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16th August 2009

Reframing Global Initiatives for the Future

in the light of past experiments

- / -


Introduction
Background
Towards a generic description
Towards a higher order of abstraction?
Potential of new modes of thinking
Challenge of selection and organization
Enabling a viable strategic window
Game-playing, gerrymandering, astroturfing and globallooning
Misrepresentation of interactive feedback processes
Acknowledging collective conceptual impotence
Avoidance of simulation
Strategic groupthink?
Enabling metaphors
Reframing opportunities for the individual
Previous commentaries on aspects of the challenge
Eliciting coherent comprehension of the challenge through aesthetics
-- The Charge of the Light Brigade
-- La Belle Dame sans Merci

Introduction

This is a brief reflection on how it might be fruitful to approach the possibility and organization of future global initiatives in the light of learnings from the past. Of particular interest is the possibility of informing such reflections with the more challenging insights from the sciences, namely to endeavour to take account of general formalizations and reframings of methodology. Also of interest is recognition of the role of aesthetics in rendering any such organization attractive, engaging, memorable and coherent.

To repeat the same thing over and over again, and yet to expect a different result, this is a form of insanity.
The significant problems we face can not be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them
[Albert Einstein]

Background

This exploration derives in part from reflection on the detection in the literature (notably of international organizations and constituencies) of the following sets:

Database Entities Links Commentaries
International Organizations 62,644 951,635 .
Individuals (Biographies) 21,047 27,227 .
International Meetings 323,758 361,614 .
World Problems - Issues 56,564 276,791 methodology
Global Strategies - Solutions 32,547 284,382 methodology
Human Values 3,257 119,255 methodology
Human Development 4,817 19,757 methodology
Patterns and Metaphors 1,275 4,535 methodology
Integrative Concepts 633 0 methodology
Questions 1,009,969 3,412,498 methodology
Bibliography (issues) 16,579 24,236 .

These interlinked online databases have also been used in the production of hardcopy reference books (Yearbook of International Organizations, International Congress Calendar, Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential). Some of the databases have been used in the experimental development of a question database (Generating a Million Questions from UIA Databases: problems, strategies, values, 2006; Preliminary NetMap Studies of Databases on Questions, World Problems, Global Strategies, and Values, 2006)

Towards a generic description

The current situation might be described generically in terms of sets (of which the above are indicative):

Clearly, with respect to any such set, there is a marked tendency (in undertaking any initiative) to attempt to distinguish as limited a number of elements that can be claimed to be credible, whether:

Arguments for such constraints are typically made in terms of: coherence, communicability, comprehension, criticality and the like (Representation, Comprehension and Communication of Sets: the role of number, 1978)

Towards a higher order of abstraction?

Sets such as those above lend themselves to a far more generic and abstract treatment. This moves beyond questions such as:

In more generic terms these are all to be understood as conceptual entities distinguished and bounded by cognitive processes. How such entities are clustered into classes ("problems", "strategies", etc) is a subsequent issue, in contrast with the recognition that there are entities potentially susceptible to being distinguished as different types. Clearly there is the question of how to take into consideration whether one class of entity can be unambiguously distinguished from another, namely whether there is in practice (for different observers) a form of blurring of boundaries whereby:

This highlights the psychodynamic context within which initiatives emerge, namely the manner in which they attract adherents and agreement and provoke alienation and opposition. It is this dynamic which is especially challenging with respect to any "global" initiative purportedly designed to elicit universal agreement and mobilization of support

A crude early attempt was made to explore and address some of these challenges in relation to the processes of the project on Goals, Processes and Indicators of Development (of the United Nations University) published as Patterns of Conceptual Integration (1984):

Potential of new modes of thinking

At a time when there are calls by the eminent for "new thinking", the challenge of ensuring coherence, viability and comprehensibility of any initiative in a dynamic context could now benefit from the recently emergent insights of the sciences of complexity as indicated in:

