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The human voice, counterpoint, & the analysis of complex systems

Saturday, February 9th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — with Mike Sellers and Ali Minai particularly in mind, and more to come.. ]
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Roomful of Teeth:

That’s composer Caroline Shaw‘s Partita for 8 Voices, a piece she wrote for Roomful of Teeth.

A piece she composed and wrote for them — in the remainder of this post, we’ll explore the overlap of text (writing) and music (composition) in increasing subtlety and detail..

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I’m brought to make this post by a paragraph I read in a fascinating New Yorker article, Roomful of Teeth Is Revolutionizing Choral Music. Roomful of Teeth is the group whose music I first praised in Pulitzer : Lamar :: Nobel : Dylan?, and showcase again in the video clip above.

Here’s that New Yorker para:

The human voice is the world’s most astonishing instrument, it’s often said. It’s capable of everything from a trill to a bark to an ear-splitting scream, from growling harmonics to liquid acrobatics, lofted on the breath like a lark on an updraft. Instrument is the wrong word, really. The voice is more like a chamber ensemble: winds and strings and blaring horns, strung together end to end. It’s a pump organ, a viola, an oboe, and the bell of a trumpet, each instrument passing the sound along to the next, adding volume and overtones at every step. Throw in the percussion of the lips and tongue, and the echoing amphitheatre of the skull, and you have a full orchestra playing inside you.

My aim in this post is to add that “full orchestra playing inside you” to that other internal polyphony of contrasting desires, identities, and emergent thoughts, and the external polyphony of all those voices with a stake in our common concerns, risk assessments and deliberations — which are constituent of our complex analytic topics.

Done.

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The rest is context…

I’ve often talked about the notion that the analysis of complex human systems involves dealing with multiple stakeholder voices, also on occasion with the many internal voices within each individual, and suggested that music offers the clearest equivalent or analogy that humans successfully and repeatedly navigate. Specifically, the twin notions of polyphony — the sounding together of many voices — and more specifically counterpoint — the juxtaposition of conflicting voices and the possible resolution of their conflicts from dissonance to harmony in an iterative process — are clearly relevant to analytic practice, albeit drawing on a tradition that will seem wildly cross-disciplinary to many analysts.

Relevant here is Edward Said‘s definition of counterpoint:

In counterpoint a melody is always in the process of being repeated by one or another voice: the result is horizontal, rather than vertical, music. Any series of notes is thus capable of an infinite set of transformations, as the series (or melody or subject) is taken up first by one voice then by another, the voices always continuing to sound against, as well as with, all the others. Instead of the melody at the top being supported by a thicker harmonic mass beneath (as in largely vertical nineteenth century music), Bach’s contrapuntal music is regularly composed of several equal lines, sinuously interwoven, working themselves out according to stringent rules

In my view , which I have repeatedly expressed, Johann Sebastian Bach, the master of contrapuntal writing, is a significant exemplar for us at this time. And if it should be argued that musical methods cannot be transposed — another musical term — to matters of verbal thought, let me say that the great Bach pianist Glenn Gould towards the end of his life made specifically contrapuntal human voice radio plays for the Canadian Broadcasting Company..

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Gould’s contrapuntal mind:

Among Gould‘s eccentricities — David Howes in Glenn Gould’s Contrapuntal Constitution calls them bi-centricities, a phrase that reminds us of Arthur Koestler‘s notion of the creative leap as the bisociation of two planes or matrices, are:

the way he liked to have one AM and one FM station playing all the time in his apartment, one for news, the other for music; the way he could learn a score while talking on the phone; and the way he enjoyed eavesdropping on three or four conversations at the same time going on at neighbouring tables in the restaurants he haunted (Kostelanetz 1983: 127).

