from a conversation on FB group Global Challenges Collaboration link to FB post
No we shouldn’t condemn humankind for being out of control
Sam Hahn April 23 at 11:05am
We must not condemn man because his inventiveness and patient conquest of the forces of nature are exploited for false and destructive purposes. – Albert Einstein
Sam, No we shouldn’t condemn humankind for being out of control, not even for betraying ourselves in failing to study it carefully. It’s sort of “over the top,” in all dimensions. What most matters may be just moving people to recognize that we truly need to gain some control of our future, that we have a future worth protecting, that if we study we can discover the error.
I’ve noticed a curiously deep problem with our remarkable talent for conceptual thinking. Our great talent for recognizing patterns of control also comes with great ignorance of what we’re trying to control, as nature’s designs are actually beyond our understanding. So we regularly fail to see how our efforts to control things cause disruptions too, also leaving us relatively helpless in trying to heal them as well. That our minds so often falsely label our opportunities this way is a serious handicap, making it dangerous to rush into what seem to be our greatest doors to success. Recognizing that hazard is a useful pattern though, one I think you can see reflected in the great disaster prone themes of our culture, which seem associated with the bias of seeing the world through rules for control enabled by our talent for conceptual thinking.
There’s also a glowing opportunity to study it that people seem to shy away from, by looking closely at the natural creative processes by which things begin, the growth periods that bring about the transformation of natural systems in our everyday experience. How visible they are has been hidden from us, by how our whole society became organized around thinking about patterns of control, creating an economy using them to multiplying our control of anything profitable. Perhaps the most consequential problem with that way of life is just not having any second act.
Nature and our own experience are full of creative second acts for growth systems. Finding a second act for our economy is also rather necessary for our survival. It would also go a long way to absolving us of our feelings of helplessness and guilt about it. That nature is full of second acts for growth, of course, means there are innumerable examples of natural systems that began much like our fateful world economy behaves.
From the view of a fertilized cell in the womb, the world seems like a limitless resource at first, as it multiplies furiously,
From the view of a fertilized cell in the womb, the world seems like a limitless resource at first, as it multiplies furiously, going from one cell to a trillion in the nine months. That is the work of a systematic process of a growing system taking ever greater control of its environment. It has a surprise ending, though, that despite all the pain and danger involved often turns out magically well. That all successful lives seem to begin this general way, with a limited but highly creative burst of self-organization, followed by a period of developing successful roles in the world, is the general pattern, of successful growth in nature having a first and second act.
Our world economy seems to have gone through its great burst of self-organization, its first act. It remains designed to multiply ever further its control of human and natural resources, though. I see that as a clear symptom of our blindness for what could come next. That’s where the close study of nature’s way of creating second acts, transforming initial growth processes into final ones to create new forms of life, could help.
Where it would start is with subjects we know very intimately, such as how good personal relationships begin. New relationships seem to always start with a period of contagious development. If they’re to succeed that spontaneous wave of new connection is also graceful enough to hesitate, as it enters unfamiliar territory. That relaxation of the contagion permits a change from fitting together bigger and bigger changes in the relationship to fitting together smaller details at a finer level of attention. It’s a way to bring the design to completion by making it whole. So in short, for the world economy, we need a “relaxation of the contagion” to allow it to turn toward becoming whole, permitting our second act of growth.
That same kind of succession seems present in the origins of other things, as part of a universal story of “how things begin.” The turning point in the middle often involves a crisis, but is often as smooth as can be too. Either way it involves a new way of thinking, from beginning to completing a grand design, having the potential for a wonderful outcome if the emerging life is both careful enough and perhaps lucky.
a way to bring the design to completion by making it whole
Apr 10 2018 a Springer journal, Systems Practice and Action Research, published:
Systems Thinking for Systems Making: Joining systems of thought and action
J L Henshaw [Springer PDF here or Author’s here]
An exploration of what appears to be a new dimension and understanding of systems thinking; the stepwise learning and improvisation that evolves our thinking in the individual and collaborative processes of discovering how to make and do things in nature. The paper provides an overview covering basics, some history, and advanced subjects.
