13 June 2003
Global Civil Society
Strategic comments on "the path ahead" discussion
- / -
Basis for following comments
Descriptor vs Political movement
Frameworks for disagreement: beyond polarization
Who defines civil society?
The document Global
Civil Society: the path ahead (2002) by David Korten, Nicanor Perlas and
Vandana Shiva, is much to be appreciated as presenting a coherent statement
inviting discussion at a critical period in the evolution of understanding about
civil society and the alternatives to the dominant worldview. It offers a valuable
counterweight to the arguments in support of that worldview and the strategies
that it supports. It could also be considered a convenient summary of the arguments
to Economic Globalization: A Better World Is Possible (2002) by the International
Forum on Globalization.
The organization of these comments focuses first on the strategic metaphors
which appear to frame the advocated approach. The use of "global civil
society" by the authors to describe a political movement is then contrasted
with its use as a descriptor of the diversity characteristic of the ecosystem
of civil society bodies. Concern is then expressed regarding the need for frameworks
of disagreement to move beyond the polarization which characterizes the authors'
presentation. Questions are then raised as to whether the approach to governance
provides for the capacity to make "hard decisions". The authors' recommendation
for transitional protected zones for new kinds of socio-economic experiment
is then disucssed in contrast to mainstream "gated communities". Finally
concern is expressed regarding a disappointing tendency towards exclusive appropriation
of positive attributes by the "global civil society" movement.
Basis for following comments
In making the comments which follow, it is useful to be clear where they are
coming from. For many years I have been responsible for the continuing production
and development several reference works of the Union of International Associations.
These relate to the concerns of civil society. These include: Yearbook
of International Organizations: guide to global civil society networks,
profiling some 50,000 bodies and their networks and distributed online; Encyclopedia
of World Problems and Human Potential profiling networks of some 30,000
problems and strategies articulated by such international constituencies and
also available online. Over the years I have endeavoured to articulate, through
many reports [more],
concerns relating to the facilitation of the activity of international networks
in response to networks of problems and the challenge of finding new ways of
articulating collective understanding of more appropriate strategies, notably
through use of richer metaphors [more].
More recently I have strongly criticized, at some length, the United Nations
initiative in promoting a Global Compact (see "Globalization":
the UN's "Safe Haven" for the World's Marginalized ), manipulatively reframing
its relationship to civil society, and seeking to marginalize those opposed
to its views as "rejectionists".
It is useful to focus on the metaphors that may be understood as underlying the
proposed strategic framework. The following metaphors are deliberately explored
as a device to reflect the strategic challenge in terms of familiar substantive
issues which any complex of global strategies must necessarily address:
- Traffic: The paper is subtitled "the path ahead" as a means
of framing the strategic challenge. Others have used such phrases (for example
Edward Goldsmith's The
Way: An Ecological World-View (Themis Books, 1996)). I would like to suggest
that one of the major difficulties faced by a complex society is precisely
that different constituencies perceive and pursue different paths. The assumption
that there is only one way and that it can be articulated in a single document
for all is an oversimplification. As in any modern transportation system people
believe that they have a need to move in different directions and the strategic
challenge can then be framed metaphorically as a traffic problem: how to have
lines of (fast moving) traffic crossing each other; how to allow for traffic
moving in opposite directions -- as well as the general problem of traffic
congestion as more constituencies acquire the ability to acquire strategic
vehicles. No modern traffic system has the luxury of being able to require
that all traffic move in the same direction -- or else face some kind of penalty.
Indeed this metaphor raises the question of what the authors would advocate
with regard to people choosing to move in a direction contrary to the one
they define to be a requirement for all.
- Environment: The traffic metaphor highlights the meta-strategic challenge
as being a systemic one, perhaps best exemplified by the environmental ecosystems
with which there is so much concern. Can the strategic challenge of interweaving
complementary strategies be better understood through environmental disciplines
-- especially in the light of the way in which populations of different species
correct each other's excesses? The tough aspect of this challenge is that
individual strategies, however seemingly appropriate, do not get a free ride
-- their excesses are painfully corrected to ensure the sustainability of
the larger system. The question is why so little of the understanding of environmental
systems is applied in the strategic management of environmental groups which
are typically much torn by internal differences [more].
The Green Parties of France and Germany have provided recent examples. The
paper does not discuss the existence of such real divisions or the self-organizing
processes whereby they are to be managed more fruitfully..
- Conflict / Peace: The environmental metaphor points to the fundamental
issue of territory. Advocates of particular strategies effectively lay claim
to territory in strategic space. This territory is acknowledged and defended
in a variety of ways. The authors' articulation of universal values does not
address the challenge of other articulations of universal values -- of which
religions offer the most classic example. "Turf wars" are as characteristic
of the alternative movements as they are of the mindset they would displace.
Much experience of the commune movement indicates the nature of the challenge
-- as does the highly fragmented nature of major social movements: peace,
environment, human rights, etc. The authors do not address the question of
how these are to be more creatively managed -- exposing themselves to the
accusation of offering a "fair weather" strategy that would not
be sufficiently robust when people disagree. It is important to recall that
every social movement and religion holds "peace" to be a value --
including those deplored by the authors. This has not prevented millions from
being slaughtered in its name. The mindset of those concerned with "security"
is not favoured by those concerned with alternative strategies -- and yet
there is a need for such thinking if the inadequacies of the deplorable features
of current security initiatives are to be replaced by more appropriate approaches.
The excesses of "security" in certain sects and the successes of
"security" at some demonstrations indicate some of the extremes.
