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17 July 2009 | Draft

Globallooning -- Strategic Inflation of Expectations and Inconsequential Drift

Global, Glo-Bull, Glow-Ball, Glow-Bawl

-- / --

Metaphor in global discourse
Global warming -- things are getting "hotter"
"Hot air"
Confidence-building and hope-mongering
"Inflation", "growth" and "development"
"Balloons" vs "Bubbles": a strategic reframing of globalization
Balloon-related strategic metaphors
Balloon design and construction
Balloon operation and governance
Challenge of symbol conflation: "Sun", "Earth", "Moon"?
"Global" complex of metaphoric associations and connotations
Configuration of balloons as an appropriate metaphor for global strategy
Governance of strategic vehicles as "timeships"


This is an effort to identify the critical combination of factors contributing to consensus on the success of a global conference -- achieving "lift-off" and ensuring it "flies" . It is partly inspired by the G8 Summit in Italy (July 2009) when media reports noted the failure to meet unpublished targets of development aid set at the Gleneagles G8 Summit (2005). Reports also noted that despite failure to provide any form of remedial support to those affected by the earthquake at the Summit location, a basketball court had been constructed for one of the eight conference participants and a jogging track for another.

As at Gleneagles, announcement of historic agreement was expected on major issues, notably global warming -- in preparation for the UN Climate Change Conference (Copenhagen, 2009). Can there be any doubt that the G8 Summit will be rated a success -- by its participants? By history? And Copenhagen?

The G8 Summit occurs following the financial crisis of 2008, during its continuing dramatic consequences for many national economies, and without any immediate prospect of successfully regulating the banking system which had enabled the crisis. Announcements continue to focus on the vital need to rebuild confidence in the global financial system. The usual appeals continue to be made by the "usual suspects" regarding the plight of hundreds of millions in many countries.

It is readily assumed that there is consensus on the understanding of "globalization" and "global". However, as discussed by Wendy Larner and William Walters (Globalization as Governmentality. Alternatives: Global, Local, Political, Vol. 29, 2004) with regard to presentations at a meeting of the International Sociological Association (2002):

The shared collective conception was one of epochal macrolevel change. The intellectual challenge was to specify more clearly the content of this change, to develop more rigorous accounts of hegemonic projects and institutions, to examine the consequences for different places and people, and to identify how globalization was being resisted. Our argument is that... globalization is treated as a transformation in the very structure of the world. This is true not just of mainstream accounts, but even many of those employing critical perspectives.

As argued by Melba Cuddy-Keane (Globalization and the Image: Imagining the Global, Paper for 2002 MLA Convention New York, Society for Critical Exchange) the world is now witness to a conjunction between the charting of space and the charting of knowledge -- a conjunction that raises the question of the relation between the turn to spatial tropes and increasingly globalized consciousness of the world.

This is written at a time when the death of Robert McNamara has engendered further reflections on the hyper-rationalism for which he was responsible in defining the strategy of the Vietnam War with its far higher death rate than that in Afghanistan -- where similarly rational strategies have been attempted, in an 8-year military disaster, despite using the most advanced military technology available. At the same time further revelations are emerging regarding the degree of cover-up of repugnant "enhanced interrogation" that has been a key feature of the "battle for hearts and minds" in that arena -- all in the name of enabling democratic values.

The concern here is with the ongoing development of value-based strategy of questionable efficacy -- in the glow of which people are expected to bask, ignoring its shadow. The focus in what follows is on the cognitive frameworks through which such changes are to be comprehended, given the manner in which they are accompanied by totally problematic dimensions, as discussed separately (Abuse of Faith in Governance: mystery of the unasked question, 2009; Viable Global Governance through Bullfighting: challenge of transcendence, 2009; Emergence of a Global Misleadership Council: misleading as vital to governance of the future? 2007).

Metaphor in global discourse

The question explored in what follows with regard to gatherings like the G8 is whether there should be greater recognition of the role of metaphor in framing the understanding of what is occurring and what is achieved -- whether from the contrasting perspectives of participants or of observers. The preparation of such events by sherpas is well-known -- thereby introducing a mountaineering metaphor in the approach to the "summit".

The G8 Summit has occasionally been compared to a gathering of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, as on the occasion of the 2009 Summit (Wall Street Breakfast: Must-Know News, 15 June 2009). The metaphor is clearly loaded given the implied characterization of "Snow White" and the "Dwarfs" -- and the source of the imagery. Vanessa Rossi (The Global Power Game is Changing: Exit Strategy for G8? Tracking the G8 L'Aquila Summit, 4 July 2009) acknowledges that ball games have always been a popular metaphor for managing global affairs.

Elena Semino (Metaphor in Discourse, Cambridge University Press, 2008) uses as a leading example an article by James Landale (Half full or half empty? BBC News, 8 July 2005) concerned with the aftermath of the G8 summit at Gleneagles -- focused on the initiatives to relieve poverty in Africa and to halt climate change. As Semino notes, in the opening of the article, the reporter explicitly states that, after all the activities and negotiations, the summit had finally come down to "a battle of metaphors":

In the end, after all the talks, the lobbying and the haggling over words, the G8 summit at Gleneagles came down to a battle of metaphors. Just how best should the work over the last three days at this Scottish golf course and equestrian centre be characterised? Was, asked some, the cup half full or half empty?

Other metaphors mentioned and discussed include:

Semino develops the analysis of such use of metaphor in the light of the seminal work of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (Metaphors We Live By, 1980). The concern here is whether there is a set of metaphors to be explored in relation to globalization and its framing of the challenges it faces. It follows from earlier work on a Governance through Metaphor Project and on associated papers (Documents relating to Metaphor for Governance).

The use of metaphor can of course be challenged, as by Gabriel Syme (Stretching the swan metaphor,, 6 July 2005) with respect to the flying swans logo of the UK's presidency of the EU -- the first time an EU presidency had had an animated logo. The concept had been explained as:

The idea is a metaphor for leadership, teamwork and efficiency, which is particularly appropriate for the EU, given the system of rotating leadership. Migrating birds fly in a V formation. This is highly efficient, because all the birds in the formation, except for the leader, are in the slipstream of another bird. Periodically the leading bird drops back and another bird moves up to take its place.

