A Contribution to General Systems Theory (GST)

Version 1.16
by Kirby Urner

Table of Contents


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Asset: Our Sponsoring Sun

Entering line items onto the planetary balance sheet of energy Assets & Liabilities, we place Sun, an atomic-powered fusion furnace, in the assets column.

Earth Incorporated is a nonprofit corporation, if conceived in bookkeeping terms, because she is a sponsored enterprise fueled by grant income from Sun. Terawatts of full spectrum, sky-filtered, radiation bathe our land- and sea-scapes — not a loan, but a grant, continuously given.

Whatever circuitry we humans co-invent with nature within and around our biosphere, does not for a moment reverse the cosmic flow. Earth receives a steady current, like a home appliance plugged into a grid, and current equals currency: money from heaven pure and simple. We cannot repay Sun.

Sun is not a bank, and yet is at the top of the wealth pyramid, empowering all below. At some level further down the pyramid, we humans contrived banking and invented interest, but not on the model of our whole system enterprise, the Earthian economy.

Pyramidal power structures intervene between sunlight and those who would consume it, to create areas of light and shadow. This we call our economy, although it is seamlessly embedded within our ecology from which it ultimately cannot be differentiated.

Liability: Our Broken Economy

In the shadowy realms of our economy, the energy-starved turn to skeletons and die for lack of calories and care. We contrive mountains of excuses for our neglect, but the bottom line is, if our criteria are to remain humane, we must judge our economy as broken, fallen, sinful, in error, a failure, all of the above. Until recently, we had not the tools to provide for all; but today we do. The price of technological advance is the crossing of evolutionary thresholds, and the ignition of new tests, new imperatives. To continue “business as usual” (rampant neglect) is to artificially dumb ourselves down. And so we list this broken economy in the Liabilities column, recognizing that it contains the seeds of transformation, the potential for advance to the next level.

Assets – Liabilities = Net Worth. Where do we come out in the eyes of would-be investors. What investors? Suppose you knew for a fact that you would reincarnate again and again, for many generations, as many believe you will. Would you feel more like a long term investor then? Surely a rising Net Worth would portend a greater statistical likelihood of prosperity and happiness in your next life. How would you strive to improve our global economy, given your understanding of cause and effect?

Net Worth: The Role of Intelligence

This is an open ended question designed to invoke a thoughtful response, which is to elicit another item for the Assets column: intelligence. Sun + intelligence must contend with a broken economy. An objective measure of our intelligence is, in fact, a diminishment of pain and suffering on our planet. Intelligence must flow through our broken circuits, our madly misfiring neural nets, in order to heal an injured humanity. This challenge, to transform our broken economy into a working one, is a call to the alchemists, for such is their vocation: saving the world.

Saving the world is a deadly serious business and every generation has committed to it. The world is in perpetual need of saving, and at no point in time becomes “saved” — the job is never ending. Every action, every inaction, joins the incalculably complicated web of events, perhaps advancing our economy, perhaps making others work harder to advance it. Am I part of the problem, or part of the solution, right now. And how about right now? — more open ended, intelligence-eliciting questioning.

The Alchemy of Language

Alchemists work with language. Words have spectral bands of meaning, like chemical elements, and reflect differently depending on how the light of intelligence shines through them. Unillumined, words turn to bricks, turning pages into walls, opaque in their superficial literalness. Intelligence turns solid walls into transparencies, metaphorical overlays charged with links to future interpretations. The alchemist seeks to free herself from the dead-weight of calcified textbooks — economics textbooks especially.

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If our concepts are to shift their meanings, to create new prisms, mirrors, optical fibers of significance sensitive enough to guide us onward, then they must be recharged with a sense of possibility. Words like “profit” must first be enabled to receive new values. Human language variables, like places in computer memory, signified in code, do not have fixed content. A vast computation goes on in every corner where language penetrates, in the crevaces of every mind. Each one of us operates within a personal studio, editing and recombining language, putting out new codes. Evolution proceeds quickly in this medium, but not without rhyme or reason, as language is deeply invested in both.

