SYSTEMIC COMPLEXITY AND ECO-SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT towards a unified theory of cognitive field *


by Ivano Spano


* Relazioene tenuta al corso di perfezionamento sullo sviluppo eco-sostenibile nel settembre 1997 patrocinato dalla Comunità Europea.


Society and Nature
The Subject Between Everyday Life and History

"Our" time, the enlightened time characterised by the idea of a progressive progress, is based on a reversal of the values and the relations which guided and informed the previous human experience.

A historical hypothesis based on the relation man-nature has taken the place of a vision of the world founded on the relation man-god:

What men want to learn from nature is how to use it in order to wholly dominate nature and men. (M. Horkheimer - T. W. Adorno, Dialettica dell’Illuminismo)

Man founds himself upon nature (and its limits) by means of his reason and knowledge:

Knowledge, which is power, has no limitation neither in subjecting creatures or in humbly submitting to the masters of the world. (M. Horkheimer - T. W. Adorno, Dialettica dell’Illuminismo)

The unlimited faith in progress, the successive "technological challenge" and today’s "technological hope", a necessity of scientific acceleration as an answer to the contradiction of the society of capitalism, scan a new "historical time", a new social time and a new everyday life.

The sense of this historical time seems already characterised by the extraordinary acceleration of the times of environmental variation-modification due to man’s intervention.

This "historical time" is directed by a powerful equation which the capital puts as a summary of the enlightened middle-class culture founding it: the coincidence of public (collective) interests with the private ones (belonging exactly to the capital).

The capital becomes both interpreter and actor of the collective happiness: within its paradigm there are all the possibilities of progress and welfare for everybody. As such, the capital blocks history (as a process of transformation of the answers given by men to the problems of the reality he lives).

The society (of the capital) becomes a substance of the single:

The individual and the society become a whole thing, because society penetrates with strength in the individuals below their individualization and obstructs it. But the fact that this unity is not a superior form of being subject, but leads the subjects to an archaic state, is shown by the barbaric repression exerted on them The identity appearing is not a conciliation of the universal with the particular, but the universal as absolute, where the particular disappears. The singles are intentionally transformed as similar to blind biological behaviours, and become similar to the characters of Beckett’s novels and plays. The "absurd" theatre is realistic. (T. W. Adorno, Minima Moralia)

Historical culture takes the place of history considered as knowledge, science and practice (Hegel’s history, for example, is seen as a process of disclosure of the subject, while Marx’s history as accomplishment of the process of man’s liberation, the world’s overcoming of any necessity and its transformation into the world of freedom).

From this moment onwards, history is nothing more than a cultural phenomenon, a trend of the general culture tending to become more and more subtle, a partial discipline and a culture fragmenting and dissolving in particular and specialized cultures.

This culture represents the deterioration, the senility of history and the mere exaltation of historical details. It is the process which invested all the fields of knowledge and imposed its fragmentation:

...since the beginning of the 19th century, the phenomenon of specialization of sciences had an ineluctable historical character. In fact it only reproduced, within the organization of the researches, one of the most typical situations imposing itself on the rising industry for evident economical reason: the subdivision of work. (L. Geymonat, Lineamenti di filosofia della scienza)

Knowledge breaks itself into innumerable fragments and becomes specialized; every specialist knows only the small part of it which escapes to its complexity and is completely incomprehensible to a person who does not cultivate the same speciality for its language and specialist methods.

It is the lack of interest... on behalf of the specialist scientists ‘towards any kind of generality’, and therefore an increasingly marked separation between science and philosophy. This philosophical release is the basis of the so-called ‘neutrality’ of science, which is above all ‘theoretical neutrality’, or better a refusal to admit that science can in any way compromise itself in non specialist problems. (L. Geymonat, Lineamenti...)

For history, too, this de-construction (of totality of complexity) can match with the construction of particularity.

The unitary historical time is banished to the myths as a way to define existence which is no more historical (it does not belong any more to the contemporary historical experience).

Historical time and history are organized by means of a paradigm which is articulated according to pertaining oppositions: history of progress and history of obscurantism, history of reason and history of madness, history of civilization and history of barbarity, history of democracy and history of inequalities (using Thomas Kuhn’s words, paradigms are "universally recognised scientific achievements, which for a certain period provide a model of problems and solutions acceptable to those who practise a certain field of research", T. Kuhn, La struttura delle rivoluzioni scientifiche).

Is it possible, then, to speak of historical alienation? Of course yes, if we define alienation not as a simple loss of a mislaid essence of an initial and generic humanity, but as a loss of the possible as the impossibility to (actually) put a possibility into action, as a blocked virtual element (and it seems that the opposite concept of it, the idea of "possibility of..." coincides with the same concept of freedom we find in Marx’s philosophy).

But how does this alienation reveal itself as work?

The answer could be: through the charm of history leading the subject to accept "the weight of history" and to transform it in "historical reasons".

The historical reasons which lose every possible abstraction coinciding with the reason of State (see F. Meinecke, L’idea della ragione di stato nella storia moderna) dominate the individual, in-form him/her, establish the unconscious (unsurmountable, inevitable) limits of his/her everyday life.

The conscious limit and the norms of its acting are included in words such as modernity, modern life, modern times. But these words describe a rhetoric, not a series of concepts: a lot of ideologies, of false, artificially perfumed and, perhaps, fluorescent flowers.

Modernity claims to get rid of historicity: the latter appears to be the repository for the old-fashioned, the decayed, the never changing. On the contrary, modernity means not only being in step with times and always original, fashionable, but also looking for novelties, rapid and up-to-date information (more than knowledge), specialisation (more than recomposition and complexity), induced needs and common sense, and all concerns the undifferentiated, the levelled, the ephemeral.

"Modernity glitters and lightens on slackness" (H. Lefebvre, la fine della storia): it masks the unchanged below the sometimes rough, sometimes refined appearances of novelty, cultivates snobbishness and, on the other and, scientism and pretends they are high culture.

"Scientism is the fundamental structure of the middle-class ideology which works by deducing what is not knowledge (exactly the scientism) from knowledge at the price of false reasonings, illicit extrapolations, an immoral return to analogies, constant passages which are disguised from the fact to the right and from the right to the fact, and other compulsions imposed to logic. Scientism intends to submit knowledge to an apparently strict treatment, pulling it out from its very ground and transforming it into ignorance, in order to give to the latter the appearance of knowledge". J. P. Sartre, L’idiot de famille.

Modernity gives above its multicoloured light to the darkened scene of everyday life. "Modernity and everyday life, two prostitutes and accomplices": the beauty and the filthy, one sparkling, shining, the other pale, shady,

but interacting together, cheating together, multiplying their frauds. Their alliance does not suppress historicity, but in any case indicates their surrendering, maybe their stop. Would it be possible that historicity becomes itself a disguise of everyday life? (H. Lefebvre, La fine della storia)

As a matter of fact, everyday life is no more the organisation of time and the rhythm during which individual history develops, but it acquires the character of the repetitive, the already experienced, the banal, the natural, the familiar (the fatal), while history appears in a dimension which does not belong to the subject, which takes place out of him/her and can burst into everyday life like a catastrophe involving the individual (in the same fatal way).

This is a deceiving vision which breaks the reality in historicity of history and non historicity of everyday life: history changes and everyday life remains constant, even if within an apparent mobility inspired by modernity.

The subject looks for his/her certainties in this constancy, and experiences transformation and history as insecurity and drama. Everyday life, if separated from history, becomes an impotence: we do not understand that history is the possibility to break the repetitive and the banal aspects of everyday life in the same way as everyday life submits history, because everything has its own daily life.