The concern in what follows is whether it is possible to provide a useful metaphoric framework for the dysfunctionalities of global decision making.

Global warming -- things are getting "hotter"

As a global substantive issue, concern with "climate change" has now taken priority over a range of earlier priorities: development, environment, terrorism, energy, human rights, etc. As in the framing of each of them in their time, climate change now subsumes those that preceded it -- if only as a distraction from the limited success on earlier issues.

To the extent that each such issue has dimensions which are of profound psychological significance, each may be explored as a metaphor of a partially recognized challenge faced by humanity. There is also evidence of a degree of metaphoric confusion. For example, "climate change" is readily confused with "climate of change", notably in order to distract attention from increasing pressure for the latter (Climate of Change Misrepresented as Climate Change: insights from metaphorical confusion, 2008). Man-made crises, such as the global finance crisis in 2008, may be reframed in the guise of "natural" disasters -- as a financial "hurricane" or "tsunami", for example -- thereby avoiding any need to identity responsible parties (Climate Change as a Metaphor of Social Change: systemic implications of emissions, ozone, sunlight, greenhouse and overheating, 2008).

The question might be asked whether each new global priority brings a sharper articulation of those fundamental dimensions which are so poorly recognized -- with systemic consequences of increasing proportion. Many decades ago, a warning of the challenge of a coming "crisis of crises" was articulated by John Platt (What We Must Do, Science, 166, November 1969). The moment has apparently now been recognized by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who recently declared:

We are living through an era like no other. There are multiple crises: a food crisis, fuel crisis, flu crisis and financial crisis... Each is a crisis we have not seen for many years, even generations. But this time they are hitting the world all at once. We have never seen any era when we have been hit by all these multiple crises at the one time... Peacekeeping has experienced serious setbacks. Today we face mounting difficulties in getting enough troops, the right equipment and adequate logistical support. This supply has not kept pace with demand. (United Nations peace missions in peril, The Guardian, 8 July 2009)

Things are indeed hotting up. More social unrest is expected. The question in what follows is whether it is possible to draw together some of the threads associated with the strategic responses to such seemingly disparate crises -- to comprehend them as a whole.


As discussed in Climate Change as a Metaphor of Social Change: systemic implications of emissions, ozone, sunlight, greenhouse and overheating (2008), it might be usefully said that disparate sectors of society are variously faced with an "emissions problem". This suggests a degree of systemic equivalence between them that remains to be explored. For example:

In each such case, and in the light of inflated expectations, the global population may be understood as "borrowing" greedily against the future -- and the generations expected to manage that debt.

The associations of "climate change" are potentially very "sexy", if only to the unconscious. Terms such as "global warming", "overheating", "inflation", "growth", "globalization" and "talking things up" may well have associations which condition consideration of "climate change" and its relation to "population", as considered in more detail elsewhere (Climate change and overpopulation as cultural challenges of reflexivity, 2009). "Climate change" itself may be understood as the change of behavioural climate induced by sexuality -- a more fundamental inconvenient truth.

"Hot air"

It has become obvious that carbon emissions are inducing the increasing temperatures which are of great concern in global warming -- partly to be understood in terms of the "hot air" resulting from the greenhouse effect.

Curiously, the financial bubble which collapsed (engendering the financial crisis of 2008) is now recognized to have been built up by the "hot air" intrinsic to the optimistic misrepresentation of toxic investments to unsuspecting gullible investors. Major financial institutions and governments were complicit in this process of engendering "hot air". In their current concern with "confidence building", the process of "talking it up" again has recourse to "hot air". How can the current declarations of financial authorities be distinguished from such "hot air" -- desperate as they are for recovery? Would they knowingly mislead if it contributed to such recovery?

Even more curious, given the sexual connotations, are those situations in which "carbon emissions" are the focus of debate in a "congress" or a "seminar", and when the "seminal" insights that emerge are cause for "dissemination". But it is in such contexts that "emissions" take yet another form, namely as the "hot air" that is most characteristic of conference discourse and declarations to the media regarding their outcomes for wider public appreciation -- as with declarations of the G8 and other international bodies.

The point is made, for example, that the countries represented at the G8 Summits are responsible for some 80% of global carbon emissions. It might well be asked whether they are not also responsible for some 80% of the "hot air" of global strategic discourse. How much of their discourse will history consider to have been substantive -- even from the perspective in 2009 on the Gleneagles Summit of 2005? How would developing countries now rate the quality of discourse, and commitments made to them, at the 2005 event?

Of course such intergovernmental events are not the only source of global "hot air". How will history see the quality of discourse at the multiplicity of global events facing the current "crisis of crises" ? Interesting test cases are the contrasting gatherings of the constituencies of the World Economic Forum (Davos) and of the World Social Forum (Porto Alegre). What proportion of that discourse is usefully to be described as "hot air"?

With the "crisis of crises" now characteristic of global conditions, and the increasing social unrest which is becoming apparent, does the manifestation of such unrest naturally include the production of "hot air" by protestors -- reflecting the degree to which the situation is getting "hotter"? This is one social analogue to "global warming".

Recent years have seen an explosive growth of internet-facilitated social networking. This historically unprecedented volume of communications has been widely remarked, now exemplified by those of Twitter. Such communication now far exceeds the volume of communication of international bodies -- to the point of marginalizing the latter on some urgent issues. Most striking however is the extent to which communications are attracted to topics that are "hot". It might be said that it is the interactivity of social networking which increases the temperature of global communication, thereby understood as increasing its significance. Of course such "heat" may also be associated with any sexually related content of the communication (chat rooms, porn sites, etc).

Does the expression "hot air" unambiguously imply "not fit for purpose", or does "hot air" indeed have a vital function? As a typical feature of weather systems, a cyclone refers to an area of closed, circular fluid motion rotating in the same direction as the Earth. Large-scale cyclonic circulations are almost always centered on areas of low atmospheric pressure associated with rising hot air. This consequent pressure differential suggests a relationship to the processes causing a hot air balloon to rise (as discussed below).