A review of the new systems sciences that developed since 1940 displays both tremendously creative effort to better understand reality and some current stumbling blocks. Variations on older tried and true techniques, like using models to help us study nature rather than represent nature, are suggested as perhaps pointing to a productive path forward.
Jessie Lydia Henshaw
Henshaw, J. L. (2018). Systems Thinking for Systems Making: Joining Systems of Thought and Action. Systemic Practice and Action Research, 1-29. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11213-018-9450-2
– The wide implications relations based on fiduciary trust – JLH
Professionals making decisions for others have a duty to act in the client’s best interests, to the best of the fiduciary’s ability, as the basis of trusting the fiduciary’s services.
The law doesn’t limit “best interests” of others to short term financial gain, leaving open all other interests everyone has a right to, such as not being misled, living sustainably, respecting due process and receiving justice.
What has changed in the modern world is that we face more threats and know more about them, so now we can hold our professionals responsible, demanding our universal human interests be respected as their fiduciary duty.
Putting this on the human rights agenda would only take talking and writing about it.
– Current Law: The Fiduciary Duty for investors[i]
“Whenever you are dealing with someone to whom you will entrust your money, such as a registered investment adviser or a bank trust department, it is nice to know that, in the United States, they owe you what is known as a fiduciary duty. This is not to be taken lightly because, under the American legal system, a fiduciary duty is the highest duty owed to another person. It requires the fiduciary (the person with the obligation) to put the interest of the principal (the person to whom they owe the fiduciary duty) above their own.”
“This requirement to act in their best interest includes disclosing any conflicts of interest that may arise so they can be known ahead of time, leveling the playing field. Breaching the fiduciary duty can result in draconian punishments, including being barred from employment in certain fields, being banned from working with certain types of securities, being forced to pay significant civil and criminal penalties, the loss of employment, and, in some cases, felony conviction with accompanying jail time. To put it bluntly, the fiduciary duty has teeth.” [see source for rest of article]
“A “fiduciary duty” is required of a person who manages money, investments, or other property on behalf of another person. When the situation involves a board of directors managing a corporation, the fiduciary duty the board has to the corporation’s shareholders and investors is known as a “business duty.” A person who has a fiduciary or business duty is known as a “fiduciary.”
“A fiduciary duty requires more than the ordinary reasonable care that appears in most personal injury and tort cases. Fiduciary duties are generally split into two categories: the duty of loyalty and the duty of care. In some cases, board members may also have a duty to disclose information. They also have a duty to avoid conflicts of interest.”
“The duty of loyalty requires the person who has it to handle money with the best interests of its owner in mind. The fiduciary must put the owner’s interests before his or her own and may not profit from managing the owner’s assets without the owner’s consent.”
“In a business situation, the duty of loyalty requires the board of directors to run the corporation in the best interests of the shareholders. Directors have a duty not to let their personal interests conflict with those of the corporation.” [see source for rest of article]
Note: there is no limit to what “best interests” a fiduciary needs to serve,
1. There’s only a limit on their ability to serve them, and
2. All “best interests” would require not being misleading
Setting Our Whole system goal,
Making the Earth our good home.
Much of my effort over the past five years fosuces on working with civil society organizations at the UN on the world sustainable development goals (SDG’s). This year, needing to take care of other business, I’m sitting out. It may be ironic, of course, as the challenges of implementing the UN 17 separate goals probably makes:
more and more participants think of how the goals need to all work together,
and can’t individually be achieved without the ‘nexus’ of the whole.
Ultimately my years at the UN was mostly spent identifying the widespread absence of systems thinking in the SDG’s, watching somewhat painfully as the UN spent all its time creating lists of separate goals, as if unaware of their interlinkage. The interlinkage most neglected of course was that of *MONEY*, our main tool and problem. So my writing of that time may be a little out of date. I can tell that much of the systems thinking I found so absent before still is, however.
I have lots of other writings on how “systems thinking” for our world needs to become “systems making”, the next step toward true “homemaking on planet earth”. Finding how societies can make their good homes on earth is the answer. Like ecologies of other kinds do, we can invent our way out of the deepening trap we now find our world economy in, using nature as a guide.
