At the 1994 Assembly of the World Academy of Art and Science in Minneapolis,
we released for the first time a report prepared by the International Commission on Peace
and Food entitled Uncommon Opportunities: An Agenda
for Peace and Equitable Development. On that occasion I expressed to the Assembly my
view that the report is the best of the genre of international commission reports. Among
the many interesting recommendations contained in the report was the need for an
international collaborative effort to formulate a comprehensive theory of social
development. The Human Choice paper is a product of a collaboration between myself and
four colleagues at the International Center for Peace and Development, the successor
organization to the Commission, in California, and The Mothers Service Society, a
social science research institute in India, to sketch the framework of such a theory.
There are many reasons why I feel an effort of this type is both necessary
and possible. Presently we are in the midst of a major global financial crisis that
pointedly expresses the limitations in our present understanding of development. The
application of current economic theories in Eastern Europe has produced very disappointing
results. Despite the remarkable developmental achievements of the past five decades, more
than half the worlds people remain in poverty by one definition or another. The
accelerating pace of technological progress means that, if we are unable to improve our
development strategies, the inequalities between rich and poor and the resultant social
tensions will only increase. Finally, it is evident to me from my experience working in
the field on development issues in North America, Asia and Europe that a fragmented
approach to development viewed from the narrow perspective of one social science
discipline or one aspect of one discipline dangerously oversimplifies the complex
phenomenon that development is. More integrative ways of thinking about
development interconnecting every discipline are very much needed.
Social development is the product of the application of the powers of mind to
organize the physical materials, social activities and mental ideas of humanity to achieve
greater material, social, mental and spiritual experience. The approach outlined in this
paper gives central importance to the role of organization in development, organization as
defined in the widest sense as the orderly arrangement of human activities to achieve
greater productivity, efficiency, innovation and creativity.
The paper identifies five major spheres in which organization promotes social
development: The physical organization of human communities around productive centers,
beginning 10,000 years ago with the invention of agriculture and the establishment of
sedentary communities, towns and cities, which became concentrated centers of economic
activity; the organization of technological know-how and inventions into a cumulative body
of knowledge regarding the handling and processing of materials to produce goods and
services; economically, the organization of social activities and institutions to increase
the efficiency, coordination, productivity, quality, reliability, regularity and speed of
human actions related to production and distribution of goods and services; the
organization of information into understandable, useful and easily accessible forms and
systems; and science and education that organize societys accumulated knowledge and
provide delivery systems by which it is recorded, validated, preserved, codified and
communicated to future generations.
Chapter 1 of this document consists of the paper presented at the 1998
Assembly of the World Academy of Art and Science. Chapter 2 is a summary of discussion of
the paper at the Assembly on November 4. Chapter 3 is an essay applying the concepts to
the themes discussed during three workshops on economics and development conducted as part
of the Assembly. Chapter 4 is material presented at the Assembly on the distinguishing
features of the theory. Comments by a number of participants in the Vancouver Assembly are
noted in chapters 2 and 3. A listing of all named contributors will be found at the end of
Harlan Cleveland, President
World Academy of Art and Science
Code for Social Development
Harlan Cleveland and Garry Jacobs
back on the prodigious accomplishments of the 20th Century, we can see an
enormous development of technological inventions, economic activities,
political and social organizations, and material riches accompanied by a whole new
range of problems and challenges emerging from the relatively less complex and
accomplished centuries that preceded it. Looking
forward to the century just ahead, we are bound to wonder what humanity may yet
accomplish, what new challenges are in store, and especially what ultimate limits there
may be to the creative processes that drive these changes.
Whether we look backward or forward, we face the same puzzling questions: What is the essential nature of human development? By what process does it occur? What factors speed it up and slow it down? What conditions are essential or detrimental
to it? Through what stages or phases
does it pass? What are the sources of
its problems and its failures? And,
probably most important, what is the role of the individual human being in human
A Rough Parallel
We have come to believe that there are
illuminating parallels between the development of life forms and the development of human
societies. Exploring these parallels
may put the puzzlement in a useful perspective, and perhaps provide a usable framework on
which more satisfying social theory can be constructed.
The process of physical creation has given rise to a hierarchy of material and
biological forms from the infinitesimal atom and molecule to the living cell,
differentiated organs and multi-cellular life forms of increasing complexity and capacity
for adaptation. The process of social
creation gives rise to a similar hierarchy of forms.
