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Union of Intelligible Associations

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Global Strategies Project (Explanations)

Embracing difference: Contrasting strategic styles

Global Strategies Project


1. Aural cultures

In aural cultures, in contrast to the Western emphasis on a visually-based "linear kind of movement, which disclosed a perspectival, three-dimensional space and linear time...the audial space-time structure opened by sound...was articulated not only by rhythm and cyclically recurring movements, but movement itself became the base of all contexts (structures), and the sources of meaning within each and every field of experience". (de Nicolas, 1978, p. 845)

2. Challenging abstractions

There is no substitute for the historical discovery of the criteria by which music became one form of music as opposed to another; for it was by these criteria of music, that the body of man became now one flesh, now another. Furthermore, "without the historical mediation of the criteria of sound, by which man both imagined and lived his worlds, there is no eternal return, and therefore, no emancipation for man's memory and imagination". (p. 175) "Man's emancipation lies precisely in his ability to break the barriers imposed on his memory and imagination by any abstractions which serve to reduce the human body to only the movements of a theory, and deprive man from the whole historical movement of which his historical body is the visible path". (p. 170)

3. Inertia of human and social development initiatives

Of striking significance to the inertia characteristic of human and social development initiatives is the advocation of a movement which points "straight at the heart of the stillness we never dared to move: the human body...we come face to face with our most radical problem...we have never dared to set into motion our own beliefs about the human body". (p. 155)

Using the perusal of his own work as an example, de Nicolas states "It would indeed be a radical failure of the way of these meditations if, at the end of the journey, the human body...remained still, unchanged, undivided, and as silent with its memories and imaginations as when we started this journey". (p. 156) "Every man must actively constitute himself by creating a certain order with the things around him (structure) within a general orientation he already has (or has received) about the whole of life; it is in relation to this activity that the body of man appears as flesh, and that the flesh of man makes present for us a context and a structure with which it shares its dimensions. For this reason, our path or method must focus on the silent and fleshy unity which underlies and is the root of any human reflective thinking". (p. 53)

4. Embodying theory

The body can then be brought to share the dimensions of every perspective or song it encounters, "thus turning theory into human flesh". (p. 176) "Theory must turn into song; it must be performed" to guarantee man's and society's continuity and innovation (p. 167) This can only be adequately done by placing theory "within a different historical context: the context of sound". (p. 174) Every vision "carries concomitantly an act of creation which can only be effective if that vision coincides with the original viewpoint" whereby that world was created.

"By creating structures of knowledge to see the world in such a manner, the doer of this activity becomes the efficient vision and its concomitant creation". (p. 159) It is this identification with the active power of the word making the world that joins efficient action with efficient vision (p. 61). Opening and closing are involved for the "structure of the embodied subject has the double-barrel effect of opening a horizon of inquiry and restricting what appear within that horizon". (p. 156)

This calls for a three-fold acceptance: the possibility of viewpoint shifting through the activity of dialogue-ing, the integration of the formal aspects of experience by the rationality of practical life, the (re)achievement through practical life and action of a unity which unrelated formal models render otherwise impossible (p. 166). Such activity, which "keeps the community moving" is of course"not formalizable, but the spaces of discourse within which it appears may be formalized". (p. 168)

5. Language governed by sound

In calling philosophers "to discover the language ruled by the criteria of sound" de Nicolas contrasts the atomicity of classical physics and Western philosophy with that of modern physics in its correspondence to Eastern views of reality. "It is only secondarily that classification of individual entities is made possible, and for this we revert to ordinary (Boolean) symbolic manipulation. In other words, to perceive anything apart from the total field is to perceive it as a subsystem, an artificially created aspect of a field of stresses, i.e. pattern. In fact, according to the law of complementarity, what can truly be said in one context-language, the same cannot be truly said in the other context-language". (p. 33)

6. Beyond detachment

The implications of this point have been explored in different ways by a number of authors including Bohm (1980), Capra (1975), Zukav (1979), Heelan (1974), Hooker (1974). But a special merit of de Nicolas presentation is that he draws attention to a response to the radical misunderstandings which arise from the "detached objective aloofness with which we in the West are accustomed to view whatever is presented to our speculative reason. This is the precise error of knowledge which the Rg Veda is trying to correct...As a result (of the error), philosophical activity became (in the West), not liberating knowledge, but an alienation of man from man, since he was bent on equating himself with the objects of his knowledge". (p. 1867)

As a systems theorist, Francisco Varela, in developing the insights of Spencer Brown (1969), clarifies this problem in a manner which is a warning to formulators of models of human and social development: "In finding the world as we do, we forget all we did to find it as such, and when we are reminded of it in retracing our steps back to indication, we find little more than a mirror-to-mirror image of ourselves and the world. In contrast with what is commonly assumed, a description, when carefully inspected, reveals the properties of the observer. We observers, distinguish ourselves precisely by distinguishing what we apparently are not, the world". (1975,p. 22).