But how can we understand the reality (which can be banal, instrumentalized and repetitive) of everyday life? The reality of daily life is an historical product, and, therefore, what separates the autonomy of the subject from his/her automation can be historically modified.

In this sense it is not possible to understand the reality of everyday life, but this latter has to be understood according to reality, to its transformation, to history.

In order to discover the truth about an alienated daily life, it is necessary to detach ourselves from it, to free it from familiarity: we must exert a violence on it, break the (daily) constituted order, we must "release" history.

Today’s history is, therefore, that of the processes of homogeneity which are mistaken because of the diffusion of equality and the development of democracy: history has lost its substance becoming history of reproduction and repetition, banality and normality.

Hence we can get a conception of society assimilating it surreptitiously and abusively to an environment, that is a system of interactions and balances (while society is a system of violences, of constrictions already containing some collective norms of evaluation of the quality of these relations before any relation between itself and the individual). This means to accept the idea that the individual must subscribe to the reality of this society, and therefore adapt to it as a given reality which is not at the same time a good, a product of the collective action, a democracy. But,

this democracy makes all the people listeners at the same level, in order to authoritatively give them to the same programs of different channels. (M. Horkheimer -T. W. Adorno, Dialettica dell’Illuminismo)

This society-civilization of repetition, reproduction and homogeneity has ended by repetitively reproducing also the thought, the capacity to reflect upon reality.

"A modern mind is no more able to think of the thought, we can mostly put it into time and space" (R. Jacoby, L’amnesia sociale), you can classify it.

History of philosophy, then, is history of forgetting and philosophers, as Nizam affirms, may also not want to cheat, but their philosophy is grounded on slavery. In short, philosophers represent the "watch-dogs" of the system.

In the capitalistic society, also isolation and psychic mass-depauperation are products of the society acting for its own preservation. So, while society reproduces itself abstractly exalting the individual, the subject tends to disappear progressively.

The psychic dimension, too, which is in relation with the subject, loses its sense and originality:

Also the possibility of choice of the unconscious are so reduced (if not already so rare at their origin), that the dominant groups of interest convey them in few channels with the methods that psychology has happily experimented for some time in totalitarian and not totalitarian states. The unconscious is manipulated in order to protect it with care from the Ego’s look; poor and undifferentiated, it matches happily with the standardisation and the administrative world. (T. W. Adorno, Scritti sociologici)

Also what dreams reveal to the subject are, by far, predetermined. Is then the "freedom to dream" greatly conditioned, too?

Today we are "afraid to fly"(E. Jong), that is to erect ourselves upon reality (to space ourselves out from immediacy), to reveal it, to know it, to recognize it and find ourselves with it, to become fulfilled as reflective, experienced subjects.

What "syndrome" can we define for this society denying the subject and the possibilities of his/her fulfilment?

We can say that society has lost its memory and, with it, its mind (see R. Jacoby, L’amnesia sociale).

We suffer from "social amnesia": memory is brought out of the mind by the social and economical dynamics of this society.

This happens making social and human relations appear as natural, given, as immutable relations among things.

In a few words this corresponds to the concept of making a thing of any reality.

But as Marx says (K. Marx, Resultate des unmittelbaren produktionprozesses): "Transforming reality into things means forgetting".

Social amnesia is therefore a process of cancellation of memory and removal of that human activity (history) which has built, builds, and can rebuild (transform) society.

In this historical condition, what is normative is no more the subject but the social order(of the capital), instituted as a number of (coercive) rules which everybody must worry about.

To say it as Bergson does "Human vital order is made by a number of rules lived without a problem" (H. Bergson, Les deux sources de la morale et de la religion).

Apropos of this Mainardi remembers how

the human style of life has begun to modify the environment to protect his/her genes instead of evolving them to adapt to the modification of the environment... And this modification of the environment has gradually become a submission of the environment, its integral taming process... (D. Mainardi, Intervista sull’etologia)

The definitions of "progress" and "wealth" need then something more than just the cold but dramatic "calculation of the capital", the calculation of the productivity of economical choices. Technology itself is submitted to the law of decreasing yields, and the problem of the organisation of material and social basis need the support of other sciences and other parameters which are different from those belonging to economics and productivity.

On one hand, then, thermodynamics and, in particular, the law of entropy and its fourth principle, that is degradation of matter and its becoming unavailable as it happens for energy, and on the other hand biology and, in particular, the delicate biological balance seen as a living system of complex nature (continuous interaction of atmospheres, oceans, plants, animals, micro-organism, molecules, electrons, energy and matter), all this sets universal limits to human action.

Reaffirming, then, the centrality of biology and the great biophysical laws of nature bears in itself a great meaning, beyond any possible deterministic simplification: if there are biological norms it is because life, being not only a submission to environment but also its institution, puts for this reason some values not only to the environment but to the organism itself. Therefore the organism is not thrown in an environment where it must adapt, but it structures its own environment and at the same time develops its capacities as an organism.

It is what Canguilheim calls the "biological normative" (for an explanation about the concept of determinism in relation to the dialectic materialism, it is important to see the work by S. Timpanaro, Sul materialismo), that is the capacity of being and becoming among interacting factors whose dynamics and complexity define the nature itself of the system as well as biological time.

As a matter of fact, words like "progress", "progression", "perfecting" are improper in biology because they recall too much regularity, pre-established drawing, anthropomorphism. What perhaps characterises the living being better (when living means who is bearer of a genetic code) and their evolution is the opening, the tendency to make the execution of the genetic program more elastic, because it allows the organism to increasingly develop its relations with the environment and to extend its range of action.

Every evolution, then, intended as increase-change of the genetic program is the result of the tendency to augment the interactions between organism and environment. As the organisms become more complex, their reproductive processes do the same, too. An accidental series of mechanisms appears, helping to mix the genetic programs and obliging the organism to transform itself.

Sexuality, for example, as a reproductive mechanism seems to have intervened rather late in the course of evolution. At first it represents an auxiliary instrument of reproduction, something unnecessary. As a matter of fact, nothing obliges a bacterium to use the sexual mechanism to reproduce itself. From the moment in which the recourse to sexuality becomes compulsory, the genetic system and its possibilities of variation modify themselves. Every genetic program does not form any more as a perfect copy of a unique program, but as a re-assortment of two different programs.

A genetic program is no more a patrimony of a race, but it belongs to the community, to the whole of the individuals interacting with each other through sex. In this way we can have a sort of "common genetic found", from which every generation can draw to build new programs.

To identity, which is required by the strict reproduction of the program, sexuality opposes diversity as the result of the re-assortment of the genetic programs in every generation.

No individual is like another: sexuality obliges genetic programs to cover all the possible combinations. Therefore it forces to change, to evolve (For these themes, I used as a reference the work by F. Jacoby, La logica del vivente).

From this viewpoint, the phenomena of social organization (and historical time, too) should be seen as a "mimic" of the vital organization (the biological time), where miming does not simply mean copying, but tending to recover the sense (or better, the nature) of a reality, of a system, of a creative and productive activity.

The overcoming of the barrier between historical and biological times should be therefore considered as a collective historical problem, concerning exactly the species, as an affirmation of a conscience of species and capacity to pass from a social coercive normative, reproducing the status quo and its logic of denial (of mortification), to a social one proposing it. There the subject can regain its progressively alienated nature, overcoming what is the ground for this structure, an antinomy seen as a scientific justification of the separation between object and subject (science instead of philosophy), man and woman (conscience of power and not of species), logos and eros (conscience of power and instituted production instead of vital processes), economics and ecology ( a logic of induced and surreptitious needs against the processes of realisation-individuation of the subject), culture and nature (conscience of man’s position of power instead of his reconciliation with nature).

