Metaphor as an Unexplored Catalytic Language for Global Governance
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Paper prepared for the 13th World Conference (Finland, August 1993) of the World
Futures Studies Federation (WFSF).
Scheduled for presentation to the session on: 'Theories, methods and practices
of futures studies' A version of this paper appeared in: Howard F Didsbury Jr (Ed). The Years Ahead:
perils, problems and promises. Bethesda MD, World Future Society (WFS), 1993, pp. 201-207
A. Challenges of global governance
These may be usefully summarized through the following metaphoric expressions:
- Ungovernable complexity: As evident in the complexity of interweaving problems,
factions and vested interests which ensure that every policy proposal has opponents with
both impeccable credentials and supporting arguments. Every solution becomes a problem.
- Inappropriateness: As noted in the many arguments against short-term decision
making, misuse of resources, and non-assistance to peoples in danger. In this light
'sustainable development' is best described as a vain attempt to 'have
one's cake and eat it too'.
- Collective impotence: As seen in the degree of collective inaction and delay
evident in responses to crises such as Yugoslavia, Somalia, or to the needs of the former
- Cover-up: As seen in the inability to respond proactively to the implications and
extent of systemic corruption, organized crime, and hidden agendas, or to the manner in
which they undermine the best initiatives.
- Eroded credibility: As evident in public disillusionment with politicians,
policy-makers and institutions, especially with those claiming an international mandate,
reiterating unrealistic appeals, or deploring conditions on which they fail to act.
- Policy vacuum: As noted with respect to both intergovernmental organizations and
national governments in endeavouring to reposition themselves in response to a turbulent
- Conceptual bankruptcy: As evident in the failure of think tanks and the academic
world to offer any insights of relevance to those faced with the challenge of global
- Poverty of vision: As can be seen in the outdated, mechanistic proposals put
forward for the reform of the United Nations, which reflects neither the best that human
civilization has to offer nor the aspirations of its peoples.
Individually these factors are each quite daunting. Collectively they mark a condition
of devastating total gridlock.
Ways beyond such gridlock are considered in the following four sections:
B. Varieties of decision-making
Distinguishing decision arenas
One of the dangers in advocating 'new thinking' is the easy implication that
everything that preceded it should be scrapped as inadequate. It is therefore useful to
clarify the arenas in which conventional decision-making remains appropriate in contrast
with those arenas where new approaches may prove more useful.
Table I is a tentative exercise in isolating 12 decision arenas or contexts. These
are grouped into three clusters:
- Group A: Adaptive decision making (Arenas I-VI)
- Group B: Innovative decision making (Arenas VII- X), and
- Group C: Transformative decision making (Arena XII).
Most decision making tends to be associated with Group A. The argument here is that
there are concerns which are more appropriately dealt with in the second or third
clusters. The potential of the third cluster, Group C (especially Arena XII) is considered
here as largely unexplored.
Part of the difficulty in giving space to 'new thinking' is the manner in
which the arenas in Table I tend to be 'collapsed' or conflated. Several forms
of collapse can be noted:
- (a) By row: Typically the knowledge resources row is collapsed into the human
resources row. In which case attention is focused primarily on the social dimension rather
than on the knowledge dimension. Both may even be collapsed into the material resources
row, as has been typical of much of earlier discussion of development. Amongst the more
scholarly, there is naturally a reverse tendency collapsing the lower rows into the
knowledge resource row, thus de-emphasizing any attention to material and social
- (b) By column: Typically the meta- and inter- paradigmatic columns are collapsed
into the cross- paradigmatic column, thus obscuring subtler considerations which are
characteristic of the emergence of alternative styles of thinking and organizing. Again
this has been typical of many earlier approaches to development, and especially those
which ignored alternative cultural perspectives. Amongst alternative movements, there is a
reverse tendency collapsing the left-hand rows into those on the right, thus
de-emphasizing any attention to short- term considerations on which there is already a
considerable body of useful expertise.