More generic mathematical approaches to the organization of the Periodic Table of Elements (Denis H. Rouvray and R. Bruce King, The Mathematics of the Periodic Table. Nova Science Publishers, 2005). These suggest (if only as a guiding metaphor) the possibility that the propensity to distinguish sets of different complexity may be partially determined by a form of periodicity related to collective learning processes. This offers a way of thinking about:

Such possibilities have been tentatively explored in:

There is also a strong case for endeavouring to make use of other exciting discoveries in mathematics:

A related possibility is to undertake a more systematic approach to a comprehensive set of questions (as mentioned above), notably as they may be associated with "cognitive catastrophes":

A question-based approach also helps to take account of question avoidance (Question Avoidance, Evasion, Aversion and Phobia: why we are unable to escape from traps, 2006).

Challenge of selection and organization

Within the above context, new formulations of possible initiatives are then highly conditioned by:

Enabling a viable strategic window: "executive decision-making"

Given the impossibility of taking into account the total range of factors, a radical decision has to be made in rendering viable a strategic initiative. A "cut" has to be made through the complex of possibilities to create a zone of communicable credibility and coherence.

This raises questions of:

Whilst any initiative can be assessed as problematic in its adequacy to the challenge, a favourable spin can readily be placed on it by applying the meeting principles of Open Space Technology:

  1. Whoever comes is the right people: this alerts the participants that attendees of a session class as "right" simply because they care to attend
  2. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have: this tells the attendees to pay attention to events of the moment, instead of worrying about what could possibly happen
  3. Whenever it starts is the right time: clarifies the lack of any given schedule or structure and emphasizes creativity and innovation
  4. When it's over, it's over: encourages the participants not to waste time, but to move on to something else when the fruitful discussion ends

But again, it may only be subsequent circumstances which will determine whether such rules ensured adequate focus and outcome.

The reality, to be recognized and encompassed in some way, is the extent to which "global strategy space" is effectivwly populated, if not over-populated, by strategies emerging from some form of "subunderstanding" of the turbulent dynamics they variously claim to address -- as described by Magoroh Maruyama (Polyocular Vision or Subunderstanding? Organization Studies, 25, 2004, pp. 467-480).

Game-playing, gerrymandering, astroturfing and globallooning

It is typical of many strategic initiatives that they are undertaken:

Additional processes of concern are:

Little reference is made to the "dark arts" and "dirty tricks" concealed beneath a cloak of non-transparency -- obscured by motherhood appeals to the highest values as fig leaves. Some indication of their scope is indicated in:

The scope of such dynamics has perhaps been best summarized by Stafford Beer in his adaptation of Le Chatelier's Principle (even prior to his dramatic experience in the Chile of Allende) -- relevant to any discussion of complex adaptive systems:

Reformers, critics of institutions, consultants in innovation, people in short who "want to get something done", often fail to see this point. They cannot understand why their strictures, advice or demands do not result in effective change. They expect either to achieve a measure of success in their own terms or to be flung off the premises. But an ultra-stable system (like a social institution)... has no need to react in either of these ways. It specializes in equilibrial readjustment, which is to the observer a secret form of change requiring no actual alteration in the macro-systemic characteristics that he is trying to do something about. (Stafford Beer on Le Chatelier's Principle as applied to social systems: The Cybernetic Cytoblast - management itself. Chairman's Address to the International Cybernetic Congress, September 1969)

Misrepresentation of interactive feedback processes

Of considerable interest is the manner in which specially designed web facilities are presented, promoted and extolled as participative, interactive processes through which insights and feedback are solicited from as wide a range of people and constituencies as is feasible. As discussed separately (Misleading feedback solicitation: implications for democracy and consensual strategies, 2009; "Listening to everyone" and considering "all the feedback", 2009; Designing out options and feedback, 2009), it is becoming increasingly evident to what degree these are exercises in tokenism, whether deliberate or not. Typical features are:

The increasing sophistication of such facilities points to the emergence in the very near future of automated strategic initiatives in which the selection of issues, strategies, values and the like, is undertaken by algorithms without any need for "leadership" or human coordination. This raises the interesting question as to the point at which the Turing Test can be applied to determination of the distinction between such a facility and a human organization.

