Monday, October 19, 2009

Yet More Escutcheons

Groups, Boffins and Beauty

By John Taylor; 2009 Oct 19, Ilm 05, 166 BE

Escutcheons for Groups and Institutions

We have been looking mostly at personal escutcheons so far, but in reality that is only the beginning. Personal escutcheons are the foundation for a set of standard reforms to be introduced at every level of society, from the individual to the household, company, school, neighbourhood, city, region, nation, continent and the world.

Group escutcheons are a much more complex proposition individual ones. In a democratic meritocracy, groups depend utterly upon the initiative, goodwill and consensus of opinion among individuals in order to progress. Institutional escutcheons plug into the dashboard displays and escutcheons of many individuals, both within their membership and without. But they also interact closely with other groups at all levels of society.

Like a personal escutcheon, each family, company, government or other organization has some freedom to decide upon what plans, measures and criteria to display on their escutcheon, according to their current needs and priorities. However, whereas individuals design their escutcheons autonomously, setting up their own self-monitored goals and criteria of success, group escutcheons must adhere to many rules and standards imposed from within and without. Group policies must be open, their goals determined by free elections and progress verified by qualified outside parties.

As mentioned, the mottos and displays on escutcheons act as interfaces from one person or group to all others. Many of these interfaces are obligatory. Institutions, unlike individuals, are required to display their escutcheon in public. By law, schools, companies, faith groups, families, neighbourhoods and governments, must place their escutcheon in a prominent place over their door, on membership cards and their website.

Depending upon their purpose, an institution can earn the right to add certain features and distinctions to their escutcheon. Badges and emblems are designed to be a recognizable, open set of standards, determined by data gathered according to strict regulations. Badges are standard, audited by licensed specialists, and change automatically according to received criteria. Like a policeman's badge, the escutcheon serves as public notification of licensing and accreditation. Their visualizations are designed to ensure transparency, to discourage nepotism or favouritism in awarding grants and contracts. They assure that every bidder's qualifications are clear and accessible by the public, who have a right to view and analyze their escutcheon.

Rise of the Boffins

Future political scientists will surely look back on this time as having the biggest, most dangerous power vacuum ever. Our lack of leadership is staggering. Leaders at all levels do nothing but dawdle while temperatures and sea-levels soar and glaciers melt. It is unlikely that any individual leader, no matter how wise or charismatic, can possibly fit the bill. This is because the sort of leader we need today is not an individual at all.

Undoubtedly, we need good individuals to take the lead; we always have and always will. But pay too much attention to individual leaders. This is unhealthy and in fact contributes to the power vacuum. No, the real default of leadership today is not that leaders in themselves are lacklustre or inadequate, is in a sad lack of influence of experts and expertise. We leave our trades and professions forlorn, banished from the halls of power.

Everything comes of opinion, so it only makes sense that the opinion of our best experts should come before that of others. We cannot expect professionals to serve, advise and obey passively. The problem with the UN's Science Advisory Panel on Climate Change is that it is just that, an advisory panel. True, this body has increased greatly in prestige as more thinking people realize that stopping greenhouse gas emissions is vital to our collective survival.

What we really need are panels of experts with teeth. Give them power to tell governments what to do. Right now, the panel on climate change is telling the world: "Stop these emissions or we are all cooked, literally." But that is not enough. They need power to act directly, not just sit on the sidelines. Then the boffins can take the initiative and lead from the front lines in humanity's battle for survival.

What is more difficult, though, is that we need the opinion of some, those expert in important disciplines, to have more sway than others, whose knowledge is in areas that are less crucial to human survival. Some professionals, such as actors and celebrities, hog the limelight while climate scientists are allowed on only as extras. Nor is climate alone among sciences being ignored. It is just one of a thousand areas of expertise where we are not doing the right thing, or even the sensible thing. We need farmers, doctors, teachers and other experts not to be content with telling us what to do, they must be in unalienable positions of honour where they can take political leaders to task as soon as they begin to ignore fundamentals.

Here are some examples. There are thousands, if not millions of soldiers, arms merchants and spies for every expert in peace studies. The number of agriculturalists has dwindled from over half to less than one percent of the population in many regions. As a result, farmers have little influence and in their work remain dependent upon hydrocarbons for fertilizers. This threatens the world with famine at the first rise in oil prices. There are thousands of linguists, chroniclers of languages and literary lights for every educator working to remove the language barrier. The list goes on.

Beautiful Balance Sheets

In high technology industries official bodies come together periodically to adopt standards for the next generation of products. This use of the consensus of expert opinion is pretty much the definition of the scientific method. Yet this process has more influence in some areas of human endeavour than others. It is all but unknown in religion, for example, yet it is commonplace in rapidly advancing high-technology industries. The problem with the latter, though, is that technical standards tend to be comprehensible only to highly trained specialists. The lay public is not consulted.

For example, investors in stocks learn after years of patient study how to read a balance sheet. Assuming that the data are reliable in a year-end report, they can look down the listing of facts and figures about a public corporation and rapidly assess its health.

With escutcheons bodies of experts will similarly agree upon what data are important, but they will cross the line of specialist knowledge and ask what graphics could represent the meaning of this information.

Collaborating with artists, they will find ways of summarizing health that are so intuitively obvious that any untrained person using their aesthetic sense alone can tell at a glance how robust a person, company or other institution is. The financial part of an escutcheon, for example, may not display the exact amount of savings or where investments are, but it will show a graphic attesting that the party in question is in good economic shape and has adhered to accepted norms in the industry.

Of course, nature already does this with organisms. Usually any viewer can tell at a glance whether the body of a plant, animal or human is a pretty or ugly example of its kind. If it has good genes it will have a strong and elegant enough constitution to pass them on to their progeny. In such cases, the face, flower or body an organism invariably strikes the eye as beautiful. When it looks symmetrical and harmonious, then every law of evolutionary biology says that this organism will be a good bet. If it is ugly, its chances of survival are probably slim.


As it is now, organizations are expected consciously to manipulate their public face with paid advertising, in effect bribing the public to listen. This is done at prodigious cost, not only financially but to the truth, which is routinely distorted. Meanwhile, the public has little official, unbiased, verifiable information about what a company stands for, its qualifications and past achievements.

The advantage of escutcheons is not just that they bridge the chasm between specialists and lay, but mostly that they extend open standards to areas that have stubbornly resisted change for centuries. Some of the most hidebound include morality, religion, philosophy and politics. However, even accounting, a discipline where standards are highly advanced, would be revolutionized by escutcheons.

With an escutcheon display hooked into its balance sheets, anybody with minimal training would see the most important features of an organization's escutcheon at a glance, without referring to a single statistic or number. Right over its doorway a constantly updated graphic shows the relative well-being of an institution, whether it is keeping up to its stated goals and purposes, and so forth. As graphic standards are finalized for escutcheons, more and more indicators of an institution's budgetary and financial condition can gradually be incorporated into its escutcheon displays. As it is shown across the industry to be official and reliable, clients will be inclined to pay attention to each new indicator.

When a given badge has withstood scrutiny and feedback for a decade, it will be integrated into the world curriculum. In time, any educated person in the world will be able to walk through the portals of any institution whose escutcheon shows this badge posted over its doorway and gain an instant picture of its health, its plans and accomplishments. Passers-by who want more details can use HUD's or mobile devices to drill down using its wireless feed and pass beyond iconography to the raw numbers and statistics that form them.


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