Hjem Op


"Implicate Order" and the Good Life

Ib Ravn

Chapter 5: The Experience of Unity-in-Diversity
and the Good Life: A Matrix


 5.1 Introduction

While developing the unity and diversity experiences in the previous chapter we noticed that although held up as generally desirable, the unity experience seemed to have a more questionable face that could not so readily be seen as good and worth striving for. This face appeared briefly when we mentioned the unity experience in the context of institutionalized religion and political ideology. In these areas in particular, the idea of merging with a larger whole and becoming absorbed in the flow of things do not always seem a good thing.

For example, if we consider Soviet dissidents incarcerated in psychiatric hospitals it hardly seems right to suggest that they should just go with the flow and try to experience oneness with the institution. By the same token, when Morgan (1986, p. 104) speaks of organizations as displaying "holographic integration", whereby employees "...acquire a sense of identity with the firm and its products", are we justified in assuming that this is necessarily a good thing?

Of course not. A person's sense of identification with a social system or a system of beliefs (a corporation, a state, an ideology, a creed, etc.) is no reasonable ethical standard in itself, as the social system in question obviously has to be evaluated as well. Otherwise, we would simply be advocating submission to whatever larger system is the most effective at eliciting loyalty from its members.

This problem with the unity experience is equally apparent when we consider its dynamic aspect, which involves becoming absorbed in the flux. Although the flow experience at first seems unequivocally good, what do we make of the ecstatic flow enjoyed by a maniac on a shooting spree in a shopping mall? Csikszentmihalyi's (1988a) many examples of good citizens experiencing flow in their innocent hobbies somewhat obscures this critical ethical issue (although he does mention it, as we shall see).

The problems in these examples have the same root, namely, context. In the corporation, a sense of identity with the firm as a whole and with its perhaps inferior or hazardous products can easily take the form of complicity, when whistleblowing in the interest of the larger community, the larger context, might have been more ethical. The shopping mall killer similarly shows little regard for the social context he is in. In the case of the Soviet dissident, the context that is excluded if we advocate single-minded pursuit of the unity experience is the dissident's overall mental health, his horizon, the alternatives to incarceration that he should never forget. If we simply urge him to identify with his prison he may soon forget there are other ways of living, other beliefs and ideas, a world of possibilities outside the hospital.

In other words, the problem with seeing the unity experience as good lies in diversity, or rather the lack of it: the inadequate consideration of context, alternatives, other ways. In a word, what is missing is the diversity experience.

The joint realization of the unity and diversity experiences is the topic of this chapter. We construct a simple matrix model that allows us to examine the interaction between the unity and diversity experiences. This conceptualization will resolve the problem referred to in the examples above by providing a set of categories for understanding the dynamics of the unity and diversity experiences. The model will enable us to discuss a fair number of topics relevant to a consideration of the good life.


5.2 The Unity and Diversity Experiences Combined: A Matrix

At first sight the unity and diversity experiences seem to express opposite tendencies: one toward the unity and wholeness of existence, the other toward diversity and differentiation. Opposite tendencies of any kind are quite often seen as mutually exclusive: love and hate, egoism and altruism, introversion and extroversion are readily dichotomized in such a way we are nudged to make a choice between them, or see the world in terms of more-or-less, which also implies mutual exclusion, although less so.

With the unity and diversity experiences there is a similar temptation to dichotomize, and quite often they do appear contrary to each other. for example, where the unity experience is strong and people are completely immersed in something bigger than themselves (such as is often seen in political and religious zealots), there tends to be a corresponding absence of the diversity experience. That is to say, the people involved are less able to appreciate the diversity of human life and social institutions and accept other political ideologies and religious systems. Correspondingly, where the diversity experience dominates, as in people who readily acknowledge the equal worth of all manner of human and social forms, one sometimes detects a corresponding inability to focus on one particular path and build a meaningful life from that (this ability to focus one's energies being the unity experience).

Thus, it would be obvious to conceive of the unity and diversity experiences as contradictory--you can attain one experience but not the other--or at least as located on a sliding scale: the more you have of one, the less you have of the other. The more you engage in activities that are strong on the unity experience, the less you are able to realize the diversity experience, and vice versa.

However, there is an alternative conceptualization, which makes the two experiences appear as mutually inclusive. For this we use a special matrix model developed by Gharajedaghi (1983, 1985) under inspiration from Blake and Mouton (1964).1 The most general version of this model, which is informally called a two-by-two, is widely used for purely descriptive purposes. For example, Ackoff and Emery (1972) construct a model of Jungian personality types that sets a dimension of internalization and externalization against a dimension of subjectiversion and objectiversion, to create four categories of cells. These cells describe personalities, they do not evaluate them.

However, Blake and Mouton wished to illustrate the possibility that managers can be attentive to two apparently contradictory concerns at the same time, such as concern for people and concern for production (which they evidently considered a desirable ability in managers). They used the matrix to depict two very different properties. Like Blake and Mouton, Gharajedaghi uses the matrix model to depict the interaction of two equally desirable dimensions of human existence or social organization, but unlike them, he typically chooses pairs of properties that are quite often seen as belonging to the same one-dimensional spectrum, such as stability and change, integration and differentiation, and individuality and collectivity. He essentially "bends" this spectrum and flips each half into position as dimensions in a system of co-ordinates, with zero on both dimensions at the bottom left in the diagram.

Consider how this matrix allows us to depict two apparently contradictory desirables as mutually inclusive. First, each of the two desirables must be cast as a dimension that goes from a low to a high, or from a minimum to a maximum. For convenience, the two dimensions are often divided into two halves, labelled "min." and "max." These halves are then mapped onto each other, as shown in Figure 5.1. Four combinations arise from this.

The min-min case is found in cell 1, which will be called the null case. Here, each desirable is minimally present (or not at all). The diagonal opposite of this cell is cell 4, the max-max cell. This will be called the ideal case, as it represents the simultaneous realization of both desirables. The matrix finally identifies two cases, cells 2 and 3, each of which maximizes one of the two desirables and minimizes the other. These two cells will be called degenerate cases.


Cell 3: Degenerate case

Cell 4: Ideal case


Cell 1: Null case

Cell 2: Degenerate case







Figure 5.1. A Two-By-Two Matrix


Needless to say, all cells are pure or extreme types that one should not expect to find empirically. They simply serve to define the space of the interaction between the two dimensions. They may be better thought of as four extremes or end points between which all real cases are found. Thus, cell 4, which represents the ideal case, is not a static state of the world that may be finally attained, like some pre-designed, Platonic utopia. The ideal state can be approximated indefinitely but never reached (Ackoff, 1981; Gharajedaghi, 1983). Obviously, by putting "concern for people" and "concern for production" into this model, Blake and Mouton did not imply that there is some absolute or ultimate attitude of concern for both (their 9.9, our max-max) that can be practically attained and is the end of all organizational development. The ideal case is a kind of guiding light, as will be discussed below.

Also to be discussed below is the important point that the matrix is not to be used for the pigeonholing of ideas, situations or people (although it serves this purpose in Blake and Mouton, 1964, in Gharajedaghi, 1985, and, for convenience, in the early sections of this chapter). Rather, the proper function of the matrix is serve as a personal compass and a starting point for dialog, in a manner to be elaborated.

Now, using the matrix to map the unity and diversity experiences we obtain the diagram in Figure 5.2, to be called the unity-diversity matrix. The two dimensions describe situations where the person involved obtains the experience associated with each dimension to a minimum or maximum degree. The matrix illustrates how these two experiences combine and it depicts instances in which both are realized (cell 4), or only one is realized (cells 2 and 3), or neither is realized (cell 1). If we associate cell 4, the co-presence of the unity and diversity experiences, with the good life we here have a rough framework for addressing valuational issues.2


Diversity Experience


Cell 3:
without unity

Cell 4:


Cell 1:
Neither diversity
nor unity

Cell 2:
Unity without diversity





Unity Experience


 Figure 5.2. The Unity-Diversity Matrix 


Consider the cells in greater detail. We start with the most easily described, the degenerate cells 2 and 3. In cell 2 we find forms of human activity that have a maximum of the unity experience and a minimum of the diversity experience. A person in this situation may be doing activity X, but for him it is not just X, it is something much bigger, much more important; it is a part of life that reveals life's fullness and wholeness to him: "this is what it's all about."

However, the absence in this cell of a diversity experience means that the person ignores the fact that there are other ways of achieving the unity experience. He does not realize that he could be doing Y and find fulfillment and satisfaction in that, and does not feel that someone who does Y is perfectly entitled to do that. So, cell 2 represents both an excessive insistence that one's current ideas, interests and practices are the only right ones, and an insufficient realization of alternatives.

Cell 3 depicts situations where the the unity experience is minimal and the diversity experience is maximum. People in this cell know that there are many ways of doing things and acting in the world, and one's current forms of activity are by no means unique. In the absence of the unity experience, none of these activities seems particularly important, for none of them provides the person in question with the experience of merging with a larger whole: "I do X, someone else does Y, what's the difference?" This leads to an inability to commit oneself, to find meaning in a given pursuit, maybe to confusion or paralysis.

Cell 4 maximizes the two experiences. The unity experience produces wholeness and meaningfulness in every individual activity, and the diversity experience is the realization that one's path is just one among many possible and other paths are equally acceptable. From the diversity of possible activities (vocations, interests, beliefs, etc.) one has selected a few that fill one's life and give a sense of unity, a unity that is realized through this diversity of alternatives considered. There is diversity in unity, because one knows that things may change so that other activities than those currently engaged in may be taken up later.