Acknowledging collective conceptual impotence

It would seem that it is indeed possible to scope out possibilities to enable new initiatives that are more viable and appropriate to the complex challenges of the future. However it is increasingly clear that their is a lack of capacity to determine their feasibility or to experiment with their viability on a smaller scale or through simulations. Faced with an under-resourced turbulent future, the reasons for this are becoming of greater interest, especially the insights they offer into the dynamics which undermine such initiatives even if they can be implemented.

Clues to the poorly articulated challenges of conceptual impotence are to be found in:

Within such a context, it is appropriate to explore the possibility of the Emergence of a Global Misleadership Council: misleading as vital to governance of the future? (2007). The response to the financial crisis of 2008 has demonstrated with exceptional clarity the incompetence of leadership in anticipating such a catastrophe and in deriving learnings from it capable of informing "new thinking" relevant to the future. That the implemented solutions should be based on increasing the debt to future generations -- notably by the dubious practice of "printing money" -- is a measure of that incompetence, or of the depths of an underlying cynicism (emphasized by use of the term "quantitative easing").

As separately discussed (Dysfunctional disengagement from abundance, 2008), methodologically there is a fundamental challenge to how the problems of the 21st century are to be framed to elicit appropriate engagement. This has been articulated in various ways by various authors, perhaps most succinctly summarized by Jennifer Gidley (The Evolution of Consciousness as a Planetary Imperative: an integration of integral views. Integral Review, 5, 2007) to the effect that:

However, the growing awareness of a potential planetary crisis has highlighted the significance of finding new ways of thinking, if humankind is to move through our current complex challenges. This critical imperative appears to be mobilizing researchers from a wide range of disciplines to broaden the notion of evolution of consciousness beyond its biological bounds.

Gidley points to a range of authors that highlight the need for "new thinking" and the inadequacy of old methodologies. Another relevant critique is that provided by Steven M. Rosen (Topologies of the Flesh: a multidimensional exploration of the lifeworld, 2006). Especially in an earlier work (Dimensions of Apeiron: a topological phenomenology of space, time, and individuation, Value Inquiry Book Series, 2004) he highlights the manner in which the richness of psychosocial engagement with the world has been completely undermined by formal discourse -- an "eclipse of the lifeworld" in his terms. Ironically, in a period of sensitivity to the challenges of "resources" and "energy", this view is echoed by other authors with respect to a lost sense of "abundance". Others concerned with this topic include:

Avoidance of simulation

There is very little question of using simulations to test hypotheses -- especially strategic possibilities -- despite their proliferation in the videogame industry. The misuse of intellectual tools to deal with complexity has been appropriately discredited (Pablo Triana, Lecturing Birds on Flying: can mathematical theories destroy the financial markets, Wiley, 2009). However it is not a question of "throwing the baby out with the bathwater". The academic deprecation of the simulations encouraged by those of The Limits to Growth (1972) merits careful attention (Graham Turner, A Comparison of `The Limits to Growth` with Thirty Years of Reality, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, 2008).

It is appropriate to note the development of the Joint Simulation System initiated in 1995 (Kari Pugh and Collie Johnson, Building a Simulation World to Match the Real World; The Joint Simulation System, January-February 1999, p.2; James W. Hollenbach and William L. Alexander, Executing the DOD Modelling and Simulation Strategy: making simulation systems of systems a reality, 1997). This has seemingly now morphed, via the US Total Information Awareness program, into the Sentient World Simulation (SWS) and will be a "synthetic mirror of the real world with automated continuous calibration with respect to current real-world information" with a node representing "every man, woman and child".  As with the European FuturIcT project (The FuturIcT Knowledge Accelerator: unleashing the power of information for a sustainable future), these would however seem to avoid providing a node for every perceived problem, insight, advocated strategy, or value.

