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Mnemonic aids to the challenge of global governance

Towards Polyhedral Global Governance: complexifying oversimplistic strategic metaphors (Part #12)

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As noted in the earlier paper (Governing Civilization through Civilizing Governance: global challenge for a turbulent future, 2008), there are major cognitive challenges to global governance:

  • for specialists in comprehending them through different disciplines that have major difficulties in integrating their perspectives in a coherent manner, especially when extensive use is made of the mathematical subtleties of complexity theory
  • for those in policy-making or leadership roles in comprehending the longer-term interdependencies whilst faced with short-term pressures to demonstrate credibility
  • for wider publics (electorates), for whom the credibility of both experts and leaders is increasingly challenged, and who are forced to seek coherence within frameworks that have not been authorized and authenticated by such authorities -- and may well be deprecated by them

These factors collectively exacerbate the contextual challenge of the erosion of collective memory, evoking the spectre of civilization threatened by an analogue to Alzheimer's disease (Societal Learning and the Erosion of Collective Memory, 1980).

A principal strategic challenge to global governance is that different constituencies typically each have a strong commitment to a particular strategy effectively incompatible with others. The focus is on the many answers to the challenge, promoting that preferred, and eliminating all others. This is subject to the widely quoted constraint: There is always an easy solution to every human problem -- neat, plausible, and wrong (H L Mencken, The Divine Afflatus: A Mencken Chrestomathy, chapter 25, p. 443, 1949) -- also commonly (mis)quoted as: For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple -- and wrong. Unfortunately the current focus is not on identifying better questions as a means of eliciting more appropriate answers, as illustrated elsewhere (Sustaining the Quest for Sustainable Answers, 2003; Engaging with Questions of Higher Order: cognitive vigilance required for higher degrees of twistedness, 2004).

The representation of different modalities by polyhedra of different complexity helpfully points to the varying degrees to which globality may be approximated by each of them. If a truly "global" response is to be represented by a sphere, then each polyhedron approximates to different degrees to a sphere. Geometrically, the more the number of facets, the closer the approximation -- but equally the greater the complexity of that modality. In this sense, whilst the Platonic forms may be simpler in offering an understanding of globality, this simplicity obscures the degree to which each offers an understanding that is much less global than that offered by the Archimedean polyhedra -- which are less readily and less intuitively understandable.

Hence the need for assistance from various mnemonic devices, notably discussed in relation to the dynamic relationships between problematique, resolutique, imaginative and irresolutique (In Quest of Mnemonic Catalysts -- for comprehension of complex psychosocial dynamics, 2007). As with all mnemonic devices, it is of less significance whether they reflect some kind of "truth" than that they should offer a degree of coherence and engagement, even if this evokes continuing vigorous discussion. Such devices may even be understood as alternative languages through which many prefer to engage with their reality. Where such is the case there are advantages in using such articulations rather than requiring that their users learn to communicate in other languages that may have their own inadequacies.

(a) Re-membering the Dodekatheon

Pantheons of classical religions, such as those of Greece and Rome, offer an interesting set of mnemonic aids -- which were clearly accessible to all in those times. Such pantheons raise the very interesting question as to whether the deities in the set might be usefully associated with particular polyhedra -- given the contrasting qualities of which they were held to be the expression, and the different modes of intercession associated with each. More generally how might any divine cosmology suggest that the succession of gods, and their fundamental qualities (notably in relation to values) and dramatic roles (in relation to each other) be positioned with respect to each other.

In the case of the Greek pantheon, the 12 deities of the Dodekatheon, this raises the particular question of how the 12 deities might be interrelated by the polyhedral configuration presented above. Plato argues, for example, in Timaeus that the Universe was built by "the first begotten" on the dodecahedron in accordance with geometrical laws. As an example, in two dimensions and for the Hebrew tradition, Stephen M. Phillips explores polygonal form of the inner Tree of Life as two identical sets of seven enfolded, regular polygons, associating them with the Godnames assigned to the ten Sephiroth of the outer Tree of Life (The '120 Polyhedron' and the '144 Polyhedron' as the Exterior and Interior of the Inner Tree of Life).

