Encycling Problematic Wickedness for Potential Humanity


Anthony Judge – TRANSCEND Media Service

Imagining a Future Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential


In 1972 a project was instigated to produce a compilation of world problems as variously perceived by several thousand international organizations and constituencies profiled in the Yearbook of International Organizations of the Union of International Associations. This was in reaction to the extremely selective focus of the project of the Club of Rome which took the form of the widely-publicized report on The Limits to Growth (1972). That focus of the Club was associated with some degree of internal dissent resulting in its disassociation from The Predicament of Mankind (1970), as articulated by Hasan Ozbekhan. The focus also later resulted in the separate initiative of Ervin Laszlo through which the Club of Budapest was created. These various threads are separately reviewed (Club of Rome Reports and Bifurcations: a 40-year overview, 2012; Alexander Christakis, A Retrospective Structural Inquiry of the Predicament of Mankind Prospectus of the Club of Rome, 2006).

The World Problems Project, as it was known, only became possible in 1972 through collaboration with Mankind 2000 — a body with a specific concern for human development, namely the concern neglected by the Club of Rome. The preoccupation with “Mankind” had been the focus of the International Futures Research Inaugural Conference (Oslo, 1967) convened by Mankind 2000 (founded in 1964), on the instigation of James Wellesley-Wesley, and resulting in publication of a selection of the papers (edited by Johan Galtung and Robert Jungk, Mankind 2000, 1969). Contrasting “world problems” and “human development” within the same context suggested a necessary degree of complementarity whose nature remained to be discovered. The result was the Yearbook of World Problems and Human Potential, published in 1976 — then seen as complementary to the Yearbook of International Organizations.

Since that period, “world problems” and “human potential” have been variously combined and profiled in the form of a succession of editions of what was renamed as the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential. With further support from Mankind 2000, this notably included substantial profiling of the many strategies undertaken or envisaged by international organizations within a Global Strategies Project. An online variant has been produced through funding from the European Commission, with a special emphasis on visualization of the complex networks relating problems, strategies and organizations in particular. A proposal for a further extension was approved for funding by the World Bank, although that funding did not become available due to other urgent priorities at the time. These developments are conveniently described in the Wikipedia profile on the Encyclopedia.

With the numerous possibilities now offered by technology and the web, the question is how it might be appropriate and fruitful to reframe for the future an “Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential”. The relevance of the question lies in the questionable ability of the governance of a global knowledge-based civilization to engage with “problems”, using viable “strategies”, such as to enhance “human potential”. After decades of initiatives by international bodies and their local counterparts, there is a case for asking whether there is a need to “think otherwise” in order to achieve what has proven to be seemingly impossible. As increasingly recognized, the world would appear to be sliding into an ever more chaotic condition — with a strong possibility of financial, environmental, and other forms of collapse.

The purpose here is to focus on the form that “thinking otherwise” might take — given the learnings associated with production of an Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential over decades. Appropriate guidance for such reflection is provided by the much-cited adage of George Santayana: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Expressed otherwise, the issue might be framed as the nature of the necessarily “deadly question” relating to the future, as separately discussed (World Futures Conference as Catastrophic Question: from performance to morphogenesis and transformation, 2013).

What recent instances of “new thinking” by the international community can be cited as an inspiration to the world — capable of eliciting collective confidence in the future?



This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 24 Feb 2014.

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