Subj: [issues] Critics of the Merida Manifesto have made necessary a first Response Date: 10/26/01 2:21:34 PM Central Daylight Time From: elohimjl@mail.zserv.tuwien.ac.at (elohimjl) Sender: owner-issues@isss.org Reply-to: elohimjl@mail.zserv.tuwien.ac.at (elohimjl) To: issues@isss.org

 

Dear Colleagues,

This message is only another perspective of one of the many aspects that characterize what I consider the worst crisis ever faced by the human species since the civilizing adventure started to take place on the planet.

The development of perspectivism aims firstly at making explicitly evident how the validity of knowledge depends on the PERSPECTIVE from which that knowledge is perceived and secondly at making clearer how the disciplinary and mutidisciplinary validity of the Bertalanffian Perspectivism is a way of getting closer and closer, though diversely, to the 'absolute truth' of every aspect of the whole reality. Obviously all the perspectives, as views explicitly expressed of a certain aspect of the reality, are valid. At the same time none of them is more authentic than the other. This perspectivism is the proper alternative between nihilism - the rejection to make an effort towards the absolut truth because it is something impossible to reach - and absolutism - the dogmatism that has generated the scientism, which assigns value to nothing but science itself; and has produced the bloodstained fanaticism in religious and political actions (Symposium V of BAC 2001, 1 - 4 november 2001 in Vienna http://www.bertalanffy.org

yours elohimjl

 

 

RESPONSE TO CRITICS OF THE MERIDA MANIFESTO (*)

(*) Manifesto agreed in the First Latin American Colloquium on Interpretive Systemology

Thanks to elohimjl's initiative the Merida Manifesto was diffused to ISSS and other organizations and individuals related directly and indirectly with systems thinking and the systems movement. In the ensuing days to the publication we got many reactions, some positive and some negative, some showing a deep understanding of the grave and sensitive issues dealt with in the manifesto, others very emotional. Some people got very supportive of the ideas expressed in the manifesto, others took offense with what it was said. Let me reassure you all, before going on, that our intention was not to offend the American people (or any other people or individual for that matter). On the contrary, it is because we feel a high respect for the American people that we think our duty to be very frank and discuss openly and seriously the attacks of September 11 and the response of the US government to them. A respectful human being, that is, someone who really cares about another, when he/she honestly thinks this other human being is being taken (in this case by his/her government) in a direction that may bring serious harm to him/her and his/her people, must speak up his/her mind and say his/her message loudly. This call to duty is even more stronger when is humanity as a whole which is involved in the situation.

Coming back to the general reactions to the manifesto, we thank all of you who have read it and bother to send us your criticisms and/or support. Nevertheless, I personally think there have been some misunderstandings and therefore I feel it is my duty to clarify them.

To begin with, let me remind you the Merida Manifesto is the outcome of a colloquium of systems thinkers which took place in Merida Venezuela this month (October). Two main interests brought together these thinkers. One was their common preoccupation with the radical turn the systems movement has taken from its original founding values. Those were not only the need to integrate the sciences but also humanity as a whole. World justice and peace were main concerns of people like Bertalanffy, Churchman, Rapoport and others. They thought that systems thinking could make a difference in this world, concerning these issues. Gradually these ideals which originally propelled the systems movement were replaced by market ideals, i.e. by systems methodologies which can help to make money and compete with others in all sorts of win-lost games. Many systems thinkers became consultants and systems methodology salesmen for big business. The people gathered in the colloquium thought we should reflect on this situation and see if something could be done to protect and sustain the few groups that still work under the aegis of the original ideals of the systems movement. The second common interest was the grave problems Latin America is facing and how they are related to globalization and other current world issues. From our systemic perspective, the two interests turned out to be highly interrelated.

