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Chapter 2: Systems Principles > 2.3 Multidimensionality - Pg. 61

38 Systems Principles 2.3 MulTidiMensiOnaliTy Multidimensionality 1 is probably one of the most potent principles of sys- tems thinking. It is the ability to see complementary relations in opposing tendencies and to create feasible wholes with infeasible parts. For the majority of cultures, a fallacy has dominated the treatment of opposing tendencies as a duality in a zero-sum game. Everything seems to come in a pair of opposites: security/freedom, order/complexity, collec- tivity/individuality, modernity/tradition, art/science, and so on. They are cast in such a way that a win for one is invariably associated with a loss for the other. In the context of a zero-sum game, opposing tendencies are formu- lated in two distinct ways. First, conflicting tendencies are conceptualized as two mutually exclusive, discrete entities. The conflicts are treated as dichotomies that are usually expressed as X or NX (Figure 2.5). If X is right then NX has to be wrong. This represents an or relationship, a win/lose struggle with a moral obligation to win. The loser, usually declared wrong, is eliminated. Second, opposing tendencies are formulated in such a way that they can be represented by a continuum (Figure 2.6). Between black and white are a thousand shades of gray. This calls for a compromise, or resolution of the conflict. Compromise is a frustration point, a give-and-take struggle. Depending on the relative strength of the poles of tension, the power game will come to a temporary halt. The compromise point is an unstable mixture, usually containing elements of two extremes. As the power struc- ture changes, so does the compromised position. The constant struggle between groups of people who see different "clear and urgent" necessities when dealing with social realities -- the urgency Figure 2.5 Dichotomy. Figure 2.6 Continuums. 1 Throughout this book I use dimensions to identify quantifiable variables and also to reflect aspects and facets of a system.