Development through Alternation

0. Introduction / Abstract

Anthony Judge

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".