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Challenge of governance: metaphorical impoverishment?


Governing Civilization through Civilizing Governance: global challenge for a turbulent future (Part #6)


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Few would question the shift to a knowledge society -- now hyperdependent on the media and creative visualization for communication purposes and framing its future. A case can however be made that the repertoire of metaphors through which the challenges of governance are articulated is impoverished in relation to the quality of cognitive assistance that is required -- perhaps to be framed as "cognitive prosthetics". (see commentaries on Governance through Metaphor Project).

Some relevant explorations include:

If importance is attached to the "images" through which organizations may be variously understood (Gareth Morgan, Images of Organization, 1986), what then of the images of governance and globalization? Morgan distinguishes eight: Machine, Organism, Brain, Culture, Political System, Psychic Prison, Flux and Transformation, and Instrument of Domination. Similarly, a symposium of the wise, to celebrate the sesquicentennial of Boston University (Lance Morrow, Metaphors of The World, Unite!, Time, 16 Oct. 1989) selected a Tessellation as the metaphor that best captured the spirit of the times.

In that light, a self-reflexive exercise was undertaken to explore a set of metaphors through which the operation and output of "think tanks" focused on global governance might themselves be understood. These metaphors included: Fish tank, Battle tank, Reservoir tank, Holding tank, Septic tank, Sensory deprivation tank (Float tank) , Cultivation tank, Simulation tank) (see "Tank-thoughts" from "Think-tanks": metaphors constraining development of global governance, 2003). Such considerations rause the issue of policy creativity and coherence for future governance (Meta-challenges of the Future for Networking through Think-tanks, 2007)

In this spirit what might then be the seven (say) guiding, generative and mutually challenging metaphors of governance and globalization?

The earlier exercise (Cooperation and its Failures: Metaphors towards understanding the dilemma for the 1990s, 1988) explored the metaphors of: Networking and teleconferencing, Revolution, Trade and Development, Sexual intercourse, Environmental ecosystems, Drama and Opera, Sharing in spirit, Building, Games and Teamwork, Celebration, Rule of Law, and Conspiracy of elites.

More fruitful complementary metaphors, to ensure better communication between governors and governed, might now include, for example:

A comparative study of the opponents in the Vietnam War suggested that the USA lost because strategically it was "playing chess", whereas its opponents were "playing go" (Scott Boorman, The Protracted Game: A Wei-ch'i Interpretation of Maoist Revolutionary Strategy, 1969). Provocatively, is it possible that the "success" of Al-Qaida is due to its framing of its strategies through richer metaphors? (cf Transforming the Encounter with Terrorism, 2002). Such points make it possible to suggest that a desirable form of governance, in a knowledge-based society, might well focus its attention on the emergence and movement of policy-relevant metaphor-models in society as suggested elsewhere (Governance through Metaphor, 1987).

Contemporary approaches to governance: "Crazy Enough" ?

Is the conventional thinking in the face of the extreme contemporary challenges of governance unworthy of a civilization "reaching for the stars" -- and potentially dependent for its energy on understandings of physics that defy conventional modes of understanding? The latter are famously dependent on the craziest "Theories of Everything", as illustrated by the much-quoted statement by Niels Bohr in response to Wolfgang Pauli:

"We are all agreed that your theory is crazy. The question which divides us is whether it is crazy enough to have a chance of being correct. My own feeling is that it is not crazy enough."

To that Freeman Dyson added:

"When a great innovation appears, it will almost certainly be in a muddled, incomplete and confusing form. To the discoverer, himself, it will be only half understood; to everyone else, it will be a mystery. For any speculation which does not at first glance look crazy, there is no hope!" (Innovation in Physics, Scientific American, 199, No. 3, September 1958)

Or perhaps, as expressed by Shakespeare:

"Though this be madness yet there is method in it". (Hamlet, 1603)


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