Guiding Metaphors and Configuring Choices (Part II)
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Part I of a paper for the Development Administration Division of the United Nations Department of Technical Cooperation for Development (UN/DAD/DTCD) prepared for a collection of papers on 'Tools for Critical Choice by Top Decision Makers'. Contract: DTCD 91-11 (see also Part I)
5. Comprehensibility of appropriate strategies
The need for conceptual scaffolding is clear given the kinds of complexity with which society has to work. The challenge of making the more complex structures comprehensible is also clear -- those most appropriate to the challenge of sustainable development may be beyond the ability of any single human mind to grasp (Judge, 1986a). But any form of development implies structural transformation. Whilst transforming simplistic structures, like conference agendas and organization charts, may pose little challenge, the transformation of the complex structures described earlier is quite another matter.
The process of conceptual or social transformation appears to call for a form of dynamic scaffolding which provides some form of continuity -- from stage to stage -- through the transformation process. What we are looking for is a form of scaffolding onto which a policy conference's insights can be mapped at Stage I. The relationships in this mapping would then be stretched or changed in the transformation to Stage II (and further stages), which might be some very different kind of structure -- suggesting new kinds of relationships between the concepts so bound (and between their proponents in the conference). The metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly provides a sobering metaphor of the possible complexity of the challenge.
Two examples of this kind of structure may be noted:
(a) Image transformation: The skills of image-transformation on computer suggest many possibilities. The challenge is to find ways of relating real-world issues and challenges to such images so as to benefit from this facility. Of special interest is the way in which development is to be understood or encoded in such image transformation. For example, if the many details of the global problematique could be encoded onto one (or more) archetypal animals, suitably animated, this would be of major conceptual and symbolic significance -- especially when the animation can be used to represent a transformation process. The media advantages are obvious.
(b) Vector equilibrium: Buckminster Fuller (1975, 1982) drew attention to a very unusual symmetrical polyhedron, the vector equilibrium (normally known as the cuboctahedron) as the common denominator of the tetrahedron, octahedron and cube. It is unusual in that it lies on a transformational pathway to a variety of other structures. An appropriately jointed model can be transformed into an icosahedron and from there to an octahedron and on to a tetrahedron. The merit of this model, aside from the many claims made by Fuller himself, is that it provides a way of understanding the structural transformation process. The challenge in a policy-making environment is not to focus on this particular structure, but rather to use it as an example to persuade topologists to locate other transformational systems of this kind so as to build up a library of possibilities on which to draw.
Presumably it will only be through such explorations that conferences can anchor their transformative insights so that people can recognize and have confidence in the structural continuity of appropriate change, rather than being threatened by change of any kind -- and therefore resistant to it.
This paper has stressed the special need for software capable of facilitating more complex forms of conceptual communication in policy and conferencing environments. This argument is based on the assumption that just as aircraft were faced with the technological challenge of the sound barrier, software faces the challenge of the imagination barrier. The 'sub-sonic' policy conferencing problems of adaptive decision-making (Group A) have been largely solved. But we do not yet know how to ensure the stability and integrity of policies functioning at a higher imaginative level. The conventional organizational and conceptual structures tend to get shaken apart by the dynamics to which they endeavour to respond. In terms of an architectural metaphor, it has proved impossible to lock policy 'keystones' into position to redistribute the stresses characteristic of policies of a complexity appropriate to the challenge.
There would seem to be a number of fruitful steps that can be taken, as pointed out above. When it is recognized what strategic advantage they offer to those that use them, it is probable that resources will be devoted to their development. It is very probable that such software will be restricted to those major corporations for whom strategic advantage is a vital consideration. It is also probable that versions of such software will be developed by certain alternative groups. It seems less likely that the majority of policy-making constituencies concerned with adaptive policy-making will have access to such facilities or perceive the need for them. Unfortunately this is also likely to be the case with many in the international community of organizations.
