-- / --
Produced on the occasion cited as the "biggest crisis in Europe since World War II"
-- for which new ideas for remedial strategies are now admitted to be lacking
A Special Report of a current issue of The Economist has been entitled Staring into the Abyss: Europe and its currency (12 November 2011). The introductory leader argues:
When the world's third-largest bond market begins to buckle, catastrophe looms. At stake is not just the Italian economy but Spain, Portugal, Ireland, the euro, the European Union's single market, the global banking system, the world economy, and pretty much anything else you can think of.
The following exercise constitutes a further effort to articulate the current global problematique, but especially with respect to the increasing sense that the probability of emergence of any collective global strategy is increasingly unlikely. The succession of past meetings of the G8 and the G20 can readily be seen as a pattern of unfulfilled expectations and broken promises -- primarily designed for public relations purposes in the shorter term. As illustrated by responses to the financial crisis and global warming, the lesson would seem to be that little effective is about to be done, despite the most vigorous claims to the contrary.
No systemic insight is offered as to "why" the current set of crises has become so acute. Commentary on "why" is avoided, other than in order to blame the incompetence of those previously in power or authority -- as will be blamed, with every probability, those currently holding those powers. There would seem however to be an unexamined equivalence between the negligent mindsets which gave rise to the subprime mortgage crisis and to the sovereign debt crisis. The failure of oversight capacity is seemingly also echoed in that of the Catholic Church, now confronted by worldwide charges of clerical sexual abuse.
Expressed crudely, the pattern bears a strong resemblance to the documented incidents in which passers by watch in horror as someone is harassed -- but without feeling called upon to act in effective response. Expressed otherwise, there is a sense in which society is cognitively "frozen", as with a wild animal faced with oncomng traffic on a highway at night (Karen A. Cerulo, Never Saw It Coming: cultural challenges to envisioning the worst, 2006).
Effective legislative action would seem only to be triggered when the number of deaths is sufficiently dramatic in public relations terms. This suggests a curious collective dependence on "human sacrifice" -- reminiscent of the dependence of past civilizations on that process for their salvation.
This attitude to risk is all too evident in the siting of dwellings in regions prone to earthquakes (Fukushima, San Francisco), to volcanoes or to flooding. Dwellings may also be sited in proximity to industries prone to disastrous accidents (nuclear reactors, etc), as previously noted (Anticipating Future Strategic Triple Whammies: In the light of earthquake-tsunami-nuclear misconceptions, 2011; Disastrous Floods as Indicators of Systemic Risk Neglect, 2011).
The pattern is evident in the case of substance abuse (drink, drugs), smoking, unprotected sex (HIV/STD), or consumption of unhealthy foods (carcinogenic additives, etc), and risky road use. On a larger scale it is evident in the well-documented challenges of disposal of waste (nuclear waste, ocean plastic, etc), GM crops, global warming, or overpopulation. Rather than strategies in accordance with the Precautionary Principle, fundamental adherence to an "Unprecautionary Principle" would seem to merit recognition. This is exacerbated by "Black Swan" effects (Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan: the impact of the highly improbable, 2007).
If such catastrophic crises are so evident at the time when the world population has reached 7 billion, why is it so readily assumed that the systemic challenges of governance will not increase further as the population increases to 8, 9, 10 billion -- in the next 30-50 years? What is to be learned from the capacity of global governance at a time when there are threats of strikes against Iran, following the pattern in the case of Iraq? What is to be learned with respect to management skills at a time when the successful head of the largest media complex in Italy has long been prime minister of the country with a level of sovereign debt which may well undermine the eurozone and the world economy?
The argument has been previously developed from several perspectives (The Consensus Delusion: mysterious attractor undermining global civilization as currently imagined, 2011; Ungovernability of Sustainable Global Democracy? Towards engaging appropriately with time, 2011; Emergence of a Global Misleadership Council, 2007). One feature of the problematique is the systematic denial with which it is associated (Lipoproblems: Developing a Strategy Omitting a Key Problem, 2009; United Nations Overpopulation Denial Conference, 2009; Institutionalized Shunning of Overpopulation Challenge: incommunicability of fundamentally inconvenient truth, 2008). Another is the complexity, especially when associated with the "irrational" (Future Challenge of Faith-based Governance, 2003; Cultivating Global Strategic Fantasies of Choice, 2010; Imagining the Real Challenge and Realizing the Imaginal Pathway of Sustainable Transformation, 2007).
These concerns have given rise to several previous mapping exercises (Map of Systemic Interdependencies None Dares Name: 12-fold challenge of global life and death, 2011; Mind Map of Global Civilizational Collapse: why nothing is happening in response to global challenges, 2011; Mapping the Global Underground, 2010; Recognizing the Psychosocial Boundaries of Remedial Action, 2009).