- (c) Into a single arena: By collapsing rows and columns in combination, all
arenas may be collapsed into a single arena, typically Arena I (as in situations in which
decision-making is treated as a straight-forward response to quantifiable variables). Many
valuable change agents may similarly be perceived as locked into the decision-making
concerns of responsive organization (Arena IX).
Complementarity of forms of decision-making
The point to be stressed is the complementarity between the different decision arenas
in Table I. It is as much a mistake to apply complex tools to straight-forward decisions
as it is to apply simple tools to complex decisions. Each arena reflects a necessarily
different decision-making style. Problems are compounded when efforts are made to project
the validity of approaches in one arena onto the preoccupations of another. The challenge
is to understand this ecology of decision-making styles and the mutual dependence of its
The argument of this paper is that the innovative group (Group B), and especially the
transformative group (Group C), are inadequately reflected in current approaches to the
more intractable problems at the international level. From this perspective, many of the
obstacles to the emergence of more appropriate decisions result from the failure to make
use of decision making styles associated with these two groups. There is thus an imbalance
in the pattern of decision-making. The merit of Table I is to accord space to these
groups, without in any way denying the significance of the predominant adaptive group.
Table I thus identifies the locus of relevance of 'new thinking'. There may be
merit, in ecofeminist terms, of considering Group A as the dominant patriarchal approach
to decision-making, in contrast with a more balanced feminist approach associated with
Group B (to be articulated). Table I can be used to avoid the trap of 'B is better
than C'. Indeed Group C can be understood as the mode through which those of A and B
are 'married', or reconciled.
In practice it is difficult, if not impossible, to rely solely on the decision-making
style of a particular arena. Certain issues prove unresolvable leading to a decision-
making crisis. Reliance on the approaches to decision- making in a particular arena are
then recognized as inadequate to the challenge. The arenas may then be understood as
'feeding into' each other. These processes are indicated by the arrows between
the cells of Table I. Thus concern with resource optimization (Arena I) in practice leads
quickly to preoccupation with issues of human resource management (Arena II), and from
there to issues of know-how development (Arena III), with the reverse process then
determining new options for resource optimization. A similar chain from resource
optimization through economic development (Arena IV), and on to issues of sustainable
development (Arena VI) has been the preoccupation of the Brundtland Commission. The
concern of the UNCED Conference (Rio de Janeiro, 1992) was with articulating the kinds of
decisions appropriate to Arena VI, and their implications back down that chain to Arenas I
The basic argument here is that in the light of Table I, discussions about sustainable
development will prove to be merely adaptive ('tinkering') and of limited
significance unless they are fed by insights into new forms of transformative patterning
(Arena XII) and the appropriately innovative styles of organization and programme to
reflect that understanding (Arena X). However, those who are currently enthraled by the
articulation of the concerns of Arena XII, need to register the challenge of the need for
more appropriate styles of organization in order that their insights should prove of value
in dealing more appropriately with the issues of sustainable development. It is not
surprising to note that little of the available expertise on 'organizational
transformation' (Arena X) has as yet responded to the challenges of sustainable
development -- just as those preoccupied with sustainable development have failed to
register the need for any such alternative organizational approaches. As an ecology, this
suggests that there is a dangerous breakdown in the 'food chain' between species
C. Governance and the challenge of insight cultivation
Dilemmas of insight acquisition
Those concerned with the crisis of governance at all levels of society are faced with a
number of dilemmas:
- (a) Information overload: There is too much information purportedly of relevance to any
given policy-making situation;
- (b) Vested interests of information suppliers: Insights are increasingly subject to some
implicit form of intellectual copyright, a recognition that some form of payment is
required, and to the pressures of a market place that must necessarily distort their
significance to gain acceptance;
- (c) Dubious quality of insights: It is increasingly difficult to establish the merit or
relevance of any set of available insights -- and notably that supplied by those with a
vested interest in the maintenance of the status quo;
- (d) Authoritative insights: To govern with authority necessitates dependence on
authoritative insights. Unfortunately those with authoritative expertise have often
contributed significantly to the conceptual processes and decisions that have led to the
crisis of governance to which a response is sought.
