15 January 1997
Veloping: the Art of Sustaining Significance
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After many years of exposure to claims and injunctions regarding "development",
a certain weariness sets in. So many examples of "development" have become
soulless disasters -- as tourism to the most distant parts of the planet
rapidly makes evident. It could be argued that 'development' has been a
prime cause of environmental degradation. Where it has reduced earlier
constraints, it has encouraged further increases in population. It is claimed
that development is the prime strategy to reduce birthrates. But little
attention is paid to the fact that those amongst whom it is reduced then
draw many times more heavily on non-renewable natural resources -- especially
over succeeding generations. The United Nations has compromised itself
through failing to distinguish what the property "developer" does from
what some would claim to be genuine development. Why are there only "developers"
and no "developees"? Does any remaining credibility of development derive
from the cultivated ambiguity between what "developers" want (and intend
to get) and what "developees" naively assume they are going to achieve
as a result?
If the process of "development" is such a dubious strategy, maybe it
should be asked whether the prefix "de" could be most fruitfully associated
with that of the "de" in "degrading" or in "destruction". What is the elusive
present condition which is the subject of "degradation", "destruction"
or "development"? Is it possible that the sustainable process we should
be exploring is better captured by "veloping" rather than "developing"?
Veloping would then be the art of recognizing and sustaining the significance
of what we already have. "Developing", in contrast, is the process whereby
some people claim that things would be better if everybody subscribed to
a particular strategy which is guaranteed to take them to better places
-- it is those who make such claims who do best out of the process.
There have been many development plans for people, countries, regions
and the planet. Attention is now shifting away from such plans, and their
failures, to a range of new initiatives. These focus on such agendas as:
rights of future generations, planetarization of consciousness, global
ethics, transdisciplinarity, education in the 21st century, eco-psychology,
common ground, new forms of renaissance, spirituality in business, consensus
politics, and the like. Good people with good insights are associated with
all of them -- some of these people are acknowledged as "wisdom keepers".
Hopes are being successfully projected onto their initiatives. There is
indeed mileage to be got from them.
But reading the programmes of their future conferences, or the papers
assembled from those gone by, is there not a real sense of deja vu? Is
not each a reframing of what has gone before? Possibly this is appropriate.
But it is also possible that -- like the need of the automobile industry
to produce new models every year -- itis just the same vehicle with a few
minor "improvements" to justify the appelation "new". For those who want
to trade in the old model, this is good news. For those who are more interested
in whether the vehicle is taking them to meaningful places, the changes
are largely irrelevant. Worse, the fact that so much is made about the
newness of the model directly obscures the many inadequacies it shares
with earlier models.
How is significance sustained? This is a challenge in many domains.
It is a challenge for religion, with the possibility of loss of faith --
met largely by practice in the form of song, prayer and ritual. It is a
challenge in fashion --where designers explore outrageous possibilities
in order to be able to return to classic designs. It is faced by inveterate
tourists and party-goers -- constantly obliged to strike a balance between
the tried-and-true and the risks of places offering something different.
Even the very rich find themselves obliged to migrate between their various
abodes. It is faced by families at Christmas or similar occasions -- what
ensures that the occasion remains special? It is evident in married life
-- and notably in sexual relationships. It is faced by the especially cultured
-- when they have "read all the books". It is often most evident in cooking
for a family group -- what sustains the significance of meal-times? But
it is also a challenge for a discipline or school of thought, or even an
ideology --how can it be kept meaningful over the years for new generations.
It is a challenge for intentional communities -- where, as for the kibbutzim,
children are attracted elsewhere as they grow older. It is even a challenge
for a dialogue --why does it eventually lose its flavour?
Let us imagine a place where each of the most potentially fruitful present
day initiatives -- those with which one would most choose to be associated
-- was represented by their key figures. Perhaps this could be like the
ideal campus of an ideal university, each group with its own hall -- covering
the arts and the sciences. Imagine that each of these was fully resourced
and unrestricted in its ability to communicate with colleagues elsewhere,
or to invite them to visit. If necessary surround, or blend, it with communities
of less privileged as a challenge to the appropriateness of the university.
Add to this, if you will, a student body of the truly gifted and talented.
How would such a place work? How would the parts work together and cross-fertilize
each other -- bearing in mind the distance that they normally tend to maintain
between each other? How would it tend to lose its significance? What could
it do to sustain that significance? How should it velop?
One can play such a game for oneself. Surround yourself with that which
you find most meaningful: books, people, art, music, food, drink, scenery,
workshop, etc. How is signifiance sustained? How does one velop? Is the
secret to engage in a practice -- whether a spiritual practice, the discipline
of an artist or writer, the routines of a gardener, or exercises of the
body or the mind? Is it to care for others? Or is it an appropriate combination
of a mix of some of these things --orchestrated into the rhythmns of the
day or the year? Is it 'composing a life'that gives rise to a "life composed"?
Maybe the future will clarify the art of veloping. It calls perhaps
for a new kind of social architecture. How is a space to be subdivided
to retain its coherence, allowing the parts to express themselves uniquely?
How can the organization of such a space continue to emerge through processes
of self-organization? Can it only velop by budding and exporting micro-communities?
Does it have to attempt to design the rest of the universe into its own
image? How does it learn from other initiatives? Hopefully computer graphics
and exploration of metaphors will give rise to new ways of working with,
and through, categories -- working from the whole down to the detail, without
either constraining the whole or inhibiting the expression of the detail.
But again, how to prevent any such system from losing its significance?
How should such a system velop?
It is within the context of such a system of categories that the many
fruitful initiatives could position themselves. We could then see how they
complement each other. We could understand how together they contribute
to the velopment of the whole. Why do we use the present system -- so dependent
on forceful positioning, unjustified and inflated claims, undermining positions
of others, and competition for scarce resources? The degree of information
overload is such that most people are obliged to cut off any effective
communication with other parts of the veloping whole. The people who shout
But is such clarity appropriate to the veloping process? As with any
ecology, one part needs to be concealed and disguised from another. If
the bird of prey could always see the rodent, the rodent could not survive.
And, although the lion may roar and appear to rule, his actions are irrelevant
to millions of species in the same area. So how is it that the lion and
the rodent velop with the bird of prey and the mosquito?
There is a prevailing panic about information overload and information
stress. Many seek certainty concerning the future, whether through expensive
advice, sophisticated systems of prediction, or by substance abuse. What
kind of certainty is called for in the veloping process?
Does velopment require a "grasping" of the future? Maybe the art of
sustaining significance is far more related to ways of relating to the
present -- to more fruitful ways of living in the moment. Perhaps some
future system of categories will enable us to understand how to skip playfully
from frame to frame -- each frame a style of understanding the present
condition. Perhaps life could then be lived somewhat like the children's
game of hopskotch? The I Ching could even be seen as providing one such
map interrelating frames -- couild one but understand it as a whole. The
art of the game would be to avoid undue attachment to any frame -- and
to gain a sense of what it means to move. Is it in this way that we would
discover the nature of velopment?