How does our theory become practice? LO23831

From: AM de Lange (
Date: 01/26/00

Replying to LO23803 --

Dear Organlearners,

Steve Eskow <> writes:

>I give you and the others here who might be interested
>this problem: a learning problem, a problem in democratic

Greetings Steve,

Thank you for the problem. Perhaps my solution of it will be to you a
modification of your problem so that its solution will not please you.

>I do not know how to respond to the deeper issues you
>raise in any style of dialog and discussion with which I am
>familiar, with which I am comfortable.

I have commenced in trying to rectify this difficulty as a result of your
previous messages. As for the "deeper", see my final thoughts.

>For example: your message is long and intricate, and
>seems to be saying that in order to deal with my question
>of the relation of theory to practice one must know and
>accept the entire curriculum of which "entropy production"
>is a piece. Is that so?

Winfired Dressler might call my message a synthon, but that topic deserves
its own dialogue.

Well, if the theory and the practice have any thing to with the creative
course of time, then YES, "entropy production" cannot be excluded forever
from it. But when time and creativity do not figure in that theory and
practice, then it is foolish to invoke "entropy production" at all because
it will complicate matters beyond manageable proportions.

>I cannot engage with you because I do not know how to
>do so within the framework of the rules of discourse here.

I do appreciate this information and respect it. It reminds me very much
of my first experiences in the desert trying to engage with it. Many of
them were almost catastrophical. From them I learned a very important
lesson -- when its a matter of life or death, I had to change my attitude
before it become fatal to me. Trying to change the desert rather than
myself is the crown of my foolishness. This is the basic rule of the
desert which the San people (Bushmen) learned so beautifully.

>So: I will content myself with pointing out the implications
>for me of your using the metaphor of a ship and its captain
>--Rick as "skipper"--to capture the essence of this LO.
>As you know, At, a ship is not organized as a democratic
>collaborative, but as a hierarchical and authoritarian
>The skipper of ship is more like a ruler, a king, than he is
>a democratic moderator of a learning organization.
>Do you think such an image is an appropriate metaphor
>for a learning organization?

Dear Steve, your "as you know" was almost fatal to me. I began drawing
from the "picture" in my mind on shipping so as to answer you.

One of the first things which came to my mind, is a novel in our
mothertongue Afrikaans. It is "Hans die Skipper" (Hans the Skipper)
written by C M van den Heever early this century. It was written soon
after the ortography of Afrikaans emerged in which Eugene Marais played
such a profound role. This novel is in the same class as the best in the
world from authors like Hugo and Cervantes.

The theme of Hans the Skipper is most extraordinary. It was very difficult
to formalise it. But almost a century later with Peter Senge's concept of
"learning organisation" (1990) it becomes as easy for me as for a child
to eat pudding. Hans the Skipper resisted all attempts to get him invoked
in all kinds of organisations (family, parish, community) just because
they claimed to be worthwhile, i.e "learning organisations". He rather
longed to be part of organisations in which the results were what all the
members wanted, but he was unable to express this longing. So he began to
resist them, making use of hierarchial and authoritarian means, outdoing
them who wanted to force him with such means into their kind of
"collaboration". The outcome of every resistant act was disastrous and
these acts eventually culminated in a fatal catastrophe.

Yes, I wanted to agree with you. Rick is no Hans the Skipper. But then I
began to recall other novels and movies leading to the same conclusion. I
immediately became wary -- life is not about LEM -- life is not black or
white as people use to say. I have read a lot about the history of the
Lowlands in Northern Europe (norther parts of the Netherlands and
Germany). Among the many topics is HANSA -- a league or collaboration
during the Middle Ages on shipping. As soon as HANSA sprang to my mind, I
knew I was heading for disaster with such a white solution.

Here in South Africa most people know about Hansa. It is a brand of beer
manufactured in Namibia. It is one of the few beers in South Africa which
conform to so called "Reinheitsgebot" on beer of Germans. The history of
Namibia is closly connected with Germany as its old name "German South
West Africa" indicated. I realised that I know as little of shipping as
drinkers of Hansa beer know of the HANSA league. Becoming a desert wolf
when possible prevented me even more from opportunities to experience the
sea and shipping. What about the famous yearly boat race between Oxford
and Cambridge? Nothing hierarchail and authoritarian in the documentary
and movies on them.

