple rules to restrain the compounding of unearned income to reverse the present worldwide continued overproduction of demands on nature and society, our great tragedy of the commons. Ownership comes with natural responsibilities.
Topic Compound investment (adding profits to investments) is required to get any enterprise going, but as seen throughout nature is only what starts things, not what makes them sustainabnle. If overextended what it does is globally multiplies the power of the owners of the world over all others, creating the great array of world crises of neglect disrupting global society and nature we see today.
Asking investors to take responsibility for bringing growth to a climax peacefully, tempering their greed for the common good, appears quite necessary for long term peace and prosperity, even if it still seems quite impossible socially. It seems to conflict with the absolute rights of blind ownership. Now lots of owners are beginning to see the grand catastrophy their habits are causing, and that society’s rules should reflect how people would like to live without looming threats in every direction.
Pitch Flatten the curve of growing environmental and cultural exploitation, to reach a thriving peaceful economic climax.
Fig 2 The universal pattern of emerging systems that sustain their climax
Statement The world financial system has but one value, to use the earth and human societies to maximize the growth rate and concentration of financial wealth. That leaves out concern for the resulting matching degradation and disruption of natural capitals and human society. To secure the wealth of nature and humanity we must then have Fiduciary Asset Investment Restraint to prevent the rapid decline of whole system value, and secure a good home for ourselves.
In all fairness, FAIR is just one appealing, comprehensive, and eminently fair way to rebalance the compounding of profits consistent with the long term interests of the earth and humanity. There are also tax and negative interest rate means of “topping off” excess passive savings to restore global balance. The value of FAIR is its focus on everyone’s shared duty to serve common interests. It would of course be backed up by legal penalties and alternate means of distributing excess financial savings, once people see the real need to change our way of living. Of course, all three means could be combined, perhaps led by FAIR distributions by individuals accepting their natural fiduciary duty to care for the earth.
FAIR rules would also only gradually reduce the financial imbalance caused by compound investing, and adjusted to not stifle individual financial creativity as it limits punishing demands on nature and society. Spending a fixed annual share of accumulated profits from investments in times of severe imbalance like today, torturing nature and tormenting wide sectors of humanity, would give investors global guidance on how to value the gifts of nature and human society. One must also caution against the use of FAIR distributions for just reliving symptoms of the systemic overaccumulation of savings, as simple symptom relief would fail to steer people’s lives onto sustainable paths. For example, food and services should be offered, but take a back seat to strong socially led education and self-organization efforts.
This is actually a strategy first discussed by JM Keynes in Chapter 16 iii & iv of his General Theory. I’ve interpreted it as an “overflow valve” for excess financial savings to relieve unhealthy burdens on the earth system, dialing back unsustainable extractive investment and relieving the whole economy’s pressure on all our cultural and planetary bounds.
The degree of relief from excess demands on the system would be adjusted with on experience, starting at 10% a year of accumulated for argument sake. That rate would most often not increase wealth distribution to undermine the individual life styles, just skimm off the top. The rate would be adjusted to gradually stabilize the economy’s impacts on earth and society at a comfortable level, both for long term profit and to treat a living world with respect.
In the end, finance would stabilize to generate steady flow of profits for personal and priority needs, the economy thriving as a continually innovating cash-cow business enterprise. In Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons, the equivalent would be for the rich farmer to see the error of killing the commons, and devote his excess cattle to relieve community suffering, hosting periodic feasts to save the commons and bring the community together, seeing their right to become a welcome hero for giving up the role as the devil himself.
Need Even ignoring the COVID pandemic, the world faces a considerable growing plague of plagues from centuries of growth putting excessive demands on societies and the environment. A sobering list of The Top 100 World Crises Growing with Growth illustrates the problem. While mainstream finance is starting to recognize the need to not just maximize profits at any cost, so far that has largely been only to factoring the risks to ever-growing profits, not harm to our future. Since maximizing the compounding of profits seems to be the real problem, a new way to do it doesn’t really solve the core problem. It also ignores the very numerous other global crises threatening our future, exposing the grand “tragedy of the commons” of global overinvestment for which we are responsible.