But society is a field of life, not matter; of activity, not the sum of living
organisms but their constantly changing interactions.
The social forms it creates are not patterns and arrangements of material substance
but patterns and arrangements of human activity not architecture but something more like chemical reactions in a
Human activity arises from individual human acts that (like atoms that
link into chains to form molecules) combine to form more complex chains of human activity. Combinations of human activities join together to
constitute basic social systems capable of performing completed units of work (for example in production, trade, transport,
communication, defense, or governance), analogous to the combinations of molecules that
form living cells, the smallest complete units of what we call life.
In society, groups of differentiated systems join to create organizations
capable of performing specialized types of work commercial, scientific,
educational, artistic, social, political, etc.
This may be seen as roughly parallel to the joining of differentiated cells in
biology to form specialized organs that perform specialized functions in the human body. At a higher level of complexity, a wide
range of specialized organizations combine to form a society which can perform (never
perfectly) the essential functions required to sustain a social order in which human
beings can live and work and play together. In
a similar way, a wide range of specialized organs in the body combine to form a living
organism that can (never perfectly) sustain the interrelated functions essential to
There is thus a rough parallel between
the development chain in biology that leads from atoms to molecules to cells to organs to
the adaptive living organism, and the chain in social development that leads from
individual acts to human activities to systems to organizations to the adaptive living
Productive social activities generate material wealth and its accompaniments. But the real product of social development
is not the organization of material forms out of material substance as in biological
processes; it is the organization of social
forms out of the substance of human activities.
Underlying that social process is brainwork -- the mental development of
individuals using their information to create knowledge and ideas, marrying their
individual thinking to the individual thoughts of other individuals and thereby creating
together a complex, functional, and therefore productive organization of human activities
which is social development.
Development is in
its essence organization the organization of material processes through the ideas
we call technology; the
organization of social processes we call systems, procedures, conventions, commerce, law,
and governance; and the organization of
mental phenomena the data-with-context we call information, the rational processes called knowledge (sciences,
practices, and professions), which combines with nonrational intuition to produce what we
It is the thoughtful organization of
social existence, the essence of development,
that makes possible progressively higher levels of efficiency, quality,
productivity, complexity, comprehension, choice, creativity, mastery, enjoyment, and
Usable Human Energy
Energy, in various forms, is the force responsible for these physical and social
processes. All creative, synthetic
processes require an investment of energy. The
physical energy for the development of biological processes is absorbed from the
environment in the form of heat, light, and chemical compounds. Vast amounts of energy are stored in
molecular and atomic bonds; it can be
released and utilized to build larger organic structures.
And this molecular energy pales into insignificance compared to the enormous
reservoir of energy pent up in the bonds between subatomic particles.
The energy for social development is only at the margin physical energy derived
from material substances in the environment. Most
of it is what might be called subjective human energy, physical, vital-emotional and
mental energy produced by individual human beings taking thought and interacting with
other human beings, producing in turn the collective energy of human aspirations in
The generation and accumulation of usable human energy is as necessary to social
development as the storing of food energy is to the development of biological organisms. As the molecules of organic material are a
storehouse of energy that is released for development of life forms by metabolic
processes, so human beings (with their thinking caps on) are a vast storehouse of
potential physical, psychological, mental, and spiritual energy that is released for the
development of society by thought that leads to action.
Society develops when some of the energy thus released is channeled into more
complex and potentially productive forms of human activity.
Both material and social forms consist of energy bound into fixed patterns. As the
bonds that hold together molecules and atoms contain a reservoir (for practical purposes unlimited) of potential energy formed during the processes of
their initial formation, so the learnings, opinions, attitudes, beliefs, convictions,
motives, and values that direct individual and collective human activities constitute an
immense reservoir of psychological energy.
Much energy has of course gone into the creation of social behavior patterns
in the past. The release and utilization of that energy has been heavily constrained by
systems of control and hierarchical power. With
lighter constraints, it might be released and channeled into new, more productive patterns
organized in ways designed to use rather than ration human choice. The enormous magnitude of this
potential energy is revealed both by the unyielding resistance to change and the explosive
revolutionary forces that are sometimes released at the points where societies break with
The human body seems to develop only when it absorbs more energy than is required
to support the minimum needs for survival and activity measured by prior experience. This excess energy may spill over in random,
even dysfunctional, physical activity; it may
be stored as an increase in the physical mass of the body;
or it may be channeled for the further
healthy development of the bodys structure.
too, human societies develop when they accumulate more energy than is needed for the
maintenance of things as they are. The
excess social energy may likewise spill over as unproductive or even destructive human
activities; it may be directed at the
horizontal expansion of productive activities at the existing level of development (a more and more of the same strategy
to which the term growth has come to be applied); or it may be used to elevate the organization of
society to a higher level of complexity, a more expansive release of the power of
individual human choice, a larger and healthier productivity to which we think
its useful to apply the term development.
