1 Sept 1999
Paradigm-shifting through Transposition of Key
a metaphoric illustration of unexplored possibilities for the future
- / -
Re-reading as a method
Challenge: sustaining community through dialogue
Designing a more appropriate language for sustainable
Transforming in a transforming world
Imagining sustainable dialogue -- and the community it
Psycho-social permaculture: identifying the five kingdoms
Alien communication: extraterrestrial and interstitial
Re-reading as a method
The radical suggestion is that all conceptual patterns, from any discipline,
can be profitably "re-read" as metaphors -- through which insights can be gained
of relevance to other domains of knowledge. The body of knowledge, generated
by the disciplines over the years, may therefore be systematically (re-)explored
as a resource for implicit insights. In a sense the geological layers of knowledge
laid down over the centuries, including "fossilized knowledge", may be mined.
Much will be irrelevant, but there are seams of insight of great value. The
challenge is to separate the two.
In many disciplines, work undertaken decades (or even years) in the past is
no longer of any interest. This implies that work done today is in most cases
a fairly rapidly wasting asset for society as a whole -- other than for historical
purposes. The difficulty with this perspective is that it neglects the challenge
of educating each generation anew, and the problem of cultures and sectors of
society without the resources to deliver the latest insights in a form in which
they can be absorbed. As with many technologies, obsolete presentations continue
to be used and to have their place. This can be seen in the distribution of
out-dated textbooks in developing countries and in their use of "out-dated"
traditional technologies. Some impoverished countries are obliged to operate
on a basis of continuing repair of equipment, rather than its progressive replacement.
The reality of society is that different generations of information and technology
coexist, often quite fruitfully. Old technologies may be rediscovered as more
appropriate than the new. Portions of new technologies may be recycled in strangely
innovative ways -- as may be seen in the use of old automobile tires in certain
cultures. There is therefore merit in considering conceptual patterns from the
past as a non-wasting asset that may prove more appropriate under certain circumstances
than the most recent. Whilst more sophisticated, the latter may be both less
accessible and less robust in practice. (This argument is developed elsewhere)
Challenge: sustaining community through dialogue
The challenge is to sustain new kinds of community through new kinds of dialogue
that enable new kinds of insight. This may involve a clearer understanding of
how existing sustainable communities are sustained through particular patterns
Transformative magic vs Conversational sprawl: What is exchanged in
a dialogue which is sustaining? Is it as much what is exchanged as the pattern
through which the exchange takes place? Much can be sustained by conversation
about the weather in certain cultures. It is then the phatic communication that
is vital. Much can be sustained by greeting people regularly encountered in
a neighbourhood. These can become conversational habits. How to distinguish
between habitual communication and richer forms that are felt to be nourishing,
enhancing and transformative -- even 'magical'?
How much 'enhancing' is necessary for a pattern of activity to be
'sustaining'? Sustaining activity can be necessary, but it may not
be sufficient where there is a need for a sense of 'newness', of 'happening'
-- especially in the eyes of the young and adventuresome, or those on journeys
of individuation. Sustainable community may in that sense be a form of 'subsistence'
that denies the need for growth and development through which the community
could 'thrive'. So-called 'sustainable development' may
also be no more than the psycho-social equivalent of urban 'sprawl'.
Communities of discourse: There are many communities of discourse based
on a style of communication. The nature of the style that sustains the interest
of the community in the dialogue may be of many kinds. Most generally it is
influenced by sharing of some form: background or history, language, preoccupations,
preferences, beliefs, activities, etc. But the challenge of sustainable community
lies beyond contexts based on solely on sharing -- in circumstances where the
charm of sharing is no longer a sufficient attractant and differences are deeply
held as a source of identity.
What makes for sustainable community where people are indifferent, or actively
antagonistic, to others practising different styles of communication -- or where
they believe they have had experiences and learnings that give them a perspective
that they cannot easily share? These are real issues in places like Kosovo,
Jerusalem, Rwanda, Sudan, or indeed in many urban slums. It is of course the
case that special circumstances generate a special basis for dialogue. Veterans
from opposing sides can have more in common than with non-combattants of their
own side, as with torturers and their victims.
Special languages: Jargons easily develop amongst groups of people in
order to sustain their communities. This is the case in many institutional settings
whether prisons, military, corporations, student bodies, intelligence services,
organized crime, sects or secret societies. More intriguing is the possibility
that such jargons might be deliberately cultivated and developed to sustain
a community. Examples of this have been studied (ICA, Hunger Project, EST) in
terms of the generative metaphors they offer.
It could be argued that the whole push for political correctness in language
has been an attempt to develop a pattern of discourse that would be more inclusive
of those typically excluded. The extension of this that stresses 'positive'
phrasing -- rejecting grammatical forms containing negatives -- is promoted
as an effort to empower rather than disempower. However, efforts to design out
negative feedback concerning inadequacies can lead to their own difficulties
-- of which the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle is the most dramatic
example. Institutions have to discover ways to acquire negative feedback without
endangering the image and career of those who provide it. But this is also a
challenge for individuals in acquiring feedback from friends concerning the
suitability of their attire, the tastiness of their cooking, the boring quality
of their discourse, etc. There is also a subtle monotony to being constantly
exposed to positive feedback -- a real problem for leaders surrounded by sycophants.
Designing a more appropriate language for sustainable community
Possibility: Given this context, what possibility is there to design
new languages that might bypass the disempowering limitations of existing languages
and respond more effectively to the challenges of the times? What form might
a language of sustainable community take? What features would it require? How
complicated would it be and how difficult to learn? How much fun would it need
The many efforts towards an international language, of which Esperanto is the
most widely promoted example, need to be compared with this possibility. Such
international languages tend to be designed to be readily comprehensible, logical
compromises in terms of existing languages. As such they are primarily exercises
in linguistics. Whilst designed for communication, they are not designed to
respond to challenging new circumstances. What is proposed here is quite different.
