The Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential is the result of an ambitious effort to collect and present information on the problems humanity is confronted with, as well as the challenges such problems pose to concept formation, values and development strategies. It is a response to the fact that many institutions are trapped in inadequate policy metaphors.
An unusual feature of the Encyclopedia is the inclusion of specific feedback loops and cycles through which problems reinforce and sustain each other. A cycle is a chain of problems, with each aggravating the next, with the last looping back to aggravate the first in the chain. An example of a vicious cycle is:
Alienation > Youth gangs > Neighbourhood control by criminals > Psychological stress of urban environment > Substance abuse > Family breakdown > Alienation.
Such cycles are vicious because they are self-sustaining.
There are thousands upon thousands of entries in the Encyclopedia, but I’ll give a bit of a taster here to serve as a jumping-off point by reproducing just one entry from the World problems — Issues database:
Decline in fundamental values; Decay of traditional values; Underprioritized human values; Decline in status of societal values.
The nature of the problem: In a society where a particular value is substantially realized, its status can be eroded; the value loses its attractiveness and comes to be downgraded by disenchantment and disillusionment.
Incidence (the extent of the problem): Examples of value erosion in modern society are: efficiency in the era of automation, progress in an age of anxiety, economic security in a welfare state, and national independence for an emerging nation in socio-economic chaos.
Claim: Moreover, one cannot fail to be worried by the decline of many fundamental values, which constitute an unquestionable good not only for Christian morality but simply for human morality, for moral culture: these values include respect for human life from the moment of conception, respect for marriage in its indissoluble unity, and respect for the stability of the family. Moral permissiveness strikes especially at this most sensitive sphere of life and society. Hand in hand with this go the crisis of truth in human relationships, lack of responsibility for what one says, the purely utilitarian relationship between individual and individual, the loss of a sense of the authentic common good and the ease with which this good is alienated. Finally, there is the “desacralization” that often turns into “dehumanization”: the individual and the society for whom nothing is “sacred” suffer moral decay, in spite of appearances. (Papal Encyclical, Dives et misericordia, 30 November 1980)
(Often and when appropriate there is also a counter-claim entry.)
Narrower, more specific problems which may be considered a part of the described problem: Collapse of common values, Haphazard forms of social ethics, Over-simplification of social concepts, Decline in deference, Indifference to spiritual values.
Reduces (problems relieved, alleviated or reduced by the described problem): Inappropriate application of traditional values, Misapplication of principles to oppose social innovation, Value-biased judgement.
(Here there might be entries under ‘Reduced by’ for ‘problems relieving or alleviating the described problem’.)
Strategies (designed to deal with the problem, the result of the problem or to produce the problem): Prioritizing distribution according to communal values, Ensuring local values preservation, Prioritizing human values, Value erosion.
The World Problems database is the largest of eight that make up the complete Encyclopedia:
- World Problems – Issues
Basic universal problems include danger, lack of information, social injustice, war, environmental degradation. Cross-sectoral problems include animal suffering, irresponsible nationalism, soil degradation. Detailed problems include detention of mothers, epidemics, white-collar crime. Emanations of other problems include terrorism targeted against tourists, injustice of mass trials, threatened species of Caudata. Fuzzy exceptional problems include blaming victims, pacifism, unconstrained free trade. Very specific problems include blue baby, tomato mottle virus, costly uniforms. Problems under consideration include feminist backlash, mudslide.
Suspect problems include threatened species of Zapus hudsonius preblei, uncommitted volunteer workers.
- Global Strategies – Solutions
Abstract fundamental strategies include compromising, transcending, providing. Basic universal strategies include eliminating discrimination, combating desertification, reducing unemployment. Cross-sectoral strategies include orienting economic policy toward social need, managing crises. Detailed strategies include establishing national government NGO departments, using psychological warfare. Emanations of other strategies include lifting restrictions on human rights advocacy, reviewing provisions of the UN Charter. Exceptional strategies include begging, rechanneling expenditures on defence, advocating nihilism. Very specific strategies include working with young people, undertaking public works. Unconfirmed strategies include abolishing zoos, ventilating air through buildings. Provisional strategies include developing chest radiology, preserving internal political borders. Strategy polarities include deepening-shallowing, intuiting-reasoning, supporting-opposing. Strategy roles include advisor, traitor, confessor. Strategy types or complexes include communication, judgement, time.
- Human Values
Constructive values include peace, harmony, beauty. Destructive values include conflict, depravity, ugliness. Value polarities include agreement-disagreement, freedom-restraint, pleasure-displeasure. Value clusters include feeling complex, interaction complex, communication complex.
- Human Development
Concepts of human development include vocational training, benevolence, emancipation of the self. Modes of awareness include compassion, sense of shame, conviction, sense of humor.
- Patterns and Metaphors
Communication: Forms of presentation include animation, statistical indicators, prophecy. Metaphors include ball games, sexual intercourse, personification, stick and carrot processes. Patterns (Christopher Alexander) include encirclement, internal connectedness between domains, partially isolated contexts. Symbols include birds, food-related objects, sacred calendar. Transformative conferencing includes aggressive participant type, lecture, team roles. Transformative metaphors (I Ching) include creativity, receptivity, inexperience.
- Bibliography (issues)
- Integrative Concepts
Entries include design, meta-language, science policy.
- Network Visualizations
- Start exploring the Encyclopedia here.
- Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential on Wikipedia “The Encyclopedia was started in 1972 and now comprises more than 100,000 entries and 700,000 links, as well as 500 pages of introductory notes and commentaries.”
- Encyclopedia of World Problems Has a Big One of Its Own – wsj.com, 2012 “In 2000, the UIA posted a version on the Internet. But then financial troubles and personal squabbles arose in the UIA, and the encyclopedia foundered. Yet the Web version “is still attracting interest,” says Mr. Fischer.”