The question of "who" might be expected to do "what" and "when" recalls the widely quoted "poem about responsibility" involving four people: Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody, of which one (abridged) variant is:
There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it.
Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.
Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did.
Somebody got angry, because it was Everybody's job.
Everybody knew that Anybody could do it, but Nobody realised that Somebody wouldn't do it.
And Everybody blamed Somebody, because Nobody did what Anybody could have done.
With respect to global governance, this suggests a caricature articulated separately (Responsibility for Global Governance: Who? Where? When? How? Why? Which? What? 2008).
Is it possible to articulate the central core of the challenge as a simple "map", in a fruitfully meaningful way -- as explored below? Such a map should not be too simplistic, focusing on only one or two core problems. Excessive complexity would render it incomprehensible. For the map to conform to cognitive "comfort zones" in relation to processing of information, it should in principle not have more than "seven, plus or minus two" elements, according to the classic (and much-cited) study by George Miller (The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two, Psychological Review, 1956).
There is however a case for challenging those constraints by taking the map slightly beyond the comfort zone to 12 elements, as separately argued (Eliciting a 12-fold Pattern of Generic Operational Insights: recognition of memory constraints on collective strategic comprehension, 2011). As noted in that title, the merit of doing so is to take greater account of the mnemonic considerations enabling the map to be memorable as a whole through the organization of the relationship between its parts -- whilst engaging with a greater degree of systemic complexity.
Is there effectively some form of cognitive equivalent to a "sound barrier" or "glass ceiling" blocking self-reflexivity, as intimated by John Ralston Saul (The Unconscious Civilization, 1995)? One candidate has been named as "psychic numbing" or "psychophysical numbing". As described in the light of recent research by Paul Slovic it is : "a form of psychophysical numbing may result from our inability to appreciate losses of life as they become larger" ("If I look at the mass I will never act": Psychic numbing and genocide, Judgment and Decision Making, 2007).
With respect to charity, this relatively new term refers to the tendency of people to feel less urgent compassion, and tend to give less, when the suffering in question is shown to be more systemic and more pervasive, or affecting larger numbers of people. As a state of reduced emotional responsiveness, it is usually associated with exposure to traumatic events. Less well-recognized is the extent to which this numbing is evident on a collective strategic scale, with respect to longer-term issues which are less evident or endemic (structural violence, cultural violence, etc).
Rather than the values embodied in symbolic rose windows for purposes of inspiration, is there then a need to design a memorable "glazed-eye" window before which global civilization stands benumbed? Perhaps even to be understood in terms of "cognitive double glazing" or even "triple glazing". Extending the metaphor, should the "abyss", to which The Economist, alludes be considered "radioactive", calling for even stronger protective measures, as previously explored (Overpopulation Debate as a Psychosocial Hazard: development of safety guidelines from handling other hazardous materials, 2009)?
The concern here has been highlighted with respect to another related crisis by the New Scientist (22 October 2011) with a Special Report on Climate Change: what we do know and what we don't. The lead editorial in the print edition is entitled What are we waiting for? -- one of many certainties of climate change is that it's time to act. The electronic version of that editorial is entitled The biggest climate change uncertainty of all in order to focus on the following:
By the time the need for drastic action becomes blindingly obvious, the best opportunity to curb harmful change will have been squandered. Yet if draconian action is taken today, any success in limiting warming will be greeted with scepticism that drastic measures were ever worthwhile or even necessary. Perhaps the greatest unknown, then, is how to persuade people to act today to help protect their long-term future, not to mention future generations.
One more thing is certain: only science can reveal how our plant can provide a decent home for billions of people without toppling over the precipice.
Unfortunately it no longer seems to be a question of whether or not science is able to take account of controversy associated with ever-increasing population pressures, for example. The challenge for science is to come to grips with the nature of the pressures with which it is seemingly complicit in failing to name and describe the systemic behavioural dynamics through which sensitive issues are avoided. When will science "reveal how our planet can provide a decent home" -- if it effectively defines itself as unable to acknowledge wider system dynamics in which it is implicated? A degree of reflexivity, consistent with third order cybernetics, would seem to be called for.
If it is indeed "time to act", there is a case for factoring into "research" why action is currently so effectively inhibited. The following mapping exercise offers indications to that end.
|Figure 1 [see enlarged version]|
The method used here is an adaptation of that presented in greater detail in the previous exercise (Map of Systemic Interdependencies None Dares Name: 12-fold challenge of global life and death, 2011). Here the outcome of the process is presented above, It derived from the information presented in summary form in Figure 2, itself derived from Figure 3.