The reason of antinomy has also accumulated a series of oppositions which are not pertaining, but that in their first terms constitute, as a matter of fact, the result of this historical period. Within it all the meaning of the second terms (where the first ones come from) is concretely denied. We are speaking of the oppositions:

  • rationalism against reason;
  • nationalism against nation;
  • individualism against individual;
  • structuralism against structure;
  • formalism against form, urbanism against urban;
  • scientism against science;
  • growth against development;
  • original against difference;
  • verbalism against communication;
  • historicism against becoming, etc.

The problem, then, is to reflect upon a project including all the terms which characterise human experience and allow the subject its becoming. It is necessary to reconcile the social with the natural, historical times with biological ones, that is to allow the man to regain the nature, its own nature.

But if we want to quote Marx’s words (K. Marx, Manoscritti economico-filosofici del 1844)

the fact that man lives on nature means simply that the nature is his/her body, with which he/she has to stay in constant relation, in order not to die. The junction of physical and spiritual life of man with nature means simply that nature is joined with itself because man is a part of nature... History itself is a real part of natural history, of nature becoming man. In a second time natural science will submit the science of man, in the same way as the science of man will submit the science of nature: then there will be only one science.


New Paradigms of Knowledge: Complexity

But, in this century, a great part of science has put in doubt the old deterministic and mechanistic image, opening the way to qualitative, indeterminate, relative, catastrophic and dynamic phenomena. They were far from balance, upsetting the scientific reason that established dichotomies such as: philosophy/science, subject/object (knowing subject/known object), cause/effect, space/time, wave/corpuscle, necessary/unnecessary, existent/non-existent.

In particular, the correspondences, the interrelations which developed in the last decades among some disciplines at the border of chemical and physical sciences and sciences of the living, such as the theory of systems, the theory of information, cybernetics, the theory of evolution, the thermodynamics of the systems far from balance, the mathematics of catastrophes, etc., gave life to a conceptual constellation summed up in the idea of complexity. Complexity does not only bring back in the field of knowledge what was excluded before (the uncertainty, the disorder, the subject, the contradiction, the relation with the environment, etc.), but it also allows to put new questions to reality through which it can define the scientific investigation. Therefore it is possible to refer to complexity as a "challenge" (Bocchi-Ceruti) as a learning to learn (deutero-learning) and not as a new paradigm.

Isabella Stengers (Perché non può esserci un paradigma della complessità, in La sfida della complessità, G. Bocchi-M. Ceruti) explains how the idea of paradigm, seen as a model which allows to represent the game between scientific concepts and possibilities to experiment, is strongly linked to the classical science and the presupposition that it is possible, even if only theoretically, to obtain a sure and absolute knowledge.

Replacing the word "complicated", something which cannot be taken to pieces and brought back to simple elements, with the word "complex" does not represent, therefore, a pure recourse to a linguistic analogy, but the access to a new epistemology, where there is no theoretical possibility of a sure knowledge.

Ilya Prigogine sums up this epistemological jump in this way (L’origine della complessità, in Physis: abitare la terra): the description of systems has a character which is necessarily statistical and probabilistic; contemporary dynamics describes an unstable universe, a non-integrated system where each point can go in all directions. The scientist cannot know a point, but only a region, and this region holds trajectories going in all the senses. He owns a finished piece of information, and knows just a part of the universe, both because it is exactly an unstable universe and because he is involved exactly in this universe.

Temporality and subject appear as containers of those concepts which differ the concepts of viewpoint of complexity from that of classical science.

If the perspective of irreversibility is assumed with coherence, if we think that chance and necessity co-operate to keep on generating new phenomena, the finished viewpoint cannot be justified as complementary of the infinite viewpoint, but it has to obtain its own positive definition, or better scientific formalism must no more imply the possibility of an infinite viewpoint.

According to the new epistemology, then, the observer, the cognitive subject is no more an abstract operator who enjoys a transcendent position towards the phenomenon (known object); the subject of knowledge regains its concrete determinations and therefore its singularity. At the end it is the subject to give existence to the characteristics of reality. It follows that the process of scientific investigation does not present itself as a synthesis of the real, but as a proliferation of objects, levels and spheres of different realities. The reason for this is that the observer is always more conscious to use a particular language, to have limits of communication and limits in storing information, as well as a particular approach to reality, a particular methodological cut.

Knowledge reveals an "idiosyncratic" nature in relation to the singular nature of the cognitive subjects.

We can outline, then, an epistemological perspective of "constructivism" whose problem is not to render homogeneous different viewpoints but to understand how they can be born from one another without synthetizing in a model (paradigm) but remaining complementary. This word sends us back to the intuition of Niels Bohr who, during the 30s, introduced the concept of complementary elements inside quantum physics, in order to better understand the relationship among opposite concepts. Bohr considered corpuscles and waves as two complementary descriptions of the same reality, each being correct only in part, and having limited fields of application.

Both the aspects are necessary to provide a complete explanation of the atomic reality, but they must be applied within the limitation fixed by the principle of uncertainty (Heisenberg). Therefore we must be aware that the more we stress an aspect, the more the other escapes us or appears indeterminate.

Now the unity of the process of knowing appears as a unitary convergence of some proceedings of construction thanks to the indispensable multiplicity of the constitutive viewpoints of a cognitive universe, complementary viewpoints which are antagonist and often contradictory also within the processes of construction of the same system of ideas, of the same tradition.


Organizational Complexity: The Logic of Living Systems

The course of evolution, even if complex, is submitted to some simple and general laws which can be explained and understood through scientific methods. From the reality of scientific research, in all fields, we can also point out the hypothesis of the possibility that these laws are valid for physical, physico-chemical and biological systems, too, and also for socio-cultural ones.

On the other hand, our biospherical habitat, the fundamental processes of life, the flows of energy and matter, as well as those of information, the characteristics of human relations, all this has become extremely complex and unstable.

In these conditions, the theories referring to the global logic of evolutionary processes have a particular value of "survival".

On one hand they provide a number of practical indications as possible answers to those problems which, despite the widening of the field of knowledge, develop in a contradictory way their negative value. On the other hand they favour the research based on the hypothesis of a unitary evolutionary process.

A unified universe of field is the logical base for an integrated evolutionary process which builds the dynamic systems with the gradual progression starting from physics and concerning chemistry, biology and social sciences.

Nowadays, with the overcoming of mechanism, the universe is seen as a potentially integrated multidimensional field, really able to generate the phenomenal complexity that one can experience in everyday life, as well as in science.

Today there is the possibility to integrate sciences both horizontally and vertically.

This possibility needs some basic dynamics of evolutionary transformation not only having its roots in the physical processes, but also applicable to specific transformations of the living domain and, as a consequence, to the social one. This task is seen on all sides as one of the best realisations of human reason.

In such a unitary vision, the old dichotomies individual/environment and mind/body blend in a more natural dynamic interrelation between indivisible polarities. The duality and the antinomic reason, born from observing and describing the object always from the same viewpoint, become thus mental categories no longer necessary and, above all, exhaustive. Today we can no longer accept the idea that it is possible to reduce anything to its components, an idea that for many centuries has had a profound influence on the scientific thought.