- Politics / Democracy: The security metaphor points to the fundamental
issue of power and politics. The implication is that through such devices
as electronic voting and online democracy differences can be adequately articulated
and consensus can be achieved -- despite the many flaws in representative
democracy. The authors do not address the challenge of situations in which
different constituencies differ radically on particular issues -- as experienced
in green parties in dealing in practice with nuclear power, or any conflict
between employment and environment. More dramatically perhaps is the situation
of pro- and anti-lobbies as in the case of abortion. The implication of the
paper is that either people agree or they are not part of "the path ahead"
of "global civil society". This raises the question as to how "global
civil society" allows for a space for those who do not subscribe to "the
path ahead". Are these to be understood as forming "global uncivil
society"? One of the difficulties of the alternatives movement is that
it is strongest when opposing the "empire" -- as wonderfully demonstrated
in the much publicized protests at many recent meetings of the elites of the
"empire". It is absolutely unclear whether it can manage power relations
between constituencies with different strategic objectives when it has a mandate
to do so. The tendency in practice is for those who are dissatisfied to design
themselves out of such contexts -- into "global uncivil
society" . This is not an adequate basis for an alternative to the "empire"
which is regrettably successful in handling groups in conflict.
- Justice / Inequality: The democracy metaphor points to the fundamental
issue of justice and inequality. Democracy as presently understood, and even
in its proposed online variant, supposes some adequate access to the democratic
processes. It is quite clear that the majority of the globe's citizens do
not have remotely equivalent forms of access. The authors do not address the
issue of how they are then to be adequately represented in a manner distinct
from that currently practiced -- with the vast array of manipulative devices
available to those who seek to disrupt the transparency of the process. Those
with the resources to travel to Porto Alegre, or to communicate their views
around the globe, have a vastly disproportionate influence on the agenda formation
of "global civil society". Cheque book democracy is not confined
to the elites of the "empire" -- as was only too evident at the
Earth Summit in 1992. The authors do not address the various forms of inequality
that would undermine the justice of any articulated strategy of global civil
- Education / Health: The inequality metaphor points to the fundamental
issue of how the strategic challenge is to be understood by people enjoying
(or suffering from) extreme contrasts in education and health. It is absolutely
understandable that those most deprived will favour decisions that address
their own immediate short-term concerns. They cannot be expected to have the
luxury of indulging in decisions favouring longer time periods and distant
peoples -- however much they might acknowledge the need in principle. The
authors do not address the implications of different understandings (or types
of comprehension) of what the strategic opportunities may be towards sustainability
-- how are the "councils of the wise" to reconcile their views with
the clamouring of the "needy". Like governments of the "empire",
the authors are to some degree obliged to favour more commonly understandable
strategic articulations that may preclude counterintuitive options offering
access to a healthier balance within a realistic time-frame. Like governments
of the "empire" they too may be forced into a mode of offering "pain
today" as the price of desirable outcomes tomorrow -- promises which
are so easily and cynically broken in practice as demonstrated in many alternative
- Population: As highlighted with respect to the traffic metaphor,
the authors do not deal with the emerging phenomenon of the global information
society, namely the extent to which an increasing proportion of the population
has the capacity to express and act electronically in support of particular
views. Essentially strategic space will be increasingly faced with a "population
problem" in which many -- whether groups or individuals -- will have
distinct answers to their particular understanding of the problematique and
will seek to implement them. As with the way in which many of the issues currently
on the table are driven by a population problem that has now been successfully
designed off the table, responses to these issues are increasingly
undermined by the number and variety of strategic views formulated by different
constituencies -- and the "divine right" of each to continue to
formulate more in a basic act of democratic creativity.
- Employment: The shift to any alternative to the currently dominant
set of strategies will have major impacts on employment. "Empire"
has been able to manipulate and control the debate by offering simplistic
choices such as "jobs vs environment". The authors do not adequately
address the issue of how people and groups are to be employed in an alternative
economy that may not have as much economic opportunity as is hoped. In this
sense "employment" becomes a valuable metaphor for how people are
able to fully employ their time, whether remunerated or not. Traditionally
alternative strategies have extolled the merits of crafts and alternative
occupations. This may work for some, but will certainly not work for all.
Very specifically the test is what new forms of employment will pull people
back from urban environments -- in the light of various failed socialist experiments
to address this challenge? [more;
- Pollution: The authors point to a range of features now usefully
acknowledged to be problematic "negative" outcomes of the uncritical
pursuit of the dominant paradigm. In this sense they are effectively highlighting
a form of "strategic pollution" associated with such strategies.
The authors do not raise the question as to whether the pursuit of the strategy
they advocate might also give rise to a form of "pollution" -- albeit
of a different kind. Is it not the case that the new style of strategy required
by the challenges of complex society must necessarily be capable of addressing
any form of strategic pollution -- and the accumulation of negative by-products
of particular modes of action? This surely is the merit of a set of complementary
strategies that together are capable of "cleaning up" their own
problematic strategic outcomes. The assumption that the advocated strategy
is somehow "problem free" could be construed as an indicator of
the immaturity of the strategy. The failure to discuss any "strategic
shadow" suggests -- in psychotherapeutic terms -- that aspects of that
shadow would tend to be projected onto others. This raises the issue of whether
the authors' negative stereotyping of "empire" is entirely to be
associated with the inadequacies of the dominant paradigm or whether it is
not in some measure engendered by the mindset advocating the alternative.
- Shelter: The authors usefully point to the possibility of creating
"local cultural zones within which people can experiment" and "zones
of freedom" -- namely a form of shelter to protect emerging alternatives
-- as is done by the dominant paradigm in the case of special "economic
zones", R&D laboratories, and fiscal advantages (including tax havens).
But, just as with the housing problem in many societies, it is useful to raise
the question of where and how what kinds of shelter should be engendered for
such experiment. Should they be basic "housing for the masses" to
allow many to experiment? Should they be on "green field sites"
minimally constrained by the existing problems of society? And to what extent
are ideal shelters provided by in tentional communities and "centres
of excellence" -- the classic approach to alternative community -- a
necessary part of the mix?