Excess social energy is an essential but not a sufficient condition for
development. The onset and speed of
physical and biological reaction depends on such factors as seed crystals, catalysts,
essential nutrients, the frequency and intensity of interaction between elements, and
conducive environmental conditions. In
a roughly similar way, the onset and speed of
social development depends on the seeding and spread of new ideas in society, the growing
awareness of new opportunities, social aspirations and attitudes toward change, the
catalytic role of individuals, the presence of essential resources and instruments, the
frequency and intensity of social interactions at critical moments in time, and the social
preparedness and support for new activities.
In the first half of this century, we saw a huge outpouring of human energy devoted
to organized cruelty, mutual homicide, and physical destruction -- brought about by
dedication to what were widely regarded as human purposes.
In the second half of this century we have seen, on balance, a tremendous
outpouring of human energy the world over that has been mostly released in a very
different social climate. This
climate has produced on balance -- greater physical security, more widespread
political freedom, broader social opportunities for more people, more competition in
increasingly global markets, new systems (both physical and intellectual) for rapid
computation, communication, and transportation, the rapid global spread of information and
education, the encouragement of individual initiative for personal advancement, and more
active cooperation for mutual benefit.
As light, heat, pressure, enzymes, and hormones serve as conducive conditions,
catalysts, and reactants for biological processes, peace, democracy, education, markets,
and freer access to technology and information act as conducive conditions, catalysts, and
reactants for the social process.
The evolution of new biological characteristics in a species is believed to begin
with minute favorable mutations in a single cell or organism. Transmitted to offspring of that individual
through the reproductive process, these mutations provide a competitive advantage to
subsequent generations. As the mutant
gene is the instrument of biological evolution, the pioneering human initiative
doing what has not been done before is the instrument for social development.
Development is induced by pioneering individuals who introduce new or improved
forms of organized activity that provide an adaptive advantage over what has gone before. These initiatives are imitated by other
individuals and their neighbors and the organizations they influence; they spread by social diffusion, multiplying
through society until the most successful lose their novelty and come to be accepted as
conventional wisdom soon to be supplanted by new ideas tested by new individuals
but diffusing in similar ways.
The pioneering individual is often credited by society with fresh discoveries,
inventions, and initiatives. But the
knowledge, intuition, and ultimately wisdom that guides these fresh actions are drawn from
the subconscious collective wisdom of the society of which the individual feels a part; it is expressive of the societys will for
progress in a particular direction. The
individual is the conscious instrument for the expression of a subconscious will; sometimes the individual has to find a new
societyas Albert Einstein and others did earlier in this century where the
collective subconscious will is compatible with his or her individual creative urge.
The generative process is often a product of trial and error experimentation,
individual intuition and persistence. But
sometimes its done by conscious implementation of a conceptual understanding. A classic example in U.S. history was the
idea that led the U.S. Congress to authorize land grants to States and establish colleges
that focused on agricultural science, and also establish an Extension Service as a conduit
for scientific innovations to reach farmers in every county of the United States a
string of 19th Century innovation-inducing policies that made American
production of food and feed a 20th Century success of global importance.
In similar fashion organizational innovations from the invention of money to
the proliferation of financial services to the current explosion of the Internet
may initially spread by informal imitation, then later gain widespread recognition and be
systematically disseminated throughout society.
In analogous ways the discoveries of scientists anywhere, once repeated and
validated by an increasingly international scientific community, come to be accepted,
taught, and learned as elements of the organized body of scientific knowledge. On the shoulders of these discoverers,
practitioners of medicine and engineering and other professions develop ways of using the
scientific insights in ways not imagined by the pioneering individual scientists in their
In every field of human endeavor, the actions of individuals (some isolated, some
organized in research universities and other think-organizations) are transmuted into
organized activity of their societies. After
a time, this activity may become so fully accepted as a norm that it no longer requires
the active support of government subsidies or sponsorship by private corporations or
foundations for its sustenance. It can
then mature from formal organizations to informal institutions or social conventions
passed along by family or social tradition and eventually integrated in the cultural
values of a society as a way of life as elementary education now has in most
national societies, and technological inquisitiveness in many.
