University of Earth
Projects Overview
Encyclopedia Project (Explanations)

Assessment: Implications

Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential


1. Local vs. Global

This project may also be considered as an exploration of how the relationship between "local" and "global" may be comprehended in practice as a guide to action. The conventional geo-political interpretation is considered here to be merely one aspect of this problem, one which has the disadvantage of reinforcing nation-state oriented category schemes and single-factor approaches.

There is a dangerous trap in the belief that global thinking necessarily results from the interaction of (s)elected people from different nations and cultures. The very (s)election process ensures the specific, and consequently, non-global nature of such groups. Such elite groups, whether in the General Assemblies of the United Nations or of the Fourth World "peoples groups", for example, may well be considered "local", as is evident from the fact that the participants usually have more in common with one another than with the masses whose interests they supposedly represent. In this sense the global characteristic which needs to be distinguished from what is conventionally called "global" is that in which the conventional global/local complementarity is embedded. Any definitions or institutionalizations of it are necessarily local phenomena.

2. Providing a context for the logically incompatible

This draws attention to another aspect of the global/local relationship associated with language in its most general sense and the "logical" problem of interrelating specific (local) conceptual or functional frameworks which have no "categories" through which to recognize each other's relevance. The conventional approach to this aspect has the disadvantage of reinforcing the fragmentation of the global into "local" disciplines and specializations with their associated institutions, curricula and mutually exclusive jargons and systems of categories. This leads to a fragmentation of whatever integrity is to be conceived as engaged in the process of human and social development.

This may be seen in a more positive light if global is related to holistic (right-hemisphere) thinking and local to linear (left-hemisphere) thinking. In which case the current slogan "Think globally; act locally" takes on a new significance.

3. Providing a context for temporal phases

A third aspect is that in which "local" denotes a specific period of time and "global" is the relationship between (all) such periods, however that is to be conceived. How is the succession of phases in any development process to be understood in terms of time? The conventional approach to this reinforces a distinctly linear and a cyclic understanding which does not correspond to the richness of the human biological and psycho-social response to time (Carlos Mallmann and Oscar Nudler (Eds). Time, Culture and Development, 1982).

4. Under-definition as the integrating function of global values

Perhaps even more difficult to clarify is the relationship between local and global in the case of values, especially when global values are subject to some localization process which obscures their nature, despite protests from local perspectives. Local values in their most explicit form determine the characteristics of behaviour patterns in particular socio-cultural settings.

Paradoxically, however, it would seem that global values are most effective when characterized by a considerable degree of ineffability and ambiguity, possibly associated with symbols allowing different levels of interpretation. It is their underdefined global nature which allows them to exert an integrative force on incompatible activities which have been over-defined locally or through any explicit programme.

Under-definition in this sense is a characteristic of the "emptiness" given prominence in Eastern philosophies and of the "untouchability" of the sacred in both Eastern and Western religions. In this respect Bateson states: "What now must be said is difficult, appears to be quite empty, and is of very great importance to you and to me. At this historic juncture, I believe it to be important to the survival of the whole biosphere..." (1979, p. 8).

5. Sacredness and integration

It would seem that such under-definition has the effect of "pulling" the human and social development process forward in a continuing attempt to "fill the definitional vacuum" - the nothingness of the "semantic vacuum" in Nalimov's terms (1982, p.75-94). As such it exerts a powerful integrative force which Kenneth Boulding notes in connection with sacredness: "The whole question of the role of "sacredness" in human society has been inadequately explored. Sacredness is part of the integrative structure and its erosion may easily destroy those integrative structures that hold societies and organizations together. A good deal of human history indeed is written in terms of the substitution of one system of sacredness for another...But exactly what the dynamic processes are that create or destroy sacredness is a puzzling question." (1978, p.226-7)

Seen in this light there would seem to be merit in considering the vital role of (global) leadership in relation to the sacred conceived as the undefined. In effect, leaders have a special function as intermediaries, processing, filtering and interpreting the inconceivable - a role many priesthoods have been happy to monopolize. The role is misused however when those led are completely deprived of the right to the undefined in an essentially over-defined society.

