16 March 2009
Framing the Global Future by Ignoring Alternatives
unfreezing categories as a vital necessity
- / -
Produced on the occasion of the G20
Summit (London, April
Images as indicators
Failure to consider a spectrum of alternatives
-- Jobs (employment / work)
| Corruption and Crime
Opening possibilities for maneuver in seemingly blocked contexts
Images as indicators
In preparation for the much-heralded, key meeting of the G20
Group in London (March 2009), two striking images were produced. The
negatives are reproduced below:
What is so striking about these images? Both have the traditional predominance
of "white males". But to clarify further, of the 50 identified
by the Financial
Times, 5 are women (blurred out in white). Of the 46 present at the
G20 Finance Meeting, 2 are women (blurred out in black). This treatment might
have been rendered even more striking by blurring out the women
using white, and the "non-whites" using black.
Despite the confusion and obfuscation over who actually had any responsibility
for the financial crisis and the management of its evolution, there is a
significant consensus that a failure of regulatory overview has been a key
factor. It is therefore reasonable to ask:
- what proportion of those identified in either image were complicit
in some way in this regulatory failure?
- with what capacities and new insights will those so involved be responding
to the challenge of the crisis of the financial system -- and
the credibility crunch with which it is now associated?
- what proportion of the global population are not "white males" -- but
have had their livelihoods and future security rendered highly problematic
by the those who have failed in their regulatory capacity?
- how is it that the insights of non-males -- presumably some 50% of the
world population -- are represented by only 7% of those identified in the
The focus of the argument here is not on the questionable representation
of "non-whites" and "women" -- old issues as yet unresolved
-- as with the proportion of women in national parliaments, of which the
above situation is a reflection (Inter-Parliamentary
in National Parliaments, 2009).
Failure to consider a spectrum of alternatives
here is rather to refer to these images as dramatic indicators of a
failure to bring new insights to bear upon a global challenge which
will affect "white", "non-white", "male" and "female" --
whilst ensuring the presence of many who were complicit in the emergence
of the crisis.
the striking failure of many indicated in the images -- and the skewed
participation in the above selections -- with what confidence
can it be assumed that an appropriate range of alternatives will be under
the G20 Summit or in any efforts to "frame a way forward"? What
information is there on the alternatives that have been designed out of consideration?
Given that there is every expectation that social unrest will increase as
the predicted effects of the crisis affect households and livelihoods worldwide,
how prudent is it to exclude discussion of a comprehensive range of alternatives?
Clearly any failure of remedies as currently envisaged will then be
appropriately placed directly at the door of those who have had the arrogance
to assume that they alone know best what to do -- having failed to exhibit
that insight with respect to their responsibility for the emergence of the
How irresponsible is it to bring to bear on the challenge what some will
consider to be the same mindset as ensured an inadequate response to the
emerging challenge? Is global governance locked into a highly dangerous pattern
of tunnel vision and groupthink?
Indeed what are the alternatives that have
been considered inappropriate? Why are they not articulated on the G20
website -- with clarification as to why they are indeed inappropriate? Would
this not be of assistance to all concerned -- especially if those finally
recommended prove to be inadequate?
How significant is the inadequate representation of insights from those
marginalized by the process? Indeed is designing out the perspectives
of women and "non-whites" symptomatic of an
underlying pattern of designing out insights distinct from those that led
to the crisis of the financial system? Why are alternatives considered
to be so threatening as to be excluded from a discussion in which new thinking
is in extremely short supply?
Part of the difficulty is again highlighted, if only as an example, by the
role of women in relation to the financial system and world governance.
This is explored in some detail in Symptoms
of denial: gender and the underside of meetings (2009) as part of
an exploration of Engaging
with Globality. Is the absence of discussion
of "alternatives" at
summits as appropriately indicated as the effacement of the women from
the above images?
Is this treatment of the perspective of women to be considered as were
the canaries in the coal mines -- as indicators of the threat of a dangerous
explosion? Faced with disaster, in the absence of insightful
new thinking, should not every effort be made to draw on the full range of
-- rather than depending on the dangers of more of the same?
