Anthony Judge: Beware of Legality, Accountability, Marketability, Security! Be where the Four Hoarsemen of the Apocalypse are not?

Cultural Intelligence, Ethics
Anthony Judge
Anthony Judge

Beware of Legality, Accountability, Marketability, Security!

Be where the Four Hoarsemen of the Apocalypse are not?

Being wary of “legality”
Being wary of “accountability”
Being wary of “marketability”
Being wary of “security”
Systemic implications of “horsemen” and “hoarsemen” and correspondences between them
Being wary of the Four Hoarsemen acting together
Being where and how “to be”?

Phi Beta Iota:  This is one of Anthony Judge's shorter and more poignant essays.  It is reproduced in full below the line, along with his links, and our on duty editor has added links to the Amazon pages of all the books that he cites.  In this essay, complicity is the opposite of integrity, the single word (integrity) most embedded across Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog.  To read the essay at its source, click on the title above.


The current period highlights concerns with end times scenarios, whether in the form of eschatological predictions, planetary disaster or civilizational collapse (Spontaneous Initiation of Armageddon: a heartfelt response to systemic negligence, 2004; Mind Map of Global Civilizational Collapse: why nothing is happening in response to global challenges, 2011).

A particular focus is offered by predictions relating to December 2012 and the completion of the Mayan/Aztec long count cycle. As noted by Ed Vulliamy (Mayan ‘death and rebirth' date marks the perfect time to tackle planet's crisis, The Observer, 16 December 2012):

‘Progress' has brought ecological disaster and the wipeout of species. As the winter solstice arrives, we may not be facing apocalypse but a fresh start in our attitude to the world order… The moment is taken by some to mean the end of time – those who perhaps prefer the idea of apocalypse Hollywood-style to the prospect of grinding on – and by many more to herald some new era in which battle will be done between those who would protect the planet and those bent on destruction.

The prediction has usefully been placed in context by Ted Harrison (The End of the World: an eternal scare story, The Guardian, 4 December 2012). Problematic interpretations of the event have been officially corrected in advance through release of a video (NASA explains why the end of the world is not coming on December 21, The Guardian, 13 December 2012).

Unfortunately the track record of official anticipation of predicted disaster is itself only too evidently disastrous, as indicated by the current global financial situation and the “surprise” consequent on known vulnerability to earthquakes and flooding (Anticipating Future Strategic Triple Whammies — in the light of earthquake-tsunami-nuclear misconceptions, 2011). The NASA video might then be compared to previous official efforts to deny the possibility of such disasters — despite the dissemination of warnings and the credibility attached to them by some.

Surprise is necessarily surprising, as argued by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (The Black Swan: the impact of the highly improbable, 2007) and Karen Cerulo (Never Saw It Coming: cultural challenges to envisioning the worst, 2006). A curious contrast to the NASA disclaimer is however offered by the extensive resources officially invested in cultivation of a culture of fear as a consequence of evidence whose significance is variously contested, most notably in relation to terrorism and dissemination of weapons of mass destruction (David L. Altheide, Creating Fear: news and the construction of a crisis, 2002; Barry Glassner, The Culture of Fear: why Americans are afraid of the wrong things, 2010; Frank Furedi, Politics of Fear: beyond left and right, 2005; Daniel Gardner, The Science of Fear: how the culture of fear manipulates your brain, 2009).

Within the end times scenario, biblical predictions draw attention to the imminent arrival of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse — traditionally held to symbolize Conquest (or Pestilence), War, Famine, and Death. Irrespective of the factual significance which some may attribute to such predictions, the concern here is with the implication of such beliefs and their consequence for others. Framed in this way there is then the possibility that the “horsemen” may take an unexpectedly subtler form — possibly engendering disaster at the cognitive rather than the physical level. Specifically it is argued that they may be variously disguised in the apparel of Legality, Accountability, Marketability, and Security — perhaps usefully understood as clusters of memes rather than as conventionally defined.

