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Configuring pillars

Towards Polyhedral Global Governance: complexifying oversimplistic strategic metaphors (Part #4)

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Perhaps the earliest configurations of pillars of symbolic significance to the development of western culture are the concentric rings of pillars at the famed Stonehenge megalithic site (dating from 3100 BC), and those nearby at Woodhenge. The astronomical alignments embodied there have been echoed down the century in those of pillared cathedrals. Considered to have been significant to governance of the peoples of the time, notably enhancing the authority of the governors, the configurations are especially significant as forms of closure maintaining a distance from those of lesser standing restricted to the outer circles. These were inhibited in their capacity to see what occurred within the innermost rings. Despite its apparent openness, such restrictive geometry might also be considered a feature of contemporary organizational assemblies -- despite advances in communication technology. Problematic mystification might be seen as one reason for the alienation of European peoples from the EU reform process -- as evidenced when they are allowed to vote.

Outside Europe this strategic focus on "pillars" could be understood to have reinforced, and been reinforced by, institutional architectural preferences -- notably in the major institutions in Washington DC, for example. The question is what is the extent of this implicit influence. A related question is to be found in the preoccupation with "stakes" and "stakeholders" -- a metaphor inspired by an even more primitive form of construction, as with their use in stockades.

An interesting case can be made for strategic metaphors associated with the common use of two pillars alone, effectively functioning as a gateway. Elsewhere attention was drawn to their importance in Chinese philosophy as symbolizing a gateless gate. More curious is the strategic metaphor associated with the very common single pillar -- especially as now "operationalized" as a rocket for military purposes.

The earlier exploration raised the question of whether it was possible to configure pillars in more fruitful ways, notably in order to "animate" any understanding of institutional architecture, to imbue it with a dynamic -- thereby counteracting the sense of alienating soullessness typical of institutional strategies (Animating the Representation of Europe: visualizing the coherence of international institutions using dynamic animal-like structures, 2004). Again, this question might also be applied to any understanding of how stakeholders might more fruitfully configure themselves in support of more complex strategic initiatives.

The need for new strategic thinking and institutional forms, more appropriate to the increasing complexity of the global problematique, has been widely recognized, as noted elsewhere (Consciously Self-reflexive Global Initiatives: Renaissance zones, complex adaptive systems, and third order organizations, 2007). Leroy White ('Effective governance' through complexity thinking and management science, Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 2001) argues that, if governance has supplanted management as an issue for the management sciences, a new or different language is needed to "re-present" the problems.

In the case of Edward de Bono (New Thinking for the New Millennium, 1999), it might however be argued that his promotion of contrasting "hats" and "shoes" is indicative of an exceptional recognition of the necessary complementarity of different "sides" of any strategic question (Six Thinking Hats, 1985; Six Action Shoes, 1991). The question, in this context however relates to the cognitive constraints imposed by his advocated focus on "six" and whether this precludes subtler and more complex sets of complementarities. On the other hand, the "hats" and the "shoes" might at least be considered as constituting a larger set of "twelve" -- a theme pursued below.

The Parthenon is imaginatively considered to be a symbol of the cradle of western democracy. Given the large number of pillars from which it is constituted as an elegantly ordered pattern, it might be asked how the present "jumble" of European strategic "pillars" might be otherwise ordered. Does the number of pillars of the Parthenon imply a degree of order which construction methods of the time could not achieve? In other words is it a construction of lower dimensionality than what it represents -- as the lost values originally associated with the individual pillars in the set? Are their complex polyhedra implied in the alternative ways in which the Parthenon's pillars could have been configured -- together constituting the "lost dream" of western civilization? Is it the faint echoes of this cultural dream that are reflected in the present "jumble" of European "pillars"?

The current challenge of governance, in embodying such dreams, may lie in the difficulties of constructing strategic configurations of requisite complexity -- an issue addressed elsewhere (Polyhedral Pattern Language: software facilitation of emergence, representation and transformation of psycho-social organization, 2008).

Politicians and policy-makers are typically highly resistant to complex arguments articulated in lengthy texts. They favour simple articulations of options for debate. Curiously they are most surprised, if not offended, that their populations are similarly resistant to complexity and obfuscation -- even when the complexity of the situation calls for a complex and lengthy articulation
(as with the 300-page EU Reform Treaty).

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