By Enrique Lescure
The Universe can be defined in many ways. What is clear is that there are different levels of realities, which are interacting with one another. Matter is arranged in atoms, which taken together turns into molecules. These molecules arrange themselves in larger objects, such as grains of sand, rock, driplets of liquid, single-cell organisms or cells belonging to larger organisms. This diverse symphony of matter forms eco-systems which form a biosphere that constantly develops through evolution – a neverending symphony of beauty and colours.
This way of arranging reality can be described as Holonic. Each layer of reality can be studied as a whole in its own right, but at the same time is but a part of successively larger and larger wholes, eventually binding even the tiniest hydrogen atom together with the Cosmos that creates these physical laws.
Within the Earth Organisation for Sustainability, we believe that human society is profoundly holonic in its characteristics as well, and must be understood from several different perspectives. That shapes our outlook on what principles should be followed when we consciously evolve the human societies of the future.
What we must understand is that we live in a diverse world, and the future human civilization must reflect and build on the positive aspects of that diversity.
- Ultimately, our understanding of reality is shaped by generalisations which subconsciously are derived from the contemporary society.
- The holonic philosophy states that reality can be understood as autonomous interacting units on various levels.
- It has been applied very much within programming, robotics and engineering since the 1990’s.
- The EOS Director Andrew Wallace suggested that it should be understood as both a way to understand human society and a way to design it.
Human brains are very complex organs, but the human mind is not evolved to understand all the details of the world, but to secure the survival and well-being of the human individual. Therefore, humans tend to almost unconsciously generalise their understanding of reality around them, trying to find patterns (this is not characteristic of all humans, many people on the autistic spectrum for example can only understand the world in terms of all individual details, without assigning any meaning or order to the details).
This form of continuous generalisation interlocks our observations of nature and society with our personal experiences, our interactions with others and the culture within which these interactions occur. That means that during every era and in every culture, a unified cosmology tend to be shaped both from the observations of nature and of the social, technological and cultural progress of said society.
During the 17th century, the medieval moralistic views of nature as a mirror of the interior psyche of human individuals was gradually replaced with a mechanistic understanding of reality. The body was just another machine, the cosmos was a giant clockwork and God was – instead of a King-like figure, a universal clock-maker and scientist who had attuned the Universe and shaped natural laws. This view also influenced other aspects of society, some for better, some for worse. The penal code, child-rearing, mental care and education were transformed after this mechanistic interpretation of reality.
It can also be argued that the ascent of Darwin’s theory on natural selection – albeit fundamentally correct – was influenced by the economic orthodoxy of Liberalism in 19th century Victorian Britain. Large-scale collectivist ideologies flourished during the mass-production era of the early 20th century, probably because society as a whole was increasingly understood as a centralised industrial process.
So, ultimately, there will always be many different ways to view reality, and the dominant manner of understanding it is always interlinked with the social, technological, political, economic and ecological realities of the contemporary era.
The case for a holonic understanding
Like all other understandings, the holonic understanding of reality is popular because it lies in tune with the contemporary era – that is undeniable. While the philosophy itself began to emerge during the middle of the 20th century, it gained popularity as software technology and robotics started to develop into more and more autonomous systems during the 1990’s, moving away from the centralised model and emphasising self-organisations and organic evolution of structural systems.
Moreover, the holonic understanding of reality means the affirmation that central control should not be needed, and that de-centralised and holarchic systems in fact often are more resilient, since you can remove individual units and even entire super-structures, but the smaller entities will regroup and recreate working systems relatively fast, in comparison to systems of government which are so centralised that they strangle more basic units and thus creates atomized and very fragile civil societies.
Holarchic systems are characterised by emergence, in that the interactions of many independent agents serve to build and create eco-systems. In that aspect, holarchic systems are reminiscent of markets. One vital difference however is that markets tend to be characterised by a gradual centralisation of capital and ackumulation into the hands of a few very large and centralised agents, which from then on will dominate the market in question in perpetual competition. Moreover, the current global market system tend to transform nature itself into centralised, linear and vertical structures of mono-cultures which exist to perpetuate exponential growth.
Therefore, when we are engaging the environment in terms of our interrelationships with it, we need to conceptualise it as consisting of multiple agents all striving to survive and thereby creating a dynamic equilibrium which is defined by beauty and diversity. While this creates resilience, it also means that changing one aspect of the system will invariably transform the system itself through a domino effect.
Often, the thinking of our current civilization is structured around quantifiable measurements and a graduation of different agents in relation to their performance and utility from a human perspective. We must realise that this thinking has destructive qualities which are threatening the diversity and well-being of both eco-systems and human socio-systems.
What is a holarchic society?
All societies are holonic in their character, since they consist of multiple agents – individuals and small inter-linked groups – which are trying to pursue their various interests. In order to ensure the functionality of the system, most larger human societies tend to form states and associations – institutions – which can be said to be both structures and institutions. The structures are the bureaucratic and corporate entities in themselves, and the institutions are the behaviours and norms which create respect for the structures. There are competing institutions in most societies, especially the hundreds of pseudo-nation-states in what was previously colonially exploited territories. These states contend with trying to replace, crush or co-opt existing tribal, spiritual and cultural institutions which prevent the establishment of strong states.
