Development through Alternation
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Augmented version of a paper entitled Development as Discontinuous Societal Learning: cyclic transformation of the global answer economy originally prepared fora meting of Integrative Working Group B (Colombo, July 1982) of the Goals, Processes and ndicators of Development (GPID) project of the Human and Social Development Programme of the United Nations University (UNU). This document was originally distributed as a separate monograph in 1983 and was subsequently incorporated into Policy Alternation for Development (1984). The paper provides a structure linking reviews of alternation as it emerges in studies from a wide range of sources. The paper is in 9 separate parts [searchable PDF version]
Many "answers" have been produced in response to the current crisis, however it is perceived. It is argued here that it is the focus on "answer production" which itself obscures both the significance of the lack of fruitful integration between existing answers and the manner in which such answers undermine each other's significance. This mind-set also fails to recognize the positive significance of the continuing disruptive emergence of new "alternative" answers.
Integration initiatives at this time are themselves fragmented and usually hostile to a degree usefully interpreted in terms of the metaphor of a "gladiatorial arena" in which the survival of any integrative answer must be bought at the price of the elimination of all other competitors. There is considerable confusion about the nature of integration and it is difficult to imagine that integrative processes favoured by one group would be considered to be of much significance by another. This phenomenon cannot be disguised by simply opting for "networking" processes or viewing it as a healthy feature of academic or political debate.
The nature of answers is examined in this paper with a view to understanding the characteristics of "the" viable answer required at this time. Answer production is portrayed as a necessary consequence of the accumulation of significance. As such it is subject to a generalized version of the criticism of capital accumulation processes, itself therefore inadequate as the basis for a complete answer. Under such essentially paradoxical conditions, it is argued that the difficulty in facilitating human and social development lies in the exclusive nature of current approaches. These fail to internalize the discontinuity, incompatibility and disagreement which their existence engenders, in a way such as to "contain" the development process, whether conceptually or organizationally.
In this light, current efforts in search of "the" answer are misdirected. It is argued that non-equilibrium dissipative structures with self-organizing characteristics are required to contain the discontinuities of the development process. The resulting new order is thus engendered by the fluctuation in practice between the extreme policies of essentially antagonistic answers - the very fluctuation which the proponents of each answer at present make every effort to prevent, as a way of ensuring their dominance in the short-term, but at the expense of their development over the longer term. Development is then best reinterpreted as learning (itself more broadly understood) through such discontinuous fluctuation processes. Such learning needs to be conceived as cyclic rather than linear, with current answers being effectively "frozen" portions of the cycles, through which they are effectively integrated. The desperate search for "the" new magical alternative model of development (of necessarily temporary and limited appeal) can thus be usefully complemented by a concern for models of alternation to order the pattern and timing of cyclic transformation between many such alternatives, as and when they emerge. In such a context, "primitive" alternatives from the past may also prove to be temporarily desirable under certain conditions.
Effective learning is thus related to the accumulation of patterns of interlocking cycles. Such learning can be much facilitated by new types of computer software. These are also required for the design of information systems to support the emergence of more appropriate forms of tensegrity organization within which discontinuity is embodied as a foundation for a non-monolithic form of unity. Given the need for innovative (shock) learning at this time, use of a sexual metaphor is advocated as a rapid means of assisting people to reinterpret the dynamic complexity of the relationship between answers engendered, in this way empowering them to act more fruitfully for their human and social development.
The theme of this paper can be succinctly formulated by the phrase:Neti, Neti
This is a classic organizational principle in Sanskrit literature, approximately translated as "Not this, not that".
The major criticism of this paper in an early form was that it did not take a "position" or advocate a "stance". The reason for this is that this paper is about the necessity of moving beyond the mind-set which engenders answer arenas in which stance-taking is perceived as the only viable activity. In a turbulent environment some more dynamic response is required than that of "drawing the line" somewhere - the conceptual equivalent of a "Maginot-line". A sailor on the deck of a ship in rough seas would fall over if he attempted to maintain a "stance" - rather than shifting his weight from leg to leg in response to the movement of the ship, (cf Vickers book: Freedom in a Rocking Boat (57)). The problem of the sailor, if he is to achieve anything under such conditions, is to learn to "walk" rather than simply "standing".
