In February I suggested that governance should be modeled in line with hierarchical control systems (HCS) theory. My argument is based on recognition of a fundamental organizing principle in naturally evolving systems. In order to achieve and improve on the ability to sustain in a non-stationary (that is constantly evolving) environment, systems must develop the capacity to make several kinds of decisions based on both physical and temporal scopes. Operational decisions are basically real-time, error-correcting decisions. They work to keep a system basically functioning. That is they are made to keep the many functional sub-systems operating as intended to achieve an overall performance. Logistical decisions are made over a longer time scale and serve to coordinate the inter-sub-system activities. A basic problem for logistical decision making is optimization of performance over a complex set of cooperating and competing sub-systems. Tactical decisions involve actions that serve to coordinate the whole system's behavior with respect to its environment. These are mainly involved with interactions with the environment to obtain needed resources for continued existence and growth (or reproduction). Finally, at the highest level of the decision hierarchy are strategic decisions. These are the long-term actions that serve to set the goals and objectives for the lower level decision makers. Strategic management involves having a long-range notion (model) of the environment such that anticipation of how that environment will change in the future can be used to formulate tactical and logistical plans. Strategic management also uses a model of the system itself to judge the goodness of future actions relative to maintaining the organization. If the model shows some weaknesses in the system's ability to respond favorably to future changes and opportunities, then the strategic decision might involve shoring up those weakness or setting tactical plans to mitigate them.
The above description, believe it or not, applies to all kinds of complex adaptive systems. In biology it describes both the evolution of intelligent, quasi-sapient beings such as ourselves. It describes the operations of our brains. And it describes the operations of organizations of said intelligent, quasi-sapient beings, such as corporations and governments.
One of the things that the beings and their organizations do, from time to time, is think ahead and develop some kind of strategic plan. A woman might consider, consciously, what she is looking for in a man in an attempt to maximize her future marital bliss (hopelessly it turns out given the nature of most men). A corporation might study the market and consider what products its customers would prefer in order to maximize its sales in the future. Strategic thinking and planning are a natural part of individual and organizational management. But I am not sure anyone has ever thought about a strategic plan for humanity. To be frank, I doubt seriously if anyone has ever thought seriously about such a plan for a nation. One might think our founding fathers had some kind of strategic vision in place, but I suspect it amounted to little more than aspirations for a new nation. A complete strategic plan needs to consider the environment and how things are going to change. This means not only considering how your nation is going to play in the rest of the worlds' political games, but, as we can now begin to understand, how your economic structure and functions integrate with the natural world. Someone with a better knowledge of history might try to look at our founding that way.
The thing about strategic plans is that you need to have something in place before you can do much reasonable tactical and logistical planning. But the irony of that is that you generally already have an operation in place so you need logistics and tactics to keep things going smoothly. It is the original chicken-and-egg problem. It can lead to an interesting paradox. How can you effectively manage an operation if you don't have a coordination-level (tactical and logistical) plan to work from? And how can you have the latter if you don't have a good strategic plan to work from? But you can't have a good strategic plan until after you have been in operation!
The answer is that you develop iteratively. Individuals grow and mature. They have parents or guardians when they are young and learn effective behaviors as they mature. When they come of age (literally) they start thinking about the future and their interactions with the rest of their environment. The prefrontal cortex undergoes its final stages of maturation from about the age of 20 to 30, and that is where thinking about the future is mediated. Corporations generally start out as small companies and then grow and develop in complexity. Being at least as malleable as individuals they can develop management systems and levels as needed. But from the begriming the creators had some grand vision of what they wanted to accomplish and a basic understanding of their markets and customers. The HCS develops with time and experience.
Eventually, however, the process of strategic thinking and management must be distributed amongst several foci. People need to think about their jobs, their families, their education, and so on. Corporations need to think about their finances, their product development capabilities, their shifting customer desires, and so on. No one functional unit, either in an individual's brain or in the corporate upper management, can take care of it all. And that is when you have to go into formal planning. All of these strategic foci do connect at various points. If nothing else one has to consider trade-offs, say between family and job. [In a side note: it turns out that all levels of an HCS contain recursive versions of the HCS model itself. A strategic planning unit, for example, has operational sub-units analyzing each focus, a logistical unit to coordinate between them and to integrate the intersections, and a tactical unit to consider deploying the plan and planning process to the rest of the system! I've even seen a strategic manager of a strategic planning unit! In a really large complex system it can get very interesting.]
For an individual this might take many forms. The demands for considering many factors and long, long time scales may not be as great. People start thinking of retirement, for instance, long into their working lives and often after the kids have left the home. But they do think about it explicitly whether or not they put things down on paper. Organizations, by their nature, have many more factors to consider and generally have to plan over time frames exceeding the tenure of any one boss. Imagine the planning problems for Boeing or Air Bus. So organizations tend to follow more formal procedures for strategic planning. Some even do it well!
So in that middle ground, between individuals and large complex organizations, we see the tendency to engage in thinking about the future and how the self fits into it. But when we get to the state level it gets a little murky. It might be safe to say that an autocratic state has the benefit (if you want to call it that) of someone taking care of strategic planing. The dictator is the decider (are all self-styled deciders dictators?) But what about the situation in a democracy, or a republic like the US? What kind of strategic plan do we have? Who has ever asked if we have one? It clearly isn't as clear.
Now consider the situation for humanity as a whole. Think of the human species as a system. Think of it as a meta-organization. What is the strategic plan for humanity? What does the future of humanity look like? What kind of world do we want to live in? What are our strengths and weaknesses as a species? What are the opportunities and threats that face us and how do they play out over time?
It should be clear, given the global challenges we face, that these are not idle questions. Perhaps you might understand now why I ask about an upgrade to Human 2.0. Strategic planning takes a lot of wisdom. It takes a tremendous amount of understanding about how the world works and how humanity can effectively fit within the constraints of that working while still enjoying the benefits of being human, conscious, and caring. It takes a vast amount of knowledge about reality and a willingness to accept reality for what it is.
Humanity needs a strategic plan. We need to grasp what kind of future we can have given the constraints of physical reality. We need to have this plan in order to set tactical and logistical plans for developing a society that provides a platform for individual enlightenment and joy as well as functions in accordance with the dictates of nature. We have been learning in the sense of accumulating a lot of scientifically and emotionally gained knowledge. We have been a child-like species and now it is time to grow up. How shall we develop such a plan?