P.163 Adaptive Structure and Its Disorders
of what might be called the "industrial metabolism" which is, ultimately, simply the operation of machines. Neither competition nor an independtly established demand serves to regulate or limit "industrial metabolism" effectively because large industries are usually not very competitive and they can exercise considerable control over the demand to which they are supposed to be subject.
Second and more serious, with the escalation of low-order goals to dominating positions in society, it becomes increasingly possible for ancient and complex systems, particularly ecological systems, to be disrupted by ever smaller groups with ever more narrowly defined interests.
For instance, there is some evidence to support the the contention that certain fluorocarbons used in propellants in spray cans dispensing shaving cream, deoderants, and the like are desroying atmospheric ozone that shields life from lethal intensities of ultraviolet radiation. Yet these aerosols are still manufacturecd and sold. That the putative effects ot these chemicals upon the atmosphere have not yet been "proven" hardly justifies their continued use, given the trivial nature of their advantages and the catastrophic nature of the risks their use may entail. We note in this and many other instances--the clear-cutting of forests in areas in which they are unlikely to regenerate, offshore oil drilling in unstable geological zones, the dumping of undegradable poisons into fresh waters-- the violation of orderly time relations, relations of contingency, and relations between the instrumental and the fundamental. Short-run, narrow, and instrumental interests have usurped the places of, or subordinated, long-run, general, and fundamental needs and values. These instances suggest that the the facilitaion of disruption for the sake of narrowly defined special interests is not the whole of the ecological or indeed human problem following from the promotion of the low order goals of industrialized subsystems to to predominant poisions in societies. The ultimate consequence is not merely that the short-run interests ofa few poweful men or institutins come to prevail, but that the "interests of machines--which even powerful men serve, become dominant. Needless to say, the interests of machines and organisms do not coincide. They do not have the same needs for pure air or water, and being blind and deaf, machines have no, need for quiet or for landscapes that refresh the eye. Whereas organisms have need of uncounted numbers of subtle compounds, the needs of machines are few, simple, and voracious. It is in accordance with the logic of a world dominated by machines to rip the tops off complex systems like West Virginia and Colorado to extract a single substance, coal.
Usurpation is, in formal terms, to be regarded as all anomaly in the structure of values. It is an error of logical typing: short-term instrumental goals of high specificity are elevated to the status of enduring
fundamental principles. Their predominance becomes more encompassing than their specificity warrants and, as a consequence, regulation comes to maintain the trivial at the possible expense of the necessary. That is, under such circumstances it is likely that reference values-- the values around which the system equilibrates itself or, to, put it differently, the values the truth of which is cybernetically maintained--will be set outside of goal ranges, the ranges, of conditions under which the system remains viable.
I have been emphasizing the material effects of this logical-moral-adaptive aberation, having discussed elsewhere (in slightly different terms) the dissolution of meaning and meaningfulness entailed by it (see "On Cognizcd Models"). Two points should be made here in this regard, however, First, to observe that as a consequence of this anomaly the trivial is maintained at the expense ofthe necessary or fundamental is not only to point to the preservation of spray cans at the expense of atmospheric ozone, but to the preservation of interests at the expense of principles. It is as much a statement about the processes of meaning as it is about the state of the biosphere.
Finally, there is the degradation of sanctity itself. As the material goals of lower-order systems usurp the places properly belonging to values of greater generality, they may lay claim to their sanctity. What is highly sanctified is resistant to change, and to oversanctiiy the specifie and material is to reluce adaptive flexibility. It is of interest that the theoIogian Paul Tillich (1957: II , called the absolutizing of the relative and the relativizing of the absolute "idolatry" and took it to be an evil. I am proposing that it is maladaptive, but it may be that in this instance, at least, the two coincide. The social effect of what we, following Tillich, may call "idolatry" are, of course, not limited to the reduction of adaptive flexibility. At least as serious is the degradation of basic values, not usually through their explicit replacement by those of lower order, but by their confation with them. The pursuit of "happiness," a term which in the eighteenth century seems to have denoted felicity, becomes the pursuit of pleasure and the accumulation of gods. Liberty becomes little more than the right to serve oneself. Materialism and selfishness become honored as highest ideals. We hardly need dwell upon the unacceptable demands that the sanctification of these values makes upon undeveloped countries and upon ecosystems, for they are obvious.
Earlier I suggested that what we take to be substantive problems-ecological problems, problems of poverty, oppression, imperialism, and others that we might name--are social and material consequences of
structural anomaly. It may now be suggested, however, that structural anomaly and material problems stand in relationships of mutual causation. Moreover, the brief account I have offered of maladaptive forms and some of the substantive difficulties associated with them implies that maladaptive trends are nourished by, or may even inhere in, cultural evolution itself. In the world of events cause is seldom simple, and I can do no more, at the end, than to discuss, brieily and tentatively, a few of the evolutionary advances that seem to have contributed both to the structural deformities I have called maladaptations and to the material problems associated with them.
Some suggestions have already been made about increases in the amounts of energy captured. It is important to keep in mind, however, that energy capture has sometimes been taken to be the metric of cultural evolution. Over a quarter ofa century ago, Leslie White, following Ostwald, proclaiamed what he called "The Basic Law of Cultural Evolution" as follows:3>
Other factors remaining constant, culture evolves as the amount of energy harvested per capita per year is increased, or as the effciency of the instrumental means of putting energy to work is increased. [1949: 368-369]
There can be no denying the first clause of this formulation. Large technologically developed states appearing late in history surely do harness more energy per capita per day or year than do the small "primitive" societies which appeared earlier. One recent estimate would place daily energy consumption in the contemporary United Stares at 230,000 kilocalories, and in hunting and gathering societies as 2,000 - 3,000 (Cook 1971).
