November 19, 2017

The Stable Society – Introduction

The Introduction to The Stable Society: its structure and control: Towards a Social Cybernetics, Wadebridge Ecological Centre, UK, 1978

Our society is increasingly unstable. It is subject to increasing discontinuities which, if unchecked, must lead it to eventual collapse. More and more people are realising this. More and more, too, are aware of the necessity for creating a steady-state or a stable society, one whose activities do not lead to the systematic destruction of its natural environment.

Not surprisingly, many students of these matters have considered what must be some of the characteristics of such a society. Their interest, however, has been largely monopolised by its economic and demographic characteristics. Population growth and economic activities, however, are but two aspects of a society’s total behaviour pattern. What is more, their nature is influenced, indeed largely determined, by the other aspects that are often unknown to demographers and economists. Only a society with a particular structure and world view is likely to be capable of controlling its relationship with its environment so as to avoid the sort of discontinuities to which ours is increasingly subject.

In this book, which consists of four papers that have already appeared separately in different journals, I try to determine what are the structural and cognitive characteristics of a stable society.

It is not difficult to show to what extent a science-based modem society fails to satisfy these conditions. On the other hand, a tribal society can be examined in the light of Cybernetics and General-Systems Theory in that its behaviour can be described in terms of the same set of variables required to describe the behaviour of other natural systems such as a biological organism or a non-human society.

The strategies exploited by tribal societies to maintain their stable relationship with their environment are then examined, as is the way they must break down as a tribe under the influence of development disintegrating into a modern mass society.

The lesson of this book is that we cannot postulate Utopian socioeconomic forms without reference to those that man has been able to develop in the past, the basic features of which must be present in any society that does not violate what must be regarded as the basic laws governing the behaviour of stable and hence, in the long term, viable social systems.

To try to do so would be very much like trying to invent an alternative biology without reference to biological theory or to the biological forms that evolution has brought into being.


Much of the material in this book has been derived from the ‘Theory of Unified Science’ an unpublished manuscript that I finished in 1967. The first chapter is based on an article that appeared in The Ecologist in January 1976, and the second chapter on a paper read at the International Cultural Foundation’s Fourth International Conference on the Unity of the Sciences held in New York in 1975, and that also appeared in The Ecologist in February 1976. The third chapter was published in very shortened form in The Ecologist in November 1974 and the fourth chapter is based on a paper read at the Third International Conference on the Unity of the Sciences held in London in 1974 and then appeared in The Ecologist in February 1975. I must thank Jimoh Omo Fadaka for his article, ‘The Family Basis of Social Structure in Benin’ (Appendix VI), written to show how the structure of his society can be understood in terms of the model proposed in this book. It was also published in The Ecologist in July 1976. Thanks are also due to Bernard Gilbert and Brenda Duxbury for helping me organise the material and preparing it for publication.


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