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In a period characterized by a global crisis of crises, there is a case for exploring any means of articulating the set of those crises and the possibilities for their comprehension as a system. The following exercise identifies 30 trends which inhibit the capacity to engage effectively with those crises and which together constitute a dangerous system.
The exercise follows from related mapping efforts (Mind Map of Global Civilizational Collapse: why nothing is happening in response to global challenges, 2011; Map of Systemic Interdependencies None Dares Name: 12-fold challenge of global life and death, 2011; Mapping Paralysis and Tokenism in the Face of Potential Global Disaster: why nobody is about to do anything effective and what one might do about it, 2011; Mapping the Global Underground, 2010).
Of particular concern is the tendency to consider that there is far too much "bad news" and that the quest should be to set it aside as much as possible and focus on the "good news" offering hope for the future. Problematic trends do however provide a form of focus whose nature is more readily recognized than the greater subtlety of remedial possibilities. The question, as with the previous exercises, is whether any kind of systemic "holding pattern" can be elaborated from such a set of trends through which to engage more coherently with them. This could then offer insights into the nature of a possible holding pattern for a complementary set of remedial, corrective trends. This was the ambition of the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential.
The exploration here assumes that the binary juxtaposition of complementary "negative" and "positive" patterns is necessary but insufficient. It can however be used to frame investigation of possibilities of interweaving these two patterns as a means of eliciting insight into a more complex system which characterizes the dynamics from which more fruitful understanding could be engendered. The "holding patterns" together might then provide a more comprehensible "holding platform" on which initiatives of the future could be designed. The emphasis on a need for comprehension of system dynamics is the reason for which some experimental animations are included.
Use is made of the meteorological metaphor whereby current crises are often compared to hurricanes. This suggests that the understanding of their dynamic complexity could be used to distinguish the contrasting "cyclones" and "anti-cyclones" of the northern and southern hemispheres of social "climate change". It could then be asked whether some form of "rotation" should be recognized with respect to the viability of the sociosphere (and the noosphere) -- as being vital to their sustainability.
As with the previous exercises, the following checklist is a tentative clustering of trends which have been variously recognized by many. It makes no claim to be "complete" and "definitive", nor is it necessarily as balanced as might prove to be appropriate. The articulation could be much improved. It could be subject to extensive refinement and fine tuning, adding or eliminating items and improving their wording. A justification for isolating a set of 30 trends is indicated in the light of the cybernetic work of Stafford Beer.
The set of 30 trends can together be usefully compared metaphorically to the spiral dynamic system typical of a cyclone, a hurricane or a tornado -- the latter being especially associated with natural disasters. Hence the sense in which "climate change" suggests reflection on a change of "social climate" -- and the "hurricanes" which may prove more destructive than the "winds of change" (cf. Climate Change as a Metaphor of Social Change: systemic implications of emissions, ozone, sunlight, greenhouse and overheating, 2008).
"Hurricane" has been frequently used by commentators of various persuasions as a metaphor to describe recent crises (Obama Compares Economic Crisis to a Hurricane, The Blaze, 10 July 2012; The European crisis: a hurricane for South Africa, Amandla! 22 July 2012; Avinash Dixit, The Cone of Uncertainty of the 21st Century's Economic Hurricane, 2012; Raymond Lotta, Financial Hurricane Batters World Capitalism: system failure and the need for revolution, Voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party, 19 October 2008).
Alternatively, switching metaphors, there is a sense in which humanity is being sucked into a form of black hole -- of which the global financial deficits are appropriately indicative as a public "confidence deficit". In information terms, this "black hole" would be such as to ensure a very high degree of disruption to the communication on which a global knowledge-based society depends. The situation might be compared to a "memetic singularity" as discussed separately (Emerging Memetic Singularity in the Global Knowledge Society, 2009). One effort to display the set of trends in this form is presented below.
|Representation of mutual reinforcement of a system of 30 disabling global trends
engendering together a hurricane-like vortex into which society is drawn
These trends could be usefully compared to the barriers to remedial capacity previously discussed (Recognizing the Psychosocial Boundaries of Remedial Action: constraints on ensuring a safe operating space for humanity, 2009). For some, the "eye" of the hurricane could be a case of "2012 -- here we come".
