Challenges to Comprehension Implied by the Logo
of Laetus in Praesens
University of Earth Alternative view of segmented documents via Kairos

24 May 2009 | Draft

State of the 'World Forum' vs 'State of the World' Forum

Challenge of reflexivity

- / -

A forum on the "State of the World"?
The state of a "World Forum"?
Substantive framing: "climate change" as a surrogate challenge?
Political framing: "State of the World" vs "World State"?
"State" vs "Mobilizing"?
Global Solutions Wiki
Opportunities at the Forum (Washington, 2009)
-- Engaging rather than Mobilizing | Complex system dynamics
-- Memory aids (mnemonics) | Metaphorical enrichment
-- Dialogue, argument and issue mapping | Evaluation and monitoring

Annex to Engendering the Future through Self-reflexive Group Initiatives (2008)


This is an exploration of the implication of a renewed session of the State of the World Forum (Washington, 28 February -- 3 March 2010) following an earlier session (New York, 2000).

A forum on the "State of the World"?

It is strange at this time of considerable social turbulence (even psycho-social turbulence), with more widely expected, to endeavour to frame the challenge in terms of determining the "state" of the world. Does this framing reflect the death pangs of an understanding of society characterized by "states" which have been remarkable in their inability to get their act together in any coherent response to the challenge of a dynamic, if not chaotic future?

Is the ambition to render "static" this dynamic? Surely not to engender "stasis" or even to ensure the "status quo"? These continue to be the ambition of those seeking variously to impose a simplistic understanding of order on the global system, one derived from their particular worldview. Indeed, due to the number of constituencies with this ambition -- each with its own understanding of viable, appropriate order -- it is the conflict between their understandings that is partly responsible for the dysfunctional global dynamics inhibiting the emergence of new forms of coherence.

Of course it remains appropriate to take a "snapshot" of the world at a particular moment, to freeze a moment of history for future reference when time has moved on. There are many such snapshots -- grasping desperately to seize the moment. Where are they stored? Who remembers them? How are they "con-figured" and "re-membered" so as to facilitate a coherent sense of the flow with which it is so much more challenging to engage?

Will the Forum render credible the insights of the complexity sciences into the nature of coherence within apparent chaos? How will this be achieved in the face of continuing preference for simple framings of appropriate order -- more readily accessible to comprehension? Are such preferences not well-reflected in the dysfunctional patterns of the past, caricatured by the statement "wrong"

Given the challenge to comprehension from different perspective -- necessarily limited -- how can the variety of such simpler understandings be integrated into a more comprehensive framework? What then of the dilemma that requisite complexity may be inherently incomprehensible by normal processes of understanding? Are people then called upon to have "faith" in those who claim such understanding -- despite the manner in which such faith has been abused, only too recently (Abuse of Faith in Governance: mystery of the unasked question, 2009)?

One of the constraints on richer understanding is that considerable emphasis is typically placed on how a "state" may be envisaged, "described" or "seen". This follows the widespread preference for metaphors of "vision" in policy proposals and in determining the future: "vision of the future", "perspective", "focus" and the like. It is a billboard portrayal of the "state of the world" and its future -- perhaps enhanced by a view through Windows and PowerPoint, or even more sophisticated visualizations.

This particular sense commitment raises the question as to why so many species survive turbulent environments through their dependence on other senses, and on a mix of such senses as appropriate. To what extent are other senses appropriate to comprehension of the "state of the world" but especially of its dynamics and how to navigate them? (cf Strategic Challenge of Polysensorial Knowledge: bringing the "elephant" into "focus", 2008 ).

It is curious, for example, that huge reliance is made in any forum on the spoken word. This may be recorded in text or video format. Presumably an effort will be made to convey the "state of the world" by such means at the forthcoming forum, notably by webcast technology and other use of web technology. But the curious features are the assumptions regarding how this serial linearity is intended to enable a coherent understanding of that global "state" or of any implicit "dynamic" (Engaging with Globality -- through cognitive lines, circlets, crowns or holes, 2009). Will dramatic graphs, pointing to future catastrophe, do it -- where those for the Club of Rome failed to do it in 1972? Will it be succinct warning "statements" -- alarm bells?