Descriptor vs Political movement
The main title of the paper, "global civil society", raises
issues which the authors fail to address. As many have remarked, "civil
society" has now become a phrase which is readily attached to the most
disparate preoccupations. It is being successfully used by some to replace "NGOs"
-- a term like "non-whites" with pejorative connotations that has
been well-exploited to marginalize the bodies to which the label has been attached,
whether they identified with the label or not.
There are other threads however that are only alluded to in passing by the
- Popular movements: As became evident in 1992 at the Earth Summit,
prime importance is increasingly attached to movements without any formal
structure -- variously termed "citizens movements" or "peoples
movements". Indeed these may be perceived as more worthy than those that
have been tainted by the distortions of formal structure (secretariats, committees,
officers, budgets, operating procedures, and the like). Ultimately, as indicated
by the authors, any individual is a member of global civil society -- and
such membership is especially empowered if that person is well-resourced.
The authors see such popular movements -- civil rights, women's, peace, human
rights, environment, gay rights, among others -- as drawing their inspiration
from national liberation movements as uniquely concerned with "transformation
of relationships" to the "partnership model". This focus raises
questions as to the what kinds of bodies can articulate the views of such
movements and how such bodies -- when they emerge -- will relate to one another
and to others that already exist -- and may lay some claim to being part of
global civil society
- Academic lag and self-citation: A second thread is the manner in
which "civil society" has been so recently "discovered"
as a phenomenon by the academic community, where previously many of the same
bodies (under labels such as "voluntary associations" and "NGOs")
were considered by most social science disciplines to be of little interest
. It is not clear that the academic world has acknowledged the forces driving
this recognition and its methodological failure in responding to this phenomenon
in the past -- which suggests the possibility of analogous processes undermining
the appropriateness of its response to the phenomenon under the label "civil
society". A feature of the current academic preoccupation with "civil
society" is its tendency to engage in self-citation. Concepts relating
to "civil society" and "networks", originated and developed
in other contexts, and other times are "discovered" and given particular
meanings within a self-selected group. This does not call for criticism except
where the authority of academe is then used to reframe all discourse on "civil
society" according to this limited perspective.
- Nontransparent funding complicity: A third thread is the complicity
of foundations funding research on civil society and the plethora of meetings
on the topic following the fall of the Soviet Union. The need to enhance the
fabric of "civil society" in Eastern Europe became a feature of
western intervention in those countries once the weaknesses of the politico-economical
programs advocated through the dominant mindset became evident. It remains
unclear however the extent to which preoccupation with "civil society"
by foundations is not driven by particular western political agendas seeking
to implant, through a conceptual Trojan horse, a particular "way of life"
in other countries by endeavopuring to associate "civil society"
with "democracy" at a time when the latter term is being used cynically
to disguise a variety of forms of democratic deficit. It is curious, for example,
the weight of the USA-UK axis, within western thinking, in defining "civil
society" for the rest of the world. This is especially problematic at
a time when that axis is undertaking a particularly strong initiative to reframe
international perceptions of "terrorism" and what is effectively
the notion of "uncivil society" -- an initiative from which few
foundations can afford to dissociate themslves. The question that might be
asked is whether those seeking to reframe "civil society" in their
own image are seeking to exclude those that hope in future to stigmatize as
"uncivil", perhaps to be acted against in the light of anti-terrorist
legislation. The well-documented example of distinguishing "non-whites"
in South Africa as a basis for the later apartheid laws merits continuing
reflection. Most curious is that these issues are not debated in relation
to "civil society" -- notably by those who in the past were most
sensitive to use of academic research as a front for other agendas.
- Civil society camouflage: A fourth thread is the manner in which
many governmental and business institutions are now associating their initiatives
with "civil society" as a cynical public relations "look good"
exercise to disguise the failures of initiatives conceived with an outmoded
mindset. In this sense "civil society" has become a form of camouflage
for advancing "business as usual".
- Neglect of integrative function of global: A fifth thread is the
possibility that there are other interpretations of "global" that
emphasize more the challenges of integrating disparate perspectives into a
larger whole. Conventional "global" has focused on the geographic
implications of relating activities on territories around the planet. The
challenge of interrelating sectors based on different cultures, jargons, and
ideologies has been downplayed. The authors effectively by into the same use
of global as that employed by the dominant paradigm -- at a time when it is
alternative insights into ways of bridging between differences (other than
by an airline flight) that are called for. [more]
The interference effects between these different threads has not helped clarify
the nature of "civil society" which increasingly has the fuzzy positive
attributes of "motherhood statements" beyond any reasonable challenge
In this context, the point to be made here is that the authors fail to distinguish
- the wide variety of bodies in global civil society that articulate the views
of individuals and groups in every field of human activity -- where "global
civil society" is understood as a complex social ecosystem; and
- "global civil society" as a particular set of bodies and individuals
selected because of the consensus they represent as expressed by the authors
In the first case above "global civil society" is used as a descriptor
of an ecosystem whatever the varied strategies to which the constituent bodies
subscribe. In the second case "global civil society" is a broad-based
political movement which has appropriated the descriptive term, apparently
for its own exclusive use. It clearly has the right to endeavour to do
so, as in any marketing endeavour to lay optimistic claim to be the "best"
product with which positive values are uniquely and exclusively associated.
The authors deliberately appropriate the term to this end in statements like
"global civil society emerged as a major social force in the final decade
of the Second Millennium" -- thus obscuring the nature of its existence
and activity prior to that time.
Is such "emergence" of global civil society to be understood like
the tip of an iceberg of multifarious processes at every level of society to
which little attention is normally given -- or is it a highly mediatised movement
floating on the surface of public opinion and only elusively related to the
real activities of citizens around the world? As with "NGOs", how
many bodies relate to "global civil society" as a political movement,
as opposed to being involved in a wide variety of global processes (including
those beyond the preoccupation of the authors) for which "civil society"
might indeed be an appropriate descriptor? Is it useful to stress the confrontational
aspect of "global civil society" as a movement and a "threat"
to "empire" -- thus obscuring the global role of civil society in
sustaining the fabric of global society?
