This is chapter 7 of the "The Macroscope" by Joël de Rosnay



I should like this final chapter of the book to be an opening onto the future, not a conclusion. Every criticism, every thorough examination of one type of society and its scale of values ought to lead us toward a new design for society. How can we discern the major features of this society through the gropings of social innovation--the experiments, the successes, the failures that we witness? From what point of view can we formulate and represent such a design?

I propose to reassemble in condensed form the principal themes of the preceding chapters. There are several ways of doing this. One can apply classical methods of forecasting and then try to describe in detail one aspect of the future society. One might, for example, project a small number of tendencies from among the most marked. Or one might adopt the "prospective" attitude, studying the present from the viewpoint of a desirable future in order to determine the meaningful events of today.

One can also try to confront the principal themes of the main currents of contemporary thought that I have presented by adopting a descriptive attitude, the most objective possible. Or, on the other hand, one might choose a normative attitude and orient the proposition in terms of a personal position or an ideology.

Beyond the normative and the objective there are also the expedients of science fiction, political fiction, and utopian writing. All these methods are well known to planners and futurologists and are widely used.

In terms of my own objective, however, the one method that appears to combine them advantageously is the method of "scenarios." The principle of that method is that the future is never given in its totality; it can be determined only through choices made by people devoted to building their future. Thus there is an infinite number of possible "futures," and a scenario is nothing but a more or less detailed description of some of them. A scenario clarifies decisions and facilitates choices.

But a scenario does not describe what is probable or even what is possible. For between the probable and the possible there is political will as much as there is chance, catastrophe, global crisis, or revolution. A scenario describes situations as they might be, situations that are plausible in a given context and in terms of what one knows of the evolutionary tendencies of the principal elements of the system under study. In this respect the scenario is quite like a game; one acts as though the description were possible and one had some relation to it.

Every scenario is a bit biased, as is the case with the present one. First because it is unique, whereas usually the rule insists that one compare several scenarios (for example, the pursuit of unrestrained growth; the slowing of economic growth while the present pursuit continues; catastrophes; the global crises of the economies; wars and other conflicts but such a comparison would take too long. Secondly because one again encounters several of the ideas, suggestions, and theses that I propose and defend in this book. (It will be easy for you to pick them out, recognize them, and criticize them.) My purpose, I recall, is to stimulate thought and reflection, not to attempt to impose my opinions. In order that you may use your imagination as you will, this scenario voluntarily assumes the somewhat dry form of an outline: I have conceived it in the form of notes sent by a reporter to a large weekly news- magazine. The details are left to you to invent.

When will the scenario take place? Does it refer to a particular country or to a composite of several countries? It is neither possible nor even necessary to be precise. Some of the situations described in the scenario could exist in the 1980s, others not before the end of the century--and only in the so-called developed countries.


Ecosocialism, ecosociety, ecocitizen, ecocommunications, ecohealth, ecocongress.... This is not a new "ecocult"! The prefix "eco" symbolizes here the close relationship between economy and ecology; it puts the accent on relationships among men and between men and what they call their "home," the ecosphere.

At the time of the first electronic referendum taken on individual terminals the ecocitizens preferred, instead of a national anthem, a quotation from Dennis Meadows, an American university professor who in 1971 had called attention to the need for limiting growth ( see notes ).

After two centuries of growth, we are now burdened, in the natural and social sciences, with blind decisions and obligations. At the present time, there is no economic theory of a society founded on technology where the rules of interest lead to zero, where the productive capital does not lead to accumulation, and where the main concern is about equality rather than growth. There is no sociology of balance which is interested in the social problems of a stabilized society where men and women of an older age are in the majority. There is no political science of equilibrium capable of enlightening us on the means of exercising the democratic choice in a society where short-term material gain would cease to be the criterion of political success. There is no technology of balance which gives absolute priority to the recycling of all forms of material; to the use of solar energy which is not a pollutant; to the minimization of flows of material as well as energy. There is no psychology of the state of stability which lets man find a new image of himself or allows him to find other means of motivation in a system where material production would be constant and balanced according to the limited resources of the earth.

