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14th December 2003 | Draft

Global Strategic Implications of the "Unsaid"

From myth-making towards a "wisdom society"

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The Varieties of the "unsaid" in sustaining psycho-social community (and References) are presented separately as an Annex

Examples of the "unsaid"
Encompassing the "unsaid"

Annex: Varieties of the "unsaid" in sustaining psycho-social community



The increasingly globalized communication society is paradoxically characterized by an increasing number of topics on which little or nothing may be publicly said. Whilst many of these "zones of the unsaid" have existed in the past, their existence becomes all the more felt in an information-rich environment. They might be compared with the astronomical "black holes" which populate the galaxies.

The concern here is at what point an increase in the number of "zones of the unsaid" may completely undermine conventional hopes for global policy-making, world governance, and the implementation of strategic initiatives in response to global crises.

This concern builds on the experience of the author in profiling some 59,000 world problems (in the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential, 1995) -- as perceived by the network of 63,000 international organizations (identified in the Yearbook of International Organizations, 2003). Many of these problems have also been considered unmentionable in the past -- and may continue to remain so. Note that those considered unmentionable by one constituency may not be so for another.

The following text comprises three sections. The first offers some examples of the "unsaid". The second discusses possible opportunities for navigating a strategic-space with a relatively high density of the "unsaid" -- and the circumvention of its dysfunctional effects in a knowledge-based society. This is seen as the basis for transforming a society grounded on myth-making through the media into a "wisdom society". The annex provides clues to further reflection in the light of extensive web resources on the variety of forms of the "unsaid". The contextual challenge for a "knowledge society" has been articulated in an earlier paper (Coherent Policy-making Beyond the Information Barrier, 1999) based on an earlier exploration of Development beyond Science to Wisdom: Facilitating the emergence of configurative understanding in Councils of the Wise (1979).

Examples of the "unsaid"

Encompassing the "unsaid"

Regression to a mindset of myth


The mathematician Ron Atkin has addressed the issue of formally analyzing incommunicability in social contexts (1972, 1974, 1976, 1977) -- most accessibly in Multidimensional man: Can man live in 3-dimensional space? (1981). The relevance of these insights to an understanding of the psychology of operating in complex communication spaces, with much that is "unsaid", is given separately (see Comprehension: social organization determined by incommunicability of insights)

Negative capability

The poet John Keats articulated (in 1817) the concept of negative capability: "being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason". Robert French ('Negative Capability', 'Dispersal' and the Containment of Emotion) explains it in psychoanalytic terms as the quality of attention as:

This state of mind depends on our 'Negative Capability', that is, on our capacity for thinking and feeling, for learning and containment, for abstention and indifference. Without the quality of attention made possible by this 'capability', any amount of insight 'from a psychoanalytic perspective' is in danger of remaining irritatingly indigestible or aridly intellectual.

Global strategic implications

Coherent governance: At what stage does the coherence of the strategic and planning process of international, national and regional governance become critically lacking in credibility to those whose support is required? This stage might be termed the "Emperor's New Clothes Threshold".

Up to that point there is sufficient coherence to governance to sustain the credibility of an ideological line. Beyond it, the number of "zones of the unsaid" is so great that their overlap and fusion results in irreversible fragmentation of the social fabric and the processes of governance. The coherence of globality is lost -- there are too many holes, of too great a size, in the block of "gruyère" to sustain its integrity (see . Distant, and longer-term, perspectives become impossible. In astronomical terms again, the "dark matter" obscures the healthy viable processes. The "Dark Riders" are free to roam (see The "Dark Riders" of Social Change: a challenge for any Fellowship of the Ring. 2002).

Engendering authenticity: As argued elsewhere, Bush and Blair are to be praised for having given credibility to "regime change" -- even though they fail to recognize where it is needed most (see Crusading from Washing-Town to Bag-Dad: Pre-emptive regime change as the key to sustainable development, 2002). Like the suicide bombers, they might also be praised for having shifted the debate of the international community from decades of arid futility to a focus on existential and transcendental values -- even though their actions (as in Guantanamo Bay) belie their rhetoric. This focus will indeed give expression to some of the organic immediacy of the neglected mythic consciousness -- but without a need for bogeymen and evil spirits.

The irresponsibility and duplicity of their initiatives have indeed served to evoke an unprecedented degree of authenticity amongst thinking people worldwide (see Evoking Authenticity: through polyhedral global configuration of local paradoxes, 2003), heralding the emergence of a new humanity (see Authentic Grokking: Emergence of Homo conjugens, 2003). It is this which will provide the catalyst and template for a new style of global policy-making (see Coherent Policy-making Beyond the Information Barrier, 1999) inherently capable of discerning non-sequiturs in specious arguments and faulty chains of reasoning.