Confidence-building and hope-mongering

As a reaction to the gloom of the doom-mongerers, much is made of the need to build hope. The focus on confidence building is to be understood in these terms. This was a focus of the successful presidential campaign of Barack Obama (The Audacity of Hope, 2006).

The difficulty for those promoting hope and confidence is to ensure the credibility of their initiative -- especially given any past complicity in developing and sustaining the hopes basic to the financial bubble that has so recently burst. What other forms of hope have been, and continue to be, dubiously promoted? (Credibility Crunch engendered by Hope-mongering: "credit crunch" focus as symptom of a dangerous mindset, 2008; Abuse of Faith in Governance: mystery of the unasked question, 2009).

Despite the crisis, it could be inferred that there have been limited learnings (Leninist China faces its capitalist crisis: Don't put too much faith in the Chinese to deliver the world from recession, The Guardian, 17 August 2009)

The US remains by far the most powerful nation on earth, but bubble economics and military overstretch have sapped its strength.... Chucking money at the economy will lead to an even bigger problem of over-investment, an explosion in bad loans and a tendency for a good chunk of the increase in the money supply to leak out into speculation. Over-capacity and falling profit rates will mean that many inefficient companies kept alive by the injection of cheap money will have real problems in servicing their debts. This approach to crisis management is nothing new. China has responded in the way that Alan Greenspan did after the dotcom crash: it has solved the problems of one bubble by creating another.

How necessarily intertwined are hope-building and confidence-building with "hot air" and deception? Are they to be fruitfully distinguished? Does global leadership require a degree of misleadership? (Emergence of a Global Misleadership Council: misleading as vital to governance of the future? 2007).

"Inflation", "growth" and "development"

Past decades of economic development have been intimately associated with inflation, namely the rise in the general level of prices of goods and services in an economy over a period of time. This economic understanding tends to obscure the psychosocial significance of the process. In effect progressively greater collective value is attributed to those products and services -- which monetary tokens partially reflect.

This process is intimately related to the social psychology of rising expectations -- most notably those engendering and sustaining a financial bubble. Greed has been widely promoted as "good". The process continues as recently noted by Richard Bernstein (America is for now still blowing bubbles, Financial Times, 20 July 2009):

The global economy has experienced during this decade the biggest credit bubble in our lifetimes, and virtually every industry in every country benefited. In fact, all the growth stories of the past decade (such as China, emerging market infrastructure, residential housing, hedge funds, private equity and commodities) are capital intensive investments that benefited from easy access to cheap capital. The global credit bubble seems to have created a global economic bubble.

Paul Krugman (Beliefs in Collision: how the bubble was missed, International Hwerald Tribune, 5 September 2009) argues that:

Some economists, notably Robert Shiller, did identify the bubble and warn of painful consequences if it were to burst. Yet key policy makers failed to see the obvious... How did they miss the bubble?.... But there was something else going on: a general belief that bubbles just don't happen. What is stiking, when you reread Mr Greenspan's assurances, is that they weren't based on evidence -- they were based on the a priori assertion that there simply could not be a bubble in housing. And the financial theorists were even more adamant on this point.

Curiously it is the economists complicit in sustaining the financial bubble that collapsed in 2008 who remain favourable to a steady rate of inflation as an indication of a healthy developing economy. Beyond their focus, the question to be asked is what is effectively being "inflated", whether or not the rate of inflation can be distinguished from the dangers of a financial bubble.

Few economists challenge the need for ever increasing growth -- the more, the better -- irrespective of any constraints on resources. This is one reason to favour an ever burgeoning population as a means of ensuring new opportunities for such growth. Although there is considerable criticism of isolated Ponzi schemes -- whatever the undeclared admiration for the skills of their perpetrators -- it is not considered appropriate to question whether the global economic system is effectively just such a scheme. In systemic terms it would be difficult to distinguish the global variant from the smaller examples criminalized as fraudulent.

In the metaphoric use of "bubble", it is curious that little reference is made to "bubbling". On the other hand, there is indeed recognition of "ballooning inflation" and, above all, "ballooning debt". In a strong critique, at the time of writing Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Mark Spitznagel (Time to tackle the real evil: too much debt, Financial Times, 14 July 2009) argue that: We need to rebuild the world to make it resistant to the economist's mystifications. They explore possibilities in terms of "inflating" and "deflating".

"Balloons" vs "Bubbles": a strategic reframing of globalization

The process of globalization, so widely promoted by those complicit in sustaining the financial bubble prior to 2008, then bears a curious resemblance to the global consequence of an inflationary process, the unquestioned product of development and growth -- framed as vital to a healthy society.

Rather than using the "bubble" metaphor, it might be more appropriate to explore the "balloon" metaphor. The bubble metaphor is consistent with a certain implication that the bubble is a natural phenomenon -- not necessarily man-made -- as with financial "hurricanes" and the like. A form of emergence by implication to be recognized (with surprise) after the fact. The balloon metaphor makes it much clearer that this is a man-made construct -- deliberately made or manufactured. Both of course need to be inflated in some way although the process is far less obvious in the case of a bubble, especially after the entry point has disappeared.

Curiously globalization itself is visualized by two totally contrasting metaphors: either an image of the planet as a whole (however the surface is depicted), or arcs around the globe signifying point-to-point communications and transactions (constituting a complex network, however configured). Whatever the former is held to signify, the globality of globalization is effectively constructed by the latter. In that sense globalization can be explored as the process of manufacturing a viable balloon, notably as a global vehicle for the transportation of humanity, rather than a bubble (which has only been held to have such capacity in fairyland).

Just as balloons are more substantial than bubbles, the process of engaging with them offers more possibilities for instrumental thinking characteristic of strategic development -- however enchanting it may be to dance with bubbles and to fantasize about the opportunities they represent. Even Wall Street has been described as a fairyland. The challenges of such engagement have been considered separately (Engaging with Globality -- through cognitive lines, circlets, crowns or holes, 2009).

Balloon-related strategic metaphors

Balloons as strategic vehicles: Strategic use is already made of the balloon metaphor, as in the expression "floating a trial balloon". The bubble metaphor is not used in this way, except in the sense of a "bubble of hope". Presumably a "trial balloon" could be presented as a "bubble of hope", but it is the former that is expected to "fly" in some way -- as an expression of that hope. If it does not then the trial is rated a failure. No such operational considerations apply to use of the bubble metaphor.