This would be the great challenge to each of our traditional disciplines: to elaborate on the project of a society which finds its material motives and its attractiveness in a state of equilibrium. The task would be heavy with technical difficulties and concepts. The solutions would not only be more satisfactory to the spirit but would also be an immense advantage to society in general.

The coming of ecosociety took place in three main stages, each founded on a type of economy that corresponds to a given environment: the economy of survival (primitive society), the economy of growth (industrial society), and the economy of equilibrium (postindustrial society or ecosociety).

The economy of equilibrium (or stationary economy) that characterizes ecosociety today does not imply--as some believed in the late 1970s-- a "zero growth." The limiting of choice to two alternatives, "growth at any price" and "halting growth," was probably the result of the preponderant use of a logic of exclusion peculiar to that period, a type of logic that eliminated any nuance of meaning, any complementarity. It was obvious that the real question was not one of growing or not growing but rather the problem of how to reorient the economy to serve better at the same time human needs, the maintenance and evolution of the social system, and the pursuit of true cooperation with nature.

The economy of equilibrium that characterizes ecosociety is thus a "controlled" economy in the cybernetic sense of the term. Some sectors can pass through phases of growth, others are kept in dynamic equilibrium, and still others maintain a "negative" rate of growth. The "equilibrium" of the economy results from the harmony of the whole. As in life, this stationary state is a controlled disequilibrium.

One model of society proposed during the 1970s came close to ecosociety; this was the convivial society of Ivan Illich ( see notes ). But this model was also far from it when one considers certain aspects that I shall describe. First we must recall the meanings according to Illich of the two fundamental concepts of conviviality and radical monopoly.

A society in which modern technologies serve politically interrelated individuals rather than managers, I will call "convivial." . . . I have chosen "convivial" as a technical term to designate a modern society of responsibly limited tools.

The man who finds his pleasure and sense of balance in the use of the convivial operation is austere. Austerity does not have the connotation of isolating nor of enclosing oneself. Austerity according to Aristotle and to Saint Thomas Aquinas was founded on friendship.

The establishment of radical monopoly happens when people give up their native ability to do what they can do for themselves and for each other, in exchange for something "better" that can be done for them only by a major tool.... This domination assures obligatory consumption and subsequently restrains the autonomy of each individual. It is a particular type of social control reinforced by the obligatory consumption of mass production that only the heavy industries can provide.

Illich in his model appears to have underestimated certain technologies whose development was slowed neither by crises nor by changes of government: the telecommunications explosion, the miniaturization and decentralization of data processing, and mankind's mastery of certain natural processes, particularly in biology and ecology. Telecommunications and microcomputers have thus permitted the creation of decentralized networks of "distributed knowledge" controlled by the users themselves. This progress had been made possible by a closer association between the human brain and the computer. This association, founded on voice recognition, handwriting recognition, pattern recognition, and a verbal dialogue with the computer, has gradually changed the computer into a veritable intellectual assistant.

The mastery and the imitation of some natural processes were achieved at the industrial level through the use of microorganisms and enzymes in the production of food, medicines, and chemical substances useful to society, and at the ecological level through the control and regulation of natural cycles with the objective of increasing agricultural production or eliminating more efficiently the wastes of social metabolism. These techniques of bioengineering and ecoengineering opened the way to new industrial processes that are less polluting, that use less energy, and that are easier to control and decentralize than were the old procedures of mass production.

Lenin used to say, "Communism is the Soviet people plus electricity." By the same token, ecosociety is conviviality plus telecommunications! For the great economic crises and the technological breakthroughs transformed the classical industrial society by means of a double movement: a decentralization (or differentiation) leading to the mastery and control of modern tools and a refocusing (or integration) resulting principally from progress in telecommunications and microcomputers.

This double movement fostered an increase in the effectiveness of community management at the base level (and consequently the progressive disappearance of certain "radical monopolies") and an increase in each individual's participation at all levels of the social system.