The contemporary United States has a population of 200,000,000 people; the bushman band seldom include more than a score or two of people; and increases in energy capture have made possible much larger and more sedentary social systems. But some, if not all, of the maladaptive trends I have suggested here are related to increased scale. Moreover, high-energy technology itself frees those operating in local ecosystems from the limits imposed upon them by the need to derive energy from the contemporary biological processes of those systems. Gasoline, pipelines, high-voltage electrical transmission permit virtually unlimited amounts of energy to be focused upon very small systems, and the ecological disruption of those systems can be tolerarated --at least for a time-- because of the increased specialization of other local systems. I have argued, however, that in the long run the increasing specialization of larger and larger regions --itself made possible by a technology that provides means for moving even bulky commodities
takes actions B and C, and with the achievement of D considers the process to be completed. Thus, the structure of purposeful action is linear: A - B - C -, D. But the world is not constructed in linear fashion. We have already discussed the circular structure of cybernetic, that is, self-correcting, systems, and it is well known that ecosystems are roughly circular in plan, with materials being cycled and recycled through the soil, the air, and organisms of many species. Moreover, the circularity of both cybernetic and ecosystemic structure blurs the distinction between cause and effect, or rather suggests to us that simple linear notions of causality, which lead us to think of actors, objects upon which they act, and the transformation of such obiects, are inadequate, for purposeful behavior seldom affects only a single object, here designated D, but usually many other objects as well, often in complex and ramifying ways. Among those being affected in unforseen and possibly unpleasant ways may be the actor himself.
It may be suggested, however, that linear, purposeful thought is adequate to the needs of simple hunters and gatherers, and not very destructive to the ecological systems in which they live, because both the scope and power of their activities are limited. It is when linear thought comes to guide the operations of an increasingly powerful technology over domains of ever increasing scope that disruption may become inevitable.
Bateson argues that the problem is not only to make men aware of the ramifying and circular structure of the universe, but to make the imperatives of this structure more compelling than their own linearly defined goals. He believes that this requires that more of their minds than their conscious reason be engaged. It is also necessary to engage the nondiscursive aspects of their processes of comprehension, and he suggests that this is achieved through art and religion. I would agree, and elsewhere in this volume ("Sanctity and Lies in Evolution") I discuss the place of religious experience in adaptive structure.
To argue that more than reason may be required to maintain adaptive structure in human social systems, or to restore adaptiveness to systems beset by maladaptations, is not to argue for the banishment of reason nor for its replacement by blind commitment or mystic insight. Conscious reason has entered into the evolutionary process, cannot be ignored, and should, obviously, be put to the task of rectifying adaptive difficulties. An apparent paradox may be that attempts to solve problems of adaptation are likely to cause further problems, perhaps because "problem solving" is in its nature linear. Moreover, the systems in which men participate are so complex that we cannot now, and probably never shall be able to, analyze them is sufficient detail to predict with precision the outcome of many of our own actions within them. We must, therefore,
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investigate the possibilities for developing theories of action that, although based upon incomplete knowledge, will permit us to participate in systems without destroying them and ourselves along with them. This task is not hopeless. To say that the complexity of living systems is so great as to confound prediction is nor to say that we cannot apprehend the salient characteristics of their structures.
The account of adaptive structure and of maladaptation offered here is abbreviated, tentative, and, I am certain, erroneous in many respects. It does, however, represent an attempt to relate structure and process, the historical and the changeless, meaning and cause within an "ordre des ordres in a manner permitting the identitication of disorder as well as of order. I offer it for discussion, but it would be well to make explicit, although it is probably obvious, that it has not been my intention to develop a descriptive model the verisimilitude of which might be substantiated by even a single case. It has been, rather, to propose a normative model no instances of which exist, but in terms of which historical systems may be assessed and their difficulties comprehended (Rappaport 1977b)
There has recently been much concern, and rightly so, about the relationship of anthropology to the peoples traditionally constituting its most immediate and obvious subject matter. Awareness of the servrces anthropology, or anthropologists, have rendered to colonialism is growing and so is sophistication concerning the dangers of applied anthropology. Less thought has been given to the relationship of anthropology to the society that has spawned it and may constitute its less apparent but ultimate subject matter. It may be suggested, however, that in its very existence anthropology constitutes a tacit critique of that society. Criticism implies correction, but our culture is without an adequate theory of correction.
What is called "problem-solving" is problematic, making as many problems as it solves, and revolutions are destructive, often institutionalizing conventions as maladaptive as those they overthrow. The suggestions concerning adaptive structure offered here may, perhaps, make a contribution to a theory of correction, a theory, that is, for restoring adaptiveness to systems vexed by maladaptation. Whether or not these suggestions have such a value, anthropology I think, has much to offer to the development of such a theory and, possibly, to its applicaon to public affairs. If this seems presumptuous and dangerous we should keep in mind that social policy is at present, frequently informed by views of the world, its ills, and ways to cure its ills provided by other, narrower disciplines no better founded and considerably less human than our own.