Despite the use of the bubble metaphor as central to some economic processes, and notably to its inflation by a bull market, little attention is given to the viability of the bubble as a container -- even of hope. When it collapses there is little to be learnt regarding future bubble construction -- or future means of containing hope. This is curious when there is such intense concern, notably at this time, with confidence building and building up hope -- to the point of framing it as the key to resolution of a crisis.

It is almost as though bubble construction was indeed so insubstantial as to be based entirely on the extreme subtleties of collective consensus and belief. But again the challenge of building or manufacturing consensus avoids the considerations that would be essential to construction of a viable strategic balloon (Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: the political economy of the mass media, 2002).

Strategic balloons of current relevance to discussion of the response to global warming are most evident in the "trial balloons" variously proposed by proponents of geo-engineering -- some of them as fantastic as the design of modern balloons (Geo-engineering Oversight Agency for Thermal Stabilization, 2008). See also The Manchester Report: 20 ideas for solving the climate crisis (The Guardian, 13 July 2009).

Judah Grunstein (The Afghan Paradox, World Politics Review blog, 18 February 2009) explores the Afghan war as a cross-border balloon in which insufficient pressure has been applied on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border, arguing that the balloon has been half-squeezed on one side, and half-squeezed on the other, and that the result has been to increase the risk of the balloon bursting on both sides.

Stephen Sprat (Of Banks, Balloons and an Ecology of Finance, 26 January 2009) argues with respect to the UK economy:

The government resembles a grimly optimistic hot air balloonist, spat out of a storm and crashing to earth while frantically pumping more and more hot air into the balloon, only to see it flow out of huge holes rent in the fabric of his craft....The balloon's predicament mirrors our own. For the basket read the UK economy. For the balloon read the UK banking sector. For the gas read the supply of money, which the government can produce either by borrowing or by printing.... Returning to our balloon, its fabric should be used to create many balloons of different sizes supporting the single basket of the real economy... A variety of different types of institutions serving different sectors in a variety of ways is far more resilient: the system can cope with failures in some areas, as it retains the support of others. If one balloon bursts, the basket does not fall.

Balloons as metaphors of transcendence: Helium-filled balloons are typically released to celebrate the hopes associated with new strategic initiatives. According to Vojtech Jirat-Wasiutynski (The Balloon as Metaphor in the Early Work of Odilon Redon, IRSA, 1992), in the early work of the symbolist painter Odilon Redon (1840-1916) balloons function as visual metaphors for the human need to transcend earthly existence as part of a spiritual quest. Rather than use traditional religious or mythological imagery, Redon turned to the hot-air balloon because it was a particularly topical and modern image in the 1870s. As noted by Jirat-Wasiutynsk:

Dans le Reve (1879) and A Edgar Poe (1882): The imaginary world of le reve in Redon's art is characterized to a large extent by the suspension of gravity. He used the balloon in particular as an appropriate modern metaphor for spiritual quest and the human desire to transcend material existence... Redon's use of images of floating heads and very human, if odd, creatures...evokes a spiritual realm polarized between above and below.

There is thus an important symbolic function of the balloon with which aspirations of strategic transcendence of mundane crises are subtly associated. Although seemingly a switch of metaphors, balloons (like bubbles) are part of the "vision thing" so vital to strategy and motivation. It is the bubble/balloon that has to be "seen" to elicit belief in transcending problems (Developing a Metaphorical Language for the Future, 1994). But is Redon's "suspension of gravity" to be construed, in the strategic case, as a form of delinking from the grounded reality of the world?

Balloons in psychology: The metaphor is notably used in both therapy and in personality characterization.

These examples highlight some pathological phenomena held to be usefully represented by balloons or "inflation". Others include "ballooning anger" and "ballooning ambition". The challenge of egotism in the case of leaders, and especially global leaders, has long been remarked -- most recently on the occasion of the G8 Summit of 2009. There is also the curious potential "resonance" between appreciation of the "globe" by global leaders and their own self-appreciation. As at the national level, a leader may famously declare "L'Etat c'est Moi" (I am the State, as asserted and believed by Louis XIV of France). The same might be said of the so-called Masters of the Universe, a label first used by Tom Wolfe (The Bonfire of the Vanities, 1987).

Such personalized identification may, on the other hand, be fruitfully explored by all, as argued separately (Personal Globalization, 2001). In the light of the discussion below of "hot air ballooning" as a metaphor, there is a certain charm to the possibility of exploring its psychological potential as a personal strategy in a globalizing world. This accords with the sense of an "inner fire" necessary to carry one over mundane obstacles -- a "fire" notably cultivated in some Taoist practices (C G Jung and Richard Wilhelm, The Secret of the Golden Flower: Chinese Book of Life, 1972; Patrick Harpur and Tanya Graham, The Philosophers' Secret Fire: a history of the imagination, Blue Angel Gallery, 2007).

Balloons in epistemology: Ann Roex and Jan Degryse (Introducing the concept of epistemological beliefs into medical education: the hot-air-balloon metaphor, Academic Medicine, 01/07/2007, 82(6), pp. 616-20) argue that the metaphor of a piloted hot-air balloon illustrates the different factors contributing to medical expertise: the hot-air balloon's basket symbolizes the well-organized knowledge base, the envelope (i.e., air bag) stands for the skills repertoire of the pilot, and the burners represent motivation, intelligence, and other noncognitive factors. The pilot needs to achieve sophisticated levels of epistemological beliefs and metacognitive skills to be able to reach the upper levels of expertise with his well-equipped balloon. The metaphor emphasizes the dynamic disposition of expertise and offers a visual framework for designing curricula, assessment procedures, and educational research projects.

Given such arguments, it is appropriate to ask what epistemological insight is brought to bear on global strategic development -- especially when, as currently conceived, it can give rise to unexpected financial bubbles and their collapse.

Balloons in organization and management: A variety of uses have been found for such metaphors:

These examples highlight the practical focus which the balloon metaphor offers in management. Clearly global strategic initiatives could benefit from such clarification.