- (e) Simplistic information filters: Efforts to reduce the information overload and
gather appropriate insights are endangered by the simplistic conventional procedures which
can be most readily implemented;
- (f) Lost insights: Valuable insights are increasingly difficult to acquire and readily
lost in the complexities of crude information gathering procedures -- typically it is
virtually impossible to distinguish between eccentric insights of little value and
unconventional insights that open new possibilities;
- (g) Unaccountability: It is frequently easier for those in authority to avoid or evade
responsibility for any potential problem rather than to ensure that information on it is
appropriately sought and processed;
- (h) Cultural biases: The conventional assumption that information is processed in the
light of objective procedures obscures the different ways in which particular cultural and
subjective biases distort the manner in which insights are selected and processed.
- (i) Format: Under the pressures of the moment, the ideal responses are those that can be
briefly explained, are readily comprehensible, and lend themselves to photo opportunities
with the media. This constraint may be impossible with responses of requisite complexity
to deal with a complex situation.
The combined effects of the above dilemmas leads to a form of 'insight
impoverishment' within the policy-making environment. The leadership is effectively
starved of insights -- often without realizing this is the case. On the other hand,
available insights of considerable value may well go underused. Efforts to remedy the
situation are too often designed by those responsible for creating it in the first place.
Modes of response
There is necessarily a variety of ways of considering the above dilemmas. These can
themselves become a reflection of the difficulties in designing an adequate response. One
approach is to consider the appropriateness of responses in the light of distinct
- (a) Communication metaphors:
- Information system: From this perspective the issue is one of designing an adequate
information system. This approach has traditionally been favoured by intelligence agencies
and culminates in the presentation of information in high-tech 'situation
rooms'. This is extremely resource intensive.
- Signal 'capture': By viewing insights like signals, the challenge is seen as
one of capturing such signals (as in telescopes) and amplifying them to a significant
level of resolution. This approach may involve deploying arrays of signal detectors (such
as look-out or foresight institutions)
- (b) Biological metaphors:
- Biological 'capture': As in any predator/prey relationship, skills may be
developed to capture insights or their bearers. This response is favoured by corporate
'head-hunters' and those seeking to benefit from any 'brain- drain'.
- 'Profligate nature': As in any natural system, the production of insights is
seen as a consequence of natural profligacy. From this perspective there is always a
superfluity of insights produced of which only a small proportion will effectively
'take' and produce viable consequences. This view may therefore be used as a
justification for ignoring the insights that 'fall on stony ground' and are
- Insight 'ecology': In this richer biological metaphor, there is a speciation
of insights which interact within knowledge 'ecosystems' of ideas and compete in
an evolutionary sense. The co-evolution of complementary insights may be seen as of
- (c) Economic metaphors:
- Knowledge 'industry': In this variant the emphasis is on knowledge
'production', suggesting that the production of insights can be
institutionalized in knowledge 'factories'. This view would be favoured by
promoters of major research and development programmes, notably in relation to the harder
sciences and technology.
- Insight 'economy': This perspective offers a view in terms of producers and
consumers of information. In one view there is then an information 'marketplace'
in which insights must compete. An alternative to this economic perspective derives from
the 'command' economy approach in which there is a far greater control and
intervention in the kinds of insights which can be legitimately produced, irrespective of
desires expressed by end-users. Wastage of 'resources' may then become an issue.
- (d) Transportation metaphors:
- Delivery systems: The focus may be placed on the systems through which insights are
disseminated and through which knowledge is delivered to those able to act upon it.
- (e) Cultural metaphors:
- Learning systems: Within this view society and the groups which compose it are learning
systems through which insights are produced and to which they adapt and respond. The
challenges of governance is then seen in terms of those of societal learning and
vulnerability to erosion of collective memory.
- Collective wisdom: This traditional view places emphasis on the accrued collective
wisdom and the adaptive capacity of 'old boy' networks and elders in response to
any crisis. This can be comforting both to those in positions of authority and to those
who depend upon them.
