-- / --
Increasingly social groups, typical of the diversity of civil society, might be usefully understood as forming into psycho-social analogues of the "gated communities" that are now emerging in affluent suburbs [more]. Whilst in the latter case it is for security reasons to sustain a particular lifestyle, in the psycho-social case it would appear to be a question of sustaining a particular belief system or worldview. The process is being reinforced by the rapid commercialization of the web and the creation of exclusion zones -- gated communities in cyberspace -- accessible only to those who can afford access to them and therefore explored as viable business models [more].
More and more people want to reside in gated residential communities. Because of this, gated residential communities and garden apartments across the country are being built at record rates. In the 1970s there were approximately 2000 gated communities nationwide. In the early 2000s there are over 50,000 gated properties with more being built each year. That equates to about seven million households or 6% of the national total behind walls or fences. About four million of the total are in communities where access is controlled by gates, entry codes, key cards or security guards.The trend is being followed in other countries [more], notably South Africa [more | more]. Ironically such gated communities might be seen as a "capitalist" reframing of condemned "socialist" experiments with communes and kibbutzim. From a historical perspective they might also be seen as a modern replication of fortified communities characteristic of various troubled times in the more distant past -- or during the implantation of colonial settlers in territories inhabited by hostile indigenous populations.
Web dialogues and fora: The interactions in these have been compared with academic citation networks as noted, and usefully analyzed, by Tom Coates (Discussion and Citation in the Blogosphere, 2003; On parallels with academic citation networks, 2003):
In such cases, much may depend on any gatekeeper role performed by moderators. On an individual scale, there is increasing use of "white lists" to filter-in e-mail communications amongst a select group of people, filtering out all other such communications.
The weblog sphere has taken on a great many of the characteristics of the distributed academic community's citation networks - just at a much smaller, faster and more amateur level. Consensus can emerge (briefly or otherwise), reputations are made (deservedly or not), arguments occur regularly (usefully or otherwise). Nonetheless, discussions do occur, they do progress and they do reach conclusions. But it's happening at a granularity of paragraphs rather than articles. It's happening at a scale of hours rather than months.
In response to strong criticism regarding the evidence justifying the invasion of Iraq, the basis for faith-based presidential decision-making has been the subject of widespread comment (see Austin Cline. Faith-Based Presidency, 2004). In a widely cited article on the distinction now made between "faith-based" and "reality-based" decision-making at the highest level, Ron Suskind (Without a Doubt, The New York Times, In The Magazine, 17 October 2004) records an exchange with an aide in the Bush decision-making circle:
This perception offers an interesting insight into emerging understanding of the nature of a conceptually gated community. The view is confirmed by Gary Younge (Never mind the truth. The Guardian, 31 May 2004):
The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
Politics has, to an extent, always been about the triumph of symbols over substance and assertion over actuality. But in the case of Iraq this trend seems to have reached its apogee, as though statements by themselves can fashion reality by the force of their own will and judgment. Declaration and proclamation have become everything. The question of whether they bear any relation to the world we actually live in seems like an unpleasant and occasionally embarrassing intrusion. The motto of the day both in Downing Street and the White House seems to be: "To say it is so is to make it so." These people are rewriting history before the ink on the first draft is even dry.
The existence of conceptually gated communities may become evident in the light of any process that is recognized as "gatecrashing" -- as in gatecrashing a party. In the psycho-social case this is of course not necessarily related to gaining entry to a physical space. Entrance to a psychic or communication space is intimately related to the pattern of communications within the community, and defining it. In fact gatecrashing then becomes an effort to force entrance into that pattern.
An interesting feature of this is that such gatecrashing is not just a question of avoiding confrontation with a gatekeeper. In fact the role of gatekeeper may be denied by people assumed to be performing that function. Effectively each participant is a gatekeeper and the gatecrasher is excluded by an equivalent to the traditional process of shunning:
The shunning of an individual is the act of deliberately avoiding association with him or her. The historical punishments of ostracism and exile, no longer practiced, were officially sanctioned forms of shunning. Today, shunning in an official, formalized manner is practiced by only a few religions, although it continues to be practiced informally in every sort of human grouping or gathering. Religious shunning is often referred to as excommunication. [more]
Most challenging however is that passage through what is believed to be the gate may face the gatecrasher with nothing on the other side -- as with passage through certain ceremonial archways (as in China and Japan). Worse still for the gatecrasher, there may be no one on the other side of the gate. Having assumed that entrance has been achieved, it may simply be discovered that those in the conceptually gated community have simply moved their pattern of communications "elsewhere" -- leaving the gatecrasher behind.
