01 October 2010

Economic Ecosystems: Balancing Interdependant Globalization

Natural systems tend toward increasing order. I will demonstrate how human production, trade, and economy are consistent with the evolution and development of natural ecosystems and the degree of inevitability of increasing global interdependence of the human ecosystem. The dynamics of fluctuation and stabilization found in natural systems can also be applied to patterns of human economy and social developent. This is because man is a part of nature and subject to its laws.

Historically, primitive human thought, production, and economy has been viewed as fundamentally different from current motives and modes. Because of this Heath Pearson (2007) states that anthropology, psychology, and economics which were once part of the same field of study have become totally disparate fields, “creating a discursive vacuum within which Homo paleoeconomicus [the anthropological primitive man with little real sense of capitalistic awareness] has proliferated without contest.”

General System Theory (GST), on the other hand, provides the hope of a common foundation upon which all sciences can build for a more throrough understanding of the processes which lead to the evolutionary development of social and economic systems. GST was first outlined by Ludwig von Bertalanffy (1969). “There are systems of equations describing the competition of animal and plant species in nature. But it appears that the same systems of equations apply in certain fields in physical chemistry and in economics as well” (p.33).

I will discuss how human economic systems limit themselves through competition while expanding through cooperation allowing for growth and increased complexity

Competing Forces and the Balance of Power
Just as ecosystems experience dynamic equilibrium in predator-prey populations, historical capitalist economy experiences fluctuations in supply and demand. However, pre-industrial theorists could not have concieved the power of human innovation in production and distribution to alter naturistic and economic eco-systems. It was not until cybernetics and information technology began to be studied that we understood the power of networks and the teleology of natrural systems; that systems could “learn” and had “purpose;” that the end was greater than the sum of its parts; that despite the appearance of randomness, systems tend to increase order (Bertalanffy).

However, the process of increasing order (meaning structure, law, and peaceful cooperation) in civilization, economic development, and politics is nothing like straight-line progression. There are cyclic paterns of accelerated growth, stasis, decline, and dormancy, or even system death which fertilizes the birth of new systems as evidenced by the rise and death of Roman, Egyptian, Mayan, and similarly once great empires and kingdoms, of which only vestiges remain. Yet the monuments of their existence inspire contemporary cultures to build on rediscovered knowledge.

One of the dynamic agents of these cultural cycles is resistance. The strength of one force in an ecosystem generates an equal and opposite reaction. In socio-political contexts the primary resistors are man versus nature, man versus man, and man versus self

Man v. Wild
The impact of humanity on naturistic ecosystems and global environments is evident even from upper-atmospheric orbit. Though much is said about the negativity of this impact. Few are bold enough to assert that man is an evolved part of nature, endowed by nature with the capacity to utilize and improve upon natural systems. There is a tendency among humans to exploit, deplete, and pollute naturistic systems in adverse ways. Plant and animal populations may even become extinct. However, we must be wise and note that nature has the power to balance these extremes. In fact nature itself has wiped out populations and caused extinctions. Even the tragedy of massive cataclysms such as tsunamis and earthquakes operate to refresh human and animal population.

Another balancing feature of Nature is the natural human endowment of observation and conscience. Humans have evolved to become aware of negative impacts and take corrective action. Buffalo populations nearly wiped out by nineteeth century hunting was recognized and limited by conscientious humans to the point that there are, again, massive herds of wild as well as domesticated bison.

But is man versus wild a zero-sum game where one's gains are another's loss? Is human use of natural resources inherently negative? Or is there a symbiotic flow of needs and fulfillment among humans and nature? I will discuss cooperation and expansion with more detail in a later section

Man v. Man
Man versus man dynamics are the focus of those with realist perspectives. It can also be defined as idea versus idea. War for the sake of war does not occur within society. Even bar room spats among individuals are not without an initiating ideological conflict. Carl von Clausewitz proposed that “war was merely one means states might employ to achieve objectives set by political authorities” (Viotti 2007 p.166). He acknowledged that military capabilities were multiplied by moral factors—a nation's motivating belief in the justice of their cause, hence their will to act upon it.

The competing interests of diverse states which realists note to be the source of power conflicts are balanced by interdependence among those same states for trade, security, and resources. The extending reach of trade and communication networks is an expanding global ecosystem which has increased that interdependence over the last century. But is there an inevitability to this expansion?

Judith Simmer-Brown (2000) asserts that even modern consumerism in a global economy is not inevitable and can be moderated by better understanding the causal relationships between government subsidy, “market demands,” and corporate prowess then understanding individual responsibility to be prudent consumers.

To say that global markets have nothing to do but expand and increase international power and influence is to reject history as a teacher. Corporate and governmental control of global markets which tend to manipulate conditions and control consumer activities (for consumer “benefit and safety” or not) face increasing consumer resistance with increased power. As seen in past revolutions, individual powerlessness gives way to collaboration among individuals who become a collective resistance movement. The cycle continues as the resistance movement becomes the dominant power, and can eventually become the oppressor to be resisted, kept in check, or overthrown.

