Tuesday, June 01, 2010


A chapter from People Without Borders

The Consultorium, I

An Overview of the Oversight Room

By John Taylor; 2010 June 01, Azamat 14, 167 BE

The nerve center of the hillside complex is an interactive, computer-mediated conference room where many minds meet, meld and come to resolutions. The room has many uses, from multimedia briefing room to reference library to reception area for guests, but since its main use is deliberation and decision-making, let us call it a "consultorium." In the consultorium, residents regularly meet to decide who goes where, who does what and what their world will look like. Literally. With mobile living units (called ROO's) and shifting household units as well, members will come to a neighbourhood consultorium to decide where their units will be positioned next.

In accordance with the Comenian model of governance, there is an affiliated consultorium or the equivalent at every level of decision making, from the planetary senate to an individual's modular ROO living unit. Although the consultorium has all the latest technical and multimedia facilities at its command, in its basic form it can be as simple as a round table around which members confer equally. Because a stasis between equality and freedom is difficult (and has rarely been maintained for long) it would be valuable to encourage here a mythology like that of Arthur and his knights of the round table. Although the legend of Camelot implies that a high ideal of fellowship may be impossible to maintain for long, it has a clear lesson: the sole foundation is the idealism, integrity and virtue that each member brings to the round table.

Before going into the details of a neighbourhood consultorium, I want to discuss the background and general purpose of a consultorium, irrespective of what level of society it may occupy.

The earliest reference that I have come across to the idea of a consultorium is in John Amos Comenius's Universal Reform, where he calls it a "high watchtower." As the name implies, Comenius had in mind the Parable of the Watchtower in the Bible, which in turn used the model of a castle with a high place with a single perspective. Here the whole area can be surveyed and a single strategy devised taking into account every relevant factor.

"... since everybody's business is nobody's business, it is imperative that we select men of eminence for this solemn tower and see duty to survey the world, as it were, from a high watchtower that everything that is introduced is consistent with the sound reform of our affairs (that is, that there should be no loophole for falsehood, impiety or warmongering)." (Comenius, Panorthosia, Ch. 15, para 3, p. 216)

Comenius here grounds his idea in a subtle philosophical point that sometimes has been called the "tragedy of the commons." Everybody's business has to be made, openly and fairly, into somebody's business. That is the unique role of the consultorium, or, in Comenius's term, the "high watchtower." If everybody's business or any resource is left to drift on its own, the consequences are as dire as they are inevitable. As soon as everybody's business is neglected, it is appropriated, exploited and ruined.

The most commonly mentioned example of the tragedy of the commons is a common field of grass that several farmers have the right to take their cattle to graze. All can take advantage but nobody directly profits from maintaining it. Suddenly there is a free-for-all to gain from it before it is overgrazed and made into a field of mud.

Another example, mentioned less often, is the tragedy of the native peoples, aboriginals, hunter-gatherers and other ancient cultures with traditions of common land ownership. By one estimate, over half of the exposed surface of the planet was stolen from these hapless tribal peoples. They inhabited, maintained and managed their territory for millennia. As soon as it was taken out of their hands it took as little as a decade for outsiders to exploit and desecrate the land and ruin its climate and ecosystem. The process of land grabs and habitat destruction continues unabated, the latest being the human forest dwellers of central India and the non-human ocean dwellers of the Gulf of Mexico.

It is always highly profitable for a few to see to it that everybody's business remains nobody's business. After all, there is a whole world out there to grab.

Standing against the tragedy of the commons is the consultorium, a high watchtower designed to see to it that nothing is grabbed, that everybody understands comprehensively. The host institution of a watchtower, after due deliberation, appoints responsible, qualified parties as stewards of every part of the rightful heritage of humanity.

Inseparable from its physical space and dazzling data displays is a highly political function, a profoundly spiritual atmosphere and enlightened scientific methods. The consultorium is both heart and brain of a world democracy where, in Comenius's words, "everything ... that is consistent with sound reform" is brought out and decided upon, openly and transparently, by all concerned. Here the people and the senate join in assigning caretaker duty to what Comenius calls "men of eminence," who of course also include women, children and institutions too.

This is not to say that the technical features of the consultorium are not important. Vannevar Bush, Buckminster Fuller and others made brilliant contributions to our understanding of what could be done with the latest technology to support the consultorium. Bush proposed at the end of the Second World War the memex, a unified access point to all human knowledge compressed in a single device, an idea that since grew into the hyperlinks and the World Wide Web. Fuller had several ideas for "raising the watchtower" that should definitely be incorporated into the consultorium. Among others, he suggested the geosphere and the world game, both of which we will discuss next time.


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