Challenges to Comprehension Implied by the Logo
of Laetus in Praesens
University of Earth Alternative view of segmented documents via Kairos

21st April 2000

Metaphoric Entrapment in Time

avoiding the trap of Project Logic

- / -

Four possibilities of metaphoric entrapment?
Detachment from embodiment within traps
Varieties of trap
Challenge of recognizing traps of different order
Traps as attention sinks
Designing 'better' attention traps
Designing arrays of traps
Attitudes towards entrapment: entrapment policies
Project Logic: an undetected policy trap?
Entrapment and comitment
'Tao' -- the 'way' between traps?


We are all exposed to a variety of conceptual frameworks and beliefs, as well as to a wide range of designed physical environments. The arts provide us with cultural analogues. The academic world provides us with conceptual analogues in the form of models and theories. Spiritual leaders provide us with ethical and mystical variants. We are variously entranced by these and may creatively use our capacity to engender our own, possibly to entrance others. International initiatives endeavour to persuade people of the unquestionable merit of particular ethical or explanatory frameworks -- as a basis for particular patterns of action into which most will be hopefully mobilized.

This paper is concerned with the ways in which we are entrapped by the metaphors that underly such patterns. It is concerned with clarifying the nature of the entrapment process and how it helps to understand who we are as the entrapped -- or as the entrappers. The term "entrapment" is used to provoke recognition of the extent to which people are trapped, or endeavour to trap others as part of their working mandate or their interpersonal dynamics. But this exploration is also designed to highlight how some form of "entrapment" seems to be a necessary in order to constrain and discipline our physical, social and conceptual behavior. There is thus an ambiguity to appropriate understanding of entrapment as a characteristic of civilization as currently understood.

This exploration derives its inspiration from four observations:

Galtung's identification of structural violence may be extended to include the many invidious forms of easily deniable conceptual violence that justify and reinforce the attitudinal traps into which people are forced. Vickers suggests the extent to which entrapment is an unrecognized function of attitude and comprehension -- and possibly self-imposed. Feyerabend clarifies how such conceptual constraints reduce the richness of an abundant reality. Varela points out the self-reflexive consequences of this approach -- and the extent to which such traps are not the world.

Four possibilities of metaphoric entrapment?

It may be useful to distinguish the following situations in which metaphoric entrapment occurs:

Detachment from embodiment within traps

The previous section endeavoured to show the ambiguity of entrapment in practice. People may indeed be entrapped in a manner that can only be described as incarceration, even though they may not be aware of it. But, as with story telling, the entrapment may be a gentle, instructive form of enchantment. Or it may imply all the learnings of romantic attachment, or embodiment of a profoundly held belief. And it may be a provisional model of reality, a stepping stone to further understanding.

In this light, "freedom" from any form of entrapment could easily be understood as simply another form of entrapment -- an entrapment in trap avoidance. A subtler form of freedom would be the freedom to choose to be entrapped, knowing that one could escape from the trap at any time. This implies an attitude that resonates with the Buddhist understanding of detachment. Such detachment is tolerant of being entrapped for a while -- until it is time to move on. This offers the larger freedom of entering into the experiences associated with different traps, experiencing them from within.

There is therefore a sense in which reality can only be experienced through embodiment in the framework offered by a trap. However it is the attitude to such entrapment that is the key to being able to switch into experience through other frameworks -- through other traps. Each trap is effectively a kind of discipline. The attitude to that discipline determines whether it can be set aside to escape that trap. But such escape is seldom an escape into "traplessness", rather it is an escape into another form of entrapment. This is perhaps most charmingly illustrated by Konrad Lorentz's experiment with ducklings which, on escaping from their eggs, "imprinted" themselves on the first moving object they thereafter encountered -- namely his boots, subsequently followed as their mother. There are many situations, whether political, romantic, academic, or spiritual, where the escape from one trap into a larger reality is accompanied by some analogue of such imprinting. It throws a harsh light on "conversion" and other forms of 'breakthrough'.

The "meta-discipline" that governs the attitude, and the skill required to set aside any discipline, has no name. Detachment is one of its qualities. It may perhaps be understood through metaphor. A good example might be a person's attitude to choice of clothing. Equipped with a varied wardrobe, a person may choose to wear one garment rather than another, to wear a particular combination of garments, or to change any one of them. In this sense each garment is a trap and wearing any combination is a form of entrapment that may be appropriate to the challenge of the environment or the occasion. The person has no need to feel entrapped in any permanent way, but a choice has to be made to wear some combination of garments -- or none at all. Of course, if the person has an absolutely minimal wardrobe, the choice is extremely limited and the lack of choice may be experienced as a much more permanent trap. But even with a more extensive wardrobe, the person may also get into the habit of wearing one combination of clothes and be unable to act otherwise -- as with grey-suited officials, and others working in uniform.

With respect to behavior and beliefs, people seldom have the same detachment that they do with respect to clothing. Some form of "uniform" is the rule -- as is evident in the enthusiasm of academics and consultants for particular models. Switching attitudes would appear to be a mark of inconsistency. It is very challenging for a scientist to switch between models -- despite the archetypal complementarity between the wave and particle theories of light. Some understanding of the skill is offered by the way in which people gifted in interpersonal relations adjust their behaviour when encountering others, notably parents or children. For then the dynamics required may in each case be understood as a trap -- possibly to be avoided on occasion.

Varieties of trap

Property and possessions as traps

Possessions offer a variety of learnings into the nature of entrapment. They clearly evoke desire in many cases and as such are used as bait for many kinds of trap. People may struggle over many years to acquire them. The struggle itself may be come to be experienced as a trap, whether or not the goal is achieved. This trap is typically named the "rat race".