Quantum and relativistic physics have thoroughly changed this knowledge. In great contrast with the general reductionist theory, the new physics has revealed the deep connection between the microscopic and the macroscopic world. This shows us that it is impossible to come to a complete comprehension of the matter simply by studying its very components.

The principle of uncertainty by Werner Heisenberg stresses, then, the impossibility to know at the same time position and velocity of a particle.

While measuring it is impossible to detach the reality of a subatomic particle from its own environment.

The meaning of this is that the more we insist in describing one aspect, the more the other becomes uncertain, undetermined.

This way the individual, that is the man victim of the reductionist science, has again a central position in nature. The act of observing in quantum physics is not a random element: the observer enters the subatomic reality in a fundamental way, and the equations of physics decode in their description the very act of observing.

Recent scientific studies stress a conception of reality as a network of relations: each part can be understood only in relation to its context. That is, fundamental properties cannot exist unless linked to the whole system. The idea of system implies the nonexistence of objects or substances but of organizations; not simple elements but complex units; not aggregations of elements but systems of systems.

The atoms, being no longer considered as solid particles, are today seen as spaces where small elementary particles (electrons) orbit around their nucleus.

During the 30s, Niels Bohr had already affirmed that

"isolated material particles are abstractions, since their properties can be defined and observed through their interactions" (I quanti e la vita, 1965)

In 1935 the physicist Henry Stapp (see S-Matrix Interpretation of Quantum Theory, 1971) emphasised the quantum concept of particle in the following way:

"an elementary particle cannot be analysed as an entity with an independent existence. It is essentially a number of interactions towards other things". Therefore quantum theory does not deal with things but with "interconnections".

To better understand reality, then, it is necessary to overcome the models of Aristotle (form/substance), Descartes (mind/body) and Newton (reality in its elementary components), which are the basis of many of our ideas. We need a model including at the same time unity, multiplicity, totality, organization and complexity.

The sciences of complexity, for example, propose a unitary evolutionary process which builds the systems as a whole with a gradual progression including physics, chemistry, biology and social sciences.

This unitary evolutionary process is based on the fact that all the systems emerge into a flux of energy and are fundamentally opened, that is in constant interaction with the outside.

The fluxes of energy organize structures of an always increasing complexity, fixing part of the energy in relatively stable systems. As the level of the fluxes of energy lowers, a growing number of energies is channelled in structures becoming more and more complex.

In time, therefore, emerging systems become always more opened and highly organized. We can thus build systems through a series of progressive integrations of structures subordinated with one another: each of these unities, formed through integrations of subordinated unities, is what Jacob (see La logica del vivente, 1971) defines as "integrone" and Ageno (see Le radici della biologia, 1986) as "coherent unity".

If compared to the previous ones, each level of organisation has new characteristics and properties: different means of communications, different circuits of regulation and a different internal logic. In order to differentiate the system, increasing the rate of autonomy and its exchanges with the outside, is indeed necessary to develop both the structures linking the system to the environment and the integrations among the different components of the system.

We can therefore consider the human organism in its own environment as a number of complex systems, which are regulated by homoeostasis ; above the complex system called "human organism", there is the socio-cultural "integrone", the "coherent unity" between organism and environment.

The core of the socio-cultural integrone overcomes any biological explanation: in order to study it, it is necessary to link the different levels of observation of physiology, behavioural sciences and sociology.

In order to make it possible, it is necessary to abandon a mechanistic viewpoint and to adopt a more complex one.

The systemic theory, as said, sees the world in terms of relations and integrations.

The systems are integrated totalities, whose properties cannot be reduced to smaller unities. This theory allows us to begin the understanding of biological, social, cultural and cosmic evolution, following the same model of dynamics of the systems.

If the neodarwinian theory, for example, considers evolution as moving towards a state of balance, with organisms adapting to the environment better and better, according to the systemic theory, instead, evolution works moving away from balance, and the centre of attention is shifted on the co-evolution of organism plus environment, towards an increase of complexity, co-ordination and interdependence. What is evolving is, therefore, the organism in its own environment. If we extend the systemic conception to the description of social and cultural evolution, Bateson (see Mente e natura, 1984) proposes to define the "mind" itself as a typical phenomenon of living organisms, societies and ecosystems, and describes the necessary criteria to speak about it.

According to Bateson, mind is not an entity interacting with matter: both (one and the other) are manifestations of the same systemic properties. Mind and matter do not belong to two separate categories, but they simply represent different aspects of the same process.

But already during the 30s, while studying the physical world, Jeans James (see The Mysterious Universe, 1930) affirmed that "the universe begins to seem more like a great thought than like a great machine", in the same way as today’s physicists and cosmologists speak about a universal mind pervading the cosmos and leading it through the laws of nature to achieve its aim. Paul Davies (see Dio e la nuova fisica, 1984) specifies this conception by saying that "nature is a product of its own technology and that the universe is a mind, a system that observes and organises itself autonomously".

But the similarity between the structures of matter and mind should not astonish us, because human conscience plays an important role in the process of observation of events on a subatomic scale.

The crucial character of quantum theory is that the subject is necessary not only to observe the properties of an atomic phenomenon, but also to cause and generate these properties.

The psyco-physical unity of the individual is, then, an open system, too: it must keep a constant flow of exchanges of matter, energy and information with the environment, in order to let it survive. It is a system in a state of dynamic balance, which maintains a "stationary state" thanks to the right functioning of automatic regulation mechanisms, whose action deals with the changing conditions of the environment. These mechanisms must be quite flexible in order to prevent the dynamic balance of the system from overcoming the parameters of variability delimiting the stationary state (homoeostasis).

Whatever is the nature of the flexibility (physical, mental, social), it is essential in order to allow to the psyco-physical system to adapt to the environmental changes: a loss of flexibility (rigidity of its own status) should bring to a loss of health.


Organizational Thought and Ecology: The Eco-Organization

All this brings to the necessity to produce a moment of true verification of the epistemological grounds of the different theoretical fields towards an hypothesis of "re-foundation" of sciences, a "scientific revolution" which cannot surely coincide with a modification of paradigm but with a process of "re-structuring" of the whole field of knowledge.

By accepting what Ervin Laszlo indicates, we have to refer to a new figure of scientist, the "general scientist".

"The task of the general scientist is then to put these data in a coherent order, discovering structures and isomorphisms applying criteria of consistency, as well as of omni-comprehension and reciprocal extensibility, and creating concepts and theories placed on a higher level than the one where are placed concepts and theories of the specialist scientist. This scientific task of the "second order" (which is meta-scientific rather than "meta-physical", since it goes beyond the field of a single discipline such as physics. On the other hand, it is stricter than the great majority of the metaphysical speculations of the past) is not only legitimate: it is also necessary." (E. Laszlo, L’evoluzione della complessità: l’ordine mondiale contemporaneo in G. Bocchi, M. Ceruti, La sfida della comlessità, 1985)

This is much more significant in relation to the cognitive models within which there are the articulation of the ecological thought and the emergency of the notion of eco-system.

The environment, then, stops to be an exclusively territorial unit and becomes instead the result of the union of a biotopos (the geophysical environment) and a biocenosis (all the interaction of the living beings inhabiting the biotopos).

What organises the environment, then, and makes it a system is exactly the whole of the relations among living beings combining with the limits and the possibilities provided by the biotopos (the geophysical environment) and retro-acting on it.

Ecology, then, presents itself as a science of the interactions of combination-organization which happen among all the physical and living components of the ecosystems.

Therefore ecology needs the thought of organization as an ordered number of relations between the physical and the living and their reciprocal interactions.

The eco-organization is inseparable from the constitution, the preservation, the development of the biological diversity.

