24 May 2009
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
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
-- Memory aids (mnemonics)
-- Dialogue, argument and issue mapping
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
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
in policy proposals and in determining the future: "vision of the
"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",
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,
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
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
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
"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
It is of course intriguing that the organizers of the Washington event have
declared their intention to structure it in the light of
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
a Singular Global Threat -- Terrorism: strategy of choice for world governance,
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
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
-- 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
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
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:
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
must engender and sustain the dynamic of mobilization. This is a
very conventional military framing, especially through borrowing the mobilization
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
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
Change: we need the 'Canute factor', OneClimate.net, 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
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,
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:
- 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.
- 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).
- 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 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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:
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?
- 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
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
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.
- 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.
- 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,
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.
- scientifically, it is an instrument for gaining insight and developing
bodily intuition about environments into which the body cannot venture:
abstract, higher-dimensional information spaces, the worlds of the very
small or very large, and the realms of the very fast or very slow, in fields
ranging from nanotechnology to theoretical physics, from proteomics to
cosmology, from neurophysiology to the spaces of consciousness, and from
new materials to new media.
- artistically, the AlloSphere is an instrument for the creation and performance
of avant-garde new works and the development of entirely new modes and
genres of expression and forms of immersion-based entertainment, fusing
future art, architecture, music, media, games, cinema, and more.
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
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
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,
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,
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
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:
- It may most easily appeal primarily to a North American audience
as a prolongation of the hope raised by the election of Barack Obama. This
would then raise questions as to its capacity to address global challenges
other than through an American lens. The danger is that
this lens is then assumed to be adequate, having been formed by a world
superpower, which may for the moment still be the greatest.
- It may seek to incorporate
other voices from elsewhere. This would then raise questions as to the
legitimacy of those voices and the suspicion that they have been selected
for their sympathy with an American worldview and the assumption that
this is a truly global worldview.
- It may seek to incorporate those who disagree with the consensus it is
hoped to promote with regard to the priority issue and the mobilization
of all perceived as relevant. The challenge would then be how any such
"incorporation" would be achieved, given the poor track record in eliciting
coherence, rather than consensus, under such circumstances
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
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
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,
into, or through, the Mirror: embodying alternative scenario patterns,
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
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.