How would such messages be received and what would it enable whom to do? Where is the Emergency Exit to which people are expected to rush for safety? Have there not been many such alarms in the past? The deprecation down the years of the warnings of the Club of Rome have recently been analyzed (Graham Turner, A Comparison of the Limits to Growth with Thirty Years of Reality, CSIRO 2007). Given the number of conflicting warnings, is the world now best described as being in a "state" analogous to that portrayed in the classic tale of the Little Boy Who Cried Wolf (cf Entangled Tales of Memetic Disaster: mutual implication of the Emperor and the Little Boy, 2009).

But, beyond warning signals and guidance offered through the senses, is the complexity of a "dynamic" (in contrast with a "state") such that there is a need to engage with it otherwise -- in effect cognitively to embody it? How is the world to be appropriately "embodied"?

Curiously, implicit in terms such as "forum", "gathering", "conference" and "congress", is a process of bringing together. This is effectively a "re-membering" of what it is sensed should be embodied. Even "summit" suggests a peak experience of some kind, implied by such a configuration.

The state of a "World Forum"?

The State of the World Forum of 2009, follows that of 2000. There have been many other forums since then, most notably the World Economic Forum whose uncritical promotion of globalization enabled the financial crisis of 2008, and the "complementary" World Social Forum that indicated "We told you so" in 2009.

In management schools, considerable emphasis is placed on "case studies" of corporate successes and failures. They are seen as a major source of learning for future entrepreneurs and managers. Curiously it is very difficult to trace analogous well-structured documents regarding any "world forum" in order to enable improved design of such events in the future (Case Studies in Planetary Management, 1969). In this sense world forums are not considered to be a source of insight into their own improvement, whatever the recommendations they may offer for redesigning the future of the world.

In considering the State of the World Forum of 2009, the appropriate question is then how will its structure and dynamics differ from that of the previous event in 2000 Where is the evaluation of the 2000 event against which such improvements are to be assessed? What are now recognized to be the weaknesses of the 2000 event and how are they to be surmounted on this occasion?

The general challenge for all such events is whether they have proven adequate to the expectations projected onto them that elicited participation. Use is occasionally made of participant evaluation questionnaires at the close. Curiously it is typically unclear how these have been processed and what learnings were derived from them. Is this as true for the World Social Forum as for the State of the World Forum? More challenging is the inability of any "world forum" to interact effectively and fruitfully with any other such forum with regard to "global" issues, presumably of common concern. This has been the subject of a separate exploration (All Blacks of Davos vs All Greens of Porto Alegre: reframing global strategic discord through polyphony? 2007). What "voice" will the State of the World Forum contribute to that polyphony?

Any World Forum thus now runs the considerable danger of being an exercise in "hope-mongering" (Credibility Crunch engendered by Hope-mongering: "credit crunch" focus as symptom of a dangerous mindset, 2009; Naomi Klein (Hopebroken and hopesick: Obama fans need a new start, The Guardian, 17 April 2009). This is especially problematic in a period when there is considerable social unrest relating to abuse of faith in many forms of "governance" (Abuse of Faith in Governance: mystery of the unasked question, 2009). Are the world forums of activists and the well-intentioned any different in this respect than those of the United Nations or the G20?

It is of course the case that the threshold of expectations, for those who have intended a number of such events, is relatively low. It may be claimed to have been "worthwhile" on the strength of making a few new contacts and eliciting a few "commitments". But, again, how are the benefits of the Earth Summit (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), or its follow-up Rio+10 (Johannesburg, 2002), now to be evaluated -- especially in anticipation of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (Copenhagen, December 2009), framed as vitally significant for the future of the planet? Are there any case studies of those two events that have been used to guide the design of the Copenhagen event?

Following from the arguments with respect to the "State of the World", is it fruitful in the light of these events to reflect on the "state" of the proposed World Forum. Building on the experience of 2000, is it in a healthy "state"? But is this precisely the wrong question when its "dynamic" is what is so vital? Many complex international gatherings rely on a programme structure -- a grid of scheduled events, whether consecutive or parallel. These reflect little understanding of any dynamic, or what might make a dynamic fruitful, whatever that might be intended or need to mean to move beyond preceding states.

It is of course intriguing that the organizers of the Washington event have declared their intention to structure it in the light of the integral framework developed by the Integral Movement initiated by Ken Wilber. As a deeply thought out model, combining his AQAL framework with Spiral Dynamics, this suggests great possibility. However it is faced with the major difficulty that, in being based on an understanding of personal development, participants (or the groups they represent) must necessarily be understood as particularly "positioned" within that framework -- whether or not they "develop" to another during the event. It also implies that some have the capacity to understand more than others and therefore can contribute with more authority. Unfortunately there is very little trace of previous applications of this framework to international gatherings of people with different understandings of the "state of the world".