In order to organise itself, life today needs life itself more than ever, and the ecological dimension corresponds exactly to this need.

This assertion appears as very significant in all its evidence and actuality. From the "Report by the Club of Rome" (1970) till today, we can see always more clearly the limits of the development, of "this" development, as well as the cognitive and institutional apparatus put in being as its support and legitimation (see A. Peccei, I limiti dello sviluppo, 1972).

In this direction, the centrality of the relation between economics and ecology goes in any case beyond the problems put by the development of pollution and concerns:

  • the progressive unavailability of the resources, both in terms of quantity (as to the continuous demographical increase on a world scale) and quality, and so the characteristics of many resources progressively pauperised (it is worth recalling to our mind, for example, the progressive transformation into desert of the agricultural territory and the impoverishment of the organolectic characteristics of the alimentary resources);
  • the progressive development of the processes linked to entropy and the consequent unavailability of energy;
  • the progressive degradation of matter and its becoming unavailable as well as energy;
  • the increasingly more uncontrollable relapse (environmental impact) of the scientific discoveries (see, as the last of them, bio-engeneering) and of the technological choices;
  • the "extraordinary" environmental variation-modification due to man’s work to such a point that the induced acceleration of the development of biological processes is no more (or less and less) compatible with their own nature.

The emerging historical datum then resides in the fact that the present mechanisms of growth, the growth of the economically developed and ultra industrialized nations, do not produce or coincide with balanced processes of development which are adequate to the articulation of the social needs. The "progressive" progress, put as the basis of the capital in order to legitimate its project of society, remains as an ideological value which is continually being weakened by the evidence of the contradictions of this model of growth.

But the particularity of the crisis lies in having overcome every limit of the economic dimension.

This crisis concerns also work, the relation with other individuals, our relation with nature, with our body, with the other sex, with society and history. It goes across the generations and torments the societies, urban life and its mechanisms, the territory and the environment, the institutions and the cognitive models.

But, paradoxically, it is exactly in this moment that humanity has the possibility to control the course of evolution. The development of the cognitive models such as the theory of complexity and the hypothesis of re-composition of knowledge has produced the acquisition of the fundamental principles of evolutionary processes and the possibility that these principles could guide the course of the events of the real world.

Ervin Laszlo says:

"Directing the course of history is perhaps the highest exercise of that liberty that is intrinsic to the human condition. Exerting this liberty, and doing it for the welfare of the majority of people, is the highest moral act. It is an act that could lift the blanket of pessimism produced by the feeling of impotence in front of the problems growing rapidly, and leave us in the light of the intentional conscious action" (L’evoluzione della complessità..., cit.)

On a concrete field of action, we have now to reflect upon the politics of transformation, care, preservation and exploitation of the resources, the territory and the environment as results of a process of accumulation of all the human, social and material potentialities.

The emerging concept is that of an "integrated planning" as definition of a new order of society and territory where the Plan, or the Plans, execute their merely binding function, on the basis of concomitant politics of experimentation and verification, of accessibility and fruition of the collective resource, of integration - either in the stages of project, management or verification - of the different cognitions, operators and subjects.

From this viewpoint, it is important to evaluate the possibility of a re-reading of the same concepts of "yield of the productive processes", in order to conciliate the transforming processes of the resources with the exigency of their own preservation.

Therefore we must not only consider the costs required for the preservation or the restoration of a damaged environment (the so-called "defensive costs"), but also measure the environmental effects in terms of product.

The European Community has already engaged itself with the FAST program "Previews and Evaluation on Science and Technology", whose aim is to detect "the number of activities and methods used for the studies- having as much preventive and anticipatory character as possible - on the aspects and consequences of technological innovation. They are analysed considering most of all their interaction and the different groups of people exploiting them, in order to discover the most suitable role and social use of the scientific disciplines and the technologies in question.

Starting from a local level, the fundamental reason of being of the scientific and technological innovation lies in the specific capacity of knowledge of the surrounding context, in order to better act locally in an effective way coherent with the exigencies of transformation and preservation of the resources.

In this context, the concept of "local" needs an adequate re-definition, in order not to refer to theoretical and practical models belonging to administration, economics and also to culture and experience, but however reducing their limits.

A conceptual jump needs to consider the local as a viewpoint assuming the uniqueness, the specific as a value, the complexity as a rule, the social and economic self-organization as a modality.

In this context, the local has not got a scale ("local = small", as it would be for a certain kind of romantic way of seeing the environment), and cannot be confused with a particular level of development.

The development is a complex problem concerning together economics, environment, the territory, culture, the identity, man and his/her needs, the capacity of being an active subject of a government.

Therefore the development of the local societies brings us back to a project requiring the overcoming of the territory as a mere support of the economic activities or as a ground- resource to consume within the idea of unlimited growth. The territory then assumes the valence of ecosystem (interaction of man-society and nature) and of local society seen as a complex reality.

It is exactly within this hypothesis that the same subject who makes technological innovations should concentrate.

Today these subjects are mostly firms and big apparatuses. The firm has spread both the innovation of process (the use of robots and computers) and of product (we should think about the percentage of culture and advanced technology embodied in many new products), as well as a new logistic organization (transports, tranfers, etc.).

The innovations coming from the new apparatuses (military apparatus, telecommunications, etc.) seem to concern more restricted fields, but it is through the role of the public operator in the development of the economics of services to people and that of environmental technologies.

It is a question of using new technologies for the effects they can have in the field of sanitary services, the services to families (video-assistance, tele-medicine), the logistics for the people, the infrastructures for the residence.

On the other hand, the so-called "green industry", opens enormous perspectives to the technological innovation concerning not only the repairing interventions, but also the analysis, the control and the evaluation of all the environmental modifications.

In this context, it is also of great importance the concept of "energetic mix" of different sources. The energetic mix takes, in fact, the resources of the territory as a value and the ecosystem as field of action. It can only refer to the uniqueness of the project of development, the differentiation, the local systems of government.

The convergence and reciprocity between ecologist politics and local development ,then, has a strategic importance with an unquestioned value of "survival", both in political terms as answer to urgent problems and as contribution to the development of unitary cognitive processes.

As a matter of fact, the contradiction between these new cognitive models, which provides a new logic to the processes of development and the theoretical and practical models linked to different theories of growth, appears as almost incurable.


The Social and Urban System Between Disorder and "New" Order

The same metropolitan territory is crossed by the structural contradictions of the society defining it: in the configuration of the contemporary industrial cities, it becomes possible to read the historical and political functions assigned to the spatial regulation of the territory.

Therefore we can now interpret the "strategic" use made by the dominating classes. The "urban machine" acts in order to separate: the territory of the city separates the social groups from each other, organizing the spaces of social life, the dislocation of the centres of production and exchange, pre-arranging the definition of the places where the political power is exerted. In the same way, as the social relation divides the producers from the product of their work, the city from the country, the intelligence from the production, the territory separates its inhabitants in different spatial ambits. In the same way as there is a differentiated possibility of access according to the social wealth produced, there is also a different enjoyment of the urban space.

The ground becomes a commercial good linked to the value in exchange and the speculation.

"The fact that the space is submitted to the exchange acquires a growing influence in the transformation of the cities; architecture itself depends on it, because the form of the buildings derives from the division in lots and the purchase of the ground, which is cut in small rectangles. Tardily, but in an always more precise way, the building sector becomes submitted to the big capital, dominated by its (industrial, commercial and banking) firms having an output attentively pre-established under the appearance of the organization of the territory." (H. Lefebvre, Il marxismo e la città, 1976)

The politics of housing development, as well as that of the exploitation of the ground, is going in this direction.

