Transformative Approaches Project
Context: Design choices for global coherence
Transformative Approaches Project |
Efforts to analyze existing inter-sectoral patterns can
clarify many of the challenges and opportunities for a more coherent approach
to global dialogue and "bargains". All parties in such dialogue are however
necessarily immersed to a fairly high degree in their particular perspectives.
Such a "bottom-up" approach clearly has some limitations. It would therefore
also seem appropriate to take a complementary ("top-down") approach by
looking to ways of representing the desired qualities of coherence and
sustainability in "ideal" models of inter-sectoral dialogue as a global
pattern --provided the diversity of sectors is duly respected. This note
is an exploration of one such model.
Sectors may usefully be considered as each being a piece of a "jig-saw
puzzle" which have to be "fitted together". From a "bottom-up" perspective,
a systems approach would be an appropriate point of departure through which
to establish the links between the sectoral pieces. But from a "top-down"
perspective an initial concern is some sense of the overall shape of the
finished puzzle -- where the sense of being "finished" emerges from a specific
realization that "everything has been fitted into place". Important characteristics
would then include coherence, sustainability and some form of meaningful
overall pattern. Humanity is indeed faced with a challenge of how to fit
the pieces of the puzzle together to create a meaningful new pattern, whether
or not it is called a "new world order".
Expressed in such terms the "top-down" approach becomes an exercise
in design in the richest sense of the term. Some initial choices may be
arbitrary, but constraints must emerge to determine the "goodness-of-fit"
of different pieces to possible positions in the puzzle.
1. Choice of design tool
The design choices below can each be made in succession, leading to
one particular design. This may be quite satisfactory for those by whom,
and for whom, the design is produced. If this is the case the argument
in the following paragraph is irrelevant.
It is fairly clear that at the most fundamental level different cultures
favour different design criteria in selecting principles and patterns of
organization. This also tends to be at the origin of certain differences
between groups and factions within any given culture. This suggests the
need for a design tool which can be readily reconfigured to reflect
different design preferences. Such computer-based tools are becoming
increasingly available to designers to assist in the process of dialogue
with customers (whether for major buildings, landscaping, houses, interior
decoration, clothing, or personal aesthetics). The point to be made is
that globality can give rise to many different articulations at the
local level. It is the set of possible articulations which reflects the
full richness of globality. Any particular articulation of globality
can only serve particular local interests. In this sense it is the design
tool which is the key to different insights into appropriate global organization
-- each of which is necessary, but none of which is sufficient.
2. Choice of surface
In this spirit, one appropriate (but arbitrary) choice for the shape
of the puzzle is a spherical surface. This has the advantage of having
properties isomorphic with that of the Earth's surface and as such has
mnemonic value in relation to any patterning of "global" dialogue. It also
has the advantage of challenging the conceptual complacency with which
one would tend to think about a puzzle based on a flat surface. The puzzle
of global sustainability must be a challenge to conceptual complacency.
Introducing a third dimension is one way of doing this. A puzzle in three
dimensions is a challenge to most of us.
3. Choice of sectoral representation
It can now be arbitrarily assumed that the sectors are to be represented
by flat zones disposed around the spherical surface so as to touch each
other on all edges. The choice of "flat" zones is useful in that it is
a reminder of the necessary non-globality of individual zones. Each zone
must necessarily function with some degree of "flat-earth" mentality --
this is a natural characteristic of"local" thinking appropriate to local
action. If only a few zones are recognized the result will only approximate
very crudely to a sphere (as is the case with a tetrahedron or a cube).
Each zone is then relatively large and the sharp "edges" suggest a high
degree of conceptual or functional discontinuity. But, on the other hand,
it would take an infinite number of very small zones to truly constitute
a spherical surface with no perceptible discontinuity.
4. Choice of number of sectors
The number of sectors has not yet been officially recognized in an unambiguous
manner. On the basis of the number and type of government ministries, one
arbitrary approach would be to consider that their are 12 key sectors and
20 secondary sectors. For as in the design of any cathedral, some basic
numerical proportions have to be arbitrarily chosen as a basis for the
design pattern. In the light of the previous point, these larger numbers
suggest a lesser degree of conceptual and functional discontinuity between
the sectoral zones. Any political choice of the number of sectors to be
officially recognized thus has consequences for the nature of the global
pattern. Adding or removing one sector under political pressure is thus
not a trivial matter for the sustainability of that pattern.
5. Choice of shape of sectors
It might be assumed that each sectoral zone could have a distinct shape.
But for the novice puzzle doers that we are on a planetary scale, it would
be more realistic to assume arbitrarily that the pieces are of only one
or two simple regular shapes (such as triangular, square, pentagonal).