It might be asked whether different international institutions already have an implicit association with particular Greek or Roman deities through their preferred symbols and terminology: UNESCO with Athena? FAO with Ceres?. etc. In what sense have such symbolic associations been held to "work"?

Is the set of UN Specialized Agencies then to be understood as a crude modern approximation to the set of deities of the Dodekatheon? Unfortunately there has never been any attempt to represent the set of such agencies as a coherent system of governance -- memorable as such in their entirety rather than an alienating chart of hierarchical dependencies. The challenges of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination over decades are confirmation of this. As with the deities in classical times, each agency is "worshipped" and "celebrated" in isolation or according to immediate need. The same pattern may be seen with regard to the set of national government agencies -- of which the intergovernmental set is a reflection. (Note: In a subsequent paper, as an exercise, 12 UN Agencies were mapped onto a dodecahedron -- itself transformed into an icosidodecahedron to illustrate the communication challenges to emergent integrity).

Ironically the current focus on configurations of strategic "pillars" might be fruitfully seen as an attempt at simplistic "petrification" of the complex dynamics -- the strange attractors -- with which the deities were variously associated in times past. Perhaps even more ironic is the extent to which such a configuration then constitutes a kind of megalithic Stonehenge through which global governance is now attempted -- complete with policy-makers as druidic priesthoods duly arrayed in semi-circular parliamentary arenas for appropriate rituals! It might be said that such a "side-less" Stonehenge provides no shelter from the "elements" in an increasingly turbulent environment.

The challenge of such asystemic governance is conveniently illustrated by the dysfunctional role of deities as isolated metaphors. In an earlier exploration of Governance through Metaphor (1987), reference was made to the widely quoted study by Charles Handy (Gods of Management; who they are, how they work and why they will fail, 1979) who used four Greek deities to characterize the different styles of management. The four gods (and the associated organizational styles) are: Zeus (club), Apollo (role), Athena (task) and Dionysus (existential). He notes:

Each of the four gods gives its name to a cult or philosophy of management and to an organizational culture. Each of these cultures has also got a formal, more technical name, as well as a diagrammatic picture. The names, picture and Greek God each carries its own overtones, and these overtones combine to build up the concept I am trying to convey. They also help to keep the ideas in one's memory. These names and signs and Gods do not amount to definitions, for the cultures cannot be precisely defined, only recognized when you see them... It is important to realize that each of these cultures, or ways of running things is good - for something. (pp.25-26).

As he stresses, the problem is to know how to choose which god for which circumstances. It is the constraints and opportunities of the process of choosing that need to be embodied in metaphor and which call for further investigation. Essentially the Dodekatheon needs to be "re-membered" -- an ironic requirement after two millennia.

Citing Handy, Martin L. Bowles (The Gods and Goddesses: personifying social life in the age of organization, 1993) argues that:

All social life is underpinned by the activation of archetypal processes. These processes are understood here as representing the gods and goddesses, as they have been conceived by mankind since antiquity. This is not a religious but a psychological account of those energies which emerge from the collective unconscious and dictate the form of the world as we understand it. The pantheon of gods and goddesses as found in Greek myth is used to describe the represen tation of 'divinities' as they are 'worshipped' in the age of organization. Those gods and goddesses who seldom appear on the corporate Mt. Olympus, but who are sorely needed to address a staleness in the experience of organizational life, are briefly reviewed.

Using a similar approach, Linda S. Henderson (Reflecting on Athens 2004: what we can learn about modern project management from ancient Olympian archetypes, 2005) explores the juxtaposition of Olympian archetypes alongside project management processes that were endemic to the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens. She focuses on the deities Demeter, Artemis, Athena, Hestia, Hades, Apollo, Hephaestus, and Hermes from the viewpoint of their qualities and proclivities for project work

Perhaps more sadly ironic is that most of the names of the Greek and Roman deities have now been appropriated as brand names for articles of human clothing (Politicization of Evidence in the Plastic Turkey Era, 2003). The challenge is whether such misplaced appropriation of humanity's cultural heritage obscures the extent to which any effort to appropriate the qualities of those deities as a form of "cognitive clothing" has thereby been completely inhibited. It might be said that the value of such "cognitive clothing" is well-recognized by Edward de Bono (Six Thinking Hats, 1985; Six Action Shoes, 1991).