We can see here that Gould‘s basic thinking is in terms of multiple voices, often contrasting, in simultaneous awareness — Gould, Howes continues, spoke of counterpoint as “an explosion of simultaneous ideas”. As Gould puts it, Howes reports, when speaking of his radio programs for human voices:

The basis of it was that we tried to have situations arise cogently from within the framework of the program in which the two or three voices … [recorded previously in conversation with Gould, but with the latter’s voice edited out for the final version] … could be overlapped, in which they would be heard talking – simultaneously, but from different points of view – about the same subject. We also tried to treat these voices as though they belonged to characters in a play, though all the material was gained from interviews. It was documentary material, treated in a sense as drama (cited in Payzant 1982: 131).

This, then, is Gould‘s contrapuntal radio, and we can see Gould vividly transposing conytrapuntal imagination from the musical sphere to that of the varieties of human verbalization.

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As not an aside but the re-introduction of a theme previously only hinted at, here is Arthur Koestler on the conceptual or creative leap:

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Okay, our concept of music must shift, change, expand, if we are to consider Gould‘s Idea of North as a musical composition — in ways that are consistent with my own development of contrapuntal analysis. As Anthony Cushing explains in Glenn Gould and ‘Opus 2’: An outline for a musical understanding of contrapuntal radio with respect to The Idea of North:

A musical understanding of North requires re-thinking some traditional elements of music theory: harmony must take into consideration semantic content and shifting topic areas; form follows somewhat traditional musical structures (ternary, binary, etc.); and texture encompasses layering of literal voices and dispenses with traditional notions of melody. One must also consider the spatial component of tape composition, in which voices inhabit locations in a sound field. The later documentaries in the trilogy and the Leopold Stokowski and Pablo Casals tribute radio documentaries contribute to a more complete musical concept of contrapuntal radio — complex polyphonic textures, stereo sound, pitch-based harmonic content — the germ of contrapuntal radio was developed and actualized in North.

I’d like to take that lead, given us by the masterful pianist Glenn Gould, across into the field of analytic understanding — as a stream of analysis complementary and in counterpoint (for instance) to “big data” analytic tools — contrapuntal analysis characteristically working with a few, humanly-selected verbal utterances rather than data-points algorithmically-selected in the millions.

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Moving to a larger geopolitical canvas, Edward Said once told an interviewer:

When you think about it, when you think about Jew and Palestinian not separately, but as part of a symphony, there is something magnificently imposing about it. A very rich, also very tragic, also in many ways desperate history of extremes – opposites in the Hegelian sense – that is yet to receive its due. So what you are faced with is a kind of sublime grandeur of a series of tragedies, of losses, of sacrifices, of pain that would take the brain of a Bach to figure out. It would require the imagination of someone like Edmund Burke to fathom.

We see here the invocation of Bach in a context of geopolitical analysis — one paragraph in the life-work of Said, who was a music critic as well as a well-known Palestinian-American public intellectual.

That single paragraph — and Gould‘s clear understanding that contrapuntal thinking can be applied to the polyphony of human voices, not just in the musical sphere — prompts me to go further, and assert that complexity studies with application to the human condition and intelligence and geopolitical analysis will all, sooner or later, arrive at the practice of contrapuntal thinking as basic to their deeper purposes.

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Refocusing at the national level, on Glenn Gould‘s native Canada:

I’ve mentioned the simultaneity of voices in social contexts such as listening, hearing and understanding the views and voices of multiple stakeholder. In similar vein, Howes suggests Gould‘s own taste for counterpoint stems from and reflects the Canadian Constitution:

Gould understood music to provide a model of society, and the performing artist, hence, to be performing society, as well as music. Along these lines, counterpoint, Gould’s preferred musical style, provides a specially apt model for comprehending the constitutional structure of the Canadian state. Gould’s interest in keeping the different voices of a fugue distinct, equal, and bound together parallels the concern of the Canadian state to keep the different parties to Confederation distinct, equal and bound together. In this difficult task, however, there is always a risk of overemphasizing or losing one of the voices. If Quebec is proclaimed “a distinct society” will that disturb the equality of the provinces (for surely all are distinct); if it is not, will that lead to the separation of Quebec and the break-up of Confederation? This bi-cultural counterpoint confronts Canadians daily, from the bilingual product information on their cereal boxes to the reports of English/French political jousting on the evening news.