Finally, cell 1 features situations that contain a minimum of both experiences. To be in this situation is to have little contact with anything beyond the current activities and to see little meaning in them (absence of the unity experience). There is low regard for other people's ways of living and a failure to appreciate the diversity of paths (absence of the diversity experience).

To repeat, cell 1 is the null case that contains neither of the two experiences. Cells 2 and 3 are the two (very different) degenerate cases. Cell 4 features the experience of unity through diversity, or the unity-in-diversity experience. By the logic of the matrix this is the ideal case as it combines two equally desirable features and facilitates their conceptualization as mutually inclusive. This cell is proposed to give meaning to the phrase "the good life." The good life obtains when the unity and diversity experiences are jointly maximized. By extension, a good social system (organization, society, etc.) is one that promotes this experience in its stakeholders.

The term "degenerate"3 for cell 2 and 3 has been chosen for the following reason. When only one experience is maximized and the other is minimized (or absent), the maximized experience appears in a degenerate form, that is, a form lower or less pure than the one known from cell 4. In the absence of one experience, the other experience shows its more sinister face (which was what we illustrated for the unity experience in the Introduction to this chapter).

To understand this dynamic, consider first cell 2. In the absence of the diversity experience, the unity experience does not assure the experience of wholeness and belonging in any well-balanced way. On the contrary, it manifests itself as the belief that one's current forms (beliefs, practices, etc.) provide privileged access to wholeness and meaning and hence are the only right ones. The meaningfulness derived from the experience of the whole is transferred to the part, so that the part becomes more important than the whole. This is equivalent to saying that the forms of activity one engages in take on the qualities (wholeness, unity, meaning, etc.) that properly belong to or derive from the flux. If unchecked by the diversity experience, the unity experience degenerates into the insistence that one's little part of the world is the whole world.

As regards cell 3 as a degenerate case, the absence of the unity experience means that the diversity experience does not manifest itself as respect and concern for other's games, as it otherwise would. Instead, it shows up as an excessive tolerance of other forms of acting and thinking. With no unity experience to give meaning and direction to one's life, all social and human forms seem equally good but none is particularly good. If nothing is more worthwhile doing than anything else, why bother doing anything at all? So, if unchecked by the unity experience, the diversity experience degenerates into indifference and resignation; there doesn't seem to be meaning in anything.

In other words, in cell 2 people see unity and wholeness, but because of the absence of the diversity experience, they forget that the whole they see is actually seen through one small part. In cell 3 people appreciate the parts all right, but because of the absence of the unity experience, they are unable to see any whole through them. Cells 2 and 3 thus shows the two experiences in a perverted manifestation, in each other's absence. This manifestation is "degenerate" as compared to the way the experiences appear in cell 4, the ideal case, where they appear together.

While in the previous chapter we merely outlined the unity and diversity experiences side by side, we have now mapped them on to each other and have found that in the absence of one, the other is distorted into something much more precarious or even dangerous than would be expected from our discussion of them in the previous chapter. Each experience does not give us just half of the ideal case; alone, each is a serious distortion or degeneration of what it could be in the company of the other. This point holds important lessons for the development of experiences in oneself or other people: never overemphasize one experience to the neglect of the other. Unchecked, the unity experience develops into fanaticism and the diversity experience, into nihilism.

This section presented a first run-through of the four cells in the matrix. Below, they will be interpreted and discussed repeatedly in different contexts, as the scope of the matrix is demonstrated. Many caveats and qualifications pertaining to the matrix need to be discussed, but first we must understand it better. So far, the examples of the experiences and the matrix have mostly drawn on one person's experience of his world. Let us now look more closely at situations involving several people.


5.3 The Matrix Applied Interpersonally

It was suggested that the good life resides in the realization of cell 4. . What cell 4 entails was defined primarily in terms of one person's life: whatever his activities or concerns, he is able to see a connection to a larger existential unity and this gives his life fullness and meaning. Further, he realizes that the different activities he is (or may be) involved in are but different aspects or perspectives of the same overall reality.

Let us now be explicit on the interpersonal and social implications of the matrix. This will introduce into our discussion issues that are traditionally thought of as properly ethical, such as the question of how one should behave toward others.4

Consider the interactions of two people, A and B, who lead their lives in their own particular ways and see things from their particular perspectives. Considered side by side to begin with, the ethical valuations apply to these two games in the following manner. The unity valuation (which is the least interesting seen from the standpoint of ethics) says that A must find a life path in which the wholeness of life is revealed to him, without letting himself be unduly distracted by other people's preferred activities. A must make every effort to achieve the unity experience in his chosen field of activity despite the fact that B is similarly engrossed in trying to achieve the same experience using other forms and activities.

The diversity valuation, on the other hand, says that A must realize that B's path in life is but a different, yet equally worthy expression of what goes into a life. It is another perspective of the unity of being that allows B, in his way, to see beyond the narrow confines of his historical existence and partake in something larger and more significant. A must realize that A's and B's characteristic pursuits are able to provide different but equally satisfying avenues of insight into what is essentially the same underlying unity of being and as such, these pursuits command mutual respect and support.

Notice that the matrix applies equally to the case of one person considering his own activities and to the case of two (and, by extension, many) individuals considering each other's activities. The good life is resides in the achievement of the unity experience through the diversity of one's own activities as well as through the diversity of activities of other people. For cell 4 to obtain, there must be unity-in-diversity in any individual world considered on its own, as well as in the intertwined lives of people considered as members of a social order.

We may make a conceptual distinction between the unity-diversity matrix being applied in a individual and an interpersonal case, but such a distinction between individual and social levels, or between the life and activities of one person and those of many people in interaction, is, as we have said earlier, mostly dictated by convention and convenience. For man the social animal, all experience and all activities are infused with the influence of his fellow beings. The unity-diversity matrix is neutral to the distinction between the individual and the social; through its definition of cell 4 as unity experienced through the diversity of the individual's own activities as well as those of others the matrix transcends the distinction between the individual and the social.

Let us examine in more detail the unity and diversity valuations in the interpersonal context. The more salient of the two in our case of A and B interacting is the diversity valuation. It requires A to recognize that B's activities is just another way of gaining the same insight or fulfillment that A has. In recognizing this A shows his respect for B and gives him space to pursue his vocation and interests, just as A, acting under the diversity valuation in the individual case, would allow himself to engage in different activities at different times with equal satisfaction.

The respect implied by the diversity valuation can be illustrated in a domain of activities where this phenomenon is quite common: the world of amateur sports. A's game may be tennis, B's basketball. If they are anything like the average person they both accept and respect the other's preferences, because they know that the other person is fascinated by sports in the same general way, which involves giving oneself to the game one hundred percent, handling the ball elegantly, making beautiful moves, outsmarting the opponent, saving impossible passes, and so on. These pleasures can be had in multiple ways, that is, through many different kinds of sports, and sports enthusiasts generally recognize this. The fact that most people still prefer one sport over another is readily attributed to historical contingencies: "my mother played tennis, so I picked it up;" "there was a basketball court in the neighborhood where I grew up;" and so on.

The unity valuation, on the other hand, says that regardless of what other people do, one must pay serious attention to one's own activities, for only that way can one gain access to any deeper unity and significance. A frivolous attitude or an erratic investment in one's chosen activity produces no unity experience. In the example, to enjoy any kind of sport one has to make an effort to learn the game and practice it regularly. Other things being equal, the greater one's dedication and skill, the easier one achieves the unity experience of merging with the flow of the activity.

In sum, the unity valuation says: pursue your own path and do it seriously, for only that way will you reach any sense of fulfillment. The key idea is commitment to one particular path. The diversity valuation says: respect the next person's pursuits as well, because they is just another path to that same experience of wholeness and meaning. The key idea is the appreciation of other people's paths.

In the diagram below (Figure 5.3), the dimensions plot the unity and diversity valuations, which have new names. The unity dimension describes commitment to one particular path, no matter what pursuits other people engage in. The diversity dimension represents the stipulation that one must respect and appreciate other people's paths.

Diversity Experience: Appreciation of others' paths


Cell 3:

Cell 4:
The good life


Cell 1:

Cell 2:





Unity Experience:
Commitment to one particular path


Fig. 5.3 The Unity-Diversity Matrix Applied Interpersonally


Consider the four cells. In cell 1 we find the person who is uncommitted to any particular path and has little tolerance or respect for others' activities, beliefs, ways of life, etc. This is the cell that this type of model has little to say about, because both of the characteristics selected for display in the matrix are absent here and hence cannot be used for characterization.

Cell 2 describes a person who sees a world in his own pursuits and thus finds them very important, while having low regard for what other people do. Such a person believes his own preoccupations and preferences are to take precedence over everything else, and he will cling to his beliefs and practices in the most persistent of ways. This attitude represents what may be called absolutism,5 for the absolute and untempered adherence to one particular path in life, the particular forms that shape one's activities or beliefs.

This cell brings out the important point that there is nothing humbling about the unity experience per se. One may feel one has seen God or the light or truth itself, but if unchecked by the diversity experience, that is, the recognition that other people may have the same experience in their particular and equally commendable ways, the unity experience degenerates into an exaggeration of the importance of one's current path. The experience that some higher meaning or coherence has revealed itself to you is a very good thing. But if you believe that this experience can be achieved only by adopting your beliefs and practices, a cell 2 situation obtains where the unity experience is not accompanied by the diversity experience that recognizes and respects other games as equally promising avenues to unity and meaning.

