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Union of Intelligible Associations

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Transformative Approaches Project (Explanations)

Configuring: Transformative policy cycles

Transformative Approaches Project


1. Inadequacy of particular policies

In the light of the previous sections, and especially Section KD (in the 1991 edition) and Section MZ, it is useful to ask whether the characteristics of the appropriate new mode of socio-economic organization are such that it can only be sustained by a cycle of policies, or even a pattern of such cycles. If this were the case then whilst particular policies, such as those of the "left" or the "right" or of other political hues, are necessary during particular phases of such cycles, they are not however sufficient individually to sustain the mode most appropriate to long-term human development.

2. Concealed dilemma of democratic voting

This question can be related to the dramatic problem, central to social organization, of whether a system of voting can be devised that is at the same time rational, decisive and egalitarian. In the classic analysis of this problem, Kenneth J Arrow (Social Choice and Individual Values, 1983) advanced five intuitively appealing axioms (including unanimity and universal scope) that any procedure for combining or aggregating the preferences of individuals into collective judgements should satisfy.

Treating "non-dictatorship" as a sixth axiom, Arrow demonstrated that no constitution can exist which will obey all six simultaneously. What happens is that when three or more alternatives are faced, majority rule gives rise to voting cycles in which: Alternative A defeats Alternative B, B defeats C, C defeats D, D defeats E and E defeats A, as noted in a recent discussion of Arrow's "impossibility theorem" by D Blair and R Pollak (Rational Collective Choice, 1983). For them: "Thus the designer of voting procedures for legislatures, committees and clubs who accepts these conditions as necessary properties of constitutions is simply out of luck... If society foregoes collective rationality, thereby accepting the necessary arbitrariness and manipulation of irrational procedures, majority rule is likely to be the choice because it attains the remaining goals. If society insists on retaining a degree of collective rationality, it can achieve equality by adopting the rule of consensus, but only at the price of extreme indecisiveness. Society can increase decisiveness by concentrating veto power in progressively fewer hands; the most decisive rule, dictatorship, is also the least egalitarian."

It is worth noting here that Gheorghe Paun (An Impossibility Theorem for Indicators Aggregation, 1983) has explored an aspect of this dilemma using fuzzy set theory to demonstrate the impossibility of aggregating a small set of good social indicators to fulfil three natural conditions of a good indicator, namely sensitivity, anticastrophism and noncompensation. This establishes theoretically the noncomparability of certain social issues, which must somehow be "managed" in an appropriate new mode of socio-economic organization.

Blair and Pollak explore the difficulty of designing acyclic constitutions for organizations which would avoid such voting cycles. The Eastern insights from the I Ching (see Section TP and following notes) suggest that it might be more valuable to look for ways of designing cyclic constitutions to permit an organization to alternate through such a network of alternatives, each of which exerts a dominant influence for a period of the cycle, before in turn being overthrown or undermined by a succeeding alternative in that cycle.

3. Embodying cycles into social design

Blair and Pollak explore the possibility of designing acyclic constitutions which would avoid such voting cycles. The arguments of this paper indicate the value of exploring ways of designing "constitutions" which embody such, seemingly unavoidable, cyclic phenomena, especially since they are evident in the necessary policy changes required to remedy the inadequacies of particular policies. The question is how to initiate such a design process, given the nature of the design required.

In such a context, the process whereby any such particular policy comes into favour, and is subsequently displaced, is an integral part of such a policy cycle. The emphasis on such a cycle is in marked contrast to the prevailing emphasis on the dominance of a particular policy and the desirability of its continuing dominance for the long-term well-being of the society in question. However, by its very nature (as discussed above), no such policy cycle can be planned or programmed, for this would make of it merely another policy competing with other policies in the cycle. It is here that the core of the challenge lies. It is the paradoxical problem of organizing self-organization.

Section M suggests the merit of metaphors in catalyzing the emergence of an awareness of the necessity of policy cycles. It points to the lack of understanding of the nature of policy cycles and patterns of such cycles, especially as they might function in different cultures, resulting in the entrainment, and synchronization, of such cycles between cultures. This is surprising given the considerable research on economic cycles, which presumably call for some understanding of a corresponding cycle of policies to respond appropriately to the changing circumstances. This lack is probably due to the fact that current policies are of such short-term scope that longer-term cyclicity appears irrelevant. Things may be changing however. The Wall Street Journal (4 Sept 1986) recently reported on work being undertaken at the prestigious Japan Economic Research Center by Yuji Shimanaka demonstrating the relationship of economic cycles, technological innovation and periods of social conflict to 11-year and 55-year solar cycles; the latter corresponding to Nikolai Kondratieff's long-term economic cycles.

As an illustration, consider four contrasting policies currently competing savagely with each other for a larger "market share" of public opinion support. The arguments of this paper suggest that this savage competition contributes to the emergence of an appropriate new mode only to the extent that it ensures successive dominance phases amongst the four policies according to a periodicity or rhythm to which there is, as yet, little collective sensitivity.

Each policy acquires dominance in a cycle at some stage because of the need to correct for deficiencies resulting from the (necessary) imperfections and excesses of the preceding policy, only to be displaced in its turn. The appropriateness to human development results, ultimately, not from any particular policy but from the extent to which the pattern of policies and the rhythm of their phasing becomes increasingly self-organizing.