Reframing challenges: The focus of such a new language (or set of languages)
would be to find new ways to acknowledge variety, provide it with a coherent
context, respond more dynamically and creatively to changing circumstances,
and provide users with the kind of ownership and identity that they acquire
through special jargons. Fundamental to such design is that the language should
have a range of aesthetic qualities that would be vital to the workings of the
language and its coherence -- rather than as purely decorative features. It
has to be intriguing and enjoyable to use. As with poetry, associations need
to resonate meaningfully to provide a coherence to discourse that contrasts
with the conventional list-fixation in discussion of sustainable community.
Strategically it could be a seen as a radical experiment in developing a language
that would enable problems, and strategies in response to them, to be understood
in new ways. Rather than adapt existing languages to deal with the problems
that emerge as a result of the inadequacies of the conceptualization to which
such languages give rise, this would be a language designed to sustain community
and the creative responses to its development. Whereas 'problems'
emerge as unforeseen challenges that have to be dealt with using the clunky
tools of existing languages, such a language would have a proactive approach
to problems and to the dynamics of change that existing languages have so much
difficulty in handling.
Potential and precedents: The potential of this approach can be illustrated
by cases where a relationship between two (or more) people is sustained when
they communicate through one language, but is endangered when they endeavour
to interact through another. The glass ceiling effect faced by executive women
is partially attributed to their exclusion from the bonding discourse associated
with the club (golf, drinking, strip) environment of professional male colleagues
with whom they otherwise communicate fruitfully. The survival of multilingual
couples may be safeguarded and enhanced in one language but undermined in another
in which their interactions are experienced as discordant.
In negotiating difficult treaties a language, such as English, may be preferred
because of a certain degree of ambiguity of interpretation is possible between
the parties in conflict that would be absent if the treaty were articulated
in French or German, for example. A Taiwan spokesman in 1999 argued that 'there
is one nation and two countries'. The statement was made in English because
the distinction between 'nation' (in the sense of people or race),
'country' (separate from, or against -- from the Latin contra),
and 'state' as a unit of government, cannot be effectively made in
Chinese. What distinctions relevant to sustainable community is it effectively
impossible to make in English or other dominant languages?
There are precedents for this proposal. New computer languages are typically
designed to deal with problems inadequately handled through old computer languages.
It has been argued that an MBA program is primarily acquisition of a new language
through which to deal with the corporate challenges of commerce. The jargon
of many disciplines can be seen in this light. The strange phrasing employed
by the military ('target acquisition', 'collateral damage',
etc) can be seen as a language designed to maximize military efficiency -- and
minimize humanitarian sensitivity (at a time when they are required to perform
'humanitarian missions'). Latin could be seen as the language appropriate
to the administration of the Roman Empire and the conceptual needs of its inheritors,
the Catholic Church, and European academic life over many centuries. The language
of organizational processes (commission, voting, assembling, presiding, etc)
has its historical origins in this religious context. Latin might even be considered
as the language most supportive of unconstrained growth. Are there languages
more sensitive to the patterns and processes of environmental checks and balances
that are so easy to deny in English?
In this light a special language could be seen as a way of exporting intractable
problems for other languages to address -- as such it is an exercise in denial.
What languages are designed to deal only with the 'soluble problems',
and with what language do those who have to deal with these problems communicate?
What kind of language might be able to import the problems exported by other
Despite its success, the danger is to assume that English is adequate to the
conceptual challenges of contemporary and future crises and their resolution.
It has been argued that the development community has already developed its
own jargon based on English -- and the complaint is that it is stale and sterile
and poorly adapted to the needs it purports to serve. There is therefore a case
for exploring a new language unconstrained by the styles of communication that
are common to those languages currently aggravating the challenges through their
Design traps: But how might such a new language be designed? There are
some obvious traps. It could be designed by a committee that would manage an
approved terminology and grammar -- the models favoured for the continuing development
of French and Spanish, for example. It could be the subject of an international
competition -- the design approach favoured in major architectural endeavours.
Such approaches would suffer from the delivery problem that is basic to most
challenges of world society.
There is also the implication that the language would be produced as a form
of finished product that would not permit creative tinkering by those who use
it -- as with many manufactured products and designed environments. This is
contrary to the increasing recognition of the vital importance of popular participation
and involvement -- if apathy is to be avoided. Then there is the problem of
teaching and learning the language -- or set of languages -- in a period when
successful delivery of any form of education is problematic..
Evolutionary approach: Rather than imposing a top-down design, the key
might be adoption of an evolutionary approach. Rather than endeavouring presumptuously
to introduce something 'other' into the many different cultural contexts,
the key might be to encourage the 'growth' of the new language(s)
from meaningful conceptual seeds within those contexts -- cultivation rather
This approach might be designed around the interaction of the following principles:
- Focus on, and encourage, development of metaphors from local culture, that
mesh with it, and may be derived from traditional stories in that culture.
Giving prominence to illustrative metaphor, over other features of the language
of that culture, orients people to that which can carry and transform their
thinking -- rather than lock them into the particularities of their language
and the overwhelming quantity of concepts and information that other languages
imply that they should acquire. Metaphor is therefore promoted as the organizing
principle for knowledge and its acquisition -- if and when it is required.
- Focus on what enables new understanding of the challenges of the society
and new ways of responding to them. The challenge is to focus on what inspires
and sustains growth of people within that culture rather than on ancillary
concerns which can be left to their daily language(s). The object is to give
prominence to what calls for action and the possibilities for that action,
rather than on much of the context that encumbers traditional educational
- Encourage exchange of metaphor between cultures in a spirit of cross-fertilization.
Again the emphasis is on metaphor and its transformative power and only secondarily
on the language through which that metaphor may be articulated at any one
time. In this sense it is such metaphors that are the vital cultural products.
Some metaphors may not travel well, especially when they are the vehicles
that best carry the distinctive features of the culture, vital to the identity
of its people.
- Encourage identification of metaphoric modules. As metaphors emerge from
their particular contexts, the challenge is to associate them with operational
concerns and contexts -- metaphors relating to food, water, security, employment,
health, etc. The is a step beyond 'best practice' information initiatives
to the metaphors that enable people to determine for themselves what may or
may not be applicable in their situation. What are the sets of metaphors most
useful for dealing with knowledge about food? About water? In each case these
would include metaphors to articulate the streetwise challenges of dealing
with those who manipulate and abuse information and access relating to food,
water, etc. Whether appropriate information is accessible or not, the emphasis
is on the primary importance of enabling metaphors to guide use of what is
Alternative rhythm: It is so easily assumed that everyone needs to speak
a language that happens to be dominant during at a particular historical period.