Counterpoint, or in more general terms, polyphony, is non-dialectical, for it involves the interweaving of voices, of ideas, rather than the Hegelian process of thesis-antithesis-synthesis. Polyphony as social theory does not, therefore, entail the negation of any countervailing views the way, say, a dialectical social philosophy would. With polyphony, accommodation or peaceful co-presence takes the place of negation.

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Readings:

  • New Yorker, Roomful of Teeth Is Revolutionizing Choral Music
  • NY Times, The Glenn Gould Contrapuntal Radio Show
  • Open Culture, Listen to Glenn Gould’s Shockingly Experimental Radio Documentary
  • Hermitary, Glenn Gould’s The Solitude Trilogy
  • Canadian Icon, Glenn Gould’s Contrapuntal Constitution
  • Politics & Culture, An interview with Edward Said

  • Charles Cameron, Pulitzer : Lamar :: Nobel : Dylan?
  • Charles Cameron, Getting deeper into Koestler

  • Mike Sellers, Advanced Game Design: A systems Approach
  • Ali Minai, A core concern of our research is the desire to catch ‘creativity in the act.’
  • **

    More Teeth — your reward for reading this far:

    And BachGlenn Gould plays Contrapunctus IX from The Art of Fugue — on organ:

    Sports metaphor & politics, and much else besides, 2, post-Flake

    Sunday, September 30th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — after Sen Jeff Flake’s elevator epiphany and meet-up with his friend Chris Coons ]
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    Jeff Flake’s Deal With Democrats Puts Kavanaugh’s Nomination in Limbo

    A deeply divided Senate Judiciary Committee advanced President Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court, but final confirmation will depend on a reopened FBI inquiry.

    Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court was all set to move unimpeded through the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday morning.

    Then Jeff Flake had a sudden change of heart.

    Hours after declaring his support for Kavanaugh, the Arizona Republican simultaneously voted to advance the nomination in committee while warning party leadership that he would oppose President Trump’s nominee in a crucial floor vote unless and until the FBI conducts a further investigation into Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a high-school party in 1982.

    **

    MTP Daily, 9/28/2018:

    This is a Republican who’s retiring, this is a Republican who’s more free of the political calculus ..

    In the political calculus of the moment ..

    “We respect her” is the new “thoughts and prayers” ..

    **

    The Beat, with Ari Melber:

    Within hours of that confrontation, Senator Flake did something we rarely see in this choreographed, partisanship era ..

    Barbara Boxer:

    Time is a friend of Justice ..

    Margaret Judson:

    How Do You Play a Porn Star in the #MeToo Era? With Help from an ‘Intimacy Director’

    In this moment, we are watching Hollywood take the high ground over the United States government. That’s a huge red flag. That’s not how this should work.The government should be holding the higher moral standard, and Hollywood it.

    This guy shouldn’t be allowed to drive a car.

    Ari:

    That was the Twilight Zone A Few Good Men. It’s like, he thought he had the closing speech in A Few Good Men, but for a lot of the country he was in a different movie ..

    Hardball:

    Tell me how the sequence worked that led to this overtime in the game, so to speak ..
    It does seem they’ve got the fire power, the candle power ..
    what kind of pandora’s box ..
    You get two supreme court nominees in the ideology of your liking, that’s sort of like a pitcher in the major leagues winning over 20 games, i mean that’as a hell of a season, and now that season’s in real jeopardy ..
    the tip box is big, and it’s open ..
    next up, a hairline fracture in the partisanship that has come to define American politics ..
    he’s not intimidated by the 9 out of 10 republicans who back trump in every single thing; the others are hog-tied ..
    i was struck by a profile in democracy — here was a guy who held an elevator door. senators have their own elevators in order to keep those people out..
    battle of the genders looks like a draw ..
    sen klobuchar: the constitution does not say, We the ruling party, she constitution says, We the people..