States and similar entities tend to be hierarchic in their structure, and aim to monopolise the use of physical force as well as the right to punish individuals. This supports and creates a by-effect where states strenghten and form elites which are simultaneously isolated from the general population as well as securing exclusive access to the major part of the resources.
The advent of new technologies that have connected the Earth have created a transnational global corporate and financier elite, which is more and more liberated from civic and social responsibilities connected to their various places of origin. This has left a minority of the Earth’s population in command of the majority of the production potential of the human civilization.
This is fundamentally a very destructive process, since the destruction of five life-support systems of the planet are affecting the majority of the Earth’s poor, while the elite that is ultimately in control of the means of production have the resources to shield themselves from the effects of the system which they support.
Also, it is underpinned by the practice of centralisation. Centralisation creates bottlenecks where a small minority gain access to large quantities of resources, which they eventually will use to further their own aims, no matter what kind of economic or social system we are talking about. This practice will also serve to reduce responsibility, since the suffering caused by the effects of failed decisions will not affect the individuals making these decisions. If we want, we can summarize the history of governance throughout the world with that.
A holarchic system, on the other hand, is forming and shaping itself continuously in relationship to the emergent and social structure of the human society itself. That means that holarchic societies generally are small, and consist of close-knit groups of people sharing values and common interests. In general, this tends to foster cohesion, low inequality and a sense of community and civic responsibility amongst the participants.
On the other hand, holarchic societies can be fraught with nepotism, tribalism, vindictive and revenge-based honour justice, xenophobia and social stagnation.
The question is, are such characteristics inherent in small-scale de-centralised communities, or are they a consequence of third factors, such as culture, patriarchy, feudalism, ethnic and sectarian inequalities, poverty, illiteracy and inbreeding? I would argue that there exists a substantial risk that a local culture can develop traits which are destructive and which singles out individuals who are deemed eccentric or morally reprehensible for social exclusion and in some cases physical punishment or even death.
Given that, there are a multitude of benefits to localism contra the type of globalism we are seeing manifesting today. Societies with a high degree of self-sufficiency and a sense of community are better equipped to handle crises, and are more resilient. It also means that solutions and reforms will be adapted after local economic and social structures. The most positive trait from my point of view, however, is that localism distributes power and civic responsibility across society and give more people influence than in more centralised government- and corporate systems.
The EOS Vision for a holonic future
The globalists are right in one regard – namely that in order to manage the challenges of the future, we would need a one-world system with the ability and the authority vested in it to answer the challenges of climate change, soil deterioration, freshwater depletion and the destruction of ocean and continental eco-systems. The planet’s biosphere is in peril, and we are risking a mass extinction where three quarters of all species can go extinct (which will eclipse the last great mass extinction 65 million years ago).
The question is, what kind of global system will it be?
The Earth Organisation for Sustainability believes that human beings are incredibly resourceful, innovative and able, if they are given the opportunity to flourish and the knowledge of how their actions affect the surrounding reality. While some issues indeed demand concerted global efforts to curb, decisions ought to be made not only as close to the affected parties as possible, but preferrably by as many representatives of the affected parties as possible.
We also believe that power should be distributed between human beings. Large political entities, like the United States, the European Union, India, China and Russia, cannot possibly achieve the same level of democratic freedoms and accountability as smaller political entities could. Even though the city of San Marino had elected itself a fascist dictatorship in 1923 which was in power until 1944, its amount of repression was minuscule – partially because the captains were neighbours with most of their subjects, and partially because the state did not have the capability to repress people in the same manner as the Third Reich, Mussolini’s Italy or the Soviet Union.
Proximity creates influence. Even in democratic societies like Sweden, inhabitants of the capitol enjoys a closeness with the political and economic decision-makers which other inhabitants do not, thus creating an inequality of access and opportunities. If we instead imagined that every county in Sweden functioned as a state, there would probably be less of a drive for people to migrate to Stockholm, and the decisions would also not favour Stockholm at the expense of the rest of the country.
Having written that, the EOS envisions the future way of governing the Earth as consisting of an Earth Confederation consisting of thousands of free communes, city-states, arcologies, nomadic seasteding societies and voluntary associations based around principles of direct and distributed democracy. These would join up in confederacies which would administer various aspects of political power on the level that the individual political entities deem the appropriate. For example, thirty states can join up and agree on administering their education system jointly, or agree on mutual regulation of river systems together.
This means that there will be numerous levels of intermediary decision-making entities, local, regional and continental, between the individual statelets and the world confederation – meaning lots of minor confederacies.
For this system to work, it is required that all participatory political entities in the world confederation project agrees on certain conditions, namely a charter (possibly based around the core tenets of the Ideology of the Third Millennium and the Three Criteria) which would stipulate that no community may stop citizens from emigrating and rules that forbids such things that are in violation of basic human rights. This constitution will be centred around ethical principles which all participants must uphold (though principles should not be conflated with active policies).
Of course, we cannot simply think away the current system of nation-states, but what is realistic to strive towards is a process characterised by more localism, direct democracy and distributed power. If we want to build a sustainable future, we must create the conditions where human beings can take control of the transition process and direct it. Information is power, and if humans are given the means to understand and manage their surroundings in relation to the ecological crisis, the responses will also more and more come to represent what the situation demands.
No human being is all-knowing, so the more who are empowered to partake in the transition towards a sustainable society, the more likely it is that we are moving in a more correct direction.