From Zoom Organization to Zome Configuration and Dynamics

TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 28 Sep 2020

Anthony Judge | Laetus in Praesens - TRANSCEND Media Service

Integrating the Doughnut, Helix and Pineapple Models towards Global Strategic Coherence

Introduction

28 Sep 2020 – The United Nations is celebrating a historic anniversary with its 75th General Assembly (September 2020). As a consequence of uncritically adopted policies of lockdown in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the gathering has taken highly unusual form with the use of virtual conferencing technology unimaginable in the very recent past (Julian Borger, Why the UN’s 75th general assembly could be worse than the world’s worst Zoom meeting, The Guardian, 22 September 2020). As the latter notes: The worst parts of UN events will be on display, the endless speechifying first among them, but none of what normally makes the general assembly indispensable.

The occasion has been recognized by the Secretary-General as “Our 1945 moment”, referring to the call to action inspired by the generation who had survived the second world war and sought to build a new world (UN faces fears of a ‘great fracture’ at general assembly, The Guardian, 23 September 2020). Commentators have indicated other challenges ( Marcus Holmes, et al, UN general assembly: why virtual meetings make it hard for diplomats to trust each other, The Conversation, 22 September 2020; Nicholas Westcott, UN general assembly goes virtual: a former ambassador on what that means for diplomacy, The Conversation, 21, September 2020).

Such use of virtual conferencing by the United Nations has been preceded by its adoption by many organizations and groups in response to travel restrictions and lockdowns during 2020. Whether for them or for the United Nations such rapid uptake raises the question as to how such adaptation is to be characterized. Is it a case of “putting old wine into new bottles“, or of “putting new wine into old bottles“, or of “putting new wine into new bottles“?

As the early report notes, does such technology simply enhance the tendency to “endless speechifying”? More problematic, as indicated, is the new tendency in the case of the General Assembly for leaders to pre-record the contributions, framing any consideration of global issues primarily for home audiences, and avoiding any need to listen to the contributions of others. Given the possibility of avoiding the costs of attendance, there is a degree of irony to the possibility that more leaders will “participate” virtually — with the implication of more speeches of that form. Missing from any consideration of the new arrangements is how the pattern of contributions is to be orchestrated — and the possibilities for new thinking in this regard. What audience will be attracted by video recordings from the 193 member states of the United Nations? How will diplomatic order of precedence be recognized — however biased this may be held to be?

Little is said on such matters with respect to the contributions presented in many international meetings now using this format — many immediately forgettable. This suggests that it is very much a case of “putting old wine into new bottles“, replicating the inadequacies of past communication processes — even to the point of exacerbating them, irrespective of the level of crisis. To the extent that the United Nations can be upheld as a form of “global brain”, are its problematic communication processes an indication of irreversible ageing — or worse — despite long-standing efforts at “UN reform” (Are the UN and the International Community both Brain Dead — given criteria recognizing that NATO is brain dead? 2019)?

Also potentially problematic in a period of heightened concern with electronic security, how can virtual gatherings be “hacked” (FBI warns of hackers hijacking online Zoom meetings, New York Post, 31 March  2020; A Must For Millions, Zoom Has A Dark Side: an FBI Warning, NPR, 3 April 2020). Clearly it is possible for some form of “hacking” to be used by organizers to control the gathering by means of which participants are not aware (12 Game-Changing Zoom Hacks For Work Meetings, HuffPost, 4 April 2020)

The questions are of particular relevance to the future operation of any World Peoples Assembly or a World Parliamentary Assembly, as variously proposed. In seeking to enhance popular participation, many of the issues became evident in the “Great National Debate” organized in France in 2019 in response to the country-wide protests by the Yellow Vests movement, as discussed separately (Claire Mufson, What will France do with ‘National Debate’ data? France24, 3 March 2019; France’s ‘great debate’ is over — so what comes next? DW, 15 March 2029). How indeed can such process be facilitated otherwise, as might be envisaged (Multi-option Technical Facilitation of Public Debate: eliciting consensus nationally and internationally, 2019)?

The concern in what follows is the quest for indications as to how the communication potential of virtual conferences might be more fruitfully organized — beyond past patterns of enabling the many to listen to the few. Those patterns can be seen as strangely echoing concern about the global resources controlled by “the 1%”, in contrast with those to which the remainder have access. This can be recognized as especially inappropriate — if not dangerously so — in a period in which the expertise and insights of the few have been demonstrably inadequate in many instances (Radical Disaffection Engendered by Elitist Groupthink? 2016).

The quantitative concern can be framed otherwise by reference to seating arrangements in conventional plenary assemblies of many hundreds. What facilities enable those seated to communicate with each other — without that communication being centrally controlled? How does any sense of coherence emerge without suppression of the perspective of any minority through a voting process upheld as democratic and unquestionable?

Will the future perceive as bizarre the geographic requirement to position distinctively those groups favouring a particular strategic perspective — even caricatured as “left” or “right”? How do people get “positioned” in a virtual gathering and, more generally, how does this then meaningfully reflect the “global” diversity of those represented? When there are many participants and many perspectives, how is memorable global sense-making enabled given the challenge of numbers? Increasingly, for many, in metaphorical terms their “mailbox” is full (Comprehension of Numbers Challenging Global Civilization, 2014).

The following exercise explores the possibility of interrelating the widely cited doughnut model of global economics with a pineapple model (Pineapple model of global governance? 2020). The former, although strategically concerned with the threatened relationships between nine planetary boundaries, offers little insight into the requisite strategic patterns of communication. The latter focuses on imagining the dynamics of communication potentially consistent with the knowledge architecture of virtual meetings — inspired by the elegant integrity of zome configurations and by insights from nature (Fibonacci Spiral in 3D Framing Psychosocial Phyllotaxis: articulation of global governance through the language of flowers? 2020).

Despite the little-known form of zomes, they can be recognized as having structural properties in common with the pine cone. As a symbol of human enlightenment, this has been a feature of architecture and decoration in civilizations around the world over centuries. The Vatican Court of the Pine Cone offers one example; another is the award-winning addition to the London skyline — nicknamed the Gherkin.

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