- (f) Health metaphors:
- Societal health: With society viewed as a body, indicators of the 'health' of
that body become meaningful. Remedial action in response to crisis may be seen as a form
of medical intervention with prescriptions, palliatives and prosthetics -- some of which
may be essentially cosmetic or may only have value as placebos.
- (g) Security metaphors:
- Collective security: The uncontrolled emergence of insights can be seen as a potential
threat to established systems that guarantee collective security and stability. This view
tends to find favour within political, economic and religious hegemonies. It enables
responses to be articulated in terms of well-developed military and collective security
systems and strategies.
Metaphoric traps and opportunities
Each of the frameworks above has its strengths and weaknesses. Each may become a trap
under particular circumstances and each may offer opportunities for effective governance.
The challenge is to develop the quality of governance without developing undue dependence
on any one of them.
Governance is above all not a static process. Situations are continually shifting. The
media is continually offering new angles and images that exacerbate any potential
instabilities. In recent years government has been to a large extent media driven. To
recover the initiative, the processes of governance needs to be able to continually
generate more powerful images -- or else these will be sought and generated elsewhere.
In a sense governance is in a permanent reframing competition with the media. The
processes of governance recover the initiative when they are able to generate enthralling
images or dramas of greater power than those generated by media ingenuity and creativity.
How does governance acquire the creative independence in image work of policy relevance so
that it is not totally a slave to media pressures?
There is an increasing tendency for government policy-makers to rely on special think
tank units, whether internally set up or externally sub-contracted. The manner in which
such units are sensitive to, collect, elicit, and are obliged to filter information is the
key to insight cultivation. The need to flexibly open to information when there is
relatively little and to close to information when there is too much is of course a
survival attribute of any social or organizational unit, notably as studied by Orrin E
Several grades of response might for example be envisaged:
- (a) Minimalistic bureaucratic response: Strict adherence to the letter of any mandate or
contract. Exclude all other information, especially that from sources that can readily be
labelled as unofficial. Avoid encouraging information which implies more work.
- (b) Crisis management (survivalist) response: High sensitivity to immediate information
needs. Seek information wherever it may be found. Filter out anything that does not
reflect current short-term priorities. Avoid consideration of alternative perspectives,
notably those advocated by opponents.
- (c) Non-partisan, professional response: Develop sensitivity to a wide range of sources
of established quality, systematically excluding anything that falls below that threshold.
Articulate a range of options for short and long-term governance. Avoid issues bearing on
assumptions governing selection of sources and information, especially if these may be
critical of the appropriateness of the professional posture adopted or the relevance of
the options formulated.
- (d) Proactive response: Evoke information and insights by investing significantly in the
design of insight cultivation and capture systems. Emphasis placed on configuring
conflicting incommensurable perspectives so as to evoke insights relative to governance
faced with complex dilemmas. Concern with the match between the articulation, through
appropriate imagery, of the policy challenge faced by governance and that which is
communicable through the media to wider publics from which further insight may be
It is of course inappropriate to demonize the first responses in favour of the latter.
All have their place in an integrated system of insight cultivation which urgently needs
to be articulated. At present however, the last is significantly absent, whereas the
others have significantly demonstrated their inadequacy in recent years.
D. Using disagreements for superordinate frame construction
As an urban planner, Donald Schon (1979, 1987) provides a remarkable review of the
reasons for intractable policy controversies, resistant to evidence, and unlikely to be
settled by compromise. Any 'agreement' negotiated is then unlikely to hold,
since implementing such an agreement usually gives rise to new conditions of disagreement.
This was ignored in the Earth Summit (Rio de Janeiro, June 1992) pursuit of
environment/development agreements charted by Jim MacNeill (1991). Conventional reasons
for such differences are emotion, values or politics. Schon argues that these are
'junk categories' -- a category that can be used to explain phenomena that are
poorly understood, without needing to question the validity of one's own approach. In his
view these categories rest upon false dichotomies due to distortions of reason.
