On the Co-Dependency Between Cyclical and Linear Processes

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Ralph Thurm and Bill Baue:

"Cooperation. Circulation. Balance. This is how natural cycles – in this case, the carbon cycle – work in the earth’s biosphere. And the carbon cycle is amongst the most fundamental forms of value to the plant and animal kingdoms (including we humans), as it creates the conditions conducive to life. Carbon fixation in the ground is key to soil health and plant productivity, while atmospheric carbon concentration is a key barometer of the balance between a livable planet (such as we’ve enjoyed throughout the Holocene) on the one hand, and on the other, the planet we’re inhabiting now, with the climate emergency burning continents and threatening to hurtle us into a “hothouse earth,” and an extinction rate a thousand-fold higher than the background rate, among a host of other systemic dysfunctions. And of course, the cycle of inhaling oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide is amongst the most valuable processes for life. Think of these valuable natural processes as metabolic cycles, but instead of metabolizing food (as our bodies do), what we’re talking about here is the broader metabolization of vital capital resources to create value – or “fitness, desirability.”

So, the thesis we advance in this Blueprint is that

lasting value for all is created cyclically and systemically.

This proposition carries several key implications for change from our current system. First, if our economy is to sustain itself (and sustain life on Earth), we must supplant the linear (take-makewaste) economy as the primary approach to value creation, as it is a self-evident dead end if practiced on its own. However, we can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater: linear processes exist within healthy systems (and healthy cycles), so we simply need to recognize the role of linear approaches and systems within the bigger picture. As Working Group member Martijn Veening of Entropometrics stated in the Virtual Dialogue:

- The metabolic cycles are not really cyclical, they are actually always ‘upward spirals’ and they actually depend on some linear value processes. Without these linear processes, the spiral will go down again (in ultimo a collapse). This principle holds at any scale (from the nano to the systemic level), and, as a real metabolism, there is fractal interdependency between rates of scales as well. Some spirals move upwards so slowly that we perceive them as cycles. They feed on linear ones. The co-dependency between these spiraling and linear processes is where the magic sits. The ratio between spiral-momentum and linear consumption is key. In nature, the efficiency is relatively very high, obviously. This proportionality has evolved over billions of years. Technological systems display much lower efficiency rates. And in our socio-economic domains we have several examples of run-away processes, which display disproportional rates (in finance, ‘consumerism’, etc..). Again, there is no a-priori ‘healthy’ proportion, only a-posteriori. I think most of us agree on current disproportional cases.

In this sense, lasting value depends on “the proportionality between its co-dependent generative ‘cyclical’ and linear processes,” states Veening.

Second, the fact that our current system falls short on complementing linear processes with cyclical (or spiral) processes means that significant “latent” (or “submerged”) value exists, which can be realized by shifting to holistic approaches that assess total System Value. The goal here is to create positive value across all elements, thereby replacing current processes of creating positive value in one area (typically in finance) by destroying value elsewhere (typically in nature or society). This would enact a shift from Monocapitalism to Multicapitalism.

Third, natural cycles create “waste,” but this waste serves as the feedstock for symbiotic cycles. So, cyclical value creation also entails identifying complementary cycles for regenerating value from “waste” streams. Think of animal manure, which in our current industrial agricultural systems is a toxin polluting the water cycle through nitrogen and phosphorous overload (as just one example), whereas in regenerative agriculture, manure feeds energy back into the system as fertilizer as well as fuel for bio-digesters. Fourth, the primary value cycles constantly regenerate value, because that’s what cycles do (within the limits of the laws of thermodynamics) – they regenerate. So, we need to understand value metabolism, in terms of materials, energy, and social equity." (https://www.r3-0.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/r3-0-Value-Cycles-Blueprint-Final.pdf)