Development through Alternation

3.8 Third-perspective "container": revolutionary patterns of alternation

Anthony Judge

Prigogine, Jantsch, Attali and, in effect, Feyerabend conclude that it is necessarily impossible, if not anti-developmental, to define an organized, rational structure to bridge across discontinuity. The only "solution" being to adapt more spontaneously or aesthetically to the processes in relation to discontinuity (4). In effect what is being said is that, even in mathematical terms, it is impossible to discover a space whose form (a "meta-answer") validates every argument ("answer"). In Bateson's terms: "The question is onto what surface shall a theory of aesthetics be mapped....a map of the region where angels fear to tread" (29, pp. 210-21 4). But even if such a form could be discovered, it would presumably be too abstract to be of any value in society.

The difficulty is one of handling essentially incompatible answers which cannot co-exist passively (e.g. "science" and "religion"; "industry" and "environment"). In order to be hospitable to the discontinuities they represent, it would be necessary to somehow encompass or "contain" the non-rational character of the disagreement between them (22). This implies a distinctly non-linear relationship between them. The most accessible indication of the possible nature of such a relationship is that between right- and left-hemisphere modes of thinking (40), and the essential difficulty of integrating the perceptions to which they give rise. The functional "solution" in daily life is an oscillation between the two modes according to the task to be performed. Integration, namely the meta-answer, is here represented by the pattern of oscillation between the distinct modes.

The question is whether this is relevant to the wide range of answer domains and the modes of action/perception they represent. In an earlier paper (34), it was argued that this was at least a fruitful area of exploration. In another (27), it was used as a basis for an experimental ordering of the range of preoccupations of international organizations in a "chequer board" matrix classification scheme based on right and left-hemisphere modes. Such a classification scheme (criticized below) is a minimal pattern of interrelationship (namely a "container") between answer domains, reflecting the discontinuities between them. This suggests, as stated there, that the present pursuit of "alternative models" may be proceeding in an unfruitful direction:

"The point is not simply to discover some magical alternative model of value to development but of limited appeal. It is rather to discover "models of alternation" (or oscillation) to contain the development process in relation to different alternatives which may be periodically adopted. Institutions could useful consider the value of an alternation policy (e.g. centralization/decentralization), rather than having it forcefully imposed upon them periodically by their environment or pursuing a schizophrenic policy using departments with alternative approaches which are impossible to reconcile. Each alternative becomes a boundary condition. The challenge is to use a configuration of such alternative models in such a way as to constitute a "container" for the development process." (27, p. 35)