For David. Batten (Simulating Human Behaviour: the Invisible Choreography of Self-Referential Systems, 2004) some of the collective regularities of self-referential systems are relatively insensitive to the vagaries of individuals: "Self-referential systems are intriguing because there is an air of inevitability about them. They seem to co-evolve in prearranged ways, as if under the spell of an invisible choreographer."
The characteristics of "conceptual gatedness" have been explored under a variety of headings:
Systems analysis: Wallace H. Provost Jr. (Structure and Change in Complex Systems) cites sociologist Niklas Luhmann for suggesting the use of systems analysis to "disclose the structure and processes which characterize the social system", in particular:
Social systems are self-referential systems based on meaningful communication. They use communication to constitute and interconnect the events (actions) which build up the systems. In this sense they are "autopoietic" systems. They exist only by reproducing the events which serve as components of the system. They consist therefore as events, i.e. actions, which they themselves reproduce and they exist only as long as this is possible. This, of course, presupposes a highly complex environment. The environment of social systems includes other social systems, (the environment of a family includes for example other families, the political system, the economic system, the medical system, and so on). Therefore communications between social systems is possible; and this means that social systems have to be observing systems, being able to use, for internal and external communication, a distinction between themselves and their environment, perceiving other systems within their environment. [more]
The gap-filling explanation is that self-explanation causes subjects to detect and fill gaps in their domain knowledge. The schema formation explanation is that self-explanation causes the learner to abstract general solution procedures and associate each with a general description of the problems it applies to. The analogical enhancement explanation is that self- explanation cause a richer elaboration of the example, which facilitates later use of the example for analogical problem solving.
Martine Dodds-Taljaard (The Challenge of Governance in an Interdependent World: What indigenous governance can teach us, 2000), through work described post-humously and anonymously (Politically Incorrect Humanism, 2001), used aerobatics to make a fundamental systems point:
...one can move on to an immersed, participative example such as the airforce aerobatics team where three jets flying at constant altitude towards their collision point (they will squeeze by each other) form an imaginary shrinking triangle which will invert and expand as they pass by the collision point. A fourth jet flying at a lower altitude beneath the collision point stands his jet on its tail and flies vertically upwards through the collision point, "threading the needle" just before the three "triangle jets" reach the collision point and invert the triangle. The geometry of this exercise is that of an inverting triangular prismoid... The pilots are the dynamic geometry they are co-creating; i.e. they reference directly and relativistically to the system dynamic they are co-creating and they are guided by purely implicit ("imaginary") relational information which is unavailable to the "voyeur" descriptive views of analytical science. While analytical science can fully describe the actions of the jets, it does not have the wherewithal to re-create the "community-constituent-coresonance" wherein the constituents (systems) act so as to co-create their own enveloping harmonious and sustainable "opportunity-to-act". If the same aerobatic exercise were "programmed analytically", based on the observed trajectories of the jets (i.e. using Euclidian space and absolute, globally synchronous time as an imposed intermediate reference frame), it would be highly "fault intolerant" and prone to dissonance because of ever-present external "noise" (e.g. "wind").
Bird flight: Of particular interest in exploring dynamically gated communities is the discipline of formation aerobatics. This is recognized as having probably been inspired by bird flight:
Most aerobatic manoeuvres involve rotation of the aircraft about its fuselage - rolling - or the following of geometric patterns in the sky (most famously the loop). Formation aerobatics are usually flown by teams of up to sixteen aircraft, although economic considerations mean that most teams habitually fly between four and ten aircraft....The practice of formation flying might have been inspired by the migration of flocks of birds, swans or geese. Certainly most aerobatic teams include a V-formation in their routines. Teams fly V-formations out of practicality - they can't fly directly behind another aircraft, or they'd get caught in the wake vortices or engine exhaust. Aircraft will always fly slightly below the aircraft in front, if they have to follow exactly in line. [more]
There is a wide range of aerobatic maneuvers [examples, explanations] notably documented by the Australian Aerobatics Club. A particular notation (Aresti) has been developed to describe the sequences of such maneuvers [sequences]. The Aresti Sequence Library is a major archive of over 900 current and historic aerobatic sequences from contests dating back to the 1980s. Special software developed by Alan Cassidy (Aerobatic Drawing Software) is used to describe such sequences.