Each word follows a spiral, a trajectory, through semantic space. Dictionaries do not manage to track these perpetual perturbations in language, as the relations among human language variables iteratively recomputes. Poets work on capturing the subtle shifts, but revector the very atoms they seek to chart. Advertising, journalism, cyberculture — all provide windows into language, but it is the task of the individual alchemist to fine tune her apparatus and seek to read the global mind. Of course few have ‘alchemist’ on their business card, and yet their jobs require the skills nonetheless.

The Meaning of Intelligence

Take this word “intelligence” for example. What are its spectral lines, its signature connotations? Resonance with bell curves and IQ are obvious, sun and sunlight abound in its metaphors. Images of eccentricity, ostracism and iconoclasm shimmer in its corona, as in the cliche about genius and madness being intimately conjoined. Less obviously in the foreground, perhaps, are the networks employed by the power pyramids to probe one another, to infiltrate, subvert, undermine. As the specter of madness haunts the picture of an individual intelligence, our collective embodiment of the word, the so-called “intelligence agency” is steeped in opposites: brutality, dogmatism, paranoia — attributes of “intelligence agencies” which make the very concept sound ironic, oxymoronic, even more so than “mad genius.”

General Systems Theory posits human beings as intelligent agents within a planetary economy — an economy in which it makes sense to design around the principle of profitability. Net Worth will increase as our networks of intelligence agents converge towards strategies intended to eliminate death by starvation for example, a first benchmark along the critical path, and a milestone we must reach if we are to know we are succeeding.

Real Security: a Curriculum Concern

To act with the zeal of nonprofits, charitable organizations, NGOs, with a mission to heal, towards the same humane ends, though perhaps with different means, is not inconsistent with the profit-seeking motive, nor with the overall design of our sun-sponsored economy. The competent creation of wealth, defined as life support for humans and nonhumans alike, in measurable amounts for quantifiable periods of time, translates into security — the kind of security for which financial securities were originally named.

The money world rests on ancient pillar words, like trust, fidelity, prudential. These words may appear hollow on billboards and commercials, but the ties cannot be severed at their roots. The real meaning of security, which intelligence agencies are defined as protecting, is firmly anchored. For language as a whole to make sense, we must allow its weightiest signifiers to fulfill their destinies, to hold to their trajectories within semantic space.

Superficial corruption depends on sound structural engineering at the core. Nature herself provides the vast majority of our core technologies, but humans have insinuated themselves into her circuits, and now must respect her strict performance standards or pay dearly. And dearly we have paid. Security, national or otherwise, will be protected only if we recognize that strict obedience to “higher” principles is not simply an ethical or aesthetic commitment, but an economic requirement, and the key to future profitability.

Vast numbers of humans receive sufficient energy incomes to negotiate enjoyable lifestyles as “knowledge workers.” What is the carrying-capacity of our global economy with respect to the intelligence agencies, academic institutions, think tanks, and other curricular circuits which it nurtures? To the extent that intelligence is fostering our global net worth, it pays its own way, insofar as we can talk this way about an economy sponsored by energy grants from our Sun.

In fact, expanding enrollment in the “knowledge worker” sector is what will allow us to use global distance education circuits to channel inventory to work-study programs in the field. The global university metaphor serves to overlay the economy, one map among many. Our starving students, quite literally starving, need better access to work-study curricula that will net them the kinds of goods and services needed to complete their courses.

That our students are starving en masse right now serves as testament to the weakness of our curriculum, the insufficiency of our syllabi, the poverty of our language and imaginations. Seen through these lenses, our concern should be less with voting the bums out and more with updating our textbooks — or discarding them for curricula on the net.

GST: Ending the Economists’ Monopoly

General Systems Theory posits itself as a competing discipline vis-a-vis Economics, as much about resource distribution, living standards, the exchange of goods and services, as the Dismal Science. Economists hold that monopoly breeds laziness, inefficiency, lower quality goods. General Systems Theory agrees, and in that spirit seeks to end the monopoly of Economics over the “real world” of Assets and Liabilities, Profitability and Net Worth.


GST Graphics with Explanatory Text

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Category: literature