What level of crisis is required to make it evident that "global"
governance -- adequate to the crisis -- calls for a form of "framing" enriched
by alternatives, rather than impoverished by dangerously oversimplistic
Curiously a "frame", as with the frame that might be used for the above
images, is typically a two-dimensional construct -- as are the "plans" vainly
formulated to encompass the three-dimensionality of the "globe". This challenge
of cognitive geometry is summarized (Metaphorical
Geometry in Quest of Globality: in response to global governance challenges,
2009). This is itself a summary of a more detailed commentary on the governance
challenges and possibilities (Engaging
with Globality -- through cognitive lines, circlets, crowns or holes,
Is it possible that such "framing" has many of the regrettable
characteristics of "in-the-box" thinking? Will the G20 gathering
offer any indication of
"out-of-the-box" thinking whatsoever? Will there be anything new
on offer -- perhaps commensurate with the advanced technical innovation associated
with the financial derivatives that triggered the subprime crisis? That such
innovation is unlikely is indicated by a commentary in the Financial
Times by Alan Beattie
buttons for future use, 12 March 2009) in response to the
question "Why did no one see this coming?":
As policymakers from the Group of 20 leading developed and emerging economies
struggle to combat the immediate effects of the crisis with fiscal stimulus
packages and financial bail-outs, their forthcoming summit will also look
at designing early warning systems to spot new disasters.
The problem, experts warn, is that, like much of the G20's agenda, it is
a question of implementation rather than technical improvement. It is not
just that any attempt to design such a system inevitably misses crises that
do happen and falsely predicts crises that do not, but that policymakers
tend either to ignore such warnings or try to suppress them so they are not
So no technical improvement -- more of the same? No insightful questions
to detect the issues that are not being addressed? Just make sure that opinions
contrary to the received wisdom -- that engendered the crisis -- are not
Unfreezing categories ?
If the emerging implications of the financial crisis -- and the highly
constrained manner in which responses are being "framed" -- are
to be taken seriously, then new questions should be asked. This is especially
the case if the UK has now decided to indulge in "quantitative
an emergency remedy. Aside from the constipatory connotations, such printing
of money may be understood as the printing of promises -- at a time when
the credibility of any promises is severely reduced. Is it possible that
the financial "unfreezing" so desperately sought implies the need
for a more generic unfreezing of categories? This challenge may indeed be
exemplified by the manner in which women are "frozen out of meetings" regarding
a global future -- as discussed separately in Symptoms
of denial: gender and the underside of meetings (2009) as part of
an exploration of Engaging
What other questions might then be asked with respect to global governance,
- what vital questions are not being asked?
- what inappropriate assumptions are still being made?
- why are more appropriate questions not being asked?
- who has a vested interest in not asking them, and why?
For example, with respect to the categories (and their associated crises):
- Jobs (employment / work): This is
already recognized as becoming extremely problematic (Alain
Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, 2009). Why is it that these
categories are not explored to determine whether they have been inappropriately "frozen"?
Any remedy to current and expected economic woes may call for unfreezing
conventional understanding of what is a "job" and what is "work" --
and when someone is "employed". At present, as so clearly expressed
by Alain de Botton:
We invest so much in our work emotionally that unemployment
is a particular calamity, for to be out of a job means not only a financial
loss, but also a loss of identity, meaning and esteem. To be out of work
means, quite literally, to be a nobody: one is what one does.
An obvious example has been the treatment
of the "work" associated with housework, notably as undertaken
by women. The vast amount of "work" done "in the black",
is not considered "work" --
and the people who engage in it are considered "unemployed",
and may even collect "unemployment benefits". An associated irony
is that any accident contributes directly to GDP through the "work" of
the services involved. But any creativity or self-improvement initiative
is not considered "work"
unless it is remunerated -- possibly using "quantitatively eased" funds.
The production of this text is not defined as "work".
Perhaps especially perverse is any gathering of out-work (formerly) high-flying
executives and mangers -- seeking advice on "how to get a job". There is
no question that any such assembly has all the skills -- or does it --
to create an enterprise in which they and others could be engaged. In fact
each would probably be happier to compete successfully with the others
to "get" any job that was created by others.
Is there therefore a case for a more flexible approach to this central notion
of economics -- given that the current approach would appear to be especially
economical regarding the truth of the matter? More problematic still is that
it has been widely remarked that "unemployment" is variously defined
for political purposes in support of the policies of the government in power.