"Therefore the urban house becomes more and more the equivalent of a merchandise and a consumption, while its function of usual instrument reduces itself, and we lose the meaning of its essential aim, that is to be a necessary and somehow revitalizing place to satisfy one’s own natural and cultural needs" (M. Gaglio, Essere o malessere, 1975)

But the city, the social and urban ecosystem, is , as a matter of fact, a set of sets constituted:

  • not only by all the specifically urban phenomena,
  • but also by all the social phenomena,
  • and all the bio-geo-climatic phenomena which are located in it.

All these elements and their interrelations are absolutely vital and constitute and confirm the ecological character of the urban environment.

The order of the social and urban system, that is the capacity of the system to evolve through the modification of its function, depends on the respect of the nature of logic and of the order of the different systems interacting in it (man, society, nature).

It is what Tiezzi calls the relation historical and biological times.

A lack of balance between these two levels brings all the system towards the disorder, that is towards a growing consumption of energy to achieve its aims, with a consequent increase of entropy or, in other words, of unavailability of the same energy.

It is not by chance that the logic of growth and technological development of the capital follows this principle defined as the law of the decreasing outputs: a bigger quantity of energy for the same product. But the disorder may not bring towards the collapse of the entropy of the system, because it contains its opposite - that is the presence of perturbations and agitations, which mean that the instituted order is no more suitable to satisfy human needs, to support the evolutionary processes of history (humanity).

Every revolution-disorder contains and states in advance a new order.

Thus, the models of growth focused on the research of the optimum and the exploitation of the resources keep on disproving their validity on a historical plan, where their postulate is summed up and reduced to a research of the optimum and exploitation of a single variable. This inevitably ends up to coincide with the "output of the productive process".

In their logic of survival, the strategy of these systems is to keep the human society in a state of continuous deficiency, whose most dramatic and important aspect has always been war.

The poverty, the disadvantages, the lacks of balance and the destruction of the resources appear as irreducible structural realities of the system: the system reproduces them by reproducing itself.

While facing, then, an increasing level of consumption, we have to cope with new diseases, new troubles, the progressive non-adaptation of large social categories, the increase of social risks of poverty, the decrease of the physical output, the psychic depauperation, the lowering of the quality of life.

From here derives the exigency of the system to have big plans of "social emergency". They can be seen as a way of the society to assume the responsibility to solve different individual problems, to apparently recover some rights such as health, life, the fruition of social services, a balanced relation with nature and, therefore, with ourselves and the other.

In this sense ecology, too, becomes the object of a plan of social emergency, after all a new sector of economics to plan and exploit or, in other words, a "business".

When, later on, the ecological intervention turns into a defensive expense ("if you break it, you pay"), the deceit is complete and definitive.

The ecology of society offers a double trap:

  • a theoretical one, where ecology is seen as an analysis of the ecosystem, that is what the social actors determine in a given environment seen as an object;
  • a practical one, where ecology is seen as a technique, a repairing intervention, a defensive expense.

"New ecology", then, cannot be a discipline (a science or a technique) in the traditional meaning, that is a way to analyse the modification of an object depending on a series of factors.

Ecology is not a science of the relation of dependence, of cause and effect, but one of interrelation among opened systems of a different nature, able to get in touch, acquires and expresses its own nature and, at the same time, the nature of everything.

Each part, each element has a sense if brought back to the whole, in the same way as it is equally right to say that the laws of the micro-world (the part) are after all those of the macro-world (the whole).

This new viewpoint gives to reality the nature of complexity, where all the elements get in touch with a logic pertaining to systems. In other words, they undergo or determine constrictions, regularities, cycles, complementary elements, antagonisms, etc., whose union is an ecosystem for all the system included in it.

In this sense, where the universal and the local are elements showing the same nature and a part of the same evolutionary intention or project (it is not by chance that the universe has the meaning of one, unity and one direction), the local level can be the starting point for an action of renewal and overcoming of the existing contradictions and lack of balance between historical and biological times.

The motto "acting locally and thinking globally" cannot represent the translation of these new possibilities, if it ends by transposing mechanically the valence and the methods inherent to local experiences at a more general level, where the word "local" does not acquire a different conceptual meaning.

As a matter of fact, the concept of local needs, as already said, a new epistemological definition, in order not to refer to theoretical and practical models (belonging to the administrative, economic, cultural and experimental field) which could be reduced in any case.

The convergence and reciprocity between ecologist politics and local development has, thus, a strategic importance with an undiscussed value of "survival", both in political terms as answer to emerging problems and as contribution to the development of a cognitive unitary process.

That is why the process of "occupation of the territory" must be stopped even before the acceleration of the processes of homologation of local spaces and times in the hyper-space of technology might bring to the constitution of that "global village" (McLuhan) that inexorably represent the denial of all places (a-topia).

We must then open a horizon of projects able to transform the "production of the territory" into a commodity producing the form, quality and style of human installation.

Making development is an operation which cannot be separated from the production of a new territoriality, the latter being put in existence only by a renewed culture.

The widening of the inhabited territory is in fact the condition to invent models of space and time

  • producing space, whereas the quantitative growth of the congestion destroys it,
  • producing time, whereas the quantitative civilization of the congestion dissipates it,
  • producing an aesthetic added value, or better symbolic points of reference always charged with a semantic effectiveness that could keep an affective memory of its own habitat,
  • finally, increasing the value of the qualitative richness and the plurality of the places of time and space against the disappearance of human space and time produced by the hyper-speed of the means of communication.

In this way, architecture, too, becomes a subjective and inter-subjective experience of space, loses its conceptual and abstract character, its being an idea, and acquires a value in being an instrument of personal and collective experiences.

An architecture that wants, then, to respect this thought must be:

  • more oriented to the organic order and less to the geometric one,
  • more interested to the small scale than to the big one,
  • more addressed to the social and less to the profit,
  • better disposed to be modified or projected step by step and attentive to the temporal variations of the needs, and less to the finished work,
  • more sensitive to the place and less to the realization of an abstract thought,
  • more finalist and less mechanistic,
  • more linked to the everyday living and less to the rational object of its study.

An ecologically oriented architecture acquires, then, as its object, a complex object such as the "space of the living", corroding so slowly in the lived space that it presents itself with a richness of details unsuspected for the subject. It also could widen the space of memory and feeling, enlarging the meanings appearing again on "the theatre of our intimate life".

In this sense, Hoederling has spoken about "politically inhabiting the ground", that is the necessity to break the logic, the rationality of the calculation of the capital, the calculation of man upon nature in order to free those potentialities, those expressive and creative modalities of relation bringing us back to the memory of the mythical unity between man and nature, man and world, to such a point that the world should really be our world.


Economics and ecology, Eco-Sustainable Development

The scientific viewpoint that we have assumed and developed till here inevitably brings us to a complex definition of "natural capital", intended both as the whole of the natural systems and as the products of the ground, the harvests, the territory and the artistic and cultural patrimony (see E. Tiezzi, Fermare il tempo. Una interpretazione etico-scientifica della natura). Now, the "natural capital" belongs to a logic type different from that of the "productive capital". To understand this, it is necessary to go back to the logic of the systems far from balance, the systems which are complex in their evolution.

The approach to the natural capital must only be evolutionary and not conservative.

