12. Contradiction

Previous or Start Again ?

“Mary Mary quite contrary how does your garden grow?” Nursery Rhyme

Definition by opposition

Adolescents thrive on being negatively defined in opposition to their parents. One takes delight in being alternative. Potentiate. As a grown-up, where before one might have opposed, the effective focus needs not to oppose but to contradict.

The enemy is Harmony, which leads on to God.

Choice and how to choose

Consider the sequential engraving of William Hogarth from 1747 that is entitled “Industry and Idleness”, a moral tale typical of the genre seeking to extol the self-evident superiority of virtue by simply contrasting industriousness in the young apprentice with idle conduct. The successful satirical or political cartoon is built on rapid access to meaning, but for this to happen there has to be a widely accepted shorthand, often portrayed as a set of common senses where the message is built on the assumption that the values of the dominant culture are pervasive. This is not to deny that a proper and ancient form of reflection, the dialektikos, was born from the clever juxtaposition of opposite ideas, for if nothing is assumed nothing can be deduced. But definition by simple opposition needs must reduce complexity, and therefore any Imprecision, in order to deliver meaning.

This reduction may lead to some form of instant understanding, yet it will not satisfy the Imprecise mind. The process leads to intellectual laziness and, proceeding by opposition as it does, conceals real meaning by defining all alternatives solely according to the values of the example used to oppose it. It is not only meaning which comes to be obscured in this way but also the values inherent in the assumptions made to get at (the surface) meaning. Being defined by opposition means that I am not in control of my own agenda, as a moment’s proper reflection quickly reveals.

In this way, the virtue of industry remains a surface reading of the cartoon, whereas its inherent value actually displays a mature portrait of the Protestant Ethic, thus sending its message directly from the epoch whose ebullience was in the process of proving the original concept. The choice Hogarth presents of either a resistant or a compliant response to work is merely a tactic to occupy the deductive powers of the Self in a false dilemma whilst the Protestant Ethic can triumph unchallenged, moving uniformly forward at a constant rate, unidirectional, to eventually become an Absolute Given whatever the personal outcome.

Some contemporaries could already see that the contentious nonsense and intellectually dangerous tendency in Hogarth’s crude oppositional method was preventing a proper consideration of the major dilemma facing all apprentices and workers at the time. This was how to resolve the relationship between Work, God and Mammon; a question to which Methodism – already invented in 1729 – was of course eventually to provide the answer, allowing the young United States through its three Great Awakenings to develop the world’s most rampant form of Capitalism.


A wag came to define such simplistic choice as that made between Scylla or Charybdis by classical navigators when progressing through the Straits of Messina. In a later century this would be called Hobson’s Choice, for here was no choice. “Between Scylla and Charybdis” originated the phrase “between the rock and the whirlpool”, the rock being the one upon which Scylla dwelt and the whirlpool that of Charybdis. These are natural elements that are to be found in that narrow gap between the toe of Italy and the island of Sicily, where such spiritual properties may have developed out of ancient seafaring lore in the mythology of the time. Here Odysseus, Jason and Aeneas were all to confront them; Odysseus choosing to lose a few sailors to Scylla rather than lose the whole ship, Jason helped through unscathed by the goddess Hera, and Aeneas avoiding it all together.

The phrase comes down to us as the genesis of the more contemporary “between a rock and a hard place” which, with what seems to me to be prescient Imprecision, cuts to the main argument of the time; that it is the Work Ethic that will triumph whatever demonstration of industry or idleness the Self may waste its effort upon, being placed as it was between two Dangers, where moving away from One only causes it to be progressively in danger of the Other. This dilemma is with us yet today, as many continue to be sacrificed on the rock of another’s greed and often in the whirlpool of religion.

As in all things there are indeed Two Choices, yet what appears to be the easiest may not actually be the most enhancing; so must I choose wisely. My prime responsibility to my developing self is to be well prepared for each fork in the road; all other considerations pale into insignificance.

Routes out of any situation come in pairs, even in a series of pairs, and it is certain that I cannot take both pathways offered at once: I must choose. Rather Imprecisely this does mean that I will always leave behind one choice hanging like a trembling new leaf at the end of a branch, full of potential, as yet to be exploited, and to which I may indeed one day return before the autumn of my life. Conversely, when this second choice is clearly weak or negative it can happily be discarded as I take the other route offered, relieved of the anxiety of having to retrace my steps one day. Choice contains both options at its heart in the same moment and here lies all my joy and all my learning, for choosing pathways that bode no good only ever compounds difficulty.

To conclude these initial observations, I am aware that some of my assertions may be so heavily laden as to introduce you to negative emotions like mild anxiety. This is normal for anyone engaged in the transfer from the Comfort of Precision, which is often not a real place, resembling more an ache for Precision than an actual reality, since precision is an illusion. So step with me onto the pathway and walk up to the first fork in the road: Precision or Imprecision?


If natural selection is the driving force of adaptive evolution, competition inspires and feeds it. Natural competition means the survival of the fittest in a given physical environment, an evolutionary process that gradually eliminates the weaker of two rivals. This kind of evolution by adaptation proceeds by trial and error and is wildly opportunistic in its pursuit for growth. So what to do about competition as a natural force that can thwart your efforts?

Natural competition

Darwin reasoned that vastly more creatures come into existence than survive to reproduce. Most die early. Those best adapted to their environment will necessarily have an advantage in the struggle for existence, and so the stage is set for competition. None have become adapted to anything like their present state without natural selection, and without direct competition for limited resources natural selection is nothing.