4. Cyclic operations and the nature of transformation

Understanding how such cycles of contrasting phases accomplish effective transformative work in society may be facilitated by a thermodynamic metaphor. The Carnot cycle of heat and work, basic to the operation of any heat engine, itself involves four successive and contrasting operations (expansion at constant temperature, expansion without change in amount of heat, compression at constant temperature, and compression without change in amount of heat). Any attempt to isolate and prolong unduly the most effective work phase simply jeopardizes the ability of the engine to continue operating. It is then quite inappropriate to view the non-work phases as "inefficient". The operation of a task force (or meeting) of individuals with distinct functions may also be interpreted as involving a cycle of phases in which each function enters and leaves the limelight in turn. This is best illustrated by the results of research by R Meredith Belbin (Management Teams, 1981) into the roles required for good teamwork. These have been labelled as: chairman, company worker, completer-finisher, monitor-evaluator, plant, resource investigator, shaper and team worker. A preponderance of any one role type, especially the "most productive", jeopardizes both the appropriateness of the group's work and its ability to renew itself and continue functioning.

5. Distinct levels of attention

The different levels of attention required in discussing the relationship of distinct policies to policy cycles may be illustrated by the metaphors of walking and dancing. In walking the right and left foot are moved forward alternately, shifting the weight of the body from one to the other. Although in places of difficulty attention may be focused on one foot to the exclusion of the other, the body can be more satisfactorily moved forward by focusing on the process of walking, namely on the alternation between the two contrasting positions. In a 2-party political process however, there is a necessary struggle between the "right" and the "left", with no institutionalized awareness of what is achieved by the process of alternation between them. There is little recognition of when it is appropriate to relinquish a policy in favour of an alternative and then renew it to fulfil a new role. This may perhaps be more accurately compared to the preoccupation of a drunkard, or a spastic, with the forward movement of one leg (temporarily forgetting the need for the other).

6. Levels of appropriateness

Appropriateness of the 1st order may be compared to movement of a foot, whereas 2nd order appropriateness may be compared to the process of walking. Higher orders of appropriateness may be compared to dancing and to a cycle of dances. It is the movement between the steps, and the manner in which they are ordered, which renders the dance meaningful. Focusing attention exclusively on any individual step prevents the rhythm from emerging and thus obscures the meaning of the dance. It is the rhythm which guides the self-organization of a dance, based on the execution of the individual steps, whose importance can in no way be neglected. The test of the appropriateness of any new mode is whether it embodies a more "seductive" pattern in Attali's sense. In terms of 2nd order appropriateness current policy initiatives may be compared to a drunkard's walk, a monotonous dance or, more dangerously, a lock-step march.

7. Impotence of appropriateness: the dilemma of nth order modes

Cyclic patterns of policies clarify the essential dilemma of any appropriate mode. In any concrete socio-economic context, it is only possible to mobilize people in support of a basically short-term policy in response to the deficiencies of any policies currently dominant in the short-term. And this is indeed what is required to remedy those deficiencies. Such a "new" policy can easily acquire an inherent moral rectitude, implying that any other policy is a dangerous aberration. The difficulty is that such moral rectitude continues to be associated with the policy long after it ceases to be appropriate to that particular cycle of policies.

Policies contributing to a policy cycle may be considered to constitute a lst order degree of appropriateness. The policy cycle itself may be considered a 2nd order degree of appropriateness. Higher orders of appropriateness, cycles of policy cycles, may in fact be what is required for viable long-term human development. As the arguments of earlier sections have indicated, such higher order forms of appropriateness are increasingly difficult to comprehend. They cannot therefore inspire a sense of moral rectitude and consequently would appear to be necessarily associated with political impotence. Political power is concerned with struggle within the cycle, not with the movement of the cycle - and yet it is from cyclic movement that enduring social development emerges.

8. Constraints under democracy

Such difficulties are further aggravated by the constraints of democratic systems in which education and minimal levels of literacy are a continuing problem. This obtains both in industrialized countries, but especially in those developing countries characterized by population explosions. Grass-roots political wisdom, as well as the experience of sophisticated organizers of political campaigns, requires that issues be kept simple and comprehensible. Paradoxically in such circumstances "ignorance is right", at least in political terms. "Information is power" only in the sense of the power of elites to manipulate. But any such manipulation is itself constrained by the political necessity of communicating it in terms comprehensible to the largest constituencies. "I do not understand, therefore I will not vote for you (because I question your motives)", is the ultimate constraint in a democracy.

In complex social systems, such ignorance may also be the result of cultural preferences and background, even amongst the educated, whereby particular policies are viewed as inherently "bad" or "evil". Much political "mileage" may be guaranteed by the process of reinforcing such views and cultivating suitable political scapegoats. But this too is an inherent feature of policy cycles. Each policy acquires dominance to the extent that it can successfully cast other policies in a "negative" light, such that its own "positive" features are enhanced by contrast. The characteristic of any particular mode of organization are such that others must necessarily appear in a "negative" light from that perspective. It is this positive/negative polarization which drives the cycle through a succession of inadequate perspectives which compensate for each others distortions. It also prevents any "purely objective" discussion of which policy is appropriate at which time.

In traditional societies this dilemma was partially resolved by considerable use of metaphors, parables, myths and legends to render comprehensible the need for 2nd and higher order policy neglected in industrialized societies in favour of economic models which are essentially incomprehensible to all but the very few. And it is valid to question whether those who claim to understand their significance are adequately informed about the dimensions of society they choose to exclude from such models.

From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential

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