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Webs and Ladders

Question:  Which more accurately describes relationships between resources: a food chain or a food web?
Answer:  Mu. 

Question:  Which is more important in organizing communities, competition or cooperation?
Answer:  Mu.

("Mu" unasks the question.  From the first Zen Koan in the Gateless Gate, Paul Reps, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones.  "Does a dog have Buddha-nature, or not?"  See also D. R. Hofstadter, Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid.)

"Arthur Koestler has coined the word 'holon' for these subsystems which are both wholes and parts, and he has emphasized that each holon has two opposite tendencies:  an integrative tendency to function as part of the larger whole, and a self-assertive tendency to preserve its individual autonomy. ... In a healthy system - an individual, a society, or an ecosystem - there is a balance between integration and self-assertion.  This balance is not static but consists of a dynamic interplay between the two complementary tendencies, which makes the whole system flexible and open to change."

- Fritjof Capra, The Turning Point.  Bantam Books, 1982.


 "Adult male chimpanzees seem to live in a hierarchical world with replaceable coalition partners and a single permanent goal:  power.  Adult females, in contrast, live in a horizontal world of social connections.  Their coalitions are committed to particular individuals whose security is their goal"

-Frans de Waal, Peacemaking Among Primates. Harvard University Press, 1989


"The reason that woman's experience has been so difficult to decipher or even discern is that a shift in the imagery of relationships gives rise to a problem of interpretation.  The images of hierarchy and web, drawn from the texts of men's and women's fantasies and thoughts, convey different ways of structuring relationships and are associated with different views of morality and self.  But these images create a problem in understanding because each distorts the other's representation.  As the top of a hierarchy becomes the edge of the web and as the center of a network of connection becomes the middle of a hierarchical progression, each image marks as dangerous the place which the other defines as safe.  Thus the images of hierarchy and web inform different modes of assertion and response: the wish to be alone at the top and the consequent fear that others will get too close; the wish to be at the center of connection and the consequent fear of being too far out on the edge."

-Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice, Harvard University Press, 1982


"Both status and connection are ways of being involved with others and showing involvement with others, although those who are focused on one may not see the other as a means of involvement.  Men are more often inclined to focus on the jockeying for status in a conversation:  Is the other person trying to be one-up or put me down?  Is he trying to establish a dominant position by getting me to do his bidding?  Women are more often attuned to the negotiation of connections:  Is the other person trying to get closer or pull away?  Since both elements are always present, it is easy for women and men to focus on different elements in the same conversation."

-Deborah Tannen, You Just Don't Understand:  Women and Men in Conversation, Ballantine Books, 1990


    My research celebrates connections, interactions, relationships and synergies.   (See Research Philosophy).  So does my writing in these Parables.  Indeed, I find the interactive format of the World Wide Web wonderfully amenable to this philosophy.  

    Yet, some people are uncomfortable with my emphasis on relationships.  I find it ironic that a world view that emphasizes connections should be threatening.  My observation is that the people who are most likely to reject my ideas are the powerful, their coalition partners, and those who are committed to their security.  If only there were a way to show that the desire for connections is not a threat!  It can be, should be, an opportunity and an asset.

    Fortunately we are not chimpanzees.  We have language to communicate our perspectives.  In emphasizing connections I am not intending to topple the powerful.  I should only like to make them aware of an alternate, viable perspective on the world.  

Read about Indra's Net.

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Copyright January 24, 2003 Karen Strickler.  All rights reserved.
Modified December 18, 2003.