There is a growing awareness of the need for a systems shift in humanity’s relationship to the planet, and that our present global trajectory is unsustainable. Tony Hodgson offers an alternative analysis.
A Framework for Practical Analysis
There are a number of obstacles to clear analysis of these dilemmas, the most endemic one being a ‘flat land’ approach. The inhabitants of flatland lack the consciousness to perceive the third dimension which enables sense to be made of behaviour that otherwise is either inexplicable or subject to impractical interpretations. In the case of the global problematique it is the absence of thinking in levels combined with thinking in systems. For the purposes of this analysis the global issue is divided into six levels and five feedback loops. The levels are:
1 GLOBAL SYNERGY
2 REGION AFFILIATIONS
4 NON-LOCAL INTEGRITIES
5 LOCAL INTEGRITIES
6 COLLOCATED COMMUNITIES
The global synergy level is the level at which human life is confronted by issues which it is ineffectual to fragment. Most notable in recent years is climate change and global warming. In socio-political terms terrorism is rising to the top of the agenda (although its counterpart, organised criminality, has been around for some time). The affiliations that form regions are the next level. This is determined in large part by geography, but not entirely. Countries are the third level. They may or may not operate their relationships within the confines of region.
At the fourth level we place a new concept, non-local integrities. We are using the word integrity something like community but since these groups or networks interweave in complex ways, the word community is perhaps too narrow. The fifth level includes local integrities which might be anything from a massive metropolitan complex (like the Midlands around Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton) to an intimately connected region (such as Iceland) that is more like a colony. The sixth level is a collocated community which is more like the classical idea of a village or a neighbourhood.
Each level from 2 to 6 interacts in both directions with the global synergy (or fragmented dissonance) as well as with each other. To keep the first pass at this hypothesis we will not examine the other loops that exist between all the levels. That complexity needs tackling in due course.
This structure is very similar to the one proposed by Hazel Henderson in her thoughts towards reshaping the global economy. She makes the important point about taking a systems viewpoint. In which reshaping the global economy also requires including at all levels the missing feedback from nature, planetary and local ecosystems as well as the human beings also marginalised by the current runaway form of globalisation. We will now take a systems view of the runaway globalisation that we called earlier the exploitative form.
The Vicious Spirals of Globalisation
An apocalyptic view of the effects of globalisation and liberalisation is the destruction of culture and the domination of a new form of Empire which itself is subject to ruthless attack by the forces of terrorism, the desperate poor and anti-globalist factions. According to Hardt and Negri
“The concept of Empire is characterised fundamentally by a lack of boundaries: Empire’s rule has no limits. First and foremost, then, the concept of Empire posits a regime that effectively encompasses the spatial totality, or really that rules over the entire “civilised” world.” (Hardt and Negri 2000 p.xiv)
In this situation, whether the mild version or the apocalyptic version, the coupling together of inadequate policies and actions as well as inadequate responses to the downsides of those policies, create a series of vicious cycles. The nature of a cycle is that, unchecked, it leads as inevitably as a law of physics, to escalation. Escalation then crosses discontinuities or turning points in the structure of the system that leads to catastrophic events.
We can break this major degenerative dynamic down into five distinct but mutually reinforcing loops.
The loops are roughly characterised in the following set of statements. The statements should be read as a ‘never-ending sentence’ to emphasise the self-reinforcing nature of the dynamic.
Loop 1, regional capture, can be read ‘globalisation as an imposed Washington Consensus forces regional arrangement which homogenise the spread of further imposed globalisation’ and so on.
Loop 2, national constraint, can be read ‘globalisation as subjugation of regional economies in turn imposes harsh regimes of world trade rules upon countries supporting globalisation’ and so on.
Loop 3, dominant orthodoxy, can be read ‘globalisation promotes unquestioned assumptions of the doctrine of homo economicus creating a global orthodoxy of globalisation’ and so on.
Loop 5, accelerating gaps, can be read ‘globalisation promotes conditions that grow some localities at the expense of others making them frustratingly dependent on globalisation’ and so on.
Loop 5, only one way, can be read ‘globalisation rides roughshod over colocated communities extracting their value and creating unhealthy dependence on globalisation’ and so on.
The Virtuous Spirals of Globality
An optimistic view sees the five loops of interaction as virtuous cycles which are gradually establishing a global sustainable society with rich cultural diversity. We will use Martin Albrow’s term globality to express the set of virtuous cycles. In this case the mutual influence of the loops establishes an evolutionary rather than a degenerative effect. Thus the negative consequences of both globalism and anti-globalism are seen as temporary mistakes, errors and teething troubles that will be overcome.
The positive loops are described roughly in the following set of statements.
Loop 1, regional development, can be read as ‘enlightened globality naturally evolves efficient regional trade areas which enrich the arena for globality’ and so on.
