An idea emerged during the 57th conference of the International Society for the Systems Sciences "Curating the Conditions for a Thrivable Planet: Systemic Leverage Points for Emerging a Global Eco-Civilization" in Haiphong, Vietnam, last July. While we were discussing the systemic leverage points that can open up a way to universal thriving, it became transparent that we were in the midst of a paradox:
There are no systemic 'ears' that are ready to hear our insights; and there are no systemic 'hands' that are ready to implement them.
The goal of Hermes is to dissolve this paradox.
The same paradox plagues research and knowledge work in general (see for ex. Alex Wright's "Glut" and David Weinberger's "Too Big to Know").
The same paradox marks many of our 'problems', including the global or sustainability-related ones—they tend to be results of our habitual ways of perceiving and doing, or in other words of our societal systems. But this means that trying to understand them and handle them as problems—that is, within the confines of our conventional ways of perceiving and doing—cannot lead to solution.
As ubiquitous as it might be, this paradox is most naturally dissolved exactly on the terrain of the systems sciences, because what is needed to break its spell is a change of self-perception: Are we only what our culture told us we are (academic researchers, whose job is to observe the world 'objectively', and write articles)? Or can we also perceive ourselves as a systemic component in a larger system—and hence take responsibility for our function in that system? And for the functioning of that system as a whole?
The paradox has not remained unnoticed in the systems community. Indeed, the 'curation' of "Curating the Conditions for a Thrivable Planet" before the event—in particular the CIEL and GELL initiatives—combined with various other developments within systems sciences and beyond, brought us a single step away from initiating a potentially sweeping or snowballing remedial trend.
The purpose of Hermes is to take that step.
What follows is a minimal concrete proposal how this step may be realized in practice. We introduce Hermes by describing its vision, mission and organization—with the following caveat: Faithful to the spirit of ISSS57 Vietnam, Hermes embraces design for evolution (as Erich Jantsch called it) or design for emergence (as we might call it today) as its core principle. What is presented here is a rough sketch, whose intended purpose is to initiate a dialogue leading to a completely open co-creation. To that end we use DebateGraph—a dialog mapping tool—to initiate and conduct an open, Bohmian dialog. Even the procedure for co-creating Hermes (or whatever the project or projects we may create together might be called) is experimented with and co-created, by the Community of Impact, which is now being organized to develop this way of working.
The key challenge to which this proposal aims to respond is to streamline the work on an attractive grand vision through a well-defined, small and feasible project.
The vision that motivates Hermes is a cascade of new paradigms developing in key areas of society and culture, following each other in a society-wide domino effect.
The rationale is that:
- this is what our condition is calling for (see the Vision node)
- in systems sciences, as well as in other disciplines and traditions (sociology, political science, cognitive science, physics...), insights have been developed that are ready to ignite such change—provided they can be publicly known and understood
- information technology has been developed that can enable such change
Our vision is not new; a number of systems scientists shared it and advocated it and worked for it: Erich Jantsch until his passing away in 1980; and then Erwin Laszlo, Bela Banathy and numerous others. But not only systems scientists! While it is obvious that Web-interconnected information technology can play an enabling role in social-systemic change, it is less known that the development of significant parts of this technology has been motivated with exactly that goal in mind:
“Many years ago, I dreamed that people were talking seriously about the potential of harnessing a technological and social nervous system to improve the IQ of our various organizations. What if, suddenly, in an evolutionary sense, we evolved a super new nervous system to upgrade our collective social organisms? Then I dreamed that we got strategic and began to form cooperative alliances of organizations, employing advanced networked computer tools and methods to develop and apply new collective knowledge.” (Doug Engelbart, a leading inventor, explaining his 1951 vision in an interview with Valerie Landau and Eileen Clegg.)
What is still lacking is:
- a way to bring the systems (thinking) from the blind spot into the focus of the public eye
- a functioning societal 'nervous system' that can make the condition of the systems, and the way they influence our daily experience and our future prospects, seen and understood
- a societal 'arm' that can re-configure its key systems, when such re-configuration is called for
The mission of Hermes is to develop what is lacking; i.e. to bootstrap this development, or metaphorically—to flip the first domino, by being the first domino that has flipped.