The question is not asked whether the apparent ineffectiveness of those so dominated
(and marginalized) is due to their need for another language that could better
carry their cultural insights and styles of organization. Africa, for example,has
been on the receiving end of colonial organizing principles, the 'Westminster
style' of democracy, and yet appears to be in dire straits despite decades
of 'development programs'.
It is useful to accept the inappropriateness of much conventional management
thinking in response to the dramatic developmental situation in Africa -- as
a basis for exploring more radical frameworks compatible with resources in African
cultures, that are not taken seriously by the North. In the light of earlier
work on the relevance of the cognitive frameworks associated with poetry and
music in articulating more relevant policies, the question might be raised as
to whether insights into rhythm and harmony cannot be used to catalyze the emergence
of new forms of organization and management, whether at the grass-roots or strategic
It could be hypothesized that by giving legitimacy to skills common in aural
cultures, notably those associated with song, new insights may emerge which
place African cultures at an advantage (notably in comparison with Northern
countries) in navigating through the turbulent periods of future decades. There
is some probability that such insights are more readily accessible, as an unexplored
developmental resource, at many levels of African society than in other cultures.
This approach would also challenge the tendency to view any appreciative evaluation
of African skills in this respect as a subtle form of disparagement. Rhythm
may be the key to organizational breakthroughs in Africa -- just as it might
be the key to the increasing political apathy of younger generations in the
Transforming in a transforming world
Statics vs Dynamics: To a preponderant degree the world is described
in terms of static features -- despite the fact that it is experienced dynamically,
especially in the case of its challenges and opportunities. The world is made
up of nation 'states', and headed by 'statesmen' who make
'statements', and may report on the 'state of the environment'
or the 'state of the economy'. There is even a Forum on the 'State
of the World'. People, like the weather, are described as being 'in
a state'. In each case, 'dynamic' would be more appropriate but
the usage is not accepted -- although the original Club of Rome report was based
on a study of 'world dynamics'. Like the human body, civilization
is based on processes -- whether we are aware of this or not.
This static bias extends to the description of species in the environment.
As with people, most animals are described and scientifically categorized in
terms of how they can be still-photographed and measured -- and not in terms
of behaviours that might only be captured on video. Language itself is very
clumsy in describing or thinking about behaviour. And yet it tends to be through
dynamics -- rather than statics -- that people work and derive meaningful pleasure
from their leisure time. Is personal identity perceived as static or dynamic
-- whether by the person identified, or by others? In a transforming world,
does it seem appropriate to have a static sense identity? How could one learn
about process identity?
The concepts through which the world is experienced, and through which people
describe themselves, follow this static pattern. They are often represented
by points, or areas -- as in the Venn diagrams of symbolic logic. Even processes
are grasped through what amounts to a series of conceptual snapshots of states
-- as in early flip-card experiments leading to cinematography. In this way
a river is conceptually static -- a line across a map -- rather than a 'flowing'.
It is possible that the ability to understand 'flowing' as a dynamic
process is an undeveloped or rare skill, whose absence is poorly recognized
(cf Csikszentmihalyi, 1991).
Where people rely primarily on one sense -- such as sight -- drawing attention
to other senses (such as smell, or sound) is problematic. Although illiteracy
and dyslexia are well-recognized as the focus of international programs, innumeracy
is reframed as amusingly inconsequential, as with inability to derive meaning
from tabular information or structural presentations (maps, system diagrams,
circuit diagrams). In a time of systemic and ecological crises, why is there
no term for inability to read patterns -- or it that equivalent to tastelessness?
Understanding process is treated as of even less consequence, where snapshot
information is available.
The real insights into process are to be found in body sports (martial arts,
surfing, acrobatics) and the arts (music, dance, drama) where comprehension
through kinaesthetic intelligence of a pattern of movement as a flowing whole
is the core of the art. But how to communicate the distinction between snapshot
understanding of a symphony and the flowing patterns over time of any musical
composition -- between recognizing the beat and understanding the evolving musical
pattern? In discussion of the processes sustaining development, very little
policy communication within the international community is in a non-textual
form and no sense of this limitation has been expressed.
Stopping the world: By using language to conceptually freeze features
of the environment and experience, much can be achieved. Having 'stopped'
the world in this way, what has been stopped can then be manipulated as with
childrens' blocks. Model castles and other things can be constructed -- as many
academics and consultants enthusiastically do as a basis for international programs
or studies 'under laboratory conditions'. These can be treated as
real for certain purposes -- which are often enthralling.
But, as in certain magical tales, this freezing process seals away the secret
life of what is so frozen. It is buried, like Merlin in his cave. The conceptual
chunks into which frozen reality can be broken do indeed permit development
of a panoply of constructs that become the basis for civilization as we know
it. But like magma from beneath the Earth's crust, the dynamic processes have
not gone away. They may well come bursting forth in what are perceived as natural
disasters, inexplicable discontent within the population, or deep personal dissatisfaction
with a hollow lifestyle. The conceptual frameworks developed by civilization
are not proving adequate to governance of its processes -- despite desparate
claims to the contrary.
A major advantage of freezing features of the environment is that they tend
to stay frozen when one's awareness is attracted to other features of the environment.
A stable, conceptually hygienic context can be constructed by effectively tiling
the world with labels. That this is made up of frozen processes, is of no consequence
-- again rather like inhabiting a magical castle whose walls are made up of
living beings long frozen into immobility. In this sense one is a magician inhabiting
a castle of stasis. The tragedy is that the magician has forgotten the spells
through which the freezing was done and through which the stasis may be broken.
The problem with freezing reality is that people cannot live, or thrive, in
a world of stasis -- in the bleak and arid environment typically depicted as
surrounding such a black magician's castle. Life is nourished and sustained
by living processes. It is ironic that modern civilization may have conceptual
characteristics analogous to glaciation. Globalization may be the final onset
of a conceptual Ice Age.