Expressed differently, the criticism is that some central "point" is not being made. This is so. If anything, the "central point" here deals with the tangential strategies of "not-making" a central point, since it is the overdefinition associated with any such action which seems to occupy and obstruct the necessarily undefined nature of the space through which transformative human and social development emerges "from the future". The paper focuses on the dynamics by which all points attempt to become the central point by denying the relevance of other points. In the same geometric metaphor, this paper does not favour a particular ideological "line" of argument, nor does it focus on a particular "area" of concern. The question discussed is rather one of how such different "points", "lines" and "areas" fit together and interrelate to constitute a viable "container" for comprehension of the human and social development process. The peculiar feature of this container is that it must be able to contain the undefined. The nature of the design problem has been compared to that of containing plasma as a source of fusion energy. Plasma also has unique global characteristics which call for a special configurative approach, especially since any contact with its container drains away its energy, thus dematuring it.
A second criticism was that the paper covered too many dimensions and was too complex. Here the question is whether simple answers at this time are productive rather than downright dangerous, other than in specific settings. There is widespread hope that a simple answer can be formulated, with many believing fervently that such answers exist in single phrase statements such as "peace", "love", etc. Such belief obscures the richness and significance of the fundamental disagreement concerning the ways such conflicting answers can be implemented in practice. Morin (7) and Boulding (152) both note the dangers of single factor explanations at this time. In Boulding's words:
The problem is to find some comprehensible way (or set of ways) of interrelating the simple answers which must necessarily emerge as short-term local responses to such an environment. Hence the reason for advocating patterns of alternation between the necessary simplifications.
The difficulty is illustrated by such admirable initiatives as those of the Brandt and Palme Commissions (formally titled the Independent Commission on International Development Issues and the Independent Commission on Disarmament and Security Issues). Like their predecessors, these bodies have produced reports on the global situation with carefully thought out recommendations (156, 157). In the light of the arguments of this paper it is difficult to escape the conclusion that such commendable recommendations for global change are expressed in a language which is out-moded and incapable of engendering the credibility required to mobilize support to implement them. Such weakness is disguised by the apparent success of the public relations exercises by which the reports are launched, the manner in which they are briefly taken up by parliaments, universities and the media, and the implementation of a few of their non-controversial recommendations from what was conceived as an integrated package. The limited effectiveness of such an approach is well-illustrated by a recent report evaluating the implementation of the Action Plan formulated by the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (166).
Such reports, in appealing to those who place great hope in simple answers (e.g. "cooperation" or "total disarmament"), fail to internalize the significance of other simplistic positions by which their implementation must necessarily be frustrated, as the historical record has repeatedly shown. The transformative development which is possible emerges from the relationship between such answers, not through the elimination of one or the other (or the constituencies to which they appeal). A different language is required to render such possibilities more credible and more fruitful. Such a language should not deny the simple answers, rather it should place them in a ("conceptual") context which encodes the dynamics by which they need to challenge each other to separate the "essence" of each from the "dross" from which the dangerous abuses of any simple answer can emerge. In this way a form is given to the context in which each such answer has a function.
It is distressing that even in such an intellectually well-endowed country as France, for example, any individuals capable of a leadership role or some degree of influence find it necessary to align themselves, right or left, and then engage in savage and often childishly unsympathetic misrepresentations of the difficulties of the other party, whilst disguising those of their own. Increasingly authorities of any tendency can only maintain credibility and dignity when those who disagree with them are absent or silenced What body or school of thought perceives the need for opposing tendencies in order to contain the complexities of the problematique? Presumably any such insight is confined to the much maligned "floating voters". No one of influence argues in public for the need to alternate continually between conflicting policies - and yet it is precisely through such alternation that organized society has developed. If everyone of influence is only associated with a part(y), who then speaks for (alternation between the parts within) the whole? Can the whole be given more effective expression?
