Book Review:

Two monographs on Systems Theory

Civilizations and Other Living Systems
Toward a General Theory of Systems


Civilizations and Other Living Systems
by Win Wenger, Ph.D.

Initially a critique of the theory and model built by the great Arnold J. Toynbee, this 1972 work goes on to build upon elements of that and of several other models to formulate a systems theory of human society.
"One of the wisest things I've ever heard!" said the late great historian, Carroll Quigley, commenting on this model at the 1972 annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Why did twenty-some of the twenty-nine or so major civilizations, prior to our own global, Western civilization, seemingly commit suicide and vanish? With infinitely more at stake, and everything we here value at stake, is our own civilization too far advanced in the same cycle or is it redeemable?

This monograph describes, largely from a perspective of general systems, cybernetics and information theory, why entire high civilizations emerge, flourish, and catastrophically collapse.

This work is in part a critique of the model built by Arnold J. Toynbee in his A Study of History. A brief on part of that model:  human societies historically progress best while consisting of a loose association of widely scattered smaller units. These are close enough together to communicate, but too small and remote from each other to control and limit each other's actions. Hence they are free to imitate each other's successes and avoid one-another's failures. As a consequence of that set of advantages growth occurs and ends that advantageous condition. Breakdown follows once civilization becomes so dense and massively structured that solutions to problems can be imposed from above, and once most of what people depend upon requires long, complex, vulnerable lines of supply. (Nowadays we call that "infrastructure.")

Edward Gibbon, in his famous On the Rise And Fall of the Roman Empire, set forth fhe reason why Rome fell, but why the Europe of his time would not fall.... In Rome, all became dependent upon (the centralized arrangements); and when they fell, as sooner or later all structured arrangements must, Rome fell with them. In contrast, in the Europe and Western society of Gibbon's time, "Every household, hamlet and village has [the knowhow and] requisite means of survival. Should the superstructure of society be swept away for awhile, life will go on much as before until a new one arises...."

Part of author Win Wenger's observation is that human societies and living biological organisms both have the structure [and, mathematically, some of the behavior] of complexly homeostatic (goal-homing) systems. Advanced civilizations are structured like complex metazoans, susceptible to aging and dying. Having discovered economies-of-scale, having for a number of reasons fallen into the romance of bigness (is today's merger-mania the latest outcropping of this?), and settling into complexly vulnerable, specialized arrangements and lines-of-supply—these are what usually prove ultimately fatal to the societies which have come to depend thereon.
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Toward a General Theory of Systems:
One Man's Window on Our Universe

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.

This 1979 work presents a simple way to understand the nature of systems and, in turn, to move toward understanding the nature and dynamics of almost everything else. Ours is, after all, one universe with one set of descriptive natural laws.

This was the first publication, anywhere, on sociotectonics and socioquake phenomena. Beginning with a general model of human societal dynamics, Wenger then looks at a consequence of societies' being successful—they grow. They acquire mass. Societies also tend to fall back from dynamic equilibrium (moving toward some further goal) toward stasis.

Little stones do not generate earthquakes, but mantle and continental masses do. Massive societies which have fallen back toward stasis tend to accumulate stress along fault lines around imperfectly squelched change. Where there's some give, there's a swarm of microquakes from time to time. Where the "fault zone" is rigidly locked, the great cataclysmic quakes occur. From this perspective and at this point in time, the entire science and math of geophysics, as pertaining to tectonic plate behavior, may indeed map onto and account for major orders of social phenomena—and serve as useful bases for partial prediction of such phenomena.

The model predicted the fall of the Soviet Union and of the American school system, caught as these were along virtually the same fault line though in different locked zones. The author, unfortunately, "chickened out" of including these findings in the book.
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