It is further suggested that rather than each being carried by a “horse”, the riders may be better characterized by the stridency with which their “voices” carry — hence use here of “hoarse” as an alternative (cf. The “Dark Riders” of Social Change: a challenge for any Fellowship of the Ring, 2002). As “voices” their problematic nature may be fruitfully explored as “languages” which variously preclude recognition of certain phenomena on which the quality and viability of human life depends.

Whilst each of the riders has traditionally been considered potentially problematic in isolation, the focus here is on the heightened danger arising from their interaction — from the manner in which they work together and coordinate their action. The subtlety of this mode — readily denied — is indicated to a degree by the much-cited final warning by President Eisenhower regarding the military-industrial complex. More generally it follows from the unacknowledged systemic interdependencies (Map of Systemic Interdependencies None Dares Name: 12-fold challenge of global life and death, 2011).

Being wary of “legality”

The benefits of legality are conventionally promoted in terms of the desirability of “law and order” by which benevolent governance is purportedly ensured. It has however become increasingly evident how those with the power to do so flout such understanding legality and effectively act “outside the law” or “above the law” — in undermining the universal “rights” of others. It could even be said that having the power to do so ensures that in particular instances it is now impossible to prove that this is not the case.

More problematic is the sense in which legal procedures and “opinions” can be used to reframe as “legal” what might otherwise be understood as abuse — as is typical of what many perceive as forms of injustice — well-illustrated by the recent framing of torture, imprisonment/execution without trial, and rendition procedures. The most striking example of this is the response to those in various ways complicit in enabling the financial disaster from which so many suffer. It has been widely remarked that few of these have been brought to justice, many continue to be excessively rewarded, and any legal proceedings acquire the air of being show trials focused on minor actors in the drama. Most striking forms of abuse by the powerful are reframed as legal by the deployment of vast resources through legal departments and court cases and through the legal harassment of those representing contrary views.

It follows that the promotion of the principles of law and order give rise to litigious social relations in a society primarily reliant on promoting further legislation as a form of panacea for perceived ills. This is misleadingly framed as ensuring a better quality of life for all.

The process of legislation necessarily focuses in the greatest of detail on definitions of parties and issues which can be the subject of law and order. This may be fruitfully explored as definitional game-playing or as a form of definitional gerrymandering (cf. Definitional Boundary Games and De-signing the 21st Century, 1995; Towards a generic model of definitional game-playing? 2004; Scientific Gerrymandering of Boundaries of Overpopulation Debate, 2012). This rigidly ensures consideration or avoidance of matters through the distinctive boundaries so established. The latter document draws attention to the sense in which the principles of “law and order” have been coopted into the thinking of mainstream science and its preoccupation with the boundaries with which it is concerned — as questioned separately (Knowledge Processes Neglected by Science: insights from the crisis of science and belief, 2012).

Especially significant as a source of concern is the manner in which some entities or phenomena are defined to “exist” or not to “exist”. Examples have included official “non-recognition” in the past of “multinational corporations” and “non-governmental organizations”. Current examples might be seen to include the Tea Party Movement and al-Qaida (Cultivating Global Strategic Fantasies of Choice: learnings from Islamic Al-Qaida and the Republican Tea Party movement, 2010). As with the case of science, these examples illustrate the sense in which “law and order” comes to be understood as an appropriation of the ability to define what is “right” — condemning alternatives as therefore necessarily misguided, or simply “wrong”, whether to be “corrected” or “ignored” (cf. Framing the Global Future by Ignoring Alternatives: unfreezing categories as a vital necessity, 2009; Considering All the Strategic Options — whilst ignoring alternatives and disclaiming cognitive protectionism, 2009).

Curiously, whilst physics is notably empowered to envisage a multiplicity of alternative forms of “order” — inspired by the possibilities of mathematics — there is no sense in which psychosocial systems might benefit from multiple forms of order. The more interesting challenge (as in physics) would then be the relationships between seemingly incompatible forms of “law and order”, rather than the desperate effort to ensure that there is only “the one” — with its simplistic aspiration to be “universal”. Some indication of the possibility is offered by societies which also allow for traditional (tribal) law. The challenge is more readily dramatised by the relation between mainstream (allopathic) medicine and alternative (homeopathic) therapies in which the law is used to marginalize and condemn the latter. The relationship bears consideration as a model of the problematic dysfunctionality of remedies to a financial system on the verge of collapse (Remedies to Global Crisis: “Allopathic” or “Homeopathic”? Metaphorical complementarity of “conventional” and “alternative” models, 2009).