The stages of the iterative procedure have not been shown. Essentially these involved selecting and progressively refining a set of 12 clusters and grouping them in a 3x4 table -- to imply a degree of mnemonic relationship. The issue headings in Figure 2 (identical to those in Figure 3) were then distributed on the map (Figure 1). Illustrative sub-issues from Figure 3 were then added into the map.
|Figure 2: Summary of clustering of issues from Figure 3 (as presented in Figure 1)|
|1. ineffectual injunction
|4. unconsciously awaiting disaster
7. complicit indifference
|10. blame game
(fault of another)
|2. assumption of authority
by the ineffectual
|5. beyond human control
(crisis victim mentality)
|8. inadequate attention time
|11. palliative initiatives
|3. ineffectual asystemic dialogue
|6. cognitive benumbing
(never saw it coming)
|9. indulgence in distraction displacement activity||12. opportunistic exploitation of hubris (manipulative divide and rule)|
|Figure 3: Indication of clusters of issues and sub-issues|
As was the case with the previous mapping exercise, this very simple method opens the possibility for much further refinement -- potentially calling into question the clusters identified. This could mean:
Further thought could be given to:
Further consideration could be given to the "design criteria", as mentioned above:
Is-Ought problem: There is no lack of indication as to what "ought" to be done in relation to the conditions which give rise to psychic numbing. This is evident in the range of active political agendas in some degree of disagreement -- possibly of a radical nature. It has been a focus of philosophy, as summarized by Nicholas Rescher (The Strife of Systems: an essay on the grounds and implications of philosophical diversity, 1985) who concludes:
For centuries, most philosophers who have reflected on the matter have been intimidated by the strife of systems. But the time has come to put this behind us -- not the strife, that is, which is ineliminable, but the felt need to somehow end it rather than simply accept it and take it in stride.
It is similarly evident in the relation between the range of conflicting religions and their respective moral injunctions (Stephen Prothero, God Is Not One: the eight rival religions that run the world, and why their differences matter, 2010). Of particular interest is the classical articulation as the Is-Ought Problem. As originally noted by David Hume, many make claims about what ought to be on the basis of statements about what is. However, there seems to be a significant difference between descriptive statements (about what is) and prescriptive or normative statements (about what ought to be), and it is not obvious how to get from making descriptive statements to prescriptive. The is-ought problem is also known as Hume's Law and Hume's Guillotine. He expressed the concern as follows
In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remarked, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary ways of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when all of a sudden I am surprised to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is however, of the last consequence. (A Treatise of Human Nature, 1739)
Any effort to articulate a "map" of what "is" -- such as that above -- then gives greater focus to the question of what enabling initiative "ought" to be undertaken in response to it. The issue is especially acute given that major crises tend to evoke "mega-oughts" in the form of strategic plans with which all "should" agree.
Mirror: A map of that kind might be fruitfully understood as an effort to construct a mirror -- perhaps a collective analogue to the crudest of mirrors in which the distant ancestors of humanity first peered at themselves in the mirrors offered by nature (pools of water, etc). Recognition in a mirror, as in the mirror test of self-awareness, offers a sense of "is". However the "sight" then raises the question of what to do about it -- of what "ought" to be done about it. Ironically, if only phonetically in English, the plethora of web "sites", suggests that each is both a form of portal on reality as well as performing the function of a mirror.
The mirror metaphor is widely used in relation to cognitive and epistemological paradoxes, notably by Eastern traditions. Its fundamental role in Western traditions, beyond "reflection" on personal identity, is in "speculation" on the basis of what "is" held to be the condition of reality -- as with respect to the global financial market. It is formally evident in the speculative dimension of futures research. Imaginative fiction offers a possibility of "stepping into" a mirror which suggests a way of responding to a mirror -- such as that articulated above as a map (Stepping into, or through, the Mirror: embodying alternative scenario patterns, 2008).
A mirror-map is then a prerequisite for self-reflexive initiatives, as separately discussed (Consciously Self-reflexive Global Initiatives: Renaissance zones, complex adaptive systems, and third order organizations, 2007). This then raises the question of the meaning of cognitive embodiment in relation to what is considered "ought" to be (Embodiment of Change: Comprehension, Traction and Impact? Discovering enabling questions for the future, 2011). Self-reflective "embodiment" is itself suggestive of a hypothetical "mirror-test" that extraterrestrials might apply to humanity (Self-reflective Embodiment of Transdisciplinary Integration (SETI): the universal criteria of species maturity? 2008). Their question might be whether humanity was capable of recognizing its own nature in the environment of which it has made such a total mess. There is every indication that it cannot.
Transformative change: An Urgent Appeal to Change the Mindset (March 2011) appears to been a consequence of the International Forum for Climate Justice (Cancun, 2010) and its "alternative" Cancún Declaration with the slogan: Let's change the system, not the planet -- as discussed previously (From Changing the Strategic Game to Changing the Strategic Frame: missing cognitive possibility in changing the system not the planet, 2010).
