Diversity versus “The One Best Way”

The sociologist Jacques Ellul held that the core flaw of the technological system was its belief in the “one best way” of doing anything, which, of course, leads directly into totalitarian thinking. This “one best way” is best exemplified by Margaret Thatcher’s TINA principle: “There Is No Alternative”.

But, contrary to the ideology of “the one best way”, the fact is that the most resilience societies and economies are mixed. In every measure of human development and quality of life, it is these mixed economies, especially of Northern Europe (usually dismissed, not very truthfully, as “welfare states”) that fare well, especially in a downturn. By contrast, nations and economies which think of themselves as “pure”, as exclusively “capitalist” or “socialist” end in disaster. And the evidence for this is so overwhelming the case, and so self-evident, that it’s a wonder everyone overlooks it. But, as they say, it’s as “plain as the nose on your face”.

To say, “mixed” is to say “diverse”. This is also the path that Canada has chosen to follow, but which is also meeting stiff resistance from what the (thankfully) late Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and also proponent of “the one best way”,  referred to as “Old Stock Canadians”. Whoever these “Old Stock Canadians” might have been, it’s a foregone conclusion that they were all believers, too, in “the one best way”.

And, of course, the “one best way” ideology and “point-of-view” consciousness structure are very closely related in meaning.

A mixed economy, characterised by the diversity of its modes of production which are diverse forms of economic association, is an ecology in itself. This ecology is lacking in supposedly “pure” forms of economy deemed “capitalist” or “socialist”. In fact, any authentic form of democracy would not specify any “one best way” of doing everything, but would allow for, and encourage, diversity of economic association and productive arrangements. The facts are, that in a mixed economy when one part of the economy falters, its failure doesn’t drag down the entirety with it. The other aspects of the economy may well continue to thrive and shore up the whole against general collapse.

The same may be said of energy sources. A mixture of energy sources, with the heaviest emphasis on renewables, is more resilient than single sourced non-renewables. And yet, incredibly, there is much resistance to this logic, which doesn’t appear to be particularly sane.

This “one best way” leads into a uniformity of outlook that eventually becomes self-defeating — myopia and tunnel vision.

Those orientations we call “liberal”, “conservative”, “socialist” or “environmentalist” all have their appropriate time and place. In other places and other times, they simply went by other names. None represent the “one best way”. They represent what Rosenstock-Huessy refers to as the “mulitformity of man” and the “ecodynamics of society”. The problem that arises is when one gets out of hand and imperialises the others or becomes runaway. Preserving the balance is a matter of guaranteeing the proportionality or ratio of each. This is connected with “fourfold vision” and the fourfold human form. Social disease or malaise is the loss of the equilibrium. Hypertrophy of one or hyper-partisanship represents the loss of equilibrium. And the loss of equilibrium is dissociation. In turn, dissociation is just another term for “disintegration”.

The “one best way” just leads, eventually, into boredom or ennui. Diversity is not just “the spice of life”. It is rather essential to life.

Understanding ecologics or ecodynamics has become essential if we are to outrun or mitigate the worst possibilities of the “chaotic transition”, and that begins with each of us, since each of us is this fourfold structure or mix of liberal, conservative, socialist, and environmentalist. These are our secular names for mind, body, soul, and spirit. We aren’t obliged to identify exclusively with one as “the one best way”. We are obliged to preserve the balance. And this is called “healing” or “mending the Sacred Hoop”. These are our names for the North, South, East, and West — the guardians of the four directions — of the Sacred Hoop.

To be human means to constantly test the balance, and to balance and rebalance the equilibrium of things. Too much, or not enough? The balance, when it is attained, is called “equanimity”. And that’s just another word for “integrity” or integrality. That’s what the symbol of the Sacred Hoop is — integrity.

The man or woman who “speaks from the centre of the voice” speaks from the centre of the Sacred Hoop. This is the vital centre called, by Jean Gebser, “ever-present origin”, and is the same “centre” of Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”. What it means to “speak from the centre of the voice”, as my aboriginal friends say, is integrity. That’s what is called “authenticity”, and so bears on the meaning of the “ethics of authenticity” as given in Charles Taylor’s aforementioned lectures on “The Malaise of Modernity“.  Integrity is equanimity, and equanimity is the balance of the four directions of the Sacred Hoop. You are the Sacred Hoop. You are the Crucible of the alchemists, the crux or via crucis which has much the same symbolic meaning as the Sacred Hoop. The man or woman who speaks from the centre of the voice, which is the centre of the crucible or Sacred Hoop, integrates mind, body, soul, and spirit, or, in other terms, thinking, sensing, feeling, willing or, in other terms North, South, East, and West.

“Interest” is a peculiar word. Inter-esse means “inter-being” or “inter-essence”. Inter est means “what is between” or “what is amidst or among”. It is, in those terms, relational, not positional. Tween-ness is where the real action is. And that’s where ecodynamics finds its place.

Sacred Hoop /Medicine Wheel

Sacred Hoop /Medicine Wheel


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