The definitional issues of what is “right” are otherwise highlighted by legislation regarding use of psychoactive drugs — bearing in mind that use of alcohol is widely considered legal (and vital to government revenues). The consideration may be taken further through recognition of the dependence of society on petroleum — a form of alcohol — in relation to which many behaviours bear systemic resemblance to those relating to access and use of (illegal) drugs. Other definitional issues are illustrated by discriminatory matters of gender, whether in relation to marriage, personal identity, leadership roles, or other rights — as questionably constrained by legal procedures (including those of various religions).

Especially worthy of attention is the manner in which legality is used righteously to define, assert and protect property for the exclusive use of some. This is notably problematic with respect to intellectual property and the manner in which access to it is legally restricted — even when the associated innovation has been enabled with public funds (Future Coping Strategies: beyond the constraints of proprietary metaphors, 1992).

Being wary of “accountability”

Much is made of accountability in governance — whether of countries, of institutions or other groups. It has become ever more evident that those at the highest level prove themselves able to avoid accountability, as illustrated by tax avoidance/evasion, and multiple forms of financial abuse and corruption. The process is exacerbated by the lack of transparency — especially evident with regard to policies classifying information as secret in order to avoid unwelcome challenges.

Striking examples have been offered by the complicity in “fraud” of companies of auditors — otherwise held in the highest repute. Especially interesting is the treatment officially meted out to whistleblowers endeavouring to rectify the situation. This is currently exemplified by the case of Bradley Manning who has been subject to 900 days of imprisonment in isolation without trial — in a country which has prided itself on its promotion of the principles of accountability and transparency in government (cf. Amy Goodman, Bradley Manning's long quest for justice, The Guardian, 13 December 2012).

The financial dimension of accountability, through accounting, highlights the preoccupation with “the numbers” typical of most collective initiatives in this period. Understood as profitability this may well be treated as overriding all other considerations. Amazingly it has been this preoccupation that has been a major factor in ensuring the collapse of a number of major financial institutions, a multitude of smaller enterprises, endangering the livelihoods of millions, and the viability of the financial system as a whole. It is far from clear that the underlying issues have been recognized or addressed — despite vigorous claims to the contrary. There is every reason to suspect that some are even benefitting excessively from this dysfunctionality (cf. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile: things that gain from disorder, 2012).

The preoccupation with quantitative measurement extends beyond the financial into the promotion and dependence on a variety of “metrics” — notably promoted with the highest expertise — even upheld as beyond question (cf. Uncritical Strategic Dependence on Little-known Metrics the Gaussian Copula, the Kaya Identity, and what else? 2009). The extension beyond the financial may include some purported recognition of non-financial “bottom lines” — second bottom line, third bottom line, etc. The question is what then gets measured — and what gets ignored for which no “accounting” is considered necessary?

Especially intriguing in a global society — characterized by a multitude of interlocking cycles of every kind — is the extent to which “accountability” is typically framed and enabled by spreadsheets in their most general sense. Curiously there is no sense that the very linearity of spreadsheets and their associated plans — exemplified by “budget lines” — may preclude effective engagement with the globality with which identity is variously associated (cf. Engaging with Globality — through cognitive lines, circlets, crowns or holes, 2009; Spherical Accounting: using geometry to embody developmental integrity, 2004). The worldwide preoccupation with music suggests an alternative, for example (Knowledge Gardening through Music: patterns of coherence for future African management as an alternative to Project Logic, 2000).

Being wary of “marketability”

Immense resources are allocated to determine and influence what can be sold — especially the framing, through promotional campaigns, of what it is desirable to acquire. The persuasion of others can be understood as marketing in its most general sense — exploiting any degree of gullibility in giving credence to the value of the product. The situation, and the associated processes, has been remarkably clarified by the miss-selling of financial packages which triggered the global financial crisis — from which recovery is still desperately sought. More fundamentally it can be related to the level of public indebtedness which preceded that crisis and continues to be only too evident.

