April 14 (the second Monday of the month) is the 99th meeting for Systems Thinking Ontario. The registration is on Eventbrite at https://humanism-anthropocene-systemsapproach.eventbrite.ca .

Humanism, the Anthropocene, and Enemies of the Systems Approach

Humanism is "most generally, any philosophy concerned to emphasize human welfare and dignity, and either optimistic about the powers of human reason, or at least insistent that we have no alternative but to use it as best we can" (Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy).

The anthropocene "defines Earth's most recent geologic time period (Anthropocene) as being human-influenced, or anthropogenic, based on overwhelming global evidence that atmospheric, geologic, hydrologic, biospheric and other earth system processes are now altered by humans" (Encyclopedia of Earth).

The systems approach "belongs to a whole class of approaches to managing and planning our human affairs with the intent that we as a living species conduct ourselves properly in this world". (Churchman 1979, p. 8).

  • It is designed to avoid the "environmental fallacy" of living and deciding outside of the systems approach, rather than being in the systems approach.

  • Churchman specified four enemies of the systems approach:

    • politics,

    • morality,

    • religion and

    • aesthetics

  • "What is common to all the enemies is that none of them accepts the reality of the 'whole system': we do not exist in such a system".

  • "To me these enemies provide a powerful way of learning about the systems approach, precisely because they enable the rational mind to step outside itself and to observe itself (from the vantage point of the enemies)." (Churchman 1979, p. 23).

In a chapter on "Humans Regulating Humans", David Hawk writes:

  • "For Jung, feeling and thinking are dominantly rational functions used for “ordering” and are the product of voluntary mental events. Intuition and sensing, on the other hand, are dominantly non-rational functions used for “perceiving” and are the products of involuntary human events initiated by the physical world. Rational functions are triggered by the human mind, while non-rational functions are triggered by the environment. Both aspects are important for regulation in complex environments. (Hawk 2019, p. 56)

Can we reconcile humanism, the anthropocene, and enemies of the systems approach?


Suggested pre-reading:

Gallopín, Gilberto. 2003. A Systems Approach to Sustainability and Sustainable Development. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean 64. United Nations Publications. https://repositorio.cepal.org/handle/11362/5759 .

Ehrenfeld, David W. 1981. The Arrogance of Humanism. Oxford University Press.

Heinberg, Richard. 2017. “Systemic Change Driven by Moral Awakening Is Our Only Hope.” EcoWatch (blog). August 14, 2017. https://www.ecowatch.com/climate-change-heinberg-2471869927.html.

Churchman, C. West. 1979. The Systems Approach and Its Enemies. New York: Basic Books.

Hawk, David L. 2019. Too Early, Too Late, Now What? AuthorHouse. https://www.authorhouse.com/en/bookstore/bookdetails/799308-too-early-too-late-now-what.


Post-meeting artifacts

Bloggers are encouraged to write about their learning and experiences at the meeting. Links will be added to this page.