The difficulty is that it is always possible to argue that the concrete, short-term, simple procedures of Group A are sufficient in a crisis-management environment. Much of what passes for international projects and programmes is in effect reactive, crisis management. Upbeat reporting of their successes is always possible. But in strategic terms it is rather like a chess novice playing a grand master. The novice can be allowed to delude himself by many short-term gains as he progressively sinks into a more and more disadvantageous strategic situation from which recovery is hopeless. This is the dilemma of sustainable development.
The real challenge for policy-making in relation to the crises of our times is to provide people with tools to counter the imaginal deficiency from which we collectively suffer when dealing with complexity. The texty, linear-environment of speeches, messaging and documents has a poor track record. Eminent experts, with suitable budgetary encouragement, can now be found to negate the importance of any problem (or corresponding policy), whether over-population, acid rain, low-level radiation exposure, or smoking. Their 'facts' are no longer a reliable basis for action.
In this context, and with or without computer assistance, metaphor is a most intriguing unexplored resource as a guide to the elaboration of more complex conceptual frameworks and organizational structures. In effect the arguments already made with respect to tensegrity, resonance hybrids and imagery rely to a large extent on the power of metaphor, especially visual metaphor. Metaphor is renowned as a key to creative thinking and innovation. Information systems have traditionally been ruthless in eliminating the ambiguity of metaphor from the communications they support. But the classical triangle of text, data and graphics processing is only 2-dimensional. Imaginative insight can be usefully placed at the apex of the (tetrahedral) pyramid based on that triangle. Metaphor is the prime vehicle for such insight.
How then might it be possible to marry metaphor processing into policy-making environments as a way of breaking through the imagination barrier ? This paper suggests ways of doing so with computer assistance. But it seems doubtful that advances will be made fast enough on these fronts. However one great advantage of metaphor is that, like rumour and humour, and if well-chosen, it travels rapidly through any network, whether computer-assisted or not.
Consider the fasionable focus for the international community at this time, namely sustainable development. How is this complex notion to be carried and addressed in the imagination, and especially in the media. Metaphor can be used to highlight the collective difficulty in developing strategies to bring it about. Metaphors such as 'global village' or 'gaia' do not give focus to the strategic dilemma and the operational opportunities. Due to imaginal deficiency, sustainable development is best understood at this time through the metaphor 'having our cake and eating it too'. This corresponds to its corporate (re)interpretation as 'sustainable competitive advantage'. Both are tragic examples of poverty of imagination in a complex environment.
Consider a policy environment in which text (including speech), data and graphics were treated as infrastructure 'plumbing' and in which the conceptual centre of gravity was shifted to an imaginative level sustained and disciplined by the computer-assisted use of metaphor. A major concern in the conference would be to ensure the circulation of meaning through metaphor. Complex notions would be expressed succinctly through metaphor. The challenge would not be who could dominate the discussion in quantitative air-time terms, procedural manipulation, or resolutions passed. Rather it would be a question of who could produce the most seductive metaphors to capture the strategic complexities and the opportunities for the formation (and survival over time) of hitherto impossible coalitions of bodies favouring seemingly incompatible policies.
6. Sustaining an ecology of development policies
The most practical implication of this paper is the need to select (or design) metaphors which can bridge the schizophrenic separation of inputs from policy-making sciences and media-led policy-making. What metaphors underlie the major strategies of the different Specialized Agencies of the United Nations and of the unquestioned administrative jargon in which they are discussed? Is it possible to select or design better metaphors:
One set of interesting candidates are the metaphors drawn from ecological and environmental insights. Institutional factions and coalitions may then be usefully perceived as distinct animal species, as a development of an existing tendency to label opponenets as 'sharks', 'sheep', 'snakes', 'dogs', and the like. The aim would be to endeavour to map out the ecology of factions and actors, identifying the web of interactions between them. Such an ecosystem can be as complex as is required and provides a comprehensible language in which to explore the ways in which niches are defined and protected -- and the extent to which particular species are imbalancing the system and evoking the need for counter-active measures. And the crisis of the times may perhaps best be illustrated in considering the application of this ecological approach to the green movement. The challenge for the tragically factionalized green movement is to reinterpret its simplisitic perceptions of its internal factional relationships into the organic, ecological metaphor which is supposedly most meaningful to them.