Both biological and social processes depend on the accumulation of knowledge. The knowledge that guides biological development
is contained in the genetic codes of the species. Unchanging
genetic instructions would mandate a multiplication of sameness, even if excess energy is
available; only changes in the codes, by
mutation or otherwise, result in development,
that is in the evolution of new characteristics in the species.
knowledge that guides social development is contained in societys accumulated store
of information, skills, attitudes, opinions, beliefs, and values. It is the acquisition (always in the first
instance by individual human beings) of more
relevant information, more analytical knowledge, more insightful intuition, and thus more
usable wisdom that leads to the development of social organizations that come closer to
matching the much greater complexity of the real social world outside our heads.
this higher knowledge-intuition-wisdom that generates fresh creative social
ideas, excess energy in a society will tend to produce not new dimensions of human
activity but at best repetition, copywork, the spreading of already familiar activities
rooted in settled concepts. It
may even generate new excesses, new imbalances, new forms or degrees of unfairness that
unsettle settled societies. What it
wont produce is innovation, creative new ways of doing old things better, or doing
whats never been done before.
Evolution as Organization
Both material and non-material resources are essential for biological and social
processes. In biology, the knowledge
encoded in DNA molecules, genetic information, is a non-material resource. In social development, reliable information,
scientific discoveries and technological innovations, economic theories, social systems,
and wide ranges of skills, social attitudes, beliefs, and values are also non-material
In both arenas, the relevance and the productivity of the material resources
crucially depend on the quality and availability of the non-material resources. Bacteria
and human beings are composed of the same atomic elements;
but differences in the knowledge content in their respective genes bring about very
different results. The rational use of
information, the power of intuitive thinking, and the capacity to stir them together to
produce practical wisdomthat is, complex ideas you can do something withhave a profound effect on
the productivity of material resources in social development.
This human ability to think has already
demonstrated that the productivity of basic material resources such as land, water, and
fuel can be multiplied exponentially. Various
forms of technology, which is organized and replicable thinking, enable us to convert sand
into bricks, glass, fiber optic cables, and intelligent microprocessors, and to convert
petroleum into lamp oil, plastics, clothing, and life-saving pharmaceuticals. Imparting to physical resources some capacity to
replicate human thinking can not only make them more useful but can change their physical
characteristics. A Swiss aluminum
executive suggested the close connection between materials and information technology in a
memorable short aphorism: The
smarter the metal, the less it weighs.
Natural resources are in some sense finite. But their use value and productivity
are limited only by the limits to the capacity of human beings to think, to relate
thoughts to each other, to build more useful thoughts on the thinking of others, and to
imagine what has never happened yet. The
human capacity to learn both from experience and from theorizing, by which people develop
attitudes, opinions, and values and other mental resources, determines how creatively and
effectively a society responds to challenges and opportunities such as the
environmental effects of human activity or the unprecedented potential of the Internet. In this sense the human mind and spirit
appear to be the ultimate resources that determine the usefulness and productivity of all
The evolution of
larger, more complex material and biological forms depends on the prior formation of lower
levels of organization atomic, molecular, cellular.
The evolution of larger, more complex social organizations likewise occurs on the
foundation of more limited, less complex kinds of organization, which are indeed the
necessary infrastructure for their emergence.
There are essentially three kinds of infrastructure, three levels of organized
human activity, each heavily depending on the others for its own functionality. One can be illustrated by the physical
organization of transportation and communication; another by the social organization of
legal, financial, commercial, and educational institutions;
yet another by the mental organization of information, technology, scientific
knowledge, and spiritual insight. All
these are needed for the achievement of progressively more complex forms of economic
activity. As the evolution of
higher-order species requires the development of increasingly complex and differentiated
organs, each further stage of social advancement requires a quantitative expansion and
qualitative improvement in the organization of the social infrastructures.
The evolution of biological forms has progressed from the most primitive physical
organisms to vitally animate plants and animals to the emergence of mental and spiritual
humans. The more primitive
organisms, guided by the instructions in their genetic codes, use up most of their energy
and adaptive capacities for physical survival. In
more complex organisms, the physically acquired genetic capabilities are supplemented by
instinctive and learned reactions to environmental stimuli.