If Matthias Ruth is right (Integrating Economics, Ecology and Thermodynamics, 1993), and therefore the economics are opened systems contained in an eco-system (the biosphere) which we exchange matter and energy with, we will say that

"both the economic systems and the ecosystems find themselves in a stationary state, far from balance, and only dynamic evolutionary models, based on quantity and irreversible and not conservative functions, will be able to allow the understanding of the complexity of the interactions between "natural capital" and "capital produced by the man", between the biosphere and the productive system, between nature (which we integrally belong to) and the economic activity" (E. Tiezzi, Fermare il tempo).

Therefore, if we accept the viewpoint assuming that the natural capital and that produced by the man are complementary because the productivity of one depends on the availability of the other, the concept of "sustenance" appears as the number of relations among human activities, their dynamics and the biosphere with its evolutionary dynamics (H. E. Daly, Lo stato stazionario, 1981).

It is in this sense that we can affirm without lapsing into any "ecological reductionism" that

"the economics cannot accept the absolute biophysical bonds which the closed thermodynamic system where we live involves" (E. Tiezzi, Fermare il tempo).

On the contrary, and this is the reality of the present situation, today we live according to the logic of the "economic imperialism", and so it is the economic system that incorporates the ecosystems, putting the fluxes of matter and energy under the regulatory influence of prices.

But the ideology of the perpetual growth has been in crisis for some time in the same way as the viewpoints and the politics intending to manage the crisis as it was a passing perturbation.

The same perception of the present economic crisis on a global scale is one of the most relevant stake for the human society.

All the dominating ideologies seem to form a coalition to prevent us from see the crisis as the end of an era, the industrial one, and the possible beginning of another founded on a different rationality, on a new vision of reality.

For this passage, what remains central is the possibility that will be offered in order to have access to a way of post-industrial and post-capitalistic production without being obliged to afford before the generalisation of the relations founded on the wages and the production of goods for the market.

The present economic crisis, more than being an interruption of the process of growth began immediately after the Second World War, is the consequence of it, the global result of the counterproductive and perverted effects of an organization of the work and the production and a consequent technical progress, guided only by the principle of the micro-economic income, without considering the macro-social rationality and the long period regardless of the externalized social and ecological costs.

In comparison with the strong long-term decline of the rates of the yield of capital, the big firms, already developed to cope with the growing competitiveness on a multinational field, have begun to consider more the national systems of regulation of economics and the contrasting relations with the work power as obstacles to the growth of profits, considering the cut of the labour costs and other expenses as the solution to the problem.

According to this viewpoint we can read the present process of global extension of economics and market considering it as a progressive phase of re-structuring of the big capital, or better of the big firm.

This re-structuring process includes.

  • the shift of the productive activity towards places (countries) with lower costs (the so-called offshore production). Between 1985 and 1989, for example, the countries of Southern, Eastern and South Eastern Asia have coped with growth rates up to 37% per year. The Asiatic South East alone has received 48% of all the foreign investments directed to the developing countries,
  • the transformation of the organizational structures to make them adequate to global economics being strongly competitive (it is the case of the "slim firm", which limits its internal activities to the fundamental competences and lets out in contract the remaining operations, also beyond the national boundaries, to firms joined to it by means of a network linking different firms of different sectors, regions and states, keeping

"a combination of centralization of control and decentralization of production" (B. Harrison, Lean and Mind: The Changing Landscape of Corporate Power in the Age of Flexibility, 1994),

  • the construction of a new world government of economics able to support its own choices.

This is the "new Program of the firms" which found supports with many labels such as that of monetarism, of deregulation, of the laissez-faire, of the new free trade, of economics, of the offer, of the development of the market.

On an institutional plan this program, as we said, found the support of consolidated and strategic international institutions such as the Monetary International Found, the World Bank, the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) and of more recent institutions such as the G7 (the group of the most industrialised seven countries), the NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and the WTO (World Trade Organization).

The politics adopted by these international institutions allowed the big firms to lower their costs through precautions such as the limitation of the measures of protection of environment, of consumers, of health and workers, the reduction of the fiscal charge on firms, the facilitation of the transfer to zones having low cost manpower, the tolerance of the use of blackmail of such transfers towards the employed workers, the promotion of the expansion of markets.

Symptomatic is the role of the WTO (World Trade Organization) founded in 1994 by more than one hundred countries representing four fifths of the world commerce.

The new organism ( it has a juridical legal status and so its decisions are binding for its members) re-defines the "free exchange" as the right of the firms to go where they want and to do what they want, facing the smallest number of obstacles, wherever they come from. The WTO, which is defined as an instrument intended to eliminate laws and regulations preventing or limiting the freedom of firms has a statute composed by a good 22,000 pages, a text giving form and substance to a government of the world economics dominated by the giants of the entrepreneurial sector, without providing a parallel juridical and democratic normative allowing its control (see J. Brecher, T. Lostello, Global Village or Global Pillage, 1995).

But the expansion on global terms opens new contradictions and arouses decisive problems such as that of the discussion or the questioning of the sovereignity of the national states. The national governments have surrendered much of their power to the "new institutional trinity" (affirmation by Luis Fernando Jaramillo, chairman of the group of 77) formed by the International Monetary Found, the World Bank and the WTO fixing and imposing the rules inside which each nation must operate and co-operate for the success of the "Program of the firms".

The new system of the global economic government has been put into service of the emerging global firms and is supported by them; it is not obliged to explain officially its decisions including itself (the only power of veto is entrusted to an almost improbable unanimous decision of its 100 and more members).

Thus, the new system of the economic government defines itself as an instrument operating in the sense of the "invisible hand" of the market.

"Like the absolute states of the past, this system of global government is not based on the agreement of the governors, does not provide for institutional mechanisms making it responsible towards who is invested by the effects of its decisions, and it is certainly for this reason that it cannot work out those functions of the modern governments which benefit the common people. We must not then be astonished by the fact that, like the monarchies of the past, this new system of antidemocratic power could produce insurrections (J. Brecher, T. Costello, Global Village or Global Pillage, 1995).

The process of global expansion thenpresents itself as further and final confirmation of the contradictory logic guiding the growth of the capital which, incapable of eliminating the causes of its own contradictions, pushes them to always wider levels.

Further news of the present crisis lies also in the nature of the technological innovation by means of which capitalism looks for solutions for its same crisis.

The technological innovations (with the centrality of microelectronics) allow growing quantities of goods to be produced with rapidly diminishing quantities of capital and work, accelerating, at one time, destruction of capitals and the rise of unemployment.

It is also true that these reduced quantities of capital can be much more profitable than in the past. But in the automated factory the quantity of manual labour tends to zero the income from work represented by wages.

Automation, then, abolishes the workers but also the potential consumers.

Any solution adopted to solve this problem (few employed workers maintaining a mass of marginalized unemployed without rights, or an instalment is used to remunerate the consumption of goods), in the presence of a technological revolution allowing a growing volume of goods to be produced with decreasing quantities of work and capital, the modalities and the aims of the administration of economics cannot be those of capitalism (or one of its historical variations like socialism) and the social relations of production cannot be founded on the selling of work power, on the wage-earning work.

Every analysis and every political choice which do not admit the fact that there can no longer be a full time wage-earning employment for everybody and that the wage-earning work can no longer keep its centrality (in the productive dimension and in life), appear to be mystifying and conservative of an agonising system.

Unemployment, now, is no longer an accidental phenomenon, the sign of an incapacity of government: the political system where unemployment and the unemployed are treated as if the permanent full time job continues to represent the rule, is perverted.

The alternative between full time employment and unemployment denies the real decrease of the socially necessary working time and share out this diminution in the most unequal way penalizing the non workers but, at the same time, keeping the nature of the social relations of production between employers and employees.

