| March 31, 2015

Dialectic viewpoints are useful in complex issues like renewable energy and energy security, but rarely encouraged in the Australian public policy debate. Lindley Edwards supports so-called ‘skyhook’ ideas that bridge current realities and future possibilities.

“Genuine tragedies in the world are not conflicts between right and wrong. They are conflicts between two rights”. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

I am concerned by the current lack of public and private debate where opposing views are either avoided or swept under the carpet or given insufficient attention and focus. Dissenting with populist and prevailing logic can you get labelled as disagreeable, difficult and even un-Australian.

This is dangerous, as we are in a time when opinions are frequently masquerading as facts, populist views are often not questioned and ideological viewpoints are regularly interfering with our ability to innovate new solutions and/or implement evidence based approaches. This leads to poor policy development, badly constructed strategies and avoidance of taking hard but necessary structural decisions. Another impact of such paucity is a focus on short term horizons at the expense of the longer term.

A concept from philosophy that can assist our approach to the exploration of possibilities and the consideration of the best possible policies or strategies is cultivating the ability to hold a dialectic position. Taking a dialectical viewpoint encompasses the ability to explore, embrace and hold contradictory, but equally valid or true positions without the need for quick resolution or immediate need to create unity of these opposites.

As an example, unlike all other OECD countries, Australia does not have a coherent bi-partisan set of policies around renewable energy and energy security. Adopting a dialectic approach would mean that Australia would consider dialectic dynamics such as:

  1. Australia is the largest coal exporter in the world and coal is an important economic resource and contributor to GDP;
  2. The market for coal is altering as major economies move from coal to other energy sources;
  3. Investors require certainty of policy settings, especially when making long term investments in infrastructure and high capital expenditure projects;
  4. An increasing number of investors are not holding coal stocks in their portfolios due to emissions impact; and
  5. Renewable energy can offer new jobs and contribute to GDP but it often requires incentives to attract investment and customers.

Being comfortable to be in the dialectic gives us a means to consider how we might create skyhook ideas/concepts/possibilities that bridge both the current realities and future possibilities.

A skyhook is an ‘allegorical’ hook suspended from the sky or the air, which is able to link future and present. There is also a concept of skyhook to describe quantum leaps as a source of new designs, theories, solutions and paradigms. The theory behind them, in science terms, says that they rely on miracles[1].  However, skyhooks are based on active miracles, not passive ones and come about because individuals and groups at the frontiers are prepared to disrupt the status quo of established thinking and try new approaches.

I believe that competing realities such as the world of coal and the emerging world of renewables need good skyhooks that can hold the tension intelligently between now and the future. If we work from and live from the middle point, we are working from the centre of two realities and are able to hold and eventually move them together.

The following is a picture representation of how skyhooks work:

Intelligent skyhooks incorporate the dialectic as they don’t seek to make one reality right at the expense of another, as at their most powerful they can be the vehicles holding the new and old together, creating smooth and wise transitions and means of progress.

Building our capacity and capability in these ways  gives a foundation that allows and facilitates wise holding (internally and externally) of conflict, confusion, uncertainty, fear, opposing views/ideologies/forces, chaos and complexity so that the intelligent paths can be navigated which will allow the best futures, the wisest resolutions of intractable problems and the most elegant solutions to be created.