Development through Alternation

3.9 Revolutionary cycles of alternation

Anthony Judge

The fact that social conditions are very much subject to cycles (e.g. Kondratieff), and that policy "breakthroughs" (such as centralization or decentralization) are periodically rediscovered with enthusiasm, suggests that alternation should be explored as a cyclic phenomenon. In fact, as any physical model will illustrate, a pattern of oscillation is not stable unless it is accompanied by some form of revolution of which the observed alternation is often a consequence (e.g. night/day on the revolving Earth; seasons on the Earth revolving around the Sun). Control of the "revolutionary process" is absolutely basic to the generation and use of electrical and other forms of energy (e.g. generators and motors).

Cyclic processes are also characteristic of many biological phenomena (e.g. respiration, reproduction, metabolic cycles). They are also evident in many socio-cultural phenomena (45), not to mention various symbolic and mythological cycles. But in the non-physical cases, humanity has gained little effective control of the revolutionary process. In fact the significance of social "revolution" is limited to the superficialities of discontinuity which are thus reinforced.

It has proved difficult to give operational content of any value to the non-disruptive dimensions of the "permanent revolution" advocated by marxists. This may well be due to the fact that it does not involve cyclic alternation between incompatible modes, because of the emphasis on an essentially linear series of dialectically superseded modes. Such linearity is a Western cultural concept of change which is not married to the valuable Eastern insight into change as recurrence. In metaphorical terms the marxist stress is on the struggle of abandoning "winter now" for "spring tomorrow" without any additional recognition of the revolutionary process whereby a new "winter" (with similar characteristics) will necessarily be encountered (or brought about) or of the importance of the ecological role of "winter" in a cycle. If there is any significance to the importance of the revolution-based design of generators for the industrial revolution, there should be some insights of relevance to the current problem of designing a meta-answer to the present socio-cultural condition. In fact, in Attali's terms (5), such physical designs may well have prefigured the socio-cultural design problem of the present.

Designs appropriate to Attali's "third world" or Toffler's "third wave" could seemingly only emerge following recognition of the validity of a "third perspective". Integrated comprehension of the revolutionary cycle is only possible through a conceptual relationship to the axis that stabilizes perception of the cyclic processes with reference to it. Without this third perspective, the revolutionary cycle can only be confusedly comprehended as a linear process in one or two dimensions. It is in terms of this third dimension that the required meta-answer designs may well be possible.

Humanity does not function in terms of one mode alone, just as it is difficult to hop (or limp) forward on one foot - although this may well be what history will see as characteristics of this period. The "struggle" between two feet is avoided by a third "walking" perspective. Switching metaphors, it is as though the vehicle conveying humanity forward had the spokesmen of antagonistic groups struggling on the driver's seat for control of the steering wheel.

Those closest to the left-hand window (and the abyss on that side) shout "turn right", and those on the right-hand side (seeing the abyss there) shout "turn left". Luckily the vehicle has so far remained on the road because their over-corrections counter-balance each other. A more balanced third perspective is required to allow the vehicle to follow a road with both left and right-hand curves and abysses on either side (not to mention on-coming traffic).