Sunday, March 26, 2017

ISSS Vienna July 9th -14th 2017

European Meetings on Cybernetics and Systems Research Avantgarde
ISSS2017 takes place in Vienna!

In cooperation with the International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS) the Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science (BCSSS) invites you to the 61st Annual World Conference in Vienna.

Date: 9th to 14th July 2017
Venue: Vienna University of Economics and Business




We have many developments in the pipeline for the International Society for the System Sciences in 2017 and we hope that you will join us in building the success of the conference and society!

The Bertalanffy Centre for the Study of Systems Science (BCSSS) and our conference partners from International Universities, Business Associations and Federal Ministries from Austria are working with the ISSS team to achieve 2017 ISSS President Ockie Bosch's vision to introduce 'SYSTEMS  THINKING FOR EVERYONE'.

Stefan Blachfellner, ISSS Vice President & BCSSS Director, and his team have connected the ISSS to INDUSTRY and GOVERNMENT for excellent plenaries to address the current leading topics in practice and academia and providing the opportunity for the Systems Community to offer accessible and practical SYSTEMIC SOLUTIONS.

There will be a PhD training program as in previous years.  More NEWS to follow.


Register until 15th MAY 2017 and get your Early Bird Discount!



Call is open!
Win the ISSS Student Award!

The overarching mission is FROM SCIENCE TO SYSTEMIC SOLUTIONS: SYSTEMS THINKING FOR EVERYONE with key themes to be addressed being:
  • Government & Governance
  • Economy
  • Health
  • Eco-Systems
  • Innovation and Development
CALL Details please find here!
DEADLINE FOR ABSTRACTS of Papers, Workshops and Posters need to be received by 1st June 2017 for inclusion in the printed programme.

DEADLINE FOR BEST STUDENT FULL PAPERS must be submitted by 8th June 2017.

Student full papers are eligible for ISSS AWARDS.

For PEER REVIEW student full papers must be received by 8th June 2017.

WINNERS will receive their Student Award  during the Conference Opening Ceremony
on 9th July 2017 at the Vienna Festival Hall of the Vienna Town Hall.


Connect with ISSS2017 Vienna via our website as well as our social media channels facebook and twitter delivering videos, images and links before and during the World Conference.

We are looking forward to see you soon in Vienna!

Stefan Blachfellner
Managing Director Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science

Mag. Tess Marja Werner
Project Management & Curator emcsr avantgarde

Saturday, March 11, 2017

New title from the 2016 Linz, 'Systems Conversation'

 “Systems Literacy” the  Proceedings of the IFSR Conversation 2016 (Linz 3.-8 April 2016) are available!
The 100-page volume contains a detailed record of the Conversation: 24 systems practitioners from 12 countries discussed face-to-face for 5 days various issues of “Systems Literacy", i.e.  the role of systems and their models for humans and society. Divided in 3 teams the topics were:
 * Exploring Transdisciplinarity using Hierarchy Theory, Boulding's Skeleton of Science, and General Systems Theory
* Unity in Diversity - Making the Implicit Explicit
* Exploring the Relationship of Systems Research to Systems Literacy.
The volume contains  6 overview papers,  3 team reports, and a description of the IFSR.
Published by Book-on-Demand,  Germany  (  as hard-copy and e-book it is internationally available from many online bookshops (e.g. Amazon).

The price for the hard-copy edition  is 14€  (16,50$). For the e-book the discount price until April 2017 is 0,99 € (1,07$),   5,49 € (6,47 $) afterwards.
The full bibliographical information is:
Edson, M., Metcalf, G., Tuddenham, P., and Chroust, G. editors:  Systems Literacy - Proceedings of the Eighteenth IFSR Conversation 2016, SEA-SR  47. Books on Demand, Norderstedt, Germany, Feb. 2017.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Beyond Resilience: Case Studies

A new report to be aware of.   But just what do they mean by 'beyond resilience'?  It is hard to discern an answer from the descriptor on the download page:

"The case studies presented in this document illustrate some of the core challenges and opportunities inherent in developing resilient urban water management systems. While most work on urban water management focuses on the role played by government and quasi-government organizations (such as utilities, flood control and drainage organizations, and municipal governments), in many locations markets and actors at the household and community levels operate and manage core parts of the urban water system. Each set of actors plays a different role and each has different strengths and limitations in relation to the other actors and the overall functioning of the urban water system. Building the resilience of urban water systems in the face of climate, rapid urbanization and other stresses requires, we argue, a deep understanding and appreciation of these roles and their limitations. In addition it is important to understand the inherent synergies, conflicts and functional gaps created by the interaction between different actors."