The integral framework does not clarify how people characterized by such differences can engage "dynamically" with one another -- surely the fundamental problem for a global society at this time. Many participants may not appreciate being framed "statically" in this way. The Integral Movement is much-challenged by those who do not subscribe to its framing. As with many worldviews, the challenge is how to engage with the "unbelievers" -- especially if they hold firmly to some alternative perspective which they enthusiastically promote as the solution to everyone's problem. Is this not the essential challenge of the State of the World Forum?

Substantive framing: "climate change" as a surrogate challenge?

The theme of the 2009 Forum is Mobilizing to Save Civilization: a ten year plan to address climate change. This is of course consistent with a mainstream view -- a consensus whose emergence has been a struggle over very recent years. Within the framework of 2009, it is of course appropriate.

The problem with this framing is that it is essentially static. It ignores the existence of problems cited as the most important facing civilization very few years ago -- such as terrorism, scheduled to be a primary concern in the multi-generational "war on terror". It ignores the possibility of problems whose impact may prove more disastrous long before those of climate change -- such as food shortage, water shortage or pandemics, or even the current economic crisis. It ignores the possibility of other as yet unforeseen challenges for which a degree of vigilance is more than appropriate -- how significant was "climate change" five years ago? It ignores the possibility of a combination of such challenges -- a "crisis of crises". In effect it is neatly framed as a readily comprehensible, one-problem challenge, appropriate to a favoured style of governance, as previously argued (Promoting a Singular Global Threat -- Terrorism: strategy of choice for world governance, 2002).

The case has long been made, notably by the Club of Rome in its report on Limits to Growth (1972), that the challenge for civilization is a complex dynamic of problems -- a world problematique. Successive editions of the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential have profiled and interrelated some 56,564 such problems, variously recognized by different constituencies. Within that context, "climate change" can perhaps best be seen as the "flavour of the year" -- if it is not displaced before then. It is not a question of a single problem but of a system, or an ecology, of interacting problems. The challenge is a complex systemic challenge.

It might be said that there are two interlinked dynamics, that of the crises rising or falling in importance and impact (in their own right), and that of the rising and falling collective appreciation of their importance. The latter dynamic may be seen in terms of successive waves of recognition of "the" major problem against which global mobilization is called for in order to "save civilization". This is discussed separately (Considering All the Strategic Options: whilst ignoring alternatives and disclaiming cognitive protectionism, 2009).

The case of "climate change" is especially interesting at this time because the manner in which it is framed may be understood as a means of obscuring even more inconvenient truths. It is itself a metaphor, as exploited to explain the financial crisis (Climate Change as a Metaphor of Social Change: systemic implications of emissions, ozone, sunlight, greenhouse and overheating, 2008; Climate of Change Misrepresented as Climate Change: insights from metaphorical confusion, 2008). As such climate change may be used to identify the nature of the underlying challenge (Systemic Crises as Keys to Systemic Remedies: a metaphorical Rosetta Stone for future strategy? 2008). However, it in itself a surrogate problem.

Perhaps more ironic is the recent emergence of a challenge which has effectively displaced "climate change" as a priority, namely the financial crisis of 2009 and its consequences. Ironically, in the desperate search for whom to blame for this crisis, recourse has been had to metaphors associated with climatic change and the natural disasters to which it is expected to give rise: "hurricane", "storm", "tsunami", "landslide", etc. The irony is greater since the financial crisis is clearly the consequence of human activity. But the exculpatory metaphors imply that it is a systemic "Act of God" -- whereas it has been vigorously claimed by some that climate change is not.

A strong case can be made that the focus on "climate change" is a device for avoidance of any consideration of the challenge of unchecked population growth that is driving it -- as the more fundamental inconvenient truth (Climate Change and the Elephant in the Living Room, 2008; Institutionalized Shunning of Overpopulation Challenge: incommunicability of fundamentally inconvenient truth, 2008). No matter the degree of success in mitigating climate change in the short term, such growth will rapidly undermine any such achievement and ensure that other shortages render climate change a secondary problem (John L. Farrands, Challenge of Overpopulation Now for some real problems -- Don't Panic, PANIC, 1993).

Political framing: "State of the World" vs "World State"?