This then raises the key issue of the descriptors to be attached to two distinct
sets of bodies:
- those bodies who do not subscribe to the "universal values" articulated
by the authors and wish to dissociate themselves from the agenda of their
"global civil society" movement -- whether or not they subscribe
to the agenda of the "empire"
- those bodies that the "global civil society" movement does not
wish to have associated with its agenda because it judges them (through some
duly authorized body empowered to do so) as pursuing strategies that undermine
that agenda, whether or not the bodies protest against such judgement
The challenge is then not so much what is included under the label of "global
civil society" but what is in practice excluded whether explicitly
or implicitly [more;
test cases might include:
- sects (eg the Rael Movement, recently publicized for its cloning of humans),
- political associations holding views at variance with "universal values"
(Klu Klux Klan, etc)
- recreational associations; sporting clubs and federations,
- philosophical societies
- art and musical appreciation societies
- trade and commercial associations
- professional associations
- religious orders
- pro- and anti- bodies (abortion, hunting, meat-eating, smoking, etc)
- illegal associations, liberation movements, and those defined as terrorist
- secret societies
- racist groups (neo-Nazis, etc)
The groups most attentive to the defence of such borderline cases are bodies
like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
It is not clear whether the authors would subscribe so forthrightly to the defence
of the right to exist of bodies with whose views they fundamentally disagree.
Nor is it clear what place they would give to them in "the path ahead"
given their often destabilizing influence on the desirable strategy the authors
endeavour to articulate.
Elsewhere the clarification of what is variously understood as involved in
"civil society" has been discussed under the heading of "definitional
The term "conceptual gerrymandering" is also useful in that respect
-- notably as applied in the case of "terrorism" [more],
with which powerful forces are endeavouring to taint any initiative in favour
of alternatives to the dominant paradigm. Given the current overriding appeal
for a crusade against "evil", should the authors have done more to
distinguish between "good" civil society and "evil" civil
society to address the taint cast upon those "rejectionist" variants
that do not subscribe wholeheartedly to the political framing of those opposed
to the dominant paradigm?
But the conceptual issue is whether the authors effectively adopt an equivalent
to the current American government strategy of "all who are not with us
are against us". Given that those who are at the Davos Forum are considered
as more central to the "empire" -- are those at Porto Alegre more
part of "global civil society" than those who are absent? Are all
who do not subscribe to the authors' articulation of "the path ahead"
are necessarily to be considered as opposing it, namely as sympathetic with
the "empire" whose strategies the authors deplore? Such binary thinking
is much to be regretted in a complex society where the tools to deal with complexity
are becoming more readily available.
Who defines civil society?
The most intriguing feature of "civil society" is the way in which
various constituencies consider that they have a special competence and right
to define what it is -- and attach descriptors. The authors do it in their paper.
Scholars of civil society do it. Journalists do it. Intergovernmental organizations
like the United Nations do it. Increasingly governments and political parties
do it. Thus for the UN Joint Inspection Unit:
"A 'Civil Society' is the result of different components of populations and
communities, and refers to the sphere in which citizens and social initiatives
organise themselves around objectives, constituencies and thematic interests.
They act collectively through their organisations known as Civil Society Organisations
which include movements, entities, institutions autonomous from the State
which in principle, are non-profit-making, act locally, nationally and internationally,
in defence and promotion of social, economic and cultural interests and for
mutual benefit. They intermediate between their constituencies/members, with
the State as well as with United Nations bodies. They do this through lobbying
and/or provision of services. Though belonging to the non-State actor category,
they are different from the private sector and NGO as they may not be registered,
may replace the public sector, are not always structured and often their members
are not officially recognized".
There is no mention here of those bodies opposing policies favoured by the
UN and the Bretton Woods Institutions and which had previously been labelled
"rejectionist". Does the fact that they strongly object to some of
these policies imply that they are beyond the pale of bodies to be defined as
"civil"? How to distinguish between varying degrees of rejection,
up to the degree implied by Al-Qaida -- as being part of "civil" society
or not? What is the nature of "uncivil" society? Are those who make
such judgements to be considered part of civil society?
And yet perhaps one of the most characteristic features of civil society is
the lack of connection in the minds of "civil society bodies" with
the label "civil society" as attached to them by any of the labelling
bodies above. In fact it might be said that the very politicization of the process
of defining "civil society" is indicative of the manner in which those
to whom the label may be attached feel free at any time to define "civil
society" in new ways that suit them -- and consider as irrelevant or outmoded
the views of others on their mode of action or organization.
In this sense we may be witnessing a vital new phenomenon that echoes other
developments in institutions and society. The phenomenon was perhaps first seen
with respect to religion in that people now feel increasingly free to select
or define their own religion -- much to the dismay of those who consider this
heresy. It is seen in relation to "science" in that many now feel
free to choose between explanations of different disciplines or schools of thought
-- or to elaboarate their own explanations of phenomena, even using "pseudo-science".
It is evident in the case of ideology. But the very notion of "alternatives"
enhances the significance of this phenomenon in the case of social processes
and modes of organization. Just as the notion of the nuclear family has rapidly
evolved in a variety of ways over the past century, the notion of how to associate
with others in groups, movements, partnerships and institutions is evolving
according to different preferences.
Any body may now empower itself to pronounce on the nature of social reality
to whatever audience it can gather and propagandize. If sufficiently empowered
it may get legislation or social sanction to back up such distinctions and judgements
-- or may seek to impose them by force.
