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Friday, October 23, 2009

The Phenomenon of Change Resistance: an analytical approach



The Phenomenon of Change Resistance

The transformation of society to environmental sustainability requires three steps: The first is the profound realization we must make the change, because if we don’t our descendants are doomed. The second is finding the proper practices that will allow living sustainably. The third step is adopting those practices.

Due to the phenomenon of change resistance, society has faltered on the third step. By now the world is aware it must live sustainably, which is the first step. There are countless practical, proven ways to do this, which is the technical side of the problem and the second step. But for strange and mysterious reasons society doesn't want to take the final step and adopt these practices, which is the change resistance or social side of the problem. Therefore the social side of the problem is the crux.

Here is what the third edition of Limits to Growth (Meadows et al., 2004) had to say about the social side of the problem:

Beyond the Limits was published in 1992, the year of the global summit on environment and development in Rio de Janeiro. The advent of the summit seemed to prove that global society had decided to deal seriously with the important environmental problems. But we now know that humanity failed to achieve the goals of Rio. The Rio plus 10 conference in Johannesburg in 2002 produced even less; it was almost paralyzed by a variety of ideological and economic disputes, by the efforts of those pursuing their narrow national, corporate, or individual self-interests.

“…humanity has largely squandered the past 30 years…”

What is the underlying cause of such stiff, prolonged global change resistance? Whatever it is, it must be incredibly strong to cause such a powerful effect.

The Dueling Loops of the Political Powerplace (the paper)


This paper analyzes the change resistance part of the sustainability problem. Because the analysis takes such a high level approach, the results are generic and apply to any problem whose solution would benefit the common good. This should be no surprise, because a broken political system is such a universal problem.

Below are the first four pages of the paper:

Executive Summary (Abstract)

Most effort on solving the sustainability problem focuses on its technical side: the proper practices that must be followed to be sustainable. But surprisingly little effort addresses why most of society is so strenuously resisting adopting those practices, which is the change resistance or social side.

This paper presents an analysis of the social side of the problem using a simulation model. The model shows the main source of change resistance is a fundamental structure called the dueling loops of the political powerplace. This consists of a race to the bottom among politicians battling against a race to the top. Due to the inherent structural advantage of the race to the bottom it is the dominant loop most of the time, as it is now. As long as it remains dominant, resistance to living sustainably will remain high.

The analysis has, however, uncovered a tantalizing nugget of good news. There is a promising high leverage point in this structure that has never been tried. If problem solvers could unite and push there with the proper solution elements, it appears the social side of the problem would be solved in short order, and civilization could at last enter the Age of Transition to Sustainability.

The Social Side of the Problem Is the Crux

The transformation of society to environmental sustainability requires three steps: The first is the profound realization we must make the change, because if we don’t our descendants are doomed. The second is finding the proper practices that will allow living sustainably. The third step is adopting those practices.

Society has faltered on the third step. By now the world is aware it must live sustainably, which is the first step. There are countless practical, proven ways to do this, which is the technical side of the problem and the second step. But for strange and mysterious reasons society doesn't’t want to take the final step and adopt these practices, which is the change resistance or social side of the problem. Therefore the social side of the problem is the crux.

Here is what the third edition of Limits to Growth (Meadows et al., 2004) had to say about the social side of the problem:

“[The second edition of Limits to Growth] was published in 1992, the year of the global summit on environment and development in Rio de Janeiro. The advent of the summit seemed to prove that global society had decided to deal seriously with the important environmental problems. But we now know that humanity failed to achieve the goals of Rio. The Rio plus 10 conference in Johannesburg in 2002 produced even less; it was almost paralyzed by a variety of ideological and economic disputes, [due to] the efforts of those pursuing their narrow national, corporate, or individual self-interests.

“…humanity has largely squandered the past 30 years…”

What is the underlying cause of such stiff, prolonged global change resistance? Whatever it is, it must be incredibly strong to cause such a powerful effect.