Similar processes of persuasion are evident in the presentation and promotion of policies by politicians in quest of “buy-in” on the part of a majority of the electorate. Related processes are evident in the promotion of religious beliefs and in the quest of religions for adherents. In both cases the possibility of questionable interpretations is corrected by massive investment in “spin”.

Especially intriguing is the focus on attracting attention in every manner possible in order to enable and sustain “recognition”. This process has now become ever more invasive, as is evident from the increasing number of “surfaces” on which promotional messages are displayed with ever greater frequency — exemplified by the ever-lengthening advertising slots on broadcast media. New techniques, such as “viral marketing” are developed to ensure ever more extensive dissemination of messages — accompanied by efforts to increase the power of persuasion by techniques such as endorsement.

In such an environment it becomes ever more challenging to determine to what extent these processes constitute the development and deployment of confidence tricks through which “confidence” can be elicited and sustained without question — as a means of sustaining credibility (Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: the political economy of the mass media, 1988; David Barsamian and Noam Chomsky, Propaganda and the Public Mind, 2001; Noam Chomsky, Necessary Illusions: thought control in democratic societies, 1999). Curiously the global financial crisis has clarified the extent to which psychosocial systems are dependent on confidence despite its intangibility (Varieties of Confidence Essential to Sustainability: surrogates and tokens obscuring the existential “gold standard”, 2009; Credibility Crunch engendered by Hope-mongering: “Credit crunch” focus as symptom of a dangerous mindset, 2008).

Being wary of “security”

Preoccupations with “security” are now omnipresent — notably as a feature of cultivation of the “culture of fear” mentioned above. They range from the arguments presented regarding extreme forms of terrorist threat, to concerns about security of individual property, to those relating to personal security. However “security” has now been extended to include the security of resources in general: food security, water security, oil security, essential commodity security, and the like.

Aside from the case made for the continuing develop lent of ever more sophisticated weapons of mass destruction, the range of such arguments has been used to justify a variety of forms of personal protection, including ownership of small arms and the creation of gated communities. The concerns have extended to widespread acceptance of invasive surveillance whether by use of video surveillance or electronic surveillance — or dependence on informants embedded in groups held to be a potential threat. Such strategies are matched by development of ever more restrictive information classification policies — and reduction of transparency, as noted above.

There is also recognition of the extent of dependence on “security companies” and “contractors” to provide “protection” by means which may well be considered questionable — but which it would be foolish, if not dangerous, to question. The processes are well-framed by the term “dirty tricks” — readily justified by ticking time bomb scenarios and the official case for torture (Phillipe Sands, Torture Team: Rumsfeld's memo and the betrayal of American values, 2008; Fritz Allhoff, Terrorism, Ticking Time-Bombs, and Torture , 2012). The issue has been revived with recent approval by the US Senate Intelligence Committee of a report covering the CIA's post-9/11 use of clandestine ‘black sites' and so-called ‘enhanced-interrogation techniques' — although declassifying the report to prepare for its release to the public is expected to take months, if not longer (cf. Matt Sledge and Michael McAuliff, CIA Torture Report Approved By Senate Intelligence Committee, Huff Post: Politics, 16 December 2012).

The point has long been reached at which many forms of abuse are justified by spurious reference to “security” and the vital need for responsive sensitivity to the matter. Again it can be argued that it has become impossible to disprove the arguments of those who have the power to misrepresent the possibility of threat — especially when the effort to develop such arguments is itself framed as a threat. Unfortunately it then becomes impossible to disprove that such misrepresentation is occurring — despite denials to that effect.

Systemic implications of “horsemen” and “hoarsemen” and correspondences between them

The fourfold distinction can be fruitfully explored in systemic terms rather than as symbolized as “horsemen” or “hoarsemen”. In that sense each may be seen as a feature of the complex systems dynamics by which the psychosocial system and civilization can be characterized. In that sense each is a form of instability — characteristic of human nature and proclivities — associated with systemic collapse. This could be seen as consistent with the exploration of Jared Diamond (Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed, 2005).

