Union of Intelligible Associations
Union of Intelligible Associations

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Encyclopedia Project (Explanations)

Insights: Section interrelationships

Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential


This Encyclopedia has been deliberately organized so as to juxtapose kinds of information that are usually kept apart. This is the case within sections where, as with the "world problems", information from seemingly unrelated subject areas are held together and cross-referenced. The justification for doing so has been presented in the comments on the individual sections. But it is also the case with regard to the sections themselves, which for many could be more appropriately presented in separate publications. The justification for establishing their relationship within a single publication is explored below.

This edition has four core parts based on information collected:

There are two additional parts concerned with ways of gaining a more integrative insight into the complexity the above represent: These are discussed in the following note.

1. Relationship of world problems with...

(a) International organizations: The relationships between organizations focusing on problems is well-recognized in many international bodies. Not many however would want to think in terms of more than 10-50 organizations faced with 10-50 problems, and their perception of the network of organizations and the network of problems would be significantly distorted by their perception of the relative importance of the organization with which they themselves are associated and of the relative insignificance of other organizations and their preoccupations.

(b) Human values and wisdom: Problems tend to be recognized and dealt with as concrete, practical matters. They can be defined in terms which allow them to be the subject of well-managed programmes -- indeed they may be the integrative focus of those programmes, uniting together groups that would otherwise be competing. Even the term "problem" is recognizable in many languages and is an early part of any vocabulary concerned with practical matters. The term is applied to every level of obstacle or hindrance from the most personally intimate to the global level.

The case of human values contrasts sharply with that of world problems. Where it is common and meaningful to ask "do you have a problem", it is unusual and generally unacceptable to ask "do you have a value". The term "value" is not common across languages and is not an early part of any vocabulary. It is far from being an immediate concern in any normal programme of action. And yet there is an intimate relationship between problems and values. Basically no problem is recognizable except in the light of a value. If "justice" is not a recognized value, then "injustice" cannot be recognized as a problem.

Human values come to the fore as the driving force in many campaigns, where people's commitment is engaged through appeals to "freedom", "equality" and the like. Like problems they too can unite opposing groups under the same banner, but with much less ability to focus on the concrete remedial action required. Much cultural endeavour is associated with articulating the interplay of values. Values are of increasing concern to the marketing of commercial products because of the way in which markets are segmented in terms of the value profiles of consumers. Values are, of course, an increasingly explicit question in the debate on "green" issues and options.

Problems tend to be explicit, whereas values tend to be implicit. But both are artifacts of the human mind. Despite being treated as concrete, problems as such (like values) cannot be photographed. People interpret certain (photographable) conditions as problematic. But the future will recognize other problems in photographs of conditions today which may now appear problem-free. It may be argued that awareness of a problem-value polarity is borne of exposure to certain conditions that cause some form of suffering. In different ways this suffering engenders learning through which sensitivity to a (new) value allows the suffered conditions to be constellated into a problem.

In summary, whilst problems tend to be concrete, relatively unambiguous, detailed features of normal organized activity, values are much more ambiguously defined and less easily related to specific programmatic steps. Problems provide focus through their concreteness and specificity in dealing with the present through established channels. Values provide focus through their inspirational value and their prescriptive potential in creating a more desirable future irrespective of established views.

By juxtaposing the section on world problems with that on human values it becomes possible to explore more systematically the relationships between them. Understanding of any system of values leads to greater understanding of the system of problems. In fact exercises in ordering the system of values may contribute to new ways of ordering the system of problems. Relating them may clarify the nature of the societal learning process through which problem-value polarities come to be recognized. A specific challenge is to identify more clearly the values associated with particular problems and to determine whether there are unrecognized problems following from acknowledgement of certain values.

(c) Human development: World problems can be seen as the obstacles encountered in the process of human development. But since there are very different understandings of what it means to be an individual in society, or of how the individual or the society develops, the development processes they engender may be opposed by quite different patterns of problems.

World problems can also be seen as constituting a learning crisis in the process of human development. In this sense problems are seen as a challenge to creativity, calling for new insights into the process of human development. Problems may then be understood as emerging through inadequate understanding of the complexities of that process.

Of special interest in the process of human development is the recognition of distinct phases and stages. In the individual these may be linked to distinct modes of awareness. In some cases these are thought of as a sequence of levels. The implication here is that, in responding effectively to the challenges of world problems, individuals may be called upon to shift to some new mode of awareness -- whether individually or collectively. This reflects the recognition that complex situations call for greater levels of understanding, requiring greater maturity in decision-making. In the absence of such maturity, inadequate understanding readily engenders new problems or sustains existing problems.

It is of course possible to perceive human development as requiring very little change on the part of individuals. The focus can then be placed on education or training, job satisfaction, and the fulfilment of basic needs, with occasional reference to ethical constraints. This view predominates in the international community which nevertheless continues to be faced with the mystery of how to generate "the political will to change" and with some recognition that individuals are going to have to "radically change their lifestyles" if sustainable development is to become a reality.

But despite the officially accepted view, individuals are investing very heavily in altering their modes of awareness, however these are to be understood. This is clearly seen in the funds allocated to drugs (currently of the same order as the international oil trade), to say nothing of those allocated to more legally acceptable stimulants. The extent of this investment, at all levels of society, is an indication that official views of human development are widely challenged. Drugs are of course far from being the only method of achieving other modes of awareness. Many other approaches, often quite hostile to the use of drugs, have been advocated. Drug abuse is thus an example of a problem engendered by a frustrated approach to human development, however misguided it may appear. The much publicized difficulties with some cults provide another example, as does the increasing investment in magic and rituals dating from earlier periods of civilization, or the increasing alienation of employees from meaningless jobs.