Subsequent to the previous State of the World Forum, and the aftermath of 9/11, a book was produced by the President of the Forum, Jim Garrison (America as Empire: Global Leader or Rogue Power? 2004) whose argument he had summarized in 2003 as:

If 9/11 reframed everything within the context of national security and the war on terrorism, the invasion of Iraq will recontextualize the world yet again within the new reality of overwhelming U.S. power in the world. The U.S. is choosing to do this by seizing the most strategic point in the Middle East, possibly in the entire world. .... For the United States to take control of this region at America's moment of power is profound. It will be seizing the most sacred and fought over soil in the history of the world.

A strong U.S. presence along the Tigris Euphrates will make starkly clear that history has moved from an era of multipolarity, where there is a balance of power between nations, to a unipolar world, in which the Untied States holds global dominion. The consequences of this will be enormous and will raise many questions, one of the most profound of which is how the U.S. intends to act in the new unipolar world....

With Iraq, a new America will emerge on the world stage. Let it be as much a builder of democracy as destroyer of terrorism, as much about light as it will be about power. [more]

This summary announced the book without its final subtitle -- whose necessity may have only subsequently become apparent.

The question five years later, and with the emergence of climate change, is how the power and role of the American Empire is to be understood -- whether or not any such understanding will be sustainable over the next five years. One year ago, US car makers had not been transformed into basketcases. The implications of the neocon agenda for the 21st century, driving USA policy through 2008 (Project for the New American Century (PNAC)), have now been more widely understood worldwide -- well-symbolized by the images from Abu Ghraib, the legality of Guantanamo Bay, and promotion of "enhanced interrogation". For many the "rogue power" portion of Garrison's subtitle became only too evident (America as Eve-ill Empire and the Evocation of Authenticity Elsewhere: global emergence of transcendental meaning in a world of monopolar materialism, 2003).

The question might then be reframed in terms of whether assumptions regarding a "State of the World" Forum have nevertheless, for some, been transformed into those sustaining a "World State" Forum. It is intriguing that the political experiments at coherence have given rise to a "United States" and a "United Nations" -- both of which are much challenged in responding effectively to the emerging strategic crises. In any simplistic pursuit of greater coherence, the challenge would be to remove the plurality of "Nations" and "States" -- in order to create a "State of the World", namely a "World State".

Any such agenda requires some attention to what is to be done with plurality and diversity, whether or not it takes the more ordered form of multipolarity. How simple could a "World State" be made to be -- in the light of the experience of the European Community and its current envisaged extension? An alternative proposed to the PNAC agenda has been the Concert of Democracies (or League of Democracies). This retains a notion of plurality but emphasizes a higher degree of consensus. However, as currently conceived, the "concert" derives from "concerted" (presumably as imposed by a "conductor") and not from an enlightened association with the harmony of symphonic music. Is a viable ecosystem to be fruitfully understood as a harmony of species or an exercise in agribusiness?

Again the challenge is in the use of the term "state" and its "static" implication for any "world state".

"State" vs "Mobilizing"?

As noted above, the theme of the 2009 Forum is Mobilizing to Save Civilization: a ten year plan to address climate change.

There is a curious interplay between static and dynamic in the Forum's theme, perhaps usefully summarized as follows:

. Static Dynamic
Actor/Action State (Forum) Mobilizing (Saving)
Strategy/Challenge Plan Change

As suggested above, there is a sense in which the prime actor (whether the state, the international community, or some coalition of forces) is somehow itself static (as with "civilization"?), but that in order to maintain the status quo it must engender and sustain the dynamic of mobilization. This is a very conventional military framing, especially through borrowing the mobilization metaphor (Enhancing Sustainable Development Strategies through Avoidance of Military Metaphors, 1998). Given the questionable track record of the United Nations and its Specialized Agencies in mobilizing public opinion over decades in response to various challenges, it is appropriate to challenge this framing (Mobilization for Alienation vs. Catalysis for Participation the critical choice for the United Nations system, 1973). Furthermore, as the whole history of guerilla warfare has illustrated, it is unclear that a conventional form of order can appropriately respond to the strategic nimbleness of an inherently flexible opponent.

The challenge with the "mobilization" framing, even in a military case, is that its success is only partial beyond a certain threshold. The problem for the USA of ensuring conscripts for the current conflicts, makes the point evident. The challenge is presumably greater in the case of the many "virtual wars", of which the "war against climate change" is but one (Review of the Range of Virtual Wars: a strategic comparison with the global war against terrorism, 2005).