Presumably it is from the misuse of models, and the mindset ensuring that their use is avoided, that most is to be learnt for the future following the crash of 2008 and the questionable policy responses to it. There is no lack of studies suggesting the need for such learning:

Recent and more general studies of relevance to the neglect of such questions, now highlighted by the financial crisis, include the following:

John Llewellyn (It's possible to subtract mathematics from economics, The Observer, 16 August 2009) offers valuable insights into the misuse of valuable competence in sophisticated mathematics. He notes:

No wonder that some of the cleverest scientists are prone to saying that the economic system is too difficult for them to understand....No wonder also that economic theorists seek to obtain, and economic teachers seek to convey, basic insights from theories that make sweeping, simplifying assumptions in order to illuminate how parts of the system may function....But while mathematics is the language of much science, the use of mathematics does not make economics a science; and nor is mathematics always the best tool for dealing with the additional complexities that constitute the real world.

The theme is the focus of the studies of Triana (2009) and Taleb (2007). More recently, in the light of the questionable remedial strategies to the crash of 2008, as a risk engineer Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Cameron dare not copy Obama's disastrous economic policies, The Observer, 16 August 2009) remarks:

Be careful, too, of the so-called science of economics. Economists have been no better in their predictions than cab drivers. We have an "expert" problem, in which the expert provides you with misplaced confidence, but no information. Because we think, correctly, that the dermatologist, the baker, the chemist are true experts (they know more about their respective subjects than the rest of us), we swallow the canard that the economists at the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Bank of England and the US Federal Reserve are also experts, without checking their record. This reliance on faux experts is, for the most part, what got us here. Now it is continuing with the build-up of government deficit and an increased reliance on flimsy forecasts....This problem with experts was particularly acute when it came to the "risk models" on which bankers built those positions that turned sour. So it is that you are coming under pressure to provide more regulation. Alas, the need for more regulation is a myth.

The prime illustration is of course the "successful" misuse of the innovative formula of David X. Li with regard to the Gaussian copula function, alleged to be at the root of the overconfidence of the global financial community in taking the high orders of investment risk which led to the global financial crisis of 2008, and its consequences. It is admirably described by Felix Salmon (Recipe for Disaster: the formula that killed Wall Street, Wired, 17.03, March 2009) -- or on the title page of the issue as The Secret Formula that Destroyed Wall Street. As Li had indicated in 2005 "Very few people understand the essence of the model" (Mark Whitehouse, Slices of Risk, The Wall Street Journal, 12 September 2005). A second description is offered by Kevin Drum (The Gaussian Copula, Mother Jones, 24 February 2009).

The question is how to make what use of what mathematics -- as the science of complexity -- to explore the strategic challenge and to render coherent possibilities meaningful, notably the possibilities of topology (cf Simulating a Global Brain: using networks of international organizations, world problems, strategies, and values, 2001; Assessment: Global modelling perspective, 1995). Where are the simulations to test the many alternatives advocated -- with the acid test being those relating to conflicting territorial claims? Where are the comprehensible simulations of the opposing proposals of political parties -- as with current debate concerning national health systems? Where are the simulations -- of a necessarily higher order of complexity -- that might reconcile apparently incommensurable proprosals? How might "solutions" of a higher order be rendered comprehensible and resistant to over-simplistic caricature?

Strategic groupthink?

Clearly any intellectual "incompetence" is of a rather special kind for a civilization than can send orbital vessels to Mars. The nature of this incompetence is of course now analyzed with respect to the financial crisis of 2008, as noted above. More interesting is whether the incompetence is more general than a particular form of crisis can highlight. In fact analysis of a particular crisis may effectively obscure essential learning relating to other potential crises, as discussed separately (Systemic Crises as Keys to Systemic Remedies: a metaphorical Rosetta Stone for future strategy?, 2008). The incompetence may lie in the quality of focus -- as with that on "climate change" obscuring detection of the "elephant" (Climate Change and the Elephant in the Living Room, 2008; Climate of Change Misrepresented as Climate Change, 2008).