They consequently possess a greater range of adaptive and productive responses.
now, evolution has given rise to highly adaptive organisms capable of systematic ordering
of knowledge, conscious self-awareness, and connecting with spiritual forces that cannot
be rationalized. Genetics and
built-in instincts still play an essential role.
But the systematic transfer of knowledge through family and formal education,
followed by life experience that includes not only what happens but what is dreamed and
imagined, elevates the productive and adaptive and even prophetic responses to levels
inconceivable in prior life forms.
similar evolution from predominantly physical to more vital to increasingly mental and
spiritual occurs in societies. The
movement across this spectrum should not be seen as linear, nor is it usefully described
in well-marked stages. In
primitive societies, people are more bound to the land, quite limited in the
range of human activities to those essential to self-defense and survival
agriculture, hunting, craft skills. Social
structures are typically rigid, leadership is hierarchical, and traditions tend to be
rooted in the past and resistant to change, analogous to a genetic code that endlessly
reproduces inherited instructions without alteration.
Still, there is some margin for the exercise of imagination and intuition, for
changing spiritual experience, and for the development of more complex forms of
organization; in some degree, change is the law of life in all parts of the human family.
what we like to think of as more highly-developed societies, there is certainly more room
for vital activity, more animation and mobility, and higher productivity in more complex
systems. Less of most peoples
energy is required for survival. More is
available for investment in a wider range of activities that result in trying new things,
finding new places, meeting new people, inventing what didnt exist before, reading
more widely and writing more boldly, developing greater productivity, trying new forms of
recreation, learning arts and crafts, searching for unfathomable spirits in nontraditional
developed societies, social structures can become more flexible and adaptive. There can be greater social mobility, competition,
and opportunity for individual initiative outside of established patterns. In such societies, some people display an
increasing capacity for change, and an increasing speed of response to external
opportunities and challenges and to the successes and failures of their own and other
is also typical of the more developed societies to grant a higher social value
to brainwork, and spread the opportunity for mental development much more widely. Scientific research and technological
innovation come to be at a premium; formal
education is more widely available, and encouraged for longer periods of time; laws, ideas, and ideals muscle their way
into spaces earlier reserved for strong leaders and inherited traditions. Individuality of thought and action are more
often accepted and encouraged, even when they contradict conventional habits and beliefs. Competition tends to mature into
cooperation. The report by the Group of Lisbon called this the limits to
competition. Productivity soars, surpluses abound partly because information,
unlike natural resources, expands as its used and gives rise not to exchange
transactions but to sharing arrangements in a new kind of commons. The excess energy pours into the development
of ever newer, more complex forms of organization technological organization of
material processes, social organization of life processes, mental organization of
information, knowledge, even intuition and wisdom.
predominantly mental society thus displays a far wider range of adaptive responses and
creative initiative. And yet . .
. every society that calls itself more
developed has lots of people who try to
resist mobility and change, discourage creative imagination, suppress deviations from the
norm, lead by command and control, cling to tradition, and turn aside from new choices and
chances. We are not describing a new
reality; were suggesting a way of
thinking about development that finds in the biological analogy not only
tested patterns but possibilities for which we still lack clarity of doctrine or
real-world role-models. What this
way of thinking does suggest, however, is a sense of direction, which in the 1990s is
increasingly conspicuous by its absence.
Danger of Imbalance
One troubling aspect of social process is the evident tendency of social
development to generate unanticipated and unwanted excesses, side effects, and untoward
reactions: environmental damage,
overpopulation, destructive applications of technology, economic crises, and social
conflicts. Comparable backlash
debilitating mutations, overpopulation and even extinction of species, devastation
of natural habitats, cycles of scarcity and plenty arise in biological systems as
well. So we need to consider whether
these problems in biology and society have a common source and whether at least
part of the difference is that biological systems have been better than human systems at
We have already mentioned that, in both biology and society, an essential condition
for development is the presence of more energy than is required for repetition and
survival. The surplus creates an imbalance in the existing system that
can have one of three results. It can
lead to an increase in activity at the present level, it can stimulate development to a
higher level, or it can produce overload and breakdown.
Development problems arise when more energy accumulates than the existing level of
organization can absorb or support. In
biology, the exposure of genes to excessive radiation may result in fatal defects, since
the excess energy damages the organization of genetic information. A excessive intake of food energy, beyond
what the body needs for its normal activity and development, can overload physiological
systems and lead to a wide range of health problems.