The above representation raises the question as to whether there is a corresponding means of configuring the trends to facilitate the quest for a remedial dynamic -- especially given the sense in which they would appear to be dysfunctionally "divergent", rather than "convergent" as those above. The spiral could be "reversed" to suggest an "anti-cyclone" -- or possibly even a "white hole" (cf. Peter Russell, The White Hole in Time: our future evolution and the meaning of Now, 1993). This would then reflect the sense of both a "negative" ("black") hole to be escaped as problematic and a "positive" ("white) hole as a desirable goal -- the resolution of humanity's challenges. The reversed image might then be presented as follows with the trend labels suggestively reframed to reflect this.
|Representation of mutual reinforcement of a system of 30 enabling global trends
engendering together an escape from the problematic convergence of the image above
The binary "negative-positive" ("bad"-"good") representation of the two diagrams can be usefully challenged as inadequate to the complexity of the social system and the variety of modes of perceiving it and engaging with it (cf. Transcending Simplistic Binary Contractual Relationships: what is hindering their exploration? 2012; Epistemological Panic in the face of Nonduality, 2010; Antagonistic Dualities: Polarization and Paradox, 1983). The question is then how these contrasting "weather systems" can be interwoven in a global system as previously considered (Interweaving Thematic Threads and Learning Pathways, 2010; Warp and Weft of Future Governance: ninefold interweaving of incommensurable threads of discourse, 2010).
The point can be usefully explored by returning to the meteorological system metaphor in the light of the tentative explorations of J. W. Thompson (Meteorological Models in Social Dynamics: concepts in meteorology, Human Relations, 1961; Meteorological Models in the Social Sciences: complex processes in meteorology and sociology, General Systems Yearbook, 1962). In the case of the planetary global weather system:
Many animations of these natural phenomena are available on the web. Few appear to make evident the situation in the southern hemisphere, or the relation between those in in the northern and southern hemispheres.
The portrayal of the problematic spiral in the first image (above) is consistent with a cyclone in the northern hemisphere. The portrayal of the remedial spiral in the second image is consistent with an anti-cyclone in the northern hemisphere. The directions are consistent with the widespread convention that clockwise is "good" and counterclockwise is "bad". This is evident in interpretation of use of the traditional swastika symbol (cf. Swastika as Dynamic Pattern Underlying Psychosocial Power Processes, 2012). This overly simplistic representation of the dynamics in a global social system then raises questions about the corresponding "systems" in the "southern hemisphere".
Two more suggestively comprehensive approaches are tentatively presented below. That on the right superimposes one of the variants above on the other, ignoring the black-hole/white, north-south implications in a global system. That on the left positions the four variants within a double Euler spiral -- otherwise known as a clothoid or Cornu spiral. Some implications of the Euler spiral are discussed separately (¿ Embodying a Way Round Pointlessness?, 2012; Orbiting Round Nothingness across Communication Space: possibility of an "Inter-other Transition Network", 2012). If the "southern hemisphere" is appropriately symbolic of the cultural implications of the challenges of a "netherworld", the Euler spiral offers useful pointers in that respect (cf. Designing Global Self-governance for the Future: patterns of dynamic integration of the netherworld, 2010).
|Integration of 4 spiral variants into a double Euler spiral||Superimposition of 2 spiral variants of spirals (from above)|
However suggestive, the above static images are essentially inadequate as representations of a dynamic system which "works one way" in one global hemisphere, but "works in another way" in the other hemisphere -- counter-intuitively it would seem, and therefore a challenge to comprehension. Conventional global policy vigorously claims that "There Is No Alternative" (TINA) to the system to which the worldwide Occupy Movement has so vigorously objected, as noted by Noam Chomsky (Occupy, Zuccotti Park Press, 2012; What next for Occupy? The Guardian, 30 April 2012). Conventional thinkers of the "northern hemisphere" cannot however deny that cylones and anti-cyclones have an "alternative" significance in the "other" part of the global weather system.
The following is one set of complementary animations which endeavour to indicate the nature of the dynamic. Their "hypnotic" quality could well be consistent with the manner in which the set of trends and their remedial counterparts also have that quality. Use of "blue" and "red" is a suggestive reference to the extremes of the political spectrum -- with the "crises" for the one possibly framed as "opportunities" by the other, as is only too evident with respect to the global financial "crisis" and those who benefit therefrom.