Is that partly a matter of the kind of investment we built civilization with? Of course. A tree can’t change its own trunk, roots, and branches though, only slow the new branches to halt destabilizing overgrowth, if it’s not too late. So we should expect a natural Fiduciary Duty for investors and businesses to develop, to the best of their ability, and guided by the progress of the global crisis. That is a way for responsible investing to become universal without expecting investors and businesses making their decisions to understand all the up and downstream impacts on others or the system’s pressures on its whole range of planetary boundaries. In a way, both forgiving and frustrating, the research on global measures of our economic impacts (Henshaw 2011 Systems Energy Assessment) strongly suggests that causation for whole system impacts is so widely distributed it’s generally necessary to consider them as equally distributed per share of the economy, like today’s nominal average CO2 Emissions of 0.26 kg (0.6 lb) attributed to every $ of GDP PPP. Understanding the CO2 has both historically and currently increased in lockstep with the world economy shows the real problem that forces us to remove the growth imperitive as part of responding to climate change.
Fig 3 the history of Atmospheric CO2, with fixed growth rates from 1780 to 1940 and 1960 to the present
The main determinant of success for FAIR distribution of excess savings is not just the relief of pressure on the global commons it would bring. What matters as much is whether the money is well spent, and delivers “good works” of long term value. The expectation is that people with accumulated profits to distribute, with some technical guidance, would have an “eye for value” and see what the world needs to be successful, having demonstrated a comparable “eye for value” to make themselves successful.
Spending to serve the common interest presents the same kind of creative investment problem only looked at in a new way. FAIR spending is an investment decision for serving the system as a whole, that will be returned with profits of other kinds you couldn’t buy. That is the same way a family benefits from spending savings on educating its children. That is saved profits well spent. It’s a question of “feeding” the world something nourishing, not “controlling” it.
Well spent, FAIR distributions would teach both people and institutions about the patterns of growth in nature, and how investment at the limits is returned manyfold.
Because the FAIR spending of assets is something of a new investment field, it would need guidance and support from economic research and modeling. Also needed is a connection with the social networking of practice communities, both to guide to creating lasting value. Initially, it would be a voluntary adherence to a community principle, and then later formalized to be more widely applied. With new proposals for expansive strategies, the devil is generally in the details so serious economic modeling and rulemaking study to explore options. The scientific study of how finance is coupling with its growing planetary impacts, reliable sponsorship, and teamwork in building the global movement are all critical.
The hope is that the principles are practical and clear enough that they could spread naturally and become socially expected. Even connecting idea that growth is responsible for our problems continually racing out ahead of our solutions should be a task for a global IPCC-like scientific network, perhaps called the IFIC (International Fiduciary Investment Council). That would focus work on systemic research, to guide national organizations on rating impact investments for the commons. Someone will need to attempt to “qualify” the likely impacts of different kinds of for-profit and non-profit grants and investments. Coupled with each investor’s eye for value that could be relied on to steer the economy through its many present crises, including COVID, to a thriving and lasting climax.
Challenge: This proposed “human duty” (to go along with our “human rights”) for investors and business to devote a share of their financial savings to serve the common interest seems simple enough to define and discuss in principle. What’s harder to define is how much time we have to avoid the next wave of crises, as in the past, likely to be as unimaginable to us now as the present ones were before. We should “Build Back Better,” and with an eye to economic, planetary, and environmental justice.
Restoring the economy to maximize its long term growth is the most dangerous course of all, inviting a crippling systemic delayed response like the delayed responses to COVID-19 which caused most of the deaths. If we just restart the growth economy, already severely weakened, you might expect the kind of failure at the limit shown by the light blue upper curve (Fig 4). That choice amounts to no response in the end and leads to system failure. We seem already well beyond the sustainable limit and so only have a last-chance response, to turn toward the sustainable limit like following the purple curve.
Once the world realizes that businesses and investors do really have a natural duty to steer the world economy in the common interest we’ll find more ways to do it. The physics of responding to natural limits (Fig 4) shows that early responses to natural growth limits don’t significantly delay the approach to the limit. It is mainly delayed responses you need to worry about. FAIR principles, perhaps combined with other strategies for topping off excess financial savings, are today likely the only option for making a transition to a thriving climax without major disruption.
Fig 4, The high risk of delay in responding to exponential threats. From Models Learning Change (Henshaw 2010)
Origin of the FAIR Concept: A series of tweets 05/24/20 … and historically, from the work of JM Keynes, 1935 General Theory, Chapter on “Sundry Observations on the Nature of Capital” Chapter – 16 III & IV, describing why the natural financial climax of the economy requires financial savings to climax to prevent the very worst effects of capitalism, implying that the wealthy need to learn to spend rather than save their profits to preserve them, by making the system as a whole sustainably profitable.
New systems science, how to care for natural uncontrolled systems in context