Underlying dynamics: The paradox is that life goes on irrespective of
the manner in which people may choose to freeze it. Rivers still flow beneath
the ice. There is therefore a case for seeking ways to relate to this living
reality beyond the models and constructs that seek to freeze it. In such a search
the dynamics of behaviour would seem to be a key. The conceptual constructs
serve, like mnemonic aids, to remind us of the dynamics to which we do not know
how to relate -- of the reality with which we do not know how to dance.
Suppose an 'elephant', as we choose to perceive and photograph it,
was effectively the tip of a behavioural iceberg that we have essentially given
up handling. So what we dimly admire in the majesty and dignity of the elephant,
could be processes in which we participate and of which we are part -- at some
level. Similarly with the behavioural qualities of a swallow or a trout. Some
folk cultures (Native American, Aborigine, etc) that cultivate a relation to
totemic animals endeavour to explain themselves in these terms. The animals
in the environment in some manner then 'carry' our understanding of
processes -- performing a task that we have effectively forgotten and denied.
In this way they carry forgotten dimensions of ourselves -- forgotten processes
in our larger selves.
Downsizing identity: Civilization engages in constructing definitions
of its citizens and the nature of human beings. These constructs tend to be
simplistic or mechanistic at best -- as any reading of relevant legal or academic
documents will show. People endeavour to rise above such alienating definitions
through art and the behaviours in which they engage. The difficulty is that
civilization has set in motion initiatives to destroy features of the environment
that are carrying unconscious, or culturally repressed, memories of our larger
selves. In addition to effectively entombing us in demeaning conceptual frameworks,
it is destroying the living symbols that in some way together carry our larger
identities -- however challenging they may be to our present understanding.
Elephants are now more widely understood through cartoon characterizations and
advertising clips -- making a mockery of forgotten parts of ourselves.
The larger reality may however be that we are effectively downsizing our identities
-- and severely diminishing ourselves in ways essentially beyond our present
understanding. It is not only the rainforests that are being destroyed but that
part of our larger selves that is of equivalent complexity and whose processes
are carried by the forgotten complexity and richness of those rainforests.
The loss of species from nature is presented as regrettable but inevitable,
although some effort is made to engage in palliative programs. Some concern
for lost species is expressed in terms of lost remedial health product opportunities.
But the loss may be far greater in terms of lost cultural health opportunities
-- we are destroying the potential of our civilization. In this sense it is
'cultural rainforests' that are our health being cut and burnt down
for simplistic reasons justified by primitive economics.
'Carrying capacity' of the environment: What are the secret
dynamics of ourselves that are still carried for us by features of our environment?
How can one discover them? Are we ourselves the carriers of larger meaning for
There are many who still attribute deeper significance to mountains, waterfalls,
rivers and other larger features of the land -- or the species associated with
them. For groups this may take the form of recognizing sacredness in them --
and they are then the focus of pilgrimage. But for many individuals features
of the landscape are appreciated beyond the ways in which civilization describes
them. Mountains, rivers and waterfalls can have deep meaning within people --
irrespective of their appreciation by others.
To what extent do people have waterfall or mountain 'modalities'
to their being -- from which they effectively distance themselves, because the
vistas and dynamic engagement evoked are more than can be managed through conventional
static categorization of reality? What are we doing to these modalities when
we fill the rivers with life-destroying pollutants, trash the highest mountains,
destroy the forests, and domesticate the few species that we allow to survive
in our environment?
In this context, what is to be made of the homogenization associated with globalization?
There is concern, notably in the European Union, that in order to rationalize
trade, the variety of approved crop species needs to be reduced. As a carrier
of larger meanings, to what extent does globalization of this kind dangerously
reduce the cultural variety on which our civilization may depend to survive
and to thrive? Is the process reducing the psycho-social carrying capacity of
Clearly we are forced to work with the conceptual tunnel vision through which
we have been trained by our civilization to view the environment. But we can
allow ourselves to remember that each conceptually frozen construct (making
up our magical castle on its blighted landscape) is holding a secret dynamic
for us. We are surrounded by mnemonic aids that echo understandings of our larger
living selves. We are surrounded by keys to the transformation of our world
of stasis into a living reality. What then is not a key to transformation?
Metaphor: turning the key: It is in this context that the potential
of metaphor needs to be recognized. Metaphor offers a way of 'turning the
key'. It can transport us out of the limit condition imposed by the conceptual
freezing process and into other spaces and processes in which we can live and
breathe. The question is whether our civilization is also destroying the ability
of ordinary people to turn the key. Metaphor is deliberately designed out of
many communication processes as undesirable. The possibilities of metaphor have
no more status in education than grammar and forced appreciation of literary
style -- quickly forgotten by school leavers. And yet metaphor is widely and
cruelly misused in framing those selected as scapegoats in any bullying process
in such institutions.
How do we learn how to 'do metaphor' to turn the key? A good way
of exploring this is to look at how people, even in the most desperate of circumstances,
engage in humour to transform their experience. Like metaphor, humour is a process
of shifting frameworks. Many have a 'sense of humour' -- some do not.
Some can only appreciate jokes, and some can 'make jokes'. But it
is not a rare skill. Music is another example of a process through which people
are moved into a different process framework. Many can only appreciate music,
a few can 'make music' and are able, at will, to engage in 'transposition
of key'. But again it is not a rare skill.
One of the reasons metaphor is disparaged by the sophisticated is that it is
seen as a substitute for use of relevant concepts and thus a mark of lack of
education and/or verbal skill. However, for the most creative, metaphor is often
the vehicle through which they first give form to new insights -- notably in
fundamental physics and complexity theory. Metaphor is widely used by those
without formal education -- notably in slums in developing countries.
The question is then why those who are unlikely to receive a formal education
should not be encouraged to use metaphor -- 'its like...' -- to articulate
and communicate insights. Indeed this is a highly valued traditional teaching
role of metaphor when confronted with intangible complexity. Who is failing
to encourage its use as a short-cut? Has Unesco ever advocated the use of metaphor
to achieve some of its educational ambitions?