We might begin to find that elusive underlying cause if we drilled down and tried to determine why change resistance occurs at the national level. For example, looking at the world’s sole remaining economic and military superpower, why did the US Senate vote 95 to zero in 1999 to reject the Kyoto Protocol, despite a democratic President and a strongly pro-environmental Vice President, Al Gore? Why, since the ascendancy of the George W. Bush administration in the United States in 2001, has opposition grown to the point that progress in solving the environmental sustainability problem is moving backwards? Why do US environmental NGOs face “the most hostile environment in which we have ever struggled to advance our goals,” as the Union of Concerned Scientists describes it? (USC, 2003)

If we could understand why the political system works the way it does, we could answer these questions and go further than we’ve ever gone before. We could find the high leverage points in the system that would allow changing that “hostile environment” into one that actively welcomed solving the problem, and thus solve the social side of the problem.

This paper attempts to do this by performing a structural analysis of the fundamental causes of the social side of the problem, using a simulation model. Because the structure of the model so clearly exposes the causes of systemic change resistance, the key high leverage point where problem solvers should “push” to solve the problem becomes conspicuously obvious. Three solution elements are then presented to illustrate how feasible pushing on this point could be.

The Race to the Bottom

There are two feedback loops in the human system that, in the large, affect citizen’s lives more than anything else. They are the loops that politicians use to gain supporters.

Over time, social evolution has pared the many strategies available for gaining political support into just two main types: the use of truth (virtue) and the use of falsehood and favoritism (corruption). For example, a virtuous politician may gain supporters by stating, “I know we can’t balance the budget any time soon, but I will form a panel of experts to determine what the best we can do is.” Meanwhile, a corrupt politician is garnering supporters by saying, “Economics is easy. You just put a firm hand on the tiller and go where you want to go. I can balance the budget in four years, despite what the experts are saying. They are just pundits. Don’t listen to them. A vote for me is a vote for a better future.” The corrupt politician is also saying to numerous special interest groups, “Yes, I can do that for you. No problem.” Guess who will usually win?

Falsehood and favoritism has long dominated political strategy. Most politicians use rhetoric, half truths, glittering generalities, the sin of omission, biased framing, and other types of deception to appeal to the greatest number of people possible for election or reelection. Once in office nearly all politicians engage in acts of favoritism, also known as patronage.

For example most politicians use the ad hominem (Latin for against the man) fallacy to attack and demonize their opponents, particularly as an election draws near. A prominent recent instance was the use of the Swift boat ads in the 2004 US presidential campaign to attack John Kerry’s character. The ads were an ad hominem fallacy, because they had nothing to do with Kerry’s political reasoning or positions. Other terms for the ad hominem fallacy are demagoguery, shooting the messenger, negative campaigning, smear tactics, and sliming your opponent.

Politicians are forced to use corruption to gain supporters, because if they do not they will lose out to those who do. This causes the Race to the Bottom among Politicians to appear, as shown below.


Figure 1. The loop grows in strength by using corruption in the form of highly appealing falsehood and favoritism. This increases the number of supporters of corrupt politicians, which increases their influence, which in turn increases their power to peddle still more falsehood and favoritism. Over time the loop can grow to tragically high levels.

To understand how the loop works, let’s start at false memes. A meme is a mental belief that is transmitted (replicated) from one mind to another. Memes are a very useful abstraction for understanding human behavior because memes replicate, mutate, and follow the law of survival of the fittest, just as genes do. Rather than show falsehood and favoritism, the model is simplified. It shows only falsehood.

The more false memes transmitted, the greater the degenerates infectivity rate. The model treats arrival of a meme the same way the body treats the arrival of a virus: it causes infection. After the “mind virus" incubates for a period of time, the infection becomes so strong that maturation occurs. This increases the degenerates maturation rate, which causes supporters to move from the pool of Not Infected Neutralists to the pool of Supporters Due to Degeneration as they become committed to the false memes they are now infected with. Supporters Due to Degeneration times influence per degenerate equals degenerates influence. The more influence a degenerate politician has, the more false memes they can transmit, and the loop starts over again. As it goes around and around, each node increases in quantity, often to astonishing levels. The loop stops growing when most supporters are committed.

