Same As It Ever Was

Peter JonesDialogic Design, Social Systems Design, Strategic Foresight

We have been in the same global mega-crisis for 50 years now. Two proposals were presented to the Club of Rome in 1969. The board selected the System Dynamics modeling project supported by Jay Forrester’s World Model, with the results published by Meadows, Meadows and Randers in 1972 as The Limits to Growth. The Club of Rome convened March 1 at Smithsonian’s sponsorship for a global symposium and revisited the Limits to Growth. Dennis Meadows spoke and was interviewed by Smithsonian, where he claims we missed our chance to repair the foreseeable: Is it Too Late for Sustainable Development? 

When the Club of Rome selected the systemic modeling approach, it perhaps unknowingly placed a strong bet on a technological view of ecological and social systems. There was at the time an optimistic social belief that society would do the right thing, if presented with a sound scientific case. After all, president Nixon supported Earth Day and Americans still generally believed science and education were good forces in society, and not just an organized hippie plot to change suburban lifestyles. However, the results of the model runs were Malthusian beyond society’s carrying capacity and rather than accepting its sound principles in a balanced way, the entire premise of conservation was largely avoided by nearly two generations following.

Peccei and the original Club of Rome had rejected their first proposal to save the world, in the form of a Prospectus: The Predicament of Mankind, prepared by Hasan Özbekhan, Erich Jantsch and Alexander Christakis. Accounts say the Club of Rome believed the resolution of its problematique to be too complex at the time.

The Predicament identified 49 Critical Continuous Problems (the CCPs) which were conceptualized as root cause issues that were in rapid motion, overlapping, and becoming interconnected and even indistinguishable. They mapped out this global mega-crisis as the Global Problematique, a French term meaning the structure of a problematic situation (later adopted by John Warfield and Foucault). In 2004 Christakis published his Retrospective of the problematique, revealing the currency of the continuous problem system.

The classic influence map shown here is a representation of the diagnostic form of the global problematique. It is read from the bottom-up, where the statements in Level VII and Level VI are deeply rooted causes in the problem system. The Key shows that the relationships are read in terms of their influence on resolutions from one to another. The Level VII statement “irrelevance of traditional values and continuing failure to evolve new value systems” was found to significantly resolve the two CCPs at Level VI.

Aleco Christakis, using the Cognisystem software, produced the map as a product of the inquiry, as a way of demonstrating the validity and relationships of the 49 CCPs today. In our OCADU graduate Systemic Design course, we replicate the diagnostic of the 49 CCPs using the Structured Dialogic Design process and the same software (a process supported by the Agoras Institute) . When given the opportunity to modify the statements, I find groups leave most of the statements as written by Özbekhan, they remain as relevant today as in 1969.

Therefore, it seems as though we are still looking for better ways to address these interconnected issues. The World Futures Society conference is presenting a special session on The Global MegaCrisis: How Bad Will It Get? What Strategies?

Consider a possible/probable “Global MegaCrisis”—an emerging “perfect storm” of climate change, economic crises, joblessness, growing inequality, corruption, terrorism, and more. Few experts attempt such a synthesizing overview, there is little agreement on terminology or indicators, and, where there is some consensus, there is little agreement on whether—or if—the MegaCrisis will be resolved or alleviated, how, and when. If we are headed toward MegaCrisis, is there something basically wrong with our thinking—the need for a new master paradigm about the role of futures-relevant knowledge in our information-drenched society?

All of these issues were among the CCPs in the Global Problematique, in one form or another. In fact, some of these issues – terrorism and corruption – were even worse in 1970. Others – climate change and economic crisis – are worse today. Yet the very idea of the Megacrisis demonstrates what Özbekhan recognized then, that causes would become major effects over time, and we would be living out our future fruitlessly fighting the consequences of situations that emerged 50 years ago.

It would be an historical and cultural oversight to ignore the Global Problematique in the context of the resulting Megacrisis. The new master paradigm is the same as it ever was, it was just pushed out to the future where we hoped and prayed things might get better as technology improved.