There are many global problems and still more sensible proposals to combat them, but of all those proposals, too few have been adopted to avert the worst. So: how can sensible proposals to combat global problems be adopted? Even if that requires a fundamental change?
The answer is to first, arrive at a procedure to decide about global system change, then collect proposals for global system change, and finally, decide about them according to the selected procedure. The first and second stage would be facilitated by a forum which is organised by a team. This team would take the following steps, as illustrated in the flow chart below:
Step A: experts in (collective) decision-making select a procedure (the blue box) to decide about system change.
Step B: experts in global system change submit proposals for global system change.
Step C: virtually anyone else submits additional proposals or amendments concerning system change.
The team would not organise the actual decision-making. More about this at the end of this exposition.
Similar decisions about decision-methods have been made in the past: experts have agreed that majority voting is the worst possible way of deciding (under certain conditions) and a jury awarded prizes to proposals for alternative modes of governance. See Programmes for details. The present proposal kind of combines both approaches: experts in decision-making are to decide about a decision procedure for global system change.
By `global system change’ is meant any fundamental change to the international economy and to modes of global governance, even when not the same everywhere. Here, ‘global governance’ is more emphatically called ‘mode of global governance’ to distinguish it from the outcomes of global governance, that is, the measures resulting from day-to-day deciding-making. Notice that any mode of global governance would not be imposed by the experts in decision-making but that it would be decided by the decision-body.
What problems would be addressed by this proposal and why do we need global system change? How are the experts in decision-making to decide among themselves? What should be the format of proposals for system change? These questions will be answered below, sometimes after short philosophical excursions.
In a nutshell, the problems considered here are those concrete global problems which are caused by human behaviour, the global so-called anthropogenic problems. This problem definition immediately leads to the underlying problem: inadequate decision-making at a global scale, which obviously therefore needs to be improved. As the concrete problems are severe, there could be no more compelling and simple reason why modes of global governance should be improved. The present proposal is to first find a procedure to decide about such improvement or more generally, about system change. In the remainder, some of the intricacies of this endeavour are highlighted.
1.1 Concrete Problems
The concrete global problems at hand are the collapse of the physical and biological environment; resource scarcity; violence and conflict; endemic psychological problems such as loneliness; medical problems; and finally, loss of cultural diversity and heritage. Some of these problems are often captured by the word `inequality.’ For more elaborate lists, see Problems.
A particularly important example is global warming of the oceans and the surface atmosphere. Two related causes are the number of people in the world and CO2 emitting fuel use. Continuing the combustion of oil, gas, wood, etcetera will rapidly further increase the temperature and lead to catastrophes – with certainty. A ban on using these fuels only very probably leads to catastrophe. The logical course of action would be to immediately stop anthropogenic emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses (except when used for the most vital functions) as well as to gently reduce the number of people in the world. In other words, to declare some state of emergency because there is still some room to adapt to such self-imposed restraints.
Other causes and problems similarly imply the need for drastic action, or rather, a radical stop on activities. Logic is our lifeline, so why don’t we follow this logical course of action?
1.2 Human Nature
The main reason for our lack of action against impending problems is the human propensity to disregard their severity. A possible explanation is that present experiences are more important than predictions (so-called future discounting.) This is so not only because the future may miraculously turn out to be different but also because the enjoyment of the present moment is essential to life in the face of the death of each individual. Moreover, this attitude is helpful in refraining from action when the problem is there. Some people even exacerbate a problem with a certain bravado, as if to deny its existence.
Now, citizens have granted their governments the right to recognise problems on their behalf and take measures accordingly. This is a transfer of responsibility for acting in their own interest, so-called precommitment. One would expect that this overcomes our inaction.
However, governments are composed of people who, just like almost everybody else, are inclined to disregard the full extent of problems and risks. It is helpful to them that some governments have transferred responsibility and knowledge back to semi-governmental organisations, their own citizens, the 'market,' or companies (which act similarly.) Of course, there are other reasons for governmental inaction, like the `next elections’ argument as well as the “obfuscation” of responsibility by roles and tasks.
2 Fundamental Cause
Human nature and inadequate government have a more fundamental cause: the formation of concepts, process called abstraction. For example, the concepts of carpenter and of plumber are abstractions of the corresponding activities (crafting wood and lead, respectively) while these in turn are abstracted to the concept of profession, and so on. Concepts are denoted by signs, like words, pictures, and objects. Abstraction has three effects.
First, the sign of a concept conceals the contents of that concept. So, a word often is used as just the word and few people question whether the contents even exist or what are the backgrounds of a concept. This goes by the ambiguous term ‘mystification’. Here, it is called obfuscation.
A second consequence is that the sign is used for a different meaning or purpose, so-called connotation. For example, a political party named so-and-so does not hold on to its original programme (the content of the word so-and-so) but becomes a vehicle for personal ambitions.
