Theatre in Wales

Commentary and extended critical writing on theatre, dance and performance in Wales

The Importance of Division

Tension, Fissure & Ernst Schumacher

There are a few proven ways to gain insight into organisations; what they do, how they behave, and, most importantly, why it is they do something. One is the institutional epistemology. Organisations are information loops; some information is welcomed and cherished. The revealing part is the information that is rejected. Organisations, like humans, are fierce in defence of their self-concept. Find the information that threatens; it will say a lot.

The article of 27th March below looked at the importance of a richness of feedback loops. Feedback is not utilitarian, it is a homeostatic mechanism. As with the human body in space it maintains institutional health and vigour through time.

Another surefire way to organisational interpretation is to look at the tensions. All organisms embody tension from cellular level upwards. An organisation is only two syllables away from an organism.

A good guide is Ernst Schumacher. He is best known as a pioneer economist, author of “Small is Beautiful”. But his work had an underpinning in social philosophy. In particular he pointed, rightly, to the Principle of the Middle Axiom.

So order and disorder are complementary and inbuilt. Schumacher explains:

"Life is full of antinomies and bigger than logic. Without order, planning, predictability, central control nothing fruitful can happen. And yet without the magnanimity of disorder, the happy abandon, the entrepreneurship venturing into the unknown and incalculable, without the risk and the gamble, the creative imagination where the bureaucratic angels fear to tread. Without this, life is a mockery and a disgrace.”

What is required is something inbetween, a middle axiom, an order from above which is yet not quite an order."

Schumacher follows George Kelly, one of psychology's forgotten giants..

"...the nature of our thinking is such that we cannot help thinking in opposites. It is easy enough to see that all through our lives we are faced with the task of reconciling opposites which, in logical thought, cannot be reconciled.

“The typical problems of life are insoluble on the level of being on which we normally find ourselves. How can one reconcile the demands of freedom and discipline in education? Countless mothers and teachers, in fact, do it, but no-one can write down a solution. They do it by bringing into the situation a force that belongs to a higher level where opposites are transcended- the power of love.

Schumacher turns to a distinction:

“The terms “divergent” and “convergent” distinguish problems which cannot be solved by logical reasoning from those that can. Life is being kept going by divergent problems that have to be "lived" and are solved only in death. Convergent problems on the other hand are humans' most useful invention; they do not, as such, exist in reality, but are created by a process of abstraction. When they have been solved, the solution can be written down and passed on to others, who can apply it without needing to reproduce the mental effort necessary to find it.

“Divergent problems, as it were, force a person to strain to a level above the person; they demand and, thus provoke the supply of, forces from a higher level, thus bringing love, beauty, goodness and truth into our lives. it is only with the help of these higher forces that the opposites can be reconciled in the living situation.”

Schumacher drops to a more pragmatic level. The application to organisations is true:

The true problems of living- in politics, economics, education, marriage etc are always problems of overcoming or reconciling opposites. They are divergent problems and have no solution in the ordinary sense of the word. They demand of a person not merely the employment of reasoning powers but the commitment of the whole personality. Naturally, spurious solutions, by way of a clever formula, are always being put forward; but they never work for long, because they invariably neglect to be of the two opposites and thus lose the very quality of human life. In economics, the solution offered may provide for freedom but not for planning or vice versa. In industrial organisation, it may provide for leadership without democracy or, again, democracy without leadership.”

Officers who have to deal daily with the dilemmas of arts funding management have particular divergent problems to reconcile.

These will the subject of next week's article.

author:Adam Somerset

original source:
28 March 2020


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