Imagining sustainable dialogue -- and the community it engenders
There are many kinds of 'dance' and the media have enabled world-wide
understanding of the variety. This cannot be said of 'dialogue' which,
as another consequence of globalization, is easily assumed to conform to some
universal standard practised notably at summits or inter-faith gatherings. There
is a need to explore the range of possible dialogues imaginatively.
Dancing dialogue: A sense of the range may indeed perhaps be obtained
by using the range of dances as a metaphor. Dance is after all a pattern of
interaction between people -- often engaged in to a far greater extent than
'dialogue', at more levels of society, and to create and reinforce
bonding within a community. Are there styles of dialogue that correspond to:
But for dancing to be meaningful to all parties, there is an experiential interaction
that the visible pattern and flow contains and enhances. Why does that experience
draw people back to interaction through that pattern? Why do people prefer some
forms of dance over others?
As with dances, dialogues explore new patterns or rehearse old ones. Emphasis
may be on acceptable unengaged performance or on exceptional enthusiastic engagement.
People take up positions and interact with each other from those positions.
They may exchange positions. In a group this may be done in turns -- by 'rotation'
as in childrens' games. The shifts in pattern may be undertaken spontaneously,
in response to imposed changes, according to defined (even traditional) rules,
or on instructions. People may focus on their interaction with each other within
the group or they may engage in solo performances (with or without a partner)
-- possibly ignored by others. In some forms of dialogue, as with some dances,
it is the whole process which has to work, rather than isolated performances.
In dialogues, a chairperson or facilitator may function as a 'caller'
(as used in some square dances) and the shifts in the pattern may be governed
by an agenda or a programme (corresponding to dance music). As with the distinct
dress used to distinguish people in some forms of dance, those in a dialogue
may be recognized as associated with factions of different (ideological) colour
-- with those so distinguished partnering together or into distinct groups.
The role of those observing the dialogue, as an audience, may be more or less
significant -- as with dance. As with dance, the pace of the dialogue may be
a determining characteristic -- from slow, meditative exchanges to vigorous
interchanges and shifts of position. Participants may act as channels representing
absent voices (or constituencies) in the dialogue, just as some (shamanic) dancers
may seek to represent and act as channels for absent forces.
Grasping and marking: There is a real challenge to 'grasping'
the nature of fruitful dialogue. The valued quality of successful dialogue --
sometimes called 'magical' -- is perhaps necessarily elusive and resistant
to being grasped (cf Judge, 1996). As a participant one is part of the dialogue
process so that any relation to the whole process is a challenge to understanding.
Participants can seek to make their 'mark', to make a remark in response
to someone else's 'mark', and to be remarked, if not remarkable. This
process of demarcation is basic to much dialogue. There are aspects to such
efforts that bear a strong resemblance to those of graffiti artists covering
urban walls with their tags to mark their territory. 'Grasping' and
'marking' may not be the keys to fruitful dialogue.
To the extent that the dialogue space resembles a wall on which marks are retained,
marking can build up a pattern of insights. One difficulty is that most marks
are quickly obliterated during the process, as with beach sand exposed to waves.
There is then no accumulating pattern of insight that participants can seek
to improve. The dialogue space is then rather like a roundtable surface onto
which each participant pours sparkling reflections -- which, like mercury, briefly
run together, but as quickly roll off the table into oblivion. How are disparate
insights to be kept on the table and interrelated?
Visualizing dialogue: It would be good to be able to use computer visualization
techniques to hold the 'points' made by each participant as they develop
a 'line' of argument, in delineating a subject 'area' as
a facet of the dialogue theme as a 'whole'. This would be one approach
to giving structured form to what emerges from the process -- in contrast to
transcription or the product of minute writers. Also built into the current
language of dialogue is the production of 'notes'. What if these were
actually associated with musical notes? Recording the gathering would then lead
to other possibilities for comprehension of the process as a whole.
Although relatively easy to develop, such devices are essentially prosthetic.
The key remains how participants experience the evolving dialogue. Ideally what
would make a major difference would be a new collective insight into the process.
But ultimately it is how the individual participant interprets the event, with
or without such assistance or collective reinforcement of new understandings.
Greening dialogue: How far are we from experiencing a dialogue like
a garden, a farm, or a wilderness area -- embodying environmental qualities
which sustainable development purports to respect? In each such case there is
a static sense in which a dialogue may be experienced in terms of layout. Strangely
each of these contexts functions like an attractor -- a nostalgic alternative
to the unacceptable in city life -- but without clear understanding of the dynamics
With a greater attention span comes the understanding that in the dialogue
things are growing and developing depending on the season and the climate. Like
buds, sets of categories ('models') may open revealing patterns of
petals (pie charts) according to the species of flower. Each pattern has a strategy
to position itself favourably for attention. Like flowers, such patterns compete
in seeking cross-fertilization to ensure wider dissemination. However, once
disseminated they are dependent on other factors if they are to develop successfully.
The dialogue process will tend to have its seasons and changing climate, propitious
for development of some patterns and hostile to others -- that may lie dormant
to emerge advantageously at a later stage. At any one time, the dialogue climate
may be 'hot' or 'cold', 'damp' or 'arid',
'windy' or 'calm'. Some patterns will develop best in the
direct view of all, some in the shadows cast by other initiatives. A dialogue
may be exploited in various ways: using a hunter/gatherer strategy (moving on
after local resources have been exhausted); by preparing the ground in which
particular patterns can be nourished to development with appropriate care and
rotation of crops; or by forcing growth through artificial stimulation of development
and avoidance of any fallow period of natural recuperation.
In this light, understandings of dialogue might perhaps be compared through
the following set of agricultural metaphors:
- Monoculture: As with unending fields of wheat, participants might
be seen as stalks of wheat, virtually indistinguishable. The intervention
of each can then only take place with the approval of appropriate authority.