But the most interesting feature of this is that those who seek to capture
and freeze the living reality of others in this manner may be deluding themselves
in very intriguing ways -- however coherently satisfying their discourse amongst
those with whom they share their chosen perspective. Authoritative labels and
maps may indeed be issued, but the members of "civil society" may
neither be constrained nor guided by such devices -- perceived as outmoded and
irrelevant -- and may function according to emerging guides and dynamics best
characterized as "alternative". The social construction of reality
may well have become so dynamic and variegated that efforts to describe what
"civil society" is are somewhat equivalent to the the approach of
generals of the classic period elaborating rigid military strategy in response
to the shifting patterns of guerilla warfare. This is especially ironic for
the USA whose military liberation was achieved by the alternative strategies
of the guerilla forces facing the British redcoats -- a problem it now also
faces in the "new kind of warfare" against terrorists using other
modes of organization.
Frameworks for disagreement: beyond polarization
Like it or not, modern society has been somewhat successful in developing processes
to deal with disagreement -- prior to the drama of 11th September. In fact the
bodies most characteristic of "empire" have been successful precisely
because of their ability to do so with increasing sophistication. Businesses
typically have teams of people who work reasonably effectively even though team
members may have little appreciation for each other. Is this the case with alternative
movements who seem to favour a tendency for each to go off and "do their
own thing" when consensus and agreement become elusive?
It is clear however that methods available to government and business for working
with disagreement are no longer adequate to the challenge of the variety of
constituencies -- as especially typified by "terrorists". The question
is whether the authors can be considered as having articulated an approach that
would be more successful in dealing with a wide range of disagreement so as
to enable coherent strategies and initiatives to emerge where possible.
The authors discuss with approval the development of consensus with respect
to their articulation of an alternative. But they do not distinguish any such
process from that famously labelled by Noam Chomsky as the Manufacture
of Consent (1987).
Specifically they appear to make no provision for an "opposition"
as a valuable corrective to any future excesses of the strategy they advocate.
More precisely, moving beyond a binary parliamentary model, how are groups with
varying strategic commitments -- including even the strongest opposition to
one another -- to be provided with an appropriate governance framework? How
is opposition to be designed in -- to get the requisite variety for governance
in complex situations? Is it to be assumed that optimal governance from the
authors' alternative perspective is to be based on the absence of "opposition"
in any form to the authors' articulation -- and reliance on "yes men"
(or women)? Alternatively, if every viewpoint is to be welcomed, by what structures
and processes are incompatible viewpoints to be reconciled?
The tone of the paper is characterized by a level of certainty and lack of
doubt which is unusual for any group informed of the complexity of the challenges
of the problematique and the human frailties of those who aspire to govern --
even with the best intentions. The lack of doubt concerning the merits of their
insights and the capacity of any to govern in the light of them could be construed
as a warning. For those who have had to deal with the arrogance of government
officials over many failed Development Decades, this is more than a warning.
Whilst it may indeed be an important tactical device, the authors' presentation
of the challenge in terms of an "epic struggle" between "two
deeply conflicting world views" may well be unfortunate. It precisely echoes
the binary thinking much criticized in the current American approach to "terrorism"
-- "either you are with us or you are against us". In both cases the
possibility that the drama of the times may have more than two sides is denied.
In both cases there is a "right" side and a "wrong" side
-- readily associated with "good" and "evil". This mindset
favours the defeat of the current "dominating" paradigm -- with the
emergence of the advocated alternative as the new dominant paradigm. In such
terms this is not a change of mindset, just a change of dominator.
The discussion of the dynamics of the "epic struggle" would be more
relevant if it recognized the extent to which the opposing forces are actually
also features of every personality. There are too many examples of "empire"
being manifest in charismatic manipulative leaders of alternative movements.
There are also many examples of the force for "community" being very
effectively represented in those one might otherwise love to hate. The challenge
is how such simplistic polarization is to be transcended within richer frameworks
-- whether for the individual, for groups, or for society as a whole [more].
The authors avoid this issue by appealing to transcendental values when it is
their embodiment that has traditionally been the stumbling block.
It is unfortunate, whatever the tactical merits, that the authors rely on military
in articulating the challenge: "empire under siege". Clearly, in the
birth of their "global civil society", the close association with
confrontation with the security forces of "empire" must necessarily
condition strategic thinking. The question is whether as a political movement
it has any strategic resources to think alternatively in dealing with those
that it defines as its enemies and targets. Can it demonstrate the capacity
to form new kinds of partnerships with those that do not wholly identify with
its agenda? What is to be learnt from ecosystemic relationships in this respect?
The war against terrorism can be considered an ultimate failure of global dialogue,
and as an incapacity to develop methods of dialogue with opponents -- other
than those based on terror and torture. The question must be raised as to whether
"global civil society" can create environments in which new styles
of dialogue are possible with "imperialists", with those opposed or
indifferent to the changes sought, and between those with differing strategic
views of appropriate change -- even when they claim to share values.
The "empire" that the authors criticize derives much of its strength
and coherence from its exploitation of inequality. Can the movement that the
authors represent avoid the trap of deriving its strength and coherence from
opposition to those with contrasting values -- rather than from the quality
and dynamism of the pattern of relationships amongst those with limited basis
Both government and business, like it or not, have learnt to deal realistically
(in their terms) with the tough decisions -- of their choice. Their manner of
doing so has evoked the legitimate protest of the authors. But the question
remains as to whether any alternative approach to governance could elaborate
a better approach to such decisions -- and to other decisions they might not
wish to consider. Hard decisions have tended in the past to be extremely divisive
in "positive" social movements -- and hence their fragmentation to
avoid having to deal with them.
As indicated earlier, it is relatively easy to agree on abstract values like
"peace" or "love" -- when there is no operational challenge
to be dealt with in practice. It is quite another matter when groups have to
act out of contrasting interpretations of such values without the possibility
of focusing their frustrations on an evil "empire" that can be readily
blamed for their inadequacies..
Similarly it is relatively easy to agree that something like "pollution",
"violence" or "discrimination" is deplorable. Again, it
is quite another matter when groups find themselves with different interpretations
of what constitutes "pollution" and what should be done about it --
and by whom, and at whose expense.
