How to write the instruction manual of Systems

Buckminster Fuller (1970) was one of the first proponents for an operating manual for Spaceship Earth. His own life and work was an attempt to contribute to this symbolic idea which can be followed in his books. This concept does not deal with gradually increasing improvements of the present situation. Instead it deals with a total disengagement from old notions and traditions in order to create new opportunities.

In reality, our old world-view has not been kept up to date to take account of contemporary change. Our society with all its institutions can no longer function effectively in a too often used reactive mode. It must transform itself into a predictive and anticipatory mode, that is, to pull the future into the present. The metaphor of Spaceship Earth, however, fulfils the need for an up-to-date model of our world. A spaceship is a closed system with well-defined and discernible rules for the survival of its crew. Stores and waste irrevocably set the limits for the ship and its living system. Those skilful in science and technology seem no more adept to navigate the ship than practitioners of other knowledge areas.

Regarding possible methods it will say that old methods must now be balanced by the use of new methods, taken from all human knowledge areas including music, art and philosophy. The results should be compiled when complementing each other — if incompatible, further methods and more analysis should be pursued.

The manual will state that global sustainability is possible only if humanity accepts six fundamental transitions:

  1. A demographic transition to stable world population.
  2. A technological transition to halt the environmental impact.
  3. An economical transition where real cost for goods and services including environmental costs, are charged.
  4. A social transition for sharing of wealth and opportunities for poor families to stop non-destructive work.
  5. An institutional transition to supranational cooperation in order to solve global problems.
  6. An informational transition to a world in which education, scientific research and global monitoring allows most people to understand the nature of global problems.

Unfortunately, this manual does not yet exist and it is doubtful whether it will be written in the future. It is, however, the belief of the author that some of the ideas presented in this book should well qualify for inclusion in the manual because “there can be no rest, for once Man has taken the first step down the path of knowledge and understanding, he must take all those that follow. The alternative is to do nothing, to live with the insects in the dust. The choice is simple — it is the whole universe, or nothing” (Evans 1980).

Source: Skyttner Lars (2006), General Systems Theory: Problems, Perspectives, Practice, Wspc, 2nd Edition.

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