    All In with Chris Hayes 9/28/2018:

    Sen Hirono: the FBI investigation has to be complete. It can’t be some cursory kind of investigation that gives cover to some wavering senators. It’s got to be real ..
    a lot of people felt like something was wrong and breaking, i mean, wrong in that it felt like there was a kind of torture being imposed on dr blasey ford .. profound legitimacy crisis that we’re watching happen in slow motion ..
    it does feel as though something is fundamentally breaking, and I almost appreciate the fact that in the end the republicans took the mask off, and stopped allowing their prosecutor to ask questions, they decided to turn it into a big political show you saw what their endgame was, not really getting to the truth, but doing whatever was necessary to try to jam him through ..

    **

    Maya Wiley:

    like inside baseball with no fans ..

    A bit obvious, but the title is worth noting:

    The Hidden Moral Lessons in Your Favorite Childhood Games

    They should have started with hide & seek, which is the topic of the Krishna Lila, love in separation & union..

    Elon Musk vs. the SEC: The Tesla billionaire gears up for the fight of his career

    He has fought back viciously by calling his opponents names like “saboteur,” “idiot” and “pedophile.” Now, Tesla chief Elon Musk is embracing the same kind of combative approach to wage the fight of his career against the Securities and Exchange Commission.

    Musk is as close to sainthood as one can get in Silicon Valley, a sci-fi virtuoso who has captured imaginations with gambles on soaring rockets, electric supercars and brain-computer links. A critical element of his cult of personality: He rarely backs down from a fight.

    That last paragraph has an interesting four-part evaluation of Musk: close to sainthood .. sci-f- virtuoso .. cult of personality — fight. If I was setting that para to music, it would definitely be on a descending arpeggio..

    hit man .. sabotage

    History doesn’t rhyme, it DoubleQuotes?

    Shady Watergate Reporters Target Trump

    Imagine a replay of Watergate –only worse.

    In both the original and the replay, the same Washington D.C. reporter, whose parents were Communist Party members connected to Soviet atomic spies and who were under FBI surveillance for decades, teamed up with the same second D.C. reporter, who was outed as an “FBI asset,” to take down a sitting Republican President of the United States.

    In both instances the “unnamed source” leaking information to these two reporters turned out to be the Deputy Director of the FBI.

    This is a remake.

    Some of the players have even reprised their old roles.

    [ .. ]

    This is stunning – decades apart in time two separate FBI Deputy Directors leaked information about the then-sitting President of the United States to a pair of reporters, one of whom hails from a family intertwined with the Soviet spy ring that handed America’s nuclear secrets to Joseph Stalin and the other of whom was an “FBI asset.”

    Both of these FBI Deputy Directors had to know with whom they were dealing.

    **

    A brace of interesting articles, both by John Seabrook:

  • New Yorker, Don’t Shoot: A radical approach to the problem of gang violence [2009]
  • New Yorker, Operation Ceasefire and the Unlikely Advent of Precision Policing [2018]
  • Some high spots from the former:

    Captain Daniel Gerard, who took over Vortex in the fall of 2007, didn’t put much stock in their ideas. As he said, “Academia and law enforcement are at opposite ends of the spectrum. They like theories, we like results.”

    Kennedy was tall and slim, and in the dark clothes he favored there was something about him of the High Plains Drifter -— the mysterious stranger who blows into town one day and makes the bad guys go away. He wore a grizzled beard and had thick, unbound hair that cascaded halfway down his back. “What’s some guy who looks like Jesus got to tell us about crime in Cincinnati?” was the line around police headquarters.

    Kennedy had been approached by Dr. Victor Garcia, the head of the trauma unit at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, who was seeing almost daily the effects of the city’s violent gangs: the stabbings, shootings, and beatings, and the injuries to innocent children caught in the crossfire. “Children with their eyes shot out, children paralyzed,” Garcia told me. “I started to wonder, instead of treating injuries, how can we prevent them from happening in the first place?”

    Often, much of the violence is caused by gang dynamics: score settling, vendettas, and turf issues, all played out according to the law of the streets.