Differences between participants, from the point of view of any authority,
are considered to be negligible -- only their numbers are of interest. In
its most severe manifestation, all comments would be required to conform to
- Multi-crop farming: This metaphor would allow for a limited range
of different types of participants and contributions in the dialogue. Each
type would however be well-defined: wheat, oats, turnips, cabbage, apples,
etc. Within each type, variations would not be easily tolerated. This would
correspond to the European Commission's approach -- were it to be extended
from vegetables and fruits to dialogue on sustainable development.
- Integrated farming: In this metaphor, the emphasis switches to the
complementarity between the different types of participant in order to optimize
the growth patterns of each in the interests of the whole. The dialogue, as
a farm, is treated as a system, with a water and fertilizer infrastructure,
in which each crop has a distinct function.
- Inter-cropping: In this metaphor attention shifts from crops as a
whole. The importance of juxtaposing particular plants (whether participants
or comments) to provide shade, protection from insects, or soil enhancement
is then emphasized. The checks and balances required within dialogue are rendered
explicit at the level of the individual participant rather than between classes
- Permaculture: In this metaphor much greater effort is made to intimately
relate a wide variety of participants and comments (plant and animal species)
to enrich the pattern of checks and balances in relation to water, sunlight,
and nutrient flows. It is with such methodologies that the skills required
for sustainable communities emerge within the dialogue. Permaculture is noteworthy
for integrating space for uncultivated, unplanned growth as a source of particular
positive influences on the cultivated species.
- Natural parks: In this metaphor the concern is to protect natural
patterns of growth and the wild species ('wild card' participants)
associated with it. In the case of dialogue, this would correspond to efforts
to provide for traditional forms of organization (including folk culture)
-- and to protect them from contemporary forms. The question of cultural identity
is strongly associated with this dimension of dialogue. The challenge is to
minimize forms of intervention which will make such "natural" organization
appear artificial. Excessive intervention, as with artificial landscaping,
can make such supposedly natural forms of dialogue both artificial and soulless.
- Wilderness areas: In this metaphor a much greater variety of plant
and animal species (participants and comments) grow freely without outside
intervention or justification -- constituting a rich genetic pool. In the
case of dialogue, the question for any authority is to what degree a veritable
jungle of participant interactions of every imaginable kind can be allowed
to exist without requiring constant supervision and management. Such authorities
may not then have the ability to control the dialogue, even if they wished
Transformative metaphor: It becomes clear from the above that, to an
intriguing degree, it is is possible for anyone to transform their own world
quite radically. Any feature frozen into a category may be used as a metaphor
to reframe conventional understandings. Clearly this would meet with extreme
opposition from those who derive power from the rigidity of the category in
question. Particular disciplines would claim a form of intellectual property
over understanding of the atom, the cell, the brain, a forest, or a solar system.
They would consider quite irresponsible any unauthorized appropriation of such
concepts. But as with abandoned sea shells, the patterns they have developed
through their explorations may be used as imaginative seeds to explore other
ways of seeing the world. Is this simply what poets do? Or does this process
provide a way of unfreezing the world that we inherit from conceptual colonizers?
Like it or not, the activation of transformative metaphors is a reality in
society -- if only for the advertising industry and political spin-doctors.
And whilst the loss of species may be deplored, there are ways in which the
functional significance of such species for humans is recreated in society.
The urban jungle is populated with metaphorical wolves, foxes, dogs, cats, sheep,
parrots, hawks, rats, worms, snails, etc. Even the financial world is attentive
to bulls, bears, snakes, and tigers.
There is a real possibility that humans need to function in a dynamic context
inhabited by such 'non-human' influences. They are being regenerated
as roles, in all their variety, to perform that function. How long it will take
to appreciate the range and variety of psycho-cultural species required for
a sustainable community environment is another matter. Which species can such
a community do without if it is to be viable? Why are so many required for a
sustainable natural environment? What psycho-social equivalent to biodiversity
do we need to conserve? Do we need a psycho-social equivalent to the World Heritage
Site programme where the focus is on unique behavioural ecosystems of outstanding
significance to humanity?
Why are we so surprised when our society regenerates behavioural species that
correspond to extinct species from the natural environment -- to engage in the
massacres of the future? The conjunction of the Holocaust with Jurassic Park!
Psycho-social permaculture: identifying the five kingdoms
Peter Harper, a representative of the Centre for Alternative Technology (Wales),
argues: 'The way we organize our gardens reflects the way we organize our
lives, our society, our politics, our businesses and our knowledge' (Resurgence,
164). The challenge is to use this insight to reframe understanding of the dialogue
process as exemplifying a sustainable community. Any failure to build a sustainable
conference community, amongst those concerned with sustainable development,
can be seen as a failure to generate insights of relevance to the wider world.
Five kingdoms in nature: Harper stresses that sustainable biological
systems are composed of the five kingdoms: protozoa, bacteria, fungi, plants
and animals (see for example Lynn Margulis, Five Kingdoms: an illustrated
guide to the phyla of life on Earth). Of these some 90 percent by weight
are plants, with animals (mainly insects and worms) constituting but a few percent
-- and serving mainly to decompose plants into forms that may be easily recycled
by fungi and bacteria. Without such decomposers the system would seize up, but,
as Harper notes, their work is viewed with 'distaste or even horror...This
revulsion is almost universal, but in another light can be seen as a projection
of an infantile refusal to face the realities of death and decay, or (as a species)
to face honourably the need to clean up after ourselves. This metaphor is starkly
underlined by the basic fact that most of the decomposition processes take place
under the ground...But just as the natural order would grind to a halt
without its dark side, so would we: the dark side suppressed raises demons and
pathologies. There can be no growth without decay, no resurrection without death.'
Five forms of attention: Applying such insights to the psycho-social
system of a dialogue community, the five kingdoms of sustainable natural systems
(hypothesized since 1959) can be recognized as five complementary forms of attention
or engagement on the part of participants. [Biology continues to envisage from
three to seven domains, kingdoms, etc to encompass the sepctrum of life and
its processes.] This approach is consistent with some the Eastern epistemologies
of Buddhism and Taoism, with respect to hindrances to understanding, practices
for overcoming them, and the nature of the resulting insight. It recognizes
that the patterns of sustainable organization elaborated over millennia in biological
systems are likely to entrain (or necessitate) isomorphic pattern organization
in sustainable psycho-social systems. In this sense innovation is to a large
extent a question of giving conscious human expression to patterns long used
unconsciously in biological organization. Few patterns of organization have
not already been exemplified in nature. It is therefore useful to explore and
work with those long-tested patterns, guided by the ways that they are embodied
in natural processes.