Categories of "unemployed" are carefully included or excluded to
improve the image of those policies within official statistics. Given this
existing creative accounting flexibility, perhaps such freedom to reframe
"unemployment" could be more creatively extended to defining what
"work" -- if only to honour those who do "work", as with
housework, without that work being minimally acknowledged. This would allow
the "work" of subsistence
farmers to be acknowledged -- and their productivity recognized. As it is
official statistics regarding "labour" are as illusory as has been
the financial system. (cf Being
Employed by the Future Reframing the Immediate Challenge of Sustainable Community,
Lifestyles and the Future of Work Learnings from "The
Employment Dilemma and the Future of Work", 1996; Sustainable
Occupation beyond the "Economic" Rationale: reframing "employment", "non-profit-making" and "voluntary" in
a context of increasing "unemployment" and failure of "social
safety nets", 1998)
- Resolutions: The intention to act as it emerges within
global governance typically takes the form of "resolutions".
It is well-recognized that few such resolutions result in the intended
action -- unless they are non-controversial and tokenistic. They therefore
tend to be defined as "without teeth".
Again, typically, regulatory authorities intended to implement such resolutions
are then recognized to be "toothless". The situation is similar
at the national level -- especially with respect to promises in election
manifestos on the basis of which people are encouraged to vote. As with
the process of "printing
money" (as government "promises to pay"),
it could be argued that the generation of resolutions at international
gatherings has long anticipated government decisions to "print money" or
Resolutions are thus to be understood as "printed promises" --
with a similarly problematic prospect of actual delivery on promises whether
as "interest" or "dividend"..
Is there a case for revisiting assumptions associated with the formulation
of "resolutions" and electoral "promises" -- as vehicles
for "values" -- to determine whether they are designed in ways to reflect
appropriately the hopes projected onto them?
Iis it possible that a more generic understanding of
instruments of value (whether monetary or not) could be recognized? As
it stands it can be argued the trillions of dollars of public debt in
the system of financial values is effectively matched by trillions
of words of carefully articulated promises reflecting non-financial values
(extant in an equally "virtual" manner
in the global system). It is tempting to detect parallels between junk
bonds or "worthless shares" (as with the pre-revolutionary defaulted
Russian bonds) and resolutions of intergovernmental conferences dating
back over decades. What "value" is to be attached to Agenda
21 (1992), to its Kyoto
Protocol (1999), or
even to the Millennium Development
Goals (2001), or to the many "conventions" produced by intergovernmental
agencies over decades. To what extent are they indeed "worthless paper"
as bearers of value? Similar questions might be asked of the resolutions
generated over decades by international NGO conferences. Do they have any
more value than the promissory notes printed with the "guarantee" of
governments? Is such "paper" inflated in value -- and divorced from
the "real world" -- in a manner analogous to the illusory financial bubble?
Even more intriguing is the extent to which they represent value commitments
in currencies of limited issue (analogous to LETS:
Local Exchange Trading Systems) -- to the members of those bodies (cf Human
investing in "shares" in
market" of fundamental principles, 2006)
- Drugs: At the time of writing, the UN Commission on
Narcotic Drugs is meeting to review
the effectiveness of drug control (Vienna, March 2009). It is widely
acknowledged that its policies have been a failure and that vast amounts
of money are illegally associated with the production and use of drugs
-- without "work" or by the "employment" of anyone.
As with the operation of the financial system, it is an "illusory" economy.
Much is made of the classification of this or that drug and of their negative
consequences -- many of which contribute directly to GDP through the services
involved. Little attention is paid to other "substances" or "activities" which
might also be considered to be "drugs" within a larger framework.
Alcohol is the most obvious example; coffee might be considered another.
Increasingly videogames and analogous activities might be seen as "drugs" --
again without any implication that those playing them for hours at a time
are engaged in any form of "work". Defined as the "opium
of the people",
religion -- through the practice of prayer -- might also be seen as a
What would be the consequence and scope of reframing what constitutes a
"drug" -- in order to recognize a spectrum, or continuum, of
modes through which individuals distract themselves? Whether such distraction
is to be considered socially dysfunction, as with alcohol or videogames,
is another matter meriting a more healthy debate.
