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Metaphor Project (Explanations)

Challenge: Comprehending any new social order

Metaphor Project

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If a more appropriate mode of socio-economic organization is advocated, the question is how it is to be comprehended in relation to those that preceded it. Acting on the belief in continual linear forward progress, its advocates may hope that it will completely replace preceding modes, since their functions are supposedly more satisfactorily performed by the new mode. Advocates of other modes, relegated to the status of historical curiosities, will not of course see things in that light. In which case the new mode must enter into competition and struggle with the older modes. In the dynamics of the social system it is one more mode, which seeks to improve its "market share" of public opinion.

2. Innovation as element or as patterning of elements

It may however be argued that the appropriate new mode should not be compared to a new species (a more evolved mutation) entering into an ecosystem and thereby modifying the pattern of relationships amongst the species present. Rather it should be compared to the pattern of relationships between the species, namely to the pattern of interdependence itself. In this light the appropriate new mode is a new pattern of interdependence between contrasting modes of socio-economic organization. This corresponds to Gregory Bateson's central thesis: "The pattern which connects is a metapattern. It is a pattern of patterns. It is that metapattern which defines the vast generalization that, indeed, it is patterns which connect."(Mind and Nature, 1979, p. 11). And it is in this connection that he warns: "Break the pattern which connects the items of learning and you necessarily destroy all quality." (p. 8)

The difficulty, as stressed earlier, is that given that such patterns of interdependence cannot be comprehended in their entirety, any new alternative mode of organization comes to be perceived not at the ecosystemic level but simply as another species. And as such it fails to respond to the need for an alternative of global significance, however much success there is in imposing the alternative as the dominant species (of organization).

3. Understanding relationships between competing alternatives

In such a situation, there is merit in exploring how the relationships between the existing alternatives are to be understood. Whether or not a new species is introduced, there would seem to be a need to understand what function each of the existing modes performs, under what conditions, and with what characteristic negative effects (which have to be remedied by some other mode). For it is the current spastic alternation between these existing modes that somehow ensures the relative viability of the existing system, not the sole contribution of any one of them (handicapped by the others, as its advocates would assume).

It is clearly easier to deny this probability by arguing that some modes are clearly "useful", up to a certain period of historical development, but they, and others, are completely inappropriate beyond that point. The dangers of such an argument become much clearer if the problem is compared to one of determining which species are useful and which should now be "phased out". It is not clear that man has developed sufficient understanding of nature to eliminate species which may be of unrecognized future importance (e.g. the case of medicinal plants) or in some way vital to the maintenance of food chains on which man and others species depend.

In terms of this metaphor, man is still operating on the basis that any species that is in some way a nuisance or a danger should be eliminated. This would lead to the elimination of most carnivores, other animals and plants which endanger man's food supply, together with most insects and smaller species which do not directly serve man's immediate needs. More enlightened understanding of the environment has established that even the most undesirable species (e.g. crocodiles, wolves, spiders, snakes) have important functions to perform in particular environmental niches.

4. Caring for the ecosystem of alternatives

To the extent that it is accepted that any new mode will not be met with universal support, and may well provoke the emergence of other modes to exploit or counteract it, then it can be argued that a major opportunity for significant advance lies in understanding how the dynamics of this ecosystem may be most beneficially "cared for".

In this sense the dilemma of man in discovering the most fruitful relationship to the species in the natural environment reflects man's dilemma in discovering the most fruitful relationship to the variety of co-existing modes of socio-economic organization. (This is not a dilemma which the "greens" have solved, or properly addressed, since they have apparently been unable to develop any coherent understanding of either their relationship to competing viewpoints, or of the appropriate "stewardship function" in relation to the pattern of different schools of thought within the green movement itself.)

5. Healthy alternation between alternatives

The challenge of appropriateness may well be less a question of replacing the existing condition as of finding ways of shifting between its sub-conditions in a healthy manner. In arguing for a heterogeneity of epistemologies, Magoroh Maruyama offers a beautiful metaphor in response to the (homogenistic) question "but which one is correct?"

He suggests that in binocular vision it is irrelevant to raise the question as to which eye is correct and which wrong. "Binocular vision works, not because two eyes see different sides of the same object, but because the differential between the two images enables the brain to compute the invisible dimension" (Paradigmatology and its Applications, 1974, p. 84). The brain computes a third dimension which cannot be directly perceived and if we live in a multidimensional space even more epistemological "eyes" are required (Heterogenistics, 1977, p. 269-272). Reducing such vision to the parts in common provides much less than monocular vision. Each "eye" has its inherent limitations and strengths, and the homogenistic "eye" presumably also has its own vital contribution to make to the process of encompassing (or responding to) the complexity of our collective condition. His work, together with that of J O Harvey's (Experience, Structure and Adaptability, 1966), demonstrates that a minimum of four such "eyes" are required to describe the variety of perceptions of our collective reality. 


From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential


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