This paper aims to offer a personal reflection on the 2012 joint conference of the American Society for Cybernetics and the Bateson Idea Group, “An Ecology of Ideas”. The intent is to raise awareness, through examples, of ideas – and their associated ways of thinking – that the author tends to take for granted in the work as systems theorists as well as in everyday life, yet ideas that confound the very social issues the conferees were trying to address.
The thoughts expressed arose after five days of listening to presentations and discussions, both formal and informal. The approach is conversational, with a desire to stimulate further conversation.
Certain versions of systems theory – whole systems, purposeful systems, systems theory as ideology – rely on ideas that although written about extensively in philosophical and socio-political works go unchallenged in everyday life. Three of these ideas – hierarchy, purpose, belief – are embedded in the way of talking about, and the language used to formulate, solutions to social problems. The suggestion is to avoid or suspend these ideas so that alternatives can be considered.
Idea avoidance offers those who study social change and/or those who participate in making it happen a way to escape the stuckness of ideas so ingrained in the everyday ways of thinking that they go unnoticed.
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