Exemplifying (see the note6 for the limitations of these examples), the absolutistic cell 2 attitude is seen all too often in the members and clergy of institutionalized religions, who generally hold non-believers in very low esteem, to the point of mounting crusades and pogroms against them. In modern times, several versions of religious fundamentalism (whether Christian or Moslem) seem to express this trend. Political leaders who claim themselves to be in privileged contact with eternal verities likewise instantiate cell 2 (cf. "the divine right of kings" in the 14th-16th centuries; Louis XIV's slogan "L'Ètat, c'est moi"; Lenin's belief that he embodied the vanguard of the proletariat; Hitler who acted on behalf of the Aryan race, and so on).

On a more everyday scale we recognize absolutism in ourselves or in others when there is an insistence that one particular way of doing things, one particular social institution, or one particular theory of the world must be adhered to at all costs.

To repeat, being in contact with higher powers or a larger project is fine; what is pathological is claiming privileged or exclusive access, because this implies that other people are denied the same experience through their games, their ways of living, worshipping, relating to others, being in the world. If not complemented by the diversity experience, the unity experience degenerates into self-aggrandizement and absolutism. "I've seen the light, so follow me; do exactly as I do, or as I tell you to do." The power and significance originally derived from the experience of being part of a whole is transferred to the part, to the particular game played.

In the case of the early history of Christianity, the power of God became vested in the institution of the Christian Church and its officers, and adherence to the particular forms of worship stipulated by the clerical hierarchy became more important than the personal experience of God--at least according to one observer (Pagels, 1979). In the most extreme case, the attitude is no longer "I am part of a larger whole," but becomes the megalomaniacal "I am the larger whole." This attitude is common in modern, often Orientally inspired cults, such as the Moonies and Scientology (cf. Berman, 1989).

Moving now to cell 3, we find the person who has no personal commitment to any one pursuit but is very accepting of other people's ways of life. This describes the relativistic attitude which holds that "Well, one thing is as good as another, and there is nothing special about any of them." No particular vocation, interest or goal in life attracts the attention of a person so disposed; he takes nothing seriously and hence has no sense of anything beyond the trivia of everyday life. He scores low on the unity dimension. He acknowledges the rights of others to do as they please, but finds no good reason why he should take up any of their pursuits.

Examples of the cell 3 attitude are plentiful in the literature. Early twentieth-century anthropologists keen to temper what they saw as the absolutistic ethnocentricity of the Western worldview advocated "cultural relativism" (Boas, 1901; Benedict, 1934), which may be considered a mild form of ethical relativism. Their basic proposition was that "evaluations are relative to the cultural background out of which they emerge" (Herskovits, 1972, p. 14) and hence cannot be held with any universal validity.

Familiar forms of value relativism in moral philosophy include ethical subjectivism (Sahakian, 1974, pp. 192-201), a philosophy that holds values to be mere opinions expressed by individuals and hence not comparable. The relativist attitude is also depicted in the existentialist account of people before they make a commitment to some higher purpose: for example, Kierkegaard's (1941) "aesthetic personality" who pursues whatever is immediately and sensually gratifying, or Camus' (1944) "stranger" who is estranged from the world and from himself for want of commitment (engagement).

Critiques of modern education, such as "The Closing of the American Mind" by Allan Bloom (1987), find this attitude prevalent among liberal teachers and professors, and hence among the young. In its extreme the attitude is value nihilism, the inability to find anything that is worth supporting or engaging in. An interesting illustration of Bloom's thesis is found in a widely used textbook in business ethics (Steiner & Steiner, 1985, pp. 355-362), which offers its readers, in short order, no less than seventeen different ethical systems, from Aristotle's Golden Mean to Rawls' theory of justice, with not a single word of advice on what to do with them. In this case, the fairness principle (= the diversity valuation) so vigorously pursued by publishers of modern textbooks (in the interest of maximum sales) has seriously diluted the whole notion of ethical awareness.7

A value-relativistic streak seems evident in the European post-modernism of the early and mid-1980's (Lyotard, 1984; Jameson, 1984). Post-modernists have declared the "meta-narratives" of the modern age dead: the Church, the idea of progress, liberalism, Marxism, etc. None of these "meta-narratives," which to the post-modernist are all absolutistic cell 2 systems, is convincing anymore; they have lost their grip on people. The twentieth century has shattered the belief in universals like truth, good and beauty, and all that is left for post-modern man is to make do with the shards. A recent spate of books have all associated post-modernism with various forms of nihilism, which, in its modern form, implies relinquishing the last remnants of standards and values (e.g., Kariel, 1988; Vattimo, 1988; Kroker & Cook, 1988).

To summarize, just as the unity experience degenerates into absolutism if not accompanied by the diversity experience, so the diversity experience degenerates into relativism in the absence of the unity experience. With the unity experience, the diversity attitude is the recognition that others' paths in life are different aspects of the wholeness of life, the unity of being, but without it, the diversity experience becomes the observation that other people seem to be uptight about details that are just not worth bothering about. In the extreme case, the diversity experience, absent of the unity experience, turns into indifference toward other people's lives. It is chiefly the unity experience that gives meaning to one's personal life, and without any such experience of meaning it is difficult to understand what makes other people so interested in doing what they do.

In cell 4, the ideal case, the two experiences are unified. The attitude held here is one of high commitment to one's chosen field of activity combined with an equally high respect for and support of the activities and lifestyles of others. Only in combination do the two experiences acquire their full force, as revealing of a larger connectedness in human existence that cuts across the diversity of aspects found in the world.

In terms of moral philosophy, cell 4 could be the meeting place for the two major trends in ethics that have always been seen as contradictory: on the one hand, the (Kantian) quest for ethical universals and, on the other, the (anthropological and post-modern) acceptance of the variety of traditions. The former expresses the unity experience (there is one ethical standard applicable to all human beings); the latter, the diversity experience (different traditions have different ethical standards, and that is fine).

For a recent example of the interplay of these two trends in moral philosophy, see MacIntyre's (1988) recent book with the significant title, "Whose Justice? Which Rationality?". He rebels against those Enlightenment thinkers who search for a few moral axioms that all reasonable men would find undeniable. At the same time he is reluctant to embrace the opposite extreme, complete relativism. He settles for one particular tradition, the Augustinian Christian, as the road to moral truth, but seems unable to explain why (or even whether) his readers should adopt the same tradition (see Nagel's critique, 1988).


5.5 Care and Commitment

What does the matrix allow us to say about human relationships such as respect, care, acceptance and commitment to the other?

Up to now, the essence of the diversity experience (in the interpersonal case in particular) has been expressed mostly by the term "respect." This term has been used somewhat indiscriminately, whether to describe the relativist cell 3 or the ideal cell 4. However, as pointed out, each of the two experiences manifest themselves differently depending on whether the other experience is present or not. "Respect" as the essence of the diversity experience is really only appropriate when used to describe what is missing from the absolutistic cell 2: what is missing in this cell is respect for other people's pursuits.

As regards the relativist cell 3, the diversity experience appears as less than respect of others' games. "Excessive tolerance" or even "indifference" are more appropriate descriptors. This is so because without the unity experience a person will be unable to appreciate fully what makes other people tick and why their activities and lives need his support, too.

Only in cell 4 does the diversity experience come to full fruition. Here, it is more than tolerance and even respect; it is the active support and concern for the other person's pursuits; it is dedication and commitment to the Other. The matrix suggests that only when people know firsthand the satisfaction of having a meaningful content in their lives (the unity experience) are they able to commit themselves to other people and their pursuits (the diversity experience). As in the other examples used, cell 4 of the matrix conjoins opposites normally thought to be mutually exclusive: dedication to one's own life path and to that of the Other are here seen as prerequisites for each other, rather than as competitors.

As regards the cell-4 commitment to another person and his activities, assumptions, lifestyle, and so on, this is not to be understood as the uncritical support of whatever the other happens to be doing. It is a commitment not to his current activities per se, but to his being engaged in forms of activity that are appropriate for him in his historical situation. A person needs social and other forms to become a person at all (culturally appropriate habits, internalized norms, reasonable goals, etc.), and for this he needs the support of his family and peers and the larger community. As described in Chapter 4, the development of humanity is the unfoldment of forms that channel human activity: language, culture, social institutions, beliefs, and so on. Social support is required for this unfoldment, and, according to the matrix, the optimal form of support is as described by cell 4.

So, one needs to support other people's forms, but only up to a point, which is the point where the activities turn destructive and hinder further development in the person or in people around him. This is the time to stop supporting the person's activities and help him change them. Thus, the commitment we may show to other people in cell 4 is primarily a commitment to them as people8 and only secondarily to the particular forms that happen to shape their expression and activity.

Exploring the notion of acceptance, we find that acceptance of others may be offered in three different ways. In the absolutistic cell 2 we will accept only people who pursue a path similar to our own, since this is the one true path in life. In the relativist cell 3 we accept anyone no matter what he does, we do not care. Clearly, these are both cold-hearted (that is, degenerate) versions of what human acceptance can be.9 Only in the ideal cell 4 is acceptance offered in the proper way: we accept the other because we understand that his favorite activities are just a different version of ours, and he and we are doing the same thing in different ways: we are playing the game of life seriously, merging with the flow using different channels of activity, seeing different aspects of the big picture.