More problematic is the effort to copyright and franchise potentially vital conceptual developments, based on particular metaphors, patterns or even polyhedra (Future Coping Strategies: beyond the constraints of proprietary metaphors, 1992). Examples, specifically based on polyhedra include that of eidetics (Henry Evering, et al. Eidetic organizational development: image, motivations and systems research, Canadian Journal of Marketing Research, 1990) and that relating to Stafford Beer's "team syntegrity". As with genetics, memetics is likely to have its Craig Venter's. More intriguing, to the extent that polyhedral "sides" are recognized as the cognitive "territory" open to future occupation, are issues relating to the relativity of such perspectives within a more fundamental dynamic framework of which any polyhedral form is but an instance (Einstein's Implicit Theory of Relativity -- of Cognitive Property? Unexamined influence of patent office procedures, 2007).

(b) Engaging with popular astrology

Whatever the scepticism and scorn with which astrology is viewed, it is unfortunately the case that the perspectives deprecating its significance have yet to demonstrate any capacity to respond to the cognitive challenges of global governance -- let alone to the articulation of strategies adequate to its current challenges or those which seem imminent.

It is repeatedly documented that astrology is meaningful worldwide to people of every level of society (Twenty facts about astrology, Telegraph, 12 December 2002; Trish Hall, There in the Crystal Ball, Forecasters Are Thriving, New York Times, 29 April 1992). As has always been the case, this is most notable among the leaders responsible for governance of large populations (including Ronald Reagan, Indira Gandhi, John F Kennedy, and Adolf Hitler). This cannot be said of many of the sophisticated techniques otherwise advocated.

Like it or not the traditional "zodiac" continues to offer a more integrative cross-cultural framework for many than modern constructs such as "global models", "global plans" or the "international community". It notably highlights a dynamic array of qualitative distinctions of personal significance with which people can engage (whether playfully, speculatively or otherwise). This governance has yet to achieve, other than through the importance attached to personality cults or the caricatures of such personalities in cartoon strips. Futurists, as the modern version of traditional astrologers, have yet to communicate significance in a manner that evokes cognitive participation to the degree that their predecessors achieved. Curiously, however, the predictions of futurists are framed by governance in a manner similar to those of astrologers of the past -- whether as cause for optimism or cause for pessimism, to be upheld or neglected -- according to political expedience.

Perhaps more important within astrology is the comprehensible representation of the underlying framework of complementarities between seemingly incompatible qualitative modalities whose significance is echoed in systems at all levels. General systems research continues to seek such coherence and the relevant learning pathways meaningful to others -- despite adapting the traditional language of correspondences promoted by astrological thinking (Theories of Correspondences -- and potential equivalences between them in correlative thinking, 2007). Such correspondences notably highlighted relationships of potential systemic relevance, if only as mnemonic aids, between tangible phenomena and abstractions whereby they were interrelated -- whether polyhedra, deities or features of the human body. Science has been much challenged to make systemic relationships meaningful -- reinforcing the weaknesses of governance in that respect. Agenda 21, arising from the UN Earth Summit on sustainable development (Rio de Janeiro, 1992) provides a striking example of an asystemic document.

A case may therefore be made for developing an interface between sophisticated articulations and astrology, if only for mnemonic purposes. In contrast with the set of UN Specialized Agencies, or the disciplines claiming relevance to governance, the elements of the astrological system (and its dynamics) are familiar as an integrated whole of significance to many in providing a global understanding of the future -- and of the strategic implications of special conditions. Whilst the commitment of astrology to the whole may indeed sacrifice the niceties with which specialized and informed understanding is concerned, it is surely for the latter to develop significant interrelationships that can be more meaningfully communicated worldwide. How healthy is the suspicion of many regarding the value of new "models" compared to the superstition with which astrology is condemned by their proponents?