The dynamic behavior of the loop is shown in Figure 2. The behavior is quite simple because the model has only a single main loop.


Figure 2. The simulation run starts with 1 degenerate and 99 neutralists. Over time the percentage of degenerates grows to 75% and stops. What keeps it from growing to 100% is the way degenerates can recover from their infection, after a degenerates infection lifetime of 20 years.

Corrupt politicians exploit the power of the race to the bottom by broadcasting as much falsehood and favoritism as possible to potential supporters. This is done with speeches, interviews, articles, books, jobs, lucrative contracts, special considerations in legislation, etc. The lies and favors are a cunning blend of whatever it takes to gain supporters. The end justifies the means. Note that the more influence a politician has, the more falsehood they can afford to broadcast, and the greater the amount of favoritism they can plausibly promise and deliver.

The race to the bottom employs a dazzling array of deception strategies. These are usually combined, which increases their power. Here are some of the most popular:

False promise – A false promise is a promise that is made but never delivered, or never delivered fully. False promises are widely used to win the support of segments of the population, such as organized special interest groups, industries, and demographic groups like seniors or immigrants. False promises flow like wine during election season. The next time you see this happening, think of it as proof the race to the bottom exists, and as proof that few politicians can escape the pressure to join the race to the bottom.

False enemy – Creating a false enemy works because it evokes the instinctual fight or flight syndrome. The brain simply cannot resist becoming aroused when confronted with a possible enemy.

The two main types of false enemies are false internal opponents, such as negative campaigning, the Salem witch trials, and McCarthyism, and false external opponents, such as communism and the second Iraq “war.” While communism and Iraq were true problems, both were trumped up enormously to serve the role of a false enemy. False enemies are also known as scapegoats. They can also be used to divert the public’s attention from more important issues. Name-calling is one technique used to create a false enemy, but the biggest is fallacious arguments, better known as lies.

Pushing the fear hot button – When a politician talks about almost everything in terms of terrorism, or communism, or crime, or threats to “national security” or “our way of life,” and so on, that politician is pushing the fear hot button. It is very easy to push. Just use a few of the right trigger words, throw in a dash of plausibility, and the sub consciousness is automatically hoodwinked into a state of fear, or at least into wondering if there is something out there to fear. Whether or not an enemy actually is out there doesn't’t matter—what matters is that we think there might be one.

Fear clouds the judgment, making it all the harder to discern whether there really is an enemy out there. Because we cannot be sure, we play it safe and assume there is at least some risk. Since people are risk averse, the ploy works and we become believers. We have been influenced by statements of what might be lurking out there. Our fear hot button has been pushed and it worked.

Wrong priority – Wrong priorities stem from hidden agendas. A hidden agenda is a plan or goal a politician must conceal from the public, due to an ulterior motive.

There are many ways a hidden agenda can come about. A politician may support a certain ideology, and so bends everything to support the goals of that ideology. Or he may have accepted donations and/or voter support from special interests, such as corporations, and therefore must promote their agenda. Or perhaps he had to cut a deal.

A politician with a hidden agenda must make the wrong priorities seem like the right ones in order to achieve what’s on the hidden agenda. How can he do this? For a corrupt politician such matters are child’s play—manipulate the public through false promises, create a false enemy, push the fear hot button hard and often, repeat the same lie over and over until it becomes “the truth,” and so forth.

The low priority that environmental sustainability receives from most governments today is rapidly becoming the textbook example of how devastating wrong priorities can be.

Gems of dark wisdom

The right steady drumbeat of false promises, false enemies, pushing the fear hot button, and wrong priorities creates the ultimate political weapon: lies that work on entire nations. This is why history has given us these gems of dark wisdom:

“Next the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception.” – Mark Twain, The Mysterious Stranger, 1910.

“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” – H. L. Mencken

“A lie repeated often enough becomes the truth.” – Vladimir Lenin.