Our first and most important step is to dissolve the paradox. Our point of departure is the insight that no amount of talking and writing will do; the dissolution properly begins with a co-creative act—of a completely new kind!
"We need to be the systems we want to see in the world," proclaimed the rewarded students on the closing ceremony of the Haiphong conference. The mission of Hermes is to initiate a systemic self-organization within the systems movement. Think of Hermes as (evolving):
- an 'ear' within the systems community, capable of hearing everyone's most relevant insights and turning them into most relevant and agile messages to the larger community—and making sure that those messages are heard, and put to use
- a 'hand' within the systems community, capable of configuring new structures within the systems community, to make it capable of performing this and other new tasks
- a visionary research projects, funded from multiple sources
- a game-like environment, where key moves toward global thriving are being made—and where a thriving culture is already taking shape, and being lived
From an academic point of view, the mission of Hermes is to evolve a new paradigm in the systems sciences. It its context, the described paradox has the role of an anomaly that motivates the new paradigm. Within Hermes, we no longer simply inherit the ways of working and the paradigm of conventional science —where we consider ourselves as 'objective observers of reality'; and where we consider our work as 'known', once it's published; we see ourselves and our profession as systemic components within the larger system of the society, or within a hierarchy of larger systems; and we self-organize as it may best suit this role. A thorough change of priorities and values naturally follows. And from it, a vast new field of action.
From the point of view of the ongoing initiative to apply the collective intelligence-related and more broadly Doug Engelbart's ideas to the systems movement, that is being realized through the CIEL and GELL projects, Hermes proposes to introduce a slight broadening of scope, and perhaps a small declination of focus, which we point to by using Doug's keyword 'augmenting'. The subtle but key point is to use technology-enabled self-organization to augment the intelligence of not only our own community, but also—and indeed primarily—of the larger community, where our insights can make a difference.
On the pragmatic side, Heres undertakes to vastly augment the positive social impact of the systems movement. And on the academic side, it extends the visionary meta-scientific impulse that was conceived by Ludwig von Bertalanffy and other founding fathers, by initiating a new paradigm and a new notion of basic research (where the core task is to co-create a knowledge work that truly works).
There is, however, also a third, evolutionary or social-psychological view, which points to a key challenge that Hermes must be able to overcome. As Bela Banathy observed, among others,
we have arrived at the threshold of the third revolution: the revolution of conscious evolution, when it becomes our responsibility to enter into the evolutionary design space and guide the evolutionary journey of our species.
As it has always been the case when revolutionary changes were under way in society, we are held back by our outdated socialization: We have been socialized to accept our societal systems as reality, and to seek the betterment of our condition and the solutions to our problems within their confines. Reversing this means changing our social psychology. It means first leaving, and then reconfiguring our comfort zone. That requires both inner and outer work. The key challenge of Hermes is to evolve a new way of being. We do that by being the change we want to see in the world. We do the inner work by working through the resistances we meet while transforming our own practice.
Hermes distinguishes itself from other similar initiatives such as the EUCLID and the FuturICT by its primary focus, which is not on creating information that can be remedial or useful, but on evolving knowledge-work culture and infrastructure by which remedial or useful information can be created, brought into public awareness, and applied in core systems and conventional practice.
Hermes profiles itself additionally by instantiating three most potent synergies:
- between (systems) science and knowledge media research and development
- between (systems) science and communication design
- between (systems) science and social entrepreneurship
Hermes champions a contemporary or scientific approach to contemporary issues and to societal systems, where systems scientists provide systemic know-how, and knowledge media researchers and developers provide the tools and the building materials. Hermes bootstraps this development. Since Doug Engelbart presented their famous demo in 1968, information technology in general and the knowledge media technology in particular (of which DebateGraph is an example) have been developed so much that they now have potential to revolutionize our society, by providing a 'nervous system' that will allow for completely new forms of communication, coordination and co-creation. But we still need to learn how to change the systems! Already a brief analysis will show that we have hitherto simply been adding the information technology to speed up the routines that have been developed around the old technology (paper and lecture hall, see the blog post Information Age coming of age), and in a society that had entirely different challenges and information needs than ours! Conversely—we predict that systemic innovation will open up large new markets for information technology, invite creation of new technology, and vastly augment the positive social impact of new media.
