Monday, 18 June 2007

Notes to shape a chapter on global organisation

Waiting and seeing is what makes for fecundity in a time of paradigm shift. None of our existing world pictures make sense. Nothing of what we think we are as the observers of the scene completely holds together. This a time when degradation and chaos, stand out and contradict the impressive orderliness and success of established institutions and enterprises - for example in the way huge wealth and chronic povery can live side by side in cities equally sophisticated, all over the planet.

This is a time of uncomfortable gestation of a new unifying perspective - my God is it uncomfortable. This time, it's not about individuals conceiving something great which makes sense to others because it is so original and truthful; it's about something shared at the outset - shared in the sense that many people have part of the entire picture that makes the whole, and nobody has the whole picture. So each needs to trust the other to share their parts in order to see the whole.

All are propelled by the same desire for and discipline in finding the truth, even if each is driven by different motives to find the truth. All are different, and cannot integrate what they know unless they accept each other's differences as part of the key to the whole picture. This requires so much work on the part of everyone involved, not least work on oneself - more than existing religious ways on their own can provide, unless they have their own internal more modest kind of paradigm shift, leading them to renounce their claims of exclusive superiority, and humbly to recognise themselves as 'members of one another'.

The growth rate of academic and industrial scientific research into the material universe, and every aspect of human existence, biological and social, is such that the factual knowledge base of mankind is now doubling every decade. The unprecedented expansion of scientific data is matched by growth of inventiveness in devising ways of putting it to use. Even the organisation of this vast body of information, in order to make it accessible and useful, is now a science in its own right.

One of the most revolutionary aspects of successive scientific and industrial revolutions over the past two centuries has been the scale on which human co-operation has developed. This has occurred in terms of

  1. numbers of people involved with a common purpose

  2. geographical diversity of locations from which they operate

  3. complexity of the organisations which enable collaboration to take place.

  4. degree and kind of specialisation required to participate in collaborative enterprise.

Today we can point to organisations embracing millions of people in a common purpose. Not just armies for making war or keeping peace, but millions linked by manufacturing, broadcasting, transport, or health, even millions competing energetically with other millions organised to the same end in order to put their (similar) products into the global market place.

The big collaborative project may be exploration, research, trade, crisis management, war, law making, education, or building cities, infrastructure for transport, communications or energy supply. Within two centuries, human enterprise has evolved in practice from being national to international, from intercontinental, to being global in scope, embracing all countries on earth in different ways. This development has not been uniform or universal, but the very visible changes many people have witnessed in their lifetimes, whether they live in the developed or the underdeveloped parts of the world, demonstrate the far reaching nature of change that has occurred.

With so much knowledge to be acquired and put to use, nobody can specialise in everything. Not even those that specialise in organising or regulating human enterprise, through politics, management and legislation, can control the whole without the participation of many whose expertise they do not share.

In earlier millennia, great creative projects – wonders of the world – were realised by the collaboration of a few, but relying upon the enslavement of many. This is still reflected in the economic imbalances between people within countries and across the world. The larger the scale of human projects, the more free collaboration rather than coercion proves to be effective and efficient in achieving the end result.

The emerging world of the third millennium is one of inter-dependency, rather than domination and dependency, democratic rather than autocratic rule. This does not dispense with the need for creative and enterprising initiative leadership, but authority has to be earned and asserted, rather than imposed and enforced, if an organisation is to function harmoniously. Negotiation, exchange and consent in this context are important dynamics, contrasting markedly with traditional notions of dictate, submission and obedience. We are in a period of transition in which the effectiveness of the former over the latter is being put to the test – usually by conflict and contention between ‘believers’ of one regime or the other.

Thanks to the world wide web, the entire knowledge base of humankind is becoming more accessible to people everywhere. The global reach of communications means that it is no longer necessary to concentrate research or production facilities in one place and bring all materials and ideas together there. Tasks and resources can be allowed to flourish wherever in the world these can be most efficiently deployed, since distance is no longer a great concern in communication of ideas or sharing of results. The distribution of technology and education in scientific method now provide tools and a common language for collaboration which spans the planet. Even so, there remains a profoundly geographical and cultural component to what kinds of knowledge are favoured and put to best use in different places.

Tools and common language assist the emergence of a common vision of humanity and the cosmos. The more people have access to the same information, the more dialogue between people rooted in different cultures and regions clarifies what they hold in common, and what sort of future they envisage for themselves and their descendents.

People can be fufilled and motivated to achieve a common aim for quite different reasons. Movement beyond competition between differing reasons and intentions, towards mutual value and respect, makes possible collaboration for common aims. Threats to the future of the world from total war, poverty, disease and environmental catastrophe are the shadow side of industrial and technological development. Neveretheless, they serve to concentrate the mind and the will on the important task of seeing things whole, and recognising for the sake of survival the total interdependence of all people and the environment on each other.

The troublesome factor in all this is that political leadership so often appeals to ignorance or prejudices based on the way things were in the past. Leadership in science, industry and business looks way ahead, aware that past successes are no guarantee of survival tomorrow. Whilst the Bush administration sought to hinder the development of a concensus response to the challenges of climate change by denying and challenging the evidence of global warming, the American business community heeded the warnings of science, and got on with developing the appropriate responses to eco-crisis.

Whilst global pharmaceutical companies tried to hold fast to their monopoly on anti-retroviral AIDS treatment drugs, for a host of considered reasons, some third world countries went ahead, manufactured and delivered drug supplies on their own, outside existing laws and conventions, and proved by doing this that it was possible to save lives on a credible scale. Moreover, it has not resulted in the collapse of the drugs industry or its research programme. But it did rely one someone being able to think outside of the box, beyond convention and precedent, something apparently difficult in such complex circumstances.

What is making a significant difference in this new century is not simply the fact of global communication via the internet, but the fact that it is quickly becoming accessible through visionary projects, not merely to the powerful of the middle classes, but also to the poor, to people without work or housing. Due to open internet access schemes in libraries, schools, and community centres, let alone those available at low cost commercially, it is now possible for a homeless person to have an internet address, to share their social and political concerns with others across the world, and make common cause on creative projects that do not depend upon peoples' social status or wealth. Being able to have a voice, and public recognition, no matter how small and insignificant it may seem, is the beginning of empowerment and self-help. The dark side of this promise, is that the same systems can be used to organise terrorist attacks without drawing too much attention to oneself, or being identified easily by a fixed location.

The choice to use these resources of such immense potential either to do good or to do evil still rests with each individual.

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