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Changing Images of Man

Changing Images of Man

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Published by Reland D. Melton
In order to understand where we are headed, we have to know where we have been and how we got where we are. Know thy adversary.
In order to understand where we are headed, we have to know where we have been and how we got where we are. Know thy adversary.

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: Reland D. Melton on Oct 13, 2009
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03/03/2012

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Many of our institutions seem to have inadvertently reached a critical
size beyond which they are virtually uncontrollable in any coherent
fashion. This fact of life was aptly described by Richard Bellman, in
accepting the first Norbert Wiener prize for applied mathematics
(1970):

I think it's beginning to be realized that our systems are falling apart. We don't know
how to administer them. We don't know how to control them. And it isn't at all
obvious that we can control a large system in such a way that it remains stable. It may
very well be that there is a critical mass-that when a system gets too large, it just
gets automatically unstable.

We see these problems in our educational systems, in our legal systems,
in our bureaucratic systems, in our transportation systems, in our
garbage-collection systems, and so on. The inability to sustain stable
subsystems (let alone the macro-system) suggests that a strong thrust
toward decentralization would be a plausible concomitant to the trans-
formationalist image of humankind." Relatively autonomous sub-
systems would enhance diversity in our society, which is increasingly
confronted with an underlying (and, at times, overriding) homogeneity

• See Note C, p. 179.

176

Changing Images of Man

of physical structures, life-styles, and living environments generally.
Relatively autonomous subsystems (whether in government, business,
education, or elsewhere) that are oriented toward human growth
would give many more citizens a greater sense of significance and
meaning in a more approachable institutional environment.
As the social system becomes increasingly interdependent and com-
plex, the need for accurate information becomes greater. Such ac-
curacy presumes a fairly high degree of trust, honesty, and openness.
Highly complex task operations, such as putting men in space or
resolving the impending energy crisis, require a high level of honesty
and trust; so too would building a humane society. For quite practical-
as contrasted with moralistic-reasons, then, the demanded level of
honesty and openness in an evolutionary transformationalist type of
post-industrial era could be expected to increase, especially affecting
such activities as advertising and merchandising.'*'
Similarly, as the complexity of societal operations increases, auto-
cratically and hierarchically organized bureaucratic structures (whether
business, education, government) tend to develop communication
overloads near the top and discouragements to entrepreneurship and
responsibility lower down. In order to sustain our complex societal
system, we may systematically reconstitute massive bureaucratic struc-
tures into organizations with relatively autonomous subsystems (in
effect, decentralization). This adaptive form of organization would
seem better suited both to cope with complex tasks and to provide
more satisfying work for the people involved.']
Another societal consequence might be the growth of the family
from an atomistic unit of refuge to an extended unit, a larger source of
meaning and significance. Experiments with a variety of family struc-
tures would be a legitimate endeavor in a society that encourages
individual and interpersonal exploration of human-growth processes.
In an extended context, the family might regain some of its traditional
meaning as a source of education, broadly defined, and as a unit for
work.

Given a relative deemphasis of economic growth and efficiency, and
an enhanced concern for social, psychological, political and environ-

• "If honesty and openness are correlated with an evolutionary transformationalist era,
the possibilities for such an era would seem bleak if, as I fear, trust is eroding. We must
still hope, but we must accurately assess the strength of the enemy amongst us."-
Michael Marien
t "I believe you could make a real case for computer conferencing ala Murray Turoff,
and electronic consensus taking, ala Etzioni, as means for decentralizing or making
more democratic what could become a terrifying 'robopathic' way of life in affluent
bureaucracy."-Robert A. Smith, III

Societal Choices and Consequences

177

mental matters, it seems plausible to think that the trend toward huge
urban agglomerations would be reversed and populations would be
redistributed with greater balance. There would likely be experiments
with a diversity of living environments to allow people a greater range
of trade-offs in selecting a community. In such a context, there may
emerge increasingly sophisticated communal types of living environ-
ments which experiment with new institutional forms.
The societal changes we have discussed under the rubric of the
"evolutionary transformationalist" may appear at first to be too radical.
On the contrary, they are probably too conservative. Our task is the
equivalent of standing in the Middle Ages and attempting to describe
the culture and institutions after the Industrial Revolution.
We can hardly claim to have demonstrated that a shift toward the
evolutionary transformationalist image of human-in-the-universe is
well underway-especially since such a fundamental shift is historically
so improbable. We may simply have made the hypothesis plausible. If
so, then the questions raised here about the characteristics of a society
dominated by the new image are of extreme importance. The greatest
hazard in such a transition is that the anxiety level can raise to where
the society responds with irrational and self-destructive behavior. The
best safeguards are widespread understanding of the need for trans-
formation and reassurance that there is someplace good to get to on
the other side."

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