- Health: There is widespread despair at the failure
to respond effectively to the health of the most impoverished -- even in
the most developed countries. Promises continue to be made in this respect
-- as with the WHO/UNICEF slogan "Health for All by the Year 2000" (Global
Strategy for Health for All by the Year 2000). On the other hand,
many questions are now asked regarding whether the privileged are actually
as "healthy" as might otherwise be assumed. The issue of obesity
is an example, as with the consequences of the polluted environment in
which people live. To this may be added what is being recognized as an
epidemic of depression and a problematic need for carers for an increasingly
aging population. Health
problems of course contribute directly to GDP through the services involved
in responding to them -- often curiously anxious that remedial services
should be provided by those whose activities are not defined as "work".
In these senses, health too has an "illusory" quality that calls
for new questions.
What would be the consequence of reframing what constitutes "health", "disease"
and remedial measures -- especially where approved health delivery continues
to be more than inadequate? More controversial, in the absence of adequate
remedies to "ill-health" of any kind, how should "drugs" then be
framed, especially when they relieve physical pain or existential pain?
- Safety: There is now an increasingly invasive preoccupation
with "safety" seemingly designed on the assumption that individuals
are decreasingly responsible for their own safety in many situations. This
is exemplified by the fencing off of any areas involving a drop of more
than a few metres -- whether cliff tops, bridges, or tops of buildings.
Preoccupation with safety has been externalized. The individual increasingly
has the right to sue relevant authorities for a paving stone out of alignment
which then resulted in a fall. Many wilderness areas cannot be visited
without signing a legal release note.
What would be the consequence of reframing "safety" as primarily
a personal responsibility and only secondarily a collective responsibility?
- Death: As an extension of the attitude to health and
safety, the situation in which people die is increasingly undignified
in the extreme -- especially for the elderly lacking relatives, or the
terminally ill, even in the most developed countries. Again however, it
is in the last months prior to death that people contribute most to GDP
-- through any services that are called into play, especially if the person
is in a "vegetative state" for years. At the same time the means of causing
the death of others have become ever more sophisticated through the development
of weapons -- notably those for "mass" destruction.
Ironically, even accompanying a terminally ill person to a location where
euthanasia is legal may well be criminalized -- as with the ongoing debate
relating to abortion. Despite the considerable sophistication of many disciplines,
on the problematic reliance on interrogation techniques, it is assumed
that it is impossible to determine whether an individual is acting
responsibly with respect to death, whether in their own case or on behalf
What would be the consequence of reframing
"death" more flexibly to include not only present suffering but that in
the future -- notably arising from failure to inhibit the birth of many
when every available indicator confirms the inadequacy of resources to
sustain them in a dignified manner? Is it a case of including in such
a reframing a richer understanding of responsibility for death and associated
suffering arising from the irresponsibility of those inhibiting such explorations?
Just as engendering progeny is considered a fundamental human right, at
what point does the right to die at the moment of one's choosing become
a fundamental human right -- especially for members of an ageing population? More
controversially, at a time when some are pursuing ever longer lifespans,
even immortality of some kind, how can death be reframed in a healthier
manner as essential to the viability of environmental system increasingly
stretched to sustain such numbers?
- Population: A wide range of problems reaching crisis
proportions are clearly directly aggravated by the exponential increase
in the world population: food, shelter, water, health, education, pollution,
energy, etc. As with the current focus on "climate change" a seemingly
deliberate effort is made to avoid reference to this systemic link --
if only to justify the relevance of excluding its consideration. This exemplifies
the worst of scientific complicity in its relation to policy-making. (Institutionalized
Shunning of Overpopulation Challenge: incommunicability of fundamentally
inconvenient truth, 2008; Climate
Change and the Elephant in the Living Room, 2008).
The argument has been presented by those most complicit in sustaining the
disastrous financial bubble -- now burst -- that
population stabilization will result as a consequence of development. Is
this too to be considered a dangerously illusory bubble of hope -- yet
to burst? Perhaps more sinister is the dependence of economic development
on what may yet prove to have been a vast Ponzi scheme -- namely the continuing
exponential increase in the world population, precisely in order to ensure
the manpower and markets for "growth", however unsustainable and however
relatively impoverished those at the margins.
What would be the consequence of unfreezing the exploration of population
issues to ensure the basis for a healthier system?
- Energy: There are increasing concerns about energy supplies
for the future, especially in the light of their relationship to global
warming. It is curious however how "energy" is defined in a very particular
way -- whether derived from fossil fuels, nuclear power, or renewable resources
(solar, hydro, wind, geothermal). As with the narrow framing of "work"
by economists, "energy" does not include the kind of "people power" that
is brought to bear in the event of any crisis when utility systems fail.