7. Ordering complementary frameworks

These considerations enable de Nicolas to turn to the ordering of complementary frameworks in the logic of quantum mechanics as a way to formalize the spaces of discourse through which action (dialogue) in the world may take place. It appears that such complementarity or contextual logic offers "a very suggestive 'model' for positive dialogue between rival philosophies, and even more important, within human experience itself". (p. 10) As a partial ordering (lattice) of complementary descriptive languages, such frameworks involve changes in the embodied subjectivity of the knower, changes that make possible mutually exclusive objectivities or horizons. The "sacrifice" called for "involves a partial ordering of languages in a non-Boolean logic, the non-Boolean character of which is the mediation for growth and liberation". (p. 187)

Man may then "re-create himself and his society through the appropriate sacrifice, eternally, exercising thus his right to innovation and continuity. This sacrifice is the constant watch man must keep over himself fore-directing his own radical interpretive activity". (p. 187) The present inability of individuals and societies to "sacrifice" their cherished beliefs is instrumental in "freezing" society and increasing its alienation, aside from the material consequences for development. Re-thought sacrifice could constitute the sort of fundamental myth which can give "philosophical meaning to the facts of ordinary life". (p. 148) For de Nicolas, "it would be unphilosophical and inhuman not to open up man's possibilities by grounding him on that movement which will set him free". (p. 46)

His emphasis on "critical" philosophy recalls the preoccupations of the Frankfurt School which would presumably also give a central role to some equivalent of "sacrifice". Indeed de Nicolas approaches their language in identifying the presuppositions of his formalization.

8. Reflexive questions

As a way of perceiving the de Nicolas formalization raises critical questions of how it is to be perceived in its own terms. Such questions include:

  • Do the very valuable corrective perceptions concerning the limitations of vision-based perspectives, Western modes, and theory, necessarily imply a fundamental primacy for sound-based perspectives, Eastern modes, and non-theoretical action, or rather a temporary expedient in a continuing alternation of perspectives?
  • To what extent is the approach locked into the idiosyncrasies of Rg Vedic Sanskrit, and Vedic-oriented (Hindu) culture ?
  • Is the primacy accorded the fourth language necessarily fundamental or could each language appear fundamental from certain perspectives ?
  • What would be the status of other languages and perspectives in relation to the Rg Vedic approach ?
  • If the approach is so powerful, why has it seemingly failed to respond to the problems of collective action in the country where it is still understood ?

It is perhaps a paradoxical necessity that the very openness and fluidity of its philosophy should be based on a set of hymns which has remained unchanged (although each interpretation is conceived as a renewal). But it would seem that, like it or not, his perception/presentation of it is paradoxically a temporary product in the process he so usefully clarifies. His perception is necessarily impermanent and incomplete and does not encounter the dynamics of those who would disagree with it.

9. Embracing conflicting strategic styles

In discussing the dilemmas of the organized society, Charles Handy, a management scientist, distinguishes three types of management problem: (a) steady-state, programmable, predictable problems that can be handled by systems; (b) development problems designed to deal with new situations; and (c) exceptional problems or emergencies where speed and instinct are essential (1979, p. 45).

Handy identifies four styles of organization and management which respond to these problems. He points out that any organization will tend to make use of all these styles, although the larger the organization the more evident will be their role in the blend of styles used. The manager therefore has to embrace within himself all four of the styles, using each in appropriate circumstances, since none is sufficient to contain all combinations of problems (even though style-bound managers may believe it possible). Each has a place under certain circumstances.

For convenience, Handy labels each of the four philosophies of management (and the corresponding organizational culture) with the name of a Greek god (1973):

  • Zeus style: This is the club culture of the "old boy network" in which the crucial links are the empathy radiating out in a web-like manner from the patriarch or inner circle. It is excellent for speed of decision in high risk enterprises but relies heavily on trust, dependent on common background. Power lies at the centre.
  • Appolonian style: This is the role-structured, hierarchical organization portrayed in standard organization charts, split into divisions at the base, linked by a board at the top. It is excellent for routine tasks in which stability and predictability are taken for granted, and no one is irreplaceable. Power lies at the top.
  • Athenian style: This is based on a network of task-oriented units responding to new one-off problems. Resources are drawn from various parts of the network to focus on a particular problem. It is excellent where innovative responses are required and experiments are encouraged. Power lies in the interstices.
  • Dionysian style: This is the style in which the organization is perceived as existing to help the individual in it achieve his idiosyncratic purposes, and preserve his identity and freedom. Coordination is accepted as an "administrative" necessity but no ultimate authority is recognized other than the peer group. This style is excellent where the talent or skill of the individual is the crucial asset of the organization.

Handy points out that the ways of each style are anathema to the others. Linkage between these modes is however essential. He distinguishes three elements of effective linkage: cultural tolerance, allowing each mode to develop its own methods of control; bridging mechanisms, including exchanges of correspondence, liaison groups and task forces; and a common language. He argues that the organization of the future will be a membership organization, multi-purpose and dispersed, combining the search for community, the economics of quality, and the revolution in communications.

From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential

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