In the report the claim is made that:
 "...there are three major challenges to improving urban water management and building resilience:
• increasing recognition of the roles played by different actors and the incentives driving the actions they take;
• developing policy and other mechanisms to coordinate and mediate these roles; and
• identifying innovative mechanisms for addressing critical water management needs that fall outside the incentives and capacities of urban actors"

Somehow these seem rather obvious if one starts out and continues systemically!

The Capitalocene

Benjamin Kunkel, in the London Review of Books, reviews three titles concerned with the Anthropocene; the review demands attention.

Useful background is provided.  Whilst critically informed Kunkel clearly appreciates the main narratives arising from the three books:"the vogue for the Anthropocene makes sense" he says:  "It expresses, first, an awareness that environmental change of the most durable significance is taking place as we speak, with unaccustomed speed. (Little besides a giant asteroid or a nuclear war could alter the surface of the earth faster and more completely.) Second, the Anthropocene gathers all disparate environmental issues under a single heading, from global warming down to the emissions of a trash incinerator in a poor neighbourhood of Birmingham; it takes in the sixth extinction as a whole as well as the starvation of sea lions off California, as fishermen with bills to pay deplete the stocks of sardine on which the sea lions depend. 

In short, the Anthropocene condenses ‘into a single word’, as Davies says, ‘a gripping and intuitive story about human influences on the planet’."

These conslusions are similar to those reached in an event I organised  in Hanover during 2015 to explore the issues of 'Governing in the Anthropocene' the details from which can be found here.

Kunkel draws on American writer and professor of law Jedediah Purdy who said: ‘The Anthropocene has to be named before people can try to take responsibility for it’.  He goes on to say:

"The ecological reality, once acknowledged, can become a political imperative, leading to collective environmental decision-making where for now there is only collective vulnerability to ecological change as a consequence of collective inertia. 

Purdy contemplates ‘the ideal of Anthropocene democracy’: ‘Self-aware, collective engagement with the question of what kinds of landscapes, what kind of atmosphere and climate, and what kind of world-shaping habitation to pursue would all be parts of the repertoire of self-governance.’"

These claims have great resonance with our decision at the Open University in the mid-1990s to create a new post-graduate programme in Environmental Decision Making (EDM) with the concerns expressed by Purdy as central elements. Unfortunately, under the influence of dubious marketing advice, the EDM programme was later renamed as an Environmental Management programme; this in one fell, conservative, swoop, took atttention away from our human responsibilties in decision making that systemically accounts for the environment, to a frame-maintaining concern for an independent external environment that has to be managed.  Fortunately some of the good teaching material remains in the new degree despite the rebranding.

As was clear from our 'Governing in the Anthropocene' event in Hannover, not all agree that the term Anthropocene is the right one:

"Two of the most formidable contributions so far to the literature of the Anthropocene come from authors who reject the term. Jason Moore in Capitalism in the Web of Life and Andreas Malm in Fossil Capital have overlapping criticisms of what Moore calls ‘the Anthropocene argument’. Its defect, as Moore sees it, is to present humanity as a ‘homogeneous acting unit’, when in fact human beings are never to be found in a generic state. They exist only in particular historical forms of society, defined by distinct regimes of social property relations that imply different dispositions towards ‘extra-human nature’."

In an attempt to diffuse what could become a distracting debate I proposed that we should resort to metaphor theory to consider the various new names (neologisms) being offered.  For example some of the naming proposals include:

"Moore proposes that the Anthropocene be renamed the ‘Capitalocene’, since ‘the rise of capitalism after 1450 marked a turning point in the history of humanity’s relation with the rest of nature, greater than any watershed since the rise of agriculture.’"