Whether "ought" is focused on "changing the system" or on "changing the mindset", the challenge of the variety of perspectives on these matters remains. Both might be caricatured as highly ambitious "oughts" -- as "mega-oughts". One response, following from the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), has been the less ambitious "think globally, act locally", used earlier in relation to the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm, 1972). In anticipation of the Rio+20 event (United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio de Janeiro, 1992), the question is whether that has proven to be sufficient. One effort to "mirror" those early reflections was unsuccessful (Configuring Globally and Contending Locally: shaping the global network of local bargains by decoding and mapping Earth Summit inter-sectoral issues, 1992).
The argument here is that a "micro-ought" with a higher probability of enabling new forms of change -- including "changing the mindset" -- requires a better "mirror" capable of reflecting the collective characteristics of human nature inhibiting any strategies to "change to the system". One approach has been offered by Joël de Rosnay (The Macroscope: a new world scientific system, 1979) as the detection of patterns of larger systems (by analogy with the microscope). Understanding at the micro-level may offer guidance to understanding of systems of a larger scale. This approach was a stimulus to the study of Luc de Brabandère (Le Latéroscope: systèmes et créativité, 1989; The Forgotten Half of Change: achieving greater creativity through changes in perception, 2005).
How best to reflect -- and "re-cognize" -- the factors inhibiting remedial action, as previously discussed (Recognizing the Psychosocial Boundaries of Remedial Action, 2009)? Especially challenging is the extent to which looking into such a mirror may be "psychically hazardous" -- as discussed with the respect to the implications of overpopulation (Overpopulation Debate as a Psychosocial Hazard: development of safety guidelines from handling other hazardous materials, 2009).
High-tech "mirrors": There is a high degree of irony associated with such a "micro-ought" in that humanity is investing considerable resources on a global scale in constructing multiple high-tech "mirrors" -- in the form of radio telescopes (see list of over one hundred). Given the level of crisis on the planet, this indulgence in mega-science can readily be interpreted as displacement activity on the most massive scale. As noted in commenting on a previous exercise (Mind Map of Global Civilizational Collapse: why nothing is happening in response to global challenges, 2011), these initiatives include:
Many are presented as global initiatives aimed to provide answers to fundamental questions about the origin and evolution of the Universe -- curiously justified as a "mega-ought". As with use of the Wide Field Camera 3 of the Hubble Space Telescope to inspect objects 11 million light years from Earth, it may be asked whether there are equivalent initiatives capable of gathering and resolving psychosocial conditions on Earth -- with a view to understanding the nature of future evolution of human society, given its present crisis of crises.
Exploiting an astrophysical metaphor, it is extraordinary that extensive research has been undertaken on the origin and lifecycle of stars, whereas little of significance has been achieved regarding the formation and lifecycle of global strategic initiatives. There is no "Herzsprung-Russell diagram" mapping such evolution in terms of any equivalent to "luminosity" and "temperature". How many current global strategic initiatives might have been been usefully described as "red giants" or "brown dwarfs". Might the "European project" be on track to becoming the latter (whether or not ITER enables sustainable fusion)?
How would the following widely-publicized, but "short-lived", strategic initiative appear on such a diagram:
When exhausted European leaders emerged from all-night negotiations in Brussels last month with a "comprehensive" plan to claw the euro back from the abyss, they could have had no inkling that, less than a fortnight later, it would have so comprehensively collapsed.... If the week began with a sense of limbo, it rapidly spun into chaos (The week that Europe stumbled to the brink of disaster and stopped, The Guardian, 13 November 2011)
In an effort to construct what might be interpreted to be an Earth-pointing "mirror", a "Living Earth Simulator" (of the FuturIcT EU research initiative) is planned -- a 10 year 1 billion EUR program "to explore social life on earth and everything it relates to" (Social Supercomputing Is Now, Science News Online, 26 May 2010). Similarly the US government is undertaking an effort to enable social scientists to mine the vast resources of the Internet -- web searches and Twitter messages, Facebook and blog posts, the digital location trails generated by billions of cellphones -- combining mathematics and psychology to predict the future (John Markoff, Government Aims to Build a 'Data Eye in the Sky', The New York Times, 10 October 2011).
The question is whether such initiatives will offer more comprehensible maps of relevance to governance than those of the Limits to Growth project in 1972. If they do not, will the simulations be able to show why not -- in the light of issues discussed separately (Considering All the Strategic Options: whilst ignoring alternatives and disclaiming cognitive protectionism? 2009)? Will they be able to generate more fruitful maps than that above?
