Requisite Meta-reflection on Engagement in Systemic Change?


Anthony Judge – TRANSCEND Media Service

Fiat, Fatwa and World-Making in a Period of Existential Radicalisation

Abridged version published separately under the same title by the Spanda Foundation in a special issue on Systemic Change, edited by Helene Finidori (Spanda Journal, VI, 1, 2015, pp. 35-42) [see abridged PDF version]


The past decades have seen much fruitful reflection on systemic change, most notably in response to calls for action in the face of emerging crises. Numerous initiatives have been variously proposed and undertaken. There is however a case for framing this in terms of a suitable adaptation of the title of a work, now “old”, by James Hillman and Michael Ventura (We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy — And the World’s Getting Worse, 1993).

Of course a feature of the systemic condition (and the remedies in play) is that there is a spectrum of views on the matter, and many would prefer to claim that the “world’s getting better”. Such differences are characteristic of the increasingly sterile debate regarding the need to be “positive” versus the preoccupation of critics readily deprecated as “negative” — otherwise to be termed as “hope-mongering” versus “doom-mongering”.

One articulation of this dynamic is offered by Barbara Ehrenreich (Smile or Die: how positive thinking fooled America and the World, 2010). In cybernetic terms it can be framed as the need for more appropriate understanding of the interaction between positive feedback and negative feedback, as discussed separately (Being Positive Avoiding Negativity: management challenge of positive vs negative, 2005).

The argument here focuses on the relatively unexplored opportunity for system change through framing matters otherwise — “seeing it so”, if only as an individual act of imagination. The feasibility is indicated by the use of fiat by conventional authority, as in quantitative easing, and the use of religiously inspired fatwas or their equivalents. Within academia the process may take the form of elaboration of a model. Together these are considered here as variants of world-making (Mikhail Epstein, The Art of World-Making, Philosophy Now, April/May 2015; Nelson Goodman, Ways of Worldmaking, 1978). Their credibility and viability becomes increasingly evident under the current conditions of existential radicalisation previously discussed (Radicalisation of Existence and Identity, 2015).

A recent exercise of this nature was explicitly applied to reframing the 17th International Futures Conference (Turku, 2015) on Tackling Wicked Problems: where futures research, education and action meet, as presented separately (Embodying Strategic Self-reference in a World Futures Conference Transcending the wicked problem engendered by projecting negativity elsewhere, 2015).

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 13 Jul 2015.

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