Why We Aren’t Getting to Where We Want to Go
Ervin Laszlo with commentary by Dawna Jones
As we said in Part One, there is a movement getting under way for recognizing our responsibilities and bringing up the empathy and even the love we need to thrive on this planet. More and more people seem ready to embrace the values and behaviors of a better future. At the same time the world is full of inequality and injustice, poverty and deprivation, violence and war, with scarce attention to the continuing degradation of the environment. What has gone wrong—why aren’t we getting to where we want to go?
Young people and concerned people of all ages seem to be on target toward a better world, but they are blocked by interests that go contrary to their aspirations. Sacred cows block the way.
Sacred cows can take the form of judgement and rigid beliefs about how the world works. When one generation imposes their worldview on another, capacity for empathy is diminished. Generation bashing is one result. Each generation imports a hard-wired purpose in their multi-dimensional DNA that contributes to our collective ability to generate better solutions for the world’s growing problems. Millennials, for instance, are hardwired for creativity – an imperative in volatile unpredictable conditions. Add focus and purpose and you access powerful collective intelligence. The point is diverse perspectives are essential to co-create a vibrant new reality. Consider: Do you as a business decision maker, on a regular basis, seek input from young people, or experienced elders? Do you actively ask for observations from new hires who can more readily see what you cannot? – Dawna Jones
Understanding the problem of sacred cows
Our world has become an integral global-level system. More exactly, it has become a planet-wide open thermodynamic system. There are basic preconditions of the effective functioning of such a system, and they can be briefly sketched and readily understood.
A brief excursion into the physics of open systems
Systems in the world are open or closed. Open systems take in, process, and radiate energy, matter, and information. Closed systems are closed to flows of matter, energy, and information. They obey the second law of thermodynamics, that energy degrades irreversibly as a system performs work. This means that a closed working system moves irreversibly toward the “dead” state of thermal and chemical equilibrium.
Entirely closed systems do not exist in the real world, but there are systems that, although open, obey the second law because they do not adequately replenish the energy and matter they use and degrade. They move toward entropy just the same, diminishing and ultimately losing their viability.
Open systems self-maintain by constantly replenishing the energy and matter they require to fuel the irreversible processes that keep them going. For this, every element in the systems needs to cooperate with every other element, and they must all be focused on the same basic end: to replenish the resources used and used up by the system. No open system can persist on Earth or anywhere in the universe if it does not coordinate and orient the functioning of its components to this paramount task.
This is a physical imperative, and there are no alternatives to it. Any component that is not aligned with the rest in maintaining the system in the functional state far from thermal and chemical equilibrium is a flaw in the system. In an artificial information-processing system it signals a breakdown in the information flowing through the system; in a biological system it indicates the malfunction of a cell, organ, or organ system: a disease. And in a social and socio-cultural system, it is a sign of incoherence; a flaw in its self-maintaining dynamics and a threat to the wellbeing and even the life of its members. The coherence created by the sensitive fine-tuning of every component to every other component and their aligned orientation to the survival of the system is what makes a living system coherent. It is a survival imperative that allows of no alternatives.
A simple example of a man-made non-equilibrium system
Physics tells us that every component of a viable self-maintaining system needs to be continually and effectively “in touch” with every other part: it must respond sensitively and correct for every deviation. A good example of such a system (even if a short-lived one) is the human pyramid formed by circus acrobats. The pyramid is made up of acrobats who climb on the shoulders of other acrobats, creating a multi-story dynamically self-maintaining far-from-equilibrium structure. The structure can be maintained only if every acrobat sensitively registers, and instantly corrects for, any deviation by the other acrobats. The sensitive fine-tuning of every part to every other part is what makes for the ability of the human pyramid to maintain itself, and this is the same in the case of human beings—and of the sociocultural systems formed by human beings.