In experimenting with its own processes, a conference can tentatively recognize
five forms of attention or engagement as:
- animal-type: essentially mobile consumers, performing predatory,
parasitical and commensal functions in relation to other forms of animal-type
attentions, extending to organization and use (including consumption) of plant-type
attentions, possibly important to their pollination or enabling their growth;
typically to be seen in the behaviours of "factions" and "lobbies" during
- plant-type: static, grounded, building on simple substances and energy,
refreshing the atmosphere, through the transformation of light, as a basis
for more evolved forms of life; typically to be seen as the sustaining participants
and forms of attention in a conference, embodying values and giving the conference
substance, coherence and much of the sustenance for the more complex processes
of factions and lobbies that are ultimately dependent on them as a source
- fungi-type: decomposing (through destructive, 'negative'
arguments?) those forms of action and interaction no longer sustained by life,
to enable new forms of attention and organization to emerge in a conference.
(cf Slime moulds!!)
- protista (protozoa, etc)-type: transforms very simple substances
(facts?, points?) into more complex forms (statements, recommendations ?)
through specialized functions (ad hoc task forces?) in a conference.
- monera (bacteria, etc)-type: the 'points' and 'counter-points'
made throughout any conference process, some of which may become an endemic
'infection' for more complex attention processes.
Fundamental to this approach is a sensitivity to
the time dimension, notably in the form of attention span. For an individual,
psycho-social engagement of the shortest duration takes the form of an immense
number of virtually unconscious observations -- each, like the protozoa, a
brief flash of life as a momentary vehicle for attention (which the conference
recognized as a form of 'nanopsychology'). Every human community
is of course characterized in part by this level of engagement. Some spiritual
traditions stress its fundamental importance through practices focussing on
attention to the 'present moment'.
At the other extreme, individual attention within any community may be held,
shaped and channelled over extended periods of time by belief systems. Like
plants, these depend on their ability to synthesize and give coherence to perceptions
of social reality in the 'light' of conscious awareness -- the equivalent
to photosynthesis, which could have been termed 'psychosynthesis',
if this did not already have other connotations. And as with the branching structure
of plants (and petal formation in flowers), such belief systems take a multitude
of forms, patterning psycho-social reality in two-fold (dualities), three-fold
(trinities), four-fold (quaternities), and higher, forms of organization (exemplified
by the many systems of categories).
Such belief systems develop, replicate and evolve. As the organization of individual
or collective attention, any particular manifestation (as with an individual
plant) is of limited duration and is vulnerable to other forces in the community.
The attention span of a person reflecting a particular belief system (whether
through discourse, meditation or some other practice) is a matter of hours at
most -- before that particular manifestation must necessarily pass away in favour
of some other mode of attention essential to thriving in a community.
Nourishment in community: As recognized in the current call for a return
to core values, the coherence created by particular manifestations of belief
systems is a prime source of nourishment for other forms of attention and social
engagement -- namely those unable to synthesize coherence directly through any
form of psychosynthesis. Like animals, such forms of engagement consume living
manifestations of belief or practice on which they may be totally dependent
for their survival. A member of a community may of course engage in 'plant-mode',
providing coherence (eg in the practice of some discipline) that the same member
may subsequently consume in 'animal- mode' (eg as when a morning meditation
sustains a person throughout the day). But the duration of this mode is also
limited and must necessarily pass away, possibly as the prey of some 'carnivorous'
form of 'animal-mode'. Presentations at a conference (often expressed
as planting seeds) may then be usefully understood as providing food for the
nourishment of an audience -- usefully to be understood as operating in 'animal-mode',
usually as 'herbivores'.
The active manifestation of plant or animal-modes of engagement finally ceases
however, with other modes then coming into play to breakdown structures that
are no longer sustained and which would otherwise clutter up psychic space.
These are of course the 'fungi-' and 'bacteria-modes' which,
as Harper noted, were above all characteristic of the unconscious, unless the
subject of psychotherapeutic or spiritual disciplines.
Anabolic vs. Catabolic processes: As a community, a dialogue community
can skillfully avoided the traps of over-definition in exploring these possibilities.
Of greatest importance is the recognition of the importance of a balance between
anabolic and catabolic processes, through whatever forms of social engagement
these were expressed. This ensures an appropriate balance between the 'positive'
processes through which structures were built up, and the 'negative'
processes through which they necessarily passed away -- to be subsequently regenerated
in some new manifestation. Avoiding the usual demonization, this balance met
the needs of both those concerned with affirmation of existing patterns (typically
in plant-mode), and those concerned to replace them by new patterns (typically
in animal-mode). But as a dynamic balance of processes, this could only
be achieved through the insights of permaculture rather than through vain attempts
at manipulation of static structures.
Playful exploration of such insights is possible because many participants
may be more than familiar with the tangible manifestation of these patterns
in nature. They can be seen as a web of insights and interactions through which
psycho- social organization could be more explicitly and effectively rendered
congruent with nature and the challenges of community. There is a charm to 'gardening'
one's own community rather than relying on the narrowly-focused skills of community-building
Harper stresses the shift from a focus on 'standard of living' to
'quality of life'. A dialogue community can highlight the need for
what can be termed 'quality of attention' or 'quality of engagement'.
Alien communication: extraterrestrial and interstitial perception
Process dialogue: It would be naive to assume that some people were
not highly skilled at living in a process reality. Such people would not be
dependent on static categories and snapshot takes on processes. What would be
the nature of an encounter with such a person? The challenge would be that the
'person' might have a sense of identity as a process. It would then
be a case of a static identity encountering a dynamic identity -- a rock in
a river. But for those locked into static category thinking, such a process
identity would effectively be undetectable -- or only minimally detectable.