Conflicts of frames
In a much-cited paper Schon (1979) proposes that these policy conflicts be understood
as involving conflicts of frames. Framing and naming are ways of setting boundaries to
things, giving coherence where it would otherwise be lacking. He gives the example of a
slum that could either be framed as a 'blight' (to be excised) or as a
'community' (calling for enhancement as a vehicle for social learning). Frames
construct the phenomena the user takes to be 'there'. They provide ways of
framing reality. Things are only seldom unframed. People are obliged to deal with
realities that have already been framed. Through different frames different realities may
be constructed -- leading to frame conflict.
Schon points out that 'One of the things we get when we get a frame is a way of
thinking what to do -- a way of getting from data to recommendations, from facts to
values, from is to ought'. He calls this the 'normative leap'. He notes
that even where the facts are acknowledged to be different by policy-makers, they will
leap to similar action recommendations within their chosen frame. It is the metaphor
articulating the frame that carries over the logic from 'is' to
'ought' . For him the challenge is that there is no evidence with which a given
frame is unable to deal - - if one is sufficiently attached to that frame. Disagreements
can be settled reasonably within a frame -- it is between frames that lies the
Schon shows the weakness of conventional approaches to negotiation (as practised at the
Earth Summit), and the non- durability of the agreements that tend to be reached when
dealing with intractable frame conflicts. He proposes a process of 'frame
reflection' leading to a resolution of a conflict through reflection on that
conflict. He argues that this offers the possibility of synthesizing a new frame out of
conflicting ones, opening a wider range for informed choice. From a cognitive perspective,
the process ensures a recasting and reconnecting of things and relations in the perceptual
field. He acknowledges that this necessitates the acquisition by planners of
'psychological competences' of a very high order.
Window of opportunity
Without questioning the value of Schon's recommendation, it is worth exploring a window
of opportunity which may well require a less time-consuming, interactive commitment than
called for by his approach. There is the possibility that it may not be necessary to
stress the 'falseness' of dichotomies or the 'limited' nature of
particular frames. Rather than synthesizing a new frame from scratch, it may be possible
to use the existing dichotomies and frames as structural elements -- to configure the
elements of disagreement so as to bring into focus higher orders of agreement. Schon has
not explored how frames might be juxtaposed in the light of dichotomies to encode the
discontinuities between frames to which people will continue to cling.
Given the importance Schon attaches to metaphor (1979), his concept of frame reflection
might be looked at in terms of the metaphors on which it is based. 'Frame'
suggests a scaffolding of interconnected structural elements, perhaps a 2-dimensional
'window', or possibly a 3-dimensional window. Within this metaphor, different
frames might be related like 'panes' in a window, or as panels configured at
different angles to provide a 3-dimensional framework around the user. In this way a
superordinate frame is 'synthesized'. Rather than aiming to 'resolve'
disagreements, the intention here is to 'position' frames so as to use the
tensions and stresses of disagreement to give form to an encompassing structure. The
challenge in configuring subordinate frames in this way is how to ensure that the patterns
of tensions and stresses are appropriately distributed to guarantee the stability and
durability of the synthesized frame.
Frame symmetry and reflection
In his use of 'reflection' to describe the dialogue between those using
different frames, Schon again misses the insights emerging from the metaphoric
significance of the term. He suggests that the dialogue process will lead to a new
superordinate frame but does not discuss how it might emerge. Using the metaphor of a
configuration of frames (eg of glass), one may however usefully ask how
'reflection' of insight can appropriately occur between them so as to reinforce
collective understanding of the superordinate structure -- without denying or condemning
the perspectives through any particular subordinate frame. In the case of light, it is
best reflected between the facets of a structure only if that structure has an
appropriately complex symmetry. Such symmetry is best seen in the polyhedral structures
typical of geodesic spheres and cut precious stones. The stability of polyhedral
architectural structures has been extensively studied (Fuller, 1975-9). The light
enhancing qualities of precious stones require no comment.