Balloons in social systems: In reviewing a study by Andrew McMurry (Environmental Renaissance: Emerson, Thoreau, and the Systems of Nature. Athens, GA: U of Georgia P, 2003), Stephen Dougherty (Systems Theory for Ecocriticism, Electronic Book Review, 2006) notes McMurry's view that: Social systems are like balloons and ideologies are like gases: it does not matter what gas you put in the balloon so long as you fill it, and then argues:

It follows, then, that McMurry shows no interest in this or that particular gas. It is only the balloon he wants to talk about. Thus the initial hypothesis: "the ideological construction of nature has no appreciable effect on the problem of nature from the perspective of a social system". In other words, it is not so much what we say about the environment that is important. Instead we must recognize, or somehow more fully appreciate, how whatever we say is always already constrained by the particular communication system in which the utterance is made. While the balloon metaphor is helpful, it is only a start, indeed a kind of balloon itself.

Ballooning population: The metaphor is used with respect to both the number of people and to their individual size:

Given the greater recognition of the challenge of individual obesity compared to that of overpopulation, it is appropriate to explore whether the dysfunctionalities of the latter might be better understood in the light of the former -- as with other problermatic forms of ballooning. Is overpopulation to be understood as a form of collective obesity, especially given its call upon resources? Is globalization to be seen as obscuring dysfunctional ballooning -- or should current globalization itself be understood as a form of ballooning?

Ballooning in economics: Notably in relation to the challenges of globalization, many studies accessible on the web refer to: ballooning demand, ballooning global debt, ballooning fiscal deficits, ballooning trade deficit, ballooning free flow of speculative and volatile short-term capital, ballooning of global finance, ballooning trade surpluses, ballooning stock swap, ballooning executive compensation, ballooning legacy of ecological debt, ballooning of bad debt, ballooning bureaucracies, ballooning informal economies, ballooning lending, ballooning electronic commerce, ballooning external debt, ballooning fear concerning terrorism, ballooning military spending, ballooning demand for illegal drugs.

Ali Farazmand and Jack Pinkowski (Handbook of globalization, governance, and public administration CRC Press, 2006) argue that as countries prosper, political power takes on "rubber band" and "balloon" characteristics, and failure to do so by LDCs restricts their capacity to benefit from globalization.

This implies that any appropriate global strategy for the future needs to encompass "ballooning", in effect to acquire considerable expertise in it -- rather than to be vulnerable to "bubbles" and "bubbling". Of relevance in the examples here is the use of "ballooning" as an indicator of numerical increase when so many other expressions exist. Arguably there is a widespread sense of a form of increase that is not "linear" but "volumetric" -- for which other terms are inadequate.

Ballooning in cardiovascular systems: This is a form of pathological swelling in blood vessels and the heart, notably in the form of apical ballooning syndrome. This suggests the merit of exploring systemically analogous dysfunctionality in the circulatory systems of the body social, following the method used with respect to the circulation of energy in the Roman civilization by Thomas Homer-Dixon (The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization, 2006). The economic examples cited above are indicative of possibilities. On the other hand as a remedial surgical technique, balloon valvuloplasty is used in the case of patients with critical pulmonary valve stenosis. Is such ballooning one of the pathologies of the "heart" of any economy -- perhaps relevant to the economic consequences of the financial crisis of 2008?

Balloon metaphor fundamental to astrophysics: The geometry of the expansion of the universe has long been explained using models of an inflating balloon (Balloon Analogy in Cosmology, 1998), despite arguments that this is a misrepresentation (Is the universe really like an expanding balloon? Curious about Astronomy, Cornell University, 2005).

It is most curious that the balloon should be considered appropriate to represent such a fundamental process in the universe -- if not the universe itself. Understanding of global and globalization -- a process whose similarity to such expansion bears examination -- is not well carried by current imagery. The fact that it is vulnerable to "bubbles" does indeed suggest that it has been unable to disassociate itself from a form of fairyland thinking -- despite pretence to the contrary. Indeed those sustaining the financial bubble were variously accused of dwelling in an unreal fairyland. There is perhaps a greater irony in that those so complicit in the financial crash of 2008 prided themselves on being labelled Masters of the Universe (see Arrogance of the "Masters of the Universe", 2009).

Balloon design and construction

From an historical perspective it might be considered curious that the formalization of corporate limited responsibility initiatives (independent of government charter) occurred in the same period as the development of viable hot air balloons.

Hot air balloons: In offering the first opportunity for humans to fly, balloon construction has a long history. The earliest viable design of 1783 was based on a hot air balloon and the practice of hot air ballooning continues to this day. Balloon envelopes are now made in all kinds of shapes, notably those of commercial products, because of the perceived value of balloons in many marketing strategies -- especially on the occasion of promotional exhibitions. As such they may be readily understood as mirroring psychosocial analogues variously launched at the international conferences with which such exhibitions are associated.

Gas balloons: In addition to the hot air variety, the other main form of balloon is the gas balloon. This may be filled with gases such as hydrogen, helium, ammonia or coal gas (primarily methane). Clearly ensuring the lifting capacity of balloons of whatever variety involves consideration of the use of gases which may well now be defined as greenhouse gases -- just as similar gases are associated with combustion engines vital to other currently challenged modes of transportation. Extensive investigation is underway into the use of unmanned balloons for interplanetary expeditions, namely in photographic reconnaissance of planetary surfaces (Planetary Exploration and Balloons, 2007).

Puffery: Whichever the form of balloon, whether hot air or gas, it is clear that there are insightful possibilities for extending the metaphor. As noted above, production of "hot air" is one of the characteristics of conference gatherings designed to ensure that a strategy gets off the ground. But here meaning is now given to such strategic uplift. The process even has a degree of recognition in legal terminology as "puffery". This involves claims, typical of the promotion of many strategies, that express subjective rather than objective views, irrespective of whether any reasonable person would take those claims literally. Those engaging at length in such puffery in conferences may even be caricatured as "windbags" -- even to the point of being noted in terms of "huffing" and "puffing".