Now let me deal with some misunderstandings. One of them was in relation to why a manifesto like the Merida Manifesto was released through a network that has to do with systems thinking and in particular with the Bertalanffy Anniversary Conference. Apparently some people thought the MM has nothing to do with interests considered more proper of the systems movement. To answer this query and for the benefit of those who are not familiar with the systems movement, I will make a little bit of history. Bertalanffy is not only the founder of the General Systems Theory but one of the initiators of the systems movement. In fact the Bertalanffy Anniversary Conference is celebrating the birthday of a man whose thinking was beyond traditional disciplinary bounds. He was able to see the importance of holistic thinking not only for the integration of the sciences but also, and most importantly, for the pursue of the humanistic ideal of creating an authentic global community, able to live in peace. He believed that to make this dream come true, a very important and basic systems thinking principle had to be taken into account. Let us call it the "perspectivist" principle. Such a principle is expressed when Bertalanffy says "We must begin protecting the individual and cultural identity of others". Surely, the kind of protection, rather caring, he was talking about was not merely the one provided for instance to American Indians in the USA government reservations. These are, rather, the epitome of disrespect for these ancient cultures. The only true protection of another culture is to let that culture be, not to impose on it our values, no matter how dear and wonderful one may think they are. In this sense protection is equivalent to RESPECT for the values and dignity of others. It is also caring, i.e. making sure their harmony within the whole is maintained. However, true respect for others cannot be felt unless one tries seriously to understand the way other cultures see the world (i.e. their Weltanschauung). Another founding father of the systems movement, Churchman, has expressed the same systems thinking principle when he says that "the systems approach begins when first you see the world through the eyes of another". In turn, seeing through the eyes of another makes us aware of our own worldview, i.e. our own presuppositions, values, culture and historical background. Here we have in a nutshell the critical aspect of systems thinking. Good systems thinking must be able to reflect on its own assumptions and how we have come to be and think as we do in the present.

Now, if one reads carefully the Merida Manifesto, one will realize that it starts precisely by denouncing a process undergoing in the Western world, what we call the growing of anti-cultural forms, that impedes to reflect on our own cultural and historical constitution, let alone see the world through the eyes of another culture. One of these anti-cultural forms embodies, apparently, beliefs and cherished values of the West such as individualism (i.e. the idea that everybody should be allowed to freely choose the way of life he/she deems appropriate), the God of the market, etc. plus the central idea that these values must be adopted by every single human being on this planet, even if they have to be imposed by force. Clearly this is an outrageous pretension and it certainly disregards Bertalanffy's systemic principle mentioned earlier. Now, taking into account Bertalanffy's warning that "Šwe are dealing with emergent realities; no longer with isolated groups of men, but with a systemically interdependent global communityŠ" then a systems thinker must expect that such imperialistic behavior must bring consequences for other cultures in the globe including that of the US (i.e. feedback consequences). In the Merida Manifesto we have pointed out the consequences of this behavior at the most fundamental level of a culture, namely, its constitutive practices: nursing, raising and caring. When these practices are interrupted or destroyed the devastation of precious cultural soil is produced and a meaningless world arises, a world of desperation and deprivation, a soil appropriate to grow people willing to give their lives crashing a plane against a building or blowing himself/herself in a pizza parlor.

Therefore, this part of the Merida Manifesto is calling the attention of systems thinkers in general, and those to attend the BAC 2001 in Viena in particular, to focus research efforts not only on rescuing the humanistic ideals of von Bertalanffy and the systems movement but also, and together with it, on beginning to understand this complex systemic process of cultural devastation. Here lies, we are suggesting, the key to begin to comprehend the horrendous (and by all means questionable) attacks on September 11.