I got fairly frequent applause at the UN, enough to know people are listening, but to my knowledge no one ever followed up on my carefully reasoned recommendations, and no one ever asked me to be on a panel discussing them either. So here I’ve collected some of my old lists of observations on the process, and reiterate my offer to help people understand the guiding patterns of natural system design that I’ve spent my life studying.
A Youtube of one of my interventions for last year’s HLPF gets right to the heart of the matter too!
I also can’t help returning to a central subject of collective organization I’ve studied my whole professional career, the seeming fate of economies to bring periods of high cooperation to an end with total disaster. The main cause could of course be said that no one in particular is at fault. But there is science enough to identify who could intervene, and do something about it.
My previous post was on the work of Ernst Ising, the physicist who solved a range of collective behavior problems, and how pattern language design science might address the question of what kinds of environments are required for emerging local phenomena. Why economic collapse is always on the road straight ahead for our form of highly cooperative modern economies is one such subject I’d like find physicists using Ising’s work on with.
One might wonder about what keeps driving our highly cooperative world economy toward escalating conflict.
All of humanity seems driven by a “rat race” toward extremes of destructive competition all the time, unable to escape, with most everyone feeling they are reacting in their own defense. That’s not a model for a safe and secure world.
Could we possibly trace how the economic forces, like those driving everyone to achieve rapid growth in economic productivity, and so for the earth and humanity, creating circumstances ripe for triggering grand economic collapses. If we can identify the system doing that we could identify interventions well in advance, to engage a “general protection fault” to avoid the usual mad collective collapse.
I for one think it boils down to demanding people do impossible things, demanding of our society to do impossible things, like continually doubling the speed at which we collect and use energy and expand our control of the earth. That can only end in tragedy, like it has for economies again and again. Why economies are driven to it, to be ever more productive at ever faster rates, follows unavoidably from their organization for maximizing compound returns from investment, making ever more from ever less. Like being forced to “make bricks without straw”, the regular investment of profits in escalating to create ever more daunting competition ultimately compels cooperation in cheating. In the end that unavoidably disrupts the order, as one of the natural outcomes of pointlessly taking the compounding of returns to its natural limit.
We could do something else if we understood the problem…
An interesting global question is, to me, raised by Ernst Ising’s work in physics – (see the arxiv pre-print on his life and work if interested. https://arxiv.org/pdf/1706.01764.pdf)
Ising’s main work in the 1920’s was deriving a mathematical explanation for ferromagnetism, the ability of atoms in certain solid metals to develop aligned spins, and exhibit permanent magnetic fields in there surroundings as a result. The part of that might be of interest from a pattern science viewpoint is how his model has been successfully applied to numerous collective phenomena, both other emergent collective atomic behaviors like magnetism as well as emergent collective macroscopic behaviors like the emergence of organization in crowds.
The math, honestly, is beyond me, but there’s an interesting assumption in the work that might be discussed from a pattern science perspective, that the math rests on treating such phenomena as arising from purely local interactions.
Ising Said: “So, if we do not assume [ ] that [ ] quite distant elements exert an inﬂuence on each other [ ] we do not succeed in explaining ferromagnetism from our assumptions. It is [thus] to be expected that this assertion also holds true for a spatial model in which only
elements in the nearby environment interact with each other.”
What I suspect is that there’s more of a wave/partical type duality present, involving both local and contextual interaction
in bringing about collective organization.
In the collective phenomena we observe there is certainly has a strong local character, whether it’s snowflake formation, ecologies, social movements or probably also the punctuated equilibria of emerging species. All such collective phenomena seem to arise in relatively small centers and then spread mysteriously. They also seem to require specially primed and fertile environments, as global conditions that are receptive to the local accumulation of collective designs.
So my question is who else is talking about this pattern of nature. Is this raised in Christopher Alexander’s “The Nature of Order” or other pattern language writings? Is it raised in the work of anyone else writing in the pattern language field? More specifically, does it need to be understood to know how to describe the contexts we work in, perhaps such that a calm and receptive and so fertile context is needed to be a good host for pattern designs to flourish?