Insights often lie concealed or suppressed by the status quo. Yet insights plus engaged creative talent form the engine for pivoting and making leaps of logic and intuition. Equally valuable is recognizing the physics of network-transmitted emotion because this is the leverage point for rapid response. Decision makers can also support healthy decision-making environments. Ignore emotional awareness and overwhelm will compromise productive intentions. Emotional resilience is a pre-requisite for maintaining personal vitality in the self and in organizations. - Dawna Jones
Viable systems in nature are coherent, indeed, they are doubly-coherent: they are coherent with regard to the interaction among their parts (every cell in a biological system is constantly “in touch” with every other cell), and they are coherent with regard to their relation to other systems around them. They are “supercoherent.” This is true not only of biological systems, but of all self-maintaining systems, whatever the nature of the parts that compose them. Striving for supercoherence is a natural and basic aspiration for every human being aspiring to health and to a sustainable world.
This aspiration is of particular importance today, at a time when human incoherence has become a life-threatening issue. We have become critically incoherent in regard to our body and the social, economic, and ecological systems we form with others. This incoherence threatens to drag the whole system of life on the planet into incoherence. The culprits are many, but among them the sacred cows play a key role. The sovereignty-pretending nation-state, the shareholder-serving business company, and the exclusive truth-claiming fundamentalist sect puts itself first and disregard its connection to others, and to the system of life on the planet. It exports its incoherence instead of correcting it. Sovereign nation-states seek to create coherence within their own country (for example, by enforcing “law and order”); shareholder-oriented business companies wish to create coherence in their own business sector, and fundamentalist sects align the thinking and actions of their followers and create coherence in their own country or region. But the tunnel-vision and self-concerned behavior of these actors increases poverty and creates frustration and violence beyond their bounds.
Powerful states and wealthy companies try, of course, to counteract the degeneration growing on around them. They use primitive methods (building walls to prevent the inflow of destitute masses and expel those who have already penetrated beyond); or softer methods (such as injections of money and information); or intermediate technologies (cheap energy and advanced chemistry); or aggressive technologies (police actions or wars fought with weapons of local or mass destruction). These are remedial measures with side-effects and limited effectiveness. Ultimately they devour more resources than are available for them and produce “collateral damage”—more heat than light.
Today’s sacred cows are major sources of incoherence in the world system. They fractionate it, reducing its coherence to separate fields and domains, and particular economic social, and cultural areas. This is not a lasting way to deal with the problems we now face. Little wonder that stress, unrest, violence, poverty, and ecological degradation are increasing in nearly every part of the world. There is no enduring substitute for coherent functioning, based on cooperation rather than competition, and embracing perspectives instead of tunnel vision and self-interest.
Collectively Awakening and Working Toward the Common Good
The way to a better world is still open, and the will and motivation to enter on it is gathering momentum. Powerful actors, who have been revered in the past, have become obsolete. Their presence is a fault in the system, and it threatens the life and wellbeing of everyone.
Fortunately, coping with today’s sacred cows is not a purely utopian quest. The awakening under way on the planet is not limited to a few at the exclusion of the many. It can include national politicians, business managers, as well as spiritual gurus. We are all in the same boat, and we all share the same destiny. The sooner we realize this and start working together for the common good the better it is for all us—the leaders of sacred cows included.
Ervin Laszlo is Director of the Laszlo Institute of New Paradigm Research (Italy), Founder and President of The Club of Budapest, and Editor of the international periodical World Futures: The Journal of New Paradigm Research amongst other appointments. He is the recipient of the Goi Peace Prize (2002), the International Mandir of Peace Prize (2005), the Conacreis Holistic Culture Prize (2009), the Ethics Prize of Milano (2014) and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 and 2005. Laszlo has Honorary PhD’s from the United States, Canada, Finland, and Hungary and is the author or co-author of fifty-four books translated into twenty-four languages. He lives in Tuscany. Ervin’s next book: The Intelligence of the Cosmos, will be published by Inner Traditions in October, 2017.
Dawna Jones consults for innovative and early majority companies on decision-making and leading in complexity. Unless leaders keep pace with technological and social innovation, overwhelm and fatigue can replace vibrant contribution. Dawna’s work spans systems seeing to reconnecting with macro and meta skills for conscious collective intelligence. She has contributed a chapter on the new purpose of business to The Intelligence of the Cosmos. http://www.frominsighttoaction.com