Buoyancy: The prime consideration in ensuring lifting capacity is that the enclosed gas be lighter than air, namely lighter than the surrounding atmosphere. Gas balloons are sealed to contain the selected gas. In the case of the hot air variety, the heated air inside the envelope makes it buoyant since it has a lower density than the relatively cold air outside the envelope. The amount of lift (or buoyancy) provided by a hot air balloon depends primarily upon the difference between the temperature of the air inside the envelope and the temperature of the air outside the envelope. Curiously such terms are closely related to metaphoric use of "lift" by enclosing ("enlightened") "positive" proposals in relation to a context of relatively ("heavy") "negative" attitudes.

"Positive" may of course be associated with a higher temperature -- when the strategic proposal is distinguished as "hot", notably when associated with considerable enthusiasm. Hence the link to confidence building and the enthusiasm of a bull market. In the case of an enclosed gas balloon, it is its density relative to air that is the key. Comparisons may be found with the capacity of enclosed communities to sustain a different strategy -- through a comparatively "enlightened" mindset -- in relation to their environment (Dynamically Gated Conceptual Communities: emergent patterns of isolation within knowledge society, 2004). A point can of course be made that some strategies are significantly enabled by "gases" that are distinctly "inflammable" -- as would be argued with respect to those communities inciting to certain forms of extremism.

Airships and their internal structure: Rather than depend on air pressure to sustain the shape of the balloon envelope, larger carrying capacity may be achieved through the construction of airships. These may be either rigid, semi-rigid or non-rigid (known as blimps). Development of the largest rigid forms ceased with the Hindenberg disaster in 1937. The semi-rigid forms were valued (by the military) for the facility with which they could be deflated and transported elsewhere. There are no rigid airships flying today; the only modern semi-rigid form is the Zeppelin NT. There are many modern non-rigid forms now in operation worldwide.

Of interest in these distinctions, from the simplest form of balloon, is the manner in which internal reinforcement is required to ensure the shape. This recalls the organizational considerations in the implementation of strategies. Of particular interest are those first envisaged in the light of his cybernetic insights by Stafford Beer (Platform for Change, 1975; Brain Of The Firm, 1981; Diagnosing the System for Organisations, 1985), especially his work on syntegrity (Beyond Dispute: The Invention of Team Syntegrity, 1994). It is significant that global strategies as currently proposed have very little trace of the patterns of checks and balances considered essential in the light of cybernetic management. In that sense they are less than "rigid" and might be better understood as "non-rigid" (blimps), or indeed as balloons. "Floppy" might be an appropriate descriptor.

Global balloon design: The Hindenberg disaster highlights the design issue of whether larger strategic frameworks are inherently dangerous, even fatal, or whether they might become viable in the light of modern insights into the possibility of strategic design -- embedded within a knowledge space. Parallels might be explored with the inappropriateness of the design of the financial bubble of 2008 -- as a contemporary form of strategic Hindenberg, dependent on inflammable toxic gases. The quest for a more adequate design of a global financial system might then be considered as a rethinking of how such a global strategic balloon should be safely designed.

Balloon worlds: Consideration has been given to the possibility of designing extraterrestrial environments based on balloons (Karl Schroeder, Balloon Worlds, 2007):

Also known as a pressurized superplanetary sphere. This unusual kind of deep space structure is basically an enormous hollow shell whose shape is held rigid by gas pressure within. Using known materials such as carbon nanotubes and advanced composites, such a balloon megastructure could be built up to about the size of Jupiter and still remain structurally stable. However, smaller balloon worlds several hundred or several thousand kilometers across may prove much more practical to both build and maintain.

Such language and thinking might be equally applicable to some global psychosocial communities.

Balloon operation and governance

Inflation: The challenges of hot-air balloon inflation are well illustrated by video clips (Balloon inflation, 2007; Hot Air Balloon Inflation, 2009). They are very suggestive of the steps involved in ensuring that a strategy is capable of lift-off with a payload. The stages are clarified by a set of images provided by Bob Le-Roi (Balloon Flight, 2004), including:

These stages offer a succession of metaphors to clarify the process of developing a viable strategy. Of particular interest is whether "inflation" involves "pumping in" imagination, funds or enthusiasm, or any combination of them.

Lift off: A further useful distinction relates to the manner in which balloons can be operated (in contrast with airships). Clearly the first objective is to achieve vertical "lift off". The next challenge is direction. A prime characteristic of balloons is that, under the control of the operator, they can only move vertically -- otherwise drifting uncontrollably with the wind.

This offers a useful extension of the metaphor in that any strategic balloon necessarily continues to be constrained in its governability by the winds of fashion and opinion. The many such strategies are then appropriately to be envisaged as floating along at various "heights" and drifting with the winds of change. Of course distinctions as to "height" might be related to various senses of superiority -- especially given the perspective offered from greater height, abstraction and detachment from grounded reality. Are the strategic balloons of the religions to be understood as operating at the greatest heights?

Of related interest is the manner in which vertical movement is controlled:

Dirigibility: A hot air balloon cannot be steered - it can only travel downwind. However, some directional control can be achieved by finding different winds at different levels. In a typical balloon, for any movement sideways, the pilot increases or decreases the altitude of the hot air balloon in the hope of finding a different wind direction, since at different altitudes, the wind blows in different directions.

The larger balloons, whatever their degree of rigidity, become of greater significance with the increase in payload. To be useful these must however be able to move independently of the wind. Propellers driven by combustion engines are attached in some way, as on some modern day blimps. What might be the vital strategic propellants to ensure dirigibility?

As a metaphor, these considerations are a challenge. Clearly there would appear to be severe constraints on the size and carrying capacity of strategic balloons. Only "blimp strategies" would appear to be viable and governable independently of the winds of change. Perhaps it is appropriate to imagine strategic space as filled with a mixture of strategic balloons and blimps, variously shaped and constrained, drifting or moving at different heights -- all reminiscent of the cult movie celebrating the earliest days of powered flight (Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, 1965).