Aerobatics has also been compared with dancing, notably as explored by David Robson (Skydancing: aerobatic flight techniques, 2000):
Placing two or more airplanes in close proximity is dangerous enough without putting those aircraft through whirling maneuvers. In fact, most military services won't allow their combat pilots to fly complete rolls or loops in formation....To do what we do is like dancing. We are partners. Every formation team develops a close relationship. They become brothers, a family. You share more and you give more than is possible in solo aerobatics, and it can change you. The level of trust you place in one another is unbelievable. [more]
Gates: Great emphasis is placed on the team relationships with respect to the leader in formation aerobatics. Given the focus here on dynamically gated communities, it is interesting to note that each aerobatic sequence is entered through a "gate":
First and foremost, the lead is responsible for maintaining a safe environment. Almost all of the responsibility for collision avoidance, positioning, altitude and airspeed rests firmly on the shoulders of the lead. Each maneuver that is performed in the show has a "gate". That's a specific airspeed and altitude that makes it safe to fly through the maneuver and get set for the next one. The lead must insure that his positioning is precisely right on the ideal airshow axis and datum. The Lead must fly perfect maneuvers and maintain perfect speed and altitude "gate" parameters in the right spot on the showline, (compensating for variable meteorological and safety hazards), while utilizing a reduced power setting to assist wingman positioning. [more]
Boxes: Not only do the pilots have to perform incredibly difficult maneuvers, they also have to ensure that they stay within the boundaries established for an air-show. These boundaries are like invisible walls, a minimum of 500 feet from the spectators. All competition flying is done inside an aerobatic "box" (a block of air 3 300 feet long and wide and with its top at 3 500 feet above the ground.) [more | more].
Whilst respectful of the ability of some to analyze community groups and networks with powerful new tools, the focus here is on how any insights into such phenomena -- derived with or without such tools -- can be meaningfully and usefully understood in a highly diversified and fragmented society. The concern here is therefore with vehicles for the imaginative insight of many (at all levels of society) rather than tools that only the few can understand and employ -- and potentially only to the advantage of their sponsors and against the interests of others.
A usefully comprehensible point of departure is the work initiated in 1986 on "boids" by Craig Reynolds (Flocks, Herds, and Schools: A Distributed Behavioral Model, 1987; Boids: Background and Update + dynamic visualization, 2001) -- much-cited and developed within the field of complexity studies:
Computer simulations reveal that the complex behaviour of a flock of birds can easily be imitated by following three simple rules:
1. steer to move toward the average position of local flockmates,
2. steer towards the average heading and speed of local flockmates, and
3. steer to avoid flockmates and all other objects.
The first two rules produce the cohesion and alignment of the flock, the third rule ensures the necessary separation.
Curiously the value of such simulations in understanding the dynamics of conceptually gated communities does not seem to have attracted much attention. It is however the case that the phenomena of emergent behavior that they illustrate so well have indeed been a focus of considerable attention, notably in relation to artificial life and artificial societies (cf Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation). A valuable review of the social processes of emergence has been provided by Steven Johnson (Emergence: the connected lives of ants, brains, cities and software, 2001) [more | more]. This does indeed explore why people cluster in neighbourhoods, or form internet communities, possibly catalyzed by media frenzies. But it fails to explore the implications for the emerging organization of knowledge.
Reynolds has himself shown (Interaction with Groups of Autonomous Characters, 2000) how large flocks can be simulated in real time, allowing for interactive applications. Work has also been done by Phil Pocknell on the influence of a predator in such flocking simulations (An Investigation Into Computational Flocking Techniques, 1999). Ironically this work has been of most obvious relevance to major design improvements in the realism of interactive computer gaming (epitomized by the much-remarked level of artificial intelligence in Republic marketed by Eidos [more | more]).
The argument here is that members of groups, especially those characteristic of civil society, behave in ways that are usefully understood in terms of flocking behaviour. The term "flock" has for example long been used to describe those associated with a church -- and for whom a priest performs a shepherding function. But whilst this association is comprehensible, recognition of how people flock together -- especially in terms of held beliefs -- is less evident, especially when this is not associated with gathering together physically (as extensively explored in relation to crowd behavior, for example). The focus here is therefore on greater articulation of the behaviours associated with "movement of public opinion".
Luisetta Mudie (Concentration and fragmentation in the media, 2004):
The new breed of information users overlaps in many areas with the new breed of information providers, to provide news and perspectives which are bottom-up, rooted in a sense of community (wherever that is found, sometimes on-line), and interactive. The sense of loose and flexible cohesion in these groupings of intention is reminiscent of a model of group behaviour of agents, part of the new sciences of complexity, called Boids. The mode is anarchic, yet organised. Anarchic in the sense that there is no patriarchal top-down command structure which regulates behaviour, but with a handful of simple rules about distance and closeness relative to one's neighbours. A horizontally connected peer validation system. Journalists in this environment are increasingly aware that their audience is also their peer group. Unfortunately, while there is quite properly a large amount of life-force invested in the secondary process, there is not yet much money. The new breed-let's call them informers, because they not only provide information, they also in some sense are the information; they in-form the secondary process-these informers are having instead to bear the fragmentation in their personal and economic lives, for example by disconnecting their 'real' job of helping this evolutionary process, from the money that puts food in their mouths and clothes on their back, and a roof over their head. Cross-subsidy is a hallmark of their enterprise.
Although it is not the focus of this exploration, there is a strong case for examining the behavior of civil society bodies, and their networks of members, in the light of boid-like behaviour. Such bodies are profiled in the Yearbook of International Organizations: Guide to global civil society networks, 2004). Specifically Craig Reynolds' rules could be applied to examine the ways in which bodies behave in what might be termed "meeting space". At any one time thousands of international face-to-face meetings (each involving up to tends of thousands) are held or scheduled (see International Congress Calendar) -- requiring the movement of members from around the world to specific locations.
Boid dynamics could then be used for simulation of organized response to values (Human Values as Strange Attractors: Coevolution of classes of governance principles, 1993), through strategies addressing problems. Greater significance could be then be given to the role of "flavour of the month" preoccupations in contrast with longer-term concerns, creating a bridge between allocation of resources to superficial as opposed to more fundamental issues (see Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential). Such simulations could also offer better understanding of how group initiatives emerge, mobilize and self-organize. In fact it might even be suggested that the future will see "whether reports" of social movements of opinion presented in a manner analogous to the current "weather reports" that show massive movements of cloud in response to high and low pressure/temperature conditions.
The main focus of complexity research and emergent behaviour has naturally been in relation to tangible phenomena of the natural sciences, optimistically extended to the challenge of economic phenomena as a principal focus governance. This emphasis has obscured the possible need to focus on social and psychological phenomena that may determine approaches to governance in other ways. This need is most evident in the "emergence" of various forms of fundamentalism and the degree to which they the world is now challenged by the consequences of faith-based governance.
An interesting exception is the work of Mark A. Bedau (Emergent Models of Supple Dynamics in Life and Mind, 1997) who refers to boids in the following exploration:
The dynamical patterns in mental phenomena have a characteristic suppleness -- a looseness or softness that persistently resists precise formulation -- which apparently underlies the frame problem of artificial intelligence. This suppleness also undermines contemporary philosophical functionalist attempts to define mental capacities. Living systems display an analogous form of supple dynamics. However, the supple dynamics of living systems have been captured in recent artificial life models, due to the emergent architecture of those models. This suggests that analogous emergent models might be able to explain supple dynamics of mental phenomena. These emergent models of the supple mind, if successful, would refashion the nature of contemporary functionalism in the philosophy of mind.
It is in the light of such possibilities that several questions could usefully be explored in relation to the implications of emergent psycho-social behaviour associated with boids -- perhaps usefully to be contrasted with the "alignment" of long lines of starlings perched on "power lines":
Another modality calling for reflection is the process reality contrasted with that of reified objects. The identities sustained by the dynamics within process reality are then effectively "aliens" -- unrecognizable from a static perspective to which they are not "linked". It might then usefully be asked whether people could be distinguished on a continuum depending on the the degree to which their identity is associated with how they "move", as opposed to how they are -- their "status".The work of Henryk Skolimowski (The Participatory Mind: A New Theory of Knowledge and of the Universe, 1994) and John Heron and Peter Reason (Participative knowing and an extended epistemology, 1997) raise questions about the nature of identity in participative cognition. In the case of communities, this is particularly true of the community effectively defined by community-based research (cf Marcia Hills and Jennifer Mullett. Community-Based Research: Creating Evidence-Based Practice for Health and Social Change, 2000)
"From such things, we see that what we call aliveness - resilience, adaptability - is not continual intake, nor any constant policy, but sensitive alternation of openness and closure. The mind listens alertly, then turns off to signals. The natural pattern is alternation, and the more alive a system is, the more alertly it opens and closes. In such a view, closing is not, as some suppose, merely a setback to growth and progress, but evidence that the mechanisms of life are working, that the society has resiliency... A perpetually open society would suffer the fate of a perpetually open clam."This question may in particular be asked of certain forms of religious community aspiring to a life of perfection (for example the monastery environment of Mt Athos, the Exclusive Brethren, etc). But it may also be asked of the leadership community in those countries where the leadership effectively insulates itself from democratic input from opposing policy perspectives -- notably when sustained by self-righteous fundamentalist beliefs. The question may also be asked of (dominant) cultures that effectively insulate themselves from inputs from other cultures -- whether through developing a defensive "fortress" mentality or through an aggressive form of "cultural imperialism" that precludes receipt of any insight "from the colonies", other than through exploitative appropriation.
Given that Mark Bedau is editor-in-chief of the journal Artificial Life and a board member of the International Society of Artificial Life, it would be interesting to know the degree to which the arguments for self-reflexiveness have impelled that community to reflect on their own boid-like emergent behaviour!
The emphasis above on boid behaviour is a means of drawing attention to the psycho-social dynamics of the progressive fragmentation of knowledge society. Such fragmentation is a long-recognized theme of the static fragmentation of knowledge [more]. The amazing information tools associated with the web have however tended to disguise the psycho-social dynamics now associated with fragmentation -- a form of dynamic fragmentation through which people and groups move out of phase to a degree that coherent communication no longer passes effectively between them.
Boid flocking can in this sense be seen as an illustration of the dynamics of cocooning in knowledge space -- understood in terms of the capacity to exchange memes. Increasingly psycho-social (or memetic) cocooning is associated with cultivating (and being nourished by) a particular memetic field. But traditionally, "fields" of knowledge are understood statically (as analogues to agricultural fields to be farmed over decades). This is no longer necessarily the case. The dynamics of knowledge society enable many to function as "travellers" and "nomads" through knowledge space -- defining themselves in relation to each other wherever they are, like boids. [more]
This phenomenon contrasts radically with any global project to encourage people to share a single global framework of some kind. At the same time it does not preclude enthusiastic, dedicated, and possibly well-funded efforts, by many groups in seeking each to propagate their own favoured framework or Theory of Everything. Despite the learnings from history, the consequence is perhaps most striking in the failure of any particular religion to establish the universal credibility of its perspective -- however much its adherents believe this to be the case, and however much non-believers are stigmatized, demonised, and even slaughtered in the name of a "higher cause". Similarly, and despite its remarkable successes, this situation is equally evident in the case of science. People develop other priorities and preferred frames of reference -- possibly characterized by superstition and ignorance from the perspective of either the religious and scientists.
In a suggestive exploration, Majid Tehranian (The End of the University?, 2004) notes:
A look at the origins of modern universities provides a clue to what will probably happen. The invention of print technology in Europe undermined the authority of the Church and boosted the nascent secular institutions of learning at Padua, Bologna, Montpellier, Prague, Vienna, Paris, Oxford, Cambridge, and Heidelberg. However, the Church did not disappear. It survived, but it was transformed from a monolithic institution into a diversity of churches reflecting national ethos, class divisions, and individual preferences....The university of the future will be a combination of local nodes and global networks. economic, and educational needs of their own.
The suggestive use of metaphors -- like the "universe of knowledge", academic "stars", "luminaries" and "stellar" careers, "heated" debate, high "visibility", "massive" support, "weighty" argument -- points to the possible value of exploring whether astrophysics offers a coherent set of metaphors to explore the life cycles of conceptually gated communities in knowledge space. An extensive exploration of the metaphor is discussed separately (Psychosocial Implications of Stellar Evolution? Reframing life's cycles through the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, 2013).
The challenge is to explore ways of mapping various organiational types (see below) onto the different stages of stellar evolution and the varieties of stellar objects that can be formed. Of paticular interest is the ways that different groups use the energy resources at their disposal to become "massive", highly "visible", "attractors" (of greater or less attractivity), and "active" (as opposed to being characterized as static).