Configuring globally and contending locally
An exercise was undertaken to treat the distinct issues of the Earth Summit as
associated with frames in a single polyhedral structure (Judge, 1992). In order to move
beyond the effort at negotiating individual agreements for each frame (which ignore the
threats to the stability of such agreements from related frames) the challenge was to
discover an appropriate 'design' for such a polyhedral structure. The design was
required to juxtaposition the different frames to bring out a comprehensible pattern of
mutually reinforcing relationships. It is the comprehensibility of such a pattern that
ensures the coherence and stability of the global configuration of frame perspectives. In
this sense, consistent with Schon's view, it provides the basis for a higher order of
consensus which is less demanding of compromise than the haphazardly ordered pattern of
bilateral bargains between frames that is currently sought (MacNeill et al, 1991).
Non-tokenistic consensus is improbable in the case of intractable differences. Where
integration of perspectives cannot be achieved through hierarchical structuring, depth
psychologist Andrew Samuels (1989) introduces the concept of an 'imaginal
network' to provide coherence to a set of seemingly disparate images (equivalent to
Schon's frames). It provides the basis for a pluralistic psychology of perception. However
he acknowledges that the 'giving and receiving of plural interpretations is a highly
problematic technical issue.' Like Schon, he then emphasizes dialogue processes
(unconstrained by urgency). But there remains the possibility of reconfiguring the
imaginal network (itself a sight-oriented structural metaphor). Networks as a reaction to
the ills of hierarchy have demonstrated complementary weaknesses, notably a marked
tendency to 'flabbiness'. Tensional integrity structures (based on principles of
polyhedral symmetry) suggest ways of 'tensing' networks to remedy such
weaknesses (Judge, 1979, 1984). The use of such 'tensegrity' structures in
social organization is currently being researched by cybernetican Stafford Beer (1993).
Metaphors of frame complementarity
The previous paragraphs have suggested symmetrical polyhedral structures as providing a
stock of possible superordinate frames to relate apparently incommensurable perspectives,
highlighting their different degrees of complementarity. Alternative superordinate
metaphors could also be fruitfully explored to facilitate comprehension of how subordinate
metaphoric frames can co-exist as an ecology of complementary perspectives. The integrity
of such multi- frame systems is as important for global survival as it is for individual
E. Metaphor as a catalytic language for global governance
Metaphor as an unexplored resource
Since the 1970s there has been an explosion of interest in the cognitive role of
metaphor in all areas, but especially in the language of disciplines. It is no longer
considered merely a matter of rhetorical flourish or poetical imagination. It is now
argued that our conceptual system is fundamentally metaphorical. It has even been
suggested that the development of civilizations is essentially a progression of metaphors.
Others have noted that if the present age faces a crisis of root metaphors, a shift in
metaphors may open new vistas of human possibilities.
Metaphors are used to get a conceptual handle on complexity, notably in physics. They
have a major role in psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. Educators make extensive use of
metaphor, building on its traditional role in religion. Metaphor is fundamental to skilful
advertising and image building. Politicians (and their speechwriters) are constantly in
search of more powerful metaphors to position their proposals more effectively. Use of
metaphor underlies discussion of organizational cultures and their ability to innovate. In
that respect metaphor or guiding imagery (leitbild in German) is also vital to
technological development. Computer software advances are keyed to new metaphors, such as
'Windows'. Breakthroughs in groupware await discovery of appropriate metaphors.
Despite its widespread use, notably at the grassroots level in many cultures, little
has been done to explore its relevance to the challenges of the international community.
Donald Schon (1979) has argued that the essential difficulties in social policy have
more to do with problem setting than with problem solving. For him: 'the framing
of problems often depends upon metaphors underlying the stories which generate problem
setting and set the direction of problem solving.' As noted above, he contrasts a
housing problem where slum areas were defined as a 'blight' or
'disease' with one in which they were perceived as 'natural
communities'. Using the medical metaphor the former justifies use of radical
'surgery' to excise the blight, whereas the other calls for ways of enhancing
the life of those communities.
