Development through Alternation

9.1 Implications for agreement and consensus

Anthony Judge

This paper arose from recognition that however excellent any "answer" may appear to its advocates, there will always be others who find good reason to argue or act against it in the interests of their own conception of human and social development. Furthermore, most answers, if they recognize the possibility of such rejection or accord importance to it, either make somewhat naive provisions for "educating everybody" or advocate processes which would lead to much more violent procedures for limiting the influence of those who hold any opposing viewpoint.

Without considering the political realm, the difficulties of achieving any consensus are quite obvious in the realm of scholarly discourse. For a scholar to agree, without qualifications, with the views of another effectively involves loss of identity as an uncreative "follower". The further development of the scholar can only come about by disagreeing and thus distinguishing himself from his peers - distinction is acquired by engendering difference. Quite concretely his career may even depend upon the production of well-argued counterarguments. A similar situation exists in the political realm.

The previous sections suggest that the kinds of consensus or agreement which evoke responses perceived as conflictual must necessarily continue to occur. They are a feature of psycho-social dynamics, whether they are the hawk/dove, ecology/industry, right/left, or other varieties. Universal agreement at this level could only be achieved at the price of psycho-social stagnation.

Another possibility arises where an answer is deliberately formulated to "resonate" with one or more antagonistic alternatives. Consensus of a different kind then becomes possible through shared recognition of this resonance. The resonance pattern then defines in energy terms a "structure" which could not exist if defined monolithically. Thus, for example, neither of the answers of the two parties in a 2-party political system can accept the need for the other to hold power. In French politics even though explicit use is made of "I'alternance", it is only used to mean the one-off transfer of power to the favoured party. The alternation between the two answers is only recognized implicitly, de facto, or for public relations purposes, never as a process in which the two answers have necessarily to participate given their complementary limitations (which they would deny).

Another example is disagreement as to whether it is now "night" or "day". Clearly a global perspective shows that it is night for some and day for others. From a local perspective such a view constitutes equivocation, although the alternation of night and day in time is necessarily accepted. In an interstellar spaceship the question of whether it "is" night or day is inappropriate, although the passengers will need to impose a night/day cycle upon themselves to maintain their health. Alternation between contrasting conditions is indeed important to the health of any system.

Further work is required to clarify the nature of possible resonance patterns - especially those already effectively in use. The problem is to render such alternation more credible as a foundation for social interaction. One approach is to explore patterns of alternation within sets of increasing numbers of different perspectives. Such patterns may be more capable of acting as a basis for social organization when the number of alternatives is greater than the range 2-7 with which the human mind seems to be comfortable. This is the question of the discontinuous "organization" of disagreement explored elsewhere (22). Alternatives in disagreement are necessary to the health of any system, if the "organization" is appropriate.

Finally there is the very specific question of the relationship of paper like this one to others which disagree with it. The argument has been that any response must resonate or "dance" with its own negation, or with positions that negate or deny it. Alternation is obviously not the whole truth. It is a response to the mind-set which claims to have encompassed such truth with a fixed set of categories lacking any self-transformational dynamic or internalization of opposition. Moreover it is specifically designed as a way of not occupying the central space from which new insights about truth emerge. It is one perspective on the relationship between partial truths, some of which must (in order to fulfil their function) necessarily deny both their partiality and the importance of clarifying any such a relationship. The alternation proposed between global uncertainty and local specificity is a response to this aspect of reality. The denial of such alternation is however necessary to the renewal and development of the perspective which gave rise to it. In a self-referential perspective there is necessarily a degree of paradox. The question is whether it is appropriately contained and whether the "container" can be further developed.