Will such exercises be able "explain" the deprecation of the relevance of such mirroring initiatives to governance, as reviewed by Graham Turner (A Comparison of the Limits to Growth with Thirty Years of Reality, 2007)? Will they be able to take account of the sociopathological issues raised from a cybernetic perspective by Maurice Yolles, et al. (Toward a formal theory of socioculture: a yin-yang information-based theory of social change. Kybernetes, 2008)? What are the implications of despair for global governance (Implication of Personal Despair in Planetary Despair, 2010)?
Whilst the capacity to determine what "is" may increase, it necessarily fails to address the manner in which the methodology and biases of different detection systems offer different explanations of what "is" -- as indicated above by Nicholas Rescher. The processes of detection seemingly ignore the challenge of reconciling what is detected -- the unresolved challenge of transdisciplinarity (potentially to be identified as a "mega-ought" in its own right). More problematic is that, to the extent that the new psychosocial data mining initiatives detect different understandings of what "ought" to be, again the challenge of their reconciliation is ignored. This is exemplified by the above-mentioned arguments of Stephen Prothero (God Is Not One: the eight rival religions that run the world, and why their differences matter, 2010).
A fundamental theory of physics may be similarly exploited as a metaphor, namely quantum mechanics. It is extraordinary in a time of crisis regarding what "is" on a planet riven by faith-based conflict that a current account of this theory by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw (The Quantum Universe, 2011) includes a description of the world revealed by physics as being:
A reality that would be impossible to imagine, even for the possessor of the most tortured and surreal imagination.
The authors make it clear that science "is not mandated to produce a theory that bears any relation to the way we perceive the world at large". With respect to the worldview they reveal, the authors note that "it is the resistance to new ideas that leads to confusion, not the inherent difficulty of the ideas."
Physicists have deep faith in that worldview, despite its apparently complete lack of psychosocial relevance. Given the legitimacy accorded such a mindset, it becomes difficult to question the strange strategic preferences of other groups (Cultivating Global Strategic Fantasies of Choice, 2010).
Rosetta Stone? There is as yet no Rosetta Stone for the "oughts" any more than there is one for the various assertions of what "is". As noted above, this is the preoccupation of several previous explorations:
It remains incredible that the level of technical complexity recognized as absolutely necessary to study "the origins of the Universe" does not suggest that an equivalent degree of complexity might well be required to provide an integrative understanding of the strategic issues required for governance of the world.
It is a valid concern that the proposed simulations and data mining exercises are designed primarily to serve security preoccupations, without developing means of eliciting more fruitful strategies, as previously argued (From ECHELON to NOLEHCE: enabling a strategic conversion to a faith-based global brain, 2007). A step in that direction has been previously described (Simulating a Global Brain: using networks of international organizations, world problems, strategies, and values, 2001).
Encompassing differences: It is useful to explore the investment in radio telescopes as a source of design inspiration according to the potential of technomimicry, as discussed separately (Technomimicry as analogous to biomimicry, 2011). It is for example significant that the preoccupation in telescope design is augmenting the capacity to resolve distant detail. Whereas governance is primarily focused on proximate, highly visible phenomena, astrophysics offers justification for designs capable of detecting the phenomena distant in both space and time -- presumably to provide a coherent understanding of the system in which the planet is embedded.
Of relevance as a powerful metaphor, this calls for imaginative designs in unusual locations. The designs may involve the coordinated use of an extensive array of focusing "mirrors" (Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI)) -- even dispersed across continents, as with the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA). Remote high altitude locations are typically sought -- even orbital locations, as with the Hubble Telescope. Sophisticated optical or electronic systems are developed to detect significant patterns in the data. Great attention is devoted to locating unusual objects.
Such criteria contrast significantly with those considered appropriate with respect to issues of governance -- security preoccupations excepted. Anomalies are immediately framed as irrelevant and unworthy of further consideration. The argument is curiously exemplified by the preoccupation with detection of distant "life" supporting planets. The fact that some on Earth are able to live under highly improbable conditions in "remote" locations is not worthy of comparable attention (Living as an Imaginal Bridge between Worlds: Global implications of "betwixt and between" and liminality, 2011). It is questionable whether the notion of a "long baseline" is considered meaningful since it implies integrating data "from another perspective" -- from one or more "alternative" perspectives. This is inherently challenging (Us and Them: Relating to Challenging Others, 2009).
A similar point could be made with respect to the number of objects in the universe to which astrophysics is sensitive -- including the remotest. These are variously estimated to number from 3 to 100 ã— 1022 organized in more than 80 billion galaxies. This sensitivity compares curiously with the current preoccupations of governance with the population of the planet -- 7 billion and growing -- with each body composed of from 50 to 75 trillion cells.