A metaphor thus provides a framework of credible associations that increases the
probability that relationships in other domains will be conceived according to that
pattern, rather than another. Most institutional policies are based on implicit metaphors
which may be quite inappropriately simplistic in relation to the challenge of their
mandate. Global governance could be said to be currently trapped in inadequate metaphors.
Opening new possibilities
It is not that traditional policy models are ineffective or inadequate. The difficulty
is rather in the incompatibility of models, however useful in different specialized
domains, and the resulting weaknesses which emerge in any supposedly integrated strategy.
Suspicion concerning integrative models has become a wise precaution.
Beyond any structural modifications, the key to the success of future strategies
appears to lie in the imaginative manner in which valid, but seemingly incompatible,
initiatives are woven together. The challenge is highlighted by the absence of models
adequate to the reconciliation of 'centralized' and 'market' economic
strategies in the former socialist countries of Eastern Europe. There are no available
models because the challenge to the imagination transcends the world of model builders by
which strategies have been so influenced. It could be concluded that new possibilities for
global governance are to be found beyond the strategic incompatibilities in which visions
of its future tend to become entangled.
It is metaphors which provide the imagination with 'keystones' to balance the
tensions between tendencies which, without such integrative elements, would appear
incompatible. World governance in this sense is a question of 'imagination
building' rather than 'institution building'.
Governance at the highest level should therefore focus attention on the emergence and
movement of policy-relevant metaphors -- that are capable of rendering comprehensible the
way forward through complex windows of opportunity. The challenge lies in marrying new
metaphors to models to ensure the embodiment of new levels of insight in appropriate
Exploration of metaphor needs to be liberated from the ghetto of literary studies in
which it has languished. People at every level of society need to be empowered in their
use of metaphor to reframe the challenges they personally face in exploring new
opportunities unconstrained by the outmoded patterns of the past. Metaphors can become
catalysts of self-organization. They can offer new approaches to intractable problems such
as unemployment, drugs, discrimination, and misuse of resources.
A transcendental global identity
The identity of global civilization is thus closely associated with the 'gene
pool' of metaphors. From this the global policy-makers may draw fruitful metaphors to
guide their formulation of responses to new opportunities and crises. New metaphors need
to be fed into this pool by those with the ability to identify them -- and that includes
the poets of the world!
This vision of global governance does not call for radical transformation of
institutions. Rather it calls for a shift in the way of thinking about what is circulated
through society's information systems as the triggering force for any action and its
At present governance in the international community is haunted by a form of collective
schizophrenia -- a left- brain preoccupation with 'serious' academic models and
administrative programmes, and a right-brain preoccupation with the proclivities of public
opinion avid for 'meaningful' action (even if 'sensational;'). This
quarrel between models and metaphors could be transformed by focusing more effectively on
the metaphoric dimensions already so vital to any sustainable motivation of public
The identity of the global community should not be so closely linked to the seemingly
impossible task of maintaining a consensus on particular solutions as appropriate, and
therefore 'correct'. The identity to cultivate should be detached from this
level of short- and medium-term preoccupation. This confusion favours tokenism and
unimplemented resolutions which in turn reinforce cynicism, alienation and loss of
credibility. In these times all simple solutions eventually become problems, just as all
problems are in effect unpleasant solutions.
The creative opportunity is to cultivate instead an understanding of how incompatible
solutions can be woven together as phases over time in a cycle of policies. It is
metaphors -- such as crop rotation -- which make comprehensible and credible such a
complex approach. It is at this level of conservation and generation of metaphors that may
be found a dynamic pattern for global governance appropriate to sustainable development.
How to proceed ?
What approach should be taken to the possibility of choosing a metaphor to better
articulate the future pattern of global governance? Five criteria could be considered:
(a) Variety capture: Clearly a metaphor must be rich enough so that each may
find in it the dimensions to which he or she is sensitive. There is therefore advantage in
highlighting those which reflect the most advanced thinking of our civilization -- those
touching the frontiers of aspiration to explore our potential and articulating our
comprehension of the most complex domains. But, although of necessary complexity, these
metaphors must allow for simple comprehension, preferably permitting clarification by rich
and evocative imagery.