The "non-work" of economists typically involves a considerable amount of
energy. This is in fact implicit in the term "manpower", except that in
the evaluation of "energy" resources no such "power" exists --
even when it is paid for. On the other hand, as under forced labour conditions,
many major construction projects have only proven possible by use of such
"fictitious" power. This would again suggest that some kind of
illusion is being sustained by current framings of the energy challenge
-- a bubble which may dramatically burst when "people power" responds destructively
to inadequate global governance.
Again this suggests a need for unfreezing understandings of "energy" --
especially if it may prove necessary to depend on a wider spectrum of "energy"
when conventional "energy" systems fail (cf Reframing
Sustainable Sources of Energy for the Future: the vital role of psychosocial
- Extremism: It is curious that the originally narrow
focus on "terrorism" has been broadened to include a notion of "extremism".
Neither term is adequately defined and authorities are increasingly free
to act against activities framed as "extremism" using "anti-terrorist"
legislation. Whilst the merits of the involuntary experience of "terror"
caused by others are highly questionable, "terrorism" is defined in such
a way as to exclude many forms of such "terror" -- if not the
most common forms (Varieties
of Terrorism: extended to the experience of the terrorized, 2004).
Exposure to dangerous driving, street violence, or domestic violence is
a relatively common experience -- far more common than the action of "terrorists".
The deaths caused by the latter are statistically far lower than in the
former case. In developed countries there are probably
more deaths from school shootings than from "terrorists". Any
yet those causing "terror" in this way, or in institutional intimidation
in schools, workplace the army, or prisons are not deemed to be "terrorists". Similar
arguments can be made with respect to "extremism" -- even more
problematic in that many choose voluntarily to expose themselves to risk,
most notably in extreme sports (Norms
in the Global Struggle against Extremism "rooting
for" normalization vs. "rooting out" extremism? 2005).
More striking in relation to the cause of the financial crisis is the extreme
risk-taking in which financial institutions (and individuals engaged) --
currently in process of being rewarded. rather than indicted for "extremism"
and the loss of livelihood and homes of millions (Extreme
Financial Risk-taking as Extremism, 2009)
Is there therefore a case for a healthy review of "extremism" to determine
the level of risk at which people can choose to function or expose to others?
To what extent are some policies currently promoted as options for global
governance to be considered "extremism" -- or likely to be so considered
by the future, if there is anything to be learnt from current evaluation
of recent government complicity in enabling the financial crisis?
- Property: Aside from the continuing
bloody conflicts over conflicting claims to physical territory, it is becoming
increasingly apparent that knowledge which could be a key to the response
to global crises may be effectively unavailable (due to security classification)
or locked (by copyright or patent legislation). As with the initiative
of a private individual in making use of a corporately owned bus to drive
to safety refugees in the Hurriane Katrina disaster, such initiative may
lead to legal action by the owners of the vehicle. The situation has become
much more complex through the manner in which property has been reframed
in an electronic environment, notably one in which property can be shared
in many more fluid ways -- as with various open
source initiatives, often
by-passing conventional approaches to property rights (cf Creative
Commons licensing initiative). There is also the curiosity of
ownership of property in virtual worlds.
There is the possibility that a global knowledge society could be effectively
held to ransom by holders of copyright on certain forms of intellectual
property to which they claim (Future Coping Strategies:
beyond the constraints of proprietary metaphors, 1992).
The situation would seem to suggest the need
for a more generic approach to unfreezing the notion of property -- exemplified
by the challenge faced by hikers regarding "right of public way" or
"right of access". More problematic is the lack of responsibility
typically attached to the ownership of any form of property, especially
when it is leased to others. The owners of patents to weapons components
are currently no more responsible for the deaths they may cause than the
manufacturers of the weapons using such patented knowledge (cf From
Patent Rights to Patent Responsibilities: obligations incumbent on owners
and licensors of intellectual property, 2007).
- Education: As with the failure to deliver promised "health
for all", it has not proven possible to deliver "education" to
all who supposedly have a right to it. Unfortunately the "education" that
has not been effectively delivered is defined in a very formalistic manner.