Once acquired, possessions have to be protected and maintained. The relation of 'encryption' to such protection (with its connotations of 'burial'), and the trap it constitutes, merits further consideration. Leaving them for any time may be a cause of anxiety. Certain kinds of possession may have a pattern of behavioral constraints associated with them that is experienced as a trap, whether or not the possession itself is considered a trap. Thus possession of a dream house may create pressures to conform to the social patterns and expectations of others in the neighbourhood with similar houses. Aspects of this are labelled as "keeping up with the Joneses".

Having experienced this kind of trap, people may make radical attempts to "downscale" their lifestyle against expectations of their peers. However there is a Hindu tradition that men of a certain age should indeed lay aside their possessions and become a sanyassin - thus escaping this trap.

People may be entrapped not so much by ownership of property but by the responsibilities that come with it. This is typically the case with hereditary estates where there is a responsibility to tenant families or a clan. It is intriguing that evolution of notions of property in relation to corporate ownership and intellectual property have significantly diminished, if not eliminated, any associated sense of responsibility. It is only in recent decades that corporations have endeavoured to recognize some degree of social responsibility - for which, however, they only have moral, not legal, obligations. Owners may experience these responsibilities as a trap in their pursuit of profit. However such "good neighbourliness" does not extend to responsibility for misuse of intellectual property, such as patents licensed to others for the manufacture of dangerous or exploitative products.

These essentially western notions of property are radically different from those of indigenous peoples who do not necessarily have this relationship to land or to other possessions. And to that extent the trap may be of quite a different nature. For peoples such as the Australian aborigines, so much of their culture is embodied in the actual landscape of the area where they live that they are effectively "trapped" there -- even though traditionally they have never owned it in any western sense. Leaving that area is tantamount to depriving themselves of their cultural identity. It is a form of cultural suicide with severe personal consequences. The trap in this sense is a nurturing womb. Westerners with strong links to a village or neighbourhood may be trapped in a somewhat similar way, even though they too do not own the features of the village to which they are attached.

Relationships as traps

People often recognize a relationship to be a 'trap' prior to leaving the parental home, opting for divorce, or placing an elderly parent in a nursing home. This view is sustained by certain forms of New Age philosophy that encourage people to 'move on' and focus on their own individual development -- even 'dumping granny' in the process. Some spiritual paths, and their cult variants, even require that such relationships be terminated because of the manner in which they detract from the primary spiritual relationships to be subsequently developed. Understanding this, others seek to avoid permanent relationships in the belief that this will ensure their freedom. But, as pointed out earlier, traplessness is not a sustainable condition and the result is that some people then come to recognize the nature of the 'singles trap' and to be challenged by loneliness.

Much effort is devoted to trapping people into relationship. This is most clearly seen in the soft selling techniques of commercial representatives who recognize that relationships must be established before there is any possibility of a sale. Diplomats may use similar techniques in establishing a basis for negotiation (cf the Harvard study on Getting to Yes). Both may use 'courtship' and 'seduction' as a metaphor to describe their initiatives. Of course there is a long tradition in efforts to obtain a suitable marriage partner that is based on some form of entrapment. Women may speak of 'hooking' or 'netting' a man, using fishing metaphors. Men may use herding metaphors to describe the process through which a woman is finally 'corralled'. With similar slills, spiritual mentors may cultivate potential disciples. More dubious entrapment examples are associated with practices of counter-intelligence and professional blackmailers who seek to obtain a hold over people.

The many inter-personal games identified by Eric Berne's (1996) method of Transaction Analysis may all be considered as having the quality of traps.

Roles as traps

People are born into roles, grow into other roles, acquire other roles through marriage and parenthood, enter other roles through education and employment, and are promoted or elected to other roles by peers or acclaim.They may develop yet other roles through their own initiatives and actions or through their definition by others. Under appropriate circumstances any of these may be experienced as a trap and may inhibit other preferred behaviour through their associated obligations -- whether 'silken bonds' or 'bars of steel'.

Models as traps

As noted above, explanatory models are increasingly offered, whether by the most qualified scientists, philosophers, gurus, management consultants, or anyone with the capacity to think. Many of these are designed to supplant previous models and exclude any reference to alternative models. They seldom account for those that will replace them. Many are copyrighted as intellectual property. Their use may be licensed or franchised. The designers of such models often have high financial ambitions.

As software, the goal for many is to produce what is termed a 'killer ap', namely an application that is so effective that it is a 'must buy' for computer users - slaughtering the competition. Amongst the intellectually ambitious, there are similar ambitions to produce what might be termed a 'killer model'. For management consultants this would take the form of the ultimate management solution through which countries or major corporations could be held to ransom -- as prefigured by pricing of special pharmaecutical drugs. For the purer scientists, the Nobel Prize is seen as being recognition of having produced such a model. For physicists, the Holy Grail is the Theory of Everything within which all phenomena would be entrapped. Of course, for the spiritually inclined, some insights gained from a spiritual experience may constitute a model that needs to be seen in this light. Unfortunately, and ironically, there is a tendency for fanatical followers to kill to ensure their acceptance - 'killer aps' par excellence !

The power of models to entrap is most delightfully expressed by Evan Eisenberg (1999) who notes that scientists, like artists, tend to fall in love with their models. Ironically in this respect, the forefather of world model builders, futurist Herman Kahn, lived in Croton-on-Hudson - where the World Modelling Association was headquartered to group its member agencies. For a further irony, Croton was the base of the archetypal builder of conceptual traps -- Pythagoras.

Feyerabend (1999) clarifies how models can serve to entrap the unsuspecting:

Variety disappears when subjected to a scholarly analysis... We can occasionally explain why crude ideas get the upper hand: special groups want to create a new tribal identity or preserve an existing identity amidst a rich and varied cultural landscape; to do so they 'block off' large parts of the landscape and either cease to talk about them, or deny their 'reality', or declare them to be wholly evil.