I then began with "painting rich picture" in my mind. I must thank you for
mailing me a copy of your contribution. I received it 4 days before the
digest so that I had enough time to go to our university library to see
what info it has on shipping. Well, it was once again like searching for a
needle in a haystack. Roughly 40% of SA is desert and another 40% is dry
savana (9 months). It has no rivers for shipping and its coastline has few
natural harbours. Its navy is a Mickey Mouse operation and its fisheries a
kartel of big enterprises. Its commercial fleet is almost non-existent. So
why keep books in the library when the university has no relationships
with shipping -- the closest beach some 500 km from it.

But I was pleasantly surprised by the little which I could uncover. The
first peculiarity was that roughly 95% of the info is on the technology of
shipping and 5% (1/20) on the culture of shipping. It frustrated me
because the solution to your problem lay in culture and not technology.
So I simply had to search harder in more unlikely places. I found most
info in the literature and archeological sections and not history per se.

The first records of shipping comes from the ancient Egyptians. They made
use of boats typical like those in the movies -- propelled forward by
teams of oarsmen rowing on both sides. All these records on rocks are on
the technology of shipping -- almost nothing on the culture. What one can
infer from these records on the technology points to imperialism as you
have noted.

The next records are on the Phonecians, not done by themselves, but by the
Assyrians and Babelonians further inland who had to rely on the Phonecians
with their art of shipping. Almost all their records are also on
technology rather than culture. The archeologists commented on the lack of
purpose among the Phonecians in their technology. But for me interested
in creativity these records tell me a quite different story. They were
much more creative in shipping. Unlike the Egyptians who wanted to
dominate, it seems to me that they wanted to explore.

They even tried sails to supplement rowing as a force for motion. They had
strange contraptions which made me wonder whether they were not
experimenting with submarines. They experiented with many kinds of
materials, even reeds. Their commitment to shipping took them beyond the
Mediterranean sea to Northern Europe and West Africa. It also culminated
in their religion in which Dagon was the principal deity. To commemorate
him, they wore hats shaped like the head of a fish.
This first and also most beautiful writings on the culture of shipping is
in Homer's Illiad and Odessy. Most interesting is the description of the
boat which Ulyssee had to build. It looked more like a Phonecian boat than
the many records of Grecian ships built afterwards. It gives me the hunch
that Homer found much of his inspiration not in the myths of Greeks, but
in the stories of the Phonecians explorations.

>From the Greeks we learn that their crew was organised in a three level
hierarchy. (The "associativity" pattern of wholeness.) The rowers
(eventually up to 200 of them) were organised into teams and even decks.
The rowers had their backs to the direction in which they were moving. So
each team had a steward facing them to tell them when to row rhythmically
or to stop. These stewards themselves were also facing the back of the
skipper who stood at a prominent place. He made use of hand and arm
signals in what direction and what speed he wanted the ship to go. The
stewards translated these signals into words and rhythms. Thus the Greek's
shipping hierarchy was indeed one of collaboration rather than one of
authoritarian conformation.

Curiously for the very Greeks, they lacked the innovation of the
Phonecians (sails, etc) in shipping, except for scaling up effectively
what the Egyptians began with centuries before them. Later the Romans with
their strong engineering stance improved even on the Greeks. It is here
where the heirarchies break through the "three level" and thus authority
became very important to conform the behaviour of the ship's crew. The
demise of Roman navy began roughly 200AD. Hence during the Dark and Middle
Ages we have very little records on shipping, both on its technology and
the culture of it.

I also stumbled on a very interesting piece of information. Up to the
sixteenth century shipping was a very private affair. It was sustained by
two kinds of guilds all over Europe -- the guilds for building ships and
the guilds for manning ships. We once had a delightful dialogue on this
list on the guilds as the "learning organisations" of the middle ages. The
shipping guilds seems to be very promising in what we can learn about the
history of "tacit LOs".

Sadly, aftre the explorations of Columbus and Da Gama everything changed.
To build the ships needed for such long journeys to unknown worlds, they
needed big money which only the royalty could organise. Ships used to
carry up to 20 tons of load, but now they had to plan for tonnages up to
several hundred tonnes. Finally, when the first rumours of unimaginable
fortunes began to fly around, many ordinary people jumped in. Not even the
royalties could secure their hold on shipping any more.

