Advantages of Our Approach over Conventional Approaches

We can think of seven basic responses to humanity’s problems: Do nothing, build walls, join an intentional community, informally help those in your life, become a volunteer, political action, or become a “systems” activist (someone who uses superprograms.) Let’s explore each of these responses.

Doing nothing is still an option for a lot of people living in the richer countries. The odds are that conditions will deteriorate slowly. With a few minor adjustments, it’s likely you can maintain your standard of living. But if you have children, it’s likely they’ll have to work harder than you did. But a sudden undertow of system imbalance could pull you or them under—through violent crime, the loss of your job, a loss of government services, or health problem caused by the gradually increasing stresses and pollutants that surround you.

So, a lot of people who plan to do nothing often find that they’re unconsciously beginning to build more walls, increasing the separation between themselves and those who have less than them. Geographically they move away. Psychologically they insulate themselves from others in need. But it takes money and energy to maintain the walls. A certain amount of fences, locks and insurance is normal, but eventually too much is spent on protection. This can happen on an individual level with expensive security systems. It can happen on a national level with huge military budgets.

Intentional communities are an attempt by a few people to not be part of the problem. Some are practically self-sufficient, such as the Amish and certain other religious communities. To the extent that they live close to the land and undo any damage they cause, they’re part of a sustainable solution. But how many people can readily accept their way of life? And if the larger systems (the economy, the government) around them collapse, will they still be able to sustain themselves? These are reasons why intentional communities are not a complete solution, nor a solution for most people.

Some decent people believe in informally helping the people around them. There’s an advantage to this personal approach because they aren’t dealing with strangers, but with people they know. But this approach doesn’t reach the roots of many political, environmental or economic problems. So by itself, it’s inadequate.

Most people recognize that one person can’t do everything, so they specialize or work on one issue, or perhaps a handful of issues. By specializing, they assume or hope that enough other concerned people will jump in and work in other critical areas. But, unfortunately, not enough other people are jumping in and taking action. Thus, at the current levels, traditional volunteering is an inadequate solution.

Other people believe that politics and activism are the way to change the world. Some good is done through issue-based activism.  Unfortunately, the activists much compete with each other, with Hollywood, traditional advertizing, and YouTube for people’s attention. It adds to the message bombardment and overwhelm.  At the same time, many political systems like the US are inefficient and dysfunctional.  They have systemic structural problems that waste people’s time, energy and money when they attempt political solutions and issue-based activism.

The last option is to be a “systems activist.” This is just another way of saying someone who uses a superprogram to address all of our vital life-support systems. Besides the actions you personally do, you invite and support others to create their fair share of a stable world. By using a chain reaction of support and other “superhero” upgrades, we believe there can ultimately become enough action.

The systems approach may seem unnatural to many people. But when concerned people follow their natural inclinations, they do volunteer work that they’re good at or that they like to do, without considering what’s most needed. Because they fail to consider the big picture, they can be compared to people employed in a business who do only the tasks they enjoy or have a knack for, such as talking on the phone or doing the artwork for the ads, while neglecting the essentials such as bookkeeping and billing. It’s no wonder that the business (the world) is steadily going under. [1]

Since intentional communities are not a realistic solution for most people, (and since the other three responses fail to address the problems we face) here are the advantages of using a systems approach over the standard volunteer or activist approach.

1. Well-rounded individual development. If you use a systems approach, you promote your own well-rounded development. In contrast, a typical activist is tempted toward imbalance through a narrow focus, and the normally overwhelming goal. By using a systems approach, you nurture your personal relationships as well as your physical and mental health. Chances of burnout are reduced. You’re reaching your personal goals and nurturing your growth on the way to creating your one-six-billionth of peace. Though there may be sacrifices, you don’t have to give up most of your life for a cause.

 

2. A feasible plan for world peace. Blending personal development with social change has the potential for attracting anyone interested in personal growth and goal-attainment, and the geometric growth plan outlined above has the potential for growing faster than the accelerating problems that engulf millions. Of course the growth rate is yet to be demonstrated, and there will surely be obstacles to overcome, but this is a holistic plan that attempts to maintain all critical life-support systems.

 

3. Superior efficiency. A systems approach is superior to non-systems approaches for the following reasons:

First, by beginning with the individual we have the advantages of localization: source control, (problems are addressed locally), without the added costs in time and money of transporting the problem up a bureaucratic hierarchy to be followed by carrying a solution back down the hierarchy. There’s also the resilience of a grass-roots approach. It’s much harder to sabotage or attack. It’s also less affected by swings of a political pendulum. Also, to the extent that it is proactive, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Assurance (preventing a problem) is cheaper than insurance (paying for the repair).

Second, because individuals address their personal systems and balance them with the social system, they’re more likely to lead longer and healthier lives. Thus they’re more likely to be effective for longer periods, and enjoy the benefits of the improvements they make in their personal lives.