As I have posted before, Richard Norgaard who has similarly worked in this intellectual territory for some time, favours the term 'econocene' which, unlike the 'capitalocene', starts much later - just after world war two and the rise of  a particular form of capitalism.

Writing last year in relation to metaphor theory, and paraphrasing George Lakoff,  I said: 

" All thinking and talking involves ‘‘framing.’’ And since frames come with metaphors, or metaphor clusters, with revealing and concealing features as well as theoretical entailments, a single word typically activates not only its defining frame, but also much of the systemic set of relations its defining frame is in".  

My proposal is to accept the creativity that comes with different naming attempts, but to do so whilst taking responsibility for their revealing and concealing features as metaphors, and to appreciate their theoretical entailments. The last thing we want is a time-wasting contest over names:  but the creativity that goes with scholarship associated with bringing forth new names is to be welcomed as long as it does not curtail meaningful, transformative understandings and practices that lead to effective actions.  Our challenge is in 'governing' in this period new in human history (in that it has dramatically new features including, now, our awareness that we as a species are a 'force of nature' affecting whole earth dynamics). 

Exploring the theoretical entailments of the three authors' naming commitments is something Kunkel does well in his review.  He argues that: "neither Capitalism in the Web of Life nor Fossil Capital is a work of political strategy, and Moore and Malm both refrain from arguing what each assumes: namely, that a new and better ecological regime can come about in the 21st century."   In the world with Donald Trump and backsliding in the UK, Australia and some other nations this is unfortunate.

Unfortunately there is little new in the review as to what purposeful responses to the naming of the Anthropocene are systemicaly desirable and culturally feasible.

What is so special about the water-energy-food nexus?

In an article with this title Dennis Wichelns describes connections across policy domains as being helpful, but also argues that 'the focus on water, energy and food is discretionary and limiting'.

In a similar vein I have argued for some time that the shift to so-called nexus thinking is conceptually and methodologically vacuous - we would be much better to refocus on, and reinvest in, systems thinking in practice.

A refreshing take on 'big data'

"In the 19th century, changes in knowledge were facilitated not only by large quantities of new information pouring in from around the world but by shifts in the production, processing and analysis of that information. Hamish Robertson and Joanne Travaglia trace the connections between the 19th century data revolution and the present day one, outlining the implications this may have for the politics of big data in contemporary society. Two centuries after the first big data revolution, many of the problems and their solutions persist down to the present era."

Sir Ken Robinson – Learning [Re]imagined

Interview with Sir Ken Robinson that was recorded as part of the Learning {Re}imagined book where he discusses educational technology, creativity, assessment and the future of learning (15 minutes).

Factory Outlet: George Monbiot's controversial column on schooling

Great article by George asking all the right sorts of question. 

"In the future, if you want a job, you must be as unlike a machine as possible: creative, critical and socially skilled. So why are children being taught to behave like machines?

Children learn best when teaching aligns with their natural exuberance, energy and curiosity. So why are they dragooned into rows and made to sit still while they are stuffed with facts?

We succeed in adulthood through collaboration. So why is collaboration in tests and exams called cheating?"

Diversifying delivery in higher education? Great question

It is a pity about the use of the term 'delivery' in this headline, just as it is bad news for the HE sector that Sir Michael Barber is the government’s preferred candidate to be Chair of the Office for Students. Recalling his Blair years, The Guardian in 2011 noted:
"The columnist Simon Jenkins called him "a control freak's control freak", while the Mail's Quentin Letts compared him to the speaking clock. When he gave PowerPoint presentations on "delivery" before Blair's monthly press conferences – described by one Downing Street official as "excellent punishment for the hacks" – one journalist muttered "bullshit, bullshit, bullshit" throughout."
However the " Higher Education Commission’s fifth inquiry [is], investigating this growing diversity of higher education provision in the UK, assessing the distinctiveness of alternative models of provision, and considering whether this variety in the sector’s offer is effectively responding to the needs of students. The Higher Education Commission is an independent body made up of leaders from the education sector, the business community and the three major political parties."

Given how inadequate the curent government's thinking and actions are w.r.t the HE sector it is to be hoped  this inquiry offers some fresh thinking and incentives for action.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Death of Jay Forrester

Dear ......:

It is with great sadness that we are writing to you to announce that Jay W. Forrester, Professor of Management Emeritus at MIT, has died at the age of 98.

