Development through Alternation

9.7. Implications for forms of presentation

Anthony Judge

This paper has stressed the limited value of various conventional modes of expression. These arguments necessarily apply also to papers of this kind. The question is whether it is possible to devise some means of by-passing the desperately slow learning cycle associated with research-education-policy formulation-implementation in a world in which the education gap is increasing rapidly. If the current crisis is to be taken seriously, people must acquire access to an appropriate response by some other means. The problems of doing so have been reviewed in earlier papers (27, 108, 109, 110).

The unfortunate characteristic of answer propagation as currently practised with all the skills of media specialists is that it is conceived in terms of mechanical metaphors such as "hitting" a "target" audience and achieving "impact". This is the approach used both by the public information programmes of the United Nations family of organizations and by grass-roots initiatives such as the current Planetary Initiative for the World We Choose. This could be described as a "particle" approach acting to achieve the displacement of people from one mind-set to another. The arguments for this paper suggest the need for a complementary "wave" approach acting to achieve the entrainment of people in terms of their current mind-sets. Propagating an answer by resonance may prove to be a more appropriate mode in dealing with the "field" of world opinion. Particle propagation tends to be considerably slower than wave propagation, as well as being easily blocked or deflected.

The challenge is to make available something simple enough to be comprehensible and yet "seductive" enough to retain peoples involvement. On the other hand, if it is to be of any value at this time, it must also be sufficiently complex and coherent to encompass the complexity of a social reality in crisis, and yet empower people to act together to contain the crisis in such a way as to be transformed by the unique learning opportunity it constitutes. This is a tali order, far beyond the capability or ambition of conventional international programmes.

Under the circumstances it is appropriate to look at unconventional possibilities. One approach is through existing processes, penetrating all levels of society, which already hold most peoples attention, transform their awareness, and govern their actions. The challenge would then be whether it was possible to "code" onto these, as a kind of "carrier", a second level of meaning. The "double meaning" should then offer a totally new set of insights suggesting new patterns of action.

Some possibilities for this approach are:

(a) Popular music and dance: This has however been tried already with peace songs and UNICEF concerts. Its weakness is that it is inherently a right-hemisphere approach fussed on specific messages. More may be achieved by the traditional technique of attaching meaning to dance patterns.
(b) Spectator competitive sport: The weakness here is the passive role adopted by the spectator. It also seems difficult to encode a rich new level of meaning onto games, although Sallantin's work might change this. On the other hand, many ball games encode alternation processes, as Thompson effectively points out. If it were possible to develop another seductive level of interpretation of football, for example, this could propagate extremely rapidly and activate a more dynamic pattern of apprehending the current social condition. It is quite possible that such an interpretation is already active implicitly, below the conscious threshold, and is the basis for fascination with such games.
(c) Strip cartoons: The problem here lies in the constraints on their production, distribution, and use. Note however that the UN University and UNESCO are supporting Yona Friedman's innovative use of this medium (70).
(d) Rumour, scandal, and humour: Here the difficulty is in ensuring some coherence and force to the pattern of meanings, despite the advantages of the speed of dissemination.
(e) Astrology and divination: These lend themselves to multiple levels of meaning within a coherent framework, but the difficulty lies in the settings in which they are used.
(f) Traffic circulation: The familiar movement of traffic offers a very explicit substrate onto which the relationship between conflicting purposes can be encoded. It clarifies possible relationships between traffic moving in opposite directions and in cross-cutting roads to (or from) which access may be required. The control of such cross-over points by traffic lights provides an interesting example of alternation (possibly privileging certain traffic streams at certain times by adjusting the cycle). The progressive complexification draws attention to co-present developmental stages involving one-way traffic, round-abouts, filtering systems, clover-leaf intersections, underpasses as well as the contrast between highways and side roads. Present policy control in this metaphor can be compared to a procession (or "progress") in one direction with the support of security forces. This requires that all access roads be blocked off and all opposing traffic suppressed. When the procession has petered out, another such "convoy" may be organised in the opposite direction for the traffic stream blocked by the first. This reflects a distinctly antiquated approach. It takes no account of the sophisticated blend of control and delegation of responsibility to drivers which is characteristic of modern traffic patterns. These feature "public" and "private" vehicles, pedestrian-only streets, and a complete openness to traffic for different official and unofficial purposes (holiday, goods transport, business, aid, etc.).
(g) Myth, legend and tales: These are traditional carriers for double meanings. (Note the current attempts to distribute Sufi tales.) The question is whether the world's problems could be readily coded into active myths in such a way as to engender appropriate responses. They suffer from the childhood contexts in which they are first heard and have lost significance in industrialized countries.
(h) Dialogue: This has been an explicit concern of the GPID project. The problem is how to engender more fruitful dialogue. The available models for the dialogue process tend either to be overly structured as artificial impositions within any social context or excessively unstructured in reaction to that alternative. As with networks they may then be characterized as suffering from "flabbiness". Better guiding metaphors are required for the dialogue process which is in principle an excellent model of alternation.
(i) Weather and ecosystem: The case for this substrate was argued in an earlier paper (110), although there the emphasis was placed on the generation of "maps". The relationship of geographical metaphors to world hypotheses, such as the four of Stephan Pepper (158), has been reviewed by Anne Buttirner (159), both as a means of illustrating the value of looking at some of the root differences underlying contrasting modes of analysis and description, and in order to discover new metaphors to "elucidate some of the connections between descriptive and normative practice". Buttimer sees this as a way of affirming the possibility of a plurality of potential stances on the diversity of experiences. Such an approach has the merit of being universal, rich and engendering active involvement. But as a carrier it is not yet sufficiently "seductive". At a less conscious level, this approach has however been successfully used by animistic cultures. Specific animals may also be perceived as encoding a design response, which attempts to provide an "answer" to the "containment of uncertainty". This is achieved in one approach by functions based on the interference patterns generated by bilateral symmetry (eye, ear, brain), quadripedal organization of mobility, with a five-fold organization of manipulators.
(j) Sex, courtship and family life: Given the vital significance, described earlier, of the dynamic relationship between "opposites" or "incompatibles", there would seem to be a strong case for coding this onto the essential dynamism of courtship, sex and the restraints thereon. This is complex, "seductively" fascinating, universal, participative, and (directly or indirectly) a major preoccupation of most people who consequently have an extensive understanding of its many dimensions. It also has a productive dimension in the coherent pattern of value-loaded interpersonal relations it engenders through birth and bonding. The transformative power of sex (brought to light by Freud) is also well-recognized by the younger generations, possibly because of conservative attempts to regulate it. It has already acquired political significance through feminist concern for sexual and family politics. Sex thus has credibility (to coin a phrase) far in excess of any "international development programme". Note that sex has been used as a substrate for spiritual meanings in tantric yoga, in Hindu temple sculpture, and less explicitly, in classic Persian poetry, and in many myths and symbol systems. Finally it is a major preoccupation in the audio-visual media.