Challenge of recognizing traps of different order

The earlier example of the ducklings escaping from their eggs points to the existence of traps of different order of complexity or scope. One can escape from a simpler trap, only to find oneself caught in a subtler and more complex trap. Traps may thus be understood as nested - like Russian dolls. The simpler traps are thus nested within those that are more complex and more difficult to recognize and understand. This discussion does not explore traps which are of equivalent complexity but different in kind - since supposedly one could learn how to escape them in the light of past experience of their analogues.

It may be useful to label the trap by which one is currently constrained of order N. Ability to function within that trap would then imply freedom to enter and escape from traps of lower order (without being a challenge to learning). Or at least they could be successfully recognized and avoided most of the time -- as hazards.

The trap of lower order from which one last successfully learnt to escape might be labelled of order N-1, with earlier traps in one's learning journey experience labelled N-2, N-3, etc. "down" to those that are no longer experienced as any kind of constraint. However whilst one can recognize these traps from one's experience, those that might be labelled N+1, or N+2, etc, must necessarily lie beyond one's normal comprehension. It is with these that one can be most readily trapped by others. The trap may not even be recognizable, even after one has been entrapped. The research of Ron Atkin provides a systematic mathematical analysis of such nesting in terms of communication within complex institutions.

The intriguing feature of traps of "higher" order is the ease with which one can deny their existence. These are the traps associated with sophisticated sales techniques - that may with luck be recognized before the sale is closed. As with 'mis-selling' of private pension plans in the UK, they may only be recognized tardily by society. More complex are those associated with entrapment by manipulative cults, especially when they have an exciting quality that distinguishes what they offer from the drabness of everyday existence and the "mainstream" alternatives. People can live within such traps for years and be enchanted by them to a degree that may not be replicable after an escape. It is for this reason that people are drawn back in.

It may be useful to see higher order traps as functioning like "strange attractors". They have no "existence" at the level at which one is capable of sensing. Charm and charisma have this quality, as does romantic attraction.

A prime challenge for marketing is to recognize when the old traps fail and how to develop subtler traps - better mousetraps -- to attract consumers to their products. Potential consumers are recognized as naturally fickle. For a while, they may be effectively trapped by traps of order N. But trapping them in this way offers them a learning experience through which an increasing proportion builds up the capacity to recognize and avoid the trap - developing sales "resistance". At some stage there comes a competitive advantage to the producer in designing and offering traps of order N+1 - exemplified by the efforts of the most creative advertising agencies. This may be framed as "scaling up" the market****. Religious and educational groups may see this as a desirable feature of their instructional processes. Is God the ultimate trap?

Traps as attention sinks

For a metaphoric trap to work, it must effectively distract or divert attention without making evident the intention of doing so -- or at least avoid arousing suspicions about the purpose in doing so. But for the trap to work well, this diversion cannot simply be from A to B. The entrapped need to have their attention 'grabbed' and taken "for a ride" -- the longer the better. The ultimate trap is a never-ending cycle of distraction.

The easiest traps to understand are those designed to distract children -- starting with a baby's rattle. It is easy to see how such distractions have to increase in sophistication as the simpler "rattles" lose their power. The "best" toys for children are those which distract the longest at any one time, although the most valued may be those to which the child returns time and time again. With the advent of the electronic media, many of these take the form of games that shade into those that are a distraction for adults.

The full range of entertainment may be seen as offering distraction -- now supplemented by "edutainment". It is useful to ask what cultural products should be seen in this light -- including the visual arts, drama, music, opera. This would include the participative arts such as dance and song. By extension it would necessarily include the preoccupations of the theoretical and investigative disciplines from philosophy through to entomology, as well as the experiential disciplines from sports to the spiritual. Indeed many admit to engaging in such practices through "fascination" or simply in order to occupy their minds. The prime function of spectator sports may be understood from this perspective.

In this light it is possible to envisage the future design of sustainable communities as based primarily on an array of attention traps. The community would then be sustainable precisely because it's members were individually or collectively held in relationship by the traps within which their attention was diverted. The Romans made this point with their policy of 'bread and circuses' to control the population. Television, as many have remarked, is the modern equivalent to such circuses - a virtual Colisseum for a virtual civilization. Many cinemas have even been called Colisseum. There is a recognition that without the distraction offered by television, people would "take to the streets". Attention traps are therefore vital as a means of avoiding social unrest and its consequences. They are the graphite dampers of a society on the verge of criticality.

From this perspective, an important social indicator would be some measure of the extent to which people's attention was entrapped rather than free (cf concepts of 'free energy' in thermodynamics) . This is a poorly recognized challenge in deprived environments, notably degraded housing estates and long-term refugee camps. The desire for "development" is in part driven by the desire for television and the continuing fascination that it provides through soap operas. The risk is that the effectiveness of the entrapment will progressively erode and society will not be able to provide sufficient distraction to keep people "off the streets". This is already the case in many deprived urban environments in industrialized countries. As in the Roman Colisseum, media are being driven to violence and perversion of greater and greater extremes in order to be able to hold attention.

For the governance of a country -- or of global society -- how many kinds of trap, and of what kind, should be embedded in the social fabric to stabilize the social system? Should social and environmental 'problems' and 'solutions' be cultivated to this end? Do they emerge from the collective unconsciousness for this reason? How many traps, and of what kind, should one cultivate in one's own personal behaviour to facilitate the task of personal self-governance?

Designing "better" attention traps

Is it possible to envisage a generic approach to the design of better attention traps? Is there anything to be learnt from the array of toys and games? Could the full array of cultural products be evaluated in terms of their attention trapping potential? What different qualities of attention might need to be trapped? Seemingly Wagner would serve well for some and the Beatles for others. Mozart has proved to be an extremely successful trap for some, just as technomusic works to entrap others. The same may be said of different religions (from Zen to charismatic Christianity on TV) or of different philosophies (from positivism to subjectivism).

