D. Ecological Understanding and the Intellectual Community at Large

Developing a theory of human ecosystems is more than impractical. It is taboo.

Practically Impossible?

Pass the buck. Some other discipline should be responsible. Not mine. Certainly not me. I don't have the knowledge required for such a monumental task.

Understanding human ecosystems requires radical synthesis. It requires an integration of knowledge and perhaps social discipline previously limited to warfare. It requires creativity previously limited to practitioners of the arts and humanities. Development of a working theory of human ecosystems may take hundreds if not thousands of years.

True, a diversity of expertise is needed. True, you can't have empirical holism in the sense that all of the details are included in a model with the aim of understanding the ecosystem. But conceptual holism is possible. Increased understandings plausibly follow on attempts at holistic conceptualization.

In our capitalist/postmodern world, understanding of social phenomena as holistic systems processes with a central informational component is perhaps most developed in economics. The global economy is commonly referred to as a system with hierarchical structure (local/regional economic subsystems), flows (both material and informational), and varied inputs and outputs. For example, a practically possible model for the initial development of human ecosystem theory is apparent in the analysis of the recent so-called Asian Financial Crisis. The role of panic in precipitating economic collapse was recognized in media coverage, though the speculation and financial manipulations underlying the panic remained primarily as subtext, while geopolitics remained sub-subtext (Wallerstein 1999:49). A world systems perspective reveals cyclical predatory trends in the relations between First World economies and Third World economies. The former speculates in `development' of emerging economies and newly opened labor markets (but pull out when that seems more advantageous), while the latter is increasingly bound and controlled by debt restrictions (and deals with the psychological, cultural and social repercussions of collapse).14 This system is supported by international infrastructures largely controlled by First World institutions (IMF, WTO, World Bank) that lend capital to emerging economies in return for de facto control of profitable sectors of the political economy.

Understanding human ecosystems at this level is clearly a task that requires contributions from a wide range of disciplines. It requires intellectual team-work.


Human systems resist and prohibit complete disclosure of how they actually work. It may be intellectually taboo to ask certain questions about the system. For example, can we include questions about basic human/system factors such as military influence in models of current human ecosystems?

Part of the ancient regime, the military is one of the defining institutions of civilization, setting paradoxical standards for the emerging cultural concept of efficiency (e.g., mass destruction), and expanding the realm of the supernatural (e.g., nuclear winter). Wilkinson's Principle (Figure 17 and text above) recognizes that nation-states exist within the framework of competing interaction with `foreign' enemies. Enemies must be created at the level of the nation-state in order for civilization to exist.

The influence of the military on the development and maintenance of modern civilizations is generally unacknowledged. What is apparent is that in warfare the military system pushes the limits of social organization. It also pushes the limits of technology. But what of its role or influence in `peace time'? There may be a liberal taboo on investigating the connection between the military and social organization in `peace time,' but it is clear that the contributions of the military-industrial complex are important in organizing and training leadership (McKinlay and Starkey 1998) that maintains the social hierarchy. Technological hand-me-downs in `peace time' also contribute to reinforcing patterns within the general cultural system (e.g., cell-phones, e-mail, GPS).

These influences are not accurately reflected in the energy flow models of modern nation-states. Indirect informational effects are dominant in the unconsciousness of `peace time.' But even recognizing topical taboos helps us understand the nature of the system. It might be suggested that the extent of totalitarian control in our ecosystems can be measured in part by the thoroughness of taboo on investigating the role of the military. Institutional secrecy and strategic exclusion of certain kinds of system information requires methodology that exposes system structure, relations and histories. For this task a postmodern methodology may be prescribed as the most effective so far at identifying taboos and exposing hidden patterns and assumptions.

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