A change of the guard... LO187

Kent Palmer (palmer@netcom.com)
Tue, 21 Feb 1995 15:07:19 -0800

Subject: A change of the guard --- where the chiasmic model fits

Yesterday [#LO180] I presented a picture derived from G. Bateson
of the meta-levels of learning and meta-levels of change which
allow us to picture the wild/tame learning/changing organization.
At each level there was a chiasm of the duality of
learning/changing. At each level we could see how the duality
might be split and applied differentially to produce an effect on
the next lower meta-level. The meta-levels stretched between the
practico-inert (the tameist) and the point of emergence (the
wildest) and so it invoked another duality that is fundamental to
our western worldview. The model brought together the duality of
learning (logos) and change (physus) and held apart the duality
of wild/tame. It was suggested at the end of the article that our
real goal should be to get beyond these dualities to the point
prior to their arising. Another point about the model worth
noting is that it leads us to the recognition of the unthinkable
that appears at the fifth meta-level of both hierarchies of
higher logical types. Unthinkableness is interpreted as
equivalent to the Buddhist concept of Emptiness or "sunyata."

What is good about this model is that is starts at the epistemic
level and isolates two major dualities that are umbiquitous
within our western worldview. The epistemic level is the one
between the level of paradigms and worldviews where are
fundamental categorical distinctions are made. It uses these
dualities to frame a series of higher logical types defining the
meta-levels of one of these pairs of dualities. The two end
points of the series define the other set of dualities (i.e.
wild/tame). Thus we have constructed a picture which allows us to
frame our concepts of the learning organization using the theory
of logical types developed by B. Russell and presented in
PRINCIPIA MATHMATICA as the solution to many logical paradoxes.
This means that the model we present should be resistant to the
production of paradoxes in our thinking about learning

Learning organizations by this epistemic model appear when people
consciously move from one meta-level of learning and change to
the next. As they do so they abandon routine work and begin doing
what PAVA called non-routine work. In that process they enter
fully into the arena of flux in which they themselves may change
utterly as they change their organizational environment. As they
move out the hierarchy they leave the tame and enter wilder and
wilder territories of human development moving from the
Apollonian to the Dionysian aspects of our culture. When they
reach the fringes they become witnesses to new things emerging
out of emptiness. However, it should be pointed out that we know
no more of the practico-inert than we do the wild fringes at the
highest meta-level. Both the practico-inert and the unthinkable
are dark abysses. The only places where we can feel as if we know
ourselves is at the various meta-levels of learning. It is only
when we are growing and expanding that we are not lost to
ourselves in unconsciousness or the void.

However, the fact that this model starts in darkness and ends in
darkness as we traverse from the tameist to the wildest should
make us suspicious. The fact that one duality and not the other
appears as a chiasm that is elaborated and differentiated into a
series of levels should further make us wonder about this model.
The fact that it is framed by pairs of dualities should also make
us have second thoughts. This model is merely a strawman that
attempts to summarize our fundamental model of learning
organizations. All other models of learning organizations are to
some extent variations on this one that Bateson posited based on
his work with Higher Logical Types and their application to
anthropology and biology. This model only goes further to unfold
the basic assumptions that appear at the epistemic level in our
worldview into a complete theoretical model of the learning

Why are we interested in the Learning Organization? Because we
live within a world mostly immersed in the practico-inert. It
feels like freedom to realize that we might be able to change
these organizations by producing an ideology of improvement
thorough embracing change and learning within the organizations
in which we spend our working life. In the past many of us have
been interested in transformational alternatives in our lives.
But some of us have recognized that if we do not transform the
organizations in which we work personal transformation is
intrinsically limited. But organizations have an intrinsic
resistance to change. The hardest thing to change is the other
people behave. We can only effect their behavior by teaching them
new perspectives and new approaches to situations we all face
every day together.

Personal transformation can only have ramifications beyond our
own own lives if we manage to transform the organizations in
which we live and work. So the learning organization is a vision
of a transformed society. It is possible because the people who
lived through the sixties and had their visions of the world set
in that period are now becoming the people who control
organizations. There was an enormous social backlash against the
social activism of the sixties which is still going on. But that
period of social upheaval deeply effected every one who lived
through that time and now those people have more or less replaced
the earlier generation. It is about ten years before the baby
boomers begin to retire. It is this ten years when they actually
finally take the reigns of power before they hand it on to others
of the next generation. It will be interesting to see what
transformations they produce within organizations that for the
most part were part of the repression of the earlier generation
of the very Dionysian forces that upwelled within the sixties
generation (those who were in college and high school in the
sixties and early seventies). The era of the forties and fifties
were ultra-tame and Apollian to the extreme. The children of
those who were parents in the forties and fifties sought new
social forms and transformational personal experiences. Many of
those who did not conform were excluded from traditional
organizations or excluded themselves. But I believe everyone in
this generation was effected by these changes in our national
character due to the transformative effects of social and
financial freedom that occurred during the sixties. It is now
that through the filter of the gigantic repressive forces brought
to bear by the previous generation we will see how those effects
actually transform the repressive organizations that make up our

Thus I predict we are entering a Dionysian phase in which
organizations will be profoundly changed as the Baby Boomers take
final complete control of the organizations that have served to
suppress societal transformation. If we look at the similarities
between Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton we see that this approach
to things has nothing to do with party politics but has to do
with a change in our national character that occurred in the
sixties but is only surfacing now as the previous generation is
forced to let go of the reigns of power within organizations.

The model that I have proposed based on the monumental work of
Bateson allows us to understand what is necessary to effect this
transformation. The repressive nature of organizations appears in
their propensity to remain at the lowest energy level possible
represented by the practico-inert. They function normally as
bureaucracies or machines at this level and are utterly inhuman
or intrinsically Fascist in their methods and goals of control.
My premise is that in order to repress the tide of personal
transformation that arose in the sixties organizations have clung
more tightly to the practico-inert than they might have
otherwise. But in order to begin transforming ourselves socially
and the organizations within which we live all we need to do is
begin exploring the non-routine side of our work, which was
always there, which leads us to form meta-models,
meta-meta-models etc of ourselves and our workplaces. As we move
up the ladder of levels of learning and change we naturally
progress into more and more Dionysian modes of thinking and
behavior and depart from the Apollonian modes which traditional
organizations emphasize.

This is why new paradigms such as that summarized by Kevin Kelly
in OUT OF CONTROL are now arising. The sixties generation worked
hard to find ways of formulating their way of looking at the
world in ways acceptable to science and the technological
infrastructure. Fuzzy logic, Chaos Theory, Complexity Theory and
other new disciplines are the result of this search and
reinvisioning of the world. Taken together they represent a new
way of looking at things diametrically opposed to the way of
looking at things that has been entrenched since the forties and
fifties when American society became monolithic prior to its
breaking up in the sixties and seventies.

The model poses the epistemic distinctions of wild/tame and
physus/logos in order to be able to question them. The model
sharpens the articulation of our worldview and its current
interpretation of Being. It gives us a starting point for further
questioning of the structure of our worldview and a basis for
understanding the various paradigms that appear within different
disciplines that are brought together in order to attempt to
understand the learning organization in all its

The generation of the sixties and its aftermath in the seventies,
and eighties turned to personal transformation and diversity of
expression. Now we have the opportunity to transform oppressive
organizations that are designed to prevent transformation. The
model of the tame/wild learning/changing organization is key to
understanding how this change is possible and the context in
which it must take place.

Kent Palmer