The concern here is the possibility of recognizing correspondences between the “horsemen” and the “hoarsemen” in the light of such a systemic perspective.

Tentative systemic correspondences between horsemen” and “hoarsemen”
“Horsemen” “Hoarsemen” Indicative metaphors
Conquest / Pestilence Marketability / Persuasion campaigns, infectious ideas (viral marketing)
War Security virtual wars (as in “drug war”, “war against poverty”, etc)
Famine Accountability shortages, economy of truth, fixing the books, etc
Death Legality arbiter of death, killing creativity

Being wary of the Four Hoarsemen acting together

A peculiar characteristic shared by the “hoarsemen” is a sense of self-worthiness demanding of respect. Ironically, despite their distinctive functions, they all tend to be characterized as “suits”. As professions each cultivates an image of honourability in society — which may well be used as a disguise for modes of action of a less than honourable nature, exemplified by some of the examples given above. Any criticism of the mindset cultivated by each is however readily considered as impugning that honour — effectively an insult.

As variously implied in the above arguments, the effective “collaboration” between the “hoarsemen” is of greater concern than the degradation in the quality of human life for which they may be seen to be individually responsible. The collaboration may be between two of them, three of them, or between all four together. The dynamics of such collaboration has been otherwise explored with respect to the “blame-game” (Implication of Toroidal Transformation of the Crown of Thorns: design challenge to enable integrative comprehension of global dynamics, 2011; Swastika as Dynamic Pattern Underlying Psychosocial Power Processes: implicate order of Knight's move game-playing sustaining creativity, exploitation and impunity, 2012)

The possibilities of threefold and fourfold collaboration between the “hoarsemen” calls for representation in three dimensions (as with a tetrahedral configuration of spheres). Some sense of the varieties of twofold “collaboration” can be recognized in the following

Legality Accountability Marketability Security
Legality (complicity amongst legal professionals) use of legality to give credence to accountability (however questionable) use of legality to give credence to marketability (however questionable) use of legality to justify security measures (however questionable)
Accountability use of accountability as visible proof of legality (or interpretations thereof) (complicity amongst accounting professionals) use of accountability as visible proof of marketability (or interpretations thereof) use of accountability as visible proof of security (or interpretations thereof)
Marketability use of marketability to give credence to legality (or interpretations thereof) use of marketability to give credence to accountability (or interpretations thereof) (complicity amongst marketing professionals) use of marketability to give credence to security (marketing campaign)
Security use of security to enforce legality (or interpretations thereof) use of security to enforce accountability (or interpretations thereof) use of security to enforce marketability (or interpretations thereof) (complicity amongst security professionals)

Especially interesting is the manner in which a strategic undertaking can switch nimbly between dependence on any one of the “hoarsemen”, or any combination of them — as with switching from a legal argument, to a profitability argument, to a security argument. Such switching is occasionally described as changing step, changing foot or stance (Terry L. Amburgey and Tina Dacin, As the Left Foot Follows the Right? The Dynamics of Strategic and Structural Change, The Academy of Management Journal, 1994). The process can be usefully explored in the light of the gait of four-footed animals. As described in the Wikipedia entry:

Gaits are generally classed as “symmetrical” and “asymmetrical” based on limb movement. It is important to note that these terms have nothing to do with left-right symmetry. In a symmetrical gait, the left and right limbs of a pair alternate, while in an asymmetrical gait, the limbs move together. Asymmetrical gaits are sometimes termed “leaping gaits”, due to the presence of a suspended phase.

The combination of two — using the limb metaphor — is notably evident in military terms through the “pincer movement” and adopted into other contexts (cf. Patrick Caddell, Can Romney Execute a Pincer Strategy Against Obama? 15 October 2012). The concern here is how two or more “hoarsemen” may be engaged in “pincer movements” against individuals or groups.