Fig. 1: What a vision ! What a spectacle ! Gee: what fun !
[click each thumbnail for full size original image]

Balloons: Steve Estvanik
Steve Estvanik
Balloons: Christopher Shea
Christopher Shea
Balloons: Mike Jones
© Mike Jones
Fig. 1a: Strategic hot air balloons of the international community?
Strategic hot air balloons of the international community

Landing: Balloons call for particular skills when landing, especially if the intention is to use a predetermined landing site -- usually only possible with balloons of the dirigible variety. Otherwise the destination may be quite unpredictable and dependent on the prevailing winds. This might be said to be equally true of many global strategies. Curiously one of the deprecated forms of landing by powered aircraft is described by the term "ballooned landing".

The above considerations beg the question of how any "global strategy" -- as with any response to global warming -- is to be designed, inflated and operated. Are global strategies, in the light of the ballooning metaphor, inherently ungovernable? However consideration should be given to the aesthetics of strategic "ballooning", as suggested by the above images. Further insight might be obtained from the inflation of values in the art market itself. Indeed many commentators note the manner in which this value "bubble" in the art market has proved to be much more resilient than that in the conventional financial market.

Challenge of symbol conflation: "Sun", "Earth", "Moon"?

In the light of the above, it might prove appropriate to explore the degree of problematic symbol conflation through current uses of "global":

The irony of the "ballooning" significance attributed to globalization is that it might be said to be achieved at a cost:

Curiously with respect to any planetary global strategy, "balloon" (in its spelling) combines the solar implication through "ball" and the lunar implication through "loon". In this contexrt it is appropriate to note the specific combination of the above symnbols in the proposed Flag of Earth, as flown at SETI locations around the world and available through the North American AstroPhysical Observatory (What Is the Flag of Earth? 2008).

"Global" complex of metaphoric associations and connotations

Any strategic initiative depends on weaving together a viable pattern of factors, some of which are necessarily highly dependent on imagination and associated motivation. However these factors are not necessarily innocent and unproblematic in all respects.

Just as the branding of any new commercial product is typically the subject of careful investigation as to its possibly unsuspected connotations in the imagination of significant sectors of its potential market, the descriptor "global" and the process of "globalization" call for even deeper exploration. One step in that direction was the work of Natalia Pecherskaya (Globalization as a Metaphor (Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Studies Association, Honolulu, 2005). Another argument regarding conceptual metaphor is that of George Lakoff in favour of cognitive linguistics' analysis of figurative language -- given that reasoning regarding abstract topics (such as globalization) is somehow rooted in the reasoning used for such mundane topics as spatial relationships (such as balloons).

Potentially associated with "global" are a range of images that it may evoke, if only as a consequence of (mis)pronunciation, or the inspiration of creative satirists (a matter to which marketing agencies are very sensitive). The process here is first to provide -- through a tentative exercise in "deconstruction" -- an indicative list of associations worth exploring, if only for the mnemonic reasons argued elsewhere (In Quest of Mnemonic Catalysts -- for comprehension of complex psychosocial dynamics, 2007). They are necessarily of varying credibility to those variously engaged with global strategies.

Rather than interlinking them in a semantic or cognitive map, an effort is then made to interrelate them through a single, multi-facetted, composite "global" image (Figure 2). As indicated elsewhere, typical 2-dimensional cognitive maps are no longer adequate to the integrative cognitive challenge (Engaging with Globality through Cognitive Crowns: all-encompassing, well-rounded experience, 2009; Polyhedral Empowerment of Networks through Symmetry: psycho-social implications for organization and global governance, 2008).

Direct and indirect associations might therefore include:

Combinations of the above might then notably include:


This portmanteau term offers a suggestive combination of "global" and "ballooning" to encompass the considerations and potential associations above. The challenge is how to design and operate a global strategic balloon -- achieving lift-off and dirigibility safely. It recognizes the potential role of "hot air", or the use of problematic (even explosively inflammable) "gases" -- and their confusing relationship to the "emissions" which are the focus of the response to global warming.

Central to this confusion is the manner in which efforts are made to achieve the coherence of global strategies using "hot air" -- as exemplified by the endlessly repeated declarations (and circular arguments) regarding climate change. In that sense the associated global strategy is definitely a form of balloon. It is proving a challenge to inflate -- if indeed it has integrity (rather than significant rents allowing leaks), such that it could acquire a coherent shape appropriate to lift off. Should attention focus on whether the potential container for hope or confidence actually leaks -- preventing its inflation? But as a balloon, will it be governable?

The following image endeavours to interrelate the above associations in a composite "global" image. The shift into 3Dt follows from previous exercises in relation to governance and value frameworks (Towards Polyhedral Global Governance: complexifying oversimplistic strategic metaphors, 2008; Polyhedral Pattern Language: software facilitation of emergence, representation and transformation of psycho-social organization, 2008; Configuring Global Governance Groups: experimental visualization of possible integrative relationships, 2008; Topology of Valuing: psychodynamics of collective engagement with polyhedral value configurations, 2008).

Fig. 2: Globallooning represented as a cognitive composite
Tentative mapping onto a truncated octahedron (using Stella Navigator, developed by Robert Webb)
[click for experimental animated gif version (600k) or download slide show version (1mb)]
Globallooning as a cognitive composite
A helpful overview of the software application is provided in Wikipedia. Its most recent version provides unique access to polyhedra in both three and four dimensions. Demo versions (3D or 4D) may be downloaded free of charge; an explanatory manual is available.

The selection of a truncated octahedron for the above image is purely for convenience. Other polyhedra could be used to map the network of associations (see Figure 3, below). Of particular interest is the possible significance of the 4 hexagonal zones relating each square of associations to others. As a preliminary mapping, there is a temptation to envisage a type of Rubik cube motion that would allow exploration of ways of reconciling the faces more appropriately.

Configuration of balloons as an appropriate metaphor for global strategy

The following image from an earlier exploration (Union of Intelligible Associations: remembering dynamic identity through a dodecameral mind, 2005) points to the possibility of taking deliberate advantage of multiple multi-facetted sets of associations in order to achieve a higher order of coherence for a global strategy. The interlocking associations then together constitute a form of strategic Rosetta stone through which inherently incommensurable dimensions (of the frameworks of otherwise competing strategies) are related. This might be considered to be consistent with the conclusion of a symposium of the wise -- to celebrate the sesquicentennial of Boston University -- which selected a Tessellation as the metaphor that best captured the spirit of the times (Lance Morrow, Metaphors of The World, Unite!, Time, 16 Oct. 1989). The argument here is that this needs to be configured in more than two dimensions.