Consider the related concept of care for the other. How is care expressed differently in the four cells? In cell 2, we express our care for another person by trying to change him to see and do things our way, because we believe this is the only way to get anything important and worthwhile out of life. This is a degenerate form of care, because we do not realize that the other person is different from us and may need different supports and challenges. An example would be the child-rearing principles in nineteenth-century middle class culture, where children were less recognized as having needs different from adults and hence were exposed to the same expectations and demands as adults. In many cases parents would express their care for their children by imposing their own grown-up ideas and practices on them, such as adult clothing, enduring long family dinners and other tasks that today are recognized as belonging to later developmental stages.

In cell 3, we care for the other by letting him do whatever he does, because we believe one must respect and tolerate everything. This is also a degenerate version of care, because we do not see that the other person is similar to us and may learn from our experience. An example would be some forms of modern child-rearing principles, sometimes called free pedagogy, that tends to give a child too much leeway. A parent so disposed will give in to the child and will think that love and care lies in being permissive and yielding to the child's every whim. This is an excessive tolerance that parades as care, but is actually merely irresponsibility.

In cell 4, our combined unity and diversity experiences help us care for the other in a way that combines the best of the two degenerate cases. Drawing on the unity experience, we care for the other by helping him pursue activities that have benefited us earlier, so that he may share the meaning and fulfillment we derive from those activities. In other words, we recognize that he is similar to us and hence may learn from our experience and influence. Drawing on our diversity experience, on the other hand, we also care for the other by helping him explore activities other than our own, so that he may find avenues of insight and enjoyment that are particularly suited to him in his historical context. In other words, we recognize that he is different from us and may need other challenges than those we are familiar with.

Care is one of the things that go into love, and while speaking about love from the matrix may be a little to presumptuous, relationships of love clearly involve the dimensions and categories just covered: The obsessive and possessive cell 2, where the loved one is guarded jealously; the uncaring and indifferent cell 3, where there is too much space and too little intimacy; and finally the optimal cell 4, where both partners treasure each other, yet do not monopolize or constrain the other, and where closeness and freedom go hand in hand.

As in the other cell 4 cases, the important thing here is to see that these apparently contradictory ways of relating to others and acting in the world are just that, only apparently contradictory. The matrix suggests a logic that does not dichotomize and separate opposites, as formal logic does. If the characterization of the caring attitude of cell 4 seems contradictory, it is probably because the conventional logic used in serious analysis and reflection prohibits the coincidence of opposites. In actual practice, however, many people providing personal or professional care--parents, nurses, teachers--come close to the attitude described, in which the other person is seen as both similar from and different to oneself and hence needing both similar and different challenges and supports.

The matrix provides a map of the four possible ways a person will relate to other people, depending on whether none, either or both of the unity and the diversity experiences obtains. The proposal inherent in the matrix is that the cell 4 type of relationship is the one to be strived for. As mentioned, in its present four-cell shape, the matrix only provides a very crude outline of extreme types, which may serve more as general pointers than descriptors of actual situations. What may be done with these extreme categories will be discussed later.


5.5 Attachment and Meaning

In this section we leave for a moment the explicit interpersonal/social orientation of the previous two sections and explore the manner in which individuals may deal with the forms that shape their energies and activities. In what frame of mind do we pursue our activities in the four cells? How do we deal with the forms that shape these activities? Do we take them lightly? Or dead seriously? Do we cling to them? Or do we let go of them easily?

Let us first excuse cell 1. As in the previous cases, we can say little about this cell, because the parameters under consideration are always each other's opposites and when neither is present there is nothing much we can say.

In cell 2 we find the untempered unity experience, which in the extreme is the absolutistic certainty that these are the right forms to adopt, for only they lead to truth, fulfillment, God, the perfect social order, or whatever. If the forms pursued here are the only ones, it follows that they are extremely important and cannot be taken lightly. They must be adhered to and any deviance that challenges the privileged status of these forms must be quenched. The concomitant attitude is a rigid one; certain forms have been found to be the right ones and they remain fixed in the adherents' minds.

We may characterize this attitude as attachment, an attachment to the beliefs, roles and social institutions that shape one's life. In a situation of excessive attachment there can be no letting go, for the individual clings to what he thinks is right and what works for him. There is a strained and tense way of dealing with things. In the limit, we see fanaticism in this cell. Examples of this attitude is legion, from the everyday little hang-ups and rigid habits most people seem to know from their own lives, to the more serious compulsions and obsessions of a more clearly pathological character, and all the way to the collective manias of totalitarian ideologies and religious cults.

In cell 3, where the diversity experience rules, there is a relativistic resignation about forms. If all forms seems equally acceptable to me and none particularly worthwhile, why should I be so hung up about doing things the right way, according to the rules of the game? Why care about proper form or about living up to expectations if the whole thing is not too important anyway? Letting go is easy here, because there is nothing that is really worth holding on to.

The cell-3 attitude is thus one of detachment; a being detached from the forms and concerns that lend direction and meaning to people's lives. If the overly attached cell-2 attitude is much too serious and somber and not playful enough, the overly detached cell-3 attitude involves taking things much too lightly, so that there is also no element of play here. To play a game one has to abide by some rules, at least to a certain extent, but in cell 3, no rules are considered worth playing by at all, everything slips; things are too loose to be a game at all.

Examples of excessive detachment are found mostly in people we describe as having given up hope, people who are lost existentially, people who do not know what to do with their lives; they try this and give it up and try that, but for whatever reason they never stay long enough with one thing to find the deeply satisfying unity experience that makes it all worthwhile. Incidentally, the traditional Western (mis-)understanding of Hindu and other Oriental philosophies is along the lines of excessive detachment: Indians are seen as being too resigned about their lots, they don't rebel against the caste system, all they do is sit around and wait for the next life and reincarnation and Nirvana. Regardless of how misguided this view is, it exemplifies the cell under discussion, cell 3.

Cell 4, as usual, combines the best of cells 2 and 3, taking what are degenerated distortions in cells 2 and 3 and, by uniting them, turns them into desirable features of the good life. In cell 4 there is attention to forms, a concern for doing things the right way, but without the obsessiveness of the absolutistic cell 2. Forms and rules are treated in a relaxed way, but there is none of the resignation and indifference of the relativist cell 3. The attention to forms is combined with a readiness to change them; there is a simultaneous attachment to and detachment from the forms that channel human activity.

In this cell we properly can play a game, in the best sense of the word, for here is the single-mindedness of the unity experience as well as the "multi-mindedness," to coin a term, of the diversity experience. A good game is both serious and fun: you have to believe in the rules and pursue the objective of the game, yet you should not become obsessive about it or forget everything around you. It is important to win the game, but you must also remember that there are other games in town, other things to do, other beliefs to hold, and so on.

The serious playfulness characteristic of a good game may indeed be taken as a paradigm for life as a whole. The metaphor of life as a game has been used by Grof (1971) to point to the simultaneous lightheartedness and dedication with which one ought to approach life. The games Grof has in mind is of course neither the deadly serious sports of modern society, which are more a profession than a game, nor the idle game of badminton played absentmindedly on a hot Sunday afternoon in the park; but the serious game played regularly with friends, where time and energy is put into improvement and practice and where playing a great game is more important than winning points.

Grof points out that in the game of life one does not know the rules, and this fact is part of the game. This makes for a somewhat unusual game if compared to the sports and board variety of games, but it makes the metaphor more real, for in life there are no "right" rules. To be sure, we are born into a culture with a profusion of rules most of which we acquire during socialization, but we can never be certain these are the best rules (because we also do not know what "best" means). Often we come to decide that the currently accepted rules or forms have to be replaced and another game created which will better serve us, as happens in all evolutionary and revolutionary periods. This is part of the game of life, too, that the rules of the current game have to be changed, in the pursuit of the best game to play.

On the micro-level of everyday life, leading one's life as one would play a game involves commitment and dedication to one's chosen occupation and activities; it means practicing and trying to develop one's skill, getting better at doing what one has to do, whether it is studying for exams, keeping the house clean, throwing great parties, chairing a business meeting, being a concerned and responsible citizen, caring for one's family or any other of the many minor and major tasks and preoccupations that fill an individual's life. It requires doing all these things with the open and reflective attitude that there may be other ways of doing these things or other things to do. The game of having a home involves keeping it reasonably clean, but if the wife in a two-career family finds herself doing all the housework and resenting it, maybe it's time for a little rebellion and a new set of rules for the domestic game.

By paying attention to one's every activity one may indeed find the diversity and unity experiences in whatever one does. There is a sentiment among people interested in personal growth, spirituality and other "New Age" pursuits (Ferguson, 1980) that a "peak experience" (Maslow, 1964), similar in some regards to our unity experience, is such an important and unusual event in most people's lives that one needs go to extraordinary lengths to have it. In the 1980's a whole industry of workshops and seminars has grown up around the popular demand for transpersonal experiences and glimpses of other realities, to the extent that one observer, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, somewhere warned against "workshopitis," the disease of desperately searching for enlightenment outside one's everyday life.

The cell-4 attitude to life requires no spectacular feats for its realization, no firewalking, no mediumistic trances, no divine revelations or mystical conversion experiences. In fact, such extraordinary experiences often take one straight into the absolutistic cell 2, because they so overwhelm the mind that the capacity for seeing other points of view and alternative paths is blocked out. As discussed above, by itself the unity experience all too easily corrupts the mind into thinking that this is the only way there is, and the more sensational the experience, the greater the danger of becoming seduced by it and thus dismissing alternative routes. Indeed, the search for transpersonal experiences sometimes appear as escapist as the search for highs through drugs and alcohol (which are equally substitutes for authentic spiritual experiences).