The conservation of the institution of full time tends fundamentally to preserve relations of control founded on the ethics of income, and brings necessarily to a dualistic division of the population (the active, the unemployed, the temporary employees) by means of which who exerting the right to a permanent job which then becomes the actor of a conservative role of defender of the constituted (social and economic) order.

The problem that the leading class must solve, if it does not want to cause processes of regimenting and segregation of the temporary employees or of frontal contraposition between employees and non employees, presents itself as disposed in three levels:

  • that of producing a demand for the industrial production of goods,
  • that of providing to the people expelled from the production, because of the technological innovation, forms of occupation which are not in competition with it,
  • that of remunerating these occupation so as to make the demand resolvable.

In short people must be remunerated to consume the supplied production (the consumption must become an occupation assimilable to a work meriting wages).

"Goods buy their consumers in order to let them become, through the activity of consumption, like the society needs them to be" (A. Gorz, Les chemins du paradis, 1983).

This model is considered by Jacques Attali (L’ordre cannibale, 1979) the outlet of the crisis which tends toward the capitalistic society keeping, in reality, only formal similarities with capitalism itself.

The remuneration of citizens holds the appearance of wages, the products that must be consumed hold the appearance of relations of goods, but these appearances are void. What is preserved is no more the capitalistic system but the system of control of capitalism whose wage-earning employee and market were the cardinal instrument.

The production, in fact, no longer has and can no longer have as purpose the accumulation of capital and its valorisation: now, it has as a main purpose controlling society and its supremacy.

The apparatus of production and control become the same thing.

Now, the right to an income apart from a job does not really assure freedom, equality and safety for the people. In the present circumstances it keeps a conservative meaning and its purpose is not to abolish indigence, unemployment, inequality but to make them socially tolerable, at a minimum cost, for society.

The security of an income being independent from work will not be a social transformation bringing individual freedom if it does not go with the right of everybody to work, that is the production of a social reality, of socially necessary resources, of free co-operation among subjects and of development of the individual’s expressive capacities.

In comparison with the fact that the production of the necessities, what individuals need to live in their social and cultural context, requires, as a trend, a decreasing and minimum quantity of work, the security of an income, independently from the occupation of a stable post, represents the inalienable right of the citizen as a counterpart for his/her contribution of work provided in order to produce a part of what is considered socially necessary.

The guaranteed income will no longer be found on the value of work. Its essential function will be that of dividing among all the members of the society the richness produced by the whole productive power of society itself.

On the individual plan, the "right to work" will no more run the risk of being confused with the right to a wage-earning job, but it will constitute on one hand a resource for the stable access to what is socially necessary and on the other hand the right of access to means in order to produce and create goods which cannot be socially programmed, but instead be an expression of an individual need or of a micro-social, local reality, beyond the market.

The latter is the field of autonomous activities opposed to the dependent ones defined within the limits of what is collectively established as a socially necessary production. It is the field of production of values of use released from the economic logic of the capital and from its definition of value.

It is exactly the dialectics between dependent and autonomous activities, the "positive synergy" between them, which represent for Ivan Illich (Némésis Médicale, 1975) the overcoming of the possibility of supremacy of man over nature, of man over man. It is certain that this "positive synergy" between the two ways is possible only on determinate conditions. When certain critical thresholds are overcome, the dependent production generates a complete re-organization of the physical, institutional and symbolic environment which could paralyse the autonomous capacities.

"It is thus the beginning of that vicious circle called by Telich counterproductivity: the impoverishment of the links joining the man to the world and to the others becomes a powerful generator of demand of commercial substitutes allowing the survival in an always more alienating world and reinforcing at the same time the conditions that make them necessary. The paradoxal result is that the more the dependent production grows, the more it becomes an obstacle to the realisation of those purposes that we think that it should achieve: the medicine destroys health, the school makes stupid, the means of transport immobilizes and the communications make deaf and dumb" (J. P. Dupuy, Ordres et desordres, 1982).

Together with the wage-earning employment, it is the central role of economics to be put in question: the importance of this sphere where all is done in consideration of an equal exchange with another thing and nothing has a value of its own, because it does not constitute a purpose of its own.

It is exactly reducing everything to economic categories and universalising them that capitalism has manifested itself as anti-humanism.

Industrialism has made the work a purely functional activity, separated from life, estranged from its cultural dimension, disconnected from the web of human relations.

The work has stopped being a way to live in the present, in order to relate with the others and with the world and the working time of matching with the times of life and nature. Money has become the main purpose motivating the productive and working activity.

The pleasure of making and being, of giving and receiving without any counterpart were tensions of a cultural dimension which integrated work with life and made them a way to live endowed with meaning where every relation with the other constituted a mutual enrichment and an extension (which could be cultural, physical and social) of one’s existence.

The overcoming of the capitalistic economic model puts in a new light other than the relation dependent activities- autonomous activities the relation between the costs of production and the social costs.

The development of capitalism and of the big market production made a number of infrastructures, networks and public services supporting the good functioning of the productive apparatus necessary. We are dealing with "the organization costs" of the capitalistic development assumed by the community and transformed in "social costs".

The development of social costs has followed the development of the capitalistic growth with greater increases of the production in its whole.

It is difficult to impute this increase to the responsibilities of politicians and to the misgovernment. The inflation of the social costs is, of course, linked to the material and infra-structural costs (organizational costs) of capitalistic development, but it finds its principal reason in the fact that the political stability and the treatment of problems caused by such development require social interventions which are always more expensive and marked by the law of the decreasing yields.

The public undertaking of social costs has a function which is rarely made explicit:

it produces order, legitimacy and political stability.

The effectiveness of the networks and the collective services cannot, then, be measured in relation with the cost of what they produce, because what they produce is, often, less important of what they prevent from happening. On the public undertaking of the social costs depends on the acceptance of the social effects of the capitalistic development and the political stability of the system. The principal function is once more that of social control more than the one addressed to the satisfactions of autonomous collective needs.

On the other hand, the breaking-off of the economic model does not consider any more the social costs (in the same way as the environmental costs) as external to its production but as an integrating part of it, as internal to the calculation of the output of the same productive process:

We can say that in comparison with a socialization of the decisions of production a social administration of the production itself occurs and it includes as essential factors the environment and natural resources.

It is the concept of the "economics of services" announced by Albert Téroédjrè (La pauvreté richesse des peuples, 1978) and no more considered as the outcome but as the source itself of the development.

Re-inventing economics, going beyond the system of the capital means making the economics consubstancial to a social level and to nature. Therefore the announced concept of "sustainability" more than as a technical element as a vision of reality, the whole of relations between human activities and their dynamics, the biosphere and its evolution.

We can thus see that the social criterion of the success of this re-arranged economic model does not feed any more on the commercial and financial success, but on the possibility of the subject to make all the reality the basis of his/her experience, to be the actor of culture and pedagogical promoter of an existence where there could be, at one time, social transformations and individual becoming.

We rediscover, in this way, irreversibility and time no more in the figure of utopia and of the predetermined project, but in the proliferation of the evolutionary and biographical courses, nature and history interwoven in the infinite stories of complexity.





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Theomai*. Red de Estudios sobre Sociedad, Naturaleza y Desarrollo.
*Theomai: Ver, mirar, contemplar, observar, pasar revista, comprender, conocer

Coordinadores: Guido P. Galafassi - Adrián G. Zarrilli.
Sede: Universidad Nacional de Quilmes, Centro de Estudios e Investigaciones