A full obituary is now available in the New York Times. Further information is available via the System Dynamics Society homepage.

Many of us have memories we cherish and want to share about Jay and we know that members of the System Dynamics community are posting their thoughts and reflections on various social media. We would ask everyone to consider visiting the webpage dedicated to Jay and click on “comments” to write there about how Jay touched your life. This page is for us all. Write what you want others to see and hear. We will all gain from our memories of Jay.

Below are excerpts from the announcement on our homepage.

Jay founded what became the field of System Dynamics in 1956 and has had a profound and lasting influence on it throughout its 60-year history. A lifelong innovator, Jay was a pioneer in digital computing and helped create the computer age in which we all live today. Trained in electrical engineering, Jay came to MIT in 1939, where he worked on feedback control servomechanisms during World War II. After the war, Jay directed the MIT Digital Computer Laboratory, where he led the design and construction of Whirlwind I, one of the world’s first high-speed digital computers. He invented and holds the patent for magnetic core memory, the dominant form of random access memory (RAM) for decades (even travelling to the moon with the Apollo astronauts), until it was eventually replaced by semiconductors. Whirlwind became the basis for many innovations, from numerically controlled machine tools to SAGE, the first integrated continental air defense system.

Invited to join the faculty of the MIT Sloan School of Management in 1956, Jay created the field of system dynamics to apply engineering concepts of feedback systems and digital simulation to understand what he famously called “the counterintuitive behavior of social systems.” His ground-breaking 1961 book, Industrial Dynamics, remains a clear and relevant statement of philosophy and methodology in the field. His later books and his numerous articles broke new ground in our understanding of complex human systems and policy problems. Jay officially retired in 1989, but continued his work unabated, focusing on promoting the use of system dynamics in K-12 education.


Roberta and Etiënne

Roberta L. Spencer and Etiënne A.J.A Rouwette
Respectively Executive Director and Society President

System Dynamics Society
Milne 300, Rockefeller College
University at Albany, State University of New York
Albany, New York 12222
+1 518 442-3865

Bruno Latour essay - the elephant in the room

Says Latour,

"The question is whether the tragedy of November 8, following that of Brexit, can help us to avoid what comes next. In other words, can we get away from both utopias, that of the Globe as well as that of the Nation? What we need instead is an Earth that is solid, realistic, and durable. Alas, at present the ecological crisis is the elephant in the room, and yet it is as if nothing has happened, as if the choice were still between marching bravely into the future or clinging dearly to the past. Trump and his followers have even gone so far as to deny the very existence of this crisis."

Read the full essay.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Systems and cybernetics conference (WMSCI)

Please consider contributing by submitting an article in the area "Cybernetics and Systemics" or any other included in the 21st World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics: WMSCI 2017 (, to be held on July 8 - 11, 2017, in Orlando, Florida, USA, jointly with:

  • The 11th International Multi-Conference on Society, Cybernetics, and Informatics: IMSCI 2017
  • The 15th International Conference on Education and Information Systems, Technologies and Applications: EISTA 2017
  • The 10th International Multi-Conference on Engineering and Technological Innovation: IMETI 2017

The respective web sites of the above events and the others being jointly organized can be found at the general CFP posted at:

To submit your article, please click the "Authors" tab on the conference website. Submissions for face-to-face and virtual presentations are both accepted.

The deadlines for this second CFP are the following:
  • December 7th, 2016: Article submissions
  • December 7th, 2016: Invited session proposals
  • January 18th, 2017: Notifications of acceptance
  • February 14th, 2017: Uploading of camera-ready or final version

WMSCI and all its collocated events are being indexed by Elsevier's SCOPUS since 2005. The 2017 proceedings will also be sent to Elsevier's SCOPUS.

Authors of early submissions to WMSCI 2017 (or any of its collocated events) and, consequently, of early acceptances and registrations will be:
  1. Considered in the selection of keynote speakers because this selection will need additional reviews.
  2. Invited for submitting a second paper on special topics; which, if accepted, will require no additional fee for its presentation. These topics, which will be selected by the Organizing Committee, are very important topics, but are not necessarily among the usual grants priorities. The IIIS will finance this kind of papers which are important for many authors but are not among the priorities of policy makers in organizations which might financially be supporting participations in conferences.