Unsustainable traps

Rattle metaphor: The best point of departure remains the baby's rattle and the fascination we can see that it exerts on the victim. This is achieved by occupying the visual and auditory plenum with movement and sound -- and posing the challenge of their correlation. Its fascination may be increased by occasionally hiding the rattle behind some other object and bringing it out as a surprise. The rattle metaphor is basic to the fascination of many simple "happenings". The attraction of street happenings derives its strength from this pattern of unusual movement against an uninteresting background. How many media shows might be said to follow this basic pattern -- even to the point of using the primal colours characteristic of rattles, and reinforcement with 'baby talk'?
The problem with traps based on the rattle metaphor is that they are essentially unsustainable -- although this may not be a requirement in the case of a 'death rattle' ! The happening may be repeated on some later occasion but the duration of its entrapment effect for any one period is quite limited. So another show in the series can be broadcast on another occasion, but at any one time it will not hold the attention of many for more than its (half-)hour duration. Media programmers are obliged to switch through several kinds of rattle during an evening or risk that audience/spectators switch to channels that do. High ratings are achjieved with 'unzappable' attention grabbers. Similarly the merit of web portals is evaluated in terms of their stickiness as traps.
Unfortunately many political programs -- including those for 'sustainable development' -- are designed to distract public attention just like rattles. Politics might be seen as the art of distracting the population through a succession of rattles. The challenge comes from the need to design better rattles as the distraction power of the older ones wears off. A typology of confidence tricks is helpful in this exploration ( for example).
Hunt metaphor: Another basic pattern is the hunt. This is best seen in games where a cat allows itself to be entrapped in hunting a mouse-like object pulled across a carpet. Many stories and TV dramas are based on the hunt metaphor, with the "bad guy" being hunted and caught by the "good guy" after many exciting adventures and struggles. Spectators are encouraged to identify with the hunter and to glory vicariously in his/her success.

Again, unfortunately, traps based on the hunt metaphor are essentially unsustainable. TV dramas hold attention to the extent that there is a sense of convergence. With skill a denouement can be held over to a later session, but this postponement can seldom be repeated successfully (the X-files might be considered an exception).

It could be argued that the hunt metaphor is basic to the project logic typical of international organizations. According to this pattern 'problems' are identified -- as the 'bad guys' -- and 'solutions' are designed by organizations in response to them -- as the 'good guys'. Over the period of the drama, the good guys pursue the bad guys and their success in doing so is reported in the final evaluation. Projects, like TV dramas, are seldom effectively related to one another and no effort is made to do so. Advocates, supporters and funders of a project effectively 'switch channels' when the project ceases to appeal.

Collection ('gatherer') metaphor: Corresponding to the hunt metaphor is that associated with gathering or collecting. This pattern identifies a set of 'collectibles' on which attention can be focused. Collectibles can range from the sports cards favoured by children, through birds eggs, stamps, books, antiques, classic automobiles, autographs, etc. This collection process shades into the preoccupations of many of the disciplines. Data collection is a focus for most disciplines: astronomy, botany, psychology, etc.

This trap provides a remarkably successful device in the design of remedial programs responding to social and environmental problems. There is always an iron-clad case for collecting more data through monitoring, prior to any action that can thereby be postponed sine die.

Song metaphor: Especially among aural cultures, song is a highly effective trap. It can be used to hold the attention for long periods of time, through a succession of songs, inhibiting any focus on other forms of action. Examples include: work songs (notably amongst negro slaves), drinking songs, marching and bootcamp songs, religious ceremonial songs, team support songs, and company loyalty songs. Unlike TV dramas, songs can be 'rerun' relatively frequently.

This trap is intriguing because of the way in which can be used to express, hold and manipulate emotions - for which it is a powerful vehicle. It encourages the expression of the emotions that might otherwise be focused on escaping from the trap. Song helps people to accommodate to entrapment.

It is the power of this metaphor that underlies the process of articulating global and universal declarations and credos. People may then be gathered together to rehearse and revisit the verses of such compositions. Emphasis can then be placed on affirming belief in them and offering testimony in support of adherence to them. Unfortunately it is only religious groups that have succeeded in actually embedding such compositions in songs and chants. Those formulated by international gatherings are remarkable for their lack of any aesthetic properties that would render them memorable and provide some guarantee of their coherence. As such it is difficult to 'rerun' them frequently.

Partially sustainable ("endurance") traps

Soap-opera metaphor: In contrast to individual TV shows in a series, soap operas are designed to achieve a degree of partial sustainability. Some hold collective attention over periods of years or even decades (cf Dynasty, Dallas, Neighbours, Coronation Street, East Enders). The early role of morality plays in this respect is worth exploration.

There would be many critics that would have little difficulty in labelling modern politics as pure soap opera. Fewer might be inclined to see it as deliberately designed as soap opera, but those enthralled by conspiracy theories already argue that most politicians are controlled like puippets by hidden figures. Such figures would indeed have a strong motivation to ensure that the visible political process remained as absorbing of attention as was feasible. They would indeed be concerned at the effectiveness of the trap and would be increasingly preoccupied by rising political apathy. Conspiracy aside, there is a case for extending the concept of designed 'photo-opportunities' into designed 'video-dramas' in order to catalyze certain processes of social change. The inter-personal dramas between media stars are developed and sustained over years by their pagents through the tabloids on this basis. An interpetation of the dissolution of the USSR along these lines has been explored elsewhere (Judge, 1991). In this respect, Orrin Klapp (Symbolic Leaders, 1964) ma kes the point that: 'Man's second life is now in the public drama. His dreams are taped, filmed and projected'.