Third, a systems approach will neutralize or buffer conflicts of interest, while a conventional single-focus group may actually make them worse. For example, an environmental group that tries to close down a polluting factory without strengthening the other systems (personal relationships, community services, political and economic structures, etc.) may create an opposing reaction, and perhaps even a stalemate because of the factory workers’ opposition to the loss of their jobs. If it succeeds in closing the factory, it may weaken or destroy the local community, economy, etc., and so actually reduce the net amount of peace. In contrast, if the members of the group promoted a systems approach, the change would happen more slowly, but a stalemate would be avoided, and the distress of those who temporarily lost their jobs would be lessened. In this way, a systems approach can unravel Gordian knots and resolve a web of conflicted problems.

Fourth, single-focus approaches contribute to a subtle problem. On the way to accomplishing their mission, many organizations contribute to some problems in other systems. The result, as I’ve said, is often two steps forward and almost two steps back. In the same way, individuals also contribute, often unwittingly, to the environmental, political and economic problems that are gaining on us.

Besides the above inherent advantages of a systems approach, there are four “strategic elements” of superprograms that deserve to be mentioned here because of how they increase efficiency. They are: a bias toward ongoing solutions for ongoing problems, an emphasis on learning to learn, the chain-reaction growth model, and an emphasis on addressing the necessary before the merely helpful. Each of these additional elements has a wonderful multiplying effect on the efficiency of a strict systems approach.

In summary, efficiency considerations simply mean that if we pay now into the different systems, we’ll have to pay a lot less later. Otherwise, we’ll be paying more and more to maintain a diminishing standard of living. Even worse, many more will eventually have to pay with their lives if a systems approach is not adopted.

 

4. Knowing how much is enough, soon enough. By using a systems approach you act to undo any problems or imbalances you cause to the systems. Your positive efforts are automatically measured against your negative effects. Thus you readily have a sense of whether or not you’re adequately addressing the problem. If you are being effective, this has a motivating effect; success breeds success. If you’re not being effective, you know early on that you must make a change. By contrast, a single-focus attack on a structural problem is prone to indeterminacy—you’re less likely to know where you are, how far you have to go, or even if you’re heading in the right direction. This can become an efficiency consideration if you have to develop costly tools to measure progress, bolster morale, or reduce the stress resulting from the anxiety of not knowing where you are in terms of addressing these problems.

 

5. An increased number of activists and volunteers. This is an argument for those already dedicated to social issues. Because this approach will probably attract many more than those solely interested in social issues, and because it puts all systems on the same basis, those who join for purposes of personal development will automatically see the need for addressing all the systems if one is to live a happy, fulfilled life. Furthermore, when they experience the changes that take place on a small scale, in their own lives, they’ll be more likely to realize how they have an effect on the big picture economically, politically, environmentally and socially, even though they can’t see these contributions directly.

 

6. A universal approach. The systems approach may seem to be a philosophy of peace. But really it is a mathematics of peace. “To put more into a system than you get out” is a mathematical statement. And arithmetic works the same everywhere. Furthermore, to the extent that this approach transcends cultural, philosophical or religious boundaries, it excludes no one. Of course the requirements of some systems, notably the economy, are not easily defined. On the other hand, the basic principles about first- and second-order changes of systems are irrefutable. (General System Theory was first developed by von Bertalanffy.)

In summary, most of the reasons to prefer a systems approach over the current combination of single-focus approaches amount to the efficient use of time, money and energy. But more than time and money is at stake; because if any of our key life-support systems reaches a point of no return, the price we eventually will pay in loss of life will be excruciatingly high. And because the reasons cited above, the current combination of single-focus approaches and organizations appears increasingly unlikely to meet the problems and needs generated by accelerating world population and consumption. They’re simply proving themselves unable to keep up with our escalating problems.

In contrast, the systems approach described here is conceptually adequate because, by offsetting the problems that you yourself cause to all critical systems, you’d be doing your share to keep the systems balanced. In the short run, this may take some time away from the issues and priorities uppermost in your heart; but in the long run, your top priorities and all other groups and causes will be benefited. Rather than going under like a poorly run business, the world would prosper. Life on Earth could be sustained.


[1] This analogy to a business has irritated some people. A few people have told me, “You should be recruiting people who don’t volunteer, rather than asking those of us who do volunteer to do things we don’t like.” But this would be like the business letting some employees do all the fun tasks, while making the others do all the unpleasant tasks. What I’m asking is for current participants to spend about five hours a week doing the most high leverage tasks, both pleasant and unpleasant, (CLEAR) and to invite others to do the same.

By the way, I’m not against people swapping tasks, if there is equity. For instance, if you don’t like to do socially responsible shopping research but like to plant trees, and can find a person with opposite tastes, swapping tasks would give both of you more enjoyment.

 

 


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