Details about the following issues have also been included at the URLs given above:
  • Pre- and post-conference virtual sessions.
  • Virtual participation.
  • Two-tier reviewing combining double-blind and non-blind methods.
  • Access to reviewers’ comments and evaluation average.
  • Waiving the registration fee of effective invited session organizers.
  • Best papers awards.
  • Publication of best papers in the Journal of Systemics, Cybernetics, and Informatics (JSCI), which is indexed in EBSCO, Cabell, DOAJ (Directory of Open Access Journals), and Google Scholar, and listed in Cabell Directory of Publishing Opportunities and in Ulrich’s Periodical Directory. (All papers to be presented at the conference will be included in the conference printed and electronic proceedings)

Please consider forwarding to the appropriate groups who might be interested in submitting contribution to the above mentioned collocated events. New information and deadlines are posted on the conference and the IIIS web site (especially at the URL provided above).

Best regards,

WMSCI 2017 Organizing Committee

Monday, November 14, 2016

News from the Heinz von Foerster Society

Ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues and friends,

today is the 105th anniversary of Heinz von Foerster’s birthday. We invite you to commemorate Heinz by listening to one of his lectures from 1975 provided by Portland State Library as an audio document

You will be able to enjoy Heinz explaining his ideas in a most entertaining , inspiring and precise way.

However, our celebration is overshadowed by the message that Aartje Hulstein passed away two days ago.

Aartje (born in the Netherlands on 1.11.1950 and died in Southsea, UK, on 11.11.2016), the widow of Ranulph Glanville, was not only a close friend and supporter of the Heinz von Foerster Society, she has been present at a large number of cybernetics-, systems-, and constructivism-conferences. She (together with Claudia Westermann) contributed large parts of the book “Trojan Horses. A Rattle Bag from the »Cybernetics: Art, Design, Mathematics – A Meta-Disciplinary Conversation« post-conference workshop”, ed. by Ranulph Glanville et al. edition echoraum, Vienna 2012.

In her professional life, Aartje acted as a most successful physical therapist with disabled children in England, permanently implementing second order cybernetics methods and ideas in her field while always observing the individuality of the child.

We lost one of the most dearest and loveable persons in our field. We will always keep her in our memories.

Greetings from Vienna
Albert Müller


Heinz von Foerster Society
c/o Institut für Zeitgeschichte
Spitalgasse 2-4 (Hof 1)
A-1090 Wien
Tel.: #43 1 4277-41220

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The centenary of the Battle of Fromelles

My grandfather, Col White arrived on the Western Front in July 1916 via Marsailles and Egypt.  He had been drafted into the 114th Howitzer Battery, 5th Division AIF.  On the 15th July 1916 they went into the front in preparation for the assault known as the Battle of Fromelles, 1916.  This battle began on the 19th July 1916.

"In a period of twenty-four hours the Australians lost 5,533 men and the British 1,400 with absolutely nothing to show for it. The proportion of those killed was exceptionally high, for example of the 887 men of the Australian 60th Battalion engaged in the battle only 107 survived"

Col (CKB White) was fortunate to survive the war. He later led an active life as a grazier and in civic life in Bathurst NSW.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Rethinking agricultural systems - corn

"As a crop, corn is highly productive, flexible and successful. As a system, the same is not true."

"with the current corn system dominating our use of natural resources and public dollars, while delivering less food and nutrition than other agricultural systems, it’s time ask tough questions and demand better solutions" argues Jonathan Foley.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Against collaboration?

Against collaboration:  by Charlotte Pell  (16 Dec 15) 
"Can the government’s policy of mandating cross-agency collaboration really be the best way to provide efficient services at minimum cost?"

See Charlotte's "eight charges against government-funded collaboration".

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Brexit - a cry of concern from a friend

I like so many others have been incredibly saddened and disturbed by the outcomes of last week's vote.  Amongst the many emotions, particularly those of loss, anger soon emerges at the intellectual vacuousness of those who have been placed into the roles of leading the country.  What is more, few commentators see it is the systemic failure of the 'UK governance system', a failing that has been ongoing for many this article from Philip Pullman illuminates. 