Another rich and accessible set of metaphors can be obtained from traffic, especially from the manner in which streams of traffic with different, related, and conflicting 'agendas' (speeds, directions, capacities) can be interwoven (using underpasses, stoplights, systems of priority, etc) so as to maintain the flow of vehicles. At this physical level conflicts are not 'resolved'. Consensus on a single agenda is not sought. Rather the distinct agendas are appropriately channelled and interwoven. Much can be built on such traffic insights at the level of social policy-making.
Examples of policy clarification in the light of military and sporting metaphors are common in the corporate world, as implied earlier. An ecology-based metaphoric language for managers has recently been articulated by D Lynch and P Kordis in Strategy of the Dolphin (1988). This strategy is contrasted with those of the 'shark' and the 'carp' which the authors see as 'hardwired' into the thinking of managers and as especially inappropriate to survival under turbulent and chaotic conditions. The authors explore the ways in which 'dolphins' can fruitfully interact with 'carps' and 'sharks'. But perhaps the most striking example of a metaphoric exchange between politicians concerned with a major policy option is to be seen in Margaret Thatcher's response to Harold Macmillan's criticism of her privatization policy as 'selling the family silver'. She responded that she was indeed 'selling the silver', but that she was selling it 'back to the family'.
Such brief examples suggest possibilities which have not yet been seriously explored. In the metaphoric attack of Gorbachov by Yeltsin (noted earlier), Gorbachov could have reframed the policy discussion by pointing out that, although 'hedgehogs' cannot marry 'snakes', they have successfully co-existed in appropriate ecosystems for millions of years. The policy challenge could then have focused on the articulation of the 'ecosystem' in which such incompatible policies could coexist. Metaphoric language could have proved vital to such an enterprise.
Another frequently used response to metaphoric attack is to reframe the situation by switching to another metaphor. The protagonists then effectively view each other's policies through incommensurable languages. There is normally no creative response to this situation. However, by recognizing such competing frameworks as embodying valuable insights -- however incompatible -- the way is opened to using both alternately, without reducing the exercise to a ridiculous effort to 'marry a hedehog to a snake'.
The resonance hybrid phenomenon was mentioned earlier as a metaphoric illustration of the possibility that policies of adequate complexity may not be stable in isolation. For them to emerge, with any degree of viability, from complex configurations of political forces, they may have to alternate with one or more more or less incompatible policies of equal instability. It is then the pattern of alternation or resonance between the essentially incompatible policies which constitutes a form of 'meta-policy'. It is this meta-policy which is the appropriate and stable response to the complexity of the problematique, not the essentialy unstable policies which compose it (Judge, 1984a). The time dimension is thus used to design more complex policies. In principle this is how the democratic process works through alternation of governance between political factions, although no such faction would accept the necessity for such alternation (except when it was out of power). The challenge is then to discover ways of designing, and rendering comprehensible, cyclic patterns of alternation.
In this light it is probable that reconciling the incompatibilities of 'centralized planning' and 'market economy' policies, or of 'environmental conservation' and 'industrial growth' policies, can only be achieved through some form of alternation using phasing through the time dimension.
There is a widespread assumption that it is possible to formulate inherently good long-term policies and that any negative side effects can then be neglected. The value of metaphor in illustrating a more robust approach can be seen in the case of crop rotation, understood by peasant farmers around the world.
The farmer knows that, to ensure the sustainable development of his field, he can grow one crop in that field for a period but must then replace it by a different crop to remedy the negative impact on the soil caused by the first. He may leave it fallow or have to grow a third and a fourth species, with other damaging effects and remedial characteristics, before being able to plant the first crop again. As with simple alternation, it is the cycle which guarantees sustainability, not any particular crop with its special limitations.