If it were possible that communication of the urgent challenges of governance might be more meaningfully and memorably achieved through the language of astrology -- "horrorscopes" as an adaptation of "horoscopes" -- would such explorations not be considered credible, appropriate and instructive to many?

(c) Engaging with popular games

Given the widespread apathy of many, especially the young, in relation to the challenges of global governance as formulated by policy-makers, there is also a case for exploring the possibility of a cognitive interface with the metaphoric expressions of complexity above. This approach has been argued in more detail elsewhere (Playfully Changing the Prevailing Climate of Opinion: climate change as focal metaphor of effective global governance, 2005).

In this context it is however interesting to note the degree to which mythology has been reactivated, and associated with use of polyhedral dice as a decision-making device, in board-based role playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons -- estimated to have some 20 million users. A web-based interactive version also exists (Dungeons and Dragons Online) and is regularly upgraded, as one of the massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG). These include such games as Everquest and World of Warcraft, the latter with some 10 million online players. The revenues associated with such virtual worlds now exceed those of the movie industry and are expected to double within four years.

It has been remarked that the use by the military of similar games for training purposes (and to communicate the attractions of military life to the young) blur into the use of similar software in the emerging reality of high-tech battlefield situations. Decision-making challenges in such stressful contexts have focused attention on the challenges of "cognitive fusion", namely how rapidly to configure and focus large quantities of relevant information -- suggesting the possibility of a more fruitful exploration (Enactivating a Cognitive Fusion Reactor Imaginal Transformation of Energy Resourcing (ITER-8), 2006).

Of interest in this context is the mindset cultivated by games such as Monopoly in the absence of the significance that can be attributed to "polypoly". This has not given rise to a popular game but is a well-explored concept in economics and has been evoked with respect to proportional voting systems (Keith Rankin, Parliament: Polypoly or Duopoly? 2001). The argument here would be for the creation of a game that might be called Polyhedrally, whose design might be partly inspired by the popular game Tetris. Of course "mono-poly" is an economic analogue to the single, uni-polar "pillar" metaphor, whilst "poly-poly" is an economic consideration of a more complex configuation of such "pillars".

It is appropriate to note the explicit emergence of strategic insights in such online gaming contexts -- for which teams are trained. It is to be expected that the organization of the "guilds" using such strategies within these games, will evolve into polyhedral forms, if there is competitive advantage in any more complex strategies associated with these formations. Guild creation and guild management are already the focus of specialized websites, as with guild strategies. Polyhedral organization might thus emerge and evolve far more rapidly in such contexts than in conventional contexts focusing on "governance"

(d) Mnemonic association of global systemic functions with pantheons of deities

It is appropriate to recognize pantheons as the systemic articulation of a set of interconnected functions through which engagement with reality was defined in eras past. The problematic systemic phenomena of today (drought, disease, etc) were then recognized "through" the complex dynamics of the set of deities interrelated through the pantheon. International agencies may be understood as partially performing an intercessionary function with respect to problems of the present -- although how they are interrelated remains a mystery to many.

"Beneficient" functions
Rome (UN) agencies
"Problematic" dysfunctions
justice Zeus Jupiter ICJ, ICC storms, lightning
marriage, motherhood Hera Juno UNICEF, UNIFEM divorce, miscarriage?
sea Poseidon Neptune IMCO, ISA earthquakes, tsunamis
nature, agriculture, fertility Demeter Ceres FAO, UNEP, WFP aridity? barrenness?
home, hearth Hestia Vesta UN-HABITAT homelessness?
love, beauty, fertility. Aphrodite Venus UNFPA childlessness?
healing, arts, prophecy, truth Apollo Apollo UNESCO, WHO ignorance?
war, violence Ares Mars (NATO, SHIRBRIG) .
hunting Artemis Diana FAO .
wisdom, crafts, strategy Athena Minerva UNESCO stupidity?
fire, metallurgy. Hephaestus Vulcan UNIDO volcanic eruptions.
commerce, theft, trade. Hermes Mercury WTO, ITU, UNTAD, UPU corruption?
death, wealth Hades Pluto IMF, IBRD .

