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Civilizations of opportunism

by Vigdor Schreibman Tuesday, Oct. 02, 2001 at 3:32 PM 1-202-547-8715 18 - 9th Street NE Apt #206, Washington, DC 20002-6042

The civilizations of opportunism advanced by irresponsible government and big business, bring catastrophic destruction and dispair. Democratic power alone can make government and business responsible institutions. These words explore the terrible barriers and pragmatic possibilities for achiving a wise democracy in a technological civilization.

Civilizations of opportunism
Civilizations of opportunism Introduction and summary The civilizations of opportunism advanced by irresponsible government and big business, bring catastrophic destruction and dispair to the Planet Earth. Democratic powers alone can make governments and business responsible institutions. These words hope to explore the terrible barriers and pragmatic possibilities for achiving a wise democracy in a technological civilization. Exercising democratic powers It is now widely recognized that the institution of democratic values and distribution of power that control such matters are crucial to relations between government, management, professional, and those who are governed, managed, or represented. [See e.g., Ackoff, 2000; Christakis, 1996; Drucker, 1993; Flexner, 1989; Follett, 1918]. There is great tension in these political relationships derived from various democratic values and theories-of-action such as: "consent of the governed" "Representative government" "ballot-box democracy" or "direct government," as explained by Mary Parker Follett, the early 20th-century philosopher of democracy. The preferred alternative is based on political democracy conceived as a "genuine union of true individuals" -- an expression of the will of the whole. Follett is the Prophet of Management whose work was celebrated in the late 1990s by leading scholars of the management profession. She anticipated that her democratic ideal required a "technique of democracy." During the closing decades of the 20th-century, just such a "technique" was developed by design science to facilitate meaningful dialogue that can support true democracy. A number of barriers that distort the purposes and context for the application of this "technique," now bring that goal into question. I describe here how this "technique" works, how its unique promise is now being severely undermined, and how it may yet fulfill that promise. In contrast with group encounters where an initial euphoria is drained away in linguistic Babel "meaningful dialogue" can advance further dialogue that clarifies, surfaces values, and generates enhancement patterns. The results of this process, produced through a technology supported discipline of focused and open dialogue described as "technologue" [Christakis and Bausch, 2001], are these: "emancipation of the stakeholders, individual and collective learning, integration of diverse viewpoints, discernment of salient priorities of design, and the emergence of a situation-specific consensual linguistic domain that enables understanding and meaningful action." Real-world applications of this technology in a large variety of designs in many diverse fields, particularly during the past 15-years, have confirmed the reliability of those claims. This includes, for example:

