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Alternating between Complementary Conditions

For sustainable dialogue, vision, conference, policy, network, community and lifestyle (Part #1)


Commentary B on an
exercise in metaphorical interpretation of the Chinese Book of Changes
Original version (on networking with references) published in Transnational Associations, 1983, 5, pp 245-258;
also published in Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential, 1994-5, vol 2, pp. 559-565


1. Alternation
Challenge of representation
Interpretation problems
Transformation cycles
Circular representation: inner structure
Elaboration of a spherical map
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1. Alternation

The vital point that emerges from the Chinese perspective of the previous note is that it is not sufficient to conceive of organizational conditions in isolation, as is the prevalent tendency among Western networkers. The processes of change in which a policy cycle is embedded, or to which it responds, require that the policy cycle consider itself in a state of transience within a set of potential conditions. It courts disaster if it attempts to "stick" to one condition such as "peace". If the dynamics of problem networks are not being contained by present strategies, as would appear to be the case, then organizational self-satisfaction is a recipe for the disaster-prone or the ineffectual. It creates a false sense of security. Any condition may be right temporarily, none is right permanently. The situation is somewhat analogous to many team ball games where if a player tries to retain the ball it will be taken from him by the opposing side, or else the team is penalized. Furthermore policy cycles opposing the "team" of world problems find themselves like novices having to deal with an opponent which handles the ball with a dynamism such as that of the Harlem Globetrotters or a shell-game con-artist. The focus shifts continually and is often where it is least to be expected in order to take advantage of weaknesses.

A policy cycle must continually "alternate" its stance within the network of transformation pathways in order to "keep on the ball" and "keep its act together". As with a surfer, a wind sailor, or a sailor on a rocking boat, if it fails to change its stance it will be destabilized, according to the I Ching, by one of 64 changing conditions through which it is forced to move in a turbulent environment.

The developmental goal can then be conceived as somehow lying "through" the exit of this labyrinth of traps for the unwary. More satisfactorily, it is perhaps "in" the art of moving through these conditions as progressively clarifying the locus of a common point of reference undefined by any of them (cf, the Sanskrit phrase "Neti Neti", roughly translated as "not this, not that"). It is this art which is extolled in describing the use of the I Ching or of Eastern board games. A similar notion has recently emerged from theoretical physics through the work of David Bohm (1980). He stresses the nature of an underlying "holomovement" from which particularities are successively "unfolded" once again. The significance is more readily apparent in the case of "resonance hybrids" mentioned earlier.

The problem for a policy cycle, an organization, an intentional community, a meeting, or even an individual, is then how to "network the alternation pathways together" and how to "alternate through a transformative policy cycle". Given that understanding of alternation seems only to be well-developed at the instinctual or sub-conscious level (eg walking, breathing, sex, dancing), the nature of alternation processes is explored in the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential (Section MZ). Extending the earlier metaphor of the "semantic piano" however, the challenge for policy cycles is then not simply to try to activate people by monotonous playing of single notes (eg "peace", "liberation", "development"), as presently tends to be the case. It is rather to acquire a perspective enabling them to collaborate in improvising exciting, rippling tunes with such notes (each of which might be I Ching condition) in order to bring out all the musical possibilities of alternation as explored in harmony, counterpoint, discord and rhythm.

In this sense the true potential of "policy cycling" lies in the transformational possibilities of "playing" on such instruments. Such an approach could perhaps provide the "requisite variety" by which the world problematique may be tamed, without breaking the spirit it embodies. A related challenge is then how to represent or map these transformation pathways in a memorable manner so that the range of possibilities becomes clear. In the Book of Changes a mnemonic system for the 64 conditions is given on the basis of 8 natural features of which people have both a instinctive and a poetic understanding. The features used as metaphors include: mountain, lake, wind, thunder, fight, ravine, earth and sky. Arguments in favour of some such topographically based mnemonic system are given in an earlier paper: "The territory construed as a map" (Judge, 1983). Such features contribute significantly to dissemination ofunderstanding about relationships between such conditions in contrast to the restriction of interest in such matters in the West to scientific elites. The Eastern board games mentioned above are deliberately used for educational purposes, whereas very few in the West have access to the computer simulation exercises with an equivalent orientation.

The following remarks, and those in the following notes, indicate some possibilities for producing an adequate general map of the transformation pathways are discussed.

sibilities for producing an adequate general map of the transformation pathways are discussed.


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