As some have argued, it is the "education" most beneficial for the kind
of "employment" associated with the "work" on which economists focus to
ensure "productivity". There is little reference to the kind of "education"
that might be more appropriate to those for whom "employment" will not
be available. Increasingly it is this "education" which those who have
become over-qualified for any available "jobs" find that they lack -- even
in the most developed countries. Presumably the proportion of people able
to benefit from conventional "education" is likely to decrease.
What are the conceptual skills vital to survival in a social system that
is liable to be increasingly chaotic? Do they combine some of the skills
associated with survival training, "streetwise", radical entrepreneurship,
and the like? What is the basic "cognitive toolkit" necessary for the future
if the 3 R's cannot be effectively delivered? How should such a toolkit
be disseminated -- perhaps by analogy with first aid kits and emergency
kits? It is here that the role of sets of folk tales and teaching stories
merits attention -- notably as a means of communicating more powerful metaphors
that point to new modes of action, as argued aeparately (Poetic
Engagement with Afghanistan, Caucasus and Iran: an unexplored strategic
- Qualification: The conventional focus
on education is framed as essential in leading to "qualification" and "accreditation"
through "recognized" institutions -- even when these are unable to offer
these facilities to the degree required. Qualification is then directly
related, even by statute, to certain categories of employment. This focus
takes no account of
the extent to which the viability of the socio-economic system is currently
highly dependent on those not qualified through such processes. Notable
examples where no qualification is obligatory are: politics, computer programming,
information systems management, entrepreneurship, creative arts, sport,
farming, and vehicle mechanics. In each such case, if any qualification
is required by an employer, it is "natural talent" or demonstrable experience
of having learnt "on the job" that counts. This is especially
the case with the "self-employed". Perhaps most striking is the total lack
of any requirement for "qualification" in sexual reproduction and parenting
-- whatever education may be offered.
The argument is advanced by the accrediting institutions and associated
professional bodies that qualification is essential to avoid potentially
dangerous consequences. It is noteworthy that the financial crisis of
2008-2009 was brought about by the exceptionally qualified quantitative
analysts that developed dubious techniques for the management of risks.
A further example is the case of conventional medical education in relation
medicine, with the latter framed as dangerously irresponsible and unproven. This
argument takes little account of medical
malpractice by the qualified, especially given the death rate from
medical mistakes. Of the 2.5 million deaths annually in the USA, 225,000
are considered to be due to medial
errors, with 42% of the population believing
they had suffered from such an error. Accrediting bodies are therefore
ill-equipped to argue objectively for qualification given their vested
interest in protecting their own authority and reputation. Introducing
a more fluid approach to recognition of skills would bypass the argument
that talent is only currently recognized by such bodies to the extent that
it is detectable through the criteria of pre-established qualification
and accreditation procedures that reinforce their authority. In a much
challenged society, the capacity to recognize relevant skills and unforeseen
talents may prove vital to its survival.
- Growth: Economic growth has been upheld as central to
development and fundamental to the process of globalization. This narrow
and unquestionable focus has obscured recognition of other forms of "growth"
and the manner in which they are interrelated, sustaining or undermining
development as it is idealised. Irrespective of the increases in temperature
with which it is associated, or the growth in demand for non-renewable
resources, economic growth engenders a level of production of waste which
is proving increasingly difficult to recycle or absorb. As framed, economic
growth is dependent on the growth in population in order to sustain demand
for production, under condtions in which it is proving increasingly difficult
to meet those demands -- as the economic crisis based on this understanding
is now demonstrating.
There would appear to be a case for generalizing the understanding of growth
in order to encompass its functional and dysfunctional forms in a more systemic
manner. Of greater interest, now that the potential of dematrialization has
been recognized in relation to economic products, is more fruitful insight
into the processes and limitations of growth in knowledge. This is especially
relevant in the light of the challenges of dissemination of knowledge under
conditions of ever increasing information overload -- effectively ensuring
the ever increasing growth in ignorance in a society of growing complexity
that is dependent on the appropriate utilization of knowledge. How is a complex
system to be comprehended and governed when its viability may depend on less
growth, generically understood, rather than more?
