Human Choice


Article Published in Futures Journal,
November 1999

TheGenetic Code for Social Development

Harlan Cleveland and Garry Jacobs

Looking back on the prodigious accomplishments of the 20th Century, we can see an enormous "development" of technological inventions, economic activities,political and social organizations, and material riches - accompanied by a whole new range of problems and challenges - emerging from the relatively less complex and accomplished centuries that preceded it. Looking forward to the century just ahead, we are bound to wonder what humanity may yet accomplish, what new challenges are in store, and especially what ultimate limits there may be to the creative processes that drive these changes.

Whether we look backward or forward, we face the same puzzling questions: What is the essential nature of human development? By what process does it occur? What factors speed it up and slow it down? What conditions are essential or detrimental to it? Through what stages or phases does it pass? What are the sources of its problems and its failures? And, probably most important, what is the role of the individual humanbeing in social development?

A Rough Parallel

We have come to believe that there are illuminating parallels between the development of life forms and the development of human societies. Exploring these parallels may put the puzzlement in a useful perspective, and perhaps provide a usable framework on which more satisfying social theory can be constructed.

The process of physical creation has given rise to a hierarchy of material and biological forms - from the infinitesimal atom and molecule to the living cell, differentiated organs and multi-cellular life forms of increasing complexity and capacity for adaptation. The process of social creation gives rise to a similar hierarchy of forms. But society is a field of life, not matter; of activity, not the sum of living organisms but their constantly changing interactions. The social forms it creates are not patterns and arrangements of material substance b