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Strategic footnotes to Plato


Towards Polyhedral Global Governance: complexifying oversimplistic strategic metaphors (Part #6)


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It has long been recognized that much philosophy could be understood as "footnotes to Plato". In the light of the above examples, the question might be asked whether much strategic thinking could be understood as similarly inspired by classic Hellenic architectural principles -- as "footnotes" to such principles.

Platonic solids: As argued elsewhere (Governing Civilization through Civilizing Governance: global challenge for a turbulent future, 2008), it may be recalled that Plato is primarily known to geometricians for his association with the five Platonic solids, which only take form in three dimensions (as opposed to two) -- and when more than three sides are presented and appropriately configured. Many of them have many more sides and the configurations are quite complex -- although aesthetically and intuitively appealing.

One challenge for strategic thinking is the universal tendency to depend on agreement on a single strategy, implying the need for consensus building processes to eliminate any alternatives. Without such agreement, increasingly difficult to achieve, it is assumed that coherent action cannot be taken -- and must therefore be postponed until agreement is indeed achieved. This focus is universally institutionalized in voting procedures which allow only for agreement, opposition or abstention.

"Sides": As a consequence, strategies at present can have only one "side" (the right one with which all are expected to "side" after "deciding") -- and are therefore appropriately described as "one-sided". Perhaps the process should be termed "de-siding" in that the essence of agreement is that there should be no "sides". In three dimensional configurations, however, an "opposite" side may have a necessary structural function, as with those at various angles to it -- then understood to be complementary. In practice most agendas are promoted by coalitions of forces with different perspectives and are therefore more realistically recognized as "sides" -- even if they are not "opposing". Clearly govenrment in a democracy is also obliged to integrate opposing sides in some fruitful manner.

It is difficult to side with a pillar, although one can be more attached to one than another. On the other hand, it is one thing to "take sides" across a simple boundary; it is quite another to seek to do so with respect to a polyhedron.

These seemingly simplistic issues have their fundamental significance in that governance is notably concerned with defining the boundary within which it has responsibilities. Such a boundary is then typically defined by a "line", also typically associated with a map of some territory. On the ground however, such a line is frequently marked by fencing that defines the sides of the line in an extra dimension -- thus an inside (for the community of "us") and an outside (for "them"). Governance is then primarily focused on a community that is implicitly "walled-in" and may not even be conceived as "gated". Such a boundary may also be dynamic rather than spatial (Dynamically Gated Conceptual Communities, 2004).

In their commitment to closure, debates on institutional reform typically preclude the emergence of a set of complementary (but possibly incommensurable) strategies that may constitute the requisite strategic variety capable of responding effectively to the complexity of the problematique. There is also the awkward question of what is to be done with those who disagree and oppose the strategy, whether passively or aggressively. The strategy may even seek to marginalize, criminalize or eliminate them -- supposedly for the good of the whole.

"One Side Fits All"?
Democracy is presented as a process through which debate occurs between "the government" and "the opposition" for the benefit of the whole. The process is held to be undermined when the views of only one "side" are presented or are imposed. Curiously however much is made of the value of "competition" in the economic sectors and in research of any kind -- and of the need to promote it and to counteract unfortunate tendencies to undermine it. In this sense competition must presumably be understood as necessarily polyhedral for reasons that have not been fully accepted in the case of the strategies of governance.

"Polyhedral strategies": Arguably there is a challenge to global strategic thinking to escape from (numerically challenged) "linear thinking" and "strategic flatland" -- into the third dimension (at least). The need for such escape is highlighted by the widely acclaimed book by Thomas L. Friedman (The World Is Flat, 2005) as reviewed elsewhere (Irresponsible Dependence on a Flat Earth Mentality: in response to global governance challenges, 2008). The challenging shift in perspective has long been a theme of mathematical fiction (Flatland: a romance of many dimensions, 1884) and has recently taken the form of an animated version (Flatland, 2007).

With the 13 complementary Archimedean solids, the two series together suggest a periodic table of institutional and strategic opportunities that call for exploration as enabling metaphors -- where "sides" are indicative of distinct (if not commensurable) strategic perspectives. More generally, including forms of more than three dimensions, this potentially rich institutional architectural repertoire includes the regular polytopes.

Given the challenges that global strategic thinking is expected to address, there might be said to be a desperate need for some strategic and institutional "Platonic solids" to emerge credibly and sustainably from any Socratic dialogue process on global strategy. It might even be said that it is the dynamic of such dialogue, as a complex system involving many "sides", which engenders such solids as a form of standing wave pattern. Such structural "footnotes" may indeed be fundamental to significant institutional architecture in the future.