Decentralization is based on individual responsibilities, while participation allows a regulation of the metabolism of society (from the decentralized level to that of the great macroscopic feedback control loops). Clearly this reestablishment of the balance of powers is accompanied by deep modifications in the political, economic, and social structures.

Contrary to the industrial societies of the classical type, structured "from top to bottom," ecosociety is structured from "bottom to top," from the individual and his sphere of responsibilities through the organization of communities of consumers who guarantee the decentralized management of the principal organs of the life of the society--notably the energy transformation systems, the educational systems, and the electronic systems for communication, participation, information processing, and (in certain sectors of industry) production.

Ecosociety acknowledges the coexistence of private ownership and state ownership of production systems. In the extension of the liberal regime ecosociety favors innovation and the ability of free enterprise and free competition to adapt. However, it submits businesses to strict control by the communities of consumers and users. These communities work closely with political leaders at the national level through a participatory planning system that allows the selection of the major objectives and the determination of the principal deadlines.

"Social feedback," which takes place at all hierarchical levels of society allows the control and the application of participatory planning as well as the adaptation to new conditions of evolution.

The main feedback controls apply for the most part to energy consumption, the investment rate, the population growth rate, and the principal cycles corresponding to the functions of supply, production, consumption and recycling.

Energy consumption is maintained at the level that existed at the beginning of the 1980s. This is not monastic austerity; the energy is better distributed, better conserved, and more efficiently used.

Investments in new production capacity serve to balance the obsolescence of machines and buildings and to open up new areas according to social needs.

The birth rate is maintained at a level that equals the death rate of the population; this guarantees a stationary state.

The cycles of supply, production, consumption, and recycling were completely reorganized. The creation of channels of recovery and decentralized systems for sorting materials have enabled the metabolic cycles of the social organism to be connected again with the natural cycles of the ecosystem.

Ecosociety is decentralized, community-minded, participative; individual responsibility and initiative really exist. Ecosociety rests on the pluralism of ideas, styles, and ways of life. As a result equality and social justice are making progress, and there are changes in customs, ways of thinking, and morality. People have invented a different life-style in a society in equilibrium. They have realized that the maintenance of a state of equilibrium is more delicate than the maintenance of a state of continued growth.

With the help of a new vision, a new logic of complementarity, and new values, the people of ecosociety invented an economic doctrine, a political science, a sociology, a technology, and a psychology of the state of controlled equilibrium.

This other way of life is expressed in all social activities, especially in the organization of cities, work, human relationships, culture, customs, and manners. (The total integration of telecommunications in everyday life is significant here.)

The cities of ecosociety have been thoroughly reorganized. The oldest sections were restored to the people, free of automobiles. There the air is again fit to breathe and silence is respected. Pedestrian ways are numerous; on the streets and in the parks the people take their time.

The new cities are broken into multiple communities made up of interconnected villages. It is a "rural" society, one that is integrated through an extraordinary communications network that does away with needless travel and enables many people to work at home.

In business and industry many employees are no longer required to spend long hours at rigorous work. The extension of methods for managing working time has brought about a veritable liberation of time. The breaking up of individual hours and the synchronization of activities that results from it were balanced by the accountability of a "collective time" that permits a better distribution of work both in industry and in society. The management of time also affects other periods of life: vacation time, education, professional training, careers, and retirement.

Ecosociety catalyzes the appearance of service activities--the almost total dematerialization of the economy. A large percentage of social activities is based on mutual services and the exchange of services. The matching of people and ideas is facilitated by the new communications networks--intellectual endeavor through decentralized computer systems.

Industrial societies formerly were unable to support the exorbitant increase in the costs of education and health, and the quality of these services deteriorated. Ecosociety started again from the nodes of the human network. Mutual instruction and mutual medical assistance were achieved on a grand scale. Whereas the mastery of the megamachine of the industrial societies required an advanced education, specialized instruction in ecosociety is considerably reduced. It is now more global, more practical, and more meaningful. Meanwhile, people consume less drugs, call their doctors less often, and go to hospitals only in exceptional cases. Living is healthier, the methods of preventing illnesses more effective. More time is devoted to stimulating natural immunities than to controlling diseases by means of "outside" chemical agents. Balanced nutrition and exercise are key factors in self-management of health.