A third criticism was that too many authors were quoted rather than simply cited. This was one deliberately to convey a better understanding of the very different conceptual languages used by authors with different backgrounds - each offering new insights and shades of meaning on a central undefined concern. As Nalirnov states: "And since it is language which is discussed, it is important not only what has been said but also in what way it has been said. Hence the abundance of quotations in the book."
The essential argument of this paper, as repeatedly emphasized, cannot be given explicitly because there can be no one language appropriate to the meta-answer required. It can only be presented "tangentially" as a configuration of distinct languages - whether as the insights from different backgrounds or as an understanding of an N-fold set of distinct approaches from a particular background. This paper is an exercise in presenting information in this way. None of the perspectives given as example is individually either necessary or sufficient, but some such set of contrasting perspectives is necessary to provide the requisite conceptual variety to contain the undefined. (The problem is somewhat analogous to that of establishing a sufficiently long baseline in terrestrial or astronomical surveys, or to that of constructing a sufficiently large array of differently oriented receptors in radio-astronomy. Hopefully a pattern of resonance can be detected within the configuration of perspectives emerging from such very different languages, for it is only on the foundation of such resonance that a viable global approach can seemingly be designed.
This paper is in effect an exploration of how the relationship between "local" and "global" may be comprehended in practice as a guide to action. The conventional geo-political interpretation favoured in the GPID Group A Report (75) is considered to be merely one aspect of this problem which has the disadvantage of reinforcing nation-state oriented category schemes. There is a dangerous trap in the belief that global thinking necessarily results from the interaction of (s)elected people from different nations and cultures. The very (s)election process ensures the specific, and consequently, non-global nature of such groups. Such elite groups, whether in the General Assemblies of the United Nations or of the Fourth World "peoples groups", for example, may well be considered "local", as is evident from the fact that the participants usually have more in common with one another than with the masses whose interests they supposedly represent. In this sense the global characteristic which needs to be distinguished from what is conventionally called "global" is that in which the conventional global/local complementarity is embedded. Any definitions or institutionalizations of it are necessarily a local phenomena.
This draws attention to another aspect of the global/local relationship associated with language in its most general sense and the "logical" problem of interrelating specific (local) conceptual or functional frameworks which have no "categories" through which to recognize each others relevance. The conventional approach to this aspect has the disadvantage of reinforcing the fragmentation into disciplines and specializations with their associated institutions, curricula and mutually exclusive jargons and systems of categories. The GPID Group A Report does not touch on this dimension and the manner in which it currently leads to a fragmentation of whatever integrity is to be conceived as engaged in the process of human and social development.
A third aspect is that in which "local" denotes a specific period of time and "global" is the relationship between (all) such periods, however that is to be conceived. How is the succession of phases in any development process to be understood in terms of time? The conventional approach to this reinforces a distinctly linear and a-cyclic understanding which does not correspond to the richness of the human biological and psycho-social response to time (145).
Perhaps even more difficult to clarify is the relationship between local and global in the case of values, especially when global values are subject to some localization process which obscures their nature, despite protest, of local advocates to the contrary. Local values in their most explicit form determine the characteristics of behaviour patterns in particular socio-cultural settings. But paradoxically it would seem that the more global values are most effective when characterized by a considerable degree of ineffability and ambiguity, possibly associated with symbols allowing different levels of interpretation. It is their underdefined global nature which allows them to exert an integrative force on incompatible activities which have been overdefined locally or through any explicit programme. Underdefinition in this sense is a characteristic of the "emptiness" given prominence in Eastern philosophies and of the "untouchability" of the sacred in both Eastern and Western religions. It would seem that such underdefinition has the effect of "pulling" the human and social development process forward in a continuing attempt to "fill the definitional vacuum" - the nothingness of the "semantic vacuum" in Nalimov's terms (160, p. 75-94). As such it exerts a powerful integrative force which Boulding notes in connection with sacredness:
"The whole question of the role of "sacredness" in human society has been inadequately explored. Sacredness is part of the integrative structure and its erosion may easily destroy those integrative structures that hold societies and organizations together. A good deal of human history indeed is written in terms of the substitution of one system of sacredness for another....But exactly what the dynamic processes are that create or destroy sacredness is a puzzling question." (152, p. 226-7)
Seen in this light there would seem to be merit in considering the vital role of (global) leadership in relation to the sacred conceived as the undefined. In effect leaders have a special function as intermediaries processing, filtering and interpreting the inconceivable - a role many priesthoods have been happy to monopolize. The role is misused however when those led are completely deprived of the right to the undefined in an essentially overdefined society. In this sense access to the undefined is a catalyst for transformative human and social development. It is in this respect that charismatic leaders function as a kind of integrative "keystone" in whom different groups, operating in a necessarily overdefined mode, can find whatever is needed to hold them together. Successful leaders therefore embody a certain degree of ambiguity in order to be "all things to all men". To what extent does the United Nations fulfil this leadership function and to what extent does it act to overdefine the domains in which it claims to lead?