  • Jeffrey, Disarmament and Demobilization, (Interactive Management Workshop hosted by the European Commission, Monrovia, Liberia 1996) (design of a plan of disarmament and demobilization by the "Warlords and Warriors" engaged in a civil war in Liberia).
  • Alberts, Redesigning the Defense Acquisition System (Interactive Management process applied by the Defense Systems Management College 1986-91, to design a functional defense acquisition process).
  • Center for Interactive Management, George Mason University, Report on the Issues Identification and Structuring Session of the Alliance for Nursing Organizations (1986) (Interactive Management seminar to identify significant issues in Nursing in Virginia in the next 5 years, organize these issues for appropriate action, and develop preliminary strategies for the Alliance in addressing these issues).
  • Christakis, The National Forum on Nonindustrial Private Forest Lands, 2 SYSTEMS RESEARCH 189 (1985) (Interactive Management forum sponsored by the US Department of Agriculture 1984, examining national issues, options, and responsibilities faced by representative national assembly of stakeholders)
The consequence of these events is that a scientific revolution in the process of dialogue has occurred, one that could compel a paradigm shift away from pursuit of the "power of the people" toward pursuit of the "wisdom of the people." This shift was premised on the discovery that the wisdom of the people obtained through "meaningful dialogue" is necessary to enable the people to exercise their sovereign democratic powers. This new democratic process grounds its legitimacy on an ethic supporting participation by individuals in decisions of public or private organizations that affect their lives. The democratic ethic is consistent with an expression of the "will of the whole" anticipated by Follett. In the most important issues of our time, wise policies can be found in the "will of the whole" and not in the technical cleverness of the few [Yankelovich & Harman, Starting With The People 8, 13 (1988)]. These conclusions are also consistent with the current view of science, the "third phase science," as articulated by Professor de Zeeuw (1996), followed in the "technologue" of Christakis and Bausch, in which stakeholders are engaged as "expert observers" of the situation in which they are embedded. "They are the ones who should decide how to take action in their situation, since they are those most affected by the existing situation and its evolution." Individuals do not need to engage in political revolution in order to realize this new ethical process. Instead, one can build on the recognized origin of all political power, which is derived not from any dominant sector of society (e.g., government or private industry) but from the people-at-large, which is the sine qua non of the "republican" form of government guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States [US CONST art. IV, § 4; City of Eastlake v. Forest City Enterprises, Inc., 426 US 668, 672 (1976), citing The Federalist No. 39 (J. Madison)]. Barriers to democratic design strategies Ancient bands and tribes were able to obtain "meaningful dialogue" by an egalitarian leadership organization but this does not arise in a centralized technological civilization either by natural conditions, custom, or culture. On the contrary interactive strategies are essential to human and organizational competence in an age of increasing complexity and uncertainty. The danger is now threatened, however, that only the elite will be positioned to master these strategies, thereby, blocking the democratic participation of an estimated population of 7.6 billion individuals who are expected to inhabit the Planet Earth by the year 2020, who are likely to be robbed of their minds and their lives by the elite unless they are allowed to participate fairly if not perfectly in the structures of decisions that affect their lives. More than a decade ago Nolan Bowie called attention to the gap that existed between the information rich and the information poor [Bowie, Equity and Access to Information Technology , in ANNUAL REVIEW OF INSTITUTE FOR INFOORMATION STUDIES 131, 146-150, 1990]. Despite the ethical basis on which facilitated dialogue claims legitimacy, the "values gap" between "the information rich and the information poor" is now paradoxically widening by limitations that curb the use of the new technology and treat it as a luxury for privileged users. Invited to comment upon the Dialgue Game that helps potential users understand the laws of design used in this technique, CC has called for enlarging the dialogue through an ethical design and management strategy that would broaden participation in the dialogue via Internet. However, a nasty limitation has been placed on CCs call. Following an online exchange of comments between myself and Dr. Alexander N. Christakis, a world renown practitioner of the "Dialogue Game" [President-elect, 2002-2003 International Society for the System Sciences], a collaborative venture was undertaken for development of a new version of the "Dialogue Game" for broad public participation via Internet. Subsequently, various requests were made to Dr. Christakis by email Sept. 9, 2001, for "a simplified version of the dialogue game" in order to "close the values gap that has been disclosed." Dr. Christakis previously expressed his agreement with my critique of the situation: "I am in full agreement with everything you say. Your observations are indeed very profound." But in response to my request for action to simplify the process, Dr. Christakis was unable or unwilling to relate to the need for any change in his game plan. While continuing to espouse the role of democrat as he has for the past quarter century, which this writer can personally confirm, Dr. Christakis responded to my requests Sept. 9, 2001, with this email flame: You seem to challenge my intentions to offer the opportunity to everybody to participate through meaningful dialogue. I am totally committed to this endeavor for all my life, and have never accumulated any wealth as a facilitator, ... I do not know what revisions you are talking about in order to close the "values gap." If you know what is required, please go ahead and do it with the help of your friends. I am supportive of your efforts, but unable to understand your presumed "value gap".... Dr. Christakis explains his ethical choice with the same mask of the truth as the often quoted Anatole France (Jacques Anatole François Thibault, 1844-1924), one of the major figures of French literature in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1921, The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, or to steal bread." [From The Red Lily, 1894]. While offering "the opportunity to everybody to participate" only the elite can afford the professional fees charged for facilitated dialogue, which costs tens of thousands of dollars per session, a million or more for education of an organization in the process. A simplified version available via Internet could greatly broaden access to the process, without