How would a group of such process people function in a collective encounter
-- a process dialogue? Would the encounter be meaningful to someone locked into
a static identity? How would meaning be processed, if not through static categories
-- ascribing meaning to a sequence of snapshots? From a static perspective,
the challenge is to build up larger patterns of insight in a dialogue. From
a dynamic perspective, it would be the flow pattern that would carry larger
meaning -- rather than a carpet or a map, an evolving dance or musical composition
(like 'generated music'). Group improvisation in music is an example
that is being studied for organizational creativity (cf Jamming, John
Perhaps some sense of a dynamic identity is associated with those who are known
especially for their style or charisma -- for which there are various related
terms in other languages: élan, baraka, sprezzatura. When deliberately
cultivated, as the art of the courtier, the elusive quality can be described
Sprezzatura: the well practiced naturalness, the rehearsed spontaneity, which
lies at the center of convincing discourse of any sort, and which has been
the always-sought but seldom well-described center of rhetorical "decorum"
since Aristotle first tried to describe it. (http://omni.cc.purdue.edu/~davidswf/tds.wc.html)
Process riders: But it would also be naive to assume that those capable
of carrying their identities through such process thinking are necessarily benevolent
in their attitude towards the well-being of static forms. Within the dynamic,
they would have an ideal 'place' in which to hide -- a 'non-place'.
As with frequency-hopping encrypted communications, they would be everywhere
but nowhere -- the new approaches to widespread, invasive electronic surveillance
provide powerful metaphors of this. Like web 'spiders', they could
effectively 'ride' the dynamics in which static identities participate.
Rather than being the 'substantives' of which reality is normally
understood to be composed, they would be the 'verbs' through which
its dynamics are expressed.
The psychology of multiple personality points to some of the challenges since
the integrated personality, to the extent that it 'exists', is then
expressed through a variety of sub-personalities that may or may not communicate
with each other to any degree. The integrated personality is then effectively
an alien riding a complex vehicle. Many people are only partially understood
through some aspects of their personality, even when they cannot be said to
function from multiple personality disorder. Each facet or personality then
is rather like one of a number of moving feet on which the the entity as a whole
navigates through reality.
This suggests a way of thinking about 'aliens' -- those who are not
linked into conventional society [cf lien as the French for 'link',
also as in hyperlien]. A lien is a legal right to hold another's property
until a debt is paid. A community, in the light of static thinking, is a pattern
of bonds or links -- the checks and balances of civil society. But from a dynamic
perspective, there are flows and processes that sustain the community -- for
which only the skeletal structure might be usefully described by 'links'.
The identities sustained by the dynamics alone are effectively 'aliens'
-- unrecognizable from a static perspective. In folk traditions they might be
readily recognized as spirits and the like -- hidden fairies contributing coherence
to the forest. The religiously inclined might refer to them as angels or demons.
In part, they would only live through the dynamics between the static identities.
The 'demons' would be of special concern as malevolent riders of those
dynamics -- 'dark riders'. What identities live through processes
of overpopulation, starvation, disease, injustice, pollution and violence --
or globalization itself?
Communicating with aliens: For those puzzled by the lack of communication
with extraterrestials, the possibility that their identities may only be associated
with dynamics opens avenues of reflection. In this sense aliens could even be
omnipresent in our civilization through the dynamics between static identities
-- as verbs. How does a substantive communicate with a verb? Note that the question
of the 'grammar' of process organization has been explored at MIT
by Thomas Malone and others (1998).
There is relatively little literature on the strategy for communicating with
aliens. What there is is focused primarily on mathematics and numbers on the
assumption that this would be fundamental to intelligence anywhere. The mathematical
language advocated stresses what amounts to static concepts of numbers (1, 2,
3, etc). However, if aliens were more identified with dynamics, their focus
would be more on one-ing, two-ing, three-ing, etc -- more closely associated
with the biodynamics of cell-division and other generative or destructive processes.
Or possibly their focus would be on music, as dramatized in the Spielberg film
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)? How might a maths based on
flow and pattern be experienced with kinaesthetic insight? Many animals, including
bees, live and express themselves through movement -- no wonder that we pretend
that they cannot communicate 'intelligently'. Humans may be judged
in the same way by aliens -- and by many animals.
A further reason for lack of communication might simply be that human understanding
of dialogue is profoundly boring in galactic society. For aliens living through
dynamics, the almost total absence of co-creation in dialogue would render communication
with humans virtually meaningless. Just as from a static perspective, 'watching
grass grow' is an experience to be avoided. So, from a dynamic perspective,
for an alien, 'moving icecubes around in patterns' until they melt
would be equally alienating.
Being an alien: In a society in which there is continuing concern about
'alienation', notably amongst urban youth, the possibility of relationship
building for 'sustainable community' is clearly important. Unfortunately
the approach to building community tends to be little more than a radical revision
of strategies employed by religious groups anxious to promote fellowship and
brotherhood -- and adapted to team-building in educational, corporate, sporting
and military situations where they dynamics of gender are avoided or stigmatized.
However, as the escalating level of communal violence indicates, many have already
been radicalized into alienhood. The resources for befriending or bonding them
back into community are increasingly inadequate. The challenge of communicating
with such 'aliens' may be as dramatic as that of communicating with
extraterrestrials -- as many parents discover (and children too!).
Maybe there is a case for recognizing the extent to which everyone is an alien.
Modern civilization may be an essentially alienating process -- evoking alien
ways of being to compensate for its dehumanizing effects. As aliens, people
need to discover other ways of inhabiting the same space-time continuum -- and
other ways of communicating. To use a theatrical metaphor, rather than 'extraterrestrials',
many are becoming 'terrestrial extras' through various processes of
It is ironic that the sense of alienation encourages many to think of 'escape'.
Where to and how to are a real challenge. To employ a space travel metaphor,
how to build up an adequate 'escape velocity'? The Web, for example,
offers a form of escape into a kind of 'orbit', unattached to any
particular physical location. It encourages other forms of sustainable community
(through hyperlinks), more meaningful in practice to many than those promoted
in international programs. Already those 'on the Web' have disparaging
terms for those who are not linked in this way -- they are seen as the real
'aliens' (Remember that the French word for hyperlink is hyperlien).
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