The following are presented as being understood as the "strategic safety net" by which the challenges of global governance are contained. The concern is the manner in which that safety net proves to be inadequate in practice, thereby enabling the emergence of a crisis of crises. It is in the nature of crises to "fall through the safety net". According to one of the principles of systemantics, a fail safe system -- like a "safety net" -- fails by failing to fail safe.
Very Important People: It is the VIPs who are to be understood as most responsible for articulating strategies of relevance to global governance. The significance as a source of inspiration to the world of governance -- of the celebrity MIPs ("most important people"?) -- can be recognized in the keynote speaker fees paid to those such as Bill Clinton and Tony Blair (Hiring Motivational and Keynote Speakers, Global Speaker Force, 15 July 2010; Why Speakers Earn $30,000 an Hour: confessions of a public speaker). It is they who bring the "magic" to inspire others -- in the light of their own past experience. Their challenge is that it is they who can now be seen to have demonstrated a high degree of incompetence and negligence in enabling the emergence of the current crisis of crises -- or failing to act in anticipation of its emergence. Their challenge now is what to provide as inspiration in response to the current crisis of crises in the light of their previous involvement and learnings
It is of course the case that each VIP would be able to claim any of the following, that:
Essentially VIPs would employ many of the issues clustered on the map (Figure 1) to dissociate themselves from responsibility. More interesting than these arguments is the fact that VIPs would seem to avoid seeking clearer recognition of the information to which they are exposed (or not) and from which they are expected to draw strategic conclusions. More specifically there is the question of why little effort was made:
It is within this context that a crisis of crises has effectively emerged -- "from nowhere" -- as a surprise to VIPs. This is currently most evident in the worldwide protests against the past patterns of governance with which VIPs have been complicit (Arab Spring, the Occupy movement, etc). With respect to the message of the latter (to the 1% from the 99%), this might be seen as a message to the 1% of VIPs from the 99% who are not.
In a world whose preoccupations are primarily economic, this suggests the merit of reflecting on "importance" and of what is "imported" by VIPs. As a necessary systemic correspondence, there is then the question of the neglected "VEPs", namely the "Very Exportant Persons". What is it that VIPs "import" from VEPs: trust, attention, support, resources? Might the crisis of crises be usefully seen as an "imbalance of trade" -- an "export-import imbalance" in which the VIPs have imported excessively. This would invite comparison with the Western trade imbalance with developing countries -- and imbalance between those who have traditionally defined themselves as "important" in contrast with those framed as "unimportant", from whom resources could be extracted. Within that comparison, of interest is the extent to which the VIPs establish strong barriers to "exports" from VEPs (from the 99%) -- exemplified by the attempt of the 99% to send messages to the 1%. Are the VEPs then to be understood as engaging in "dumping" on VIPs?
As in tales of wartime subsequently told to grandchildren, it may appropriately be asked how a VIP will respond when asked: "Grandpa, what did you do as the crisis of crises was emerging?"
Very Important Principles: It is of course the VIPs who have enabled the articulation of such principles, supposedly in the interest of the VEPs and with their support. It is of course curious that principles such as those articulated in the Universal Declaration if Human Rights seem to be upheld so questionably by VIPs, as has been only too evident in relation to issues of economic justice, discrimination and torture. More curious is the manner in which some principles are presented as of greater importance than others, thereby justifying the questionable priority attention accorded to them. This has been evident in the case of "security".
A case can be made for the use of such principles as a means to reframe strategic priorities, as is evident in promoting the politics and culture of fear (Promoting a Singular Global Threat -- Terrorism: Strategy of choice for world governance, 2002). This might be understood as manipulative application of the Precautionary Principle.
In contrast, it is appropriate to note that no "principle" accords significance to the systemic connectivity on which the viability of a global knowledge-based civilization is now dependent. The point is most clearly articulated by Gregory Bateson (Mind and Nature: a necessary unity, 1979):
The pattern which connects is a meta-pattern. It is a pattern of patterns. It is that meta-pattern which defines the vast generalization that, indeed, it is patterns which connect.
With this he associated the cautionary comment: Break the pattern which connects the items of learning and you necessarily destroy all quality. Questions might also be fruitfully asked -- within the context of such a meta-pattern -- with regard to principles upheld as very important by some but ignored or deprecated by others.
Very Important Problems: The process whereby "problems", such as security, acquire the status of being "very important" is most curious. It is all the more curious that the status may be accorded by a dominant configuration of actors whilst being denied by some other group in favour of some other problem. The multiplicity of international groups may well be distinguished by the problems to which they give priority as being "most important". The mapping of these multiple worldviews was the purpose of the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential.