Note that although Hades featured as part of the "first generation" of the Olympian deities, he is not considered part of the Dekatheon. Various other deities have been associated with the Dekatheon at different times. There are of course many more deities, just as there are many more intergovernmental agencies. Both deities and agencies have regional variants. As archetypes, the deities have been extensively studied by depth psychologists as indicators of a complex set of psycho-social functions -- which might usefully be related to the challenge of governing complex systems.

(e) Systematic ordering of belief systems fundamental to the challenge of governance

Global governance must necessarily draw on an array of disciplines associated with different fields of knowledge. It must necessarily also respond to faith-based constraints and value systems, notably those articulated by the religions. There is a long history of efforts to order and classify the associated knowledge. This is especially significant in that the proponents of particular modes of knowledge typically have little incentive to reconcile their understanding with that of others -- thus exacerbating the challenges of governance dependent to some degree on such disparate insights.

One interesting approach to the organization of modes of knowing -- potentially of requisite complexity -- is suggested by the periodic table of chemical elements. This has been explored elsewhere (Tuning a Periodic Table of Religions, Epistemologies and Spirituality: including the sciences and other belief systems, 2007).

With respect to any exploration of polyhedral global governance, of special interest are the characteristic correspondences of polyhedral crystal structures with particular portions of the periodic table of chemical elements. There is therefore a case -- if only for mnemonic purposes -- of giving further consideration to this relationship with respect to the systemic functions noted above.

(f) Moving symbols and evocation of psycho-social energy

Under conditions of social fragmentation within a globalizing society, support for any global identitque calls for more powerful symbols of fundamental integration. Many symbols valued for this purpose in the past have been essentially static. The question is whether new technologies enable the emergence of dynamic symbols and how these are to be understood as evoking and focusing psycho-social energy (Moving Symbols: radical change in psycho-social energy possibilities? 2008; Reframing Sustainable Sources of Energy for the Future: the vital role of psychosocial variants, 2006).

Especially interesting in this context is the contrast with the mandala-like symbols of the past, including cathedral rose windows. These in part derived their evocative power from the play of light through them. The challenge of the present might be more fruitfully compared to encompassing the complexity of a kaleidoscope in which the parts of the rose window, for example, merge into and separate from each other -- as frequently represented on computer graphic displays.

The changing relationships between the set of polyhedra discussed above might then be understood optically -- each polyhedra being a form of optical lens of different properties, filtering information of different "colours". The kaleidoscopic effect to be encompassed and integrated -- by the governors and the governed -- is then the flow of information through such a set of lenses shifting in relation to each other (see Archimedean Kaleidoscope applet). As demonstrated in computer displays, it is the cycling patterns that are the key to such integration and the dynamic global identique (Emergence of Cyclical Psycho-social Identity: sustainability as "psyclically" defined, 2007).

The value of any such set of distinct cognitive lenses with different properties is confirmed by Magoroh Maruyama (Peripheral Vision: polyocular vision or subunderstanding? Organization Studies, 25, 2004, pp. 467-480) as argued elsewhere (Cyclopean Vision vs Poly-sensual Engagement, 2006). Given the extent to which the "vision" metaphor is universally exploited in relation to governance and future strategy, there is merit in exploring it further -- especially since so many who use it are bespectacled policy-makers and futurists who do not envisage the need for any corrective lens for possible defects in their cognitive near-sightedness or far-sightedness.

More intriguing is the complexity and sophistication of optical systems in telescopes and microscopes employing multiple lenses to process light -- moving some lenses to achieve the necessary focus. This suggests the merit of exploring concentric polyhedra, as envisaged by Kepler (see above), to focus cognitive "information" through various stages -- to form a coherent, distortion-free image. There is even a case (as noted above) for understanding the "information" associated with the imaginatique, the resolutique, the irresolutique and the problematique as appropriately brought into focus through a succession of such concentric polyhedra -- thereby corresponding successively to the value/ethical domain, the strategic domain, the institutional domain, and the complex of problems. This points to an interesting way of interrelating "information", of relevance to governance, understood as wisdom, knowledge, information or data.

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