Reframing hegemony: The question is how is their disastrous hegemonic strategic initiative to be successfully reframed -- given the level of denial promoted by the world's only superpower (see also Strategic denial: reframing the unknown). For a surrealist inspired by the tale of the Emperor's New Clothes, the current imperial mindset would preferably be reframed and dissipated as the first genuinely global joke.

However, in the light of the highest insights of such as a Sufi or a master of eastern martial arts, the art may be to benefit from the engendered global mindset and frame it otherwise. By reintroducing a mythic dimension, the tendency to over-design and over-explicate a global strategy according to the sterile -- and unfruitful -- rational models of past decades may be avoided. The "unsaid" may thus be appropriately positioned at the centre of global strategic thinking -- rectifying the unfortunate effort to focus such thinking on a distorted exclusivist understanding of Christian values.

Configuring around the "unsaid": The coherence of the complementary global strategic initiatives of the future may then derive from their configuration in relation to the "unsaid". The functionality is admirably illustrated by an image from a classical Taoist poem:

Thirty spokes meet in the hub. Where the wheel isn't is where it's useful. Hollowed out, clay makes a pot. Where the pot's not is where it's useful. Cut doors and windows to make a room. Where the room isn't, there's room for you. So the profit in what is is in the use of what isn't. (Tao Te Ching interpretation by Ursula Le Guin)

Given the explicit importance of such poetry to the governance of the vast Chinese empires of the past, and the value of poetry to many western statesmen of recent centuries, there is a case for exploring the value of such insights to strategic thinking (see Poetry-making and Policy-making: Arranging a Marriage between Beauty and the Beast, 1993) in providing a new grounding for such strategic thinking (see Enhancing the Quality of Knowing through Integration of East-West metaphors, 2000).

A global approach, centred more insighttfully on the "unsayable", would then create a new framework to sustain the dialogue between those of radically different perspective -- the missing dialogue that is now being transformed into frustrated acts of indiscriminate suicidal violence and its indiscriminate violent suppression. This calls for recognition of a neglected understanding of "global" -- too easily framed in terms of movement of goods and services (see Future Generation through Global Conversation: in quest of collective well-being through conversation in the present moment, 1997).

Governance through metaphor: This further suggests that reflection on governance of the future "information society", or "knowledge society" -- supported by the future semantic web -- might fruitfully be framed in terms of enhancing the movement of meaning through metaphor. As discussed elsewhere, with respect to "governance through metaphor", governance then becomes fundamentally the process of ensuring the emergence and movement of such "guiding" metaphor-models through an information society, as well as their embodiment in organizational form (see Governance through enhancing the movement of meaning; and Being Other Wise Clues to the dynamics of a meaningfully sustainable lifestyle, 1998).

For Philippe Quéau (Growing the Global Good, 1998) as Director of UNESCO's Information and Informatics Division:

Global regulation is indeed needed in many areas as we have seen. But above all, we need to find a new meaning to our collective action. We need to formulate a higher and wiser vision of what we are aiming at, as citizens of our global society. We need new mental tools to help us think global. Too much data is just noise. Information is not knowledge and even less wisdom. We need meaning not just information tools. We need wisdom. Proliferation of information will not add one minute to a day. In the information overflow, we are not necessarily doing any better than before. On the contrary, we may simply lose touch with reality, and lose the human touch. Information flood is a serious challenge, requiring discipline, distance and scepticism. We will need cognitive skills of awareness, perception, reasoning, and common sense judgement.

Towards a "wisdom society": The contrast of such concerns with the current framing of the issues of the "information society" and e-governance as a transformation of the service model (see UN World Summit on the Information Society, 2003) -- even when extended to the development of collaborative knowledge-based or collective intelligence processes -- suggests the need to reflect on the nature of wisdom essential to governance, and the emergence of a "wisdom society". This has been variously envisaged by bodies such as the Institute of Noetic Sciences, the Co-Intelligence Institute, George Pór's Community Intelligence, or the Fetzer Collective Wisdom Initiative:

For Simon Longstaff (Wisdom-based Organisations, Australian Business Magazine, January 1995)

...I would respectfully suggest that the current enthusiasm for 'knowledge-based' companies may cloud our perception of an even more important development -- a development that is only just starting to stir the consciousness of the management community; a dawning realisation that the successful organisation of the future will need to be wisdom-based. By 'wisdom' I refer to a capacity to discern what is appropriate in a given situation; to see things as they really are; to make a true measure of people and events. Wise people are economical and accurate in their assessment of circumstances and are able to ensure that facts and processes are applied in ways relevant to the particular circumstances. Rather than being carried away by technique, those with wisdom exercise judgement based on a mixture of experience and mature reflection.