Oil and energy are still widely used in ecosociety, but their use has been stabilized at a level that permits an equitable distribution of resources. This has led to deep modifications. Programs for putting into operation new nuclear power centers have been dropped. The decentralization of energy transformation plants has led to the exploitation of new energy sources. Above all, energy conservation and the general struggle against waste have made it possible to stabilize energy consumption. Society has learned to use the internal energy of social systems, energy that was formerly expended only in periods of crisis--war or revolution.

Motivation that leads to action used to be inspired by self-interest (money, honors), by constraint (regimentation, fear of fines), and occasionally by the comprehension of the usefulness of one's action and a sense of social responsibility. The "transparency" of ecosociety, better information, and more effective participation have led gradually to the bringing into play of the two latter motivations, without which there is no real social cohesion.

In industry and farming the energy-intensive procedures were replaced by soft technologies and natural processes. In some transformation industries, such as petrochemistry, activities that had high energy costs were abandoned. The recycling of calories and raw materials is practiced on a wide scale. Manufactured products are more durable and easier to repair; thus maintenance and repair have become revitalized activities. Craftsmanship has been reborn, and objects are personalized rather than standardized.

The biotechnological revolution radically modified agriculture and the food processing industry. New bacterial species have become man's allies in production and recycling. Artificial enzymes are used to produce fertilizers and foods. But there are still restrictions because of the thoughtless waste of the previous industrial society.

Ecosociety is an explosion of quality and feeling, the exploration and conquest of inner space. Less preoccupied with economic growth, and producing and consuming less, people have again found time for themselves and for others. Human relationships are richer and less competitive; people respect the choices and freedoms of others. Everyone is free to pursue pleasure in all its forms: sexual, aesthetic, intellectual, athletic. Individual creativity and personal accomplishment play an important role in the community. People admire the unique and irreplaceable character of a work of art, a scientific discovery, or an athletic achievement.

Scientific progress was marked by the prodigious development of biology. Yet more than ever there are problems in the relationships between science and politics, science and religion, science and ethics. A "bioethic" reinforces the new morality of ecosociety. It is founded on respect for the human person; it orients and guides one's choices. For the people of ecosociety have amazing power at their disposal: hormonal and electronic manipulations of the brain, genetic manipulations, syntheses of the genes, chemical actions on the embryo, in vitro culture of the embryo, choice of sex, and control of the processes of aging.

The relationship between man and death has evolved; death is accepted and reintegrated into life. The aged participate in social activities, and they are the object of respect and consideration.

A religious feeling (an emergent religion, not merely a revealed religion) enriches all activities of ecosociety. It supports and validates action; it offers the hope that something can be saved because there exists in every one of us a unique power of creation and because the outcome of society rests in collective creation.

This is one scenario from among many, for one world among many. Is it a dream for the most part? Perhaps. But it is important to dream. And why cannot dreams be taken for realities . . . long enough to build a new world?

Paris, September 1978


Works that served as basic documentation or that would allow the reader to pursue a subject further are grouped immediately following the section title. The author (and date) listings refer the reader to the Bibliography, where the references are given in full.

All the diagrams are original except for those on pages 32(top), l01, l09, 189, which were adapted from Wolman (1965); National Geographic Magazine, November 1972, Energy; Time-Life Collection, "The World of Science" Lehninger, 1969.


The term "megaloscope" was used by Lewis Carroll.

Macroscope is the title of a science fiction novel by Piers Anthony published in 1969. Howard T. Odum (1971) also used the term "macroscope" in ecology.


Aguesse (1971), Clapham (1973), Ramade (1974).

Albertini (1971), Attali and Guillaume (1974), Perroux (1973).