The danger is that the authors text will succeed as a "manifesto"
appealing to values in ways that do not need to be tested in practice. Cruelly
put, the text could be characterized as an excellent manifesto for protest (manifestation
in French) against "empire". But how could it better incorporate
dimensions that would enable new forms of governance for constituencies
with conflicting preoccupations?
Hard decisions are brought to a focus in issues of security when some have
to be judged as inappropriate and constrained by others. The security forces
of "empire" have continued to act excessively in many instances, compounding
the miscarriages of justice that support them -- and have been criticized for
doing so. The question for any alternative approach to governance is what new
insights would enable a practical alternative approach to security consistent
with the universal values articulated by the authors. There are relatively few
case studies of security policies implemented by alternative groups. The well-publicized
example of the Rajneesh group in Antelope is not encouraging. More concretely,
the authors could usefully have touched upon the challenge of increasing prison
populations as illustrating one unsatisfactory approach to dealing with those
opposed to the dominant paradigm. Would they seek to imprison those who defiantly
continue to practice according to the mindset of "empire"?
A fundamental weakness in the text is the absence of case studies demonstrating
unambiguously and in practice the viability of the arguments made. This point
can be countered in several ways:
there are instances of social experiments based on alternative
socio-economic principles and these have indeed been documented. The difficulty
with these experiments, and the documentation of them, is that they are
not considered to be sufficiently solid and persuasive as evidence to be
replicated. The body of such evidence has not been the subject of analysis
in support of the design of alternatives to the dominant paradigm.
- enthusiasm for such experiment models is now not such as to persuade significant
numbers of those sympathetic with alternative economic paradigms to commit
to them in practice -- in contrast with enthusiasm for communes in the 1960s
any such experiments, when they have acquired any degree
of credibility, have been undermined by external forces determined to ensure
that their viability does not become apparent. Whatever the other flaws,
this was a factor in the failure of Nyerere's experiment in Tanzania. Allende's
Chile did not have the opportunity to be proven a success or a failure.
in contrast with subsidized experiments in support of the
dominant economic paradigm, notably in the form of "special economic
zones", no effort is made to support experimental alternatives to the
dominant economic paradigm. The Grameem Bank is an interesting exception.
- the authors specifically recommend the creation of "local cultural
zones within which people can experiment". A case could however have
been made to recognize the existence of such zones where people are already
endeavouring to experiment.
It is interesting that the failures of the dominant paradigm, in the eyes
of its elites, is encouraging the privileged to relocate to "gated communities"
to protect their socio-economic lifestyle. Such gated communities are the
counterpart to the experimental communities which have been an inspiration
to those in search of alternatives to that paradigm. There are even suggestions
to extend this nation-wide -- as with the "fortress America" and
"fortress NAFTA" concepts.
The authors give valuable attention to the possibility of creating viable
transition zones protected from the disruptive forces of the dominant paradigm.
Without linking the suggestions to demonstration initiatives, these beg the
question as to whether the alternative strategies recommended are as robust
and attractive as the authors claim. So many well-intentioned initiatives
of every dimension have collapsed or degraded that a more realistic assessment
of such possibilities is required.
The underlying thrust of the authors' paper may be interpreted as making a
degree of exclusive claim which reduces the merit of the argument as a whole.
Special claims are associated with:
unique political concern with regard to the future
of the planet and humanity. Many bodies outside their movement have struggled
over decades with these concerns. It is possible that their apparent failure
precludes them from being credible partners in future. But they have not
gone away and are unlikely to do so.
unique analysis of the problematique. Again many
have produced such analyses using different skills and methodologies. Are
they to be considered either "with global civil society" as defined
by the authors, or against them? To what extent have the authors recognized
the merits of concerns deriving from other methodologies?
unique insight into universal values. Again many
movements, especially religions, claim insights into universal values. There
are considerable difficulties in reconciling such insights. The contrast
between the unifying themes of any Global Ethic and the many religious
wars at any given time makes the point.
unique power base. Whilst many have appreciated the
dedication exhibited by those protesting at international meetings around
the world, the power base of the protesters is a very particular one. There
are other power bases and constituencies working variously to the improvement
of the common good -- according to their particular understanding of it.
The political challenge is surely to interweave such initiatives rather
than to alienate many in highlighting the strengths of some -- and avoiding
any discussion of their relative weaknesses.
unique capacity to self-organize. This capacity has
been much admired with respect to protest and opposition. But the ability
of this claimed "previously unknown capacity to self-organize"
and its "capacity for self-governance" has yet to be demonstrated
with respect to hard decisions imposing unwelcome constraints on some, with
respect to the longer time periods characteristic of many human initiatives,
and to the activities of a self-sustaining community -- challenges with
which other groups have had to deal.
authenticity. The authors make valuable points regarding
the "power of authentic culture". As with any embodiment of transcendental
values, it is in practice over the longer period that their meaning emerges.
It is unfortunate that authenticity is not more clearly recognized as characteristic
of many in different walks of life instead of being so particularly linked
to the global civil society movement.
Such exclusivity is effectively set aside by the authors through the claim
that "every person" is a leader of "global civil society".
But this raises many undiscussed issues about the ways in which some are more
empowered than others to polarize society's relationship to others -- at a
time when there is widespread recognition that such polarization needs to
be creatively transcended through new modes of thought and behaviour that
the best and the brightest appear to have considerable difficulty in demonstrating
Others have commented on the dangers of the claims made by exclusive, or
specially chosen peoples, who see themselves as having a special mission that
sets them apart from the peoples of the world. This is a trap that could have
been usefully avoided -- if "global civil society" is not to imitate
the patterns, and repeat the historical errors, of those it so legitimately
Perhaps this critique of the authors' articulation of global civil society
can be most succinctly expressed by the concern that the movement is to a
dangerous degree entrapped by the process described in the myth of Narcissus
and his self-admiration [more].