Is it not also correct that policies need to be alternated through cycles, like crops, in order to correct for each others defects as a guarantee of sustainability? Again this is the implicit message of democracy, although no political party would recognize the need to 'sacrifice' a cherished policy as part of such a process -- unless it had the assurance of its reinstatement in a subsequent phase. At present the distinct policies of opposing parties do succeed each other in a kind of chaotic cycle, as each endeavours to respond to (and profit from) the defects of its predecessors. But it is doubtful whether such chaotic cycles provide the sustainability required through the crises to come.
From this perspective the challenge is whether there are ways to design such cycles. Of great interest, in the light of the work of Buckminster Fuller (1975, 1982), is that significant new forms only emerge when a minimum number of such cycles can be made to interlock or interweave. This level of structural complexity is very elegantly modelled by the tensional integrity ('tensegrity') structures (mentioned earlier) that he so successfully explored. It is also implict in the traditional policy tool of the Emperor of China, namely The Book of Changes, which offers a useful, richly articulated, non-western perception of sustainable development, replete with metaphor (Wilhelm, 1950 tr). An adaptation in terms of sustainable policy cycles is given in the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential (1991, Section TZ).
The degree of complexity, with which it is now necessary to deal, strongly implies that no single model (or policy based thereon) is adequate to encompass it. Despite the potentially greater richness of metaphors, the same should also be assumed. The challenge may then prove to be one of selecting (or designing) a set of complementary metaphors which together encompass that complexity. Classic examples from physics are the 'wave' and 'particle' metaphors through which electrons are understood in different ways, and the 'flowing waters' and 'teeming crowds' metaphors through which electricity must be understood (Gentner, 1982). In each case, both metaphors offer necessary but insufficient insights when used independently. The question may then be to discover the art of shifting between the perceptions offered through appropriate metaphors in a set that articulates a complex pattern of policies. The nature of such shifting (honoured in childrens games in the respect for 'taking turns' and in the rotation of presidencies), is richly articulated in the resonance hybrid metaphor and in cycles of phases. Other examples of such metaphors have been given in the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential (1991).
Ironically it may be from the arts that much insight can be derived on the complementarity of metaphors relevant to policy-making (Judge, 1991b). Poetry, like music, is skilled in combining both complementarity and rhythm. Gregory Bateson (1972) recognized the importance of poetry in dealing with complexity as follows: 'One reason why poetry is important for finding out about the world is because in poetry a set of relationships get mapped onto a level of diversity in us that we don't ordinarily have access to. We bring it out in poetry. We can give to each other in poetry the access to a set of relationships in the other person and in the world that we're not usually conscious of in ourselves. So we need poetry as knowledge about the world and about ourselves, because of this mapping of complexity to complexity.' This could well prove of significance for the governance of social processes characterized by patterns of relationships normally too complex for the human mind to grasp.
It may not prove to be a great step from the current ability of popular concerts to articulate dramatic social issues in world-wide broadcasts (attracting funds in excess of the aid budgets of many international agencies) to the articulation of appropriate policies through which people are motivated to act. The challenge is to move beyond the interplay of symbols skillfully developed for totalitarian and fascist gatherings -- which constitute a major warning of the continuing vulnerability of society to metaphoric manipulation.
7. Critical choices vs. Landscapes of opportunity
The epistemological challenge for governance has been helpfully highlighted in a study drawing on recent theoretical advances. Prepared by Development Alternatives (New Delhi) under the tile A transcultural view of sustainable development; the landscape of design (1986), it was a contribution to the final deliberations of the World Commission on Environment and Development. The study outlined a 'transform grammar of design' based on a 'phase space' model using a n-dimensional space to show the evolution of a system (where n is the number of degrees of freedom, or independent variables, needed to describe the system at the level of recursion oraggregation of the model under study).