It has so far proved impossible to generate useful mappings of the thousands of problems so identified, and of the countervailing strategies proposed and adopted by those groups (Experimental Visualization of Networks -- world problems, international organizations, global strategies and human values, 2007)
Very Important Projects: It is naturally consistent with Very Important Principles that Very Important Projects should be developed and implemented with appropriate resources in response to Very Important Problems. It is in these terms that the 10-year intervention in Iraq-Afghanistan could be understood -- namely with respect to the Principle of (Homeland) Security. Similarly, the above-mentioned resources devoted to multiple telescopes follow from what might be framed as the Principle of Understanding the Origins of the Universe.
The major outcome of the above-mentioned United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Rio de Janeiro, 1992) was the action plan entitled Agenda 21 -- undertaken with respect to the Principle of Sustainability, thereby enshrined as a Very Important Principle, currently upheld as fundamental to global governance.
Again questions might be fruitfully asked with regard to the systemic function of the projects of the VEPs. This is especially relevant where these are necessarily "local" in contrast to "global" -- and possibly "local" in terms of their specialized focus rather than of a geographical focus.
Very Important Presentations: Vital in the promotion of the very important -- whether people, principles, projects or problems -- is the manner of their presentation and promotion. Very important presentations are typically those so defined by the scope and budget of the associated media campaign. Presentations may well be evaluated as "important" in the light of their impact.
In the light of this argument, of concern is the relative lack of importance associated with presentations which achieve little impact -- even though their content may well prove to be of potentially vital relevance. Unfortunately this tends to be the case with problematic issues which subsequently emerge as "surprises", most notably if they are associated with catastrophes. Typical well-documented examples include the marginalized reports providing prior warning of vulnerability to tsunamis, flooding, earthquakes and nuclear accidents.
The map above can indeed be seen as disempowering and psychically numbing in its own right. It can be contrasted with the integrative inspiration provided by the archetypal "rose window", or other equivalents of sacred architecture and religious iconography. In their various forms, notably as the mandala or yantra, the latter have been extensively studied to provide indications as to how they "work".
Equivalents of a more problematic nature are to be found in the form of sigils and the like, traditionally used in symbolic magic (in grimoires, for example) -- notably in a process of cognitive enthralment. As noted above, a current issue of The Economist has compared the experience to one of Staring into the Abyss (12 November 2011).
Attention could therefore be usefully devoted to the manner in which "rose windows" work to "motivate", especially in an increasingly secular society for which they may indeed be "demotivating". Corresponding attention is required to the manner in which maps of the problematique effectively demotivate, or may motivate in unsuspected ways, notably for those who respond to such challenges. In the simplest of public relations terms, how is the problematique to be depicted and how are motivational possibilities to be catalyzed? The issue of eliciting energized initiatives is of obvious concern at a time of compassion fatigue.
The nature of these maps may be suggested through various metaphors:
There is a case for a systematic ordering of initiatives understood as a response to the despair engendered by the map above:
|Circular configuration of "Thinking/Doing" categories|
|Figure 4: Superimposition of
for Thinking and Doing
[original enlarged version]
|Figure 5: Clarifying relationship to the dynamics of
Resolutique, Imaginatique, Problematique and Irresolutique
[original enlarged version]
|Figures 6: Tentative indication of interdependencies
between thinking/doing initiatives (of Figures 4 and 5)
[original enlarged version]
There is a case for experimenting with a "spun" version of Figure 1 as a suggestive indication of how the dynamics of the factors play against each other to engender a vortex -- exacerbated by information "spin". Understood in terms of "twist", such a representation is a reminder that the challenges of remedial initiatives, and the apathy which they may arouse, calls for a more complex perspective as previously argued (Engaging with Questions of Higher Order: cognitive vigilance required for higher degrees of twistedness, 2004).
This would be consistent with the argument and images presented separately (Monkeying with Global Governance, 2011), as a means of rendering explicit the nature of the "blame-game" (Reframing "monkeying" in terms of Knight's move patterns, 2011). The toroidal nature of this spin factor was considered separately with other images (Implication of Toroidal Transformation of the Crown of Thorns: design challenge to enable integrative comprehension of global dynamics, 2011).
The introduction cited the frustrated editorial of the New Scientist (22 October 2011), under the heading What are we waiting for?, and noted its conclusion:
Perhaps the greatest unknown, then, is how to persuade people to act today to help protect their long-term future, not to mention future generations. One more thing is certain: only science can reveal how our plant can provide a decent home for billions of people without toppling over the precipice.
The comment above on that statement argued that:
The challenge for science is to come to grips with the nature of the pressures with which it is seemingly complicit in failing to name and describe the systemic behavioural dynamics through which sensitive issues are avoided... If it is indeed "time to act", there is a case for factoring into "research" why action is currently so effectively inhibited.... A degree of reflexivity, consistent with third order cybernetics, would seem to be called for.
