Wicked Problems and Wicked Solutions

The case of the world’s food supply


“Facing the complexity of the system, listening to the experts discussing it, you get a chilling sensation that it is a system truly too difficult for human beings to grasp”.

In this case the author is talking about the world’s food supply, However the statement could as easily be applied to the climate, the oceans, soil, economics, forestry, the atmosphere, the web of life, the financial system, health care, waste management – or any of the components of all the crises of the 21st century.

Western thinking is particularly unsuited to dealing with complex systems as we tend to objectify anything that can be individually identified and treat the resulting objects in isolation from each other. This produces a situation like the classic story of the little Dutch boy sticking his fingers into a small leak in a disintegrating dyke; you run out of fingers or ideas before you have a significant effect on the problem.

Eastern thinkers (Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern) and most aboriginal peoples tend to see everything in its context so complex systems, networks and inter-connections are natural to them and easier to understand and visualize. Some academics feel the agricultural revolution was the start of western style thinking as people could specialize instead of playing a full slate of roles as with hunter-gatherer societies. Others lean more towards the ancient Greek philosophers as the main source.

In any case, with the power to make change weighted so heavily towards those who “can’t see the forest for the trees” and don’t understand the need for change, the rest of the 21st century and beyond, if there is a beyond, is liable to be a distopian time to be a human.

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