Another representation could exploit the interference patterns when the two images above are superimpsoed -- whether as in wave propagation or in Moiré patterns -- offering insights into both the perceptual/cognitive challenges and their potential strategic implications, as suggested below. As cyclones this relates to the natural phenomenon whereby two hurricanes may combine in some way (Two Hurricanes Colliding: can hurricanes merge and become one big hurricane?).
|Animations highlighting interference patterns in the encounter between two spirals|
|"Black hole" superimposing on "White hole"
(spirals in same direction)
|"White hole" superimposing on "Black hole"
(spirals in opposite directions)
Other interference patterns are evident from the following, suggesting the value of distinguishing the ways in which sets of "disruptive" and "remedial" trends may interact -- or be perceived to interact -- in the light of systemic insights from global weather patterns across both hemispheres.
|Interference patterns between co-centric rotating spirals
("white" superimposed on "black")
|Interference patterns between one spiral orbiting another
(reminiscent of the Fujiwara interaction between cyclones)
A further set of experimental animations of the two alternative spirals is included as a trigger to more imaginative reflection.
The complementary animations above can be combined experimentally in the following as a trigger to more integrative reflection.
Cyclones readily invite appreciation of their elegant structure. This is consistent with notions of a "perfect storm" -- where a rare combination of circumstances will aggravate a situation drastically, as could well be anticipated in the case of the current condition of global civilization. The animation above then draws attention to the potential role of elegance in framing more meaningful engagement with the challenges of the future (cf. Enacting Transformative Integral Thinking through Playful Elegance, 2010; Playfully Changing the Prevailing Climate of Opinion: climate change as focal metaphor of effective global governance, 2005). Phases in the animation are also suggestive of heraldic symbols traditionally used as mnemonic devices for strategic focus.
Another representational approach, consistent with the concern to transcend the binary framing, is to assume that each "trend" corresponds to a systemic characteristic which may be either "disruptive" or "remedial", effectively oscillating between those two functions, as suggested by the work of Orrin Klapp (Opening and Closing: strategies of information adaptation in society, 1978). This is consistent with the contrasting views expressed at different extremes of the political spectrum
The approach taken here follows from the use of a particular polyhedron -- the icosahedron -- by management cybernetician Stafford Beer (Beyond Dispute: the invention of Team Syntegrity, 1994), as separately described (Markus Schwaninger, The Team Syntegrity Model: an architecture for organizations of the future, International Society for the Systems Sciences, 1997; J. Truss, et al., The Coherent Architecture of Team Syntegrity: from small to mega forms). Beer further developed his insights through the Viable System Model (cf. R. Espejo and R. Harnden (Eds.), The Viable System Model, 1989; Patrick Hoverstadt, The Fractal Organization: creating sustainable organizations with the Viable System Model, 2008).
The team syntegrity approach uses an "infoset" of 30 systemic functions organized together -- using the structure of an icosahedron, with each function represented by one edge of the icosahedron. In the representation below, each of the 30 functions identified above is assumed to be associated with one edge of the icosahedron as shown in the right-hand image.
|Possibility of coherent reframing of 30 trends as psychosocial system functions
(animations produced with the aid of Stella Polyhedron Navigator)
|Rotation of 3D icosahedral framework of 30 edges||Dynamic configuration of 30 trends to form an icosahedral system|
With respect to the infoset structure based on the icosahedron, as applied to the configuration of a set of "function-teams" within an organization, each vertex corresponds to such a team. In the case of the icosahedron there are therefore 12 function-teams (with distinct agendas) with 5 edges leading to each vertex. 5 distinct functions can then be associated with each team.
As an edge of the icosahedron, each function is associated with two different function-teams -- namely connecting two different function-teams. Each of the 30 plays two roles which are polar opposite to one another. The 30 functions can then be understood as alternating between two contrary complementary -- reinforcing that trend and challenging that trend. This means that each such function-team configures 5 elements supportive of that function and 5 elements critical of that function -- a pattern of checks and balances.
Of particular interest are the implications of 12-fold pattern of organization as a requisite approach to the complexity of system dynamics, as reviewed separately (Checklist of 12-fold Principles, Plans, Symbols and Concepts: web resources, 2011; Eliciting a 12-fold Pattern of Generic Operational Insights: recognition of memory constraints on collective strategic comprehension, 2011; Enabling a 12-fold Pattern of Systemic Dialogue for Governance, 2011).
As noted by Joseph Truss (The Coherent Architecture of Team Syntegrity: from small to mega forms, 2000):
In Beyond Dispute, Beer explained that retaining the "twelveness" of the topics examined and maintaining some separation between opposite topics was desirable to reduce the risk that topics and positions would collapse onto each other. This was given mathematical formulation when Assad Jalali noted that the icosahedron was a Paley Graph of diameter three - that is that the opposite poles do not share any members or critics since it takes three steps to get from one pole to the other.