The term “competition” actually defies definition because the view of competition held by different groups varies; be they lawyers, economists, government officials or business people. Built on unpredictable change and undefinable levels of risk, our efforts to control its effects have resulted in classically Precise and Comfortable responses.

Natural competition is an extension of the biological phenomenon of Darwinian natural selection. Characteristically, this type of competition pursues growth for its own sake and is very conservative, since growth from successful trials must prevail over death. This for the entrepreneurial spirit  would mean bankruptcy by random mistake; unforgiveable, and so an alternative has emerged: strategic competition.

Strategic competition

To combat the waywardness of natural competition, the Comfortable response will seek to gain advantage in the local ecology by building a strong capacity to identify levels of cause and effect in a system. This means developing merely an adequate amount of information about the situation in order to construct a framework that will reveal the underlying dynamic interactive system. For the entrepreneur this can mean counter-intuitive actions such as the actual postponement of current consumption to provide investment capital or making a commitment to invest major resources in an irreversible outcome.

When the entrepreneurial climate is stable, such a shallow outlook on the competition might work, but in the current world environment creative strategies have to be competitively oriented. Many small entrepreneurs define these in crudely simplistic and unrealistic terms, some failing to identify the true sources of competition in their sector, others underestimating the capabilities and reactions of their competitors. It is a terrible truth that no two organisations providing services across the board the same way and in the same market can coexist forever. To survive, each must discover what makes them uniquely superior to the other.

An improved ability to properly differentiate between natural and strategic competition however, can help us to accommodate our actions with the patterns of disequilibrium created by natural competition and make solutions more apparent. When animated by a willingness to deliberately act to make the commitment[1], the Imprecise entrepreneur can grow to manage risk and return with sufficient accuracy by overlaying a strategic response on the random effects of natural competition and, even with incomplete knowledge of inputs, develop the ability to predict output consequences. And so, for example, develop the courage to commit languishing resources to more strategic uses and purposes in the present, even though that dedication may turn out to be permanent and all benefits deferred.


Consider the great Potency of our species and its formidable ability to Potentiate any situation. As a man, I cannot deny that being powerful is extremely exciting whilst remaining aware that, for some, experiencing the power of another can be daunting, even dangerous. Often times this energy has been mis-channelled and mayhem does result yet I would assert that human power is a morally neutral force of great authority and strength, if highly interventionist. I try not let my discomfort with an unfavourable experience lead me to reject its utility, just because it seems to affirm a negative ethic.

Can males learn how to harness this fire for the welfare of all? Youth is formidably potent and, unharnessed, can impose great damage and terror on the rest of the population. Respect for human potency perhaps comes more with age, for it is such a natural state in the young that they do not even take it into account, yet how many times does it not intervene in my life?

The error lies not in these raw assertions of power but in my response to them. The Comfortable seek to suppress it at source by building a negative image of youth. One of the main reversals I can remember, when still in that potent phase of youth, was how varied were the lofty put-downs delivered from the previous generation when they were subjected to my attempts to draw the maximum potential from any situation. The worst was the defining of this power to potentiate as some kind of destructive force, where the word “potentiate” itself came to mean overly provocative behaviour borne of a fundamental immaturity which, by thoughtlessly overstating the case, was destroying the finest and most painstaking architecture of solutions ever erected by the previous generation.

For example, I am curious to observe that our main way of dealing with it potency is to seek to suppress it – yet more nay-saying. It is this very suppression that enhances the potency and I have observed how this attempted deflection only serves to potentiate Youth’s expression of power to dangerous levels. This creates an inevitable response: a doubling of the dose and to which the suppressors are then subjected. Perhaps the younger generation will ever maintain its potency through this paradox, provoked by our progressively enfeebled attempts to get them to put a lid on it.

So how may I from the former generation properly harness the potency of the next? How might the formerly potent begin to understand current potency? If I can keep my nerve, the previous generation is actually very well placed to exploit the incredible power of the next. The loss of spontaneity in us elders, coupled with the weight of our experience, slows us down sufficiently to stop us obsessing about the flashpoints and focus more on context. The moment of its release is a point of maximum Imprecision, that moment when the power of youth is revealed as it is generated, “dans le feu de l’action”.

By playing host to this particular form of opportunism, we the formerly potent can also potentiate any situation and by cooperating actively with its current manifestation understand its current motivation. This means that all the advantages of those powers that our teens alone can control may be harnessed by me and their strength made open for the benefit of society. I say embrace the inevitability of the triumph of the Potent and, by joining their ranks, rediscover the headiness of those days and benefit from the powers they control.

The true practice, if not always the true nature, of modern democracy has come to be revealed via its military imposition in the Middle East, a nature long understood and often deplored by the people of Africa it must be said. Western democracies have witnessed the withering of top-down Politics under the weight of the ethical lassitude that this version of democracy has spawned in our recent generations. This is fuelled by a great contradiction: the older generation seeking to potentiate situations in favour of its own values by exercises of power to impose a political system that is supposedly based on the collective will of massed individuals. Not unsurprisingly this has produced mass disaffection with the political process and there is great disquiet at this from among the political class of Western-style democracies. I say, scary as it may seem, let us look for resolution in the acts of solidarity that have been and are yet to be born of the potent anger among our younger populations.

Read on: 13. Harmony

[1] Culled from free tutorials on http://www.web-articles.info/e/a/title/Natural-and-Strategic-Competition/ Natural and Strategic Competition article added by Arnold Scott 06.06.2007

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