Joining the dots

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    This week Google intuited that I need a Vegepod – pram-like structures on legs, complete with hood and draped muslin, in which every member of the family can apparently grow an improbable amount of edible greens.  

    Perhaps close aerial surveillance of my parched garden had shown the pair of cut-down wine barrels in which, until a few weeks ago, I was growing quite a respectable trove of summer salad stuff. 

    It is now losing the battle of the bathwater – not to mention rabbits and pūkeko –  and in a world awash with random information, the unfathomable algorithm that determines our needs and wants may have felt that the Vegepod’s mist spay irrigator would make me break out the credit card for spontaneous consumerism. 

    To such trivial ends are we putting the powerful tools a pretty abundant universe has gifted us.

    Few of us would deny that 2020 looks as if the human race as we knew it until a decade ago is losing the plot, as Dr Kennedy Graham says in a recent paper Towards a Theory of Everything. A New Zealand politician and university lecturer, he served in the New Zealand Foreign Service for 16 years and his latest paper was published by the Waiheke-based New Zealand Centre for Global Studies.

    He proposes the concept of a paradigm shift in how we use human knowledge and aims to clarify a new approach to future thinking that calls for a synthesis and convergence of human knowledge with an emphasis on understanding complex systems.

    “We are drowning in information while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesisers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, to think critically about it, and make important choices wisely,” he says, quoting E. O. Wilson who put forward the concept of ‘consilience’ in 1998.

    There is already considerable intellectual effort invested in conceptualising ‘global theory’, Dr Graham says. “It may be queried whether ‘high theory’ is relevant at a time of crisis or whether we should rather just ‘get on with it’… It is tempting to agree. There is suddenly ‘no time’ to opine, certainly not at leisure. 

    “But without a cohesive theory of some kind, however broad it may be, around which the tribe, village, nation, and world can intellectually, emotionally, and ethically evolve, we simply shall not succeed in getting on. 

    “We face a global crisis. We need a global theory.” 

    And action. Seventy-five years on, the current structure of  the United Nations and its transactional nature falls well short of a constitutional global order and member states have refused, during opportunities for reform, to move beyond the purposes and principles of 1945, he says. 

    The two structural principles are sovereign equality and domestic jurisdiction which, left unmodified, keep humanity locked into the mid-20th century. 

    “There is no question the UN is well-staffed in terms of calibre and integrity. But this simply means that coordination and operation of the transactional system runs well,” he says. “In the wider world,  the UN has been increasingly undermined by some important member states, financially and operationally, to the point where its immediate reaction to a crisis is that of hand-wringing, and medium-term policy reflects functional impotence through abuse of the veto. 

    Dr Graham’s paper comes ahead of two global affairs lectures hosted by the centre this autumn. The first, Global Institutions for the 21st Century, will be delivered by international economist from the World Bank and a fellow at Georgetown University Dr Augusto Lopez-Claros and Professor Klaus Bosselmann, who sits along side Dr Graham on the centre’s board, will give the response to the lecture, which will be held on Saturday 4 April between 4pm and 6pm at Morra Hall in Oneroa.”

    The other lecture, the seventh the centre has held, will be given by ​Prof. Azza Karam, a former UN official and Professor of Religion & Development at Vrije UniversiteitAmsterdam (New York City) who will speak on We the Peoples…Universal Peace, Religion, and the United Nations. Rod Oram will give the response. The lecture will be at Whittakers Musical Museum on Saturday, 9 May 2020 (4.30pm to 6pm) and will be part of a national tour by Professor Karam at Whittakers Musical Museum.

    Consilience rests on the principle that the convergence of evidence from independent sources strengthens the credibility of a conclusion and is defined as agreement between the approaches to a topic of different academic subjects, especially science and the humanities. As Wilson said in his 1998 treatise on the pressing need for joined up thinking, asking the right questions is a precondition to getting the right answers, even if they do not immediately and effortlessly appear. • Liz Waters

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