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Part of Towards Transformative Conferencing and Dialogue: Collection of papers and notes, problems and possibilities on the new frontier of high-risk gatherings concerning social development (1991). Prepared in the process of envisaging the group dynamics of the World Parliament of Relgions
Many perspectives need to interact to clarify the content of global declarations and render them appropriate. But there is also a need for expertise in new forms of order to clarify the dimensions which could influence the conceptual framework within which that content is presented. Such formal properties are a challenge to ways of thinking that have proved inadequate. They might include:
- Consensus / Contention: Here the challenge is to move beyond superficial expressions of consensus and solidarity. These obscure the real differences that reflect complementary functional preoccupations vital to the survival of any complex global system. The "conflict" between such preoccupations needs to be articulated in the form of shared tension ("contention") or strain ("constraint"). This then limits the destabilizing excesses of each of them.
- Continuity / Discontinuity: Here the challenge is to ensure the coherence and continuity of the form of the document whilst providing for the presence of perspectives which are inherently incompatible with one another. The art is to use the mutual rejection by particular perspectives as a structuring device that creates the shared tension which expresses and energizes the sense of continuity. The challenge may be framed in terms of embodying discontinuity.
- Simplicity / Complexity: Here the challenge is to ensure a form that is comprehensible as a whole whilst embodying a degree of complexity that honours the diversity of preoccupations. The art is to ensure the presence of comprehensible symmetry effects at various levels to avoid the need to focus on lower levels of detail unless required. It is the simplicity that anchors the sense of coherence from which the various levels of detail may be explored.
- Completeness / Incompleteness: Here the challenge is to ensure that the form of the document recognizes the limitations of the insights from which it arose. Some degree of completeness is naturally essential as the basis for any consensus. But the implication of "completeness" evokes legitimate objections, both from those whose views were inadequately reflected at the time, and in the light of insights that emerge after its completion. A sense of "incompleteness" is required to open the door to unforeseen reinterpretations, rather than inhibiting such initiatives by creating a sense that appropriate future action can be completely defined.
- Enfolding / Unfolding: Here the challenge is to ensure that the form of the document is such that it may be "unpacked" to various levels of detail according to the needs of users at the time. Similarly, it should be possible to conceal such confusing levels of detail by "packing" them away so as to present a relatively simple document. In this way, the full complexities are always present implicitly, whatever the degree to which they are explicated in any one version.
- Comprehension / Incomprehension: Here the challenge is to recognize the problems of comprehending a document of global scope. This applies both to the well-informed, sensitive only to particular preoccupations, as well as to those who find much of its detail incomprehensible, whatever their background. The form of the document should be designed with redundant and mnemonic features to guard as much as possible against its "dismemberment" through selective incomprehension. On the other hand, the form should draw attention to the possibility of comprehending the conceptual challenges and paradoxes of globality in new ways -- whether through personal insight or future discoveries.
- Constraints / Freedoms: Here the challenge is to interweave into the form of the document an appropriate balance of constraints and freedoms. Some may be seen as global constraints opening up local freedoms. Others may be seen as local constraints that provide the guarantee of global freedoms. However such a design needs to go beyond a mechanistic approach. To be appropriate it needs to provide for a transformative or evolutionary dimension that reflects changing understanding of the nature of constraint and freedom.
- Symbol / Sign: Here the challenge is to ensure that the document can fulfil its function as a symbol of an appropriate new order. However at the same time, for it to be of operational significance, it must also serve as an indicator of a pattern of actions through which that order can be given form.
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