A change in natural science is emerging along with “computing”
turning away from using theory & equations as a guide,
toward using data pattern recognition for
naturally occurring systems revealed in the data to be a guide.
Note: About 20 Years ago algorithms were developed for selectively extracting differentiable continuities from raw data, making a major step beyond “splines” for true mining of natural continuities from noisy data without regression. The result was quite successful forensic pattern recognition of discovered natural systems, their forms and behaviors. Combined with a general systems “pattern language” based only on the constraint of energy conservation, that pattern mining has provided a very productive alternative to AI for investigating naturally occurring forms and designs. The one unusual leap for applying scientific methods was to use it to capture the great richness of natural textures available from studying uniquely individual cases and forms found in nature. That is what overcomes the worst faults of studying individual cases, and so instead greatly enriches theory with directly observed phenomenology. The rudimentary tools successfully developed have been proven useful again and again with subjects such as illustrated below. 10/21/16
A long central principle of modern science, relying on defining nature with the information we can find, is considered here by way of eight examples of how important it is for science to also rely on doing the opposite, looking for patterns in the information we are missing somehow. Doing much the reverse lets us use the information we have to ask better questions about what nature is hiding from us.
It’s such an odd and obvious mistake to stubbornly treat nature as our data, as Neils Bohr and Popper insisted on and the QM community has maintained. Being limited to analysis and data creates a large blind spot for science, made unable by that limitation to learn from observation, and to see clearly how very different the “data world” (what fits in a computer) is from the “material world” (what doesn’t). The puzzles of found in natural patterns, turning up in ‘bigdata and various pattern sciences seems to be putting all of these matters into question again.
So I may take some unfair advantage, perhaps, by making a little fun of that prior arbitrary constraint on scientific inquiry, insisting that nothing we have no data for can exist. That of course is almost everything when it comes down to. It’s no joke, though, that our data is decidedly inferior for defining nature. Here and elsewhere I tend to allow that nature defines itself, as I certainly don’t do it.
The “Impacts Uncounted” article mentioned describes a simply enormous worldwide neglect in economic accounting, a huge mismeasure of lasting business environmental impacts. It’s caused by the traditional insistence on trusting the data at hand and refusal to look for what data is going uncounted, as if the fact that we can only study the data we have means nature is not being misrepresented by it, a curiously deep concern for understanding the scientific method. In reality there is more to life than the data we have. Treating “science” as whatever our data defines, then, actually means “flying blind” regarding all the kinds and scales of phenomena going unmeasured, the difference between nature and data going unseen. For accurate accounting, even older scientific principles need to apply, such as defining units of measure in relation to the whole system or “universe” for that measure, not just the part easy to measure, and so “Impacts Uncounted” is the effect of counting the global impacts of business using local measures, as is today standard around the world, a big mistake.
So these 8 examples are “data visualizations” that neatly expose where important data is very much missing, as a guide to where to go and look. Those hiding places exposed as gaps in the data turn our attention to phenomena of perhaps another kind or another scale, or on another plane with material influence perhaps. That is then what needs to be discovered and looked into. to really understand what the measures display and the systems or events they refer to. That the data available, then, always points to phenomena beyond the scope of the data to define is both the oldest and perhaps now the newest of deep scientific principles for interpreting what we see.
Is science coming full circle…? The answer seems to be YES!
Persistent patterns in data generally reflect complex natural forms of design, complex and complicated well beyond what data can define. So we present data in a way to helps show someone what’s missing.
Data from a natural source is generally biased and incomplete as a result of how it’s collected, and a “proxy” for various things other than what it is said to measure. So not really knowing what it measures, it is best studied as being another way of sampling an undefined universe, to become meaningful by discovering its boundaries
Patrick Ball’s HRDAG methods demonstrate comparing sources for death records in conflict environments, using the differences and overlaps to reveal the true totals. My own research shows environmental impacts of business are undefined, lacking a common denominator to make them comparable as shares of the same universe. Correcting the mismeasure appears to increase the impact scale of business by several orders of magnitude. In both cases characterizing the universe the original data is implicitly sampled from serves as common denominator for making the original data meaningful.