Paradoxically, the second row of the table relates to a 10-year static "plan" understood to be an appropriate response to (climate) "change". Again this would appear to be contrary to the need to shift out of a mode of thinking which might be said to be "dimensionally challenged" and extremely vulnerable to political whims, as indicated by the fate of many "10-year" plans. Current approaches to halting climate change, especially rising sea levels, have already been variously compared to the legendary tale of King Canute commanding the seas to go back (Coastal erosion: the wisdom of Canute, The Economist, 22 May 2008; Restoring the Wild Coast of King Canute, Innovations Report, 8 October 2007; Climate Change: we need the 'Canute factor',, 11 February 2008; Paul Newby, Climate change, sea level, King Canute and the sacred flame, The Photogrammetric Record, 22, 2007, 117, pp. 3-9; Paul Brown, Canute's tidal warning finally sinks in, The Guardian, 25 January 2003).

Plans are effectively 2-dimensional, notably as articulated through spreadsheets. Dynamics (notably of the meteorological variety) are typically 4-dimensional and readily circumvent the 2-dimensional, as explored separately (Metaphorical Geometry in Quest of Globality, 2009; Engaging with Globality -- through cognitive lines, circlets, crowns or holes, 2009).

Global Solutions Wiki

On the site of the State of the World Forum, a case is made at some length for a Global Solutions for Global Challenges: a proposed International Consultation and Global Solutions Wiki. The articulation could be understood as one indicator of the psycho-social "state" of the World Forum. The proposal calls for the following comments:

  1. There is indeed a strong case to be made for a Wiki-solutions, or a Wiki-strategies, in the light of the success of Wikipedia. One proposal, additionally addressing the challenge of memorability through song, had previously been made in Participative Development Process for Singable Declarations: applying the Wikipedia-Wikimedia-WikiMusic concept to constitutions (2006). Arguably "strategies" encompasses advocated approaches and possibilities without necessarily predicting closure on "solutions" -- or implying any guarantee that they will solve the problem at which they are directed.

  2. A significant challenge in relation to any "strategies/solutions" approach, is that every solution advocated or implemented can be seen as a problem in its own right from some other perspective, or can give rise to problems or aggravate existing problems. It cannot be assumed that solutions are free of problematic outcomes. Making that assumption would be indicative of a very optimistic mindset unfamiliar with the complexity of which it is necessary to be aware if matters are not to be made worse. Of course many geo-engineering proposals in response to climate change are currently made on the basis of just such assumptions (Geo-engineering Oversight Agency for Thermal Stabilization (GOATS), 2008).

  3. The proposal appropriately points to various precedents in order to position its focus. Curiously, although noting various recent sector-specific UN initiatives covering a handful of issues, it fails to note longer-term initiatives such as that of the Global Strategies Project providing online profiles of 32,547 strategies and solutions (with 284,382 links) advocated by international constituencies (singly or in collaboration). The background section of the extensive commentary on that initiative identifies a number of other endeavours -- including those at the local level (used to enrich the profiles). These profiles are systematically linked to those of the corresponding database of the World Problems Project providing online profiles on 56,564 issues (with 276,791 links). Profiles in both databases are linked to those on 62,463 international organizations (with 952,987 links) -- the "international constituencies" (including UN bodies) whose documents were consulted to elaborate the profiles in all the databases. The problems and strategies databases form part of the online Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential, first published in hardcopy form in 1976, funded privately and latterly by the European Commission.

  4. Irrespective of the failure by the researchers of the State of the World Forum to detect the above initiatives, it might be asked whether this was an indication of a questionable framing of a needed Wiki-solutions. Is it the case that it is conceived in the light of the current framing of climate change being the "most urgent problem facing humanity" -- all other issues then to be treated as secondary or irrelevant, irrespective of their importance to particular international constituencies, or peasants short of water? What does this imply about the constraints on the "global" framing of the proposal? Is this an indication of some dangerous form of tunnel vision or silo thinking?

  5. The proposal rightly points to the challenges of enabling and filtering input, especially delicate in relation to strategies which arouse considerable ideological and other objections. The Wikipedia project has considerable experience of the challenges this poses with respect to much less problematic material. However the challenge remains as to who has the right to input and edit "solutions" and who has the right to mark them for deletion, as in the Wikipedia process? Furthermore with what transparency is this done and to what extent do profiles have to be "protected" on a daily basis against problematic revisions? A case study of such Wikipedia handling of biographic profiles, argued that unidentified editors could effectively act unchecked like the religious police of sharia law. The methodology of the above databases is instructive on many of these challenges.