This also yields an example of the third effect: as much effort is invested in a political party and the existence of the party as such has become more important than the original goal, the party has started to lead a ‘life of its own’. This illustrates the third effect of abstraction: reification, which literally means becoming an object.
More generally, we have grown used to dealing with concepts alone and to not questioning the true nature of concepts, or even of tangible objects and of our own future.
These effects not only cause concrete problems but also obstruct their solution, as is explained next.
3 Defining Measures: New Problems
When defining measures against a problem, yet another problem is encountered: problems are often dealt with by combating their manifestations, that is, their directly observable characteristics (the extrinsic approach.) This is only natural because prominent features occupy our attention and leave no room for other thoughts. If the problem is not directly felt but represented in words or other signs, then another reason is that such a sign conceals its content (the aforementioned obfuscation.) The extrinsic approach is sometimes needed because of the problem’s urgency but it has two disadvantages. First, the problem’s manifestations keep returning because the cause of the problem is not removed. The second disadvantage is that other problems receive no attention, that is, the problem is treated in isolation.
As to concrete problems: an extrinsic approach creates the illusion that there are enough resources to solve them. For, other concrete problems are also approached in isolation and it may soon turn out that there are not enough resources to solve all problems this way.
The problem of inadequate government is approached is somewhat the same way: only the manifestations of the problem are addressed. That is, authorities are confronted with demonstrations, petitions, court cases, civil disobedience, and so on. Again, this extrinsic approach is hardly effective because authorities can never escape the laws of organisation and representation. For example, the existence of the authority as such has become an end in itself (reification); a point of view is a vehicle of prestige (connotation); and it is unclear who is represented or what an organisation actually is (obfuscation.) Ultimately, these problems would have to be the concern of experts in collective decision-making.
3.1 Towards Solutions: System Change
Of course, the disadvantages of extrinsically approaching a problem can be overcome by treating the root causes of the problem, that is, by combating the fundamental problems. This approach is called integral because a root cause is a cause of every problem. An integral approach is necessary for another reason, namely, each and every problem needs to be considered to distill the root causes from them. What’s more, the whole `system’ needs to be overviewed to determine what would happen to it as soon as the root causes would be removed. These are the reasons for an integral approach to global crises, that is, for system change.
However, the requirement for system change (that is, fundamentally new global governance) comes with some fallacies, or at least disadvantages. First of all, to change the system one needs to cooperate, which often is impossible. Also, people may apply the rules of a new system too rigidly. Moreover, any system is a collection of abstractions and these abstractions may conceal their contents, be used for improper purposes or lead a `life of their own.’ For example, ‘the common good’ as a pretext for ‘obligation towards the community.’ In other words, the choice of a system may even be rather irrelevant (or the present system suffices) and our attitudes may have to change.
3.2 Setting Goals
Yet another flaw may be present in the requirement for system change: even if the root causes of a problem are known, it has been tacitly assumed that one should pursue the goal to which the problems stand in the way. However, if the goal is stated explicitly, then people may prefer alternative goals -- and pursuing these goals probably allows to bypass the problem altogether. For example, ‘the’ energy consumption is a disputable goal in rich countries.
However, talking about goals can induce still another error: as before, goals, too, are abstractions which can become overly important. Even worse, many of us exert a lot of superfluous, harmful effort in the pursual of short-term goals. So, caution should be exercised when defining goals, if any at all. A less restrictive approach would be to devote a section to principles or general conditions.
4 Submission of Proposals for System Change
The problems are complex, so expertise is needed to combat them. Consequently, there is no point in designing system change from scratch because that would take too long and, if not all knowledge is on board, lead to inferior results. Instead, experts of all kinds need to submit proposals for measures in advance. (This is the arrow labelled B in the diagram.) To avoid duplication and to facilitate processing all submissions, the proposals need to come in a certain format. As set out above, the format should prompt for definitions of the problems, measures, goals or principle but these concepts should also be treated with care because they obfuscate the reasons behind them, they may become vehicles of strategies or personal ambitions, and they can start to lead a ‘life of their own.’ See Global System Change for some proposals.
5 Further Design of System Change
The problems are not only complex, but also deep-rooted in our accomplished modes of conduct. The treatment of the problems should therefore profit from insights other than established concepts; such insights may be present in the proposals submitted by experts, but lay people may equally well have a fresh view on the matter. As there is no yard-stick for open-mindedness, this implies that anyone should be able to submit proposals or comment on the ones submitted by experts. See arrow C in the diagram. The processing of such proposals can be accommodated by a format and by digital technology. This set-up leads back to the original question: how to decide about these proposals so that the outcome stands a chance of being implemented? That question is to be answered by experts in decision-making, as summarised in the next paragraph.
