Development through Alternation

1.3 Accumulative answers

Anthony Judge

As pointed out at the beginning, society does not lack for answers to its current difficulties. The problem lies in the limited constituencies to which such answers appeal. It is useful to look at answers as products, or visible manifestations of an accumulation process. Answers tend to emerge from ordered accumulations of information. The amount of information effectively entering any such accumulation process is necessarily limited because of limitations on human processing capacity. This does not mean that the information arises from a limited geographical region. On the contrary it is a characteristic of present day answers that they result from interpretations of information (of Edgar Morin (7)) selected from a globally distributed pool of information (e.g. data networks) which may well be physically accumulated at a particular spot (e.g. major libraries). It is the selection process which ensures the filtration. Each such answer is formulated in terms of a limited information base. For example, this is usually discipline-oriented in the case of academic answers, but ideological, action-preference, educational-label, "priority" and other filters may also be used, whether together, alone or in various combinations.

Once an answer has been formulated it acquires symbolic significance over and above the rational arguments which support it. It provides a rallying point for those searching for coherence in terms of the information base from which it emerged. Particular jobs may be tied to its promulgation or implementation. As such it reinforces the accumulation of further information in support of that answer. Competing answers, and contradictory information, are ignored, avoided or suppressed whenever possible. In the case of a well-developed answer, all "available" information of any "relevance" is perceived as supporting the position. The answer is then used as a vehicle for vigorous proselytizing activity amongst those who subscribe, out of ignorance, to different answers. The aim is to ensure that such "infidels" are converted to the answer, namely that consensus is achieved so that effective action can be undertaken. Everybody must be "accumulated" by the answer.

Over the past decade this approach has taken on a new aspect, due to some recognition of its obvious limitations. Instead of answers emphasizing particular conceptual perspectives or content, many now focus on a particular process (e.g. community dialogue) or mode of action (e.g. networking, struggle) which permits or engenders a variety of local answers in concrete situations. The process advocated thus becomes the answer for which universal support is sought.

There are many parallels in this to the emergence and historical development of religions, each of which makes universal claims for its unique grasp of the answer to the social condition. The current (lack of) relationship between organized religions provides an excellent model for understanding the relationship between groups subscribing to any given answer. The model is enriched by its representation of the formation of schisms and priesthoods as well as by the process of religious disaffection, accompanied by the continual emergence of a plethora of sects, each with a well-developed answer.