For discussing basic explanatory principles of physics used for forensic systems research
1. See where hidden connecting events shifted the flows??
The discussion of the UN’s Sustainable development Goals (SDG’s) focuses on the poor, and “Leaving No One Behind”. That overlooks that it’s most often the growth of the world economy that made older parts of the economy outmoded, and leaving whole communities behind as the world economy moves on to what’s more profitable. This discussion illustrates more of the detail, how innovative change like the “green revolution” thought to be for feeding the poor. It would quite predictably also leave more and more agricultural communities behind, …as everyone has increasingly seen in their own regions… like in my own home region of New York State, exhibiting common symptoms of being economically left behind you see around the world:
abandonment of rural communities
as farmers can’t afford sell to feed their own communities
the flight to cities with now skills to sell
the growing refugee and landless migrant populations
growing youth cultures with little to do but to get angry
or that are fighting over resources degraded by over use
And that’s only one of the kinds of distressed communities unable to keep up with the competition ans the most profitable invest their profits in becoming more profitable and more and more people can’t keep up.
These all actively leave whole societies of suffering people behind in a way that is not reversible. It’s the real predictability of ever escalating competition causing all these uncounted impacts of how we invest money in growth for the wealthy, that undermining the sustainability traditional economies. That’s the real quandary here, it so very predictable. What DO development planners think about, not to ask who the latest innovation will put out of business. Well, to do real sustainable design, we’d need to add that question to the list, what will our “killer app” put out of business? It’s always a trade-off when you “create jobs” of any kind, that there will be jobs lost elsewhere with a very high probability.
Conceptually the lasting profitability option is fairly simple, gradual stabilizing of the whole system profit as the profitability of growth stops growing as fast, leading to a steady state creative living.
For the big picture of how we got the math wrong…
The economic impacts we don’t count turn out to be the great majority of disruptive earth and societal impacts we experience (seeImpactsUncounted ). They even have a name, the “externalities” incurred as liabilities of obtaining services by paying someone else to deliver the goods. So those are actually internal to the operating necessities for running a business, only external to the accounting we’ve been doing. Counting them is actually just ruled out for SD accounting, by a “stroke of a pen”, as effects that decision makers don’t feel responsible for, and have no direct control over. Those include impacts of financial decisions, for investing in disruptive innovations, also excluded from the discussion of impacts by the stroke of a pen.
Some impacts of finance are easily measured and some not, so to fully understand the problem takes sorting through what is accountable and what is not, develop different ways of assigning shares of responsibility. Certainly the ones that are measurable should be counted. They’re mostly counted globally, like soil and water depletion and lots of other things. They’re just not at present assigned to anyone’s responsibility. Doing so proportional to share of world GDP would be both scientifically correct and perfectly fair. So a study group would pick one or two such questions at a time to see what can be learned.
Another concern is how the continual compounding of profits forces everyone in the economy struggle to keep up with financial demands for ever increasing productivity and competition… what the phrase “the rat race” technically refers to. It’s why we all seem forced to to run ever faster to stay in one place. That’s of course not really sustainable, but very hard to know how to measure. Still, it’s a very real kind of suffering and accumulative culture change, and connected to the escalating competition in the economy that leaves ever more people and communities behind, a kind of “destructive creation”.
In figures 1 & 2 illustrate how regions are left behind, using the example of how once thriving agricultural communities of New York State collapsed, leaving long term economic damage behind. The question is where did the money go that once invested in productive farming in the region. The costs were left behind as the money fled to create the extractive industrial farming of the mid-west and elsewhere, mining water and fossil fuel resources very unsustainably, to grow corn, wheat and soy where it wouldn’t thrive naturally. Of course, much of this is only observable in hind sight and not really manageable, but the costs to society clearly also do escalate. That makes it imperative we take responsibility and do what’s right. The driver is making more profits, for investing in even more competitive businesses, using “disruptive innovation” that also leavea ever more others behind somewhere too.
