Counteracting Extremes Enabling Normal Flying
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 13 Apr 2015
Insights for Global Governance from Birds on the Wing and the Dodo
The current preoccupation with achieving normality, and eradicating the radical in any form, lends itself to a variety of speculations. The following is inspired by the normal distribution curve of statistics. It is a further development of previous discussion of radicalisation (Radicalisation of Existence and Identity: recognizing the global emergence and influence of daimonic dynamics, 2015; Radicalisation versus Demonisation? Enabling radical initiatives under conditions of strategic stalemate, 2015).
The argument is that the distribution curve focuses attention on the central position — the median position. This has the implication that the extremes to the left and right of the curve are necessarily to be understood as abnormalities, even radically abnormal. Extremes are increasingly deplored and deprecated as potentially dangerous. Governments are currently envisaging various measures to reduce such extremes, even to eliminate them entirely. Variously framed as normalisation and assimilation, the eradication of extremes in favour of a normal condition is seen as desirable (Norms in the Global Struggle against Extremism: “rooting for” normalization vs. “rooting out” extremism? 2005; Eradication as the Strategic Final Solution of the 21st Century? 2014).
Curiously the normal distribution curve can also be readily associated with the distinction of political extremes — most commonly termed the right and left “wing” political movements. Exemplary extremes are those of the World Economic Forum (in Davos) and the World Social Forum (held in Tunisia at the time of writing). Given its widespread appeal, use of the wing metaphor merits further careful consideration. This is especially the case since a closely related metaphor is used with respect to strategic initiatives and concepts, namely whether they can “fly” — after they “take-off” or are “launched”. Sustainability could be readily framed in terms of achieving sustainable flight — in contrast with widely noted dysfunctional “flapping” by the wings of political parties..
The capacity of initiatives to soar like an eagle is widely contrasted with those that can be compared to a turkey (Caleb Stewart Rossiter, The Turkey and the Eagle: the struggle for America’s global role, 2010; Robert Stevenson, How to Soar Like an Eagle in a World Full of Turkeys, 2004). Strangely the comparison dates from an early controversy in the USA resulting from the preference of Benjamin Franklin for the wild turkey over the bald eagle — depicted on the Great Seal of the USA (The Eagle, Ben Franklin, and the Wild Turkey, Great Seal). As Franklin declared:
I wish the eagle had not been chosen as the representative of this country. He is a bird of bad moral character; he does not get his living honestly. You may have seen him perched in some dead tree where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the labor of the fishing hawk and, when that diligent bird has at length taken a fish and is bearing it to his nest for his young ones, the bald eagle pursues him and takes the fish. With all this injustice, he is never in good case.
The comparison is explored otherwise in an anonymous Sufi-style tale: Why Eagles fly and Turkeys are eaten. It has been associated with personal development (Chris Lewis, Leading on Management: You Can’t Fly with the Eagles thinking like a Turkey, BeALeader, 3 November 2014; Jacquelyne M. Williams, What Kind of Employee Are You? An Eagle or a Turkey? Young Money; Melvina Harrison, Are You Flying with Eagles or Gobbling with Turkeys? Selfgrowth.com). Given such concerns, more intriguing is why empires and their invading armies have typically chosen rapacious eagles as their primary symbol.
The soaring eagle metaphor has been extensively contrasted with the condition of the chicken by Moira Crooks, arguing: We were created to “rise up on wings like the eagle” (Isaiah 40:31B). Yet many people end up living their entire life as chickens that endlessly scratch out a limited existence in a chicken coop (Do You Want to Soar Like Eagles or Scratch Like Chickens? Conservatives 4 Palin, 1 November 2011).
It is therefore useful to ask whether global governance, as currently envisaged, has the capacity to “fly” or whether it is condemned by the manner of its evolution — and “feeding habits” — to be comparable to many flightless birds, of which the extinct dodo is a renowned symbol. Have empires of the past become “flightless” before their final collapse?
The question here is whether there is more to be imaginatively explored in relation to governance and the capacity of birds to fly. However, with respect to how insights might be mistakenly applied to forms of governance which already “fly of their own accord”, a cautionary comment is offered by Pablo Triana (Lecturing Birds on Flying: can mathematical theories destroy the financial markets? 2009). Is there a larger systems perspective to be elicited which might be of relevance to enabling global governance to really take-off and fly?
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 13 Apr 2015.
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