Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Realizing the Imaginal Pathway of Sustainable Transformation

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Interrelating problematique and resolutique in terms of "real" and "imaginary" - the following diagram is an effort to hold within a single framework a number of strategic dimensions and dynamics descriptive of the contemporary challenge.

Explanation

Axes: The above image is not to be understood as having conventional Cartesian axes, although some significance may be associated with the conventional axes as discussed below.

The diagonal axes may have however be related those used to map the complex plane, fundamental to issues relating to complexity. In the case of the complex plane it is used to provide a representation of complex numbers, made up of a "real" and an "imaginary" component. The real part of a complex number is conventionally represented by a displacement along an x-axis (of a modified Cartesian representation), and the imaginary part by a displacement along the y-axis. In the above diagram, the real and imaginary axes are represented diagonally as:

  • axis of imaginary explicit: phenomena associated with this axis (the problematique and the resolutique, discussed below) are those that are the subject of open "opinionated" debate interpreting explicit phenomena (whether symptoms of problems or proposals for their solution). The "reality" of problems is typically challenged in this debate -- as is the "reality" of any imagined resolution of them.

    • There is an imagined progression:
      • from the purportedly undesirable condition of the problematique, driven by the problematique as a form of repulsor
      • towards the imagined condition of achieved through the resolutique, as a form of enabling attractor

    • There is however a counter-dynamic arising from:
      • the problematique operating perversely as an attractor -- as with the attractiveness of habitual behaviours however much they reinforce a problematic situation.
      • the resolutique operating perversely as a form of repulsor -- as with the threatening challenge of change (however supposedly desirable), encouraging its avoidance

  • axis of implicit real: in any progress along the imaginary explicit axis towards the desirable condition implied by the resolutique there are two major forms of deviance or distraction:

    • game-playing amongst those mobilized in support of any collective project, as is typical amongst those within any institution, between its departments, or in any process of inter-institutional, inter-disciplinary or inter-faith "collaboration". Whilst felt to be very real, this is typically not rendered explicit in the articulation or assessment of that collaboration, or in the manner in which it was originally designed. It is an emergent dynamic which effectively functions as an attractor that is typically of greater significance than those of the explicit objectives associated with progress towards the resolutique. It is the stuff of daily office gossip and bureacratic game-playing: who is "up" or "in", who is "down" or "out", and who successfully did what to whom, and the success or failure of any actions in revenge. It typically interfaces with unethical operations, whether minor or major, possibly even criminal in nature -- a form of "black economy". These rarely ever figures in any reporting of reasons for the problematic performance of a collective endeavour. It is "real" but "implicit" -- and may be the "only game in town".

    • engagement in any collective endeavour is accompanied by the role it plays in the personal and collective development of those involved, their learning processes, their maturation processes, and those through which their sense of self-esteem is articulated. These considerations may totally determine responses to strategic opportunities and necessities. Again these are not the subject of explicit formal discussion but are noted in corridor gossip regarding the arrogance or driving status needs of collaborators, or the obsession with making a mark and ensuring a historic legacy. Again it is only too "real" to those driven by this dimension, but may be so "implicit" in decision-making as to be completely disguised. Again it can be a primary attractor, irrespective of what is presented as the desirable outcome of a resolutique towards which all effort is purportedly directed. function of this attractor is only too evident in leaders with a tendency to megalomania but may be as important with those struggling more discretly for self-esteem and recognition.

    Both these attractors are associated with complex patterns of denial. Although well-recognized by any with experience in complex institutions, or even community initiatives, they cannot be "put on the table". For this reason they cannot be recognized in the design of projects, thus preventing any provision for corrective and counter-acting measures. However these phenomena are of fundamental significance in ensuring deviance from the achieving any movement from problematique to resolutique.

Problematique: This term has been given prominence by the Club of Rome as the configuration of problems for which a strategic response is sought through appropriate analysis. It is presented in the above diagram as the repulsor driving humanity out of the many particular conditions in that configuration (hunger, disease, ignorance, homelessness, etc). However it may also be understood, as noted above, as the pattern of habitual behaviours that are sufficiently attractive -- as addictions -- to resist any change to another condition, however credibly it is promised and whatever the threat. The phenomena of smoking by well-informed members of the medical profession offers a powerful example of the operation of such an attractor.

Clarifying the extent and complexity of the problematique has been the preoccupation of the World Problems Project, initiated in 1972 -- partly in reaction to the particular focus (see methodological comment) of the original report to the Club of Rome (Limits to Growth, 1972). The project notably profiled problems variously "imagined" to exist by distinct international constituencies, irrespective of alternative perspectives included that were claimed to have a more "realistic" focus.

The above diagram positions the problematique as the focus of the undesirable conditions that might be considered as the significance of the lower-left quadrant. However it is important to recognize the extent to which the problematic nature of this quadrant may be contested. For some any such judgement reflects profound misunderstanding of the extent to which "we have never had it so good". Pressures for change may well be rejected because of the manner in which the current condition (exemplified by the lower-left quadrant) is what should be preserved.

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