6 Convention of Experts in Decision-Making
All this goes to say that system change is needed, that there is a need for an effective decision about system change and that the decision method for this is to be agreed by experts in decision-making. Those experts are needed because such decision-making is an almost intractable issue with many subtleties. The field of research is vast: theory of politics, public choice (politics-as-economics), social choice (voting methods and beyond), deliberation, group dynamics, decision fallacies, and so on. See Decision Theory for more information. Of related fields, especially welcome are experts in problem-analysis.
There have been attempts to put theories to practice, from global citizens’ assemblies to reorganizing the United Nations and installing some alternative world government, yet without the result desired by their proponents. See Decision Methods for examples.
But how would experts in these fields agree on any compromise? If not informally, one way out may be to decide on the basis of certain desirable properties. For a tentative list, see the page on Scoring.
The following is needed.
A repository of global system change proposals in a certain format. This site contains a provisional list of such proposals.
A method to decide about these global system change proposals. Experts in decision-making should select such a method.
The actual decision about global system change is beyond the scope of this project.
To produce these deliverables, a team should convene experts in decision-making and allow to submit proposals for system change. To facilitate this, the team should also conceive a digital platform. A suggestion for the name of the platform is Tolma, which means courage in classic Greek. For, courage will be needed to face the facts and act accordingly.
So, please become part of this team or support it as an ambassador.
Notes and References
 Heinberg, R. (Nov. 22, 2007) What will we eat as the oil runs out? The Lady Eve Balfour Lecture, https://richardheinberg.com/188-what-will-we-eat-as-the-oil-runs-out The consequences of "stopping oil" are in Bomans, A.J. (2019) www.voetafdruk.eu/detolvannettonul (The toll of net zero). A more optimistic account is Millward-Hopkins, J. et al. (2020) Providing decent living with minimum energy: A global scenario. Global Environmental Change, vol.65, p.102168 (10 pages).
 Bomans, G.J.A. (1972) Notities van een verontruste. (Notes by a disquiet mind) In: W. van Dieren: Handboek voor vervuild Nederland, 2nd pr. `Het helpt dus niets de mensen er dag in dag uit op te wijzen dat ze over dertig jaar naar de bliksem gaan, want ze zijn daartoe gaarne bereid, mits het hun nu maar goed gaat. Zelfs bij een eerder intreden van de catastrofe is er nog geen reden tot alarm. Onze hele constitutie is op het aanvaarden van de limiet, die dood heet, ingesteld en die geoefendheid komt ons dan goed van pas.' (`There is no point in telling people all day that they will go to hell within thirty years because they are very willing so, only if all goes well now. Even if catastrophe strikes earlier, there is no reason for alarm. Our very nature is equipped for accepting this limit called death and this skill now suits us well.')
 Jung, K.G. (1958) Gegenwart und Zukunft. In: Gesammelte Werke, Vol.10, p.306 (Das Selbstverständnis des Individuums). `Der infantiele Traumzustand des Massenmenschen ist aber dermaßen unrealistisch, daß er nie daran denkt, wer eigentlich dieses Paradies bezahlt. Die Begleichung der Rechnung wird der übergeordneten Institutionen anheimgegeben, was dieser auch willkommen ist, denn ihre Macht wird durch diesen Anspruch vermehrt, und je mehr diese steigt, desto hilfloser und schwächer der Einzelne.’ (‘However, the infantile dream state of the mass man is so unrealistic that he never thinks about who actually pays for this paradise. The settlement of the bill is left to the higher institutions, which is also welcome to them, because their power is increased by this claim, and the more it increases, the more helpless and weaker the individual.’)
 Verstolen, A. (2018) Mnenomatica. Automatische begripsvorming en de bedrieglijkheid van geheugen. (Automated concept formation and the delusiveness of memory.) Eburon. Contains some critique on abstraction.
 Walz, N. (2019) Philosophie als Abstraktionskritik. (Philosophy as Critique on Abstraction.) Köningshausen & Neumann. Marx uses the term ‘mystification’ to describe how social relations let their conditions for coming into existence fade out (p.42.)
 Such protests alone indicate that present-day government is not based on a procedure which properly takes into account diverging interests.
 Meadows, D. (1999) Leverage Points. Places to Intervene in a System. The Sustainability Institute.
 There are various reasons for pursuing short-term goals: to conceal that we do not have a real purpose in life, as is required in many societies; fear for a confrontation with the present moment; preponderance of the means over the end; or simply the need to earn money with a purposeless job. Note that greed does not count as superfluous.
 Fischer-Schreiber, I. (1994) Wu-wei. In S. Schumacher and G.Woerner (eds.) The Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion, Shambhala. In Taoism, wu-wei is the "unmotivated, unintensional action (…) wholly appropriate to a given situation" and pursued as such.