(Continued from Part 1.)
(5) The Resolution of Dissonance Creates Paradigmatic Breakthroughs
In the course of creating a largescale employment project, dissonance will arise. Disagreement may ensue. A scheme may be abandoned. But history shows numerous examples where dissonance has been the occasion, not for abandoning a scheme, but for creating a paradigmatic breakthrough.
Given the dissonance that may occur in our future, the need for mechanisms to bridge dissonance should be clear. If we’re looking for paradigmatic breakthroughs, we must find new ways of addressing dissonance.
I can’t think of an example of a social endeavor that illustrates this principle. In the course of my studies, I’ve only come across it in the resolution of personal dissonance but I’m willing to bet that the same principle can be applied to dissonance associated with largescale projects as well.
Here’s an example. Max Weber created a distinction considered fundamental to the field of sociology out of resolving an ongoing family dispute.
His father, a rabbi, met Weber’s sociological arguments with “unprovable” religious arguments, which Weber labelled ‘values.’ His own “provable” assertions he considered ‘facts’. By bridging the two, and contextualizing them within sociology, he created a division between facts and values that remained a basic distinction in the sociologist’s toolbox.
Another example: Benjamin Lee Whorf, before becoming an anthropologist, was a fire insurance investigator. He found that fires occurred because inaccurate linguistic labels led people to misunderstand a situation and take hazardous actions.
A worker would see an “empty” oil drum and drop a lit match into it, overlooking that it was full of flammable vapors. An office worker would throw a coat over a cone heater and turn on the “light” switch, not knowing that the switch activated the heater. When the light didn’t go on, after the worker toggled it several times, he’d assume that the “light” didn’t work, leaving the heater to blaze underneath his coat.
In the course of resolving these linguistic misconceptions, Whorf stumbled upon what has become known as the principle of linguistic relativity – that things are for us as we see and describe them.
Finally, Thomas Kuhn, working as a historian of science at a junior college, found the writers of outdated history texts touting their own age as the pinnacle of science, even though the age that succeeded it often discredited its science. Puzzled at how all eras could regard theirs as the height of attainment, when the science of their eras ultimately went nowhere, he arrived at the notion of temporocentrism – that people self-servingly represent their own as the best of all possible eras.
I realize that these examples don’t shed light on largescale enterprises, but I wish only to consider the principle that lies beneath them.
By offering solutions that bridge cognitive dissonance, instead of abandoning fruitful schemes, we create paradigmatic breakthroughs. Therefore, dissonance in our personal lives (or in our social projects) should be seen neither as a stumbling block nor as an occasion for choosing one side against the other, but as an occasion to recontextualize and bridge the dissonance.
We might therefore welcome paradox, confusion, double binds, dualisms, and the clash of opposites when they arise in the course of our social alignments and common endeavors.
(6) Critics Identify Their Own Expertise
Any genuinely new activity can’t be fully planned in advance. The answers to many of its problems are found in the course of accomplishing the project itself.
Critics will arise, some sincere, some not. The insincere we can pass by. But some critics are sincere and we may lose their expertise by dismissing them.
A more constructive response would be to see them as potential contributors, speaking from their own areas of experience and sometimes identifying important actions needing to be taken.
In the example of sending people to the moon, those who say that such-and-such a material won’t work probably could very well be indicating knowledge of materials that will.
This principle reminds us to turn the negative to our advantage and harness the energy of those who can foresee the problems that stand in our way.
These are just some initial thoughts on the principles of projects that might put people back to work or address areas of the world’s unworkability. In the language we use today, they assist us in the building of Nova Earth.
I have in mind not some pharaoh’s use of slaves to build a monument and not some manipulation of the masses to serve a reigning social class. Rather, I have in mind ennobling cooperative endeavors in which all people of the world participate for the benefit of the planet. (I have on occasion called this the vision of a “cooperative commonwealth” and, after Werner Erhard, “a world that works for everyone.”)
To summarize, when we turn to addressing global famine, drought, poverty, homelessness, disease, infirmity, and inequality, the following principles may help us to frame an adequate, largescale response:
(1) Identifying areas of the world’s unworkability,
(2) Creating projects that express and reflect our values,
(3) Building alignment with win/win solutions,
(4) Setting targettable, society-wide deadlines that allow for project-wide coordination of efforts,
(5) Bridging dissonance and creating new paradigms,
(6) And asking our critics for their expertise.
I very well may have left many things out of consideration. If you see any, I welcome your contribution. This essay was not intended to end discussion, but to begin it.