In this sense access to the undefined is a catalyst for transformative human and social development. It is in this respect that charismatic leaders function as a kind of integrative "keystone", in whom different groups, operating in a necessarily over-defined mode, can find whatever is needed to hold them together. Successful leaders therefore embody a certain degree of ambiguity in order to be "all things to all men". To what extent does the United Nations fulfil this leadership function and to what extent does it act to over-define the domains in which it claims to lead?

6. Challenge of the multiplicity of unrelated answers

The current difficulty then is not so much with answers but with the lack of any operational perspective on the relationship between such answers. The impotence of the current approaches is unfortunately disguised by the plethora of unrelated studies on "motherhood" problems like "population", "energy", "environment", "food", and "health", whose limited global significance nobody dares to question.

In the Club of Rome's terms, the majority of such studies constitute maintenance (adaptive) learning by society, as opposed to the needed innovative (shock) learning required to anticipate new dimensions of the problematique (James Botkin. No Limits to Learning, 1979). Academic work does not seem able to move beyond its propensity to be satisfied with patterns of consistent categories within specialized (local) frameworks. Such a fragmented approach, and its inherent assumption of simple sectoral answers, is severely criticized as "developmentalism" by some (Herb Addo. Development as Social Transformation, 1985).

7. Development as societal learning

The emphasis in Section KD (1991) on development as learning introduces the challenge of a dynamic dimension which involves both the "observer" and the "developer" as participants in the transformation process rather than as manipulators. The learning process cannot be limited by the preoccupations of those who favour a single answer.

The learning perspective challenges the long-term global value of any "unified world model" or any corresponding "unified world government" with a "world action plan". Any monolithic over-arching structure, even if decentralized, can only fail to internalize the essentially discontinuous nature of transformative change, which must challenge pre-existing organization. Such a structure is therefore obliged, using a sexual metaphor, to take one of the two sex roles. If it takes the male role, at present it reinforces phallic authoritarian (alpha) structures which, when they are not paternalistic, will tend to "rape" the "peoples of the world" who are cast into the corresponding female role. If it takes the female role, at present it reinforces associative (beta) structures which, when they are not restrictively maternalistic, invite rape on the part of any group capable of adopting an authoritarian mode. Violence is discharged but not contained.

8. Alternation within learning cycles

Section KD (1991) attempts to clarify the learning cycles through which the essential dynamism of any more subtle ("dancing") relationship between these two modes might be embodied. "The fixed idea is the enemy of all free thinking. It is far more difficult to accept that two opposing ideas may not be mutually exclusive than, in a desire for absolutes, to plump for one or the other." (1983, p.211)

It is in the dynamics of some kind of "androgynous" pattern of alternation or resonance between two or more such incommensurable modes that the possibilities for a planetary meta-answer appear to lie. But, as with the ideal of marriage, there are many well-recognized patterns of unfruitful organized relationship which are valuable to the non-transformative existence of both partners. Fruitful, transformative union, when it occurs, may involve shared ecstasy of long-term significance (on which ideals are focused), but the moment of union between opposites is temporary (although possibly recurrent). Permanent union is clearly impractical and sterile in the light of current understanding.

9. New global order

The new global order appropriate to the times may perhaps be best conceived as a resonance hybrid composed of alternatives woven together by policy-learning cycles rather than by structures. The medium of such cyclic action is partly the world-wide network of independent organizations which give form to world society and guarantee its "functional roundness" through the variety of their specific preoccupations (Union of International Associations. Global Action Networks, 1990/91).

Such bodies acquire and lose global significance according to the phases of the cycles. Within such a cyclic context, different local priorities are alternatively integrated together and then later displaced by others. There is no ultimate integration or pattern of priorities at the global level. This kind of global integration is not purely spatio-structural, it involves dynamics over time as expressed in multi-phase cyclic "structures". The required global answer can only be expressed dynamically, namely with an inherent degree of uncertainty, in contrast to the rigid conceptual, institutional and value structures by which answers are currently over-defined and localized, with the consequence that they can only attract limited support.