If the unity experience is akin to the mystical or religious experience, the diversity experience is a secular and social experience. Only in a truly social context, with all the consideration for others that such a life entails, can the extraordinary peak experiences that occasionally present themselves to human beings become harnessed for the good life in the good society. This social context is most evident in all the chores and tasks that fill our lives, and it is the sophistication of the approach taken to these tasks that brings out the good life--whether one's daily life is spiced with unusual peak experiences or not.

At this point we may emphasize that to make a truly good life, the unity and diversity experiences must be more than single and freestanding events that hit the individual and then are gone. We may occasionally speak of "a" unity or diversity experience, which may be the rare occasion when the unity of existence or the diversity of equivalent perspectives appear to us in some particularly intense moment of insight. However, ideally these moments should not remain rare or sparse, but should diffuse and turn into enduring states of mind that imbue personal existence with a special luminous quality. As ever-present dimensions to the everyday life, the unity experience makes us feel at home in the cosmos, and the diversity experience makes us feel at home in the social and secular world.

The quality of feeling at home in the cosmos and the social world brings us to the concept of meaning.10 In the past sections we have occasionally identified meaning with the sense of wholeness and coherence obtained in the unity experience. At first sight, meaning in one's life does indeed seem to issue from pursuing a chosen path and realizing a connectedness or contact with a domain larger than oneself. On the other hand, appreciating the rich diversity of activities that one may enjoy and that others actually engage in also seems to provide some meaning. Let us refine the concept of meaning in terms of the cells of the unity-diversity matrix.

In the absolutistic cell 2, the unity experience provides an abundance of meaning, for the individual has seen deeper than others and grasped the unity of the world. However, this is a degenerate cell because there is no accompanying diversity experience to temper the excitement of having seen the light. There is a strong attachment to the particular forms that led to this experience, whether rituals, beliefs, doctrines, practices, etc. In this degenerate case, the intensity of the unity experience gets transferred to the forms which assume immense importance and meaning, because only through these forms can the unity experience be had, the fervent believer thinks.

We may say that in this situation there is too "much" meaning. Such situations are probably found only in pre-modern societies, such as the European Middle Ages. All the forms that shape activities in the little subworld that congeals around the unity experience are pregnant with significance. Even fortuitous events or, rather, events that seem fortuitous to outsiders, are loaded with meaning; they are omens or messages from the higher powers that must not go unheeded. People in cell 2 have a strong sense of fate and destiny; their lives are molded by external forces with which they must align themselves and their personal actions.

Painted as the locus of the overabundance of meaning, cell 2 appears as a fairly oppressive state of mind, because the individual is never let off the hook. For an example, consider attitudes toward illness. Does an illness, such as cancer, strike at random, or does it only occur in individuals who have somehow "deserved" it because of their constitution or lifestyle? In the Middle Ages, sick people were on the whole seen as sinners justly punished by God for their transgressions. Disease meant something; it was not just hard luck: it meant that the sick person had strayed from the straight and narrow. In this cell-2 view, disease is seen as a highly significant expression of the individual's personal fate and fortune.

The modern Florence-Nightingale attitude of compassion and forgiveness towards the sick are in large part a reaction against the excessive and hence oppressive meanings of disease in the Medieval Christian view. Disease strikes for reasons other than the wrath of God, or for no reason at all; there are such things as accidents from which one cannot draw any moral.

In general terms, cell 3 lacks the unity experience that casts a select few activities as particularly worthwhile. There is an appreciation of the multitude of forms and paths pursued by people, but no one path is seen as especially important or significant for the individual in this cell. That such a person sees no particular forms or activities as worth pursuing amounts to the absence of any special meaning in life. This person's own actions are not part of a larger scheme, and this absence of meaningful context implies that the things that happen to him are also not experienced as revealing anything. Before the final shakedown at Dunsinane, Shakespeare's Macbeth finds himself in cell 3:

Out, out, brief candle!
Life is but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more, it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Macbeth, V.v.

In the medical example, the twentieth century has seen a swing of the pendulum away from the intense meanings of the Medieval Christian view and toward the opposite extreme, cell 3, where nothing has meaning. The depersonalized scientific model of man as an intricate mechanism that may be brought in for repairs in special workshops operated by expert mechanists (doctors) has not only eliminated the stigma of sin previously associated with disease, but it has also lessened the sense of personal responsibility for disease. The success of modern medicine has led to a widespread belief that any ailment has a solution, a quick fix that absolves the individual of his responsibility to care for himself and make sure he does not get sick in the first place. With such easy problem-solving measures at hand, why should modern man bother to reflect on and learn from disease, why should he try to interpret it and find its meaning and significance, when in all likelihood his, say, infection, say, is just a happenstance of the random movements of particles in a meaningless universe.

This careless attitude to one's health has provoked a reaction in the 1970's and 1980's, the holistic health movement (Pelletier, 1980). Its practitioners urge personal responsibility and sensitivity to one's body. Disease symptoms and pains are seen as signals emitted from the body, urging the individual to change his lifestyle and engage in personal growth and development. This is a return to the meaningfulness of disease we found in cell 2, but apparently without the stigmatization and condemnation of with the Medieval Christian view. There seems to be an attempt among holistic health practitioners to combine the compassion and forgiveness of the modern medical view with the sensitivity to symbols and messages of the traditional religious view. If such a synthesis is effected, we will have an example of a cell-4 view of meaning.

Cell 4, then, has just the right amount of meaning, not the troublesome excess of meaning in cell 2, and not the meaningless void in cell 3. Of course, more than just the quantity of meaning is different in the three cells, it is the quality. Cell 4 recovers the best of cells 2 and 3: the willingness to interpret and see potential meaning in everything, as in cell 2, and the forgiveness and acceptance of sick people, as in cell 3. Cell 4 leaves the degenerate aspects of these cells behind: the obsessive attention to every little detail in cell 2, and the careless neglect of events and symptoms that one might otherwise learn from in cell 3.

The individual in cell 4 sees his world as meaningful, but does not go overboard in seeing signs in every little event. Some things are trivial and do not deserve as much attention as others. One must indeed look out for potential meanings and messages, but not become too hung-up about details. The simultaneous sense of relaxation and dedication that we found in the good game also applies to the notion of meaning: dedication to finding meanings and acting on them, yet a certain relaxation about things that appear meaningless or unimportant. The desire to make sense of every event is evidence of an attachment to things, which must be combined with a readiness to let go, to resign oneself in a detached manner to the occasional fortuity of the world.

The sensitivity to meaning comes out differently in cell 2 and cell 4. The absolutistic individual is rigid in his view of the world, and events acquire meaning to him by confirming the validity of his beliefs. Explanations are quick and facile: "Oh, this of course happened because so and so..." By contrast, the cell-4 attitude is one of openness and curiosity and a readiness to question old assumptions. Certainly, in the long run things will reveal themselves as meaningful, but the meaning of any given event is not always what it appears to be. Events may require extensive reflection and interpretation before their meanings appear, essentially through a process of learning and development in which information is examined, compared, analyzed, contextualized, and so on. The cell-4 willingness to suspend ingrained beliefs is exemplified by the scientific attitude (at its best), whereas the cell-2 tendency to jump in with doctrinaire explanations is characteristic of institutionalized religion and other closed belief systems.


5.6 Personal Good and Social Good

It has been clear all along that cell 4, by virtue of the mechanics of the matrix and the assumption of the two experiences being desirable, is the cell that defines the good life. We have further implied that the three other cells are to be avoided or worked away from. Thus, the matrix fulfills the basic requirement of any kind of moral or ethical framework, namely, that it distinguishes good from bad and hence is potentially capable of serving as a framework for moral action by suggesting which forms are to be adopted and which not. Let us be more explicit now on what the matrix says about the interaction between the forms an individual should adopt (or avoid) and those that other people, as seen from the individual's point of view, should adopt (or avoid).

Recapitulating the basics of the matrix, we recall that the unity experience pertains to one particular, current activity or form, through which is revealed a larger unity, enabling the individual to transcend and merge with the flux. Correspondingly, the diversity experience concerns the way an individual looks at other forms than the one he is currently engaged in, whether these forms are his own or those of other people. Let us refer to the situations described by the unity and diversity experiences as "my activities (forms, paths, beliefs, etc.)" and "activities I observe other people engaging in," respectively.

By equating the diversity experience with my perception of other people's forms and ignoring the fact that the diversity experience also pertains to the activities I engage in at other times than now, we arrive at the notion that the unity experience speaks to my activities, and the diversity experience to other people's activities. This division of the field of human action into self and other is convenient for an exploration of moral and ethical issues.11

Now, the task is to articulate "constraints" that apply in each of these two cases, that is, constraints that limit what activities I can to engage in and what I should accept for other people to engage in. Both of these dimensions are important for a moral or ethical framework, as they address the question of what I should do to become a more fully developed person (personal good) and what I should strive for in my relationships with other people (social good). As we shall see, this distinction is contrived but still useful for laying out the issues.

These constraints may be derived from the matrix itself. The two non-ideal cases of cells 2 and 3 suggest that we should refrain from adopting forms that do not give us the unity or diversity experiences; that is, we should not let our actions be channeled by forms that prevent us from seeing a larger whole in every part or from appreciating the diversity of ways in which this may be done.