The case of Bradley Manning (mentioned above) offers a striking illustration of how fourfold collaboration between the mindsets of the “hoarsemen” can existentially constrain an individual within a framework of structural violence:

  • The legal proceedings highlight one dimension — although his actions helped to highlight unlawful action.
  • The effort to call him to account for acting irresponsibly highlights a second — although acting responsbily could be considered to have been one of his primary concerns.
  • The public relations spin surrounding him, in order to market the problematic nature of his actions, highlights a third dimension — although it is claimed that his actions were designed to persuade the public of an alternative truth.
  • The focus on the security threats his actions constituted placing lives at risk, claimed to be a betrayal of his country, highlights the fourth dimension — although it would be claimed that the “security” mindset itself ensured many more deaths

Being where and how “to be”?

The emergence of these “voices”, and their stridently competitive quest for dominance in any collective discourse, highlights the challenge as to “where” an individual or group can “be”. Clearly, whether separately or together, it is in the very nature of the “hoarsemen” to actively target individuals and groups as conventionally framed. The framing itself is a process in which those “voices” are actively engaged, as by right, thereby defining the very nature of the “existence” of the individual — overriding other voices through which that existence might be otherwise understood and enabled.

Where then can the individual “be” — and how is the nature of that “place” in time to be understood? As discussed separately (Configuring the Varieties of Experiential Nothingness, 2012), using the language of Christopher Alexander, this raises the question of the design patterns through which a “good place to be” is ensured (The Timeless Way of Building, 1979, p. x). Alexander's approach has been extended, experimentally, to less tangible domains (5-fold Pattern Language, 1984).

Any focus on a particular physical locus may however be considered contrary to the essential nature of man (cf. Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head, Matthew 8:20). The latter being echoed in the lifestyle choice of nomadism, psychical nomadism or randomness (Antonio Maurice Daniels, Rootlessness is the Source of Randomness, Revolutionary Paideia, 9 March 2011), possibly framed in terms of uncertainty (Dennis Merritt Jones, The Art of Uncertainty: how to live in the mystery of life and love it, 2011). Also reframed through the complex insights of quantum mechanics into non-locality.

If the “hoarsemen” define and occupy a central environment or space in a knowledge-based society, as more conventionally understood, what is the unconventional space they are unable effectively to occupy — at least as yet? Perhaps one that is more “central”, fundamental or coherent, where other less strident “voices” might indeed be heard? What are the niches within which individuals and groups can develop qualities such as to avoid harassment by the “hoarsemen” and their dynamics? One indicator is offered by the cognitive processes of metaphor (cf. Metaphors as Transdisciplinary Vehicles of the Future, 1991). These resist the conventional processes of exclusive definition practiced so assiduously by the “hoarsemen”.

Do “dynamics” indeed offer clues to access to alternative “places”, as separately argued (cf. Navigating Alternative Conceptual Realities: clues to the dynamics of enacting new paradigms through movement, 2002)? Given the proclivity of the “hoarsemen” for targetting, is identifying “where to be” a matter of avoiding spaces in which military metaphors can be readily used, as explored separately (Enhancing Sustainable Development Strategies through Avoidance of Military Metaphors, 1998)? As noted there in a review of dynamics in relation to targetting:

The interesting point about these possibilities is that they all have their better known equivalents in nature, being typically employed in the struggle between species. Reflecting the dynamics of the natural environment, this suggests that they may have some relevance to the design of sustainable development strategies — if these are to be sustainable. Policy-makers might usefully learn from the complexity of the environment they seek to protect. But, to what extent is communication with regard to sustainable development currently designed in anticipation that the “targets” may well “strike back”? How naive is it to assume that the “targets” will remain stationary (and accessible to “target detection” and “acquisition”  facilities) — behaving like passive “herbivores”, rather than like proactive “carnivores”?