The incursion of energy in society that is beyond the carrying capacity of the
social organization can have a similar effect.
East Asian financial crisis resulted from a very rapid expansion of domestic financial
activity coupled with a rapid expansion of international financial markets, without the
requisite development of effective organizations for
monitoring and regulating what is mostly a confidence game at either the national
or the global level. The opening up of
Russian society following the breakup of the USSR introduction of democratic
institutions, dismantling of centralized planning, liberalization of foreign trade and
domestic prices released enormous energy within the society and subjected the
economy to intense competitive pressures. In
the absence of essential political, legal, administrative, financial, and commercial
organizations needed to guide an uncentralized market, the sudden liberation of energy had
modification of one element in a biological system can generate imbalances in the total
organization of the system that lead to breakdown and disintegration. As an example, the excessive or insufficient
development of one organ in the body can lead to disease.
Eliminating an animal predator can result in a chain reaction of overpopulation and
depletion among lower-level organisms in the food chain and degradation of their natural
like this occurs in social development when progress in one field is not supported by
proportionate progress in related fields. In
the 1950s the introduction of advanced medical technology led to reduced mortality rates,
rapid population growth, and food shortages in many developing countries. This occurred because advances in the organization
of public health were not balanced by proportionate advances in general education and
rising affluence, which have everywhere led to reduction in the numbers of children per
family, or by increases in food production needed to feed a larger population. Environmental degradation has been quite
directly caused by rapid development of industrial organization unmatched by a
proportionate development of systems for monitoring and restraining pollution. Another near-universal story has been the
introduction of powerful chemical pesticides into countries with low levels of general
education, resulting in excessive use and unsafe handling.
biological and social systems are thus vulnerable to the dangers of imbalance. The real difference between them seems to be
in their response to the problems when they arise.
Within modest parameters, biological processes are extremely effective in
responding to temporary imbalances by rapid early warning (automatic feedback of information about a
growing imbalance) and self-correction and restoring order to the
system. But when the imbalance exceeds
the adaptive capacity of the existing level of organization, the response tends to be
inadequate because it is self-directed by a body of genetic knowledge that responds
and adapts, at best, slowly and incrementally to environmental opportunities and
In contrast, a human society has at least the potential of taking thought and doing
something about a disaster before it gets on what engineers call a runaway to maximum
by acquiring conscious knowledge and starting timely action to minimize or even
design ways around the excesses and negative fallout of development plans and projects. The recent reductions in pollution and
environmental degradation are examples both current and choice.
This capacity to foresee danger and take adaptive measures seems to increase as
societies evolve from largely physical toward more mental forms of
civilization. In societies preoccupied
with physical resources and their possible scarcity, the social tendency is to respond to
an incursion of surplus energy by struggling to preserve its inflexible,
tradition-bound organizations, maintain things the way they were. As the mix changes and vital and
mental elements become more
prominent, a society is more likely to respond first by adapting existing organizations to
do more-of-the-same better, and then to think up new workways and forms of organization
that bring into consultation many more people and improve the odds of absorbing all the
energy in coping with needed change.
Some social theorists claim that the law of survival of the fittest
holds true for social as well as biological systems.
Thinking about social development as a progression from predominantly
physical toward predominantly mental not mutually exclusive
categories, rather a changing mix of both helps clarify the issue.
Darwinian law does appear to hold true toward the physical end of the
spectrum, as the collective struggles to ensure its survival but cares little for the
individual. The strongest become
leaders, the weak are abandoned, exploited, or left to fend for themselves.
as information is more widely spread and more people are equipped to use it for the common
good, the survival of the collective comes to be clearly the best way for the individual
to survive and prosper. The collective
makes increasing efforts both to meet the basic needs of all its members and to open
opportunities for individuals to pursue a variety of ends of their own choosing. In practice, where it has been
seriously tried, this emerging way of governance, rather than weakening the viability of a
society, has resulted in enhanced social coherence and greater productivity at the same
One lesson from this analysis has profound meaning for the future of
development in every society, and in that larger unit, global civilization,
which is becoming relevant for more and more purposes.
As physical science has discovered a virtually unlimited reservoir of energy within
the molecule and the atom, the phenomenal social creativity of the past century seems to
point to a source of energy, for practical purposes unlimited, in human society as well. The source of that energy is the individual
human being. Under conducive
circumstances, the human individual demonstrates an astonishing capacity for imagination
and new creation of new and improved material inventions, of communication
networks, of social organizations and ideas, and of ways to interact with forces beyond
reason and knowledge.