- Corruption and Crime: The above
examples of frozen understandings of categories evoke in practice a range
of strategies for bypassing and breaking such constraints. At best this
may be reframed as "innovation". At worst it may take some form of exploitation
to the deliberate disadvantage of others. More problematic is when people
are obliged to bend rules and detect loopholes in order to survive and
develop. If categories are conventionally understood as closed containers
for significance, such initiatives effectively manipulate and transform
their topology into the many complex shapes with which mathematicians are
familiar -- most simply as knots but possibly as paradoxical structures
exemplified by the Klein
bottle offering other understandings of identity (Intercourse
with Globality through Enacting a Klein bottle, 2009). The increasing
proportion of the population incarcerated, even in the USA, is an indication
of the challenge to handling rule-breaking. The tolerance of rule-breaking
-- tax avoidance, breach of promise, cheating, etc -- highlights the central
role that this process plays, even whilst the viability of frozen categories
With the economic consequences of the global financial crisis yet fully
to manifest, the estimate at the time of writing that some 50 million have
been forced out of work suggests that people will be forced to find other
modes of surviving -- as with those who have never had "jobs". Will their
innovative responses then constitute "crime" or "corruption"? Most curious
is the fact that few, if any, of those implicated and complicit in engendering
the financial crisis are considered to have committed any "crime" or engaged
in "corrupt" practices. They are even rewarded for legal execution of their
contracts and conformity to the policies of their institutions. At what point
would the "legality" of their contracts and behaviour be called into question:
100 million, 1 billion, 500 billion jobless? To what extent is the violence
of their economic "crimes" against society to be framed as subject to the
structures against "terrorism" (Extreme
Financial Risk-taking as Extremism -- subject to anti-terrorism legislation? 2009)?
The general point to be made in each case is that categories are not written
in stone and for all time. As with the constant massaging of the definition
of "unemployment" for politial convenience, categories can be considered
more "plastic". Such a possibility is the focus of the international,
transdisciplinary network Plasticities
Sciences Arts (PSA), namely new fields of interaction
between sciences, arts and humanities -- founded
on both knowledge and human experience. Plasticity is considered
to be the basic principle underlying the organization of any life form, art
or idea -- as most recently articulated by Eric Combet (From
the concept of plasticity to the plasticity of the concept, Plastir,
2009, 14). Of course, within this metaphor, it is appropriatew to
ask whether categories as conventional understood are presented in a suitably
"plastified" manner to ensure their durability.
The finanical crisis and its economic consequences suggests
that the institutions of global governance run the danger of defining themselves
as guardians and curators of "category museums". More is required by the
nature of the crisis and the challenge of the future.
Opening possibilities for maneuver in seemingly blocked contexts
Responses to situations created by a number of the categories above arouse
despair at the immense challenge involved -- as with "unemployment" and the
search for "jobs". This might however be explored as a binary trap engendered
by binary logic -- an inappropriately learnt response. Such an approach could
be contrasted with that highlighted from Eastern cultures by Kinhide Mushakoji
Issues and Interparadigmatic Dialogue; essays on multipolar politics,
1988) in the form of a quadrilemma, rather than a dilemma.
- Having A ("got-a-job")
- Without A, namely Not-A ("no-job")
- Both having A and not-having A, namely A-and-Not-A ("both
having-a-job and not-having-a-job")
- Neither having A nor not-having A, namely Neither-A-nor-Not-A ("neither
having-a-job nor not-having-a-job")
It is the last two modes, and the set as a whole, that are suggestive of
further insight. A binary response to such a possibility is readily framed
as "irrelevant" rather than "relevant" -- without any room for maneuver.
The possibilities may perhaps be illustrated experientially by the examples
in the following table.
||Poorly explored alternatives
|A and not-A
("good" and "bad")
|neither A nor not-A
(neither "good" nor "bad")
||sun ("good weather")
||rain ("bad weather")
||sun and rain
||no-corruption and corruption
nor no- corruption
||winning and losing
||neither winning nor losing
||aggrandisement and deprecation
||neikther aggrandisement nor deprecation
||happiness and unhappiness
||loving and unloved
||neither loved (loving)
||enlightened and unenlightened
It is the last two columns, typically a matter of common experiential
insight, which are suggestive of a richer approach to "unfreezing" the
categories above. For example:
- weather: much that is appreciated in the experience of nature is associated
with "dappled" conditions of light and shade, of the interplay between
sun and rain in mist. The first two columns then represent extremes that
obscure such subtler experiences
- ethics: in many societies where "corruption" is endemic, it is the experience
associated with the last two columns which offers flexibility -- even a
safety net otherwise unavailable where there is "no-corruption". Those
experiences may be a valued characteristic of networking, connections,
obligations, "collecting markers", "accumulating brownie points", and the
like. As with "commissions", they may be framed without cynicism as "gracing
the occasion". Simplistic efforts to "eliminate" corruption do not then
respond to the organic processes of those societies and "corruption-free"
processes may be ill-equipped to sustain them.