  6. The proposal indicates that "We" (presumably the State of the World Forum) are currently in the formative stages of 'the largest social movement in history'. It states:
    • This is reflected in the 'one -- and maybe two -- million organizations' working on ecological degradation, climate change, and 'social justice' issues around the world as well as the roughly 30% -- 35% of the populations in the US, Europe, Canada and Japan which may be categorized as Cultural Creatives. This new and emerging population is 'paying close attention to world events and global trends' and is also 'fed up with politics and politicians.'...  as many as 60 million adults in the US alone.
    • This massive 'social movement' does not currently 'match the scale of the problems' we are currently confronting and it has not been 'mobilized into a cohesive political force' or a 'united front that can counter the massive scale and power of the global corporations and lobbyists that protect the status quo.'  In addition, the immediacy and urgency of the challenges we face suggest that we must act quickly and together and now if we are to ameliorate rapidly deteriorating conditions. 
    The intention is apparently to ensure the mobilization of the organizations and the cultural creatives, through the initiatives of the State of the World Forum. Curiously the proposal takes no account of past endeavours with similar aspirations regarding issues such as peace, environment, development, and the like -- or even of the World Social Forum. Arguably there are learnings from such initiatives. Have they been considered?

    Briefly put, why does the set of organizations in any such case not respond coherently to calls for mobilization in support of any defined initiative or strategic priorities? (cf Collective Learning from Calls for Global Action, 1981; Cooperation and its Failures (from the 1960s through the 1980s): 12 metaphors towards understanding the dilemma of the 1990s, 1989). Perhaps more striking is the case of the "cultural creatives". The proposal fails to recognize that labelling a category, such as cultural creative, does not automatically signify that those so identified::
    • identify with the label
    • respond to calls framed in terms of the label
    • are amenable to being directed or orchestrated by those formulating or using the label

    The challenge in practice might be compared to that of "herding cats". It is a feature of that profile that cultural creatives have an unpredictable take on conventional presentations of challenges and proposals for action. It is also significant that there are few examples of gatherings of a representative range of disparate cultural creatives which can be said to have engendered new insight or new action -- in which they have then collectively engaged. In fact many avoid dialogue with each other -- a principal reason for the multiplicity of organizations they individual inspire.

    Many international initiatives might well be considered as memorials to individual cultural creatives and their disciples -- and to the outcome of bitter "turf wars" (possibly as bitter as those of the Middle East). Any new efforts at their "mobilization" needs careful attention. As cultural creatives they may well have a radically different view of priorities and be resistant to questionable declarations that climate change is the most important challenge facing humanity. From their perspective any such declaration recalls the purported dangers of the weapons of mass destruction purportedly held by Iraq (as affirmed to the UN Security Council) -- back when the USA aspired to imperial leadership.

  7. Any focus on a particular (elite) group and a multiplicity of associations (deemed relevant) raises a major issue regarding those who do not buy into that framing or those initiatives, and do not act according to the requirements of any "mobilization". The issue is that of the "left behind". Whilst they may indeed appear, from one perspective, to be irrelevant to the challenge of "saving civilization", many are unlikely to be passive, will have other agendas, and may actively resist being "targeted" in any way by those who have been successfully mobilized -- even if such targeting is framed as "saving their souls", as in the past.

  8. The particular framing by the State of the World Forum of the valuable initiative towards a Wiki-Solutions of some kind is unfortunate. It runs the risk of duplicating or undermining other efforts. Other initiatives will be developed to compensate for its inadequacies, selectivity and blindspots -- whether or not they are recognized. More curious however is the seeming transition from a focus on "America as Empire", as envisaged some years ago, to one where the imperial ambition, of American cultural inspiration, relates to millions of associations with "relevant" objectives and to a particular understanding of "cultural creatives". There is considerable experience of this pattern in a number of sectors. Some even have a century of experience of the pattern (Celebrating an Institutional Century of the UIA, 1907-2007). It cannot be said to have worked and typically engenders alternative initiatives by those considered irrelevant or who design themselves out. The State of the World Forum should learn from this or be condemned to repeat history.

Opportunities at the Forum (Washington, 2009)

In the light of the above comments, some specific suggestions are made below as opportunities for consideration in connection with the process of the State of the World Forum.