Framed in this way it becomes evident the strategies currently explored by individuals and groups to avoid each “hoarseman”:

  • legality: emergence and development of the black economy; action “outside” the law or “above the law”, or “under the radar” — possibly exemplified by a “handshake” or an “understanding”.
  • accountability: development of “parallel” bookkeeping systems, and double standards — possibly informed and given coherence by other opinions and alternative worldviews
  • marketability: development of critical skills with regard to advertising and marketing claims (perhaps even in the form of vigilant cynicism), despite use of public relations to disguise intentions or ensuring endorsement by conventional exemplars
  • security: lack of confidence in official systems of law and order, most notably in the light of evident abuse and miscarriage of justice, however denied — possibly compensated by elaboration of alternative codes of conduct

These may variously enable discovery of a “space” — perhaps to be understood as a “meta-space” — which is not exposed to the targetting by the “hoarsemen”. The existential challenge is then the development of the skills to “be” within that space — if not to embody it (cf. Enactivating Multiversal Community: hearing a pattern of voices in the global wilderness, 2012; Being a Poem in the Making: engendering a multiverse through musing, 2012). Ironically the inadequacies of the “hoarsemen”, despite their vigorous claims to the contrary, may themselves encourage the development of these skills (cf. Living as an Imaginal Bridge between Worlds: global implications of “betwixt and between” and liminality, 2011)


It has been argued here that the predictions relating to December 2012, and the completion of the Mayan/Aztec long count cycle, can be explored in terms of their cognitive and systemic implications. The pattern of coherence with which global civilization is associated, and by which it is sustained, can then be understood as exposed to dramatic systemic failure through systemic imbalances in the functions represented by the “hoarsemen”. Some form of catastrophic Armageddon may well occur, most significantly at the cognitive level (Spontaneous Initiation of Armageddon: a heartfelt response to systemic negligence, 2004).

Arguably the completion of the long count cycle can be understood as an emerging disconnect between the explicit pattern, recognized and reinforced by the conventional activities of the “hoarsemen”, and the implicit “meta-pattern” so ably described by Gregory Bateson for recognition of a meta-pattern:

The pattern which connects is a meta-pattern. It is a pattern of patterns. It is that meta-pattern which defines the vast generalization that, indeed, it is patterns which connect. (Mind and Nature: a necessary unity, 1979)

And it is from this perspective that Bateson warns: Break the pattern which connects the items of learning and you necessarily destroy all quality (1979, pp 8-11). This echoes Christopher Alexander sense that: in our time the languages have broken down. Again the emphasis here is on a dynamic meta-pattern of connectivity, usefully understood through “transformations”. Any particular transformation necessarily implies a dynamic. How the pattern of connectivity might itself be dynamic is necessarily a greater cognitive challenge. (cf. In Quest of a Dynamic Pattern of Transformations: sensing the strange attractor of an emerging Rosetta Stone, 2012).

Global civilization is then liable to be witness to a failure in its essential knowledge-based processes — in the form of information overload, erosion of collective memory, attention deficiency, preoccupation with intellectual property, secrecy, and the like. The process is liable to be compounded by denial, distraction and demonisation.

However, as has been repeatedly stressed in interpreting the Mayan/Aztec perspective on such collapse, new patterns of cognitive coherence of an unsuspected nature may then be expected to emerge — irrespective of preoccupation with tangible consequences of any catastrophic collapse. It is in this sense that it the shift to a new cycle may constitute some unforeseen catastrophe of consciousness.


Fritz Allhoff. Terrorism, Ticking Time-Bombs, and Torture. University of Chicago Press, 2012

Terry L. Amburgey and Tina Dacin.”As the Left Foot Follows the Right? The Dynamics of Strategic and Structural Change.” The Academy of Management Journal, 37, 1994, 6, pp. 1427-1452 [abstract]

David L. Altheide. Creating Fear: news and the construction of a crisis. Aldine de Gruyter, 2002

David Barsamian and Noam Chomsky. Propaganda and the Public Mind. South End Press, 2001

Karen A. Cerulo. Never Saw It Coming: cultural challenges to envisioning the worst. University of Chicago Press, 2006

Noam Chomsky. Necessary Illusions: thought control in democratic societies. South End Press, 1999

Jared Diamond. Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed. Viking Press. 2005

Frank Furedi. Politics of Fear: beyond left and right. Continuum, 2005

Daniel Gardner. The Science of Fear: how the culture of fear manipulates your brain. Plume, 2009

Barry Glassner. The Culture of Fear: why Americans are afraid of the wrong things. Basic Books, 2010

Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: the political economy of the mass media. Pantheon Books, 1988

Phillipe Sands:

Nassim Nicholas Taleb:

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