"It does not matter how many lies we tell, because once we have won, no one will be able to do anything about it.” – Statement by Dr. Joseph Goebbels to Adolf Hitler, early 1930s, from The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William L Shirer.

Above are the first four pages of The Dueling Loops PDF paper. The rest is better read by reading the PDF file, which gives you the option of printing it out for serious contemplation. The paper runs 29 pages.

The paper bases its analysis on four thoughtfully constructed simulation models. The main portion of the third one is shown below. Here are the Vensim stock and flow simulation models ZIP described in the paper. Before downloading the models, please see The World of Simulation for how to run them. There has been some discussion of the dueling loops on the forum in this thread.


Change resistance as the crux of the environmental sustainability problem

This paper PDF was accepted for publication in the System Dynanics Review on June 10, 2009. Except for the section describing the simulation model, the entire paper is designed to be easily understood by non-specialists. Here's an outline of what the paper is trying to say:

Thesis

A. Our thesis is fairly simple and centers on the process used:

1. When addressing challenges, all social groups evolve and settle on a central problem solving process.

2. But what if a problem appears that doesn’t fit the process? Solution failure is the probable result.

3. Analysis shows the global environmental sustainability problem does not fit the current process.

4. It follows that to solve the problem, we must change the process.

B. Why does the current process fail?

Proper coupling occurs when the behavior of one system affects the behavior of other systems in a desirable manner, using the appropriate feedback loops, so the systems work together in harmony in accordance with design objectives.

For example if you never got hungry you would starve to death. You would be improperly coupled to the world around you. In the environmental sustainability problem the human system has become improperly coupled to the greater system it lives within: the environment.

1. Environmental activists see proper coupling as THE problem to solve, so that’s what they’ve long been doing. (1)

2. This traditional perspective defines their problem solving process. It’s the (old) paradigm they live in. Most can see no other way forward.

3. However, analysis shows the proper coupling part of the sustainability problem cannot be solved because systemic change resistance is high. (2)

4. Therefore the crux of the problem is change resistance, not proper coupling. This is why traditional efforts have failed for the last 30 years.

5. Until environmental activists acknowledge this fact and move away from the old process and toward a new one that sees change resistance as the crux, we will remain as stuck as a mule train in mile deep mud.

C. What would the new paradigm look like? How would it work?

1. The new process would decompose the sustainability problem into two sequential subproblems: (1) How to overcome change resistance and (2) How to achieve proper coupling. Until the 1st is solved, the 2nd is insolvable. This fundamental law cannot be changed.

2. Environmental advocates would shift over 90% of their efforts to solving the first subproblem, because once that’s solved the system will “want” to become properly coupled. This will cause the second subproblem to essentially solve itself, since the system’s dominant social agents will now be competing to solve the problem, rather than reinforcing the high level of change resistance we see now.

3. Presently activists are attempting to resolve intermediate causes (rather than root causes) with symptomatic solutions. This will not work, because powerful social agents will invariably delay, circumvent, block, weaken or even rollback symptomatic solutions as systemic change resistance dictates they will. Instead, one must strike at the root! (3)


Figure 1. If activists would model the process they have been using for so long, it would look about like this one. Note the blind spot. As soon as this is included in the process it will become able to solve the global environmental sustainability problem, as well as a large number of other problems whose solution would benefit the common good.

4. This can be done by modeling the social systems involved. The human system is too complex to be understood intuitively. (See Figure 1)

Notes

(1) For example, activists may promote The Four Rs of reduce, reuse, recycle and repair in order to properly couple the human system to the environment.

(2) The need to overcome change resistance applies to any social problem. For example, currently in the U.S., conservatives and portions of industry that are benefitting from the status quo are exhibiting a high degree of resistance to efforts to overhaul health care. This resistance threatens to derail the entire change.

(3) For example, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts attempt to resolve the intermediate cause of individual social agent resistance. But these efforts have failed to have more than a minor impact because the corporate life form as a whole remains committed to its fundamental goal: maximization of the net present value of profits.