Engaging rather than Mobilizing: Briefly put the nature of the challenge suggests that the directive implications of "mobilization" are inappropriate to engaging and holding the attention of the many who might fruitfully focus on the climate change challenge as it is currently framed. Mobilization may succeed with some, for a period, but it is engendering a process experienced as engaging that has the potential for the necessary multiplier effects over the longer term. The question is what "engaging" might mean. One possible approach focuses on use of online gaming (Playfully Changing the Prevailing Climate of Opinion: climate change as focal metaphor of effective global governance, 2005). Another approach might explore the implications of psychoactive engagement in structures of values and groups, again benefitting from online media (Topology of Valuing: psychodynamics of collective engagement with polyhedral value configurations, 2008; In Quest of a Strategic Pattern Language: a new architecture of values, 2008)

Complex system dynamics: It would appear to be vital to enable people to navigate out of modes of comprehension characteristic by the simplistic strategic initiatives of the past, especially in order to respond to the complex dynamics of the climate and the challenges exacerbating its effects. One approach to this is illustrated by the AlloSphere Research Facility at the California NanoSystems Institute (University of California, Santa Barbara). This is an " all-round" 30-foot diameter sphere built inside a 3-story near-to-anechoic cube, allowing for synthesis, manipulation, exploration and analysis of large-scale data sets in an environment that can simulate virtually real sensorial perception. It is an instrument similar to the telescope, in that it will enable scientists to see data in new ways that provoke insight. "Synthesis" might then be understood as an effective psychoactive engagement with otherness.
It is also like a violin or a symphony orchestra - an instrument to compose for and to play.

The challenge might also be framed as one of interrelating the problematique associated with climate change, the resolutique in response to it, the game-playing (irresolutique) by which effective convergence will be avoided, and the imaginatique by which these may be reframed -- expressed schematically in Imagining the Real Challenge and Realizing the Imaginal Pathway of Sustainable Transformation (2007).

Memory aids (mnemonics): Faced with complex dynamics, inconvenient truths, and the need for complex responses, there is a major challenge of comprehension to avoid falling into the trap of oversimplification. There is a need for discovering memory aids applicable to psychological engagement with climate change (In Quest of Mnemonic Catalysts -- for comprehension of complex psychosocial dynamics, 2007). Especially interesting is the possibility of embodying the climate change challenge into song -- and articulating the elements of any strategy (or "plan") to respond to it in song, as argued separately (A Singable Earth Charter, EU Constitution or Global Ethic? 2006). A notably example on the "microscopic" scale is Harold Baum's The Biochemists' Song Book (1982/2003). This presents information on the complexities of interweaving metabolic pathways, set to well known songs, as an enjoyable memory aid. Arguably the same could be done for the challenges on a "macroscopic" scale. Essentially if the outcome of the State of the World Forum is not singable, it is unlikely that it will be memorable to many -- as has proved to be the case with respect to the outcomes of the various Earth Summits. Eliciting such songs can of course be done competitively. It is, for examp0le, ironic that the European Commission does not elicit songs to engage apathetic Europeans in its agenda -- given the existence of the Eurovision Song Contest and its participative audience of 100 million.

Metaphorical enrichment: Arguably global strategies of any kind suffer painfully from metaphoric impoverishment (In Quest of Uncommon Ground: beyond impoverished metaphor and the impotence of words of power, 1997; Imaginal deficiency in management and policy making, 1995). This is highlighted in the simplistic metaphors of "pillars", "stakeholders", "sides" by various institutional initiatives (Towards Polyhedral Global Governance: complexifying oversimplistic strategic metaphors, 2008; Coherent Value Frameworks: pillar-ization, polarization and polyhedral frames of reference, 2008). A specific challenge for the Forum might be be to identify more powerful metaphors to enable more coherent dialogue between the intransigent (Guidelines towards Dialogue through Metaphor, 1993).

Dialogue, argument and issue mapping: There will be many different uses of facilitation at the State of the World Forum. There is a strong case for endeavouring systematically to capture insights in comprehensive maps which can be placed on the web or taken as hardcopy by participants. There are many approaches to this, as discussed separately (Complementary Knowledge Analysis / Mapping Process, 2006). Mapping may be done as part of any facilitation process in a given session, or independently of it to integrate insights across sessions. Ideally the points made in any panel session would gradually build a map, or build on a pre-existing map, allowing panelists and participants to talk to the map and enhance or correct it. As a network Global Sensemaking is especially sensitive to the range of such possibilities, notably with respect to argument mapping. and the "tools for dialogue and deliberation on wicked problems".

