Coordination of Wing Deployment and Folding in Politics


Anthony Judge | Laetus in Praesens – TRANSCEND Media Service

Bird Flight and Landing as Complementary Metaphors of Global Strategic Coherence

13 Dec 2018 – Produced on the occasion of the unexpected riots of the Gilets Jaunes (“Yellow Vests”) throughout France, with images of Paris in flames, symbolically paralleled by a UN Climate Change Summit to implement the Paris Agreement .


The world, and especially France, has been witness to the spontaneous emergence of a popular movement in France — the Gilets Jaunes (“Yellow Vests”) — in reaction to a pattern of multiple financial constraints on the living conditions and purchasing power of the population, especially the more impoverished. Their name derives from the yellow security vests which all motorists in France are obliged to carry in their vehicles. A planned increase in fuel taxation, announced by President Emmanuel Macron, was the primary trigger for the uprising — especially for those in rural areas without access to public transport.

The emergence and evolution of that movement, and the reaction of the central authorities, is extensively discussed in the document of which this is effectively an annex (Systemic Function of Highly Unrepresentative Minorities: recognizing the role of the “Dark Riders” of social change, 2018). That document noted the change of policy of the government as a consequence of the protests, and the proposal for a period of truce in which a national dialogue would be enabled. The question raised there was the possible nature of such a “dialogue”, given the evident lack of skills in that respect in many arenas, despite the many claims for fruitful modes of facilitation and moderation.

As framed there, the question raised was whether there was any other way of imagining dialogue otherwise, especially since in France the objective was to achieve a measure of national coherence even though any attempt at central “coordination” would itself be challenged.

The measures announced by the French Government which triggered the uprising were presented as enabling a vital ecological transition — as envisaged by the UN Paris Agreement and the current discussions at COP24. Previous uprisings in France have been against the markets and globalization. The Yellow Vest rebellion can be understood as being against a change in way of life, as argued by Andrés Ortega (“Yellow Vests”: The First Rebellion Against the Ecological Transition, The Globalist, 4 December 2018). The reaction evoked can therefore be usefully understood as one which will in all probability be variously aroused in many countries if more stringent efforts at implementation are made as an outcome of COP24, the United Nations Climate Change Conference (Katowice, December 2018) — reaching its conclusions at the time of writing.

The main document endeavoured to reframe the dilemmas and misrepresentations of the French authorities in responding to the breakers (casseurs), who subverted the demonstrations of the Gilets Jaunes, intended as peaceful. The central authorities notably endeavoured to present the left- and right-wing political extremes of France as having enabled the action of the breakers — in order to further their distinctive agendas.

The destructive actions of the breakers resulted in extensive media coverage of Paris in flames and in security lock-down mode. The reframing explored the role of the breakers in contrast with the makers — the Gilets Jaunes with their constructive proposals. It was freely admitted by commentators that the central authorities would not have radically changed their policy (if only temporarily) had it not been for the destructive action of the breakers.

The argument here focuses on the role of “wings”, especially “extremes”, in any political system — and in relation to the centre. This is done through the use of metaphor, as previously explored (Counteracting Extremes Enabling Normal Flying: insights for global governance from birds on the wing and the dodo, 2015). The success of projects and programmes for social change, by whomever they are instigated, tends to be framed in terms of the metaphors of flying. Many projects do not “get off the ground”. They “never fly”, whether or not they “crash”. The technological innovation for the development of flight has been inspired by the flight of birds whose movements have been intensively studied for that reason — notably in France.

So framed, the question to be asked is how birds make use of their wings, and especially with the extremes of those wings so vital to fine control of flight. It is dangerously naive for authorities to assume that by requiring calm, as they have repeatedly done, they can elicit dialogue appropriate to stormy weather. Using a related metaphor, this could be described as “winging it“.

Although “wings” are typically deprecated as undesirable by central political authorities, this is inconsistent with the preoccupation of military generals over millennia, namely with how to make tactical and strategic use of the “wings” in responding to an opponent — notably with the possibility of flanking maneuvers, pincer movements, and encirclement. Use of four wings is a feature of an Indian classic by Kautilya (Arthasastra). The order of battle of Roman legions was specific in this regard. Curiously it could be assumed that the “wings” of any political system are no longer held in high regard by the generals at the centre — even to the point of being superfluous and a danger to strategic coherence. That metaphor continues to be used however (Cracks are appearing between Russian political and military wings, The National, 20 October 2018).

It would appear that political strategists have failed to explore the much-quoted insight of Carl von Clausewitz: War is the continuation of politics by other means. Phrased as Politics is the continuation of war by other means, the reversal is variously discussed (Massimiliano Guareschi, Reversing Clausewitz? War and Politics in Foucault, Deleuze-Guattari and Aron, 2010; Jesse Crane-Seeber, War by Other Means: Politics as Force-Relations, International Studies Association, 2007; Ulrike Steglich and Carsten Jost, Politics is the continuation of war by other means, 1990).

What misunderstanding could then be recognized as undermining coherent policy-making and its implementation, if the centre and the wings fight against each other? Is governance now to be caricatured as undermined by back-seat drivers, arguing vociferously with each other and the driver? More generally, is this a reflection of hyperdependence on agreement — a dysfunctional policy towards others: You’re either with us, or against us.

The question can be explored through insights from the simple process of walking. If the right and left legs are at odds, competing with each other for priority, the result can be usefully explored in terms of the pathologies of locomotion and gait. Is the coordination of governance at this time to be caricatured as spastic or a random walk? Missing from the control of such movement is some kind of transcendent perspective — an issue of concern in relation to transdisciplinarity (Transcending Duality as the Conceptual Equivalent of Learning to Walk, 1994; Walking Elven Pathways: enactivating the pattern that connects, 2006)

The focus here on the use of wings follows from the inspiration it has long offered to the development of flight technology, now partially recognized in terms of biomimicry and its potential extension to technomimicry (Engendering a Psychopter through Biomimicry and Technomimicry: insights from the process of helicopter development, 2011). In achieving “lift-off” and sustainable “flight” for sociopolitical systems, is there anything that might still be learned from birds about the use of wings?

With respect to dialogue, there is a long tradition of the quest to rediscover the language of the birds — a central feature of the study by Umberto Eco (The Search for the Perfect Language: the making of Europe, 1997). As a mystical language — a “green language” — this was imagined as the modality through which birds communicated with each other and the initiated. It is now strange to note the extent to which the metaphor is central to Twitter as a preferred mode of social dialogue (Re-Emergence of the Language of the Birds through Twitter? 2010). In this sense, with current interest in trending movements of opinion, there is delightful irony to the importance associated with interpreting omens from the observed flight of birds in ancient Rome — the practice of augury.

Dynamically understood, with what “wings” does the dove of peace “take off”, “fly” and “land”? How is the operation of those wings to be imagined?

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