International Community as God or Sorcerer’s Apprentice?


Anthony Judge – TRANSCEND Media Service

Anthony Judge

Anthony Judge

Strategic chaos in the absence of an interlocking temporal pattern of longer-term cyclic processes.


Are there insights to be gained from the current challenges of governance? Most evident are the refugee crisis, financial instability (and rumours of worse to come), climate change, regional conflict, and resource constraints. In this context it is strange to see the progressive marginalization of the United Nations, other than for token purposes and as a device for inhibiting global decision-making. In its place there is the apparent recognition of an intangible entity, namely the so-called international community. This seemingly disembodied entity has no legal existence and seemingly lacks any clear structure or processes consistent with previous understandings of international organization.

Appeals are now frequently made to the international community in declarations publicized by the media. Its failure to act in response to them may well be deplored by those in need, as evident in a key report of Amnesty International (The Global Refugee Crisis: a conspiracy of neglect (June 2015):

The refugee crisis is one of the defining challenges of the 21st century, but the response of the international community has been a shameful failure. We need a radical overhaul of policy and practice to create a coherent and comprehensive global strategy…. The international community has failed to provide [refugees], or the humanitarian agencies supporting refugees with sufficient resources… The current refugee crisis will not be solved unless the international community recognizes that it is a global problem that requires states to significantly step up international cooperation

Reference is thus made to the capacity of the international community to decide, to act and to mobilize resources. More mysterious is the degree to which such appeal, and collective belief in the possibility of action, increasingly resembles that traditionally associated with those to some deity in acknowledgement of its power. Is the international community now being engendered as a form of secular deity — despite deprecation of religion and the much debated demise of God (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, 2006)?

Especially given its increasingly questionable capacity, the intangible nature of the international community invites similar criticism: the International Community Delusion? More challenging is the sense in which, as with deity, there is an implication of a higher order of coherence beyond the ken of ordinary citizens. There is a sense in which belief in the international community is conflated with belief in the possibility of universal consensus.

If only in terms of the elusive nature of agreement on a value-imbued response to problems, evidence to date indicates that this too may be a delusion, as separately argued (The Consensus Delusion: mysterious attractor undermining global civilization as currently imagined, 2011). . Ironically it is only by cultivating the illusion of an ultimate threat — from evil, or terrorism, or ETs, etc — that a form of consensus can now be cultivated and imposed — a theme of Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman (Manufacturing Consent: the political economy of the mass media, 1988).

There is therefore a case for exploring “international community” as an intangible entity in the process of being engendered metaphorically as a form of secular deity. This then focuses attention on all the problematic limitations evident in belief in divinity, as so assiduously cultivated by religion in response to the hopes and desperation of the wider population. Especially sinister is a strange need for human sacrifice to encourage that entity to act — as most recently evident with the media coverage, and response of world leadership, to the image of a drowned refugee boy (Shocking images of drowned Syrian boy show tragic plight of refugees, The Guardian, 2 September 2015; Will the image of a lifeless boy on a beach change the refugee debate? The Guardian, 3 September 2015).

Whether a collective delusion or not, the tragedy of global governance at this time suggests that another metaphor may however offer greater insight, namely that articulated in a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (1797). The metaphor has been widely used since then in books and films. In the absence of the wisdom and efficacity of a traditional sorcerer — whether benign, malign or transcending such distinctions — is global governance now to be more usefully compared with that sorcerer’s apprentice, left to act irresponsibly without adequate guidance or constraint? The most concrete example is offered by the Middle East in which a variety of military initiatives by the “international community” have so evidently produced far greater chaos than they were naively designed to remedy, as now defensively claimed by those responsible.

Whether as a secular substitute for divinity or as a thoughtless incompetent, it can be readily concluded that global governance is indeed giving form to a global strategy — namely chaos. Is it possible to frame the condition otherwise — beyond the limitations of short-term irresponsibility and neglect? Is there a new systemic framework to be recognized — an interlocking temporal pattern of longer-term cyclic processes (Strategic Embodiment of Time: configuring questions fundamental to change, 2010)?

Whilst the contrasting metaphors or images are provocative, and perhaps necessarily so, the approach is consistent with that framed by Gareth Morgan (Images of Organization, 1986).

Continue reading the paper in the Original –


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 7 Sep 2015.

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