From the Perspective of Optionality

Abstract: This article argues that it is not only narrowminded, but that it also is not natural to assume that one single viewpoint is the only rightful one. Yet one perspective suffices - that of Optionality! The article explains how comparative analysis done from the perspective of optionality should not be confused with taking a single-minded viewpoint.

No single Point of View

There are many people who come up with arguments that are chosen only because they seem to suit their cause. When such people are accused of being biased, they will argue that their selectiveness is not a bad thing; they will say that everyone in the end does the same; that all people tend to take the point of view that seems to suit them best.

People who use the above strategy at least admit that there are different points of view; they select from the various viewpoints the one they believe suits them best and then try to elevate that viewpoint to an objective look at 'the facts' or to a viewpoint that they claim serves the 'public interest' best. They merely argue to have the best viewpoint. Even worse is the attitude of those who believe that there always is only one rightful viewpoint to start with on a given issue, one truth, etc.

People who admit that there are a multitude of viewpoints, but then select a single viewpoint as their own, may say they are selfish. But I argue that their attitude is not even in their own interest. Let's look at a viewpoint in bio-psychological terms. Human vision uses two eyes simultaneously, each looking at things from a slightly different angle. The differences in point of view allow the mind to work out how far away the objects are that we see. Thus, the different points of view do not constitute a conflict that has to be resolved by finding out which one of the two is the 'right' one; no, each of these two points of view is as valid as the other; if one point of view is right, then the other is left - not wrong! Taking more than one point of view is not done to add confusion, but to add something that is quite valuable: the ability to estimate distance.

To get a better idea of how far away objects are, one can also move about sideways, thus in time adding further points of view that may reveal how objects overlap, if they are in front of each other. Movement, i.e: taking different points of view either by moving oneself or by manipulating objects, also allows one to examine objects sequentially from different angles, thus gradually building up a three-dimensional picture of objects.

If nature so clearly sees advantages in taking multiple points of view, then we cannot naturally assume that it is in our own interest to accept only a single point of view; we cannot even accept that a single point of view put forward by people who claim it is the only acceptable viewpoint, is indeed beneficial to those people. Instead, it makes more sense to assume that multiple points of view give better overall pictures to all.

Multiple Dimensions

The recognition that there are many ways one can look at something, without any of these views being the only rightful one, that is the perspective I take in consultancy, that is the perspective that I call optionality.

If it is better to have multiple points of view, then is it not similarly better to have multiple perspectives? Of course, a point of view is not the same as a perspective. A perspective incorporates different points of view, plurality is a built-in characteristic of perspective. But this is no definite answer to the question.

For as far as it is possible to view this, optionality obliges to show such multiple perspectives; optionality allows one to take such a 'four-dimensional vision'. But one can also lose oneself in a dead-end-road of infinite possibilities. In theory, one can continue to create ever more dimensions, but then one takes the narrowminded focus of a mathematician and loses the debate on the grounds of relevance; the point is that optionality does not work on the basis of 'the more the better'.

If a single point of view produces a two-dimensional picture, two points of view are sufficient to create a three-dimensional picture; in that case not two, but an infinite number of two-dimensional pictures are seemingly placed behind each other. A good artist can even create the perception of perspective in a two-dimensional frame. In the end, this is not a discussion about geometrics. Optionality simply allows one to take a broader look and thus see things that remain unseen by others.

I happen to call optionality a perspective, i.e. the perspective I take in consultancy. This perspective allows me to look at a number of issues and describe how they compare with each other; I can describe the quintessence of problems in a way that others cannot easily grasp for the very reason that they look at things from a narrow point of view; it is this narrow vision that causes the best solutions to their problems to remain beyond their grasp.

Causes and Solutions

As a perspective, optionality gives one a broad vision. It is as if optionality skips up an extra dimension to look at problems, yet optionality does not distance itself from problems, but it sees problems in the light of what causes them. By taking optionality as a perspective, causes and solutions can become clear that remain invisible to people that stick to a more narrow-minded view.

This has been widely discussed in earlier articles. As an example, many political discussions reduce issues to a one-dimensional polarization of left-wing versus right-wing politics. If one does not share the position taken by, say, the left on a particular issue, then one is automatically stigmatised as belonging to the right: But from the perspective of optionality, both the extreme left and the extreme right in politics, as well as all possible factions that sit somewhere in between, inevitably have some dictatorial aspects; if one pictures a line that measures graduations of dictatorship, then not all politicians may sit at the extreme end of outright dictatorship; but none of them sits at the opposite end, as all politics incorporates a degree of intolerance towards people who disagree. By taking the perspective of optionality, one becomes aware of the limits of political rhetoric.

Similarly, a scientist may analyze a natural phenomenon by measuring higher and lower frequencies of light. The visible part of the spectrum goes from red to violet blue; below the visible part, there is infrared light and above it is ultraviolet. Purple, however, is not part of this spectrum. Purple is created by combining red and blue light (the extreme ends of the visible spectrum). It is as if a one-dimensional cord of visible light is picked up and bent in another dimension; where the two ends meet is where purple becomes visible. The analyst who only examines that one dimension will never see the purple.

These above examples were given as far back as in March 1991, explaining that the magazine Optionality used the color purple to express this ability to take a broader perspective. Taking a broader perspective is not done for the sake of variety, though, this is not a trivial matter. Quite often, the most relevant issues remain unseen, until one takes the perspective of optionality.

Appendix A: Reject, Dictatorship: Object against Objectivity!

Objectivity is an attitude closely linked to privilege. Objectivity is an instrument of the establishment, of those in power, of privileged professionals who think that they are better than common people, of hypocrites who talk about objectivity as if this could justify their privileged position.

Scientists tend to dismiss an analysis that opposes the Government's control over society as a political opinion, as a narrow, subjective view that is therefore scientifically invalid; they want statements made from an objective perspective, they want the truth complete with evidence. Of course, I reject statements that supposedly reveal the one and only absolute and universal truth. My conclusion is that comparative analysis is O.K., as long as this is not done from an 'objective' perspective. Absolutism simply is in conflict with my idea of optionality.

(The text in above appendix is largely extracted from: 'Object against Objectivity', in Optionality Magazine, 31 July 1995.)

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