Creative Identification of Appropriate Social Structures through
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A. Background / Context
The beginning of the 1990s is clearly a time of momentous changes.
Of special interest is the problem faced by countries shifting from a socialist,
centrally-planned society, to one based on other insights and values -- Hungary,
Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, USSR. Intertwined with this is the situation
of Germany and the EEC, and the search for an appropriate form of federation
or confederation for a European house. Similar challenges are faced by South
Africa in moving beyond apartheid, in Zimbabwe in finessing the move towards
Marxism-Leninism, and in China in transcending the events of Tianamen Square
which heralded many of the above changes.
In each case much advice will be sought and given by experts in
developing economic and financial systems, democratic structures, public administration,
commerce, and industry. There is already a rush of representatives from financially
powerful groups in the West seeking to "provide assistance". It would be naive
to assume that this assistance will be disinterested or that it will not lead
to unsatisfactory forms of exploitation in many cases. Similarly the liberalization
of many of these countries will also encourage the rise of exploitative initiatives
natural to those countries -- the dark face of private enterprise and market
economies. In the midst of all these opportunities, individuals will be tempted
and seduced by the obvious symbols of Western affluence: Coke, MacDonalds, Levis,
VCRs, PCs, mass media, cosmetics, and fashion. And why not ?
At this early stage it is impossible to distinguish between fruitful
change and forms of change which will entrap such societies in the same difficulties
faced in the West: drug abuse, crime.... And even if it was, who is to say that
the price is not worth paying ?
Is there any way of enabling such societies to enhance their ability
to make choices in the light of their own cultural values and insights -- at
a time when those values seem to be in a turbulent state of transformation and
it is unclear who should interpret them or how ?
Whilst the West might
like to assume that the East will be "converted" to the Western lifestyle and
aspirations -- to the "American way of life", for example -- it is not clear
that those in Eastern cultures will ultimately be satisfied by them -- or that
factions will not quickly emerge to undermine "westernism", destabilizing the
society in a delicate period.
How might such societies find a form through which to discuss
the spirit which imbues their culture -- the spirit which makes being Hungarian,
for example, something to be valued above more obvious things. And how might
this impact on the choices with which they are confronted at this time ? This
concern is not something that is meaningful to specialists, experts or technicians
-- or to those wanting to "provide assistance" or explore commercial possibilities.
It is extremely relevant to the leadership concerned more generally with choosing
among competing policies advocated by such experts as appropriate to the future
of that country.
Whatever changes are approved, they have to be encapsulated in
comprehensible form for presentation to interest groups and the general public.
Complex policies articulated by experts do not normally lend themselves to such
encapsulation. The result is that major policy options are presented in what
amounts to caricatural form. And indeed one of the main tools of opponents of
any given policy is the political cartoon. This triggers interpretation through
what at best is "folk wisdom" -- that level of the cultural life of society
carried by proverbs and imagery rich in metaphor. It is this body of knowledge
which has guided that society through generations of change, often involving
major disasters, forced political or religious conversions, annexation to some
empire, occupation by foreign powers, and the like.
The question is whether it is possible to draw on this body of
knowledge, as a kind of "guardian" of the spirit of the culture, to guide the
formulation of policy options and the choice amongst them. Ironically it is
the Chinese who have made the most deliberate use of metaphor in political life
in order to maintain communication with a vast peasant population. Most policy
options are formulated there in metaphoric form ("walking on two feet", "great
leap forward", "the six evils", "let 100 flowers bloom"). But these metaphors
are chosen in the light of the socialist policy they are designed to reinforce.
They do not tap into the full depth of Chinese traditional culture which is
at present channelled schizophrenically into cultural presentations to a limited
extent only ("the dragon dance"). Above all, they are not used to inform discussion
about policy options -- although the "dragon dance" provides a magnificent metaphor
of the dynamics of the possible relationship between such incompatible policies
as centrally-planned and market economies.
Consider the possibility of engaging a national debate through
the media on relevant metaphors, possibly carried in proverbs from that culture.
The aim would be to reverse the process whereby cartoonists, comedians and commentators
react to policy options formulated by technicians and specialists -- highlighting
their farcical absurdities and self-seeking qualties. People with such skills,
and other culturally creative people, could be encouraged to use their creativity
and insight to elaborate policy options in metaphoric form -- preferably aided
by articulate members of the public (in a television studio audience, for example).
Their concern would be far less with the technicalities and far more with the
guiding insight which makes any particular policy appear appropriate and challenging
(rather than an essentially boring, artificial imposition on the culture).