As physicists are trying to find appropriate material technologies to harness
safely the energy within the atom, the challenge to social science is to invent the
appropriate technology of social organization to release and constructively channel the
near-infinite potential energy and resourcefulness of the human being, and of human beings
cooperating with each other.
The genetic code in DNA molecules governs the release and utilization of energy for
biological development. Human choice is
the basic mechanism for liberating and productively harnessing the potential energy in
society. It is the minds
decisions that release human energy and propel it into action, for purposes and toward
ends preselected by the human mind.
As long as social organization is predominantly physical in
character, choices about social development can and usually are made by a comparatively
few people, acting for the collective through centralized organizations, often at the
expense of many individuals outside the narrow circle of
development moves along the continuum toward the more vital, mental society, the power of
the collective is more than counterbalanced by greater freedom and rights for the
individual. Because more and more
people are able to be better informed about the needs of the collective and about the
complexity of social forces in play, it is natural for them to expect and demand a greater
role in decision-making and for the leaders of social organizations to decentralize authority in order to delegate more
widely more and more of the work while trying to retain ultimate control in one way
But as the mix of people and functions shades over more and more toward the
mental part of the continuum, and there is a growing premium on the brainwork,
imagination, and creativity of individuals, new ways of getting things done come into
vogue: uncentralized organizations to
cope with tasks so complex that no sensible individual could even pretend to be in charge,
organizations in which authority is institutionalized as impersonal standards and systems
that depend on initiative and creative imagination by many different kinds and levels of
people who are able to be different, yet together. Under these conditions freedom and
responsibility necessarily shift from the collective to many individuals, expanding
exponentially the range of individual choices.
This process seems to culminate in the development of a new kind of social
organization, the nobody-in-charge system where every citizen is in some measure partly in
charge, each specialist no longer just responsible for being right about his/her own
specialty but responsible also for the general sense of direction, the outcome as a whole. The greater
the value that society accords to the individual human being, the greater the freedom of
choice it offers to each individual. As
tradition was the technology for development of the physical society, individual human
choice is the technology for the development of the mentally self-conscious society.
In post-modern societies, where information (analyzed as knowledge, integrated
as wisdom) is the dominant resource, the individual will enjoy unprecedented freedom of
choice. Thats no guarantee of
wisdom. The quality of multiple
individual choices is a complex function of the quality of information, education,
knowledge, ideals, opinions, attitudes, and values in the society.
democratic societies rely on the power of education and the media to get the word around
about what problems we collectively face, what opportunities are there if we pursue them
together; and, since unanimity is not
to be expected on anything complicated or important, democratic societies rely also on the
free airing of alternative viewpoints to help us collectively to make up our individual
minds. Those societies whose citizens
are encouraged to engage in the fullest and most enlightened exercise of choice will have
the greatest potential for development.
Single Creative Process
emergence of mental self-consciousness, its wide spread around the world spurred by the
development of global information technologies, has for the first time made it possible
for a species to influence the speed and direction of its own evolution.
are already the liveliest and most conscious actors in modifying our physical environment,
sometimes inadvertently (the ozone layer, the greenhouse effect) and sometimes
on purpose (weather modification, air conditioning).
we human beings, the mental animals, are beginning to acquire the understanding to unravel
biological processes, decipher and consciously alter the genetic code of life forms, and
thus potentially decide, to some limited degree at least, who we want to be.
similar fashion we are edging toward acquiring a conscious knowledge of the social
processes that could vastly increase the pace and quality of social development, and
spread its benefits much more fairly to the majority of humankind who are still
disappointed spectators at the drama of development.
Certainly a deeper understanding of the process of social development, more widely
spread to more educated peoples on every continent, will enable individuals to exercise
their human choices with more sense of their meaning for their own futures and for the
wider communities including the widest, the global commons of which they
will be increasingly conscious (and therefore increasingly responsible) citizens.
The parallels between biological and social development are intellectually
intriguing and may be analytically useful. But
they are something more as well. There
is now considerable evidence that these processes are actually various expressions of a
single creative process, which applies not only to biological and social forms but also to
artistic and other nonrational human creativity.
Doesnt this point toward a truly unifying theory of creative processes
relevant to all branches of human endeavor, to both science and art, to both practical and spiritual experience?