Evaluation and monitoring: There is a strong case for ongoing monitoring of the Forum event, with as much transparency as possible. This can be done by one or more groups, whether academic or otherwise. The simple argument for such monitoring is that if participants, including speakers, are in any way alienated by its processes and focus, this is likely to be symptomatic of analogous alienation on a much larger scale -- if the mindset is used to engender activity on a global scale.


The forthcoming State of the World Forum faces a dilemma in positioning itself and its appeal:

As an essentially American initiative, inspired by its cultural creatives, the challenge of this dilemma may be ignored by seeking to forget the past, "draw a line" and "move on". Despite vociferous claims to have seen the light, and with many as yet unresolved issues, others may not be so sure that the "leopard has changed its spots" as in the Biblical challenge of Jeremiah 13:23: "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.".

Having survived a period in which many problematic things have been done by the USA, justified by defence of its "national security" in the light of "ticking bomb" scenarios, it might be asked what excesses will be considered justified from such a mindset in response to "global security" -- namely to "save civilization". A comparison with Aztec human sacrifice, performed on a massive scale to save their civilization, is not inappropriate. What kinds of sacrifice will be considered appropriate to save global civilization -- with climate change as a ticking bomb?

Depending on the genuine ambition of the event, there would appear to be a strong case for learning more carefully from events and initiatives of analogous ambition in the past. Failure to do so may well result in the event being of greatest significance as a salutary lesson to future initiatives -- as might be said of past initiatives. Ironically the "inconvenient truth" is that there is a marked tendency to avoid learning from the past and perpetuating its mistakes into the future.

Other than reference to the integral framework, there is as yet little indication whether the event will be able to escape the trap of the conventional mindset within which gatherings of such scope have long been organized -- notably in North America. It is unclear how multicultural challenges will be handled -- irrespective of the linguistic challenges of a genuinely global gathering. In the absence of reference to a new dynamic for such an event, there is little sense of how it will itself exemplify the change required for the future, rather than constituting a conventional platform from which speakers will lecture on the possibility of doing so, with claims to having done so.

Such concerns are consistent with the challenge of responding to the dynamics of complexity and turbulence with forms of knowledge, organization and governance that are themselves of requisite complexity -- in contrast to the relatively simplistic modes that are most readily used and understood. This raises the question of the nature of higher orders of coherence and the manner in which they can be embodied in initiatives like the State of the World Forum (cf Consciously Self-reflexive Global Initiatives: Renaissance zones, complex adaptive systems, and third order organizations, 2007; Engendering the Future through Self-reflexive Group Initiatives, 2008).

Such complexity has cognitive implications for the manner in which people are able to engage with a turbulent global future -- with respect to climate change or otherwise -- that to an important extent mirrors their own understanding and empowerment (Engaging with Globality through Knowing Thyself: embodying engagement with otherness, 2009; My Reflecting Mirror World: making my World Summit on Sustainable Development worthwhile, 2002; Stepping into, or through, the Mirror: embodying alternative scenario patterns, 2008).

Such reflexivity, mirroring and embodiment has been emphasized by the play on punctuation in the title of this exploration:

State of the "World Forum" vs "State of the World" Forum

A conscious mirroring of these alternatives is consistent with the insight of Gregory Bateson that "we are our own metaphor" (as cited by Mary Catherine Bateson, Our Own Metaphor; a personal account of a conference on the effects of conscious purpose on human adaptation, 1972). The challenge for the Forum is then to embody a "change of climate" within its own processes, as argued with respect to a previous event (Gardening Sustainable Psycommunities: recognizing the psycho-social integrities of the future, 1995). The integral framework may indeed enable this.

Within such a framework of "knowing thyself", the event might fruitfully recognize tendencies to denial and avoidance which the process of recognition of climate change has made apparent. The question is whether there are more fundamental inconvenient truths which it would be irresponsible for the State of the World Forum not to acknowledge -- especially if they constitute unchecked drivers for climate change. As argued above, no matter the degree of success in mitigating climate change in the short term, the more fundamental process of population growth will rapidly undermine any such achievement and ensure that other shortages render climate change a secondary problem.

creative commons license
this work is licenced under a creative commons licence.