Model

Here's an image of the model. Here's the simulation model PDF . Please see The World of Simulation for how to run the model.

Comments

A special thanks to Joe Starinchak of U. S. Fish and Wildlife and Philip Bangerter of Hatch for help in creating this thesis outline.

The outline is available as a one page handout PDF .


The Powell Memo

The Powell Memo PDF - This is a stunning and educational 7 page extract from the Analytical Activism manuscript.

The Powell Memo was the precipitating event for the swift rise and astounding success of neo conservatism in the United States, starting in the early 1970s. The memo presented a bold strategy for taking over the key portions of the system, without the other side knowing what was happening. Unless they have read the memo, they still don't.

After you have read the memo and the running commentary, perhaps you will agree on these points:

1. We have a formidable opponent.

2. Simple solutions are not going to work.

3. Changing just a few environmental organizations will not work. The movement as a whole must be transformed and unified, just as the corporate proxy movement was transformed and unified, if we are to have any rational hope of pushing as hard as we need to on the correct high leverage points.

The Dueling Loops Videos

Here is the list of videos. Or you can start on the first one.

The above diagram is from the first video in the new video series on The Dueling Loops. This is a simple model of why there is such strong resistance to solving the sustainability problem. The model shows the low leverage point that problem solvers are presently pushing on and why that doesn't work. It also shows the high leverage points they must push on instead, and why that is much more likely to solve the systemic change resistance part of the problem. The background photo is on Cedar Creek in the Congaree Swamp National Park, US.

Imagine yourself paddling along that creek, just as you may be paddling along right now trying to help solve the sustainability problem, when you come around a bend and there, hanging in the air, is a simple, understandable model of the very problem you have been working on. It explains so much that you stop and snap a picture, so you won't forget it. That night you read the Dueling Loops paper, ponder it a bit, and then watch the Dueling Loops videos. The next day you share the photo with your fellow activists at lunch and explain how it works, and before you know it everyone is excitedly pointing out which loop has been causing what, and my gosh, why don't we start pushing on that high leverage point?

That is the potential of the Dueling Loops model. Here's what activists are saying about it:

"I'd like to order ten more Dueling Loops books. I was reading the one you mailed me, and I kept getting all these Ah Ha's. I know several professors, managers, and other contacts who I think would love to read this. ... It was a real page turner. I couldn't put it down, which is not something you can say of typical academic works. They tend to be heavy and hard to read. By contrast, this was easy to read." - Rhonda Durlacher, Solsberry, Indiana.

"When I read the Dueling Loops paper, I felt enlightened." - Philip Bangerter, Global Sustainability Director, Hatch, Brisbane, Australia.

"I discovered your website and The Dueling Loops while doing research for content to drive a major community public radio station initiative on sustainability issues in partnership with the University's Environmental Studies Program. [The Dueling Loops are] fascinating, thought provoking and caught my interest as a possible content focus for our campaign. Would you be interested in discussing the possibilities?" - Leigh Carrigan, Salt Lake City, Utah.

"I just received the Dueling Loops book—thanks! From what I’ve read so far, your premise is spot on. I really don’t see another process which is more compelling—especially since your analysis of the political powerplace is so thorough and logically appealing to me." - Michael Hollcraft, New Carlisle, Indiana.

"Your work on the dueling loops is brilliant. Nice analysis. ... Could you send me the Dueling Loops book, please? I'd like to see how I could contribute to your effort, and obviously need to know a lot more to have a sense of how I could best do so. I think you're on to something important, as our present approaches to sustainability are too incremental to have the wide-reaching impact needed to deal with the climate change crisis." - Peter Hess, President, CHANGE Partners Inc, Lambertville, New Jersey.

Are you and your organization ready for a whole new way of thwinking?

Photo Credits

The background photo for the Dueling Loops sketch and the photo of George and Wilma Turner canoeing were taken in Congaree Swamp National Park on March 30, 2007. The mosquito alert level was a mild 3.5 on a 1 to 6 scale that day, though we have visited other parks with a scale of 1 to 16, where 16 was "no survivors reported."

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