13 The quotation from L. Robbins appears in Attali and Guillaume (1974), p. 9 13 Passet (1974), p. 232.

14 Attali and Guillaume (1974), p. 10. Sjoberg (1965), Laborit (1972), Forrester (1969).

31 The figures on metabolism in cities come from Wolman (1965) and Lowry (1967).

33 The term "megamachine" was used by Lewis Mumford (1974). The first definition is from Albertini (1971), p. 37; the second from Attali and Guillaume (1974), p. 27.

Nourse (1965), Laborit (1963) and (1968).

38 Schlanger (1971).

43 Walter Cannon (1929) and (1939). The comparison of plasma with the primitive ocean is from Laborit (1963).

Laborit (1963), J. de Rosnay (1965), Lehninger (1969), Watson (1972).

53 The symbolic representations of hemoglobin are from Perutz (1971). See also J. de Rosnay, "The function of hemoglobin," La Recherche, 14, 677, 1971.


General Systems Yearbook, beginning 1954; Young (1956), Ashby (1956), Ackoff (1960), Churchman (1968), Berrien (1968), von Bertalanffy (1968), Buckley (1968), Emery (1969), Barel (1971) and (1973).

58 The definition of the word ' system,' which occurs again on p. 65 is from Hall and Fagen (1956).

58 Wiener (1948), von Bertalanffy (1954) and (1968).

62 Shannon and Weaver (l949).

63-64 The first references to industrial dynamics are in Forrester (1958) and (1961).

64 Couffignal (1963), p. 23. The references to Plato and Ampere are in Guillaumaud (1965); see also Guillaumaud (1971).

69 The symbols of the structural and functional elements of a system are derived from those used by Forrester (1961). See also Meadows (1972).

73 The essential role of the flow variables and state variables was stressed by Forrester (1961), pp. 67-69.

77 A study of "world models" was made by Cole (1974); see also Mesarovic and Pestel (1974).

82-83 There is an excellent study of the advantages and the dangers of simulation in Popper (1973), pp. 40ff.

83 The allusion to "mental models" is in Meadows (1974).

87 On counterintuitive behavior of complex systems, see Forrester (1971).

87 The law of requisite variety was proposed by Ashby (1956); see also Ashby (1958).

90-91 The example of solid wastes is from Jorgan Randers (1973).

92 "To evolve, allow aggression." See also the role of "events" in the evolution of a complex system in Morin (1972).

95 An excellent critique of the systemic approach and its fecundity appears in Morin (1977).

95 Letter from Engels to Lavrov in Marx and Engels (1973), p. 83.

96 The term "noosphere" is from Teilhard de Chardin (1957).


97 On the relationship between bioenergetics and ecoenergetics, see J. de Rosnay (1974).

Puiseux (1973) (who quotes from the works of A. Varagnac), Illich (1973), Leroi-Gourhan (1972).

104 The law of "maximum energy" was proposed by Lotka (1956).

105 The examples that illustrate the law of optimum yield are from Odum (1955).

105 The school of "thermodynamics of irreversible processes" includes Onsager, de Groot, de Donder, Prigogine (1969) and (1972). See also Katchalsky (1971) on network thermodynamics.

Matthews et al. (1971). 108-110 The statistics are from several publications, among them Cook (1971), Ramade (1974).

112 The observations of the Bulletin of the World Meteorological Organization are cited by Kukla (1974). The effects of atmospheric dusts are studied in detail in Hobbs et al. (1974) and Bryson (1974).

114 The table of values in kilocalories was compiled from several sources, among them Slesser (1973), Odum (1971), Hannon (1974).

114 On the energy equivalent of the kilocalorie, see Odum (1974), p. 46.

115 On energy analysis, see Slesser (1973), Berry (1974), Hannon (1974).

116 The estimate of energy costs in producing a car is from Berry (1974).

117 On the expenditure of energy to feed the United States, see Hirst (1974).

118 Application of energy analysis to agriculture: Pimentel (1973), Steinhart (1974).

120 Competition between energy and work: Bezdek and Hannon (1974).

124 On the manufacture of fertilizers through using nitrogen, see J. de Rosnay, "Toward a bioindustry of ammonia," La Recherche, 32, 278, 1973.