For many decades people have more often called that effect of disruptive innovations “creative destruction”, accepting that to make more money and increase the economy’s products, you have to destroy the economy’s old ways of making products. The hard question is when to change from calling that “creative destruction” to calling it “destructive creation”. The programming of the economy to always grow that process seems to assure ever stiffer competition for everyone, all the time. It’s so constant we might just take it for granted,… but as a continual culture change for pushing everyone to face ever stiffer competition for how they live, it’s certainly not sustainable. As you push the limits then… it seems to naturally leave more and more people and environments behind, and be really more destructive than productive.
How that escalates is illustrated below, alongside the map of New York State, roughly showing the area of Central NY farming communities that vanished in the 50’s to 70’s, giving in to the competition from industrial farming. We could count the region’s lasting economic and cultural damages, perhaps. We can also see that the global corollary is of larger scale and seeming leaving more and more behind around the globe all the time. We can see it was no one’s political decision, nor is there anyone else at direct fault. We can see that kind of change is quite irreversible once it has happened. We’d only know if we counted it, and attributed the costs to our financial decisions to profit that way. As societal collapses are not reversible, we’d really need a more holistic way of measuring our impacts, to understand the costs of how we make money for our future.
Re: 18 – 21 Oct 2016 Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (research ref’s at the bottom)
Fourth meeting of the IAEG-SDGs
SD indicators need one more, the World SDG
so Innovators can design their goals
in relation to the whole
My comment is as an expert on both system design and natural science indicators, on how innovative organization develops in both natural and intentional complex systems. There is a great depth of professional design practice that has yet to be consulted regarding the plan for the SDG’s
The general model of innovative transformations is that the emerging culture change, starting from some “seed pattern”, and then going through the classic phases of their own life-cycle of internal growth and changing roles in their environment (fig 1). There are of course many kinds of invasive systems and life-cycles. The type we are most often concerned with innovative transformations of human design, whether our own educations, or our society’s struggle to become “sustainable”, succeeds or not.
The earliest visible pattern is the emergence of an “inspiration” or “design”, looking for an opportunity to take hold, to have a starting organization that gets going by using environmental energy for building up the design. That energy flow for formation then tapers off as the transformation progresses, toward refining the “new capability”, or “new culture” or “new business” etc.
The natural goal is generally to stabilize the design as it begins its real work at a peak of vitality, beginning a long productive life. So in general, it’s to first grow and then make a home, to have a life. This model developed from study of natural change patterns , applying constraints of physics principles for energy use, that for designs to develop or change they need to develop new energy uses too.
I’ve been attending the UN SDG meetings for four years, first for the Institute for Planetary Synthesis, and then with CIVICUS, learning a tremendous amount, but also noticing the very distinct lack of systems thinking in the design of the SDG’s. The main reasons seem to be that systems thinking is not taught in liberal arts educations, and that the design of the SDG’s was mainly shaped by demands for change, by issue focused groups from governments and civil society, not experienced with how organization relies on designs to join differentiated parts. So ideas of how to organizing the differentiated parts when undiscussed and were mostly left out.
So the process produced 17 idealistic “goals” and 36 main “topics” discussed mostly separately, arising from a profound concern with the whole global pattern of culture change and economic development. Personally I had a wonderful time, but was also sad I never got to talk about my main expertise, i.e. on how the parts of whole systems connect. From a natural systems view the SDG’s may be spoken of as separate, but are all indicators of “holistic cultural growth”. They’re not really indicators of “economic growth”, as it’s whole culture growth that brings value to an economy not the reverse.
With the process lacking systems thinking resulted in missing systems indicators: for how differentiated parts connect, for how cultures develop unity and cohesion. The diagram below is mainly for study, a “sense making tool”, a “map of questions” to help guide innovative changes.