Formulated negatively, the unity and diversity valuations thus appear as constraints on admissible forms. Recalling that the unity experience untempered by the diversity experience led to absolutism (cell 2), we may call the constraint implied by the unity experience "the constraint on absolutism." This constraint thus rules out absolutistic forms. Likewise, the constraint implied by the diversity principle will be called "the constraint on relativism," and it rules out relativistic forms.

Thus, we obtain four combinations, as follows: a particular activity that (1) I engage in or that (2) I see another person engage in may be ruled out on either of two grounds: (a) it denies the diversity experience (this being the constraint on absolutism) or (b) it denies the unity experience (the constraint on relativism). Further, an activity may be ruled out both grounds, as in the null case of our matrix, but we will leave out that possibility for simplicity's sake.

Let us walk through the four possible combinations. First, the type of form that the constraint on absolutism prevents me from adopting is one that insists on privileged access to the truth. I should avoid fixating on a particular part of existence and believe that is the most important thing in the world. In the second combination, the relativistic constraint tells me to avoid forms that imply excessive acceptance of other forms, because in the extreme, this may lead to a complete loss of focus and direction, or nihilism. Thus, the two constraints as applied to the forms that shape my life lay out the foundations of a program for personal development that helps me avoid relativistic and absolutistic forms in my own life and learn to adopt cell-4 type forms.

The third and fourth combinations apply the two constraints to the forms that I see other people engage in. The constraint on absolutism says that I should not blithely accept that other people adopt absolutistic forms, that is, activities in which they fanatically pursue some minor aspect of existence to the exclusion of the rest of the world. Similarly, the constraint on relativism implies that I should not stand idly by as they engage in activities that entail indifference to the lives of others; and when I see such forms guiding the actions of my fellow human beings I should help change them. Together, the two constraints may form the backbone of a concerted effort on the part of a concerned individual or group of individuals to effect change at the interpersonal, social and political levels.

Despite the distinction introduced between my forms and the forms that I see other people using--that is, between the personal good and the social good, as we have called them--the matrix makes clear that the good life cannot be achieved by one individual in isolation from other people. I cannot lead a good life if my neighbor does not, because if he is suffering I am insufficiently committed to his need to engage in activities that help him approach the good life. My being insufficiently committed to another person (cf. Section 5.4 on commitment and care) is the same as being over-tolerant of or, in fact, indifferent to what he does. This indifference of mine is a cell-3 attitude, which is ruled out by the constraint on relativism, which, in turn, I must conform to in order to lead the good life.

Repeating this backwards, if I want to lead the good life, I cannot be in the relativistic cell 3. Being in cell 3 involves being overly accepting of (that is, indifferent to) other people's needs to engage in activities that help them move toward the good life. Hence, if I do not help my neighbor pursue his personal good I cannot realize my own personal good. This amounts to the point that the personal good and the social good are merely two facets of the same phenomenon.

The ability of the matrix to unify the individual and the social levels is not a trivial point. The conflict between the individual and the social runs deep in modern Western thinking. The basic distrust of the social instincts of human beings was clearly enunciated by Thomas Hobbes when he posited a barbaric and war-like original state of nature to which man would revert if not held in check by an omnipotent ruler, the Leviathan. The contributions of John Locke and the later social contract theorists, upon which the modern Western polity is built, softened Hobbes's fundamental misanthropy but retained his basic proposition that people will be nasty to each other if not constrained by the threat of punishment, as sanctioned by a personal ruler or impersonal law.

Capitalism and neoclassical economics have strongly exacerbated the modern dichotomy between the individual good and the social good. Because of its almost exclusive focus on depletable resources, the economic mindset of the modern age has painted the individual good and the social good in terms of a zero-sum game, where one person's gain is another's loss. The notion that to do good to someone else I have to give up some of my own good is firmly entrenched in our culture.

The unity-diversity matrix's depiction of the good life as an inherently social matter, where the improvement of the other person's life is intrinsic to my attempts to improve my own life, must be counted as one of the matrix's assets. In its conclusions, this depiction or conceptualization is by no means unique; it has been stated variously over the centuries, from "Love thy neighbor as thyself" through Kant's categorical imperative to the pop psychology of Leo Buscaglia. But the reasoning that led to this conclusion, that is, its consistency with the basic premises of the matrix, including its ontological moorings in the concept of implicate order, makes the whole exercise a non-trivial one.


5.7 Using the Unity-Diversity Matrix

We now come to the difficult question of how the matrix may be used. Since the matrix is basically a typology, using it obviously involves examining various forms and placing them in either of the categories that constitutes the typology. But how is this to be done?

A first impulse is to attempt to use the matrix as a scientific instrument by which to make more or less objective decisions as to the classification of any form (ideology, norm, belief, etc.) encountered in the real world. This would require operationalization of the terms of the matrix (what variables do they presuppose? How are they to be quantified?) and the subsequent identification and measurement of these variables. This procedure would allow us to determine with precision which forms are to be avoided and which to be emulated in our search for the good life.

The presumed objectivity of this approach implies that the matrix is capable of being used in the same manner by different individuals. Using the unambiguous operationalization of the matrix, different users will arrive at the same conclusions as to the categorization of a given form. The various backgrounds and perspectives of the users will be cancelled out completely and play no role in the use of the matrix.

This scientific (or, rather, scientistic) approach, however, can be ruled out reflexively, because the very foundation on which the matrix is built emphasizes the central role of interpretation in the human world, as well as the variety of perspectives from which human beings interpret the world. Adopting an approach to the use of the matrix that runs counter to its basic premises is inconsistent and can lead to nothing but confusion. There can be no objective way of assessing, say, the degree of absolutism or relativism of a particular form. All uses of the matrix are relative to the user; the user brings his particular background to bear on terms of the matrix and will use them in a manner unavoidably linked to his previous history and the forms that shape his life.

As has been mentioned in passing earlier, the examples of absolutistic and relativistic forms offered in this chapter must be seen in this light. These examples, such as the classification of Christian fundamentalism as absolutistic and of French post-modernism as relativist, are valid from this author's point of view, but not necessarily from the point of view of any other person. If, nevertheless, the examples have been helpful to the reader, it is not because they embody objectively "true" classifications, but because the reader shares my background and interpretation of the world and hence resonates with my use of the matrix. The fewer assumptions and beliefs the reader shares with me, the more often he will himself wondering why this or that particular example was chosen to illustrate a given category of the matrix.

A member of a fundamentalist Church would probably take issue with my classification of his beliefs and practices as absolutistic and instead claim that I am lax in my attitudes to religion, abortion, etc., to the point of relativism. In the absence of hard-and-fast criteria for the measurement of forms and the determination of their "proper" categories, the fundamentalist user of the matrix may indeed apply it in precisely this way. The matrix permits a multiplicity of interpretations, and this, it must be emphasized, is not a weakness or a regrettable by-product of the unoperationalizable nature of the matrix.

A facile response to the diversity of interpretations afforded by the matrix is to conclude that one man's excessive, say, attachment is another man's excessive detachment. If there are no well-defined rules for applying the terms of the matrix we can use it as we please, it seems. Where does that leave us? Is the matrix then meaningful at all?

Two possible ways of using the matrix have now been outlined: the scientistic or objective approach with its rigorous rules, and the subjective approach with its complete absence of rules for applying the matrix. We found the scientistic approach to be infeasible and the subjective approach to be pointless.

These two approaches may, reflexively, be couched in the terms of the matrix. The objective approach is then a cell-2 approach to the use of conceptual tools: there must be a right way to use the matrix; one particular operationalization or set of rules for using the matrix must be found and implemented. This approach exemplifies the absolutistic insistence on proper forms and procedures. Similarly analyzed in terms of the matrix, the subjective approach is a cell-3 affair, where there is no regard for proper form at all: we can use the matrix as we please, in the most relativistic of ways: one man's attachment is another man's detachment. As in all relativistic practice, this approach destroys the game by being insufficiently concerned with the rules of the game, just as the scientistic and absolutistic way of using the matrix destroys the game by insisting on rigid rules of application.

Let us instead look for a cell-4 alternative, a way of using the matrix that includes the best aspects of the two degenerate approaches and leaves out the worst. It is proposed that the matrix be used as a personal compass that shows four directions (the four cells) in which the forms that shape one's existence may move. One may see oneself as located in the middle of the matrix, where the four cells touch, such that one is ever poised to move in the direction of any of the four cells. The various forms that one encounters in life, whether they are discovered in other people or in oneself, may thus be interpreted as belonging in one of the four cells. Some will be judged to be more absolutistic than relativistic, others will seem like null-case forms and yet others will appear as desirable cell-4 forms.12

Used this way, the unity-diversity matrix is offered as a comprehensive conceptual framework for the interpretation and assessment of forms, which allows for the differentiation of desirable forms from undesirable ones. Forms encountered in the course of one's daily life may be "measured" against the categories proposed by the matrix and treated accordingly. The complex of characterizations that went into the description of each cell should allow the user to more easily recognize the larger pattern of which it is a part, thus enabling him to stay away from the form in question or move toward it.

For example, if one of your acquaintances suddenly starts taking an interest in your well-being and strongly encourages, over your protestations, that you try the system of self-improvement that has helped him so much, you may recognize his interest as a characteristic cell-2 behavior, where a person expresses his care for you by trying to persuade you adopt his forms, as discussed in Section 5.4 on care and commitment. This type of care may be a first indication of a serious attachment on the part of your friend. Being alerted by the unity-diversity matrix to the pattern of the degenerated unity experience (unity without diversity), you may suspect that this system of self-improvement is an absolutistic one that produces loyal disciples rather than mature and autonomous human beings.