diminishing and, perhaps, greatly enlarging the commercial market. The facilitation of dialogue limited to the elite in a process designed to realize democratic dialogue, manages the dialogue so as to release the greatest potential of the participating group membership. The flaw in this structure comes from the inherent limited perspective of any one specific group, itself, which avoids any adjustments of the social order, which might otherwise upset the power of the dominant class structure. This strategy is also congruent with the anti-dialogical cultural reality of liberal Western societies, particularly the United States [Hernán López-Garay, Dialogue Among Civilizations, in INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL ON WORLD PEACE (March 2001): pp.15, 24]. Political pluralism, moral relativism have taken hold of modern humanity. Without a rational standard to discriminate between competing moral conceptions, "then morality, the conduct of life, becomes just a matter of preference." The result is a society made up of individuals who have nothing transcendental (i.e. a common history, a common life project, a meta-narrative) to share except an interest in exploiting each other in the most effective and efficient way possible. Id., at 28 Further compounding the manifest lack of moral and ethical sensitivity of the economic market and liberal culture, there exists a set of inherent human barriers to sociotechnical design activities, which resist strategies to facilitate competent dialogue [Christakis, Keever, Warfield, Development of Generalized Design Theory and Methodology 41-48, in 1987 PROCEEDINGS OF NSF WORKSHOP ON DESIGN THEORY AND METHODOLOGY (1987)]. The following barriers (among others) have been identified by investigators from a study of the following human limitations:
  • The limited human perspective within complex, multidimensional systems [Ashby, 1958]:
    Individuals bring to each problem situation they encounter (regardless of their educational level), a set of personal perspectives and a generally limited understanding of the problems. Without adequate consideration of all of the dimensions of the problems they encounter, short cuts will be taken that ignore important aspects of the problems and alternative possibilities. Effective solutions will not, therefore, be forthcoming.
  • The limited human capacity for short-term processing of information [Miller, 1956]:
    In direct contrast with the multidimensional nature of the problem situation, individuals have only a limited short-term ability in processing information. Attempts to deal simultaneously with more than between five and nine observations at one time are met with cognitive overload, imposed by physiological and psychological limits that preclude sound reasoning.
  • The unshakable cognitive burden that hinders human transformation [Goudge on CS Peirce, 1969]:
    Individuals have a deep mental blueprint of the means to their own effectiveness, while the act of transforming personal values required by the problem situation can require fundamental change of the cognitive program under which human beings think and act. Since individuals must start any investigation "from where they are" significant change in cognition is normally resisted and effective solutions to emerging problems blocked.
The outcome of all such barriers to democratic dialogue, particularly in an increasingly global economic environment, imposes a terrible threat to human civilizations. In subordinating all global and social relations to the market the remaining restraints and mitigating illusions have been stripped away from the "war of all against all." By these means a state of organized anarchy has been propagated, spawning the diabolical civilizations that are defined by these new realities:
  • global warming, with a scientific expectation that we are at the start of a mass extinction, a mass dying, such as the planet has not experienced since the end of the age of dinosaurs, some 65 million years ago.
  • individual collapse of hope and purpose, producing an epidemic of suicide, in which there were a total of 535,890 deaths in the U.S.A. from 1979 to 1996 that were diagnosed and reported to have been suicides.
  • social breakdown leading to a counter-culture of madness involving a continuing epidemic of youth violence.
  • "leaderless resistance" such as the Alfred P. Murrah Building bombing in Oklahoma City (1995), which killed 168 individuals.
  • global acts of desperation such as the World Trade Center bombing in New York City (2001), in which more than 9,300 individuals are listed as dead, wounded, or missing.
These are the tragic outcomes faced by "the People" in civilizations of opportunism when all ethical professional sensibilities are subordinated to the "free market," social and community bonds are gravely weakened, and "meaningful dialogue" made available by technology is limited in practical terms to the elite. Indeed, only as a consequence of the absence of "meaningful dialogue" by all can it be emagined that the root causes of these tragedies remains obscured by official policies: global warming -- not in the American economic self-interest to join responsible action under the Kyoto Protocol signed by 178 other nations; an epidemic of suicide -- uninvestigated; an epidemic of youth violence -- just a family matter; bombs on our prominent public buildings -- just a work of evil terrorists. Nevertheless, there is nothing inevitable about these outcomes, there is nothing wise about those official responses. On the contrary, the possibilities of "meaningful dialogue" for all and a wise response by "the People" are a spectacular wide open opportunity -- in cyberspace capital! Genuine democratic possibilities have been opened by design science and the creative genius of Aleco Christakis, John Warfield, and their colleagues. Do "the People" desire to engage in "meaningful dialogue" or are they just paralyzed by the elite assault on the minds of the masses? Will Homo sapiens sapiens 'wise man' crash under existing conditions, or rise up to the occasion? There is much to contemplate as time for choice quickly slips by. Someone must take the responsibility at this time for deliberate action in meeting the challenge of breaking the debilitating cycle and developing the transformative public model for "meaningful dialogue" via Internet. I suggest that this cannot be the role of the government as it is now constituted. The professions of design and management have already refused that role. Only "the People" have the power to act on such fundamental concerns, there are no other sources of wisdom within the existing civilizations. Email me your response to this issue
Federal Information News Syndicate (FINS),
Vigdor Schreibman, Editor & Publisher,
18 - 9th Street NE #206, On Capitol Hill, Washington, DC 20002-6042. Copyright 2001 FINS.
Integrated Phone/Fax/Voice Mail: (202) 547-8715;
Browse Fins Information Age Library at URL:
Republication authorized for nonprofit use only, provided message is kept intact.

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