The emerging acknowledgement that the strategy with regard to enabling freedom in Afghanistan is "stuck" suggests the merit of recalling the policy science adage of Geoffrey Vickers (Freedom in a Rocking Boat; changing values in an unstable society, 1970): A trap is a function of the nature of the trapped. This points to the possibility that there is a groupthink problem more fundamental than is comfortable to assume. This would then recognize the following as being potentially part of the same pattern:

The question is to what other arenas is this generic pattern applied uncritically. Perhaps:

In the light of understandings from the financial crisis, the situation in Afghanistan merits careful reflection. How is it, following the historical experience of the British and the USSR, that US-led strategy should succumb to the same pattern -- despite an historically unprecedented, unconstrained application of military resources (incorporating the highest technologies) against an archetypal "backward" culture, literally living in caves in one of the most desolate areas of the world? More astounding is that each new general in charge (necessarily at the top of the profession) made excessively optimistic declarations regarding early success.

It would appear that global civilization is handicapped by a form of groupthink of unsuspected dimensions. The challenge is to apply more assiduously, and more generally, the insights of some of the authors cited above -- notably with regard to "Black Swans" (Nassim Nicholas Taleb, 2007). As he indicates:

What is a Black Swan? It is a low-probability, high-impact event that, because of its rarity and the instability of the environment, cannot be scientifically evaluated in terms of risk and return. Although Black Swans are rarely predicted, they are retrospectively seen as having been anticipated, which makes us overestimate our abilities to see them coming. Black Swans can emerge as a result of our intellectual arrogance and our ignorance of our limitations. Some elements of the future are simply beyond our grasp. Much of history has been dominated by Black Swans, both positive and negative.

Whilst his focus is on the fact that these deviations are the main reason economic theories and forecasts do not work, the question is to what degree over-simplistic models or mindsets are applied to complex reality in determining appropriate strategy -- and how this is to be recognized in The Unconscious Civilization (1995) as documented by John Ralston Saul. This is the challenge noted by Karen A. Cerulo(Never Saw It Coming: cultural challenges to envisioning the worst, 2006).

The trap of intellectual incompetence, as demonstrated in (mis)use of the Gaussian copula in the case of the financial markets, is that such thinking tends to be accurate and appropriate a (statistically) significant portion of the time (say 90% even) -- and an unpredictably disastrous failure on the remaining occasions (namely 10%, say). This is more comprehensibly demonstrated in the case of meteorological forecasts -- as charmingly described with respect to UK summer weather in 2009 (Rain puts dampers on 'barbecue summer', The Guardian, 29 July 2009). Labelling such criticism as "grossly unfair", Michael Fish (Blame the headlines, not the Met Office, The Guardian, 29 July 2009) indicated that the actual forecast was for a 65% chance of a summer of warmer weather.

The more general issue is that strategy is not a matter of "weather" but of "whether". What current strategies are currently based on models predicting 65% probability -- with their protagonists likely to claim any failure of their prediction as "grossly unfair"? Those relating to overpopulation, for example, raise fundamental questions.

Enabling metaphors

Given the context and its constraining dynamics, it is appropriate to infer that viable responses are unlikely to emerge from the conventional pattern of rational articulations which has characterized proposals of the past -- and those currently presented by institutional authorities as the most credible. Whether or not this is the case, there is an argument for exploring alternative approaches empowered and enabled by other modes of knowing.

A symposium of the wise, to celebrate the sesquicentennial of Boston University (Lance Morrow, Metaphors of The World, Unite!, Time, 16 Oct. 1989, p. 96) selected a tessellation as the metaphor that best captured the spirit of the times -- perhaps unfortunately in that it is typically understood as two-dimensional when the challenge may well be greater (Ron Atkin, Multidimensional Man: can man live in 3-dimensions? 1981), most obviously in the resolution of complex territorial claims (And When the Bombing Stops? Territorial conflict as a challenge to mathematicians, 2000).