Multi-level metaphor: These are a more complex phenomenon especially characteristic of recent computer (video)games. They are primarily characterized by confrontation of challenges (whether conflicts or puzzles) which if successful shifts the player to a new level. Each level may be made more challenging than the previous one. Repeated efforts and acquisition of skills, over many sessions, may be required to get through to a new level. However, like the hunt metaphor, there is necessarily a convergence on successful completion -- or the player gives up in frustration.

This pattern is not used in drama. It is however widely used in many educational and training games in which people are encouraged to face challenges and acquire skills at one level before becoming qualified for those at another. In this sense it might be called the qualification or promotion trap. As implied by the expression "life-long education", it may trap people for a lengthy period of time. An interesting variant is that used in esoteric and secret societies where the "levels" may be labelled as initiations. Some branches of freemasonry have 33 such levels. People may spend considerable time at a given level before being initiated into the next level. The insights gained or required for each level may be increasingly subtle if not obscure (offering considerable scope for manipulation by insiders as part of "testing" the eligibility of candidates to higher levels). These nested traps offer a remarkable capacity to keep people patient and unprotesting over extensive periods of time, or risk being refused access to subsequent levels. The academic tenure process is a much simpler variant which nevertheless severely constrains people to orthodoxy for fear of being refused tenure or other professional offices. The British system whereby civil servants and others acquire medals and honours (signifying varying degrees of worthiness) works in a similar manner as a constraint on unorthodox behaviour.
This pattern is intriguing in the way that it works only when people attach value to the status of being at the next higher level -- within an inner trap. This is achieved by persuading them of the unworthiness of their current and earlier levels, namely of the inferiority of their current entrapment. The significance of the higher (or inner) levels is thus sustained to a large degree by the insignificance of the lower (outer) levels, which need however to be heavily populated for the system to work. There are some parallels to pyramid selling and Ponzi schemes.

Sustainable ("dynamic") traps

The challenge is to identify metaphors that might facilitate the design of sustainable traps. This implies a design in which the attention is continually held within a pattern -- a form of permanent fascination or "enchantment". The following are possibilities:

Fish pond metaphor: It has been reported that traditional Chinese farms usually had a small carp pond, often for a single carp. The problem is that a single carp in a small pond positions itself in the middle of the pond and seldom moves. Without any exercise its condition rapidly deteriorates. The simple traditional solution is to place a rock in the middle of the pond. The carp then has the visual illusion that it is in a stream and that by swimming (between the rock "wall" and the other visible "stream bank"), it is continually advancing towards some fruitful goal. This suggests that by identifying a suitable 'rock' and positioning it appropriately in an otherwise static environment, an individual can be encouraged to engage in what is perpetual, and therefore sustainable, movement for her/his own health. In so doing the individual will be sustained by the illusion that he/she is moving towards some fruitful goal.
It is not obvious that this pattern is consciously used. However it is consistent with the feeling of frustration that many feel, without being able to articulate, that the socio-political system has conned them into a pattern of activity that is essentially going nowhere -- although offering insubstantial promises that things will get better. Again, the research of Ron Atkin provides a systematic mathematical analysis of how such a "rock" functions in terms of communication within complex institutions.
Pendulum/Spring ("alternation") metaphor: With this pattern a system is created in which conditions alternate between two extremes. People may aspire to A, spend time struggling against B to achieve it, then achieve it and be faced with a period in which they must live with what they desired and the problems that gradually become evident. The case for rejected condition B, in contrast to A, is made with increasing skill and credibility by B-advocates, until the situation is reversed and B is achieved. The cycle then repeats itself.
This pattern is advocated as the basis of democratic society with power shifting between opposing coalitions with different policies in response to any inability of the coalitions in power to deal with challenges effectively (the "Westminster model"). It is typical of cycles of management fads in corporations -- periodically switching, for example, from centralization to decentralization and back. It has some of the advantages of the hunt metaphor in that the challengers can frame themselves as the good guys seeking to overcome the bad guys. Then, as in any good children's game, the roles can be reversed and the other guys get to be the good guys. William Irwin Thompson has explored this reversal in his work on enantiodromia (1985).(see summary) A case for using this alternation process as ther basis for the design of development processes has been made elsewhere (Judge, 1982)
Bouncing ("plasma") metaphor: This trap is based on the containment technology for nuclear fusion. Such fusion can be achieved by confining plasma under certain conditions for sufficient time. A plasma is an electrical conducting medium consisting of positive and negative charges forming a neutrally charged distribution of matter. Plasma, as the fifth state of matter in which 99% of the universe is to be found, is unique in the way it interacts with itself, with electric and magnetic fields, and with its environment. (in contrast with the four other states of matter: reacting elements as in fire, gas, liquid and solid). Its properties depend upon on the collective behaviour of the constituent particles, as distinct from the individual. It is unique in its instability and its tendency to revert to ordinary combinations of matter and energy. In order to generate energy in a fusion reactor, the problem is to find the particular configuration of magnetic fields, values of plasma parameters and means of protecting the plasma from impurities which would quench it. This is achieved by 'bouncing' the plasma around within the configuration of a magnetic cavity (or 'bottle').
Individual attention or collective awareness (public opinion) has properties analogous to those of a plasma. The problem of a significant breakthrough in mobilizing the political will to change is comparable to that of designing a fusion reactor. The challenge is to be able to contain and focus individual or collective attention (despite its inherent instability) by a suitable configuration of psycho-social functions that can protect such attention from degenerating into normal modes. Since no one function can be used to this end, the problem is to constrain attention by all of them simultaneously without allowing reliance or dependence on any one of them. Mysticism in both Eastern and Western traditions has stressed the need for an individual to create an inner environment to contain psychic energy (cf. alchemical containers, controlling the movement of 'ch'i', and the circulation of the 'golden fire'). Of course this works best, solely as a trap, if the design ensures that the reactor never reaches citicality. In sub-critical modes, attention is simply shunted around the contained in a continuing cycle.
The operation of this trap may perhaps be explored at a much simpler level through the way an individual's attention is trapped by a mirror that reflects back a self-image that is inherently fascinating. Metaphorically one's environment can be designed to mirror back one's reality. Some people, notably leaders, are in fact considered to be trapped in patterns of reflecting mirrors held for them by sycophants.