By identifying such patterns of assumptions, behaviors, attitudes and all the other forms of the human world, the unity-diversity matrix may be an aid to understanding the vicissitudes of human existence and help us choose between the forms offered in the marketplace of lifestyles and belief systems that is modern society. Whether we use the matrix as a pair of glasses for obtaining a clearer view of the world, or as a compass that helps us find direction and navigate through life, it urges us to avoid the Scylla of absolutism and the Charybdis of relativism and to chart, not merely a half-hearted middle course between the two, but a course that takes us beyond them and into entirely different waters.

If our judgments and interpretations of forms encountered are necessarily personal and colored by our backgrounds, they are no less important or valid for that. To leave behind the absolutism of scientistic attempts to make objective categorizations as well as the relativism of the view that "one man's cell 2 is another man's cell 3," we may see ourselves, qua users of the matrix, as located within a community of individuals all trying to make sense of the world using this matrix or any other conception of good and bad.

In such a community there is a constant negotiation and calibration of interpretations, which proceed from more or less coherent or consciously recognized assumptions, ideologies, value complexes, theories about the world, and so on. The unity-diversity matrix may be seen as one such framework for interpretation which, when used to judge particular forms, requires extensive negotiation among the observers of these forms. The terms of the matrix will invariably be used in different ways by different people, but if the context of use is such that one person's interpretation is always tried against another person's, through the vehicle of dialog and discussion, there is a potential for a convergence of interpretations and of the moral and ethical direction in which individuals and the community as a whole will move.

This testing ground of communal meaning negotiation provides the ideal-case alternative to the degenerate absolutism of the scientistic use of the matrix, for the sharing of interpretations between people provides intersubjective standards for what is the proper categorization of a given form. In other words, by avoiding the scientistic use of the matrix we do not abandon rules or criteria of application entirely, since the community will have certain, more or less stable and explicit standards that help the individual make his assessment of a given ideology or way of life. Thus, the community approach retains the positive core of the degenerate scientistic approach (the presence of standards and rules, that is, the moderate concern with proper form always found in cell 2), while avoiding the excesses (the attempt to make these standards objective, that is, the excessive and rigid concern with proper form).

Similarly, the community approach disposes of the resigned relativism of "one man's X is another's Y," which is a formulation that ignores the potential for mutual learning and development inherent in dialog. If I find a given form to be absolutistic and you find it relativistic, that is not the end of it. Rather, it is the beginning of a dialog that fleshes out the context and details of our interpretations, deepens and enriches our understanding of the issues involved and helps us reach a shared appreciation of the action that needs to be taken. Thus, the community approach retains the best of the degenerate cell-2 approach (the relaxed and flexible approach to standards) while avoiding the worst (an excessive and unproductive relativism).

The fact that different people will judge a given form differently will produce stalemates of mutual name-calling and pigeonholing only in the absence of a context for communal negotiation of interpretations. With the community context, these differences in interpretation are to be treasured, for they provide the fuel for individual and community development by challenging established interpretations and forms. Community standards should never be accepted in any absolute way; conformity is only useful up to a point. There must always be room for creative individuals to generate new interpretations and forms that conflict with established ones, but may later be adopted because they will have been recognized as better. In this manner a community may ever increase the quality of its forms, measured, according to the present matrix, by the degree to which its stakeholders are afforded the unity-in-diversity experience.

This proposal for a community approach to the use of the unity-diversity matrix is inspired by the "sociorationalist" view of knowledge of Gergen (1982, 1985) and by other writers in phenomenology and the sociology of knowledge (Berger & Luckmann, 1966; Manicas & Secord, 1983; Rabinow & Sullivan, 1979a). As discussed in Section 3.7 on the social context of human experience, these writers point out that knowledge is not merely the Cartesian affair of an isolated individual holding representations of an external reality, but involves the social context of tacit assumptions about the world as mediated by language and other forms of communication in a community of knowers. Using the unity-diversity matrix involves engaging in attempts to know the world. Such attempts are irreducibly social, and the use of the matrix must thus be firmly located in the context of social discourse and processes of communal interpretation.

Various other writers have emphasized the dialogical or conversational aspects of knowledge production and reality understanding (Habermas, 1971; Rorty, 1979; Bohm, 1985b). These writers all agree that a community is an important (or even fundamental) resource, not only for arriving a new knowledge but also for resolving social conflict. Habermas, for example, emphasizes again and again the empowering effects of rational discourse and communicative competence, and Bohm advocates use of the dialog as a method for suspending entrenched opinions and moving towards reconciliation with other people.

Individuals engaged in such meaning-enhancing conversation and dialog may not only use the unity-diversity matrix to interpret the world and negotiate the manner in which the matrix's terms are to be used, but they may, of course, also decide to substantially alter, explicitly reject or simply ignore the matrix. Like all frameworks claiming to provide a context for interpretation, the unity/diversity matrix should be scrutinized and criticized from the point of view of alternative perspectives. In fact, the matrix itself calls for openness to alternative models, because too strict an adherence to the unity-diversity matrix would be absolutistic and hence ruled out by the matrix. (Conversely, this is not to say that the matrix should be dismissed without reflection; this would be a relativistic cell-2 use of the matrix.)

One further aspect of the matrix that deserves some comment is its emphasis on experience. How does this affect the manner in which the matrix is used? The critical reader might conclude from this emphasis that the good life may be achieved merely by changing people's experience of the world without doing anything to "really" change the world. If the mass of the people are unhappy with their lives and think they have too little of the unity-in-diversity experience, what is to prevent the ruling class from dispensing a drug (like the soma of Brave New World) or brainwashing them till they believe they have reached the ideal cell 4? If a drug dealer has a mid-life crisis and begins to find his street business lacking in higher purpose, does he merely need to learn to feel good about himself and see some kind of larger wholeness behind drug dealing?

As discussed in Chapter 4, the term "experience" is intended to connote the phenomenological or interpretive character of the human world; it does not imply choosing one or the other side of the traditional but ill-conceived boundary between "the real world out there" and "our mere experience of it." One should not be misled by the term to attribute a subjectivist bias to the matrix. As the vehicle of interpretation and apperception of meaning, experience is as important as the values dimension in defining what is truly human, which is why experience and values play such a prominent role in the present discussion of the use of implicate order in the human world.

The intended implication of the term is that, in the last analysis, a good life is one that is experienced as such. It has no meaning to speak of someone having a good life if that person does not experience himself as having one. This is not to say that other people will agree that he has a good life, or that he does not change his mind later. But the baseline is experience, a person's life and world as seen from his own point of view. Recall the example about the organization with the holographic design. If none of its stakeholders (whether internal or external) experiences any improvement over earlier designs, does it make sense to say an improvement has taken place? It would seem not. Talking about values (improvement, the good, the good life) requires talking about human experience.

Attempting to bring about the good life in the good society involves changing the experiences people have and the conditions that engender these experiences. However, there is no clear-cut distinction between which forms are part of the "experience side" and which are part of the "conditions side." In the case of the Brave New World, the distinction between accepting the dispensed soma and rebelling against the Alpha class seems clear-cut enough, but both courses of action are really a matter of adopting certain forms (eating that pill every day vs. conspiring to rebel). All substances ingested, including normal foods, will influence one's experience of the world in a manner which is not qualitatively different from the change in one's experience of the world produced by, say, a revolutionary redistribution of wealth in a society. In fact, the effect that such a redistribution has on the way people experience the world may come about through the use of ingested substances, such as nutritious foods or medicines previously reserved for the oppressor class but now made available to the masses.

What is reprehensible about Huxley's dystopia is, hence, not the administration of soma qua experience-altering substance, because all substances are. (In fact, some substances, like vitamins, carbohydrates, certain minerals are essential to the good life, indeed to human life per se). What is appalling is the context in which soma is administered: it is not taken freely, no alternatives are presented, another class of citizens benefits from the exploitation, the soma takers are prevented from feeling pain and are thus deprived of the opportunity to learn and develop, and so on and so forth.

The point made here is that the unity-diversity matrix is neutral to the particular change strategy selected. Its emphasis on experience does not predispose its users to "merely" change people experience of the world without changing the world itself (misguided as this distinction is), and it does also not recommend the opposite. What is the appropriate change strategy must be fleshed out by the community of users, and their guiding principle should be the maximization of the unity-in-diversity experience.13


5.8 Summary and Conclusions

This chapter presented an elaboration of the unity and diversity experiences constructed from the implicate order in the previous chapter. Recapitulating, the unity valuation stipulates that the good life presupposes the unity experience of merging with the flux and seeing a larger wholeness or unity in the particular part of life in which one finds oneself. Similarly, the diversity valuation identifies the diversity experience as necessary for the good life, this being the appreciation that there are other equally worthy and deserving paths to pursue in life than the one currently engaged in.

We pointed out that it was all too easy to conceive of the unity and diversity experiences as opposites, such that being immersed in one particular activity prevents us from recognizing the legitimacy of other activities. The matrix was introduced to demonstrate the interaction of the two experiences and to conceptualize the two experiences as mutually inclusive. By virtue of the fact that the matrix combines two equally desirable features of the world (in our case, the unity and diversity experiences), the max-max cell, cell 4, depicts the ideal case where both experiences are realized to a maximum degree. Two degenerate cases are identified: cell 2 has unity without diversity, and cell 3, diversity without unity. In the null case, cell 1, neither experience is realized.

