Review: Redesigning Society

5 Star, Best Practices in Management, Change & Innovation, Complexity & Resilience, Culture, Research, Games, Models, & Simulations, Information Operations, Information Society, Intelligence (Collective & Quantum), Intelligence (Public), Nature, Diet, Memetics, Design, Public Administration, Survival & Sustainment, Values, Ethics, Sustainable Evolution, Voices Lost (Indigenous, Gender, Poor, Marginalized)
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Russell Ackoff and Sheldon Rovin

5.0 out of 5 stars 6 for Democracy as Design, 4 for Fragmentation, 5 on Balance,December 15, 2011

I bought this book after being turned to Reflexivity by Dr. Kent Myers, principal author of Reflexive Practice: Professional Thinking for a Turbulent World–disclosure, he profiled me in that book, to my great surprise, as good a gong as one could ask for. This is a great book, alongside which I recommend Buckminster Fuller's books Critical Path and Ideas and Integrities: A Spontaneous Autobiographical Disclosure, and the more recent book from Medard Gabel, co-creator with Buckminster Fuller of the analog World Game, Designing a World That Works for All: How the Youth of the World are Creating Real-World Solutions for the UN Millenium Development Goals and Beyond.In that context the book is a five. I completely agree with the earlier review that graded it a four on basis of spottiness (some great chapters, some not so great), but I upgrade it to 5 for two reasons: first, because the entire book has an explicit focus on Democracy As Design and Democracy as a System of Systems that cannot be “broken down” the way science strives to break down what it studies. In Democracy, as in Reflexivity, the engaged participants are wild cards, nothing can be predicted, agility and resilience are everything, and it is the relationships (the Yang) rather than the objects (the Ying) that really matter. That is six-star stuff no contest.

I have to remind myself that Russell Ackoff had a full partner and co-author in this book, Sheldon Rovin, one of the greats in health pioneering but to no avail against the monied forces–I consider the US health system to be among the most corrupt in the world, designed for profit by a few instead of health for the many, so that actually increased the value of the book for me.

Although systems thinking has been around for some time, it has never really matured beyond Cybernetics 101. I would certainly put this book–while much simpler and less drawn out or footnoted than others–in the same category as Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge and Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution. As I and a couple of colleagues were discussing Reflexivity last night, we agreed that COMPLEXITY is still where the money is, but REFLEXIVITY is where the solutions are to be found. Epoch A has been about top-down micro-management and the illusion of control steeped in deep ignorance; Epoch B is about bottom-up agility and resilience, where all of the parts work in harmony to detect and respond to change in small increments with limited use of energy on a “just enough, just in time” basis. Science, Religion, Humanities, and Philosophy–and yes, the paranormal, all have a vital role to play in what some call third and forth order cybernetics.

As an intelligence professional who has been well dissatisfied with what passes for “intelligence” in the US Government ($80 billion a year produces “at best” 4% of what a major commander needs and nothing for everyone else), what really gripped me about the early pages of this book was the authors' distinction between ANALYSIS, which is rooting in taking things apart and drilling down to the bits and pieces; and SYSTEMIC THINKING far beyond analysis, unifying, connecting, understanding tacit, implicit, hidden connections and interactions not necessarily visible to science (or religion).

Unlike science, which is analytics to the nth degree (get to know everything about nothing), “design requires the fusion of science, the arts, and the humanities.” (p. 4). I have a note, Design is about interactions and effects, not about elements or intentions.QUOTE (7): The defining properties of a system are properties of the whole that none of the parts has.

In an early discussion of the humanity of reflexivity, the authors discuss society as a SOCIAL SYSTEM, meaning that the elements are conscious and can make choices. They go on: societies are comprised of communities; communities are defined by a CULTURE–a culture is a shared view of reality not necessarily consistent with “science.”

For the first time (for me) I read about four distinctions:

+ ABSOLUTION – ignore the problem

+ RESOLUTION – use prior knowledge on the problem

+ SOLUTION – find a new way to address the problem

+ DISSOLUTION – redesign the whole to eradicate the problem

The authors emphasize that redesign of a system requires interactive engagement of all stakeholders in the system. This is not how most political and economic systems work, where power is concentrated and the last thing the “owners” want is to design for the 99%.

The section of the book on governance was for me the best. The author discuss democracy as a design and explicitly state that democracy works better when it is designed for “lowerarchical” instead of hierarchical operations. This is the essence of REFLEXIVITY and the strength of DEMOCRACY: only the bottom up aggregate of all citizen-sensors can “cope” with any eventuality.

The authors list three comment defects in democracy that are clearly visible among the incumbent president and his Republican challengers, one reason I decide to run (and have been accepted as) a Reform Party candidate for the presidency:

01 Insufficiently representative

02 Do not address critical issues

03 Quality of candidates poor

NO KIDDING. We have a Congress that consists of a mix of low and high rent thieves, a few exceptions not-with-standing.

They define democracy as having three attributes:

01 All understand choices and consequences

02 Individuals with authority are themselves subject to the authority of the collective aggregate public

03 All individuals can do anything they wish provided it does not reduce the ability of anyone else to do what they wish.

QUOTE (19): In a participative democracy, authority AND RESOURCES should flow from bottom up not from top down. Emphasis added. This helped me realize we have to shut down the open ended checkbook that the federal government has now (including borrowing a trillion a year “in our name,” that alone should be an impeachable offense warranting dismissal of all of Congress).

Designing government for the authors is in five parts:

01 Structure of government

02 System of elections

03 Operations and functions of government units and how decisions are made

04 How to debureaucraticize and demonopolize the government [this is RADICAL stuff!!] I am compelled to link to another book, Counterculture Through the Ages: From Abraham to Acid House

The authors state that secession is a right and that emigration should be viewed as a “freedom” that is a negative vote on a failed system–this as I just heard from one of my favorite right-wing good guys, that he and his family have moved to Ireland and given up on the USA being a functional democracy in their lifetime.

QUOTE (31): A bureaucracy is an organization whose principal purpose is to keep people busy producing nothing of use.

QUOTE (32): The combination of bureaucracy and monopoly usually results in the worst possible service.

The balance of the book is interesting but for me not as riveting. Here are a few notes:

+ Taxation should be on consumption, not earnings

+ Cities must be designed to be coherent from the block level up, with a complete redesign of transport both public and private

+ Health needs comprehensive redesign

QUOTE (63): The current system is not a health care system; it is a sickness- and disability- care system.

EDUCATION is the other core in this book, and I cannot quote as much as I would like to so I will just say that pages 83-85 are priceless, and the authors clearly depict a failed educational system that strives to teach old knowledge by rote rather than enabling ther optimization of inherent creativity and the learning of how to learn just enough just in time.

Welfare and crime are sections of the book I find weak. Medard Gabel does it all better.

The authors stating that developing is about learning, not earning. This is one reason I believe our highest priority should be free cell phone access and free call centers able to educate the five billion poor one cell call at a time. For my inspiration, see C. K. Prahalad's The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, Revised and Updated 5th Anniversary Edition: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits.

Speaking of development this list four aspects:

01 Truth (Science, Technology, Education)

02 Plenty (Economics)

03 Good (Ethics, Morality)

04 Beauty and Fun (Aesthetics)

I see I have two links left. Here are two more books I recommend along with this one:

An Introduction to Systems Science
Wave Rider: Leadership for High Performance in a Self-Organizing World

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