Global Governance as a Riddle


Anthony Judge | Laetus in Praesens – TRANSCEND Media Service

But is a solution the answer to the question?


Given the current condition of global civilization, and the capacity of global governance to respond to it, there is a case for exploring the challenge of global governance in terms of a riddle. There is of course a long history to framing the response to dilemmas through the use of a riddle of some form — potentially to be understood as a a puzzle to be solved.

Wikipedia suggests that two types of riddle are to be distinguished. Enigmas are problems generally expressed in metaphorical or allegorical language that require ingenuity and careful thinking for their solution. By contrast, conundra are questions relying for their effects on punning in either the question or the answer. Riddling is recognized in many cultures — some riddles being shared across cultures. Curiously however, riddles have in the past few decades ceased to be part of oral tradition, being replaced by other oral-literary forms, and by other tests of wit such as quizzes. (Annikki Kaivola-Bregenhøj, Riddles: Perspectives on the Use, Function, and Change in a Folklore Genre, Studia Fennica, Folkloristica, 2001).

With respect to the challenge of governance, the Gordian Knot faced by Alexander the Great. is perhaps to be understood as an archetypal riddle. It continues to be cited with respect to issues of governance (Mapping grossness: Gordian knot of governance as a Discordian mandala? 2016).Commenting on a session of the World Economic Forum, John Jullens argues that: It’s as if the global economy is being strangled by a gigantic Gordian knot from which it cannot untangle itself (The Gordian Knot of Global Economic Growth, Strategy-Business, 15 October 2013). “Cutting it” may not however be consistent with the ingenuity otherwise associated with riddles.

In legend, framing a challenge in the form of a riddle to be solved is characteristic of archetypal evil figures — sorcerers and witches — to be solved if some form of release is to be achieved. This can be construed as a form of blackmail, variously elaborated in contemporary literature, including the challenge for his life to Bilbo Baggins by Gollum (J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, 1937).

Curiously this attitude is now reflected in the framing by the policy sciences of so-called wicked problems. This is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize. The projection of wickedness is of course part of the challenge, as discussed separately (Transcending the wicked problem engendered by projecting negativity elsewhere, 2015).

Public discourse has now rendered a healthy approach to riddles even more problematic. Whereas the solution of Alexander the Great is readily understood as “radical”, imagining any “radical solution” is now only too easily conflated with the characteristics of “radicals” and “radicalization” — and therefore much to be deprecated. It is completely unclear how to distinguish radicalism meriting appreciation from that meriting deprecation — especially given the nature of those who espouse either (Radicalisation versus Demonisation? Enabling radical initiatives under conditions of strategic stalemate, 2015; Radical Innovators Beware — in the arts, sciences and philosophy Terrifying implications of radical new deradicalisation initiative in France, 2016). This could be understood as a riddle in its own right, with the capacity to engage with riddles now severely inhibited — if not criminalized, or demeaned in the form of quizzes.

Also puzzling in its own right is what is to be understood by a “solution” to a riddle of fundamental significance. Clearly some form of release is sought, as implied by any riddle framed by a sorcerer. Curiously in this respect is the function of the United Nations in generating a vast number of “resolutions” — in response to problematic situations. Is a resolution a solution? This raises the question as to whether solutions or resolutions engender more questions than they answer. Or taking the argument further, what then is the nature of the “answer” to a riddle, and how is it to be recognized given the subtle ingenuity that may be required to elaborate it?

Even more challenging is the question as to whether society really wants an answer or a solution of any fundamental nature — a sustainable solution. Is it possible that it is not so much in the finality of the solution that new insight is to be found but rather in the engagement with solving the riddle. This is perhaps exemplified by the current enthusiasm for quizzes, with any answers quickly forgotten. The dynamics can be framed diagrammatically (Sustaining the Quest for Sustainable Answers, 2003).

Does this help to explain the fundamental worldwide preoccupation with competition in many domains. It is then not so much the winning of a particular game that is sustainably meaningful. Rather it is the ability to keep on playing, as argued by James Carse (Finite and Infinite Games, 1987). The tragedy is that many ongoing bloody conflicts can then be recognized — and appreciated — in these terms. Is engagement with them by spectators through the media significantly different from the engagement with football, basketball, or other games, echoing the investment of Imperial Rome in “bread and circuses” as a response to the riddle of governance through avoidance?

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