(b) Option opening: A useful metaphor must avoid the problem of
over-deterministic models which leave no 'free space' for the imagination to
explore and make discoveries. Better than static metaphors, those which embody a dynamic
reality open more possibilities to the imagination. They lessen the impression of
exhaustiveness and determinism -- having less of a function of a conceptual straitjacket.
Such metaphors 'seduce' and enchant the spirit. Their meaning can be
'mined' according to people's degree of need and curiosity.
(c) Limitation recognition: As with every model, a metaphor can only give a partial
image of a complex reality. And like a model, a given metaphor may not be to the taste of
everyone. A metaphor has a limited audience (or a 'market') which may be a
function of culture, education or age. Consequently any effort to impose a single metaphor
is therefore destined to failure (even though this may be disguised to the extent that
there may be resistance to the meaning carried by the metaphor, which is then seen as a
(d) Metaphor complementarity: The limitations of any given metaphor may be
compensated, provided that it is seen as forming part of a set of complementary metaphors.
Then the weaknesses of one are compensated by the strengths of others, and the dominating
points any one metaphor is constrained or checked by the insights brought by others. In
such a system of metaphors, each has more chance of finding an appropriate, and even
seductive, perspective than through any single metaphor.
(e) Self-reflective metaphors: A complex dynamic system is always a challenge to
comprehension. This is also true in the case of a system of metaphors. Such metaphors
should therefore be chosen on the basis of their individual capacity to provide some
comprehension of the system of which they are part. This criterion guarantees, to some
degree at least, the integrity and the coherence of the system.
An example: crop rotation
Every peasant farmer understands the necessity of crop rotation in a field in order to
avoid the accumulation of the negative consequences resulting from planting of any one
species. The farmer knows that, to ensure the sustainable development of his field, he can
grow one crop in that field for a period but must then replace it by a different crop to
remedy the defects to the soil caused by the first. He may have to grow a third and a
fourth species before finally returning to the first in his crop rotation cycle. It is the
cycle which guarantees sustainability, not any particular crop.
This well-tested approach suggests the possibility that no one policy in a given domain
can be maintained beyond a certain period without accumulating negative side-effects. And
it is therefore with a distinct and complementary policy that these effects may be
partially counter-acted. Thus to guarantee any form of sustainable development, a cycle of
distinct policies is necessary in which each compensates for the action of others.
Mining cultural resources for global governance
The crop rotation metaphor is of course an illustration of the implicit message of
democracy -- but what political party would publicly recognize the need for the policies
of others to compensate for the negative side-effects of its own? The function of global
governance must necessarily emerge beyond the concepts and positions of parties which each
contribute to its definition. It is at the level of the appropriately balanced cycle that
the nature of such governance may usefully be understood.
The system of metaphors, or of ways of thinking, may itself be understood as a cycle of
metaphors, each with its strong and weak points. It is clear that the crop rotation
metaphor will appeal most to those with agricultural concerns -- and especially those
concerned with so-called organic agriculture. Equally powerful metaphors, capable of
integrating complex policies, may be derived from traffic circulation or ecosystems of
species. Other insights may, however, be captured through metaphors based on molecular
resonance hybrids or nuclear fusion reactors. The art is to seek metaphors in domains of
dynamic complexity which have attracted the most powerful thinkers (and research
investment). The conceptual patterns they have developed may then be used as metaphoric
templates to guide handling of the complexity of global governance.
How many complementary metaphors are necessary to sustain insight into the rich
subtleties of the global governance of the future? Would it not be natural for a major
metaphor to be associated with each domain with which a major policy or government
ministry is associated -- or with each 'Specialized Agency'?
These arguments offer possibilities to every level of society, from the individual to
the collective. The opportunity lies in effectively mining our cultural resources for
metaphors to ensure our individual and collective survival. Is it not metaphor that can
offer insights to bridge the relationships between competing models and policies? Through
metaphor to a sustainable ecology of development policies!
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