A dear friend has articulated the grief many of us are experiencing in the following terms:

Dear X, thanks for your note! I hope you don't mind but I am so sore and disturbed that I cannot help adding some comment on what's afoot. 

A brief grieving: How does a govt that got around 24 % of the vote in the last elections now dare to act and speak in the name of the nation after leading it into an unecessary referendum to resolve an internal party struggle? ?

How is it that neither the left nor the right of the political specturm understood the consequences of the damage to [male, white] identity as secure employment in mining, agric, ship building, steel etc. left the towns, docks, and rural areas? How is it that the elderly, with dreams of empire and former glory, can have such influence on the future of a country? How do the nation's great and good get away with outrageous lies without accountability?

How is it possible for a nation to contemplate electing as the new PM someone who has no admin ability, and who has lied time and again in his quest for power? [his personality and abilities are well known on the continent and for sure, tho some in the UK might think he can re-unify the differences in the UK, he would not be seen as a responsible or competent person to lead negotiations with the other 27 countries, thus increasing the likelihood of worse coutcomes].

And whatever side of the debates anyone stands on, it's simply terrifying that there appears to have been so little preparation for, and understanding of what the social, political, economic and constitutional consequences of a referendum might be - utterly, utterly irresponsible.

The debates now seem focussed on matters internal to the UK. In following these debates, I am also constantly struck by how little understanding of or consideration anyone in Westminster or the country at large - or the BBC - has given to how members of the other 27 countries might actually perceive the issues, and the consequences,or, come to that, how Commonwealth countries, the US, Russia or China might view these events.

I live in the NL and I am sure that the UK will not be able to get both access to the single market and control of free movement, nor access to the single market without financial contributions, nor access and a rejection of the European Court of Justice. And [almost!] worst of all, as a resident of more than 15 yrs in the EU I do not have the right of vote. This is in itself surely a scandalous denial of basic rights to over 2 million Brits; there are now in effect two classes of British citizenship. Democratic provisions seem to have fallen down big time - bah! and boo!

"Why everything you know about management is wrong"

Great article from Simon Caulkin.  Here is a flavour:

"Not a day passes without some fresh underlining of Baum’s message (and it’s not just the US): fraud at FIFA, in athletics and in tennis; Tesco exploiting suppliers; Sports Direct exploiting employees; charities (for God’s sake) exploiting donors; yet more bank penalties (up to a global $150bn since the financial crisis and counting); Libor fallout; Kids’ Company; and VW.

There is, of course, a link between all these organisations. Their misfortunes were made by the people who work in them.

They were manmade, or, to be clearer, management-made"

N.B.  Mark Baum is the character based on a real-life investor, in The Big Short, the 2015 film adaptation of Michael Lewis’s  unpicking of 2008’s global financial crisis. Baum is a capitalist investor, not a revolutionary.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Why I voted remain

I have already voted in the UK referendum concerning the UK's future in Europe. I voted remain.  As a researcher in Europe and UK resident (some of it part time) for 22 years I have come to see myself as essentially European. As I have written elsewhere I have regarded the EU as one of the greatest and most needed experiments in governance in the last two centuries.

Despite the millions of words written and spoken about "Brexit", as it has become known, nothing has shifted my fundamental conviction that Britain, and the rest of the world, will be better off with the UK inside Europe.  Little that has been written or said about "Brexit" is intelligent or insightful.  There is little acknowledgement that successive UK governments abandoned responsibility for shaping and improving Europe. Cameron's last minute dash for reform was far too little and too late. It also elicited cynicism conditioned by internal Tory Party power struggles. The great tragedy, and perhaps great shock for many, is that when the lid was taken off, when citizens were enabled (well sort of!) to participate in a 'conversation' about the UK and its future, very few people had a narrative, a story they could tell themselves, about Europe. The emergent narrative is one of disaffection and fear, and stories that hark back to an imaginary period when Britian was 'great'!  That this is a myth shows how powerful narratives can be.