126 On immobilized enzymes, see Zaborsky (1973).

129 The expression "postindustrial society" is used by Touraine (1969) and Bell (1973).


132 The "theory of information" was principally the result of the work of Hartley (1928), Szilard (1929), Gabor (1946), Shannon and Weaver (1949), Brillouin (1959).

132 The example of the card game was suggested by examples in Brillouin (1959) and Costa de Beauregard (1963), p. 63.

134 The example of the reading of a printed page was suggested by Tribus (1971).

137 The expressions "planetary village" and "global village" are from McLuhan (1965).

138 The expression "society in real time" was proposed by the author in J. de Rosnay (1972).

141 The expression "left out of power" was used by J. Attali in a report to the Group of Ten on social malaise. The report has not been published.

142 The data used in the preparation of the section on communications hardware were taken chiefly from Sprague (1969), Parker (1969) and (1972), Martin (1971), Dickson (1973).

144 The examples of services in real time came from studies made in the United States by the author and from Goldmark (1969), Dickson (1973), Martin (1971), National Academy of English Report (1971), Walker (1971), Day (1973).

147 On substituting communications for travel, see Goldmark (1971) Dickson (1971), Day (1973), National Academy of English Report (1971), Attali (1974).

149 Friedman (1974). Leonard and Etzioni (1971), Stevens (1971) and (1972), de Sola Pool (1971) and (1974), Singer (1973) Carroll (1974).

149 The term "social feedback" is proposed to emphasize the cybernetic nature of information feedback loops. Several authors use the terms "citizen feedback" (Stevens, 1971) "instant democracy," and "participatory democracy." See also the excellent examples of participative democracy in Jungk (1974), pp. 157ff.

156 These instruments are sold commercially by Applied Futures Inc., Greenwich, Conn., or used at MIT by Prof. Thomas B. Sheridan.


Gold (1965), Blum (1962), Costa de Beauregard (1963b), Berger (1964).

163 Bergson (1948), Teilhard de Chardin (1957).

164 Costa de Beauregard (1963a) Grunbaum (1962) and (1963) Reichenbach (1956), Gal-Or (1972).

164 On the relationship between information and entropy, see also Atlan (1973), Laborit (1974).

166 The distinction between time that "spreads out" and time that "adds on" is from Saint-Exupéry.

170 Grunbaum (1962), Costa de Beauregard (1963).

The main elements of this chapter appeared in J. de Rosnay (1965).

172 Teilhard de Chardin (1955) Monod (1970).

174 The term "integron" is from Jacob (1970); "holon" is from Koestler.

177 Bergson (1948). The story of the "train of the second principle" appears in J. de Rosnay (1965).

On the general mechanisms of evolution, see Von Foerster (1960), Prigogine (1972), Eigen (1971), Monod (1970), Atlan (1972), Morin (1973).

182 The relationship between autocatalysis and biological reproduction was stressed by Calvin (1956).

185 The note refers to works in prebiotic chemistry; see J. de Rosnay (1966).

186 On acceleration, see also Meyer (1974).

187 Darwin (1959), p. 120, the correspondence between Marx and Engels is in Marx and Engels (1973).

188 Le Châtelier (1888).

189 The term "stationary economy" is from Daly (1973) and Boulding (1966).

189 Dupuy (1975).

189-190 The definition of a deadline with respect to the temporal dimension of the goal is from Idatte (1969).

190 On psychological time, see Lecomte du Noüy (1936).


195 On acceleration, see Meyer (1974).

204 Reich (1970).

204 Garaudy (1971).

209 The quotations "a carbon copy of reality," "operative process," and "another verbalization of a picture" are from Piaget (1969), pp. 107, 110.

214 The definition of a game is from Abt (1970).


223 Meadows (1974), pp. 63-64.

224 Illich (1973), pp. xiv-xv, 54.


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[1] A.C., after the crisis, or followiog the great worldwide criis of the economies.