The "scientific" question is why "science" is seemingly unable to apply its methodology to such matters. Why is it unable to articulate modalities enabling it to engage meaningfully with what it considers "irrational"? In the following issue, containing a Special Report: Unscientific America -- a dangerous retreat from reason (New Scientist, 29 October 2011), the lead editorial complained that:
...the tone and content of some recent political debate in the US is so disquieting. When candidates for the highest office in the land appear to spurn reason, embrace anecdote overscientific evidence, and even portray scientists as the perpetrators of a massive hoax, there is reason to worry. Fortunately, there is no reason to panic... If you look through the lens of history or apply a scientific approach, however, logical explanations for these apparently perverse positions emerge.... So let's do all we can to ensure that the nation's leaders embrace science -- whatever their political persuasion.
The concluding sentence is indicative of the degree to which "science" is unable to place itself self-reflexively in context, and -- as is typical of cricitism of religion -- places itself "above" the psychosocial process from which it seeks funding and adherents. It is effectively constituting itself as a religion seeking to proselytize and draw others into its faith. There is no systemic understanding of the variety of faiths, each claiming a unique insight into "truth".
At the time of a fundamental crisis of confidence in the financial system, there is a degree of recognition that, rather than the classic statement "it's the economy, stupid", it is now a case of "it's confidence, stupid" -- as argued previously (In Quest of Sustainability as Holy Grail of Global Governance, 2011). Many aspects of the scientific method also accord particular attention to degrees of "confidence" in interpreting evidence.
There is a case for applying such thinking to the debates in which scientists engage with others -- or in rendering explicit why this is not done when confidence in "science" is not what scientists would wish. The arguments of statistician V. V. Nalimov regarding the probabilistic theory of truth merit consideration, for example (Realms of the Unconscious: the enchanted frontier, 1982). The increasingly plaintive and defensive arguments by scientists are unworthy of the methodology, potentially heralding its demise (End of Science: the death knell as sounded by the Royal Society, 2008).
Given the fundamental role of confidence and belief, the challenge would seem to be the application of disciplined self-reflexivity to understanding the paralysis and tokenism associated with strategic challenges. This is consistent with the need for new styles of cognitive organization appropriate to the emerging context (Consciously Self-reflexive Global Initiatives: Renaissance zones, complex adaptive systems, and third order organizations, 2007). Preoccupation with confidence perceived as mistaken can be fruitfully challenged by generalizing the "theology" of which science complains. It could then be understood as the study and organization of belief, as separately argued (Mathematical Theology: Future Science of Confidence in Belief -- self-reflexive global reframing to enable faith-based governance, 2011). The reframing is consistent with the expectation that people should have faith in science.
The problematic "unscientific" quality of dialogue between disciplines, schools of thought and belief systems is indicative of the need to apply subtler relational insights, which mathematics and physics so readily explore, to the relationships between "zones of confidence" and "frames of reference". Is there a case for recognizing a degree of leigtimacy to the perspective of non-scientists that quantum mechanics is "irrational"?
As an example, is there then a need for a "periodic table" to organize the array of cognitive modalities (Tuning a Periodic Table of Religions, Epistemologies and Spirituality: including the sciences and other belief systems, 2007; Periodic Pattern of Human Knowing: implication of the Periodic Table as metaphor of elementary order, 2009)? Given the challenge of the relationships between distinct (and evolving) frames of reference, and in the spirit of technomimicry (as mentioned above), are there no insights to be derived from the theory of relativity (Einstein's Implicit Theory of Relativity -- of Cognitive Property? Unexamined influence of patent office procedures, 2007)?
It is curious that it is so readily assumed that the simpler modes of knowing are all that is appropriate to the strategic challenges of the future. The inequalities and inconsistencies so evident in current global organization -- currently highlighted by the Occupy movement -- call for engagement in new and paradoxical cognitive modalities. An excellent example is provided by the preoccupations of Douglas Hofstadter (Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, 1979; Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: computer models of the fundamental mechanisms of thought, 1995; I Am a Strange Loop, 2007). These suggest new modes of psychosocial organization comnsistent with the need to engage the imagination in new ways (Sustaining a Community of Strange Loops: comprehension and engagement through aesthetic ring transformation, 2010).
With respect to the "poem" above, caricaturing the challenge of responsibility for "Everybody" in a global setting, the current annual question asked by The Edge World Question Center (What Scientific Concept Would Improve Everybody's Cognitive Toolkit?, 2011) then merits considerable attention -- in the light of the 159 responses.
World "dangerously unprepared" for future disasters
The world is "dangerously unprepared" for future disasters because rich nations are not doing enough, warns the international development secretary. Andrew Mitchell blames the failure of several countries to pay into the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).
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