The challenge is our usual mental confusion, with our minds working with disconnected bits of information and but actually working in holistic organizations and trying to engage with holistic systems of our world. So our “maps” and our “worlds” show a “mismatch of variety”. So we need to constantly study and learn from new experience. To succeed with an SD partnership, the organizers first need to find a “start-up match” between its “own abilities” and “an environmental opportunity”. Usually it takes “a study of the context”, identifying “forces to make whole” with a “unifying response” ( a reference to “pattern language”) . In terms of the 8 kinds of indicators for planning change, it’s matching type IV indicators of whole system potential, one set within the organization and the other in the environment. The actual initiative might focus on one or the other…
The 4 quadrant map has “condition indicators” for “states” (how things are) and “guides” (what can change). It has “context indicators”, “local” and “global”. The four quadrants are repeated for the Organization and the Environment as a 3rd dimension for the array. This arrangement borrows a bit from David Snowden’s Cynefine “place” centered holistic complex system business design practice. It fits with the long lists of indicators of functionally different kind needed for the SDG’s
There are also other advanced holistic system design traditions to choose from. In all of them design proceeds in “stages” of team “learning”, “work” then “review”. With each cycle all the indicators being worked with are reviewed. All the indicators the organization uses to guide it are consulted in the learning phase of each cycle. The architectural, product design and performance design professions have ancient traditions of how they do their work. Newer traditions of system design where this kind of learning is studied include “action learning”, “pattern language”, “object oriented design”, and “permaculture”. None of these traditions of advanced design practice seem to have been consulted for the SDG’s for some reason.
I do hope the above is helpful
for where SDG implementations can go for advice.
My real reason for writing, …and offering this way of understanding transformational change,… is the oddly disastrous pattern of excluded indicators in the official statistics for the SDG’s. The measures of ESG impacts that businesses are told to report as measures of their responsibility, have many more exclusions than inclusions.
It is possibly unintentional but oddly very boldly “hidden in sight”, the clear exclusion of all responsibility for the disruptive impacts of business and investor money decisions. It comes from the modern continuation of the ancient practice of excluding all business responsibility for economic “externalities” of the choices for what to profit from. Some impacts of what to profit from no one in the past would have know about. Now we really do know most of them.
The very largest exclusion from business impact reporting, though, is one that anyone would always have known about. It’s all the human consumption that business revenue pays for to obtain human services, ALL of it, as if those impacts had no environmental cost. That one accounting exclusion is commonly five or ten times the impacts the rules say businesses should count. The indication is that we have not started doing any form of sustainable development yet, systematically making decisions as if 80-90% of the impacts don’t exist.
At the UN and in writing to people I’ve been finding most people understand all this fairly quickly, …but then avoid engaging in discussion, the worst of all possible responses for our world. The cover-up and avoidance is always the bigger crime.
I urge you to respond to the challenge.
There’s a simple way, too, include in SD reports one new indicator, “global share of GDP impacts” proportional to share of global GDP
It’s really important to start the discussion.
Thanks for all your dedication and work
The next more detailed introduction, to the “mostly uncounted” SD impact indicator problem, with references.
I’m writing as a scientist, and expert on the design of natural systems and natural science indicators. I had wanted to attend the Ethiopia EAG meeting on Indicators, due to the major neglected issues I need to raise. Not having a sponsor I thought to pass on some of it to others who may get there. It’s about reliable filling the unusually large gaps in the SD impact indicators used for decision making.
As a consulting systems scientist I’ve has been attending UN meetings for four years, observing the SDG process, and noticing the big gaps in systems thinking being built into the plan. One in particular is that our impact measurement methods are not holistic, but actually quite fragmentary. Just having better information on visible impacts won’t tell us about the growing system-wide impacts, so SD decisions will still be unable to avoid traditional pitfalls of economic planning. Going ahead with just fragmentary indicators could really then make the SDG effort backfire, perhaps badly, adding to the “externalities” of the economy not reducing them.
That we are not yet doing holistic impact assessment is fairly easily documented, as whole categories left out of the accounting. There’s an amazing list of things the economists (at the direction of the OECD it seems) have arbitrarily left out of the list of things to count. The peculiar result is that the exclusions add up to nominally 90% of the real total. The biggest category of exclusions is usually the largest category of business environmental impacts. It’s the impact of paying business people for their human services, and for professional services, financing and public services. As a result SD decisions to maximize profit are being made unaware of nominally 90% of the future impact costs of those decisions. It’s surely a long standing habit we can’t change all at once, but we desperately need a recognition of it.