In addition to the arguments of Beer (1994), the focus on polyhedra, follows from the work of R. Buckminster Fuller (Synergetics: Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking, 1975). This has been variously discussed separately (Towards Polyhedral Global Governance: complexifying oversimplistic strategic metaphors, 2008; Coherent Value Frameworks: pillar-ization, polarization and polyhedral frames of reference, 2008).
A variant of the approach was applied to the configuration of the strategic dilemmas of the UN Earth Summit (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), as described separately (Configuring Globally and Contending Locally: shaping the global network of local bargains by decoding and mapping Earth Summit inter-sectoral issues, 1992; ). It is appropriate to note that the final declaration of the subsequent UN Earth Summit (Rio de Janeiro, 2012) was recognized to an incoherent, asystemic mish-mash of preoccupations, as discussed separately (Exploring the Hidden Mysteries of Oxfam's Doughnut: recognizing the systemic negligence of an Earth Summit, 2012). Rather than simply deploring such inadequacies, there is a case for recognizing the systemic clues they may provide (Sustainability through the Dynamics of Strategic Dilemmas, 2005).
The situation can be imaginatively framed otherwise in the light of the traditional Persian tale, in poetic form, by Farid ud-Din Attar (The Conference of the Birds, 1177). As noted in the Wikipedia description:
In the poem, the birds of the world gather to decide who is to be their king, as they have none. The hoopoe, the wisest of them all, suggests that they should find the legendary Simorgh, a mythical Persian bird roughly equivalent to the western phoenix. The hoopoe leads the birds, each of whom represent a human fault which prevents man from attaining enlightenment. When the group of thirty birds finally reach the dwelling place of the Simorgh, all they find is a lake in which they see their own reflection.
The poem names and characterizes 18 of the birds (hoopoe, nightingale, partridge, parrot, peacock, huma, owl, duck, heron, finch, hawk, falcon, wagtail, turtle dove, pigeon, francolin, pheasant, goldfinch) of which those italicized offer distinct "excuses" for not participating in the journey -- to which the hoopoe offers persuasively insightful responses. The poem continues with respect to the other 12 uncharacterized birds of that avian ecosystem as follows.
|The other birds in turn received their chance
To show off their loquacious ignorance.
All made excuses - floods of foolish words
Flowed from these babbling, rumour-loving birds.
Forgive me, reader, if I do not say
All these excuses to avoid the Way;
But in an incoherent rush they came,
And all were inappropriate and lame.
How could they gain the Simorgh? Such a goal
Belongs to those who discipline the soul.
|The hoopoe counselled them: The world holds few
As worthy of the Simorgh's throne as you,
But you must empty this first glass; the wine
That follows it is love's devoted sign.
If petty problems keep you back -- or none --
How will you seek the treasures of the sun?
In drops you lose yourselves, yet you must dive
Through untold fathoms and remain alive.
This is no journey for the indolent --
Our quest is Truth itself, not just its scent!
|Farid ud-din Attar (The Conference of the Birds, 1984)|
There is a degree of charm to the visual resemblance to birds of various phases in the 30-stage animation of the spirals above -- with their mirroring reminiscent of reflection in a "lake". The elusive nature of the Simorgh recalls the elusive nature of the "Holy Grail" so fundamental to mythological quests within the western worldview, and now so curiously evident within the world of finance (In Quest of Sustainability as Holy Grail of Global Governance, 2011). Its continuing function as a powerful attractor to the imagination suggests that the latter may play an unexplored role in the integrative quest at this time (cf. Living as an Imaginal Bridge between Worlds: global implications of "betwixt and between" and liminality, 2011; Imagining the Real Challenge and Realizing the Imaginal Pathway of Sustainable Transformation, 2007).
"Re-cognition" of a solution? In these strange times when many claim to have solutions to global crises -- with others claiming to be in quest of an appropriate solution -- there is a fundamental assumption which merits consideration. Would the most appropriate solution be recognizable -- even comprehensible -- and to whom? (cf. Comprehension of Appropriateness, 1986). Why is it assumed that it would be -- when any "solution" proposed clearly evokes an array of well-considered objections? What would a "solution" to the crises of the times "look" like? Expressed as a strategic "vision", could people "see" it? Or would it be effectively "invisible" -- requiring articulation through metaphors based on other senses (cf. Metaphor and the Language of Futures, 1992)?