I expect the manifesto is now a little bit more clear to all of you and why we (the participants in the Merida Colloquium on Interpretive Systemology) thought it was appropriate to air it through the von Bertalanffy site. But there is more. When some of the readers of the manifesto, like professor John Warfield, react and say that it contains very negative comments about the USA and its people, and that "the world will be negatively affected if the United States is unable to function", I must call your attention to two points. First, in the spirit of von Bertalanffy's aforementioned systemic principle, systems thinking is critical. This, I repeat, means a systems thinker, like professor Warfield, cannot allow himself not to examine his own assumptions, the platform so to say from which he sees the world. This is the reason why we in the colloquium decided to examine some Western values, in particular democracy, and took as a model the USA's world acclaimed democracy. What we found was an appalling schizophrenic behavior. While it is true that since its independence from Britain successive USA governments are trying to build within the United States a model of democracy, justice, freedom and peace, nevertheless in its foreign policy (at the back of its citizens, who very often are completely ignorant of what their government is doing) they are very hardly trying to set up a planetary tyranny (together with its European allies) in Latin America, Asia and Africa. This is not just a very negative comment we are making, with the purpose of offending USA citizens (may be because we envy their freedom and prosperity!), nor is this another piece of leftist propaganda. We are doing it because we have to expose the serious contradictions of a government which promotes at the same time democracy and tyranny, freedom and oppression, wealth and misery. This behavior is a fact (see for instance the Chilean Files recently disclosed by the CIA), often hidden from the American public by its own government by all sorts of mechanisms, among them the media. Now, what a systems thinker has to do then is to face this schizophrenic behavior and find a context where it makes sense, i.e. a platform or point of view from which we can see and understand such phenomenon. We can even do better and try to explain how have the US successive governments gradually become so schizophrenic, i.e. the values underlying their foreign policy are just the opposite of those behind their domestic policy.

We systems thinkers gain nothing by closing our eyes and our ears and claiming to the world that the American government and society are perfect, and they have done nothing to elicit these terrible terrorist attacks the United States is suffering, and then clinch to the simplistic explanations the media and president Bush and his government are given, namely "..these are evil acts against Western civilization and freedomŠGod is on the side of the American people, they hate our freedomŠetc."

If we do not reflect, if we do not try to understand our deeper assumptions about the world, and the consequences they have on our actions, if we decide to act just by mere impulse and the desire of revenge, not only we are not solving the problem of terrorism but we will contribute even more to the mess and cultural desolation we in the West have created. A systems thinker cannot allow this to happen if he/she is really committed to the systemic and humanistic principles von Bertalanffy and other founding fathers of the systems movement expressed almost half a century ago.

The second and final point is this. To say the world will be negatively affected if the US stops to function sounds like if the US stops the world stops. This may sound a bit arrogant but is true. Nevertheless, to a systems thinker I am sure such a statement must be a challenge to his/her thinking. What kind of global system are we building that if one of its components stops the whole system collapses? There must be something seriously wrong with this world if this is the case. How have we become such a stiff and negatively interdependent world? How can the study of anti-cultural forms we suggest and of the growing desolation process brought about by them help to understand our current predicament?

When I try to think systemically and seek to stand upon a different perspective from that of CNN, a perspective perhaps more open to the Islamic culture, the meaning of the tragic events of September 11 do not appear as an act of EVIL. As Tony Judge (in his paper entitled Some Questions diffused by elohimjl in this network) says: "Rather than characterizing the attack as an act of evil, I see it as a terrible last act of desperation by people who believed they had no other way to make themselves heard than to resort to violence and mayhem. It is absolutely critical that we see not only their willingness to use horrible, illegal means, but that we also hear their desperation which makes them view such means as the highest form of heroism including the sacrifice of their lives." And I see something more. Humanity is at a crossroads and systems thinking can either remain a good idea whose time has already past or stand up and make a vital contribution to our understanding and comprehension of the current situation. The road the world leaders are telling us is the appropriate to take in this historical moment I think is utterly irrational and I am afraid will only reinforce the very same historical conditions that brought us to the current situation in the first place. I am sure the Western civilization has plenty of intellectual resources to do better and the systems movement cannot elude this crucial challenge. This is, I believe, the rationale that moved those who signed the Merida Manifesto to make it public.

As the critics of the MM can see, it has nothing to do with making negative comments just for the sake of it nor it is irrelevant for systems thinking and the BAC2001 site.

Yours sincerely, Professor Hernán López-Garay Center for Interpretive Systemology Facultad de Ingeniería Universidad de Los Andes Mérida, VENEZUELA hlopezg@ula.ve