There is no question of the "beauty" of the preoccupations of the
movement. The challenge comes in its relation to the "beastly" qualities
of "empire". Rather than seeking to destroy or imprison the beast
according to conventional mindsets. In mythological terms again, this challenge
might be usefully explored by extending the movement's preoccupation with
partnerships and alliances to that of arranging a new kind of marriage between
Beauty and the Beast [more].
The perspective of the Korten-Perlas-Shiva text is echoed and elaborated
in a well-structured book by Roy Madron and John Jopling (Gaian Democracies:
redefining globalisation and people-power. Green Books for The
Schumacher Society, 2003). This is not the place to comment in detail
on this valuable work. The point to be made however is that, like the Korten-Perlas-Shiva
text, it successfully adopts a posture of documenting the failures of the
mainstream approach and recommending a much-to-be-welcomed people-power approach.
But the Madron-Jopling study avoids any reference to challenges inherent
in the people-power approach -- as so amply demonstrated by the fragmentation
and problematic dynamics of the peace movement and of the environmental movement.
It is not the fragmentation that is a cause for concern in itself but the
assumptions made that coherent governance of any kind can emerge from such
dynamics -- and that checks and balances can be successfully implemented and
sustained in response to personality issues, free loaders, empire builders,
and sophisticated exercises in manipulation and fraud. In fact it appears
to be assumed that those associated with people power are in some way beyond
such characteristics, that tend to be so charmingly described as "human
nature". Or again, as with mainstream manifestations of such problems,
they are framed as "exceptional" and in no way justifying criticism
of the system that sustains them -- and usually ensures the impunity of the
The assumptions of people-power advocates are humorously illustrated by a
story regarding a pope presented with the plans for a splendid new seminary
-- which he inspected with great attention. Finally he is reported to have
inquired of the architects whether the seminarians were angels. When the architects
were unable to comprehend the purpose of the question, the pope asked why
there were no toilets in the whole building. The question to be asked of the
visionaries of Gaian democracy -- especially in the light of the value they
attach to environmental systems and sensitivities -- is how the effluent of
"human nature" is to be integrated into such psycho-social systems.
In the case of the Global Monetocracy, so effectively criticized by Madron-Jopling,
the "shit" is only too evident. But Gaian Democracy would seem to
be for people "without shit" -- or "without shadows" from
a Jungian perspective. From the latter perspective, this would be seen to
be the exemplification of immaturity and lack of realistic understanding of
the world and how communities and individuals operate within it. Surely there
is a need to recognize the maturity of those who struggle valiantly with their
own shadows and have to endeavour to compensate for leaders who derive their
strength in large part from denying their own. Or is it to be assumed that
both leaders and followers in Gaian Democracy will be "angels"?
Such a perspective can be usefully contrasted with the set of Viridian
Principles, which include:
"Look at the Underside First" Legions of people are
paid large sums to promote the positive aspects of commercially available
products. Very few people earn their daily bread by pointing out malfunctions,
bugs, screw-ups, design failures, side- effects and the whole sad galaxy
of trade-offs and failings that are inherent in any technological artifact.
To counteract this gross social imbalance, a wise designer and a wise critic
will make it a matter of principle to look at the underside first.
"Design For Evil" Any innocent product which becomes
suddenly genocidal in the hands of a tyrant has been designed by a dangerous
naif. Every design process is incomplete unless it takes into careful consideration
what could be done with the product by a dictatorial megalomaniac in command
of a national economy, a secret police, and a large army.
The reality of these issues should be explored in the light
of the percentage of the population incarcerated in the world's exemplar of
democracy -- and the percentage of the population there with a criminal record.
Whether or not such a degree of incarceration and criminalization could be avoided
in a people-power democracy, the challenge of managing activity that cannot
be contained without incarceration needs to be addressed in any realistic proposal.
This is especially the case because of the systemic isomorphism between recycling
-- to be emphasized in a Gaian democracy -- and re-education and recidivism.
More challenging however is the extent to which people-power democracies are
vulnerable to non-democratic exploitation in the name of democracy and under
the guise of populism. How is the emergence of such exploitation to be detected,
its denial unmasked and effective remedial action to be undertaken? Is it seriously
believed that intelligent and devious groups would be unable (in the name of
the people and in the guise of principles they value) to manipulate societies,
however decentralized, in ways that would be as bad (or worse) than in the current
The Korten-Perlas-Shiva text was the subject of a comment by James Robertson
(posted with it)
who also commented privately on the above text. Beyond expressing general
agreement with many of the arguments above, the key point he makes is to question
whether the critique above "will help people to see what they should
do if they want to play a part in bringing the human race on to a less damaging
and destructive path of development than the one we are on now".
The above commentary on the Korten-Perlas-Shiva text was not designed with
this as a prime objective. Rather it endeavoured to highlight modes of articulation
which could contribute directly to inhibiting the emergence of viable approaches
to "help people to see what they should do". There is no
question but that the successful opposition to "empire" has
forced the arrogant to listen and to worry -- and made them appreciate the
extent to which they have lost most of the intellectual arguments.
The challenge comes with the need to move beyond opposition. It is at this
point that the principled coherence of "global civil society" fragments
in ways that are less than fruitful at the concrete level of praxis. Whilst
the movement may be able to manage its opposition, it is far from clear that
it can manage many of the functions which society currently relies on "empire"
to handle. Thoughtful reservations regarding the necessity for some global
organization of the movement have been expressed by George Monbiot (Stronger
Than Ever, Guardian, 26 January 2003):
Most of the movement beieves that the best means of regaining
control over political life is through local community action. A smaller faction
(to which I belong) believes that this response is insufficient, and that
we must seek to create democratically accountable global institutions. The
debates have, so far, been muted. But when they emerge, they will be fierce.