The current difficulty is then not so much with answers but with the lack of any operational perspective on the relationship between answers. The impotence of the current approaches is unfortunately disguised by the plethora of unrelated studies on "motherhood" problems like "population", "energy", "environment", "food", and "health", whose limited global significance nobody dares to question. In the Club of Rome's terms, the majority of such studies constitute maintenance (adaptive) learning by society, as opposed to the needed innovative (shock) learning capable of anticipating new dimensions of the problematique (44). Academic work does not seem able to move beyond its propensity to be satisfied with patterns of categories within specialized (local) frameworks. Such a fragmented approach, and its inherent assumption of simple sectoral answers, is severely criticized as "developmentalism" by authors such as Addo (13) and Aseniero (163) associated with the Starnberg Group within GRID. Aseniero, for example, concludes: "Contemporary or historical, the question of transformation dynamics admits of no easy answers; the mistake is to assume, as the developmentalist theory of stages does, that the answer is obvious from the start." (163)
The emphasis here on development as learning introduces the challenge of a dynamic dimension which involves both the "observer" and the "developer" in the transformation process as participants rather than as manipulators. The learning process cannot be limited by the preoccupations of those who favour a single answer. It challenges the long-term global value of any "unified world model" or any corresponding "unified world government" with a "world action plan". Any monolithic over-arching structure, even if decentralized, can only fail to internalize the essentially discontinuous nature of transformative change, which must challenge pre-existing organization. Such a structure is therefore obliged, using a sexual metaphor, to take one of the two sex roles. If it takes the male role, at present it reinforces phallic authoritarian (alpha) structures which, when they are not paternalistic, will tend to "rape" the "peoples of the world" who are cast into the corresponding female role. If it takes the female role, at present it reinforces associative (beta) structures which, when they are not restrictively maternalistic, invite rape on the part of any group capable of adopting an authoritarian mode. Violence is discharged but not contained.
This paper has attempted to clarify the learning cycles through which the essential dynamism of any more subtle ("dancing") relationship between these two modes can be embodied. "The fixed idea is the enemy of all free thinking. It is far more difficult to accept that two opposing ideas may not be mutually exclusive than, in a desire for absolutes, to plump for one or the other." (142, p. 211).
It is in the dynamics of an "androgynous" pattern of alternation or resonance between two or more such modes that the possibilities for a planetary meta-answer lie. But, as with the ideal of marriage, there are many well-recognized patterns of unfruitful organized relationship which are valuable to the non-transformative existence of both partners. Fruitful, transformative union, when it occurs, may involve shared ecstasy of long-term significance (on which ideals are focussed), but the moment of union between opposites is temporary (although possibly recurrent). Permanent union is clearly impractical and sterile in the light of current understanding.