Designing arrays of traps

Advertising agencies and marketing managers are fully aware that consumers can seldom be successfully trapped by a single message articulated through a single medium. As suggested (above) by the plasma containment metaphor, wayward consumer attention has to be focused back onto the desired behavior from a configuration of "mirrors". For success, a marketing manager must develop a campaign based on a variety of seemingly disparate initiatives (TV, stickers, pins, tie-ins, magazine advertising, endorsements, placements, etc). In a sense none of the individual features of the campaign is a trap, but together they reinforce each other to ensure consumer entrapment. This might be termed contextual or combinatorial entrapment.

Such contextual entrapment in its modern forms is practiced mainly in connection with product and service marketing, although increasingly in political campaigns -- notably where there is a concern with the subtleties of image management. For their own political purposes, the Nazis are significant in having invested heavily (under Goebels) in the design of an impressive array of psycho-cultural traps for the German people -- including dance, displays, architecture, song, film, drama, parades, iconography, youth camps, etc. But it is intriguing that religious movements have traditionally explored contextual entrapment to a far greater degree. Christianity, for example, has never limited dissemination of its message to pronouncements from the pulpit. A whole array of supporting devices has been used: iconography, liturgical music, bells, processions, pilgrimages, fasts, prayers, religious stories, church design, religious habits, artefacts, relics, rites (birth, confirmation, marriage, death, harvest, etc), and cyclical celebrations (annually, weekly, daily). The difficulty for anyone to gain perspective when immersed in these mutually reinforcing messages is well-known, especially when they are born into such a context.

With what discipline is the coherence of any such complex array ensured? At the material level, the challenge is well-clarified by the discipline of urban planning, especially through its interface with architecture and design. These disciplines can be explored in terms of their capacity to design successful arrays of traps. The criteria of success may be taken from one of their distinguished practitioners, namely Christopher Alexander. He focuses on design of places in which it is good to be (Timeless Way of Building). A successful trap is necessarily one that an individual has no desire to leave because of the well-being they experience within it -- a good trap provides a 'feel good' experience.

The challenge for urban planning is to avoid using a design that results in an essentially sterile environment. This sterility is one of the prime characteristics of total urban design, notably in the case of new capital cities for a country: Brazilia, Canberra, etc. In the case of Canberra, for example, all the 'action' is in neighbouring Queenbean. Brazilia has its adjacent unplanned slums. Efforts at designing whole new suburbs have tended to follow the same pattern. Their artificiality is an alienating characteristic that undermines their role as traps. There is little to hold the attention and no distracting patterns of behaviour in which to engage for any length of time. They are monuments to be visited, perhaps with malls for consumers -- but typically good places to hang out somehow do not fit the design.

Where the emphasis is shifted from tangibles to the design of psycho-social systems, there is a similar inability to configure arrays of traps. Such arrays may emerge to characterize 'in' places like St Tropez or Ibiza, possibly as a result of a confluence of artists and others that create a pattern of traps around which people hang out. But somehow there is difficulty in designing such environments from scratch to ensure the social traps 'take'. It is common to see a nicely designed empty restaurant/café next to one that is less well-designed, but full.

This challenge extends into the design of conceptual and spiritual systems. These range from the belief systems and rules underlying intentional communities through to the global charters designed to ensure universal consensus on some theme: environment, spirituality, peace, etc. Whilst these may serve as a very effective trap for those closely involved in their design, or their adherents, they have a disastrous track records in their failure to trap others. The interesting exceptions in the case of intentional communities are those which 'simply' grew into major traps without any preliminary design, like The Farm (USA), Findhorn (Scotland), or Auroville (India) - or perhaps some of the earlier monastic communities.

Missing however is any understanding of how to design a viable array to entrap a wide variety of beliefs. This is most clearly seen in the failure of efforts to design multi-cultural systems, whether as a result of affirmative action in US universities or in places like Kosovo. Groups such as the Bahai that set out to do this create systems that have a particular flavour that honours a diversity of perspectives without being especially attractive to their adherents - a problem analogous to that of designed cities.

Attitudes towards entrapment: entrapment policies

What attitudes can be taken towards entrapment? In this connection the Buddhist notion is suggestive that suffering (see the recent studies of R G H Siu) is associated with a form of ignorance that results in entrapment (within a cycle of incarnations, according to that belief). The following options can be usefully distinguished:

Attitudes towards one's own entrapment by others (cf suffering at the hand's of others):

Attitudes towards entrapment of others (namely to their suffering):

Project Logic: an undetected policy trap?

The contemporary approach to governance of a society ridden with 'problems' may be caught in an invisible trap of 'Project Logic'. How else to explain an international track record of broken promises and delivery failures: "health for all by the year 2000", "employment for all", "education for all", "freedom from hunger", "justice for all", "security for all", 'peace for all', "shelter for all", and so forth -- currently followed by promotion of "communication for all" and "information for all" for a conveniently distant future time? All without any discussion of the issues of 'children for all' !

Research at the National Bureau for Professional Training in the Ivory Coast has aimed at determining management and organizational models appropriate to African cultures. Henry Bourgoin, Director of the Bureau, in a study entitled "L'Afrique Malade du Management" (1984) notes, in reviewing the forms of management used in African through the colonial period to the present period of "occidental management" that:

"... l'entreprise industrielle que nous connaissons actuellement dans le monde entier s'est surtout developpée dans le contexte culturel de l'Europe du XIXe siècle. Une telle organisation, malgré des aménagements en cours dans différents pays, reste fondé sur des "valeurs" particuliers qu'elle continue à véhiculer: productivité, rentabilité, etc. Elle s'appuie aussi sur des "logiques" particulières: planning, ordonnancement, etc. qui intègrent elles-mêmes des éléments, qui, s'ils existent évidemment dans toutes ces cultures, n'y sont pas toujours aussi valorisés" (p. 20).