The study uses four dimensions to describe systems of interest: and can be partially represented in two dimensions, in which the dimensions are variety (x-axis), productivity (y-axis), wealth (z-axis) and time. The four corners of the X-Y plane then correspond closely with four basic states of society:
The interesting feature of the space so defined is that the trajectory of a social system can be plotted on it to yield valuable insights into its behaviour and potential. The space is characterized by gradients which represent various forces of nature and society. The study identifies 16 generic transforms acting upon any system and attracting it towards one of the four fundamental conditions.
The study points out that such transforms are like the topography of a 'landscape' (changing as the result of successive action and feedback) which can direct and channel the movement of a river - hence the subtitle of that paper. Such an approach is in sympathy with the fruitful work by Waddington based on an 'epigenetic landscape', and developed by Erich Jantsch (1975, 1976) with respect to policy related questions. The study does not attempt to relate these to the 16 'archetypal' morphologies identified by Rene Thom (1975) in examining related questions.
But whilst the Development Alternatives study sharpens the focus, the result is a model. The authors themselves express reservations about the past uses of such models, although they are optimistic about their own. A step further can however be envisaged (and has been the subject of lengthy discussion with them by this author).
In metaphorical terms the landscape can be 'inhabited'. Formulating a policy may then be understood through the metaphor of establishing a position within such a landscape -- a position from which those carrying out the policy can navigate over the landscape following their particular vectors of concern. And within the short time scales (and electoral periods) characteristic of the majority of the problems of governance (and the budgetary periods of international organizations) such a landscape may legitimately be considered to be unchanging. Governance then endeavours to move the social system over the landscape.
The epistemological problem lies in the fact that different political factions and constituencies are sensitive to different dimensions of the 'n-dimensional phase space' out of which the model is extracted or abstracted. Representing the landscape in 2 or 3 dimensions is a considerable distortion, as Ron Atkin dramatized in the title of his study Multidimensional Man; can man live in 3-dimensional space? (1981). Even so, the form the landscape takes, as perceived by one group, may be very different from that which is meaningful to another -- each 'sees' a different topography because of the difference in location. Each may then be the basis for the strategies and programmes of a different intergovernmental agency, for example. This has the further consequence between agencies of reinforcing incompatibilities, contradictions, competition for resources and even the undermining of one strategy by another - as has been noted on many occasions, and notably by Maurice Bertrand (1985).
It is therefore less fruitful to focus initially on any one way of viewing the phase space, in the light of the policy favoured by a particular constituency, however enlightened or 'universal'. It is more fruitful to accept that factions are scattered over the landscape, possibly in distant 'valleys' or separated by topographical features which prevent any shared view. Such differences of location reflect the special problems and opportunities with which each faction is faced.
This perspective highlights the fact that a 'critical choice' made by one group must necessarily fail to address the issues faced by others. Despite vain attempts at 'universal' consensus, there will always be other constituencies who need to favour an alternative choice because of their special circumstances, insights or lack of information. A major task for governance is then to enable the different constituencies, located on different parts of the landscape, to respond fruitfully to their particular environments. Such response may take the form of moving over the landscape. But some may consider it more appropriate to remain in a particular position, interacting only with their immediate neighbours.
The landscape is therefore a configuration of decision-making opportunities to which people may, or may not, choose to respond. The larger task of governance involves eliciting understanding of the landscape. This may thenmay involve sensitively redesigning the landscape, accepting the environments of those who cannot or will not change, and creating lines of communication for those who are willing to shift position. However, 'critical choice' decisions may effectively eliminate portions of the landscape -- closing off access to realities and to those who continue to live in them. By contrast, a configurative perspective honours the co-existence of realities, establishing their relationship (through the landscape). Social policy decisions need to be understood as nested within a landscape of competing opportunities which, as of now, remains to be mapped. There will continue to be constituencies to explore 'rejected' alternatives.
It is somewhat ironic that the earlier Greek philosophers made use of the term 'hyle' (matter) and viewed such matter as fundamentally alive, either in itself or by its participation in the operation of a world soul or some similar principle. Characteristically they did not distinguish between kinds of matter, forces and qualities, nor between physical and emotional qualities, making any such distinction with an important degree of ambiguity (reminiscent of Buddhist and Taoist logics).