Organisations lacking wisdom are prone to a predictable range of ills. For example, they are easily seduced by the latest fad - applying novel management or production techniques without critically assessing their relevance. They are like people who combine intellectual brilliance with a complete lack of common sense. Blinded by science, they disregard all warning signs and press on until disappearing over the precipice of experience....

People with wisdom are alive to the vagaries of ethical decision-making. Drawing on a type of experience that cannot be learned, they avoid the error of trying to make each new situation fit within a pre-defined set of categories. And so it is with organisations, too. Wisdom-based organisations will not walk blindly into ethical death-traps.

It took the poet T.S. Eliot (The Rock) to pose the question:

Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? [more]

How indeed is the interface between "wisdom", "knowledge" and "information" to be ensured in a computer-enhanced environment (see Development beyond Science to Wisdom: Facilitating the emergence of configurative understanding in Councils of the Wise, 1979; Gene Bellinger, et al. Data, Information, Knowledge, and Wisdom) when vital distinctions are easily lost in the new enthusiasm for "knowledge management" and its commercial possibilities [more | more | more | more | more].

Ironically it would appear that the US Air Force has focused most attentively on an understanding of that interface in the study by the Air Force University ( Air Force 2025) -- perhaps to be be more wisely understood in the light of Iraq. But perhaps the supreme irony lies in the fact that WisdomTM is a trade mark of Arthur Andersen (see Modelling knowledge with WisdomTM, 1999; more) for a "knowledge modelling" tool that was applied in the EU ESPRIT (Information Technologies Programme) project KARE (Knowledge Acquisition and sharing for Requirements Engineering) completed in 2001 -- although clearly such tools were not sufficient to provide the "wisdom" to prevent Arthur Andersen from being implicated in the Enron accounting scandal of 2002, and duly convicted [more | more]. Financial subterfuge, although an example of the "unsaid" in knowledge management, is clearly not an example of wisdom.

Just as the "information society" is needed to undergird the "knowledge society", it is the latter that will provide the foundation for the processes of a "wisdom society" through which the challenges and dilemmas of global governance can be wisely handled. The assumption that the "wisdom free" processes envisaged for an "information society" (or for a "knowledge society") are adequate to the challenge of global governance have been totally undermined by the disastrous information and knowledge handling associated with governmental policies in response to Iraq. A study of the European Parliament's Directorate General for Research only comments in passing on whether the information society can be transformed into a wisdom society (Cultural Diversity and the Information Society Policy Options and Technological Issues Final Study, 2001).

But, given that "information society" and "knowledge society" are increasingly in use as code to disguise narrowly focused agendas of particular vested interests, any preoccupation with "wisdom society" should embody processes which correct for tendencies to coopt the vision in the service of restrictive, self-serving agendas -- however well-meaning. As with efforts to displace "information society" by hyped-up visions of a "knowledge society" on international agendas, it becomes apparent that through such conflation each quickly tends to mean less than the aspirations and vision of what people would want to project onto them.

Some Varieties of Wisdom
(with constraints on their computerization)
. Individual
(knowing - cognitive)
(enacting - behavioural)
Wisdom of the enlightened individual (aphorisms, koans, gurus, etc)

[Possibility of aphorism ("sacred") knowledge-base, without insight into its significance]
Wisdom of the enlightened community (collaborative / collective intelligence, collective wisdom, etc)
[Possibility of computer-mediated learning environment, but without integration of other forms of wisdom]
Wisdom of the enlightened "hands-on" practitioner ("know-how", fix-it engineer, "best practice", etc)
[Possibility of "best-practice" knowledge-base, without insight into its applicability]
Wisdom of the enlightened "people person" (street-wise, facilitator, charismatic, etc)
[Possibility of action guidelines and training modules but without sense of how to internalize them]

It is perhaps worth distinguishing some flavours of "wisdom" as in the table above -- identifying the constraints on enhancing access to each variety through computer-mediated communication:

The classic aphorism-type wisdom that points to the essence of the challenge of reflection on any "wisdom society" -- capable of interrelating the various forms of wisdom -- is the following:

"The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal name"

References in Annex on Varieties of the "unsaid" in sustaining psycho-social community
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