Loop 2, flourishing nationhood, can be read as ‘enlightened globality supports national choices for scope of democratic diversity of trade and culture that strengthens the validity of enlightened globality’ and so on.
Loop 3, global citizenship, ‘enlightened globality provides supportive platforms for a challenging dialogue of socio-economic models which enables continuous improvement of enlightened globality’ and so on.
Loop 4, innovative clusters, can be read as ‘enlightened globality encourages development of flourishing wealth creation clusters thus safeguarding the local resilience towards enlightened globality encourages’ and so on.
Loop 5, powerful emergence, can be read as ‘enlightened globality is friendly and supportive to thriving diverse local communities participating in enlightened globality’ and so on.
A New Framework for Guiding Policy Formation
The combined diagrams provide a set of guiding principles that we can apply in guiding policy and action. The purpose of these principles is provide a balancing corrective to the analytical tendency to break things into smaller but unconnected parts and then, by solving each one individually, to hope they add up to a total solution. It is this procedure that has contributed greatly to the difficulty we are trying to overcome. Policies for a global age need to be based on deeper holistic and structural understanding than is usually applied and that reveals the reason why certain patterns will keep recurring unless we can change things at the structural level. This structure, as has been pointed out, is not a set of linear driving forces but a complex set of interacting feedback loops. Our guiding principles need to address this directly.
The first guiding principle, inhibit negative loops, is to recognise the negative loops as depicted in Figure 1. We need to ask if the policy that is being proposed is either directly or indirectly sustaining or even amplifying one of these loops. In contrast we should be aiming to inhibit these loops and diminish their strength. If a current policy is not working or seems even to be generating the opposite of the intended effect, we need to check whether one of the negative loops is dominating the situation. Seeing the specific form of these loops in the situation we are interested in may also give us clues to new places to intervene where small actions may trigger large beneficial consequences.
The second guiding principle, cultivate positive loops, derives from Figure 2, the positive loops. We need to identify the presence or absence of these loops in the situation and see how far policies might initiate or strengthen them. Each positive loop can provide a field for generating new ideas. The same principle of finding small efforts that have bigger effects also applies here.
The third guiding principle, balance the dynamics, is to recognise that negative spirals or vicious cycles can be counteracted with positive or virtuous cycles if we can match their strength and couple them together. Balancing cycles is not the same as setting up opposing forces. It is much more subtle. It is more like the oriental art of Aikido where the energy of aggression is subtly redirected with a circular motion to defeat the attack.
The fourth principle, pay attention to multiple levels, means that we need to look out for where the different levels become coupled together in a way that is unhelpful. For example a policy might seem to work well at a high level but is linked destructively to a local level which then defeats its purpose. We can see this most clearly when there are unintended consequences through policies and actions.
The fifth principle, resilience over efficiency, means that consideration must be given to the diversity and the availability of options. A “one policy solves all” no longer works as society becomes more interconnected and subject to shocks and surprises. As the age of globality (Albrow, 1996) unfolds there will not be ‘business as usual’ as we have come to depend on it. We will need to invest in what we might call ‘the resilience premium’ which has a different economics to the efficiency of modernity. To the mindset of efficiency an oak tree making thousands of acorns is inefficient. To the mindset of resilience the oak is ensuring it has sufficient diversity and variety to meet the many possible conditions of being sustainable in a world that cannot be predicted.
I have attempted to reframe the conflict of global and anti-global forces into a wider perspective which creates a space a different dialogue. Free market globalisation is likely to suffer demise as the project of modernity comes to an end. A global culture will never endure in the face of the variety created by the human spirit and Mother Nature. It cannot provide a basis for the sustainability of a single planet. Something far more subtle than cultural and worldview homogenisation is needed. For this new age of globality there need to be the kind of integrity, of integrality, that respects diversity. There needs to be new ways of picturing and organising human affairs that require new understandings and new language. The ideas of holism, system and dynamic complexity are part of the new repertoire which I have attempted to illustrate in this discussion of the shift from globalisation to global integrity.
Most current efforts to resolve issues or pursue desirable policies are trapped in the paradigm of mechanism, integration and hierarchy. The whole of our thinking and action needs switching to a new paradigm of organism, integrity and holarchy. Only recognition of the organic nature of the local combined with respect for new integrities that link people at different levels and scale and in the context of principles of holarchy and systemic interdependence will provide a platform for reversing current trends and establishing planetary integrity.
Albrow, Martin (1996) The Global Age Stanford University.
Brzezinski, Zbigniew (1970) Between Two Ages – America’s Role in the Technotronic Era, Viking Press.
Hardt, Michael and Negri, Antonio (2000) Empire Harvard University Press.
King, Alexander and Schneider, Bertrand (1991) The First Global Revolution Simon and Schuster.
Quinn, Daniel, (1992) Ishmael Bantam Turner Books.
Toffler, Alvin (1993) War and Anti-War: Making Sense of Today’s Global Chaos Warner Books.