    Whalen explained to me the C.P.D.’s distinction between social workers and cops: “Social people hug thugs. We kick their butts.”

    I particularly appreciate the echo of ““Academia and law enforcement are at opposite ends of the spectrum. They like theories, we like results” in “Whalen explained to me the C.P.D.’s distinction between social workers and cops: “Social people hug thugs. We kick their butts.””

    **

    Movie correlates:

    High Plains Drifter – A Shave and a Shootout:

    You Can’t Handle the Truth! – A Few Good Men:

    Duel and duet? I dunno.

    Wednesday, June 27th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — includes a rationale for my recurring arts orbits on Zenpundit, a strategy site ]
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    Conflict:

    Stop, Do Not Go On, from The Gospel At Colonus.

    Oedipus — played here by Clarence Fountain and the Blind Boys from Alabama — although accursed, has been promised an eventual resting place to which he will bring blessings, and is accordingly attempting to enter Colonus — resisted by the good people there — represented by Sam Butler and the Soul Stirrers — on the grounds that he is Oedipus, who killed his father and slept with his mother, a man accursed..

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    Love in union and separation:

    So very different from the battle of the bands above, yet such a close twin..

    Etta James & Dr.John (Dr John the Night Tripper) sing and enact I’d Rather Go Blind — a love song of great beauty and cruelty.. (he’ll never leave, he’s walking away)..

    There, that’s the music.

    **

    Now, strategy and conflict:

    Strategy has to do with the navigation of conflict, and since this blog is concerned with strategy, and our lives for that matter with the navigation of conflict, I try to remember strategy and conflict even during my flights (or fugues) into glass bead games, music and poetry — so that I may stray far from our central theme, but as with certain comets, always return on an elliptical orbit, no matter how extended.

    My sense that forms such as parallelism (rhyme, fugue or canon) and the ouroboros serpent (infinity symbol, paradox) are markers (when found in analytic materials) of likely analytical significance is also tied in with OSINT work — although the patterns themselves extend across the cultural, anthropological, psychological, historical, religious and artistic realms. It is in this spirit, which I seldom spell out, but which guides my writings here, that I offer the above pairing of musical events, each of them theatrical, dealing with human relations in conflict and in love respectively, one with an overt clash over territory, the other with love in its two phases of union and separation.

    It seems, in any case, that some at least of Zenpundit‘s original hard core strategists, as well as those whose interest was equally or more in creativity, which we at ZP “minor” in — and which is relevant as per Adm. Stavridis, Safranski and others to keeping strategic thinking cutting edge — have been kind enough to follow along with some or all of my eccentric orbiting, and I thank them / you.

    **

    Enjoy, Fcamer, but also ponder.. Or should I say, Ponder, then –but hey, also enjoy!

    Two summits, one Korean peninsular

    Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — colloquially speakin’, there’s a whole lot of prayin’, partyin’ & paradoxin’ goin’ on]
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    War on the Rocks brings us a fascinating article by Ramon Pacheco Pardo of the Institute for European Studies of Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Senior Lecturer in International Relations at King’s College London, titled The Korean Summit that Really Matters, and you guessed it, it’s not the one between Trump and Kim, its the one between North and South — and the WOTR piece has more (perhaps not unexpectedly) about the South than the North.

    For my purposes, the WOTR piece opened eye-catchingly with a Buddhist and Christian doublet:

    On Monday, South Korea’s Catholic Church held an unusual prayer: It prayed for the success of the upcoming inter-Korean summit. The following day, South Korean President Moon Jae-in attended a Buddhist service, also praying for the summit’s success.

    That much religion in two short sentences put me on the alert —

    — and only from there did the writer move to a comparison between the Moon and Trump summits:

    Clearly, the Moon administration is leaving nothing to chance to ensure that next week’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un redefines Korean geopolitics. Both Moon and, to a lesser extent, Kim have been preparing for this moment for years. This is why the upcoming inter-Korean summit, not the much-discussed summit between Kim and U.S President Donald Trump, is the one that really matters for the future of the peninsula.