As stated earlier, even failed systems can become the fertilizer for new systems which increase order in larger systems. For example, the expanding power and threat of Nazi Germany was the catalyst for worldwide war. It was defeated and that system failed. But Hitler's catastrophe (and immorality) increased human awareness of the need to protect against such destructive powers and philosophies. International security collaborations became standard among powerful nations. Rules of engagement were refined, and preventive measures taken for future security. Thusly, international order increased

Man v. Self
It is important to note that all systems are made up of individuals, and that there is conflict even within the singular human being. Psychosocial needs may be in conflict with physiological needs. Spiritual needs to act in good conscience conflict with physical satisfaction at the expense of others. (For further discussion on individual human needs and interests, please see the post titled Human Happiness.)

One individual may seek to subject others to his will according to the satisfaction of his ego. Another individual may motivate others to reach for a higher standard of living to improve a community. The global powers which exist are manifestations of individual actions proselyted and submitted to. If no individual chose ego over conscience; to manipulate and subject his fellow beings to his authority for selfish gains, global power structures would be quite different. Because the inner-struggle exists, however, individuals must band together to create shared standards out of self-preservation to regulate the exercise of individual self-interes

Cooperation and Expansion
The struggle for survival, power, and independence, however, is not the sum of human experience. Just as ideas are a source of conflict, they are key in maximizing the functions of our socioeconomic system. Classical idealism emphasizes natural law as binding upon and applicable to all humanity. The quest to discover those natural laws and culturally codify them has led to progress in Human rights agreement and defining standards within the international community.

Unlimited Resources
The observation of technological and informational explosion in the nineteeth and twentieth centuries lead Paul Zane Pilzer (1990) to conclude that technology controls both the definition and the supply of physical resources. Human ingenuity is the natural resource. All the materials are of little worth until we make something of them. When it becomes scarce, we find a way to transport from where it is not scarce, we find a way (or better way) to manufacture it, or we find a substitute.

In this way, humanity can become a creative partner with nature in the evolution of ecosystems or it can be a destroyer. At the very least, we are armed with the idea that whatever the human condition, we have the power to change perspectives and solve the problems that would seem to threaten our continued existence

Isolationist Utopia(s)
Now we return again to our question about the inevitability of global interdependence. We have increasing interaction, exchange of ideas and goods with people and companies who would have been out of reach just a few short years ago. But does the ability to interact imply a requirement to interact? I would say, no indeed. It is possible to have a primarily self-reliant ecosystem contained within a relatively small boundary. The diversity of human belief, preference, and social goals, in fact, lends itself to localized communities or collaborations (to include non-local internet or religious belief systems). People gravitate towards like-minded associates. Historically they are like-minded because of tribal-familial commonalities. But today we can create communities on Facebook and followings on YouTube where we can participate in or even generate a niche culture.

It is imperative to remember that the human mind cannot be forced. The only effect is resistance. Therefore, the paramount need of human society is to allow free intellectual intercourse among individuals and the right to associate with like-minded people. Within their pocket communities they can discover the ideas which lead to peace, prosperity (in whatever definition they value) and determine the actions which will help to maintain that peace within their community. As long as belonging to that community is voluntary, if there are social laws that a person subscribe to a certain set of beliefs, the laws are just. Anyone who wishes not to associate with that group has the freedom to disassociate. In our global mobility, we are free to seek a new community. Those communities allow us to establish Zion in our own image. Being banished does not carry the same weight it did in less mobile times.

Globalization, being the spread of capitalist consumerism, is marked by each generation redefining its adolescent image then carrying it through the generation as part of a new cultural standard. Just as American baby boomer youth were defined by the inception of pop culture, the trend continues today among youth in India as described by Ritty Lukose (2005) consumes traditional Indian culture. *On the other hand, I have had many associates (some of my faith, and many of other faiths) who, because of religious conviction chose to abstain from modern American culture, whether by refusing to own a television or by refusing to allow their children to be indoctrinated by secular education. Many of those people have also rejected fashions and trends that are viewed as immodest and have chosen instead to manufacture their own clothing. Others have chosen to grow and preserve significant quantities of their own food. Because it is increasingly common and easy to purchase all the necessities of life and want significantly more than necessary from all quarters of the globe, does not mean that it is the only way.

Though such a statement may seem to promote primitive lifestyles, unlike cultural anthropologists who tend to romanticize primitive cultures and wish to preserve them, I see future cultural diversity as being a result of diverging convictions solidifying group associations. We simply have more options.

Scott Shershow questioned the competing romanticism and cynicism of globalization. If “a culture is already an adaptation, won't it continue to adapt? How can these local cultures be, on the one hand, seamless, pristine, and fragile and, on the other hand, the vital product of cultural cross-pollination?” (Shershow 2001). This is the “inevitability” of ecological evolution. Cultres will simply change and adapt over time. We have no idea what those changes will be, how or when they will manifest, or what triggers will motivate those changes
. (For further discussion see the post titled Utopian Realism.)

Opposing forces of nature and human economy help to maintain a dynamic balance between predatory or powerful nations in cycles. These cycles tend toward increased order in socioeconomic systems. However, this increase in order must be taken over the long-view, understanding that particular ecosystems can fail but that the failures may contribute to the success of other systems which are better evolved.

However the most powerful force is not competition, but the power of ideas to unite groups. Localized power helps to maintain safety and protection from governments, which tend to increase in size and power without a significant system of checks and balances. If a state does not interfere with belief systems and beneficial practices and assembly, mini-cultures can create little pockets of utopia.

Globalization is a powerful force, and may seem inevitable, but it is no manifest destiny

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