online: 8 november 2003
modified: 4,6,8 november, 2 december 2003

4 november 2003 the feasibility of the new

from a handscript written on a train, 4 april 1972 (the words in typescript were written later)

A baby is more feasible than an old man but is doomed without parental care.

The new has its power to go beyond what exists only if it has the support of what exists.

This ... is the only way in which the existing can survive and go beyond itself.

The new needs to draw upon a great mass of experience and this needs to be evident.

The conditions for its launch have to be highly favourable if it is to survive.

Its success is impossible to guarantee - it depends more on the support it gets than on itself.

Although later it transforms or leaves behind the conditions which gave it birth - and thus corrects the errors [extends the limits?] of those conditions.

Conditions which, if allowed to continue, switch from being growth (good) to decay (harm) (as is technology now?).

So, if we are serious about trying to develop technology itself let's act as persons not as technologists - as well wishers from our own future.

For me this midwifery is itself a transforming experience. It teaches me that:
the vision of feasibility of the new must be an unbounded one

therefore it must not be based on the experience of the old but on the courage of the young

this experience has to be re-directed towards creating conditions to protect and nourish the new which the young have the hopeful confidence to start - because they are free of experience of failure and decay and are obliged to place their confidence in the future of their own bodies that will survive together, to become, for a time, the governing part of the human world.

When, middle aged, the [formerly] young too will be called by events to switch their whole being from their own future, now limited, to that of those who [now] have the youth and vision to act on the signs that the world they inherit is losing its strength and is in need of new directions of development.

I am also realising that to give birth to life means not only conceiving and giving birth to children but also to any physical thing that is new, and of its presence stimulates more human action on a wider scale and even to the extent of creating physical conditions which, for instance, shift the rate of growth or decay of population.

Thus to design, or to make, so small a thing as a poem, a book, a back-of-envelope sketch, a protest, a gun, a pill, - each physically very small, can, in its effects, be as great, as hazardous and as incalculable as can the DNA molecules that set off each one of us.

The hazards are fearful, both in the fragility of the new, most of which is lost as false starts, and in the potential for evil as well as good in what survives, takes a grip and in its turn transforms life to a degree, rightly or wrongly.

But we cannot say no - there is no option but to move - because the conditions that give older [people] their power to decide the fate of the new, their well-informed experiences, these past conditions on which life as we know it is founded are beginning to fail - they are the worst things to guide the future.

As somebody said, the weakness of many people's [utopian] view of a good future is that they seek to re-create the lost conditions of their childhood, particularly if that was settled and encouraging enough to give them the confidence to live with vision and trust. If they had a bad childhood, suffered and had to fight conditions all the way, their picture of the future is likely to be the reverse ... not a positive dream but a ... destructive battle against the existing [dystopian] powers that failed to give them what they needed...

8 november 2003
I remember writing this almost automatically (with strong feelings, even tears) as I sought to justify Unit 32, the first design lesson which Chris Crickmay and I had written for the Open University. This theory (of the new and of its need for support by what exists and by those in power) came to me while travelling to a meeting to discuss this teaching unit.

I was both surprised and relieved by the grand scale and the high morality of these thoughts and I've always remembered the occasion - I felt it was the resolution of a crisis.

Unit 32, together with others, was published and used in the technology foundation course. But after I resigned (in protest at what I saw as the reductionist aims of the Open University) the units were replaced.

Reading it now, I wonder if it is as complete a picture as it may appear. I feel there is more to be said of the reasons why some attempted new things are accepted, and thrive, whereas others disappear, as did unit 32. Is it that a successful design, however widely conceived, has also to accord with what already exists and to relate, in some immediate way, with the motives of those in power...

...but my purpose, in writing this piece, was to look beyond immediate motives!

(something of this continues in a sublime connection)

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