The democratic challenge for the movement is the concern of Naomi Klein
the Strings, Guardian, 1 February 2003) who sees the lengthy speechifying
by "big men", at the most recent meeting of the World Social Forum
in Porto Alegre, as exemplifying what the movement was seeking to move beyond.
Most specifically the movementhas failed to demonstrate an ability to manage
problematic issue areas in which constituencies favouring opposing strategies
compete for scarce resources. Worse still, there is a marked tendency to systematically
deny this and point to vague areas of principled agreement. "Global Plans"
of every shape, size and detail may be offered in response. The challenge
lies in why their take up is inadequate to the need.
The challenge of "what next" -- beyond the last demo -- calls for
"new ways of thinking". Again there are many such on offer, again
without any means of reconciling their incompatibilities in practice. Religions
have demonstrated the tragic consequences, despite the dedication of their
My preferred suggestion in response to this challenge is the use of richer
metaphor to enable articulation of richer and more appropriate strategies
at any level -- whether in their conception, their comprehension or their
execution, and specifically to provide the subtle connective tissue between
what may appear to be incompatible initiatives. I have produced many papers
on this indirect approach to sustaining the viability of alternatives (https://www.laetusinpraesens.org/themes/azmetap.php)
in relation to global governance (https://www.laetusinpraesens.org/themes/azstrat.php).
Perhaps of most relevance to the above critique is the light-hearted suggestion
that we might consider how many complementary "languages" we need
to sustain global governance, starting with four (see https://www.laetusinpraesens.org/musings/langfour.php)
each with its great strengths and weaknesses. How about:
- Pozzy: This is the language in which everything must be expressed
positively. Great for political correctness. This is the language of hope-mongers
-- unfortunately also the direct cause of the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster
(the manufacturers, as in many modern organizations, discouraged upward
reporting of problems).
- Neggy: The is the negative, critical language typical of newspaper
reporting and general cynicism. The language of doom-mongers. Useful to
have around if you want to fix infrastructure problems (pipe-leaks, broken-legs,
etc) where a good diagnosis is essential to rapid remedial action. Does
not seem to be able to deal with wider global challenges.
- Luvvy: This is the language in which everything is based on love
and being lovely. Implicit and unquestioning belief in brotherhood, sisterhood,
solidarity, community and the like. Great as a basis for initiating relationships.
Tends to be at an extreme loss in recognizing or dealing with nasty situations,
Saddam Hussein's, etc. Poor at sustaining relationships through their bad
- Tuffy: This is the tough language of the corporate, military and
gang worlds -- the bulldozer language of "empire". Certainly achieves
things, including the need for other styles to compensate for its insensitivities.
Such four-fold systems have long been a feature of psychometric testing of
individuals -- based on the work of Jung, Myers-Briggs and Hermann. Most recently
attention has been given by the Cognosis Consulting Group to a "Four
Worlds" framework extending such approaches, and applying them to the
"personality" of organizations (see Alex Benady. Organisations,
too, can be put on the couch. Financial Times, 20 June 2003). This
recognizes the critical importance of the "culture" of an organization
-- none of which is considered better than another, although possibly one
may be better suited to a particular style of challenges. What might this
suggest in the case of the people-power initiatives of civil society? The
four types they distinguish are:
Rational: logical and ingenious
Pragmatic: focused on the here and now
Idealist: enthusiastic and insightful
Regarding, pozzy, neggy, luvvy and tuffy, the cited article suggests a further
four languages. From this perspective, the Korten-Perlas-Shiva text was written
in Pozzy --contrasting its preoccupations with use of Tuffy by "empire"
-- and speaking for many who communicate best using Luvvy. The above comment
is written in Neggy -- like many of David Korten's critiques. Within what
language would one discuss the necessary movement between languages? In what
language would one expect to understand the conclusion? How would one expect
to combine insights from different languages? How does translation work? What
if some group insists on speaking "French" when "everyone" is "of course"
believed to understand "English"? Relying on any one language as a means of
governing the world -- or oneself -- would seem to be a recipe for disaster.
My Reflecting Mirror World: making Joburg worthwhile. 2002 (https://www.laetusinpraesens.org/docs/world.php)
Psychology of Sustainability: embodying cyclic environmental processes. 2002
Interrelationships between 64 Complementary Approaches to Sustainable Development.
Missiles, Missives, Missions and Memetic Warfare: navigation of strategic
interfaces in multidimensional knowledge space. 2001 (https://www.laetusinpraesens.org/docs/missile.php)
Personal Globalization. 2001 (https://www.laetusinpraesens.org/docs/globper.php)
Simulating a Global Brain: using networks of international organizations,
world problems, strategies, and values. 2001 (https://www.laetusinpraesens.org/docs/globrain.php)
Structuring Mnemonic Encoding of Development Plans and Ethical Charters using
Musical Leitmotivs. 2001 (https://www.laetusinpraesens.org/docs/leitmoti.php)
Knowledge Gardening through Music: patterns of coherence for future African
management as an alternative to Project Logic. 2001 (https://www.laetusinpraesens.org/docs/music.php)
Coherent Policy-making Beyond the Information Barrier. 1999 (https://www.laetusinpraesens.org/docs/infopol.php)
Boundaries of Sustainability in Community-Oriented Organizations. 1998 (https://www.laetusinpraesens.org/docs/bounds.php)
Discovering Richer Patterns of Comprehension to Reframe Polarization. 1998
Enhancing Sustainable Development Strategies through Avoidance of Military
Metaphors. 1998 (https://www.laetusinpraesens.org/docs/targets.php)
From Statics to Dynamics in Sustainable Community. 1998 (https://www.laetusinpraesens.org/docs/statics.php)
Through Metaphor to a Sustainable Ecology of Development Policies (Paper
prepared for an International Workshop on Collmaborative Policy Forums for
Sustainable Development). 1989 (https://www.laetusinpraesens.org/docs/polforum.php)