Creative communication design has been largely abandoned to commercial and superficial interests; it is all too often used as an instrument of counter-culture, or to manipulate our consumer and political preferences. Hermes instantiates a synergy through which the communication design, and corresponding media and techniques, are composing the top of a knowledge pyramid connecting systems scientists and other experts and stakeholders, where the key insights that are synthesized through knowledge work are communicated in a way that secures their society-wide understanding and impact.
Social entrepreneurship is traditionally not part of the academia. This naturally changes when systems scientists embrace the cause of updating key societal systems; and when social entrepreneurs embrace updating key societal systems as often the best—and sometimes the only—way to further the causes that they wish to serve.
From the point of view of sustainability (or thrivability or world problematique or resilience), Hermes fosters a new way of working—it makes systems capable of autopoiesis or evolution—hence capable of handling, or better said of not creating what we now identify as problems.
To each of us personally, and to other humans whose conditions and future prospects we wish to improve, Hermes offers an alternative way of dealing with whatever problems might be claiming our attention. It is as if we have been trying to carry or pump the water out of our flooded cellars—or helping other people carry or pump the water out of their cellars; and then we learned how to join hands and regulate the riverbed, so that flooding no longer occurs.
Hermes offers to create synergies that vastly augment the impact and prospects for success of each of its protagonists—both individuals and organizations— as (will be) detailed in the corresponding nodes.
The (initial prototype of the) 'engine' that moves Hermes is given in the Vision node, where we co-create the ideas we want to contribute to the world—which are then used as material for pieces and moves, as explained below. The Vision node orchestrates our work on three central and closely related goals:
- co-creating a vision—of a thriving society, of the contemporary society (showing what hinders it from thriving), and of a way from the latter to the former
- co-creating a way to co-create a vision—where (systems) scientists collaborate together, and with the 'crowd' and with creative communication designers
- co-creating a way to co-create systems—by co-creating or bootstrapping an instance within the systems sciences
The rest of Hermes may be imagined as an infinite collaborative board game:
- infinite, because it has no limit in time; and because the allowed pieces and the possible moves are unbounded
- collaborative, because in this game there are no losers—or better said, globally, either we'll all win, or we'll all lose.
In the nodes adjacent to this one, Hermes is described in terms of its:
- protagonists, which are the invited or participating people and organizations
- vision, where we co-create our vision and the 'engine' of Hermes, as already described
- pieces, which we create or co-create to enable moves
- moves, which we make to improve everyone's position on the board, and enable new moves
- people stories, where we tell the stories of historical people who saw and developed parts of our mission and way of working
- our story, where we explain how Hermes undertakes to forge a missing link between the systems movement's present and its much larger potential social impact
- dictionary, where we explain or define our keywords
The presented initial configuration is minimal— just barely sufficient for illustration, and to seed the game. In addition to the already described work orchestrated around the Vision node, the central piece is "It's the systems!". There our goal is to 'make the news'—create moving, even shocking
- evidence that it's really the systems where our political, environmental and even persona sensibilities need to be focused
- expressed in media-rich and attractive form
- ready to be placed into the media, used in political campaign, or sent as part of an application for donorship or funding (i.e. used for making a variety of moves)
FOR MORE INFORMATION
We begin by:
- weaving our web of relationships and aligning our intentions, by writing CtC's, the commitments to collaborate (or by critiquing or changing this way of working)
- weaving together our vision
- creating pieces
- making moves
- telling stories
- inviting participants
- editing the dictionary
And not the least—by discussing and improving Hermes, by editing this graph and making comment nodes.