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Strategic appropriateness: Beyond method

Global Strategies Project


The difficulty in taking the argument beyond that of the previous notes lies in the manner in which conventional notions of method are undermined beyond this point. Basically acceptable methods are associated with particular domains or groups of domains. Attempts to apply a given method to "all" domains are only possible if the method is used to pre-define many domains as "irrelevant". Methods as answers, or as aspects of an answer, are thus subject to limitations.

Such a conclusion is particularly unfortunate given the enthusiasm and hopefulness which is associated with advances in general systems and other frontier topics. For example, the kinds of syntheses produced by Erich Jantsch (1976, 1980) bring together much that appears relevant to comprehension of the breakthrough required into a more adequate approach.

Such initiatives do not however escape from the basic difficulty, namely the fundamentally unsatisfactory nature of such investigations as perceived from other domains. It is easy to understand that the more successful any such synthesis appears or claims to be, the more it will be felt to be an imposition and a constraint on initiatives by others in other domains, existing or emergent. Success is a constraint on the development of others.

Essentially the missing factor which makes such approaches of limited relevance is that they are unable to internalize the nature of their relationship to opposing methods. They are unable to handle disagreement explicitly, except through value judgements of "irrelevance". Nor are the supporters able to give any creative form to the irrational processes which then hold sway if the confrontation continues. It is within this shadowy area or blindspot that many of the most deplorable initiatives of humanity are born. The domains oppose each other governed by the same primitive territorial mind-set as was associated with the warring tribes and baronies of the past.

This situation has been explored in the light of Paul Feyerabend's treatise Against Method (1978), and of the concept of the dialectic method (much favoured by those who criticize the accumulation of capital). To be consistent, Feyerabend cannot of course advocate any new method, other than arguing for none or for a plurality of conflicting methods. He does however make a plea for human-scale methods which are not so abstract and complex as to be beyond the comprehension of most. With regard to the value of dialectics, the paper concluded:

"Despite the relevance of dialectics to the problem of disagreement, as noted above, it does not appear to do more than explain the dynamics of the environment it constitutes. It explains the eventual future evolution beyond the stage of disagreement, but does not clarify the nature of any possible present order whilst the disagreement holds. It does not clarify the nature of the psycho-social forms to which disagreement can give rise in the present, it merely affirms that they are necessarily temporary. The question is whether there is any pattern in the present to the ancillary processes to which a dialectical confrontation gives rise".

Because of its essentially transformative emphasis, dialectics offers little for an understanding of the relationship between co-present answers, other than to predict that through ongoing struggle an answer will emerge triumphant in the future. "A" struggle is however explicitly and creatively internalized, but not "the" struggle with those disagreeing with the dialectical method itself.

Unfortunately it is in the present, with a variety of mutually opposed answers that people have to live. And it is in the present that the future is born. It is there that answers compete for resources and support. It would seem important therefore to look at the "viable" patterns of disagreement between such domains of significance in the present. In particular it is important to move beyond the limitation of dialectics to a set of only two opposing theses. A previous note (Encyclopedia, Section KP, 1991) took a step in this direction by producing an ordered series of 210 mutually-incompatible (opposed), transformation-oriented statements adapted from a variety of multi-set integrated concept schemes. This was an effort to order varieties of incommensurability, which Feyerabend sees as vital to the process of development. This "order" is presumably an aspect of the "meta-answer" sought.

A related approach could be to produce a comprehensive "bibliography of answers", if only to demonstrate the scope of the challenge. The fact that this has never been done shows how "biased" the individual answers must necessarily be, and how limited their information bases. In introducing their own position, having briefly reviewed others, Samir Amin at al (1982, p.7), state: "Nous rejetons toutes ces explications de la crise, même si chacune d'elles n'est pas sans fondements empirique et, à la limite, pourrait constituer un élement d'explication de la situation actuelle. Néanmoins, toutes ces appréciations nous paraissent jouer sur des variables aléatoires, qui ne relèvent pas d'une explication synthétique et cohérente de la crise, de ce qui l'a amenée, ou de ce sur quoi elle débouchera."

Needless to say, each of the other positions would generate equivalent statements. A bibliography of answers, if appropriately organized and annotated would at least provide a kind of checklist of the kinds of answers "invisible" from a particular domain. This should give further understanding of the meta-answer.

There seems to be a peculiar kind of inconsistency concerning attitudes towards answers. With the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the equal rights of individuals was affirmed as a fundamental proposition which governs much of the discourse in the world community. (Somehow society also accepts the fact that some people have more rights than others, due to their age, numbers, qualifications or other attributes). When it comes to the answers individuals may favour, however, very few are perceived by others as having a right to exist.

Although "stupid" and "intelligent" people, as well as children, all have equal rights, the answers favoured by such people do not. Every effort is made in intellectual debate to denigrate and suppress the "stupid answers" favoured by "stupid", "misguided" or "uneducated" people. But when the setting of the discussion is that of a community dialogue, or learning environments in general, an entirely different attitude is advocated. No answer is then denigrated. Each answer, however "stupid" by some standard, is recognized as a possible step or stage in a learning process. Such stages often have historical parallels such that the past is encoded into the range of views currently held in society.

This raises the question as to how far the world community is from recognizing that every answer has a function, especially insofar as it imposes constraints on the dominance of other answers, or constitutes a valuable developmental challenge to them. In the search for a meta-answer, it is impossible to avoid recognition of the fact that the number of people who will not be able to comprehend the emerging sophisticated insights into the world's condition is increasing at a very high rate. The "education gap" is increasing faster than any other developmental gap and cannot be treated as non-existent or on the verge of elimination. In this light, the percentage of people subscribing to answers that can be termed "wrong" by others is likely to very high

It is naive to expect that "wrong-thinking" can be eliminated from a developing, multi-generational world community (although such a view has a valid role to play). Somehow the required meta-answer must accord recognition to the psycho-social structures and processes corresponding both to different information bases and to different interpretations of them. The assumption that any view (including this one) is unquestionably "right" is a significant constraint on the development process (although as such it too has a role to play). In fact any exchange of information is part of a ceaseless effort to counteract "wrong thinking". It is difficult to imagine that information exchange would cease in an ideal society.

From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential

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