Don't get me wrong, the EU needs reform, but so too does the Westminster system of government (perhaps even more so). Much better to work together to design new governance arrangements for the world we humans are creating.  Simon Caulkin, whose work has often featured in my posts, makes elegant and intelligent arguments for remaining; they are reprised below in this blog from Simon.

Why I'm voting to remain

Simon Caulkin (Thu, 16th Jun 2016)

"There’s a more than respectable progressive case for voting to leave the European Union in the forthcoming UK referendum. It’s set out here by the Guardian’s economics editor Larry Elliott, someone I like and respect. The lack of democratic accountability, the austerity that has driven Greece to its knees when it voted for the opposite, the failure of the euro, the inability to come together over Putin and migration, the environmental and other failings detailed by another Guardian writer, George Monbiot – all these are dagger blows at the heart of the limping half-century-old European project, and they can’t be wished away.

Yet I passionately believe that we should remain, and shall have no hesitation in voting so on 23 June.

My reasons are personal, historical and political. 

First, having married into a French family, half my close relatives are French. I care about what happens to France and know at first hand that for all the cross-Channel barbs and incomprehension, the French on the whole, like other Europeans, care about us too. Read this letter of affection in the TLS signed by, among others, footballers, football managers and rugby players, authors, architects, restaurateurs, actors and film directors, and musicians from Greece to Sweden, Italy to Poland. Or these. Despite our best current efforts to make ourselves as dislikeable as possible, Europeans believe that traditional British tolerance and fortitude are an important counterweight to different continental qualities – and any honest inhabitant of these islands would have to acknowledge that the trade is equally advantageous in the other direction.

There is another personal reason. My father’s physical and intellectual journey from committed pacifist to lieutenant in a reconnaissance regiment fighting its way through Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany in 1944 and 1945 is vividly preserved in the letters that he wrote home at the time. Reading them now, there is not the shadow of a doubt that he and his colleagues knew perfectly well that they weren't only fighting for their and their own families’ futures; for them, the terrible bloodshed and mayhem that they witnessed (and suffered – my father was killed a week before the armistice) was only redeemable by a settlement that cemented all the nations affected, including the defeated, in a binding democratic embrace. (So well did these soldiers do their peacetime work that, as I only realised much later, German teenagers in the British occupied zone grew up as familiar with the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and other icons of British popular culture as I did; while the German postwar economic miracle owed much to the company governance regime of two-tier boards and co-determination instituted under strong influence from our own TUC.)

I’m dismayed that the remain camp has ignored these broader issues to focus on the economy and Project Fear. I don’t doubt that there would be short-term shocks to the economy from a Brexit, but that's not why I'm voting to remain. I don't trust any of the numbers. But more than that, to collapse the European idea to name-calling over numbers, as both sides have done, is both embarrassingly reductive and beside the point. Given the government’s well proven ability, not least over the last eight years, to make a pig’s ear of the economy without any outside assistance, using economic freedom from Brussels as a rallying cry for leave is almost comically brazen. There is a real economic argument to be had, about the nature and purpose of business, but like all the other important issues we face, it can only be addressed at supra-national level. Only at EU level is it conceivable that a counterweight could be developed to the dangerous arrogance of Silicon Valley and the excesses of US finance and shareholder-dominated capitalism.

As for immigration, the shrill, angry discourse about migrants reminds me of efforts 20 years ago to block the building of the Channel Tunnel for fear it would bring in an epidemic of rabies. Scapegoating is as old as history. But so, as a dispassionate New Scientist analysis reminded us recently, are waves of human migration, the inseparable companion of wars, famine, natural disaster and, although this is usually left out, gross global inequality. Of course, it would be mad to deny that an influx of incomers seeking a new life creates uncomfortable issues. But they can be managed, as they have been before, by tackling them head on with thought, effort, sympathy and state help, usually temporary, with cost. For those responsible for austerity to whip up anti-migrant feeling by blaming the latter for stretched public services and lack of affordable housing is breathtaking in its dishonesty, while to believe that any country can pull up the drawbridge and shut out these global tides is wishful thinking of the most vapid kind. 

