science: generalism -> practice | why Switzerland?


Richard Moore

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Science: generalism vs. specialization


Several of you have asked, via my gmail account, about why I’m going to Switzerland.  The short answer is that is where my research is taking me. The more interesting answer ties back into my earlier posting, above.

I talked there about techniques for learning quickly about any given domain of knowledge. I explained how the formula – survey, hypothesize, engage – acts like a metal detector, rapidly locating the core assumptions and reasoning being used in that domain. And in the process of engaging the experts, with an open mind, the initial hypothesis evolves to incorporate what the experts have to say. In the end, I come away with a solid understanding of what I need to know from that domain, as regards my broader line of inquiry.

A regards the first line of inquiry – How does the world really work? – there were many areas I needed to look into, but it didn’t take very long to converge on five key working hypotheses:

(1) Societies have always been run by elite cliques, ever since our Western thread of civilization began. 

(2) What we call democracy was simply a well-disguised regime change, from aristocracy to plutocracy.

(3) The cliques running things today are leading us down a disastrous path, and our very survival depends on somehow changing that.

(4) The economic and political systems that have been established are beyond repair and past their sell-by date; society needs to be totally transformed, in how it is organized, and how decisions are made.

(5) There is no way the needed transformation can be approached within the established political paradigm.

These are the conclusions I reached c. 1998. In the years since then these working hypotheses have been been repeatedly confirmed and refined by unfolding events, and by more things that I’ve learned. But my primary focus of research, over those years, has been investigating the obvious follow-on question: How can the needed transformation be brought about?

This second question involves two parallel lines of inquiry: 
     • What kind of new society should we be seeking?
     How can we make change happen?

Again, there is much I was able to learn, by the techniques of generalism, and by looking at the history of popular movements. However in this case, one of the main things I learned is that no one knows the answers to either of the questions. 

People with wisdom know there aren’t any easy answers, and people with answers only get there by oversimplifying the problems involved. People with wisdom, however, do have a lot of useful things to say about the qualities of a better society. And people with answers do have a lot of creative ideas that can be applied in other ways. 

As regards what we’d want in a new society, a lot of good work has been done on what I’d call technical issues. There are answers for how to achieve sustainability, how to achieve prosperity via debt-free currencies, how to eliminate poverty by localizing economics, etc. There are competing ideas of course, and different solutions are appropriate to different circumstances, but I’m convinced that any particular technical problem can be dealt with. None of them are rocket science. 

The real problem in envisioning a new society – the elephant in the room that most visionaries seem to ignore – is the problem of governance. It’s not so much which decisions that we need to be concerned about, rather it is how decisions are to be made.     Indeed the question of how to decide already comes in if we seek to outline solutions to the technical problems.

In thinking about governance, there is a well-known maxim that needs to be taken very seriously: power corrupts. All of history testifies to the truth of this maxim, not just with respect to governments, but within all kinds of organizations and institutions. If positions of power exist, as regards making policy decisions, self-serving cliques will eventually gain control of those positions. We could set up an ideal society, but it wouldn’t last long if power could be usurped in this way. It took only 200 years for the USA to descend from its model constitution to its present state of neo-fascism. 

I came to the conclusion that the key to governance, as well as the key to envisioning a new world, comes down to the question of how decisions can be made by people generally, without delegating that power to designated decision makers. Either we find an answer to that question, I am convinced, or we are destined to be governed by one elite clique or another.

Fortunately, there are some very promising lines of inquiry into this question of self governance. The principle of the representative microcosm, combined with the notion of wise dialog processes, seems to hold great potential. Quite a bit of experimentation has been done based around Dynamic Facilitation and other processes, and the results have been quite impressive. Quite a bit of that research is going on near where I’ll be in Switzerland, particularly in next-door-neighbor Austria. 

To go further with my inquiries, I need to leave generalism behind, and move into the domain of practice. Generalist research is about gathering and digesting what is known; research practice is about participating in the advancement of understanding. 

In fact, my work in Switzerland has already been underway since last summer. I’ll be working again with the people I worked with before, and I’ll be staying with a group of young anarchists / activists who have occupied an unused school building. I need to cut this short because it’s about time to leave for the airport. I’d just like to say that I see great potential in my new situation. 

And FYI, here’s the report on what’s been happening so far, as regards my participation in Switzerland:

signing off from wexford,