The merit of the last two possibilities is that they effectively involve coding the world problematique back onto the world and onto human beings, which would seem to be a conceptually elegant response to the problem of self-reflexiveness (15). There is also merit in relating a conscious pattern of significance to a substrate by which people are usually governed unconsciously. In Jungian terms this is an appropriate and fruitful form of marriage between conscious and unconscious elements. Humanity's inability to relate creatively to aspects of these unconscious elements (e.g. the environment and the reproductive instinct) severely aggravates the problematique (e.g. environmental degradation and the population explosion).

Such an approach is not as incongruous as might be suspected. Mary Douglas, an anthropologist, has argued that the organic system provides an analogy of the social system which, other things being equal, is used in the same way and understood in the same way all over the world. The human body is capable of furnishing a natural system of symbols, but the problem is to identify the elements in the social dimension which are reflected in views of how the body should function or how its waste-products should be judged (139). In a more recent study she points out that according to the "purity rule":

"the more the social situation exerts pressure on persons involved in it, the more the social demand for conformity tends to be expressed by a demand for physical control. Bodily processes are more ignored and more firmly set outside the social discourse, the more the latter is important. A natural way of investing a social occasion with dignity is to hide organic processes." (140, p. 12)

But such dignity, despite its value, is essentially static and conservative, denying the dynamics of development, decay and renewal - more effectively contained by the essentially hum folk rituals of carnival, etc. It is then easier to understand how oversimplified and "inhuman" our highest ideals become when they reject such bodily functions as digestion, excretion and intercourse. Douglas points out how uncomfortable some religions are with the association of such processes with a deity and consequently the difficulty they have in dealing with whatever they reject. Similarly in society's major institutions, there is no explicit conceptual link with that of themselves which they reject. The attitude towards bodily waste products is indicative of the degree of creative acceptance of the "loss" portion of the cycles discussed earlier.

As might be expected from earlier arguments, she identifies four distinctive systems of natural symbols, namely social systems in which the Image of the body is used in different ways to reflect and enhance each person's experience of society:

  1. Body conceived as an organ of communication: "The major preoccupations will be with its functioning effectively; the relation of head to subordinate members will be a model of the central control system, the favourite metaphors of statecraft will harp upon the flow of blood in the arteries, sustenance and restoration of strength."
  2. Body seen as a vehicle of life: As such "it will be vulnerable in different ways. The dangers to it will come....from failure to control the quality of what it absorbs through the orifices; fear of poisoning, protection of boundaries, aversion to bodily waste products, and medical theory that enjoins frequent purging."
  3. Practical concern with possible uses of bodily rejects: As such it will be "very cool about recycling waste matter and about the pay-off from such practices....In the control areas of this society controversies about spirit and matter will scarcely arise."
  4. Life seen as purely spiritual, and the body as irrelevant matter: "In these types of social experience, a person feels that his personal relations, so inexplicably unprofitable, are in the sinister grip of a social system. It follows that the body tends to serve as a symbol of evil, as a structured system contrasted with pure spirit which by its nature is free and undifferentiated. The millenialist...believes in a Utopian world in which goodness of heart can prevail without institutional devices." (1*0, p. 16-17)

Clearly such distinct attitudes can well determine the kinds of political tendencies discussed earlier. It is unfortunate that Douglas did not broaden the scope of her study to include sexual behaviour. For although she recognizes its fundamental importance (140, p. 93), she confines her concern to the significance of attitudes to the waste-products (of a single body) in determining behaviour within family systems. An equivalent focus on sexual behaviour would provide insight into the ways in which attitudes to alternation are similarly encoded and into the possibility of employing courtship and sexual symbols to enrich understanding of alternation processes in society.