Also disappointing is the narrow vision of other European leaders who don't seem to see the UK referendum for what it is, an existential challenge that can only be met by imaginative and sweeping restatement of what Europe is for. ‘What has happened to you, the Europe of humanism, the champion of human rights, democracy and freedom? What has happened to you, Europe, the home of poets, philosophers, artists, musicians, and men and women of letters? What has happened to you, Europe, the mother of peoples and nations, the mother of great men and women who upheld, and even sacrificed their lives for, the dignity of their brothers and sisters?’ I’m not aware of having quoted the Pope before, but the reproach implicit in the questions he raised in his Charlemagne award speech can't be easily swept aside.

Europe,’ as Churchill once put it, ‘is where the weather comes from’. The migration surge welling up from the Mediterranean, the Eurozone crisis and the outbreaks of right-wing populism all underline that that’s as true today as it ever was; and now as then it’s no more possible for Britain to negotiate an opt-out than from European isobars or the Gulf Stream. We’re in, and we have to deal with it. Do we face up to the challenge, or run away in a way that we never have before? What’s at risk in this misconceived referendum, it’s now apparent, is not our economic future but our soul, our identity and an idea of Europe that our parents and grandparents helped to shape 70 years ago." 

Like Simon I have family connections to war in Europe (though without such devastating personal outcomes). 2016 is the centenary of my grandfather's induction into war on the Western Front. As a young Australian he also went to war to fight for the European ideal - to fight tyranny, hegemony, and the attempted imposition of belief through bullying and violence. This is worth remembering and honouring.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

60th ISSS Conference: Boulder Colorado, July 2016


60th Annual Meeting of the International Society for the Systems Sciences
and 1st Policy Congress of ISSS

Realizing Sustainable Futures in Socio-Ecological Systems

Call for Papers Booklet Download
Leadership for Sustainability

"Unity in Diversity -- Humanity in Technology"

India: 23-25 July 2016 -- Leadership for Sustainability
Vadlamudi, Anhra Pradesh, India, Biotechnology Department, Vignan's University
Day 1 (Saturday): Food, Energy, and Water Systems: Engineering for Sustainability
  • Session 1: Renewable and sustainable energy
  • Session 2: Sustainable and healthy food systems/Engineering systems for
Day 2 (Sunday): Economics, Business, and Green Technologies
  • Session 3: Circular economic models for business, societies, entrepreneurs and communities
  • Session 4: Green technologies- agriculture and livestock/Use of sensors for sustainability
Day 3 (Monday): Habitats and Ecosystem Sustainability
  • Session 5: Habitat resilience (rural, urban, forest and natural ecosystems)
  • Session 6: Valedictory session
USA: 24-30 July 2016 -- Realizing Sustainable Futures in Socio-Ecological Systems

Math and Engineering Buildings, University of Colorado, Boulder  (Campus Information)

Day 1 (Monday): Frameworks for Systemic Sustainability: “When are Complex Systems Sustainable?”
            Plenary I: The Challenge of System(s) Sustainability 
            Plenary II: Towards Holistic System(s) Theory
            Evening Keynote Program: Realizing Sustainable Futures

Day 2 (Tuesday): Global Science and Ecosystem Assessments: “From Problem to Solution Orientation.”
            Plenary III: Coupling Human and Natural System(s) Research
            Plenary IV: From Crisis to Synergy (Anticipatory, Exploratory and Participatory Methods)

Day 3 (Wednesday): Cultural, Ethical, and Economic Wisdom: “Reuniting Nature and Humanity”
            Plenary V: Making Sense in Economics, Ethics, and Policy
            Plenary VI: Multi-Cultural Wisdom
            Special Luncheon Keynote: Inter-Faith Perspectives on Global Sustainability
            Special Afternoon Session: ISSS Policy Summit
            Evening Reception: The Edges of Science

Day 4 (Thursday):  Engineering and Systemic Synthesis: “Creating Sustainable Systems”
            Plenary VII: Engineering Sustainable Systems and Technology
            Plenary VIII: Prospects for Scientific Systemic Synthesis

Day 5 (Friday): Education, Communication, and Capacity: “Making it Whole”
            Plenary IX: Systems Literacy Education and Outreach
            Plenary X: The Whole Person in a Whole society