Tank Warfare Challenges for Global Governance


Anthony Judge | Laetus in Praesens – TRANSCEND Media Service

Extending the “Think Tank” Metaphor to Include Other Cognitive Modalities


24 Jun 2019 – The recent publication of the Global Go To Think Tank Report (University of Pennsylvania, 2019) is much to be appreciated. In a time of global crisis of unprecedented dimensions, it is wonderful to know that there are 8,248 think tanks addressing the strategic issues which humanity faces. From the report it becomes clear that their ranking is achieved by feedback from 1,796 peer institutions and experts from the print and electronic media, academia, public and private donor institutions, and governments around the world. As such it lends itself to recognition as a kind of modern Almanach de Gotha — a ranking of new thinking of the highest order in this period of civilization.

Identifying new insights of the highest quality? Given the richness of the expertise thereby summarized, an immediate question of interest is whether the report contains any indication of the best strategic insights that had emerged from those so ranked — especially those ranked most highly. It is surely these which should be prominent in the policy deliberations of global, regional and national governance at this time. However there seem to be no such indications. Think tanks are ranked there by quality, but with no indication of the “take away”  insights for which they are appreciated — other than the sectoral categories with which they are associated. Of course it is readily inferred that each so ranked, and those ranked most highly, would claim that it is their insights which are naturally to be considered the best.

Missing therefore is the nature of the “tank thoughts” which have emerged from these think tanks. Crucially however, some indication of the extent to which the insights reflected an interdisciplinary perspective would be highly desirable — especially since the challenges for governance at this time (and always) lie in the problematic interactions between seemingly coherent sectoral strategies, however brilliantly innovative.

Where then is one to find the 10, 20 or 100 key insights from each sector — the “new thinking” for which so many claim to be looking — appropriately ranked and interrelated in terms of their impact on each other? How are they to be understood as enabling or inhibiting the alternative strategies which are advocated by other think tanks?

To what output from think tanks should  world leaders be immediately attentive? What should be ignored as irrelevant to the crises of the times — and especially why? How should leaders be briefed on the output from the multiplicity of think tanks — given the challenge of information overload?

The challenge could be framed otherwise. Each year one might ask what is the “new thinking” to which governance is currently attentive? What new thinking has emerged from which disciplines — or from the UN, from the OECD, from the EU, from NATO — as might be a focus in their annual reports? How is such “new thinking” to be recognized and ranked? Should precedence be given to the thinking emanating from those most highly ranked — a function of the Almanach de Gotha in determining order of precedence on diplomatic and social occasions?

Interdisciplinarity and a systemic perspective: Governance can be readily recognized as a problem of interdisciplinarity — or so one might assume. Unfortunately the only mention of  interdisciplinarity in the report related to the University of Pennsylvania as producer of the report — having a “history of innovation in interdisciplinary education and scholarship”. It is indeed possible, however, that such an intersectoral, meta-perspective is highlighted under other key words “systems”, “transdisciplinary”, “complexity”, and the like.

A further question provoked by this vast array of think tanks is whether there is any sense of the knowledge ecosystem they constitute as a network in the light of their thoughtful output. The question was raised in an earlier consideration of the phenomenon and its future relevance (Meta-challenges of the Future for Networking through Think-tanks, 2005).

Remedial capacity: More intriguing, where are the studies of the limited uptake capacity of governance institutions with respect to such new thinking, if such is indeed what think tanks are capable of producing?

Is there a need to focus systemically as much on “remedial capacity” as on “new thinking”, as separately argued (Recognizing the Psychosocial Boundaries of Remedial Action constraints on ensuring a safe operating space for humanity, 2009). Whereas the think tank review focuses usefully on “performance”, as collectively evaluated, is there a need to complement this with a focus on Remedial Capacity Indicators Versus Performance Indicators (1981). That early critique of social indicators was developed for the Goals, Processes and Indicators of Development (GPID) project of the United Nations University (Warsaw, 1981), and later incorporated into Insights into Maldevelopment: reconsidering the idea of progress (Edited by Jan Danecki).

Think tank efficacy and bias: The development here of this concern follows from an earlier question regarding the possible cognitive bias associated with “tank” as a generative metaphor or root metaphor (“Tank-thoughts” from “Think-tanks”: metaphors constraining development of global governance, 2003). This was developed with Nadia McLaren for a Workshop on Networking the Future: Think Tanks and Building a European Knowledge Platform (Conference on the Futures of Europeans in the Global Knowledge Society, 2005).

In a period of multiple regional conflicts and the widely discussed prospect of World War III (together with various other forms of collapse), is there a case for evaluating the efficacy of “think tanks” and the relevance of their “tank thoughts” at this time? Or is the ranking sufficient indication of their relevance — at least for some? Alternatively, is it indicative of the existence of  a collective cognitive blind spot, as is characteristic of tanks as vehicles — thereby rendering such questions irrelevant to them?

Is the set of think tanks as good as it gets in the production of insights for governance? Is there any source of critique on the quality and relevance of that thinking — other than in enhancing the quality of such “tanks” and their mutual appreciation? More provocatively, are these indeed the environments which have most significantly enabled and engendered the complex of crises with which humanity is faced — through failure to consider self-reflexively the consequences of the proposals they so confidently articulate?

Alternative “tanks” and “tank warfare”: Think tanks, named as such, are a relatively recent phenomenon. The earlier commentary focused on questions of what “tank” might imply, as a metaphor, for the cognitive processes which take place within and the unclarified confusion with the vehicles which are a natural consequence of the military strategies many recommend.

This commentary avoids that issue and focuses instead on other kinds of “tank” to which attention might usefully be accorded at this time — given popular investment in them — thereby challenging the appropriatenss of the term. Examples include: feel tanks, sense tanks, thrill tanks, safe tanks, design tanks, and the like. The variety of such tanks constitutes a form of ecosystem in a knowledge-based civilization — now characterized by the emergence of noopolitics (David Ronfeldt and John Arquilla, The promise of Noöpolitik, First Monday, August, 2007; A. V. Baichik and S. B. Nikonov, Noopolitik as Global Information Strategy, 2012).

The concern here therefore extends to the well-recognized phenomenon of “tank warfare” — whether understood in dramatic physical terms or with respect to the ongoing memetic warfare and that of the future — perhaps to be understood as “cognitive warfare” (Brian Hancock, Memetic Warfare: the future of war, Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin, April-June 2010). Does the questionable focus on “tanks” as appropriate cognitive vehicles now herald a new era, as previously argued (Noopolitics and memetic warfare within the noosphere, 2014)?

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