Conditions for a Sustainable System

May 3, 2024

A sustainable system is a healthy system. To be healthy, it needs to be symb-ergetic (symbiotic and synergetic), composed of a diversity of subsystems that complement each other, collaborate, and cooperate with mutual trust and respect.

For a system to be sustainable, whether it's a marriage, a company, or a country, it must be healthy. A healthy system is both synergetic and symbiotic. It is a constructive system, and those that contribute to add value,share the benefits. Ricardo Salinas of Mexico calls it a system that practices "prosperidad inclusiva," inclusive prosperity.

Synergy is a necessary condition for being a healthy system. A system that is synergetic finds constructive solutions to the problems change generates. Without such constructive solutions, the involved parties eventually disperse, diverting their energies to other constructive endeavors.

While synergy is a necessary condition, it is not sufficient on its own for the system to be healthy. Without symbiosis, where the self-interest of all contributors, integrated into a common interest is honored, collaboration suffers rendering the system eventually unsustainable.

Synergy necessitates a complementary diversity of subsystems that enrich each other through their differences. This can only happen if each party is willing to learn from the other differing parties. It will happen when they acknowledge and appreciate each other's differences and boundaries. Immanuel Kant referred to it as mutual respect. Symbiosis, on the other hand, demands the existence of a common interest and trust that the system will honor the self-interest of the different parties involved integrated into a common interest.

Consider the example of a sustainable healthy human body. Each party respects the rights of the other parties; a kidney does not try to perform the role of the bladder. All organs contribute to the health of the body and benefit from being part of a healthy body. The entity that does not respect the differences of others and wants all other entities to be like itself is cancer. This is how cancer spreads and destroys the functionalities different subsystems provide, making the health of the total body unsustainable.

A society where diversity is accepted, where the different parties have a common interest among its members, and with the environment within which this society resides, is a healthy society and its success as a country is sustainable in the long run. For instance, the Jewish religion recognizes that the soil has interests. Earth needs to rest and its interests should be respected; One is not supposed to work the land every seventh year. In New Zealand, the Maoris recognize that natural resources like mountains and rivers are legal entities with legal rights. The mountain, through its trustees, can sue those abusing its rights, such as digging and leaving scars. Similarly, if someone is polluting the river, the river can sue the polluter.

It appears that most of humanity today is not symbergetic. It is cancerous to the ecosystem within which it resides. Humanity does not respect nature. We are exploiting nature, solely serving ourselves. And religions that fanatically do not recognize the rights of other faiths, that prosecute and murder those who differ from them in how they practice God’s wishes, make the society to which they belong weak and the country they reside in non-sustainable.

What made America the envy of the world, what made it the power it is today, was the acceptance of diversity and a culture of mutual trust and respect. As this culture is getting increasingly eroded, the strength of the country is increasingly becoming not sustainable. And if humanity continues to disrespect the environment, its life on this planet might not be sustainable either.

Written by
Dr. Ichak Adizes