The contemporary epistemological challenge remains one of dealing with a form of 'conceptual hyle' or 'mindstuff' within which the variety of possible models and concepts is implicit and from which they may be explicated, as described by David Bohm (1980). This is not to suggest that the 'hyle' is purely conceptual. As contemporary studies of this intimate relationship between consciousness and fundamental understanding in physics are clarifying, there is a matter-consciousness continuum of perhaps greater significance than the space-time continuum. Relevant insights from Eastern philosophies are also increasingly noted. The comprehension of features explicated from the 'hyle' is as much constrained by the realities dear to materialists as it is by individual (or collective) ability to formulate appropriate models of requisite variety and to communicate them.
The challenge of governance is to enable society to navigate through the 'hyle', avoiding catastrophic disasters, in a manner such as to sustain a process of 'development' over the long-term - whatever 'development' is understood to mean in the short-term under different circumstances, within different cultures and at different stages of that process. But since governance is above all constrained by daily practicalities, there is a dramatic problem of ensuring some kind of meaningful espistemological bridge between the multi-dimensional fluidity or ambiguity of the 'hyle' - with all the innovative potential that implies - and the concrete socio-political realities to which it must respond effectively or be called into question.
(a) Visionary metaphors for policy integation:
It is also increasingly clear that new policies only acquire their credibility through integrative metaphors which reconcile conflicting factional perspectives (each admirably articulated in models of the highest academic respectability). There is a vital need for metaphors that make apparent the complementarity of mutually hostile alternative policies. It is the role of visionary political leaders, at all levels of society, to discover such metaphors in order to point the way forward (Dror, 1988). In this sense leadership is a process of 'creating realities' into which people can move. A sustainable ecology of development policies can only be based on a sustainable ecology of metaphor and imagery.
(b) Stewardship of the metaphor-model 'gene-pool':
At present governance in the international community is haunted by a form of collective schizophrenia -- a left-brain preoccupation with 'serious' academic models and administrative programmes, and a right-brain preocupation with the proclivities of public opinion avid for 'meaningful' action (even if 'sensational'). This schizophrenic battle between models and metaphors could be resolved by recognizing the cognitive function of metaphor already so vital to the comprehension of complex policies and to the motivation of public opinion.
(c) Immediate challenges:
Even more challenging is what policy assistance of long-term value can be usefully given to the countries of the South, especially Africa, faced with mass sarvation? And, whether in the developing or in the so-called developed countries, what can be offered to empower the vast numbers of unemployed young people, many of them well-educated?
Is there any unexplored alternative to thinking in terms of how such societies can make use of various Western styles of organization and policy-making (which have resulted in many significant failures in other societies to which they have been exported)? Are there ways of making widely available low-cost facilities which can provide them with the conceptual scaffolding that would enhance ability to apply existing imaginative insight to their own problems? The 'tools for critical choice' of greatest value may be those which enable decision-makers to recontextualize problems into a more amenable form.
Better still, are there ways of encouraging developing societies to draw on metaphors from their own cultures to articulate and empower more appropriate responses? It should never be forgotten that many such cultures have an extremely rich pool of policy-relevant metaphors on which to draw -- metaphors which have been honed as a source of wisdom by past experience in response to earlier crises.
The challenge of the Eastern bloc is in effect a metaphor of the challenge that the world as a whole faces with respect to sustainable development. The economists will continue to be given every opportunity to apply their unimaginative insights to the task, whatever suffering their austerity measures imply. This will not change. And the degree of alienation of the population, and especially the young, will continue to increase. But in the many creative interstices, there is a receptive audience for conceptual tools which open up opportunities for more complex, and more fruitful, modes of thinking and organizing -- especially when these build directly on imaginative approaches natural to those cultures. With appropriate imagination, limited resources can be applied in new ways. Hitherto intractable problems can be re-contextualized so as to empower more appropriate responses.
(d) Use of computers:
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