Question vs. Answer? Ironically, as with the constrained capacity to "see" a globe (because one side is necessarily hidden), any claims to be able to "see" a global solution may be analogously mistaken. Might the "solution" then be more of a question than an answer -- especially for the individual challenged to engage with the world? (cf. Am I Question or Answer? Problem or (Re)solution? 2006). Does any declaration to the effect that "We Have a Plan" embody an oversimplistic mode of thinking: "We"? "Have"? "A"? "Plan"? Who can justify such exclusively singular possessiveness? Is "Plan" not intimately related to static, two-dimensional thinking -- at a time when greater complexity is surely required?
Imposing a solution? A further assumption is that if only the "right" solution could be found, the powerful would indeed "recognize" it and would ensure that it is implemented in the "best interests of all" -- irrespective of other views on the matter. This would seem to be the case with respect to the geo-engineering initiative (Geo-engineering Oversight Agency for Thermal Stabilization (GOATS), 2008).
Rosetta Stone solution? The design of the appropriate solution could be imagined to require a form functionally equivalent to the Rosetta Stone, namely one which reconciles and interprets between the "languages" through which differences of opinion are articulated -- assuming that it is only the differences in the languages which inhibits recognizing of an underlying consensus (cf. 12 Complementary Languages for Sustainable Governance, 2003; Systemic Crises as Keys to Systemic Remedies: a metaphorical Rosetta Stone for future strategy? 2008). The emergence of the polyhedral "holding pattern" represented above could be considered as reminiscent of such a device.
Communicability? There is however a further difficulty, namely that irrespective of whether it can be comprehended and recognized by appropriate (?) parties, why is it assumed that it could be effectively communicated -- by whom, and to whom? In information terms, the "black hole" condition described above would clearly render such communication impossible, as noted above with reference to a "memetic singularity" (Emerging Memetic Singularity in the Global Knowledge Society, 2009). This suggests a need to engage with the associated forms of uncertainty (Living with Incomprehension and Uncertainty: re-cognizing the varieties of non-comprehension and misunderstanding, 2012).
Integrating alternatives? Conventional thinkers cannot deny that cyclones and anti-cyclones do not have an "alternative" significance in the "other" part of the global weather system. Any such claim might even be said to be strangely reminiscent of that allegedly made by King Canute -- in claiming to be "ruler of the waves" -- for which he has been much ridiculed by history. The same would appear to apply with respect to the global psychosocial system and any efforts to govern it appropriately. The USA may be recognized -- in future assessment of the economic policies it promotes with the complicity of the World Economic Forum -- as the "King Canute" of the current era. Of relevance is the explicit intolerance of the Allende "alternative" in Chile by the Nixon regime (with the advice of Henry Kissinger), where Stafford Beer had implemented the Cybersyn approach to socio-economic management (cf. Eden Medina, Designing Freedom -- Regulating a Nation: socialist cybernetics in Allende's Chile, Journal of Latin American Studies, 2006).
Imagining richer connectivity? Systematic denial of the role of imagination, as with the TINA denial of any "alternative", suggests that not only does current strategic thinking neglect "the other hemisphere" in the global system, but it also neglects "the other hemisphere" of the (global) brain. Could the global system be understood as having been effectively lobotomised -- a form of therapy for which the Nobel Prize was awarded in 1949? Is this "procedure" in process of emulation with respect to connections within the "global brain"? The animations above are a contribution to eliciting imagination regarding the unusual degrees of connectivity which the future appears to require.
Hegemony of the positive? Is a form of hemispheric lobotomy to be recognized in US assumptions of Manifest Destiny, and articulation of the Monroe Doctrine -- with its current implications as an effective declaration of hegemony and a right of unilateral intervention, as criticized by Noam Chomsky (Hegemony or Survival, 2004)? Current plans to bomb the culture that engendered The Conference of the Birds would appear to be consistent with that mindset. Does the obsession with "positive thinking" have related systemic implications, as argued by Barbara Ehrenreich (Smile Or Die: how positive thinking fooled America and the world, 2010)?
Rotation? The final spiral animation above is suggestive of the kinds of dynamic connectivity "between hemispheres" required within a healthy global knowledge-based society -- and within any global brain. Rotation is required for the sustainability of the natural systems vital to the viability of the biosphere. As suggested by the meteorological metaphor, it might then be asked whether some form of "rotation" should be recognized with respect to the viability of the sociosphere (and the noosphere) -- as being vital to their sustainability.
Local complexity within a global system? A great deal is now known about about the "local" structure of cyclones (hot air, low pressure, etc) within the planetary weather system. Why not apply some of that systemic thinking to exploring how spiralling trends might also be of relatively "local" and "seasonal" nature within a global society -- even if their frequency is building towards a perfect storm of social climate change?
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This work is licenced under a creative commons licence.