I was surprised to learn that the idea of buying shares on a stock market
for some or other big enterprise came because of the growing drive to
colonise the new worlds. Even bankers could not supply the vast quanities
of money needed. Out of this grew such things as slavery and big factories
to satisfy the ever increasing desire to make fortunes. Reports on the
culture of this era also became extensive -- mutinies at sea, horrifying
authoritarian measures, etc. I was even surprised to learn how much these
depressing reports on shipping and related industries influenced the
thinking of the Scot Adam Smith on the wealth of nations to find something

Well, with such vast commercial interests to pretect, the navies of the
shipping countries also blossomed and eventually also marine warfare. I
sometimes wondered why the Portugese and Spaniards lost their advantage in
shipping to the Dutch and the Dutch it to the English. It now appears to
me that it was by large a result of protectionism in their laws regulating
any high sea related commerce. I stumbled on some shocking laws in the
books on the history of law. The English had the most protective
regulations of them all! One example, interesting to me, was the
compulsory eating of fish on a Friday. I always infered that it was a case
of too little Reformation and did not know that it was a public law in
England. I knew that two millenia previously, even before the emergence of
the church, it was a custom of the Phonecians for religious purposes. I
assumed that it was resurrected in the Roman church for the same reason.

This protectionism of the English made especially the French angry, almost
the reverse of the present with respect to beef and "mad cow disease". The
Germans also became very frustrated by this protectionism.

Steve, I also managed to get information on shipping in other continents,
but that will take many screens to jot down. What I wanted to do, is to
give a fair account of the picture at present in my mind. This is a
preliminary one and I will have to do additional reading somewhere else to
make it a "rich picture". But what surprised me most so far is that the
world of shipping shows the clearest to me what happens when unbounded
greed begins to take hold in the minds of the general public. (It may seem
as an unfair generalisation by me, but it involves the "collaboration" of
many commentators "in my mind" to form a "rich picture". I will explain it
later.) It is from this time of unbounded greed onwards that so many
skippers became symbols of what you refered to -- heirarchial and
authoritarian managers rather than organisers of collaborative attempts.

I do not see Rick as a Hans the Skipper, but rather as a Ulysses or a
Columbus who had a definite leadership task on their mind rather than
satisfying the greed of the public. Please do not infer that I imply that
Hans the Skipper was greedy. On the contrary, he resisted organisational
conformation because he was seeking something only tacitly known by him.
In his failure to articulate it, he allowed himself to be drawn into the
spiral of destructive immergences. This is the tragedy of Hans the

It seems to me that the success or not of the skipper as metaphor for
Rick's managing of this list depends on the space window and time slot we
take our mental picture of "a skipper". In other words, it depends on
whether we generalise on a particular model or not. It means that we have
to qualify the model which we use. I hope that this solves your problem.

As for myself, I do not generalise unqualified models. I rather first try
"painting rich picture" on each topic for as many topics as what seems to
be related to me. Then, with this gallery of rich pictures, I try painting
even a richer picture out of all of them while trying to observe a common
pattern in this grand rich picture as my way of "generalising". But it is
rather my way trying to observe patterns common to complexity.

Sometimes I envy others for their short contributions. But as for myself,
I have to work through rich pictures in my mind. I prefer to think of the
LO-dialogue as a "rich picture" painted by all who participate in it. But
I also know that I will have to contribute less myself because of its
intimidating effect. The problem is that I do not know when my long
contributions will not be necessary any more. But this I do know -- they
are not necessary when fellow learners are not interested in "entropy
production" and observing its outcomes. Furthermore, "entropy production"
helped me to paint a picture which involves the entire reality.

If any of you fellow learners have any other pattern which covers entire
reality, I will gladly learn of them. Love is one such a pattern. But then
we have to think very deeply about love as Andrew Campona is doing now. I
am learning a lot from him. We cannot fragment the application of a
pattern and yet claim it covers the whole of reality. Creativity is
another such pattern, but then we have to think of "deep creativity".
Ecology is another one, but then we have to think of "deep ecology" as
Capra set an example in the Web of Live.

Perhaps all these "deep xyz" will help us to go deeper than the veneer of
present civilisation so as to emerge (rather than immerge) into a New
Civilisation of higher order (rather than lower order). I believe they
will and that is why I persist with my own work on "deep creativity".

Lastly, I am also sure of the following. This list is by far the "deep
email list" on Internet.

Rick, do you mind the characterisation "deep email list"?

With care and best wishes


At de Lange <> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

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