An interesting example is provided by former British Prime Minister,
Harold Macmillan, in criticizing Margaret Thatcher's privatization policy. He
claimed that she was "selling the family silver". She subsequently responded
that she was indeed "selling the family silver", but that she was "selling it
back to the family". This metaphor captures reams of technical debate and appears
to provided a complete justification of that policy. For the debate to continue
at that level, some other metaphor would have to be chosen to present Macmillan's
critical insight in a more powerful way.
This example serves to highlight some inadequacies of metaphors
as they are currently used -- given the complexities of the policy options under
discussion. Just as a technical argument can always be made for and against
a given policy, so metaphors can be found for and against a given policy (as
the cartoonists of different political persuasions demonstrate so effectively).
The challenge of the times is to move beyond simplistic conceptual frameworks,
such as "all central planning bad -- all free-market economies good". But comprehending
the nature of a desirable hybrid is a challenge with which technicians are ill-equipped
to deal -- given the straitjacked training they tend to receive. The problem
is that a successful hybrid between essentially incompatible policies can only
exist in stable form if it is based on a new dynamic between the incommensurable
extremes (rather than on a weak compromise incapable of dealing satisfactorily
with the issues to which each policy seeks to respond).
What is desperately needed at this time are creative metaphors capable of giving
comprehensible form to desirable policy hybrids. These metaphors can then be
used to provide a context acceptable to the public for the conceptual scaffolding
out of which the dynamic relationship between competing policies can be articulated.
It is possible, however, that the most appropriate and sustainable policy cannot
be adequately articulated conceptually -- precisely because of the complexity
of the required dynamic. Metaphor then provides the "glue" or "bridge" which
maintains the credibility of what might otherwise appear to be contradictory
policies or policy inconsistencies. But such metaphors are necessarily several
orders richer than the "family silver" type above. The complexity may even require
a set of complementary metaphors, with a more general metaphor to bind them,
in order to capture the requiste variety necessary to manage modern societies.
Brief illustrations of more complex metaphors could include:
(a) Parenting: The dilemma between central planning and free market
approaches is beautifully illustrated by parental "policies" in controlling
children. The extreme examples of overdisciplined and underdisciplined children
are known to all, with their advantages and disadvantages. There are proverbs
to illustrate such extremes ("All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
versus "Spare the rod and spoil the child"). Less clear, but familiar to many
parents opposed to such extremes, is the essentially dynamic hybrid under
which all rules can be broken some of the time, some rules can be broken all
the time, but all rules cannot be broken all the time. It is the parental
management of "yes" and "no". The weakness of this metaphor is precisely that
there is little collective collective agreement as to the nature of this art,
although it is so widely practiced.
(b) Crop rotation: Well known to peasant farmers, this is the process
of alternating the growth of different crops in the same field in some (more
or less) regular sequence. The inability of a field to sustain the growth
of the same crop in the same field without rotation is well understood. The
same cannot be said for conventional efforts to ensure that the same policy
is pursued year in year out in a given society or social domain, when the
metaphor implies that more sustainable development would be achieved by alternating
with one or more other policies to remedy the defects of each in turn. Ironically
this is the principle underlying the multi-party system. But none of the parties
would find any justification, at present, in relinquishing power in such a
"policy cycle". A merit of this metaphor is tat, although complex, the discipline
has been articulated in detail by agriculturalists and used for generations
(c) Urban traffic: At this material level, humanity has successfully
developed a whole spectrum of techniques for handling streams of traffic heading
in different directions, cutting across each other, with extensive freedom
for vehicles in one stream to leave it for some other, according to the objectives
of the driver. Such techniques include: traffic lights (including "green wave"
phasing), overpasses, traffic circles, priority systems (stop streets, "give
way to the right"), clover-leaf junctions, expressways, etc. How would the
management of society appear if it was considered in this light, with different
policies being equated with different streams of traffic heading in different
directions ? And most people have a gut understanding of the dynamic complexities
of traffic and of act in response to traffic with other priorities -- as well
as which rules can be bent or broken under what conditions. Few find it useful
to treat the oncoming traffic, headed in the "opposite direction", as "enemies
of society" necessitating corrective action.
Such complex metaphors could be used to elicit others emerging directly from
the cultural traditions of a society -- and perhaps more appropriate. The challenge
is to provide a process through which more powerful and appropriate "guiding
metaphors" can emerge to sustain an ecology of development policies for that