This is less complicated than with the many shapes generated by the intersections
of major latitudes and longitudes in mapping the surface of the Earth.
6. Choice of patterning constraints
In order to work out how the sectoral pieces fit together to approximate
the global surface, some assumption must be made about the significance
of the pattern. What dimensions of significance could be selected as a
basis for interweaving the sectoral zones, providing a meaningful position
for them within the global pattern? The number of such patterning constraints
would also constrain the shape of the sectoral zones.
(a) Principle-governed choices: Several interesting approaches
could be taken to this choice. It could be based on a limited set of 5
to 10 principal values, systemic functions, psycho-social functions, etc.
In fact it might be based on any set of fundamental ordering principles.
However it is important that these should be grounded and comprehensible,
rather than meaningful only to a particular culture or discipline, however
dominant. There is also merit in choosing a set which holds both natural
and symbolic associations, with each mirroring and enriching the significance
of the other at various levels of philosophical and psychological sophistication.
(b) Traditional five-fold option: So for this exercise the choice
made is for the five-fold environmentally-oriented traditional set: earth,
air, fire, water, metal, wood. One merit of the choice of this set is that
it highlights the apparent conflict with the traditional western
four-fold version: earth, air, water, fire. It is a reminder that it is
less important which convention is used, although a set of constraints
of that order is required. Each gives rise to a different pattern, but
either may be used to engender a global pattern, as may other fundamental
sets of principles. It is globality, coherence and sustainability which
are the criteria, not the particular articulation of principles which may
be chosen to bring this about in a given culture.
7. Choice of "locking" device
For the design to have some qualities of robustness to ensure its coherence,
it is necessary to consider how the pieces lock together. Just placing
them in the appropriate spherical configuration would not ensure that they
stay there -- in fact any such attempt would immediately demonstrate the
instability of the construct. What is required is some articulation of
the way the pieces lock together to sustain globality, rather than collapsing
together and/or breaking apart. Conversely this may be seen as the way
in which disparate "local", "flat" elements lock together to engender (through
a newdimension) a "new order" based on spherical globality. The device
best characterized by maximal elegance and minimal use of resources is
based on the principle which in architecture permits the construction of
geodesic domes, namely tensional integrity. Through this device a dynamic
balance is ensured between the "compression" forces tending to push the
structure apart and the "tension" forces tending to pull it together. In
this case the balance is only possible through a globally symmetrical structure.
It cannot be sustained in a two-dimensional structure.
8. Choice of "tension" and "compression" features
In this design the "tension" forces binding the inter-sectoral puzzle
together are the 5 principles. These may be thought of (like rubber bands
or ropes) as circumscribing the sphere, intersecting at different points
and thus outlining the pattern of sectoral pieces. But if only these binding
forces are present, the sphere would collapse in on itself (thus symbolizing
the fatal weakness of a purely ideal system). The design "trick" is then
to make use of the strong local forces. These tend in practice to engender
opposition between the sectors -- forcing them apart and preventing any
form of inter-sectoral integration (as is typical in the absence of any
overall systemic principles). Unlike the global principles, these oppositional
forces do not constitute a continuous interlinked structure. Each acts
only in relation to a particular part of the inter-sectoral configuration
(with one sector specifically counter-acting the initiatives of another).
The trick is to use the local oppositional force to tense the circumspherical
elements in that neighbourhood, and to use those circumspherical elements
to constrain the local force -- thus holdingit in place. It is the achievement
of this dynamic balance which engenders and sustains the spherical structure
and creates inter-locked positions for the individual sectors.
9. Unique identities of sectoral pieces
The identity of the sectoral pieces is then defined as unique: (a) partly
by the unique combination of circumspherical elements which both delineate
a tensional boundary and ensure that sectoral piece's unique contribution
to the system as a whole, and (b) partly by the unique set of forces by
which that particular sector opposes (in a "reactive" manner) any closer
proximity, or blurring of functions, with that of neighbouring sectors
(thus protecting its boundaries).
10. Attributing systemic significance to the structural elements
The five elements are not identical with the five objects whose names
they bear but are subtle essences whose nature is however best manifested
by those five objects
Water produces Wood, but destroys Fire
Fire produces Earth, but destroys Metal
Metal produces Water, but destroys Wood
Wood produces Fire, but destroys Earth
Earth produces Metal, but destroys Water
This traditional non-western perspective can be explored in relation to
the more conventional western dimensions outlined in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Psycho-social cyclic functions corresponding to natural
environment cycles (tentative)
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Body of knowledge
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From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential