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This is an effort to learn from the dynamics of global issue articulation using as a first example the highly controversial and provocative presentation by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran on the occasion of the UN Durban Review Conference on Racism and Racial Discrimination (Geneva, 21 April 2009). The conference as a whole was characterized by the absence of key parties (notably Israel and the USA) and by the orchestrated walkout of some delegations (notably European, Australian, Canadian), significantly "white", on the occasion of the presentation.
It is questionable whether the 143-point consensual declaration of the conference to combat racism and discrimination against minorities will be of any further significance -- as has been the case with many such events. Of particular interest is the subsequent media coverage of the pronouncements of the Iranian President in the light of comments by many who are unlikely to have heard (or read) what he said, especially since they appear not to have been carried (or reproduced) in any western media. Typically those comments made and reproduced specifically accused the President of himself reflecting the worst forms of racist perspective, readily compared with the genocidal mentality of Adolf Hitler as an embodiment of evil. In the light of such judgement, appropriately severe punishment of him was freely advocated and considered reasonable.
Of particular interest is the degree to which the President's statements were effectively held to be so dangerous and inflammatory as to be usefully compared with semantically radioactive materials requiring special handling. As such they were too dangerous to be carried by the media for wider consideration especially by those liable to be perturbed by the contents. The "knee-jerk" responses, even by the most eminent, are of special interest to the processes of mature debate on intractable issues -- if that were ever to be possible. In this sense the exploration below is a contribution to concerns with both critical thinking and the supporting technology of argument mapping (Web resources: Critical thinking vs. Specious arguments, 2001).
The concern in what follows is not with the particular issue represented by the Iranian presentation. The focus is on whether it offers a template that can be used to analyze the pattern of statements on any sensitive intractable global issue -- and the unquestionable reactive responses to them. It effectively explores whether articulations of such global statements could be generated or automated to some degree. This would be consistent with the "cut-and-paste" preparation of consultancy reports to new issues in the light of reports prepared for previous issues -- and therefore consistent to some degree with the process of preparing (in advance) the concluding statements of many global gatherings.
The approach is also consistent with the increasing interest in simulating vital processes in international relations. as in "mock parliaments", but most notably the Sentient World Simulation (SWS). This 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" (Mark Baard, Sentient World: war games on the grandest scale -- Sim Strife, The Register, 23 June 2007). The dynamics of events like the Durban Review Conference would therefore also need to be encompassed -- irrespective of their controversial content, if not because of it. Simulating the emergence and content of consensual declarations would presumably also be a goal.
From an experimental perspective, of interest is the degree of approximation of the content of any such a generated text to one that emerges by conventional processes from a conference -- allowing for differences in editing. Also of potential interest is the possibility of generating a script for those constituencies obliged to defend reactively and defensively issues with which they deem themselves to be inappropriately associated. This would mean configuring a text with the relevant issue keywords but with defensive protest that frames the accusing source pejoratively (unjustified, illegal, shameful, ignorant, mad, perverted, inflammatory, evil, etc). A variant of such a text could be used to justify abstention, an "empty chair" posture, or an orchestrated "walk out".
A key question is whether terms in any text on an intractable issue ("racism" in this case) can be appropriately tagged or flagged so that terms applicable to other issues could be substituted ("overpopulation", for example). Such "cut-and-paste" substitution would then provide a distinct text potentially meaningful in relation to the second issue. However, by handling the charged ("hot-potato") terms in this way, a reading of the second text might offer a perspective on the dynamics associated with the response to the first -- or vice versa. In effect the process bears some similarity to that of substituting some neutral phrase for particular "expletives" which might otherwise offend the sensitive.
Given the facilities of interactive web technology, the following is also intended as a preliminary exploration of the possibility of enabling web users to select intractable issues, and related semantic content, in order to be able to generate for themselves global issue statements of some probability and credibility -- whether or not any given statement highlights possibilities that evoke extreme condemnation and demonisation. It is this interactive process across a range of issues to which users are variously sensitive which might hopefully offer instructive perspective on those which are most problematic.
This experimental approach follows from other exercises with varying degrees of similarity to it:
With respect to controversial statements previously made by the President of Iran, an analysis of his address to the UN General Assembly has also been made (Just Who's Afraid of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? commentary on speech by the President of Iran to the UN General Assembly, 2007). To the extent that he repeated any of those arguments at the Geneva conference against Racism and Racial Discrimination, some of the comments also apply (although they are not relevant to the current exercise).
With respect to the controversy aroused by the statement of the President of Iran in Geneva regarding criticism of Israel, a previous text has explored the challenge of defining the parameters of critical dialogue between a range of worldviews defensive of the unquestionable validity of their particular perspective (Guidelines for Critical Dialogue between Worldviews -- as exemplified by the need for non-antisemitic dialogue with Israelis? 2006). This deals with dialogue with worldviews such as:
More generally the process is concerned with the dynamics of dealing collectively with any "inconvenient truth" (An Inconvenient Truth about any inconvenient truth, 2008) and the process by which any such truth is progressively recognized (Considering All the Strategic Options: whilst ignoring alternatives and disclaiming cognitive protectionism, 2009).
As a tentative, exploratory exercise, the generic value in what follows lies in indicating a possibility for further development. It is notably defective in only being partially worked, especially with respect to:
The text used here was obtained by the Pine River site whose webmaster prefaced it with the following important reservation:
At the time of this post the internet is replete with false, unprofessional and/or misleading versions of President Ahmadinejad's speech delivered at the Durban Review Conference yesterday in Geneva. My appreciation is therefore extended to the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations for furnishing an official copy of the draft text. Whereas it is my understanding that President Ahmadinejad deviated somewhat from the draft version, this is the closest I can get to an official English rendition of the President's comments from the Government of Iran.
The original statement text has been slightly edited for clarity (introduction of bullet points, normalization of "Mr President" and "Mr Chairman", etc). However, with respect to its adaptation into a generic text -- a "template" -- clearly much more thought is required in seeking an integrative balance between the template text and that which could be optionally inserted via pull-down selection (syntactical compatibility, etc). Perhaps the goal should be understood, as with automatic translation, where any generated result is treated as a useful guide for further manual fine tuning.
A case can also be made for refining the structure of any generic template to enhance its poetic and mnemonic qualities as previously argued (Poetry-making and Policy-making, 1993; Strategic Jousting through Poetic Wrestling: aesthetic reframing of the clash of civilizations, 2009; Structure of Declarations: challenging traditional patterns, 1993).
Words or phrases in the original statement have been colour coded according to the following schema. The coloured phrases in the schema below have then be substituted for those words in the generic version of the text. The words replaced in this way have been included as indicative selection options for any future interactive facility for refreshing the generic page with a user specified variant.
|Colour coding of
references in statement text
|Transcendental appeal framework (and exemplars)||1|
|Values reference with goals justifying any remedial action taken||2|
|Conference reference title of event focusing on the problematic issue||3|
|Problematic issue it is desirable to eliminate in light of values||4|
|Problematic constituency viewed as primarily sustaining the problematic issue||5|
|Complicit forces in sustaining the problematic issue||6|
|Problematic actions associated with sustaining problematic issue||7|
|Pretext reference as rationale for sustaining problematic actions||8|
|Exemplary victims of problematic issue and associated actions||9|
|Problematic consequences of sustaining problematic actions||?|
This web page can currently be refreshed in one of two versions (with the methodological explanation in a separate document):
Commentary: Of interest in this approach is how the generic text is read when options are selected that are quite distinct from the original text on racism. Arguably, for anyone, a variant could be selected which would constitute an "inflammatory" perspective (such as that of the original) and would arose a reactive response of parties who would deem themselves to be most existentially offended. Especially instructive is the selection of options in which one is oneself positioned as the existentially offended party in contrast with options in which some other party is framed as blameworthy. Examples, whether or not they are to be considered "trivial" by comparison with "racism", are:
The question is whether the exploration of such options offers new insight into the pattern of upholding rights considered problematic by others whose response evokes offended, defensive reactions. "Smoking" as a behaviour provides the most seemingly innocent example of a "fundamental right" challenged by "non-smokers" as a potentially life-threatening danger..
Arguably most people identify with some pattern of behaviour which they consider their fundamental right, potentially functioning like "Zionists" (in this example) according to others who challenge that right -- given its problematic implications for others who suffer as a consequence. This leads to the question for whom is one a "Zionist" and for whom is one "Mahmoud Ahmadinejad"?
This question is explored further in Generic Reframing of the 12 Tribes of "Israel": "We have met the Zionists and them is us" (2009), which is effectively an Annex of this exercise.
It is these options that could be incorporated into pull-down selections embedded at the relevant points in an interactive web version of the template text. It should be stressed that the options given below are merely indicative. It would necessarily have to allow for multiple choices within the same pull-down. The procedure adopted in building up the content of each option has been, initially, to use the marked items from the source text on racism -- incorporating them below, without editing, in italics. Other potentially relevant selectable items have been added without italics. As noted above, it is of course the case that the items included would have to be adapted for syntax in relation to the template context (as is done in automatic translation). Some comments on the nature of the options are added here -- which might in future form the basis for a "help" feature for use with each pull-down.
This work is licenced under a creative commons licence.