He continues: "C'est pourquoi, jusqu'aujourd'hui, les différentes formes de "culture managériale" importée ont glissé sur notre comportement, comme une goutte d'huile sur une feuille de manioc... Il ne put s'agir ni 'd'imiter les Blancs" ni de "faire comme nos ancêtres". Une seule voie, celle du juste milieu, est réaliste, car elle prendra en compte le visage actuel de nos sociétés" (p. 20-21). This follows studies such as those of Gert Hofstede and Magoroh Maruyama (1994). Given the current socio-economic situation in Africa, perhaps it is time to give consideration to alternative perspectives.

Johan Galtung has commented on the manner in which concepts relating to issues emerge and are transformed over a period of time within the international policy process (see summary). The phases he identifies ('concept careers') might necessarily be determined by Project Logic.

Project Logic is above all distinguished by the benefits that accrue to those who employ it, whether politicians, academic advisers, professional consultants, foundation executives, (international) civil servants, or sub-contractors. How else to explain that the UN Joint Staff Pension Fund, covering 16 agencies, is one of the worlds largest pension funds offering a generous range of benefits to some 55,000 people?

Project Logic involves a complex combination of consultancy, fund solicitation, report writing, meetings, accounting, evaluation, administration... that can absorb over 80 percent of the funds made available for any initiative -- with the maximum degree of delay, untimeliness, and ineffectiveness. Although Project Logic is based on an array of traps, this does not translate into a correspondingly well-designed array of institutions. Many have remarked on the tragically unsystematic and uncoordinated array of UN agencies -- to name but the most visible. Despite early warning, it is incapable of providing for flood victims (Mozambique, 2000) or the millions threatened by starvation (Ethiopia, 2000). Analogous lack of coordination occurs more recognizably at the neighbourhood level where many have noted the uncoordinated way in which local authority departments successivley dig up a street for different utility services.

Project Logic works through a mutually reinforcing array of traps -- contextual entrapment par excellence, ensuring a high degree of 'group think'. Use of this approach is considered to be totally neutral. It is considered as applicable to building dams as to organizing a pilgrimage, caring for the mentally handicapped, or dieting.

It is curious the degree of dependence of this group think on the array of essentially Latin-derived terms starting with the 'prefix' pro -- and including both "problem' and "project'. The proconsular management methods of Rome have a lot to answer for! The role of these terms is best seen in the following caricatural description of the contemporary project process:

Despite its track record, it is beyond criticism -- unless it is proper criticism by proud professionals (or their protegés), ignoring provocation, in response to protest that is confined to proposing refinements in the form of proprietary models and procedures in the light of projections regarding prospective, proven problems arising from proximate causes based on data of known provenance -- propitiating the powers that be, if not by prostration before them. The probity of those proclaming, via proxy, the profound significance of their proactive proposals is protected by propaganda -- despite their profligate expenditure, private profanity and the prostitution of their intelligence in support of procrastination, broken promises, and provisional prophylactics. In this spirit of progress, there is a propensity for promotion of maximum profit for the prominent and property owners, rather than in favour of the proletariat with their proclivity for procreation and preoccupied by their progeny. This approach ignores the profusion of indicators on the probability of systemic crisis due to uncontrolled production and the proliferation of people (and in hope of prompt, providential intervention in fulfillment of prophecy) . Alternatives to this dubious prognosis are proscribed and their proponents are prosecuted without respect for due process. This approach is promulgated in prose of great prolixity especially respectful of protocol.

These terms are very tentatively clustered in the following table, in which the rows serve the following purposes:

  1. Obvious concerns: These are the overt concerns and actions that dominate awareness and may evoke new policy responses [B]
  2. Policy (expedient) responses: These are the overt, publicized responses by those mandated to deal with obvious concerns [A]
  3. Opportunisitic exploitation: These reflect the unpublicized concerns associated with the (collective) praxis of implementing responses articulated by [B] to the concerns of [A]
  4. Critical evaluation: These reflect the necessarily frank, unwritten, and unconstrained assessment of the responses to [A], [B] and [C] by those in the know and involved in some way.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Functions Goals








Opportunistic exploitation
pro rata


Cricial evaluation


'Parts of speech'
in Project Logic
(v. tentative)
Injunction Noun
Adjective Verb Adverb Conjunction Preposition


The words in the table are most of those in English dictionaries commencing with 'pro'. Those less commonly used are italicized. In considering their relevance to Project Logik, it is important to understand the contextual trap that they help to define or in which they are relevant. Examples from the apparently less probable terms include:

In reflecting on the provisional clustering in the table, one approach is to consider the kinds of discourse that might be restricted to the obvious preoccupations of Level [A], notably those of the ordinary citizen. As 'songs' these might introduce terms from Rows 1 to 8 in different combinations. Shifting to Level [B], political and policy discourse tends to combine another range of terms from Rows 1 to 8 in different combinations, referring to Level [A] only when constrained to do so. The concern at this level is the expediency of the response in order to maintain the status quo to the extent possible.

The discourse of Level [C] is that of the 'operators' and 'promoters' who contract their services, as consultants, employees or others -- and have the capacity to actually effect changes advocated at Level [A] or [B]. Alternatively they may propose services, anticipating needs. They seek to benefit from the preoccipations of the previous levels. Their mode of operation is not transparent, only the results and their presentation. This level indicates the terms characteristic of the non-transparent dimensions of their operations. Clearly they also make extensive use of terms from Levels [A] and [B], notably to promote their initatives and skills.