The new global order appropriate to the times is perhaps best conceived as a resonance hybrid composed of alternatives woven together by policy-learning cycles rather than by structures. The medium of such cyclic action is partly the world-wide network of independent organizations which give form to world society and guarantee its "functional roundness" through the variety of their specific preoccupations (1 33). These acquire and lose global significance according to the phases of the cycles. Within such a cyuclic context, different local priorities are alternatively integrated together and then later displaced by others. There is no ultimate integration or pattern of priorities at the global level. The kind of global integration is not purely spatio-structural, it involves dynamics over time as expressed in multi-phase cyclic "structures". The required global answer can only be expressed dynamically, namly with an inherent degree of uncertainty, in contrast to the rigid conceptual, institutional and value structures by which answers are currently over-defined and localized, with the consequence that they can only attract limited support.
This paper redefines the context in which the immediate questions "what should we do?" or "how should we act?" can be usefully answered. Part of the difficulty lies in the self-justificatory nature of the compulsion to act which at present gives rise to a highly turbulent society. For Nalimov this necessity to act reveals the schizophrenic nature of society. People are impelled to act by the perception of the discreteness of good and evil, beauty and ugliness, truth and falsity, and by the energy which such perception engenders. Such action is based on the decisions by which this discreteness emerges (160, p. 17). And:
"We might say...that a person posing a question, on the unconscious level gets an answer as a probabilistically given preference function constructed on the semantic continuum. Then conceptualization takes place on the conscious, logically structured level: the continuum is cut into separate blocks corresponding to the maximum probability concentration. Clear-cut conceptualization oppositions create the polarization without which the passionate temperament of individuals...that provides society with its energy could not have been realized. But aperson is never separated from his unconscious: the latter sooner or later liberates the person from the power of what it has generated on the conscious level." (160, p. 294)
For Nalimov any such decision is perhaps absurd, since it is an attempt to represent discretely a fuzzy situation which is by no means necessarily determined by a needle-shaped function of the distribution of probabilities. Furthermore, discrete formulations of goal, success or failure are no less absurd. "Goals emerge and spread in societies like infectious diseases." (160, p. 10). There are "many examples of a goal being too straight forwardly chosen, leading to wild perversions and turning from the coming blessing into an everyday burden," (160, p. 17) And yet decisions to act, however misguided, are essential to the dynamic continuity of society as Nalimov recognizes in quoting the Bhaga vad-Gita: "This world in linked by doing." (160, p. 58). What he apparently fails to render explicit however, is the possibility that the set of all such discrete polarizations, of whatever quality, might be understood in terms of configurations, about a common global focus, offering a variety of local learning pathways.
To the necessity of such intense local "doing" might then correspond some kind of global "not-doing" which Nalimov describes as follows:
"Perhaps the culture of the continuous vision of the world will become "the culture of not-doing", where preference will be given to spontaneous development, and not to the unreserved and destructive activities in the name of a goal to which we are ascribing an unconditional value. But can we possibly imagine such a culture of "not-doing"?....Contemporary technology tempts us to invent and realize grandiose projects. However, ecological forecasts, if possible at all, can only be made in a soft probabilistic form. Is it not safer to act more cautiously, by introducing into the projects beforehand ways of retreat....Is such a culture of soft doing possible at all?" (160, pp. 17-18)
The danger in interpreting "not-doing" lies precisely in the fact that its significance lies in its undefined nature, tangentially described by sets of local "doing". In terms of development through alternation, focus on not-doing (as a particular preference) must alternate with focus on doing. This paper is a contribution to understanding how this can be brought about - or better understood as already operating.
For there to be a viable response to the current condition in the immediate future, the present answer economy must be transformed by reinterpreting it through a more seductive idea. There is a need to embed "nation-state" thinking within a context of "alter-nation process" thinking. Hence the merit of propagating an essentially human sexual metaphor to "contain" the dynamics of discontinuity faced by humanity and facilitate widespread understanding of the nature of the "pattern which connects". For, as Bateson warns:
"Break the pattern which connects the items of learning and you necessarily destroy all quality." (29, p. 8)
The question is not only whether we can find ways of rendering comprehensible the non-linear geometries which express parts of this pattern, and on which we have yet to learn collectively how to live (in Atkin's terms). For although configurations of metaphors are vital to collective comprehension of the possibility of "life on a different geometry", the immediate challenge is to learn from them how to catalyze the emergence of new organizations of values, concepts, information and people to reflect that understanding in operational programmes capable of managing our resources, material or otherwise.