Fig. 3: Cluster balloon design appropriate for global strategy?

Arrangement of the 12 Archimedean polyhedra in their most regular pattern,
a cuboctahedron, around a truncated tetrahedron
(from Keith Critchlow, Order in Space, 1969, p. 39).
Arrows indicate the succession of truncations from 1 to 6 in each case. (Disabled: Clicking on a polyhedron links to a spinning image)
Cluster balloon design appropriate for global strategy?

Archimedean polyhedra

Successive truncations of octahedron
2, 3, 4-fold symmetry

Successive truncations of icosahedron
2, 3, 5-fold symmetry

  1. truncated octahedron (14 polygons: 4 / 6 sided)
  2. cuboctahedron / vector equilibrium (14: 3 / 4)
  3. truncated cuboctahedron (26: 4 / 6 / 8)
  4. snub cube (38: 3 / 4)
  5. rhombicuboctahedron (26: 3 / 4)
  6. truncated cube / hexahedron(14: 3 / 8)
  1. truncated icosahedron (32 polygons: 5 / 6 sided)
  2. icosidodecahedron (32: 3 / 5)
  3. truncated icosidodecahedron (62: 4 / 5 / 10)
  4. snub dodecahedron (92: 3 / 5)
  5. rhombicosidodecahedron (62: 3 / 4 / 5)
  6. truncated dodecahedron (32: 3 / 10)
truncated tetrahedron (8 polygons: 3 / 6 sided)
snub cube truncated cube cuboctahedron truncated icosahedron truncated cuboctahedron truncated tetrahedron rhombicuboctahedron rhombicosidodecahedron truncated octahedron truncated icosidodecahedron icosidodecahedron truncated dodecahedron

Governance of strategic vehicles as "timeships"

Implicit in the balloon metaphor, as highlighted above, are various movements in space (but over time):

As such, a strategy is unduly associated with spatial movement when its purpose is in fact far more intimately associated with time. Rather than a form of "spaceship", a strategy is therefore primarily best understood as a "timeship". It enables collective movement through time.

Understood as a spaceship, the significance of its movement as a balloon over terrain is trivialized -- especially in terms of its relative ungovernability (at the mercy of the direction of the wind). As a timeship however, this movement translates into the inexorable movement through time. Its "secret" technological advantage is its ability to reconfigure the spacetime in which it moves, through the manner in which an transformative mutation then enables it to be perceived. Such an understanding of timeships has been explored elsewhere (Timeship: conception, technology, design, embodiment and operation, 2003; Embodying a Timeship vs. Empowering a Spaceship, 2003).

The multi-facetted composite Figure 2 points to the manner in which complementary processes, indicated by incommensurable metaphoric dimensions, may be integrated in a form of "time machine" through which the strategy is then empowered.

To the extent that the symbolism of a "globe" is associated with cultural symbols -- Sun, Earth, Moon -- of importance over millennia around the world, the internal psychodynamics of the strategy together constitute the kind of viable system model (VSM) envisaged by Stafford Beer as a cybernetician (Leonid Ototsky, Stafford Beer and viable systems in the XXI century, 2006). It is in this sense that a strategy becomes psychoactively engaging (Topology of Valuing: psychodynamics of collective engagement with polyhedral value configurations, 2008).

The "cluster" of Figure 3 then holds the disparate epistemological orderings that constitute the requisite variety for a truly global strategy. The cluster emphasizes the facetting of insight absent from the "seamless" cognitive structure implied by a typical balloon metaphor. The "closest packing" of Figure 3, as a "vector equilibirum" fundamental to the integrative insights of R. Buckminster Fuller (Synergetics: Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking, 1975), points to more integrative possibilities (Vector Equilibrium and its Transformation Pathways, 1980).

It is in this sense that such a constantly mutating configuration is not "going anywhere", rather than "anywhen". It effectively embodies time to some degree -- if only as temporal processes. It is from such an atemporal perspective that traditional governance of the Chinese Middle Empire is alleged to have effectively transcended conventional decision-making. It is in this respect that the ancient symbol of the omphalos (Figure 4, below) embodies a variety of relevant insights.

Fig. 4: Omphalos of Delphi
Appropriate Traditional Symbol of Globallooning?
Copy of the Archaic omphalos (navel-stone). It is covered by the agrenon, a thick net of garlands. In this context it is strikingly reminiscent of the form of a hot-air balloon. Given the symbolic significance of global strategies, this is potentially echoed in the fundamental symbolic significance traditionally associated with the omphalos.

Appropriately for the symbol of any global strategy:

  • the most famous omphalos was at Delphi, in the center of the temple of Apollo, marking the center (or navel) of the earth.
  • an omphalos was viewed as the holiest object at various oracle centers in all the lands bordering the Mediterranean Sea.
  • the intersecting garlands around a sphere are also reminiscent of the tensegrity structures of unusual architectural forms (based on the polyhedra of Fig. 3)

The omphalos is a complex of symbols holding facets of understanding of globality:

  • the meeting point of the two golden eagles of Zeus that flew from the two ends of the world
  • providing a semblance of Zeus as a means of engaging effectively with time (symbolized by Cronus,)
  • the earth spirit Python, conquered by Apollo, and buried beneath it
Omphalos of Delphi: Appropriate Traditional Symbol of Globallooning?
The omphalos is related to stones of somewhat similar form in other cultures, such as the lingam -- all symbolizing the navel of the world. Some date from periods in which the associated symbolism of the bull was valued -- in ironic contrast to current appreciation of it in relation to the "hot air" through which strategic importance is inflated (Michael Rice (The Power of the Bull, 1998).


In justification of the trial balloon above...

"On the requirement to embrace error"
Donald N. Michael, On Learning to Plan and Planning to Learn, 1973
The Unprepared Society: planning for a precarious future, 1968

More bluntly, future-responsive societal learning makes it necessary for individuals and organizations to embrace error. It is the only way to ensure a shared self-consciousness about limited theory to the nature of social dynamics, about limited data for testing theory, and hence about our limited ability to control our situation well enough to be successful more often than not.

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