The key question is whether there are processes of human development that offer access to more mature modes of awareness which could enable society to respond more appropriately to the challenges posed by world problems. Advocates of some processes are quite affirmative in their response. The issue then becomes whether it is possible to learn from them without becoming entrapped by the limitations associated with particular movements that are often culturally bound.

The notion that personal development leads to greater problem-perception and problem-solving ability is well-recognized by educators, but is not necessarily explicitly recognized outside the educational environments, particularly with regard to the decision and policy-making age group.

(d) Integrative knowledge: The notion that an interdisciplinary systems focus is important to any grasp of the current world problem situation is now widely acknowledged. The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, the United Nations University, and the United Nations Environment Programme all acknowledge this in developing their programmes.

2. Relationship of human development with....

(a) Human values and wisdom: Human development can be seen as the process of giving more effective expression to human values. Many of the advocated approaches to human development are quite explicit concerning the values in terms of which they are conceived or which they are desired to enhance. The more sophisticated approaches to policy-making and management are quite deliberate in their efforts to identify the values on which any action is to be grounded.

Through some processes of human development, providing access to more subtle modes of awareness, new value insights emerge. In such cases there may be a very intimate relationship between the state of awareness and comprehension of the value. Emerging awareness of certain states may even lead to the articulation of more subtle understanding of commonly identified values. In reciprocal action, certain modes of awareness can be understood as the embodiment of specific values or configurations of values.

Perhaps of most importance is the manner in which certain processes of human development integrate together previously disparate insights. Values can easily decay into empty, "bloodless" categories unless they are sustained by appropriate levels of awareness. Human development may thus build a subtle connecting pattern between values. Such integration provides a new foundation from which action may be undertaken in a sustainable manner.

(b) International organizations: The notion is increasingly recognized that for an organization (or a network of organizations) to function more effectively, it may well be necessary to give attention both to the degree of personal development (maturity, etc) of staff members and to their further personal fulfilment through their job activity. Although both aspects may be explicitly recognized in selection and promotion of personnel at the higher executive levels of government and corporate administration, this may only be the case where political, seniority and other such factors are not of major importance. Personal fulfilment, in the form of job satisfaction, is increasingly a preoccupation of trade unions and employers. It is questionable, however, whether widespread acceptance is also accorded to the notion that personal development and fulfilment are essential in ensuring that the organization responds creatively to its problem environment.

(c) Integrative knowledge: The notion that the integration of knowledge and the integration of the person are directly related is not widely recognized. It seems to be acknowledged in the work of Jean Piaget, Lancelot Law Whyte, and Georges Gusdorf and explicitly by some of those writing in the journal Main Currents in Modern Thought (Center for Integrative Education) and more recently, in the journal Revision (USA)

3. Interweaving world problems, human development and human values

(a) Negative commonality: Despite the apparent differences between the core parts of the Encyclopedia, especially in the case of their more obvious entries, it is interesting to note the commonalities in the case of certain other entries. Some exhibit a considerable overlap between the three parts. Ironically the best examples of this cross-linking are associated with the traditional "seven deadly sins", typical of the Christian tradition, namely: gluttony, anger, greed, envy, pride, lust, apathy (and/or melancholy). The same would seem to be the case for the equivalents in other traditions.

In each case these terms may be used as descriptors of negative values, of negative aspects of human development or of world problems. This is especially interesting because in many traditions such concepts are often considered to be at the "root" of the difficulties of the human condition. It is they which engender the more obvious difficulties in society and it is they which are the real barriers to human development. Perhaps even more ironically, the most fundamental entry common to the core parts is that of pain (or suffering), which again is a principal concern of the major spiritual traditions.

(b) Positive commonality: In contrast to such commonality through negativity, it is also possible to detect a positive commonality. To do this it is necessary to accept the well-publicized Chinese insight (reflected in the ideogram for "crisis"), that a problem of any kind can simultaneously be viewed as an opportunity. Although there is almost universal despondency in the face of the complex of world problems, there is a strong case for viewing them as a major historical challenge through which humanity will reach new levels of understanding. They provide a unique opportunity for collective learning.

In this light, as positive learning experiences, the descriptors associated with the traditional "seven virtues" (or their equivalents in other traditions) are to be found as common to positive modes of awareness, to positive human values, and to the most fundamental world problems. One such checklist gives: hope, will (courage), purpose (dedication), competence (discipline), fidelity, love, care and wisdom. It is through these (or their equivalents) that appropriate action can be conceived and undertaken. (Oriental traditions might however place greater stress on forms of abstinence and self-sacrifice, which ironically the Occident seeks to impose upon them through austerity programmes, whilst being unwilling to restrain its own life-style.) More fundamentally perhaps, common to the core parts is the learning dimension of new understanding or insight in response to suffering. This too, in one form or another, is common to the spiritual traditions.

(c) Basic incommensurability: Although there are many links between the core parts of this Encyclopedia, as the above paragraphs indicate, there is nevertheless a basic, even paradoxical, incommensurability that separates them in practice. One of the aims of this Encyclopedia is to create a context in which this tension can be recognized as a challenge to users in selecting the kinds of information that are considered relevant to the times. In a sense it is this tension which signals the instability of the present and impels towards the futures yet to be born.

(d) Juxtaposition of incommensurables: By assembling information on the extremes of "negativity" that the world problems represent, opposing it to the extremes of "positivity" that the human potential sections represent, conditions are created analogous to those in which electricity is generated. This may only facilitate some creative "sparks". But it would appear that there is a possibility, by suitably "wiring" the connections between the parts, that a more continuous stream of insight could be engendered in response to the challenges and opportunities of the times.