The economists have historically counted the business impacts as only things the business specifically directs. That then treats the “consumption for production” of human services as having zero impact, the usual largest of costs and of lasting environmental impacts of any business. The same is the case for all other supply chain impacts that are packaged as “services”, all counted as having zero environmental impact.. Having so little information on the lasting direct costs of business profits has always been a problem, and when combined with not feeling responsible defining “business as usual”. Today SD decision makers are still trying to maximize returns with a similar lack of information, though, as if just feeling responsible would compensate for the misinformation. It doesn’t.
I think most important is not to pick fights but to raise discussions of our common responsibility to address our common interests, to begin to include ones we’d been blind to. The caution is that It’s common for people whose sight is suddenly restored to be in shock, so it’s caring for them not making demands that lets them see.
If you or others would like to follow this up, you might start from watching my video comment to the UN on July 11 (1), and read the short “Impacts Uncounted” circular (2). I found it very effective for explaining the details when talking with people at the UN. There’s also a quite surprising scientific solution that makes holistic accounting possible, first reported in a peer reviewed 2011 paper (3). How to use that principle that “shares of the economy are directly responsible for shares of its impacts”, because of globalization, actually, is shown in a general 2014 proposal to the UN called the “World SDG” (4). It’s not getting discussed much yet, apparently due to the shock. Another caution, of course, is that we need the old economy to build the new one, part of why transformations are complex.
The big mental shock seems to be realizing the lasting impacts of using money are not close to “zero” at it appears. They’re actually very likely close to “average”, for being so unusually widely distributed the way an efficient economy works, that to do most anything takes everyone’s service. That “reassessment” is an almost infinite change of scale in our responsibilities, after all. It directly connects what we do innocently with money with all the disruptive things the economy increasingly does as our growth model collides with the limits of the earth, ..hurting the distressed communities the most.
So what we need is for people to keep doing what they’re doing, and begin to assume they have a real responsibility for what’s going wrong with the economy and the world, in approximate direct proportion to their share of the economy.
I hope that connects with your thinking and gives you a start with mine. Please send me anything you think is relevant.
Good luck your good work! Thanks so much for your time.
To help people understand my work here are a couple examples of data science to discover dramatic recent culture changes in New York City. The work is based on a careful lifelong study of eventful natural change, of all sorts, done by following the stages of growth and decay evident in the natural life-cycles of culture change events.
following the stages of growth and decay evident in the natural life-cycles of culture change
My method depends on finding data that shows clear evidence of growth or decay, as those identify natural processes of irreversible organizational development, in the natural successions of change. Below are samples from two advanced studies of unexpected dramatic societal change, and a drawing of the markers of change I use to suggest what evidence to look for to discover what’s changing.
The two advanced studies are the mysterious 1991 collapse of the great NYC crack culture (1), and second the mysterious 1970 splitting apart of the US economy into rich and poor sectors on different tracks (2). Both were simply enormous cultural events that very largely went unnoticed, dramatic “break-outs” of culture change that had been brewing for a long time, and then swiftly changed how we live. The study of the collapse of the NYC crack culture and many other examples are in the archive of my research from the 80’s and 90’s called “The physics of happening”
It gets easier to discuss these culture changes once you sense what is being opened up to view is really the stories of our own lives. These and patterns of change in things we are all talking about anyway, only with data showing the systematic progression of key measurements of them. The basic science for following markers of change, implied by the physics principle of energy conservation (3), implying that lasting change is a process of organizational development. So the markers suggest places to ask “what’s developing”.
basic science for following markers of organization change, implied by the physics principle of energy conservation
the markers suggesting places to ask “what’s developing”.
… three years before the mayor who took credit for it took office. The real main player was the strain on the families of the NYC drug cultures involved. They had become particularly traumatized by it, and the rest of society desperately searching for some way to change too. Everything people wanted to have work started working all at once, when their kids stopped looking up to the drug lords! They turned to the emerging Hip-Hop mass culture as an exciting alternative to be part of, a riveting story when well told.
What tipped me off was the “decay curve” shape of the NYS murder rate data shown in the NY Times. The abrupt decay curve shape, rapid at first and decelerating over years, without wiggle, is a very clear indicator of a the death of a natural culture, in this case seeming to be from the youth that had once fed it turning away. Continue reading NYC data Science… examples→
New object oriented natural science for working with natural systems.