    **

    For a detailed look at the entire Korean situation, look at or critique the whole WOTR piece:

  • WOTR, The Korean Summit that Really Matters
  • The two articles Pacheco Pardo links to regarding President Moon attending Catholic and Buddhist prayers are:

  • NK News, S. Korea’s Catholic Church prays for inter-Korean summit’s success
  • NK News, Moon vows efforts to establish peace between the two Koreas
  • **

    Digging around a bit farther afield from there brought rewards.

    We already knew that Junche — “usually left untranslated, or translated as ‘self-reliance'” is ideology of North Korea, and that it is effectively a cult of personality of the revolutionary (dynastic) leader — nothing much new to glean there — but the South Korean leader’s speech led me onwards:

    President Moon Jae-in has called on Buddhists to show their support for peace on the Korean Peninsula. “The Hwajaeng theory espoused by Wonhyo (617-686), one of the greatest masters in the history of Korean Buddhism, means a ‘cooperative resolution of conflict,’ and it will hopefully be fulfilled on the peninsula, as we resolve conflicts and division between the two Koreas,” he said.

    His remarks came during a Buddhist ceremony on April 17 to pray for security and peace on the peninsula, with chief monks and representatives from major temples across the country, and also some non-Korean Buddhists, in attendance.

    Aha!

    **

    Wonhyo seems to have been something of a blithe spirit, as well as a scholar, the author of voluminous works:

    [Wonhyo] tried to embody in his own life the ideal of a bodhisattva who works for the well-being of all sentient beings. Transcending the distinction of the sacred and the secular, he married a widower princess, visited villages and towns, and taught people with songs and dances.

    — as one of his commentators puts it. You can almost hear Wikipedia laugh or snort (your choice) as it says:

    While the Buddha discouraged such behaviors, his [Wonhyo’s] songs and dances were seen as upaya, or skillful means, meant to help save all sentient beings.

    **

    Get serious, please!

    The required reading would appear to be in:

  • Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, Wonhyo: Selected Works, A Charles Miller, ed & tr
  • Defeating language at its own game by all available means, no wonder Wonhyo taught by dancing and singing!

    **

    That’s all very well, and may please the poet-theologian in me, but what about Hwajaeng and conflict resolution?

    As a methodological approach, hwajaeng refers to Wonhyo’s relentless pursuit of ostensibly variant or conflicting Buddhist doctrinal positions, investigating them exhaustively until identifying the precise point at which their variance occurs and then showing how differences in fundamental background, motivation, or sectarian bias on the part of the proponent of that particular doctrinal position led to the production of such apparent contradictions. He never judges any proposition to be ultimately correct: it is only determined to be valid or invalid from a given standpoint. Wonhyo then lays out his own argument in contradistinction to the attached views he has previously elaborated.

    It will be instructive to see how President Moon develops this approach vis-a-vis South-North dialog, and how the somewhat inscrutable Kim Jong Un receives and adapts to it..

    **

    The image in the top panel, above, shows President Park Geun-hye and Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung. President Moon succeeded President Park after her impeachment in the 2017 elections. He is shown praying, second left, in the lower panel, above,

    Image sources:

  • Korea.net, President meets Catholic leaders
  • Korea.net, President Moon asks Buddhists to join peacemaking on peninsula
  • Okay, my head is spinning.

    Sunday surprise, Pikachu & more

    Sunday, May 7th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — getting to know the Koreas North & South, also conflict resolution and a schoolgirl movie ]
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    Yoyu may have seen this viral Pikachu video from South Korea, filmed during the Pokémon World Festival:

    If you didn’t know better, you might figure those were North Korean security agents hustling that sadly deflating Pikachu dancer offstage, to ensure the appearance of massed conformity to which such parades as this one have accustomed us to:

    For a less regimented view of North Korea, consider this example of conflict resolution among schoolgirls:

    Fortunately, you can see the whole film:

    **

    It is known that humans “catch and train to battle each other for sport.”


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