#1 This term is borrowed from Maruyama (51, 52, 53, 54)
#2 Currently special adviser to Francois Mitterrand.
#2 cf Bateson: "A self-healing tautology, which is also a sphere, a multidimensional sphere" (29, p. 207)
#3 In the light of the possibility of insights from generator design, this suggests the possible importance of polyphase revolutionary cycles (in an engineering sense) as a necessary basis for an adequate meta-answer.
#4 The concern of marxists with "concrete" situations is presumably the way in which a fourth focus is introduced to anchor the three of the dialectic.
#5 Handy notes the marked correspondence to the four organizational characters of Michael Maccoby (126): jungle fighter, company man, gamesman, and craftsman.
#6 As is implied by the Club of Rome report "No Limits to Learning" (44) in terms of the trivial sense that there is some new permutation of possibilities reported every day (e.g. in the media). This aspect of the report was criticized in an earlier paper (81).
#7 Given the fundamental role of the benzene molecular configuration as the basis for most living organic structures, it is worth asking (in the light of section 5.2.) why it is composed of six atoms. In answer is that it combines minimal strain on the distribution of each carbon atoms four valency bonds, and that it results in a minimal energy configures (119). It is worth reflecting on this model in the light of the research showing that the upper limit for effective committee or task force organization, the basis for social organization, is seven, plus or minus one (120, 121).
#8 Also worth exploring is the contrasting concept of a "resonance particle" in nuclear physics. This is any exceedingly unstable high energy partivle, which may be considered as a composite of several relatively stable low energy particles, into which it may decay.
#9 A more complex 64-phase learning cycle is that in the Chinese "Book of Changes" which was discussed in an earlier paper (34). A simpler one is the 3-phase dialectical process. Tentative descriptions of cycles involving from 1 to 20 phases are given in an earlier paper (22, Appendix 2).
#10 These are in fact aspects of the multi-facetted definitions of left- and right-hemisphere thinking discussed earlier.
#11 There are a number of features of E Haskell's coaction cardioid diagram (66) which could be reinterpreted to enrich Diagram 7.
#12 This diagram bears some relationship to that indicating stable isotopes of increasing atomic weight.
#13 A spiral representation could be developed from a combination of Diagrams 6 and 7.
#14 Platonic tuning theory forms part of the mathematics of Diophantine approximation.
#15 Aside from the pattern creating function of visions, Sheldrake does not exclude the possiblity that future systems may exert an impact on present systems by morphic resonance (128, p. 96)
#16 "This dialectical movement in which a force, in its fullest development, turns into its opposite is called enantiodromia, a concept from ancient alchemy that was reintroduced into modern philosophy by C.G. Jung" (12, p. 41) It may be seen at work in the frequently remarked "convergence" between the supposedly opposed policies of the USA and the USSR.
# 16 As the purveyor of a new "answer" he is then obliged to state "Of one thing there can be no doubt. The entropy view will triumph." (105, p. 9)
#17 A review and analysis of such fourfold structures is made by Maria-Louise von Franz (12)
#18 Note the subtler significance of initiative (.......) in the Japanese game of go.
#19 Note that in this metaphor "one-sided" games are eventually self-defeating. They do not ensure game quality, nor does the ability to monopolize the ball.
#20 Bohm's work (discussed below) is perhaps the mathematical formulation appropriate to heterogeneity.
#21 Vickers demonstrates that "The nature of the trap is a function of the nature of the trapped." (57, p. 69)
#22 The sets of basic categories defining the UNU GPID project, for example, is compared in an earlier paper with those of traditional cultures or of non-social science disciplines (23).
#23 Consider the numbered elements in (numbered) sets of any governmental resolution, programme or medium-term plan. The seemingly arbitrary (Cartesian) approach to such numbering contributes to their alienating effect, and to the disharmony between them.
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