In that light, is the question of determining a viable strategic window a matter of:

Is the challenge to work with sets of complementary metaphors understood as functioning together somewhat as the resonance hybrid so fundamental to the coherence of organic molecules in chemistry?

The argument here is that metaphors:

Whilst this focus does not preclude other approaches, it is characterized by being organizationally "light" in a context where "heavier" approaches readily encounter obstacles that are only too well-known.

Reframing opportunities for the individual

The emerging global situation is such that it is increasingly unclear to what extent any collective initiative will respond to individual aspirations and needs. This is most immediately evident in the desperate pursuit of jobs following the incompetent leadership leading to the financial crash of 2008 -- as discussed separately (In Quest of a Job vs Engendering Employment: escaping economic disempowerment through enabling metaphors and software, 2009).

The challenge for the individual would appear to be how to reframe the "received ideas" (through which it is expected that the world should be understood and organized) into a form which is personally sustainable rather than "sustainable" as conventionally promoted. In contrast with collective radical initiatives characteristic of politics, this implies a radical cognitive reframing by the individual -- irrespective of how it may, or may not, relate to collective understandings. This has been variously argued under the following titles:

Whereas the strategic challenge is conventionally framed as the "battle for hearts and minds" of others -- to ensure their acceptance of one's own agenda -- the challenge may be more fruitfully framed as the battle for one's own psychoactive engagement with one's environment. This challenge merits reflection in the light of the conclusion of Donald Michael (On the requirement for embracing error. In: On Learning to Plan and Planning to Learn. Jossey-Bass, 1973, p. 131):

Changing towards long-range social planning requires that, instead of avoiding, exposure to and acknowledgement of error, it is necessary to expect it, to seek out its manifestation, and to use information derived from the failure as the basis for learning through future societal experiment. More bluntly, future-responsibility societal learning makes it necessary for individuals and organization to embrace error. It is the only way to ensure a shared self-consciousness about limited theory as to the nature of social dynamics, about limited data for testing theory, and hence about our limited ability to control our situation well enough to expect to be successful more often than not.

Previous commentaries on aspects of the challenge

With respect to new modes of organization:

With respect to gathering and organizing relevant information:

With respect to appropriate dialogue:

With respect to engendering appropriate strategies:

With respect to an appropriately enabling "language":

With respect to enabling metaphors:

With respect to aesthetics (as considered below):

Eliciting coherent comprehension of the challenge through aesthetics

It is appropriate to acknowledge the capacity of Kenneth Boulding (Ecodynamics: A New Theory of Societal Evolution, 1978) who repeatedly sought to encapsulate the complex insights of an international gathering into poetic form -- typically included in their proceedings. Given the number of leaders of governments who have claimed skills as poets, or claimed to appreciate it -- including Barack Obama -- there is a case for exploring the cognitive entanglement between Poetry-making and Policy-making (1993). In addition to the possibilities noted above (extended to music and song), such might include Ensuring Strategic Resilience through Haiku Patterns: reframing the scope of the "martial arts" in response to strategic threats (2006) and Poetic Engagement with Afghanistan, Caucasus and Iran: an unexplored strategic opportunity? (2009).

It is appropriate to note the extent to which music, song and rap engage the world where it would be difficult to claim that current approaches to governance attract the attention of more than a small minority. The latter have very low credibility indeed compared to the world of music. It is by its aesthetic patterns and rhythms that the majority are variously and participatively engaged. The presentations and claims of governance are boring and dangerously irrelevant -- as illustrated by the crash of 2008 and its consequences and injustices.