Another bodily activity which encodes alternation is of course respiration, a favourite preoccupation in Eastern philosophies (141). Again, however, this is focussed on a single body and is therefore far less controversial and "seductive" as a form of presentation. This is the price of being less rich as a substrate for the generative dynamics of the relationship between opposites.

Emmanuel Todd has explored the hypothesis that family relations constitute a model for the socio-political relations in each society. He points out that until recently this old hypothesis has provied quite useless due to the embryonic state of social anthropology. He argues that any such comparisons have lacked significance because of the narrowly eurocentric (cf. Addo (14)) concept of valid socio-political forms.

"Est-il difficile d'adrnettre que la repartition mondiale des ideologies politiques et religieuses ne definit pas une strcture dichotomique mais un ensemble multi-polaire et dont tous les poles - communistes, liberaux, catholiques, sociaux- Democrates, hindous, musulumans, bouddhistes - sont egalement normaux, legitimes et dignes d'analyse" (167, p. 12).

For Todd the family structure is an infralogical mechanism governing the reproduction of specific human values. This leads him to question the "grand illusion" that politics make society rather than the converse. Each culture, founded on a specific anthropological base, then engenders an ideological form of its own family values (167, p. 24).

Emphasizing that it is just one of many possible descriptions (167, p. 34), Todd starts with the value dimensions liberty/authority and equality/inequality which allows him to distinguish four family types on the basis of (in)equality of children rights to parental heritage, and possible cohabitation of married children with their parents.

He considers that this revision of a classic eurocentric study is unable to reflect the diversity of non-European family structures because it does not take account of the anthropological significance of endogamic marriage relations, especially characteristic of non-European cultures. Todd then presents seven (-lus one) family types which he associates with different socio-political systems:

  • Exogamic communal family (e.g. Russia, certain Slavic countries, China, Vietnam, Cuba, Northern India) which favours the emergence of communist socio-political systems.
  • Exogamic authoritarian family (e.g. Germanic countries, Sweden, Norway, Gaelic countries, Northern Spain, Japan, Korea, Jews, Gypsies) which favours an asymmetric pluralism characteristic of socialist and socio-democratic forces.
  • Exogamic egalitarian nuclear family (e.g. Northern France, Northern Italy, Greece, Poland, Latin America, Ethiopia) which favours the emergence of individualistic systems of one kind.
  • Exogamic absolute nuclear family (e.g. Anglo-saxon world, Netherlands, Denmark) which favours the emergence of a second kind on individualism
  • Endogamic communal family characterized by frequent marriage between children of brothers (e.g. Arab countries, Turkey, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and southern Soviet Republics) which favours socio-political systems such as that based on islam.
  • Endogamic (asymmetric) communal family characterized by frequent marriage between children of brother and sister (e.g. Southern India) which favours emergence of the caste system.
  • Anomic family, characterized by flexible heritage and cohabitation arrangements with possible consangunions marriage (e.g. South-East Asia and South American Indians) which favours political ambivalence and socio-political systems such as that based on Buddhism.
  • African family systems (which Todd points out have only been studied to a limited extent). They are characterized by dynamic instability of the domestic group land polygyny. These favour the emergence of socio-political systems dependent on the army as the main force capable of maintaining control.

The unfortunate feature of this presentation is that it appears excessively deterministic. This is in large part due to the absence of any indication as to how family structures themselves develop in conjunction with socio-political systems. It does not reflect the way in which ail such variants tend to emerge side-by-side within a given post-industrial society. In the light of the learning cycle approach, each such pattern is best viewed as a "frozen" portion of such a cycle - or as a "standing wave". Furthermore none of the modes is necessarily pure. As remarked in the case of Douglas, what is required is a study which brings out more clearly the rich variety of different types of alternation in the interactions between people (possibly conditioned by such family structures) and the transitions between them.

The approach advocated therefore involves the simple pleasure of activating a new metaphor which can enchant, empower, explain and orient approaches to the problematique through the user's own comprehension of the metaphor's significance. But the metaphor is only new in that it has not been widely used before, despite the fact that everyone has access to it. In Boulding's words: "Our consciousness of the unity of the self in the middle of a vast complexity of images or material structures is at least a suitable metaphor for the unity of a group, organization, department, discipline, or science. If personification is only a metaphor, let us not despise metaphors - we might be one ourselves." (152, p. 345) The charm of it, as Bateson stated in concluding a conference on the effects of conscious purpose on human adaptation, is that: "We are our own metaphor." (112, p. 304). Unfortunately we have over-identified with the metaphor and have been unable to see ourselves in perspective. The lack of such self-reflexiveness could well prove to be an important contributory factor to the current uncontrolled attitude to procreation which is at the root of many current problems.