At Level [D] the discourse includes terms that reflext analysis and evaluation of discourse at the previous levels -- but unconstrained by pressures to conform to the particular requirements of those levels. In practice this discourse is confined to exchanges amongst professionals and those in the know and seldom appears in published documents. As such it contrasts with the kinds of analysis associated with the previous levels.

The final row is very tentatively included on the assumption that if Project Logic works like a language, then at any Level the elements of such a language might be distinguished by 'parts of speech'. In relation to the contents of the table, this clearly calls for much more work.

Are there other 'prefixes' that merit exploration to determine the relative degree of policy dependence on this very narrow range of perspectives?

Entrapment and commitment

Throughout this argument emphasis has been placed on the questionable merits of entrapment. To be trapped is to be prevented from engaging in other processes and experiences that may be more fruitful. Entrapment may directly inhibit any form of development. It may be inherently painful and no release may be foreseen.

The important role of traps is obvious, if only in hunting for food. Less obvious is that it is in geological 'traps' that oil and water reserves, vital to modern civilization, collect below ground -- an interesting metaphor to explore. Such traps are amongst the few to have been classifed. Intriguing also is the manner in which 'expectation traps' have been recognized. V. V. Chari et al. (1996) argue that discretionary monetary policy exposes the economy to welfare-decreasing instability. It does so by creating the potential for private expectations about the response of monetary policy to exogenous shocks to be self-fulfilling. Among the many equilibria that are possible, some have good welfare properties. But others exhibit welfare-decreasing volatility in output and employment. They refer to the latter type of equilibria as expectation traps.

The argument has also indicated that people must effectively allow themselves to be trapped in order to engage in society and to acquire experience. 'Expectation traps' is an interesting term for this. Traps, as frameworks, are the vehicles through which people are able to act. In many respects they are like prosthetic devices that constrain behaviour in a manner that can affect social reality. A deep-sea diver is trapped within equipment that enables action on the sea bed, as is the case for an astronaut in space. If either refused to get into the suit, no such action would be possible.

Similar points could be made with regard to the long educational and training requirements of certain professions such as surgery, or maintenance of complex equipment. These call for commitment that results in entrapment. The person may in principle be able to leave the trap but because of their investment in it, they would be reduced to high vulnerability - like a crab between shells.

As with highly skilled occupations, the same might be said of relationships with significant others. They derive their significance from the commitment or covenant, irrespective of the technical ease of setting them aside in modern society. Japanese society is built on networks of obligations that can readily be understood as traps. Trap or not, it is the commitment signalled by pledges and vows -- as when entering a religious order -- that frames the reality within which people live.

"Tao" -- the "way" between traps

The above considerations clarify a challenge. Clearly "shiftiness" is not the quality that is desired, nor is "indifference". But if they are not, then what gives coherence to the actions and attitudes associated with detachment? Does a person experience loss of sense of identity when relating consecutively to a parent, a child, an employer, an employee, a rival, or a significant other? Or does a person with lingusitic gifts experience such loss when switching between languages? And what of a highly 'mobile' worker?

Yet clearly there is a real challenge when relating consecutively to different academic models and/or spiritual belief systems. Typically the degree of entrapment experienced will be vigorously articulated in terms of their "inadequacy" as a vehicle for the truth, their "distortion" with respect to orthodoxy, and the like -- shading into condemnatory judgements of a quality that differs little whether they are from academic or religious priesthoods. With respect to the clothing example, it can only be compared to the discomfort of those who feel their dress is not consistent with fashions articulated in Vogue or its equivalent -- an entrapment greater than that of those who can choose freely from their wardrobe. This points to a sense that there are forms of entrapment experienced as of higher quality. Using slavery as a metaphor, there are inhumane and enlightened forms of servitude and entrapment, even if escape is not a consideration.

Coherence in shifting between traps comes not from the structural prosthetics of any overarching model or framework, but from the pattern of movement. The 'locus' of identity shifts from the static configuration to the 'pattern' of the dynamics - to the dance. Significance is then associated as much with the dynamics of relationship as with any particular actor in that dynamic. It is that pattern which carries and mirrors a larger sense of identity than that of the individual in isolation. Every feature of the environment to which the individual relates, whether animate or inanimate, may thus carry aspects of this larger identity - a role effectively delegated by the individual in isolation to those features through the process of objectification.

How such dynamics might be understood or described is the subject of separate papers that explore the use of polarization as navigational devices (Judge, 1998; Judge 1998), notably by designing a more appropriate language (Judge, 1999)


As yet another effort at interior decoration, this paper is of course necessarily a trap ! 


Christopher Alexander. The Timeless Way of Building. Oxford University Press, 1979

Ron Atkin:

Eric Berne. Games People Play : The Psychology of Human Relationships. Ballantine Books, 1996 (reissue)

Henry Bourgoin. L'Afrique Malade du Management. Paris, Editions Jean Picollec, 1984 (Collection Perspective 2000).

V. V. Chari, Lawrence J. Christiano and Martin Eichenbaum. Expectation Traps and Discretion. 1996

Evan Eisenberg. The Ecology of Eden: an inquiry into the dream of Paradise and a new vision of our role in Nature. Vintage, 1999

Paul Feyerabend. Conquest of Abundance: a tale of abstraction versus the richness of being. University of Chicago Press, 1999

Anthony Judge:

Orrin Edgar Klapp. Symbolic Leaders: public drama and public men. Chicago, Aldine, 1964

Magoroh Maruyama. Mindscapes in Management : Use of Individual Differences in Multicultural Management. Dartmouth Publishing, 1994

R G H Siu:

Geoffrey Vickers. Freedom in a Rocking Boat : Changing values in an unstable society. Pelican, 1972

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