"Voluminous thinking" by configuration of "lateral thinking": Again, with respect to Edward de Bono's concern with "lateral thinking" and his 6-fold sets, a case might be made to move beyond two dimensions and think "voluminously" (From Lateral Thinking to Voluminous Thinking, 2007). The six might then be conveniently mapped onto a cube as its six sides. "Cubic thinking" might however also be seen to have the limitations so evident in conventional architecture and "in the box" thinking. Using other Platonic solids, the six might alternatively be mapped onto the edges of a tetrahedron or onto the apices of an octahedron. If the strategic "hats" and "shoes" are to be combined, then 12-fold mappings become relevant as considered below.

There may even be a case for "geodesic" institutional and cognitive structures, metaphorically inspired by geodesic domes -- as implied by arguments of R. Buckminster Fuller (Synergetics: explorations in the geometry of thinking, 1975/1979) and as explored elsewhere (Transcending Duality through Tensional Integrity: from systems-versus-networks to tensegrity organization, 1978; Implementing Principles by Balancing Configurations of Functions: a tensegrity organization approach, 1979).

Inspired by Fuller, the concept of a self-organizing geodesic democracy has, for example, been developed in a series of documents by Roan Carratu (The Geodesic Direct Democratic Network; Structure; Process; Modes; Finances; General Archives; Projects; Growth; Details of Specific Procedures, 2005) and on an associated website on geodemocracy. He summarizes the structure as follows:

The Geonet is a concept for a structure that is self-organizing, totally individual driven, and small close group oriented. Most meetings have agendas, that is, a set of concerns or subjects which are to be taken up by the meeting and resolved. The Geonet is an agenda driven set of small meetings where the agendas form the structure, with the subjects in those agendas being flexible and chosen by the individuals involved rather than an leader or someone elected to a position. The positions are not elected, but are rotating, so all will eventually have each position at some time, for the same amount of time as all others. The number of subjects have limits, but the subjects themselves do not. All decision making is in the hands of each individual, and the Geonet allows those individuals who wish to do something together, to do it together, with the assistance of all the knowledge and wisdom found in any group.

To the extent that organizations, strategies and methodologies increasingly claim the need to be "multi-faceted" in the face of complexity, it is appropriate to ask at what stage this necessitates shifting beyond identification of such facets as bullet "points" or budget "lines" -- if any coherence is to be recognized. Presumably the identity of such an undertaking can then only be effectively expressed "voluminously" by appropriately configuring the facets in three dimensions. The alternative is to endeavour to present them as a tiling or tesselation -- a jig saw puzzle. This reflects the challenge of globalizing integrative mind maps to respect their finite but unbounded nature.

Expressed otherwise, is there a case for recognizing a need for shifting strategic thinking from the "surface" over which it is conventionally assumed to be deployed into other dimensions -- whose cognitive challenges are highlighted in the fictional explorations well-known to mathematicians, namely from Flatland (1884) to Sphereland (1965), their animated versions (2007), or even to the hyperdimensionality of a hypersphere? The latter is perhaps to be recognized as a requisite "hyper-response" to global strategic "hyperconfusion", especially since it is so essential to any understanding of reality by the physics through which technological development is now sustained (Hyperaction through Hypercomprehension and Hyperdrive: necessary complement to proliferation of hypermedia in hypersociety, 2006).

Unipolarity: regression to the cognitive innumeracy of some traditional cultures?
"One, Two, Many" perhaps to be understood in approaches to global governance as the
"One Too Many" characteristic of antipathy to alternatives from a unipolar perspective?

Metaphoric "upgrade": Such a geometric context, including the regular polytopes in more than three dimensions, points to the possibility and the potential of a "metaphoric upgrade" that remains compatible with the original Hellenic inspiration, as an extension of it. That such a upgrade is necessary in a governance-challenged world is perhaps well-illustrated by the comment of John Joe Lakers:

The Hellenic metaphors which depict the reality we experience in everyday interactions with the world around us is a bounded universe and a cosmic order. (Reflections: personal, philosophical, theological, 2006)

As has been illustrated by the construction complexities of modern architectural forms, new kinds of computer-designed templates are required for organizational architecture before their emergent integrity ensures that they constitute a stable configuration. The same is to be expected in the design of the information/communication protocols and algorithms that would catalyze and support the emergence of "Platonic solid" configurations from the electronic amorphousness of "social networking" and "networks of excellence". This has been partially envisaged by management cybernetician Stafford Beer (Beyond Dispute: the invention of team syntegrity, 1994) in relation to his use of the icosahedron.

If truth is many sided
should governance necessarily be polyhedral?


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