9. Reframing the context for action

This project attempts to reframe the context in which the immediate questions "what should we do?" or "how should we act?" can be usefully answered. Part of the difficulty lies in the self-justificatory nature of the compulsion to act which at present gives rise to a highly turbulent society. People are impelled to act by the perception of the discreteness of good and evil, beauty and ugliness, truth and falsity, and by the energy which such perception engenders. Such action is based on the decisions by which this discreteness emerges (Nalimov, 1982, p.17), and "we might say...that a person posing a question, on the unconscious level gets an answer as a probabilistically given preference function constructed on the semantic continuum. Then conceptualization takes place on the conscious, logically structured level: the continuum is cut into separate blocks corresponding to the maximum probability concentration. Clear-cut conceptualization oppositions create the polarization without which the passionate temperament of individuals...that provides society with its energy could not have been realized. But a person is never separated from his unconscious: the latter sooner or later liberates the person from the power of what it has generated on the conscious level." (Nalimov, 1982, p.294). For Nalimov any such decision is perhaps absurd, since it is an attempt to represent discretely a fuzzy situation which is by no means necessarily determined by a needle-shaped function of the distribution of probabilities.

Furthermore, discrete formulations of goal, success or failure are no less absurd. "Goals emerge and spread in societies like infectious diseases" (Nalimov, 1982, p.10). There are "many examples of a goal being too straightforwardly chosen, leading to wild perversions and turning from the coming blessing into an everyday burden." (Union of International Associations, 1986/1987, p.17) And yet decisions to act, however misguided, are essential to the dynamic continuity of society as Nalimov recognizes in quoting the Bhagavad-Gita: "This world is linked by doing." (Nalimov, 1982, p.58)

10. Recognition of an undefined common global focus

What Nalimov apparently fails to render explicit, however, is the possibility that the set of all such discrete polarizations, of whatever quality, might be understood in terms of configurations, about an undefined common global focus, offering a variety of local learning pathways.

To the necessity of such intense local "doing" might then correspond some kind of global "not-doing" which Nalimov describes as follows: "Perhaps the culture of the continuous vision of the world will become "the culture of not-doing", where preference will be given to spontaneous development, and not to the unreserved and destructive activities in the name of a goal to which we are ascribing an unconditional value. But can we possibly imagine such a culture of "not-doing"?...Contemporary technology tempts us to invent and realize grandiose projects. However, ecological forecasts, if possible at all, can only be made in a soft probabilistic form. Is it not safer to act more cautiously, by introducing into the projects beforehand ways of retreat...Is such a culture of soft doing possible at all?" (Nalimov, 1982, p.17-18)

The danger in interpreting "not-doing" lies precisely in its undefined nature, tangentially described by sets of local "doing". In terms of development through alternation, focus on not-doing (as a particular preference) must alternate with focus on doing. This project is a contribution to understanding how this can be brought about - or better understood as already operating.

11. Transforming the "answer economy"

For there to be a viable response to the current condition in the immediate future, it would seem necessary to transform the present "answer economy" by reinterpreting it through a more seductive idea. There appears to be a need to embed "nation-state" thinking within a context of "alter-nation process" thinking. Hence the merit of propagating an essentially human, and inherently comprehensible, sexual metaphor to "contain" the dynamics of the discontinuity faced by humanity and to facilitate widespread understanding of the nature of the "pattern which connects". For, as Bateson warns: "Break the pattern which connects the items of learning and you necessarily destroy all quality." (1979, p.8)

The question is not only whether we can find ways of rendering comprehensible the non-linear geometries which express parts of this pattern, and on which we have yet to learn collectively how to live in Atkin's terms (1981). For although configurations of metaphors are vital to collective comprehension of the possibility of "life on a different geometry", the immediate challenge is to learn from them how to catalyze the emergence of new organizations of values, concepts, information and people to reflect that understanding in operational programmes capable of managing our resources, material or otherwise.

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