Development through Alternation

9.6. Implications for the developmental responsibility of answer domains

Anthony Judge

The natural tendency of any answer domain to act as a focal point for all significance clearly introduces a distortion in the general field of significance. This necessary distortion can be set in a more fruitful context if it is seen as one extreme in an alternation process (as with an extreme position in the swing of a pendulum). But the question is then how is the limit of the swing to be sensed in relation to the answer domain. What are the limits to answer domain expression which suggest the need for some other mode to correct for its excesses and compensate for its failures?

This problem has effectively been evoked in the whole debate on the social responsibility of science, especially in relation to nuclear physics, weapons research, and genetic engineering. But the weakness of this debate is precisely that it has tended to focus on isolated "scapegoats". Other answer domains have thereby been rendered "innocent".

A more healthy approach, in the light of the arguments of this paper, could well be to consider all answer domains "guilty" to some degree at this time. The question is how to identify the nature of this guilt in the face of protestations of innocence by eminent authorities on the part of each domain.

Some more obvious examples are:

  • Economics: as pointed out in the previous section, this answer domain seems to have systematically discredited and devalued non-monetary and symbolic economies, especially those associated with a richer "quality of life".
  • Medical sciences and health: aside from the well-known criticisms of those such as Ivan Illich, there is the interesting possibility that the blind adherence to the Hippocratic Oath ("life at any cost") has been a major contributing factor to the population explosion (for which this domain declines any responsibility).
  • Legal sciences: under the banner of rendering justice, this domain has seemingly facilitated the emergence of a system in which the possibility of acquittal tends to be a function of how much the accused is able to pay in legal fees. It has also reinforced governmental non-recognition of any social phenomena which have not been legally defined as existing. Many such phenomena are associated with the quality of life.
  • Agriculture: the present ecological crisis can be said to have arisen partly as a result of the irresponsible attempts of this domain to increase yields (fertilizers, pesticides) and to increase the amount of cultivable land (deforestation, destruction of species).
  • Anthropology: under the banner of discovering the world's cultural heritage, this domain has seemingly been responsible for depriving local cultures of their symbolic artifacts with consequent cultural impoverishment.
  • Education: under the banner of offering access to the riches of civilization, this domain has seemingly exposed local cultures to uncontrollable external influences of questionable advantage for the integrity of the quality of their life.
  • Sociology: this domain has seemingly been content to use the resources at its disposal solely to describe social structures and processes and has proved almost totally impotent when faced with the current need for social innovation.

There are many such domains whether scholarly, ideological or practical. In each such case, often acting systematically through their respective intergovernmental institutions, they proceed as though their contributions to society constituted an unmitigated good. Individual abuse aside, the value of their contributions can only be questioned at the risk of ridicule, and thus constitutes a perfect disguise for every possible systematic abuse. Furthermore it would appear to be the interferences between the processes sanctioned by such domains which has engendered many features of the current social crisis. As Nalimov remarks: "The ecological crisis is, perhaps, a conflict of two languages which suddenly came into too close contact." (160, p. 14)

This suggests the need for a far more systematic awareness of the impact of answer domains on society as a whole. Just as industry has been called to order in some countries and required to produce "environmental impact statements", it would seern appropriate that some "societal impact statement" should be developed for each answer domain. This should clarify dimensions to which the domain is insensitive, despite its mobilization of relevant resources and encouragement of a favourable media image. It is not a question of seeking scapegoats, but rather of developing recognition of the inherent limitations of each domain. There is even a case for creating an international tribunal before which the degree of innocence or guilt of a domain can be clarified by interested parties. Thid would also provide an environment within which to clarify, for example, the necessary limitations on the perspectives of employers and of organized labour and the manner in which both neglect the perspective of consumers. Such a forum could also help to clarify how alternation with the perspective of some other answer domain(s) might remedy any imbalance.