- competition: in an effort to bypass the negative experience
of "losing", an argument has been made for the exploration of "win-win"
strategies (Hazel Henderson, Building
a Win-Win World: life beyond global economic warfare, 1996). Joseph
Obama's Win-Win-Lose Plan Obama's Ersatz Capitalism, The
2 April 2009) however comments that the remedy proposed by the USA is
one of "the banks win, investors win -- and taxpayers lose".
It is however intriguing that much is made of the last two columns, notably
in relation to the Olympic Spirit or more generally to enjoying any game.
A narrow pursuit of "win-win" would seem to be in defiance of
ecological sustainability which necessitates that members of every species
end up as "another species' lunch". Those columns highlight
the conditions under which people "win" by "losing" or "lose" by "winning" --
often only to recognize this after the event.
- self-esteem: this situation is usefully compared with
the previous one. Indeed it is not well recognized how commitments by individuals,
groups or countries to self-aggrandisement, maybe highly counterproductive.
if only in the longer term. It is the subtleties of the "soft-power" attitudes
associarted with the last two columns that is then merits the learning
that may emerge.
- happiness: this case has been separately explored (Happiness
and Unhappiness through Naysign and Nescience: comprehending the essence
of sustainability? 2008)
- love: much of the arts is an exploration of the experience and challenges
of the last two columns -- with which many are very familiar (or statistically
destined to become so).
- enlightenment: any life commitment to becoming enlightened,
in reaction to the condition of unenlightenment, leads to recognition of
the reality and significance of the experience of the last two columns
-- notably in apophatic discourse and thinking (Being
What You Want: problematic kataphatic identity vs. potential of apophatic
identity? 2008). The associated ambiguities are explored elsewhere
(Enlightening Endarkenment: selected web resources
on the challenge to comprehension, 2005).
The obsession with a binary approach to strategic options would seem to
inhibit recognition of the spectrum of alternatives associated with the further
two columns, and possibly more (Discovering
Richer Patterns of Comprehension to Reframe Polarization, 1998). Especially interesting is the manner in which
strategies associated with the first two columns engage in a process of demonisation
of each other:
- mainstream demonising "alternatives" and "alternatives" demonising "mainstream"
- "right-wing" demonising "left-wing" in politics, just as "left-wing"
This process of demonisation lends itself to reframing through musical metaphor
of Davos vs All Greens of Porto Alegre reframing global strategic discord
through polyphony? 2007). The relation between the columns, especially
the last two, is typically explored through various understandings of ambiguity
Types of Ambiguity, 1930). It might be argued that the relation
between initiatives associated with either of the first two columns is concerned
with "impact" on the other -- an unfortunate quasi-military metaphor (Enhancing
Sustainable Development Strategies through Avoidance of Military Metaphors,
of Strategic Bullets into Global Accomplishment: clues to a crowning initiative
based on effective partnerships, 2009)
Whilst the limited numeracy of some
indigenous tribes is deprecated ("one", "two", "many"),
the future may be equally scathing in its regard for such an obsessive binary
strategic focus at the present time. There tends to be an experiential progression
from the first column (identification with A),
to the encounter with another (not-A), to an understanding
of the co-existence of both (A
and not-A), to
a recognition of significance beyond either (neither
A nor not-A). This then, through a form of imprinting,
is reframed as "A" -- at a higher level of
abstraction -- as yet unchallenged by the potential emergence of a "not-A".
Again this highlights the merits of the "unsaying" of apophatic
As discussed with respect to happiness
and Unhappiness through Naysign and Nescience: comprehending the essence
of sustainability? 2008), it is possibly the cyclic configuration
of the four columns that is significant to the dynamics of learning under
complex conditions, especially over a more extended period of time. This
would seem to involve a process of enantiodromia, namely cyclic transformation
through the opposite (Psychosocial
Energy from Polarization within a Cyclic Pattern of Enantiodromia,
2007; Patterns of Alternation: toward an enantiomorphic