Club of Rome
Order of Druids
The question is whether the above metaphors are useful in exploring communication processes in knowledge space. How should these processes be understood? The concern here is to understand them in terms of knowledge rather than information. In some sense they are to be understood in terms of exchange of meaning -- patterns of information rather than information itself. For a single entity (an individual or group), the processes might then be distinguished as:
Given that the entity necessarily has limited processing capacity, each of these processes may place demands upon it. Much more interesting however are the distinct situations that result when more or less capacity is allocated to any of these seven processes. The various resultant situations could best be understood through a simulation in which, interactively, the proportion of capacity allocated to each process could be altered. Another approach to understanding these processes and their relationship is possibly through the much-analyzed, traditional 6-fold coding system of the I Ching. This also distinguishes three pairs of processes. In the absence of a simulation, this 6-fold system permits 64 decision-making conditions to be distinguished -- and the transitions between them.(see Psychology of Sustainability: Embodying cyclic environmental processes, 2002). This model could be considered limited in that it is based on the assumption that any of the six distinct processes is either "switched" "on" or "off" -- or possibly "acknowledged" or "denied". Such limitations may however be both reasonable and meaningful if the entity (whether individual or group) has difficulty in engaging in 6-fold multi-tasking -- namely operating (at least consciously) 6 channels of communication simultaneously
In relation to the six levels above, a distinction can usefully be made between the three pairs as follows:
Of specific interest within this framework, descriptive of knowledge society processes, are the following conditions and questions:
The formal properties of this model point to the value of exploring the 64 conditions which are characteristic of its various combinations. Each condition might then be understood as a distinct form of emergence -- an explicit condition emerging from implicitness in the sense explored by David Bohm. Although the coding benefits from that used, and extensively explored, in studies of the I Ching, interpreting the coding in terms of "on" or "off" conditions is unusual and more reminiscent of simulation of the functioning of multi-position switches in complex circuits.
This approach suggests a way of thinking about the ecology of knowledge systems -- through the manner in which such various forms of knowledge are interrelated as "switches", "filters" or "valves". Within the framework of the I Ching, at the simplest level, 384 transformational relationships are recognized between the 64 conditions (see Patterning Transformative Change for sustainable dialogue, vision, conference, policy, network, community and lifestyle, 1983). These might also be understood as mapping 384 emergent patterns of relationship between forms of knowledge.
Within this context, it is particularly interesting to reflect on the possibility the characteristics of each of the 64 types of conceptual gatedness. This is especially the case in light of comparisons of such a binary coding system with that used for the genetic code and its epistemological significance (see for example Xavier Sallantin. Genetics: the digital key to genetic coding, 2001), notably in relation to vitamins.
In considering these questions, the probability of the following emerging phenomena bears consideration:
But when the nation goes to the polls today they will only have two camps to choose from and what little common ground there may have been between them has effectively been torched. Watching the third presidential debate with about 40 students... They were not just watching the candidates on a split screen. They were viewing the entire event as though from a split screen, each side hermetically sealed from the other as though they were witnessing two completely different events in a parallel universe. On these rare occasions when people are presented with the same raw data, the two camps have managed to fashion conclusions that are not just different but almost entirely contradictory. So rather than partisan arguments adjusting to take account of reality, reality is altered to suit the argument.
In the other must-read about the organisation, Jason Burke comes to the same conclusion, describing how after September 11 he became increasingly concerned about the misconceptions that were gaining currency. "Foremost among them was the idea that Bin Laden led a cohesive and structured terrorist organisation called al-Qaida." In its place Burke first rehearses the idea of the meta-network - al-Qaida as the UN of terrorism - which other experts have already evoked. Then comes his analytical master-stroke: the notion of a number of al-Qaidas, with one or other dominant at different periods. To this he adds the useful description of a witness in the 1998 embassy bombings trial, of al-Qaida as a "formula system" for terrorism, an exportable praxis.
If the good news is that al-Qaida as we knew it does not exist, writes
Burke, "the bad news is that the threat now facing the world is far more
dangerous than any single terrorist leader with an army, however large,
of loyal cadres". Instead, he argues, "the threat that faces us is new and
different, complex and diverse, dynamic and protean and profoundly difficult
to characterise. There is no vocabulary to describe it."
...a set of beliefs which would end, once and for all, the process of reflection on what to do with ourselves. Redemptive truth would not consist in theories about how things interact causally, but instead would fulfill the need that religion and philosophy have attempted to satisfy. This is the need to fit everything--every thing, person, event, idea and poem --into a single context, a context which will somehow reveal itself as natural, destined, and unique. It would be the only context that would matter for purposes of shaping our lives, because it would be the only one in which those lives appear as they truly are. To believe in redemptive truth is to believe that there is something that stands to human life as elementary physical particles stand to the four elements--something that is the reality behind the appearance, the one true description of what is going on, the final secret.
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