We then discussed some attitudes, behaviors and other ethically and morally relevant phenomena that lend themselves to analysis in terms of the matrix. The predominant attitude of cell 2 (the experience of unity without diversity) was defined as absolutism, the belief that I have seen the light (the unity and meaning of being) and my way of doing things is, therefore, the right one. This leads to dogmatism and fanaticism. Cell 3 maps the relativistic attitude that all forms and activities are equally good and none is particularly good. In the extreme, this leads to complete resignation and nihilism.

A number of concepts relevant to interpersonal matters were discussed in terms of absolutism and relativism. Care for the other was expressed in the absolutistic case as the attempt to make the other adopt one's own activities and beliefs, while care in the relativistic case was simply letting the other person do whatever he wants to do. Care in the ideal case involves both respect for the other's forms (diversity valuation) and the readiness to help him adopt one's own preferred forms (unity valuation).

We showed how one is differently attached to one's forms and beliefs in the different cells. Cell-2 absolutism involves an insistence that the current forms are the right ones. There is a desperate clinging and attachment to the forms. Cell 3 relativism is, on the other hand, much too resigned; there is an indifference to forms, a detachment that lets go of things all too easily. The cell-4 attitude is a detached attachment, a careful attention to life that does not turn rigid, an attitude that life is a game to be played to the best of one's ability. In cell 4, people hold on to things while being ready to let go.

"Meaning" was found in abundance in cell 2; every little event portends a larger meaning or destiny. In cell 3, there is no meaning to anything, the world's events are random and meaningless. In cell 4, things are potentially meaningful but require our interpretation to become fully meaningful. No destiny is given a priori, but the universe is also not a priori void of direction. For example, bodily occurrences, such as disease states, are neither the results of one's deserved lot in life (absolutistic excess of meaning), nor are they haphazard events that arrive without reason (relativistic absence of meaning). Signals from the body may be interpreted and used in a learning and development process, where meaning is gathered from the context of forms that shape one's life.

As regards the relationship of personal good to social good, a traditional stumbling block in Western moral philosophy, we found that the matrix does allow a conceptual distinction between the two (the unity experience is concerned with the personal good and the diversity experience is largely, but not exclusively, concerned with the social good). However, under closer scrutiny this distinction dissolves, because the matrix stipulates that to realize the good life, an individual must achieve both the unity and the diversity experiences, and since the diversity experience consists in the recognition of the legitimacy of other forms, there can be no diversity experience (and hence no good life) in individual A if the desires of individual B to engage in different activities are not respected.

We concluded the chapter with a discussion of the manner in which the unity-diversity matrix may be used or applied. How do we use it to provide guidance and direction in life and society? How do we determine whether a given form is of the coveted cell-4 type or not? We first resisted the temptation to attempt to use the matrix to make "objective" and "scientific" pronouncements on the various forms encountered in the world. Relying, reflexively, on the categories of the matrix itself, we ruled out this impersonal use of the matrix on the grounds that it is an absolutistic insistence that certain context- and observer-independent rules and standards of judgment or measurement must be adhered to.

One may react to this by reasoning that if the matrix cannot be used to make absolutely certain judgements about a given form, any person's judgement of a given form seems as good as any other's. This is the exact opposite approach. It typifies the relativistic attitude and can hence be ruled out as non-ideal. The approach that was recommended involves using the matrix as a pair of glasses that helps one arrange the world's phenomena into an orderly typology, from which one may draw ideas about which forms are to be avoided and which are to be explored and adopted. In this use one may be assisted not by a set of objective definitions and criteria for the evaluation of forms, but by one's peers and community, all of whom are similarly engaged in interpreting the world from their respective value frameworks.

In the context of communal discourse, the matrix is no facility for the bigoted pigeonholing of other people's favorite forms that other matrix models so often encourage, but a framework for understanding that invites reflection and negotiation among a community of individuals all trying to make sense of the world and take right action. Used in this way, the matrix offers no final answers but does provide a language or a terminology for the articulation of answers that a community of users may decide upon.



1. Related models have been used in the literatures on conflict resolution (Galtung, 1965), game theory (Luce & Raiffa, 1957) and bargaining (Thomas, 1983).

2. The fact that what is placed in the matrix are the unity and diversity experiences, and not the valuations, should not confuse the reader. By its definition the matrix combines two equally desirable properties, and desirable is precisely what the two experiences are, by virtue of the valuational transformation.

3. The OED defines the adjective "degenerate" thus: "Having lost the qualities proper to the race or kind; having declined from a higher to a lower type."

4. In the concluding chapter it will be argued that the popular view of ethics as concerned with the rules that govern proper behavior is much too limited, and that to be meaningful, ethics must draw on a conceptualization of the meaning of existence as a whole.

5. "Absolutism" often signifies a political theory that holds that absolute power should be vested in a ruler. Here, we will use Webster's second meaning: "advocacy of a rule by absolute standards or principles."

6. The examples to be mentioned in the text are not meant to be definitive or objective characterizations of the belief systems in question; the members of the religions and ideologies referred to would dispute the labelling, and this is as it should be. The examples are merely drawn from the present author's view of the world, which point could have (but has not) been made in the text by tiresome repetitions of "I think," "in my opinion," etc. The examples, nevertheless, are likely to be useful as illustrations of the cells because readers who have stuck with me this far presumably hold a view of the world somewhat similar to mine. The usefulness of the model, however, does not depend on the "accuracy" with which one may pigeonhole a given belief system or set of practices. As will be discussed later, this is, in fact, the wrong way to look at the model to begin with.

7. To repeat, this and all the previous examples of what is relativism or absolutism expresses the present author's point of view, not any "truth."

8. This is a simplification that requires a comment. To be committed to a person does not mean being committed to some essence or fixed nature characteristic of that person, since the flux/form ontology leaves no room for such essences or fixities. All there is is flux channelled by forms, and forms (such as people) are impermanent. Ultimately, we cannot be committed to any particular form, any particular way that things or people or institutions appear, for that would imply fixity and a denial of the dynamic flux that sustains manifest existence. We can be committed to the unfoldment of evermore subtle forms, and thus to the various forms that a person goes through as he develops from infancy to maturity: shaking rattles, playing with toy cars, practising sums, dating, holding a job, raising a family, going into retirement, etc. To be a full human being is to engage in certain activities for a period before moving on to new ones. Some forms can be dispensed with quickly, such as the training wheels on one's first bicycle, while other forms need to be sustained for a longer time, some perhaps for our entire life-time: the pattern of muscular contractions that keep us breathing, for example, or digestive functions and eating habits. But even these forms change and evolve, despite their seeming to be the biological and hence the rock-hard foundation of what it is to be human. Dietary habits certainly do. Biological functions in man have evolved considerably over just the past 100,000 years and there is no reason to believe they will not continue to do so. This is of course not to say that one should not be committed to particular historical forms, such as a particular custom or tradition. But the fallacy, the absolutist cell 2 fallacy, is to believe that a given form must be supported whatever the cost, in absolute terms. Forms come and go, and they are all but different aspects of the one common unity, flux or whole.

9. If these brief characterizations sound extreme and unrealistic, that is because they are. Remember that the four cells are pure or extreme cases that are not found empirically, but which are easy to describe and hence useful for a rough orientation.

10. The sense of the term "meaning" to be referred to in the following text is not so much the one implied by semantics or phenomenology, where meaning is attributed to single words or situations, as it is the one more often found in an existential or theological discourse, where one speaks about meaning in a more encompassing manner, as in the "meaning of existence." The German language has a distinction that corresponds to the one just proposed: One may speak of the Bedeutung of a word or other symbol, but about the Meinung of events that are more profoundly relevant to a person's life direction and purpose.

11. It is important to notice that the distinction introduced is not between my activities and the activities other people engage in, but between my activities and the activities I observe other people engage in. This emphasizes the personal nature of the model, which is a point we have only alluded to so far but which will be elaborated in the next section. The model cannot be used to make "objective" pronouncements on other people's activities and beliefs (the many previously cited examples of absolutistic and relativistic belief systems notwithstanding). It can be used only as a personal tool, a pair of glasses by which an individual may interpret his world and discuss it with others. Hence, the model distinguishes my forms from the forms I observe others employing, the emphasis being on my perception of what they do. There is no presumption that I can determine their forms objectively, mush less evaluate them "objectively" by means of the model.

12. It must be borne in mind that the categories of the model are pure or extreme types, which are useful for a first mapping of the space of interaction between the unity and diversity dimensions, because they establish the concepts of, say, attachment and detachment. However, after the terms of the model have become familiar to the user, they will seem simplistic. In the communal negotiation of the interpretation of forms encountered it will be necessary to consider gradations between the pure types, so a to distinguish more finely between forms. These gradations may involve a three-by-three matrix instead of the the current two-by-two, or a nine-by-nine, like the one used by Blake and Mouton (1964), or an interval scale that does away with discrete categories altogether. These are sophistications of the model that add nothing of theoretical import to the discussion presented above, although they will greatly improve the practical applicability of the model.

13. This is not the place to suggest more detailed techniques for the application of the matrix to a more concerted effort to move toward the good life. Elsewhere (Ravn, 1987a, b, in press a, b; Ravn & Baburoglu, 1987) a particular method for implementing an implicate-order-based values framework in a social research process has been proposed. The more recent one of these papers (in press b) appears in the Appendix.