The challenge might be framed as that of how to "marry" Beauty and the Beast (Poetry-making and Policy-making: Arranging a Marriage between Beauty and the Beast, 1993). In this respect, it is appropriate to note that the German Research Institute for Applied Knowledge Processing (FAW), under the direction of Franz Josef Radermacher, reinforced an articulation of the challenge of responding to complex social problems by the use of a set of 12 songs in The Globalization Saga: Balance or Destruction (2004) -- as the CD accompaniment to a book (Balance or Destruction: ecosocial market economy as the key to global sustainable development. Vienna, Oekosoziales Forum Europa, 2004), in association with the Global Marshall Plan Initiative.

The issue however is not what aesthetic articulation is appropriate but rather whether aesthetic framings of global initiatives can be widely and participatively elicited and developed -- as suggested by the Wikipedia model and separately discussed (Participative Development Process for Singable Declarations: applying the Wikipedia-Wikimedia-WikiMusic concept to constitutions, 2006).

Furthermore it is not simply a question of an appropriately emotive articulation but rather one which embodies through its structure the feedback loops fundamental to understanding the systemic characteristics of the challenge -- as admirably done in the classical Biochemists' Songbook. The question is why such has not been explored in the case of Agenda 21 (1992) or to give informed engagement in the climate change agenda.

There is a case for considering what might be requisite aesthetic components -- what might be memorable, fruitful design. Perhaps appropriately interlinked:

A prime concern could be to move beyond reliance on singular strategic use of the "vision" metaphor (Strategic Challenge of Polysensorial Knowledge: bringing the "elephant" into "focus", 2008; Polysensorial pattern-breaking, 2008; Topology of Valuing: psychodynamics of collective engagement with polyhedral value configurations, 2008).

Two examples of an articulation of the challenge are presented below -- building in this case on the design of classical poems but without attempting to interweave such threads. Whilst laudable, they might then be appropriately criticized from a design perspective as "not fit for purpose" -- in terms of enabling future strategy.

The Charge of the Light Brigade (1854)
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
  La Belle Dame sans Merci (1884)
by John Keats
Adaptation and commentary (2008)
in response to the War on Terra
(prior to the financial crash of 2008)
  Adaptation and commentary (2009)
in response to the challenges of Gaia, as La Dame
(offering a perspective on the predicted collapse)
with apologies to the authors of the original poems
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode Fortune's 500.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
"Charge those for change!" we said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the five hundred.
  O What can ail thee, citizen,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has wither'd from the lake,
And no birds sing.
  O what can ail thee, citizen!
So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel's granary is full,
And the harvest's done.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there anyone dismay'd?
Not tho' many did know
Someone had blunder'd:
Their's not to make reply,
Their's not to reason why,
Their's but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the five hundred.
  I see a lily on thy brow
With anguish moist and fever dew,
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
Fast withereth too.
  I met fair Gaia in the meads,
Full beautiful -- a faery's child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.
Plotting to right of them,
Plotting to left of them,
Plotting in front of them
Imagine'd and monger'd;
Storm'd at with claim and blame,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the five hundred.
  I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She look'd at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan.
  I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
A faery's song.
Flash'd all their savoir faire,
Flash'd as they spun the air,
Denying alternates there,
Charging emergence, while
All the world wonder'd:
Plunged in industrial smoke
Right thro' constraint they broke;
Terraist suspects
Reel'd from their savage stroke
Shatter'd and sunder'd.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the five hundred.
  She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna dew,
And sure in language strange she said --
'I love thee true.'
  She took me to her elfin grot,
And there she wept, and sigh'd fill sore,
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
With kisses four.
Alternates to right of them,
Alternates to left of them,
Alternates behind them
Imagine'd and monger'd;
Storm'd at with claim and blame,
While faune and flora fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro' the jaws of Death
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of five hundred.
  And there she lulled me asleep,
And there I dream'd -- Ah! woe betide!
The latest dream I ever dream'd
On the cold hill's side.
  I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried -- 'La Belle Dame sans Merci
Hath thee in thrall!'
When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honour the charge they made,
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble five hundred.
  I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
With horrid warning gaped wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
On the cold hill's side.
  And this is why I sojourn here,
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is wither'd from the lake,
And no birds sing.
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