Getting Politics (and Life!) off the Titanic

William Ophuls has written some very thoughtful books about our political age. Plato’s Revenge: Politics in the Age of Ecology is one of them.  He challenges our world, not just at the level of tinkering with deck chairs (e.g. biofuels to power the Titanic – when the problem is the Titanic and its direction).  The deckchair techno-obsessions are part of the problem.  But it goes deeper.  Ask yourself why we fiddle while Rome burns.
 
Plato's RevengeOphuls challenges the whole basis of government back to Thomas Hobbes – you know, his view that we’re all individualistic scum who need to be controlled or else our lives will be nasty, brutish and short – but first we’ll measure you as well.  Units in the machine assembly line of life.  Soulless.  Other.  And so vice is less a consideration because it can be measured away by instrumental rationality – the ‘other’ being reduced – always reduced – to an ‘instrument’ for me.  How can you harm a thing reduced to a soulless digit.  What vice?
 
He writes this ….
 
… “.. the modern political paradigm – the body of political concepts and beliefs inherited from Thomas Hobbes and his successors – was bound for self-destruction even before the emergence of ecological scarcity. That paradigm is no longer intellectually tenable or practically viable because any polity that abandons virtue and rejects community necessarily becomes the author of its own demise. The tendencies toward moral decay, social breakdown, economic excess, and administrative despotism that are evident everywhere in the so-called developed world testify to the need for a new public philosophy – on political as well as ecological grounds.”
 
I couldn’t agree more.  We are being run increasingly as if we are disconnected, individualistic units, resources in a storehouse ….. where greed and power are applauded, the shortest and narrowest blinkered perspectives are given weight above the knowing and feeling and wisdom of people who belong to a place …. and where archetypically male ideals of quantification and certain, directed order are assumed, not just the way to make good decisions, but the way to be.
Life is more than the path

There is more to life – more to see – than just the path

And with each cock-up, we shuffle some more deck chairs, while going full steam ahead.  I’m not sure it is any lack of wit that keeps us ‘on-board’ so to speak.  So what is it?  Are we raised and so strongly constructed in the social reality of the day?  Can we not break out, be indigenous again, think it is ok to say that, yes, the numbers say this, but my heart says something else because this place is me, and the numbers rationalise yet another madness?  
 

I keep seeing a convergence of thought – away from Modernity and the machine, the dispassionate, disconnected world, reduced to some meaningless spreadsheet that doesn’t include wisdom, virtue or belonging.  And the critics of ‘othering’ and dominating hierarchies by thinkers about gender, race, class, indigenous philosophy/culture, environment etc. are all calling for a re-connection of sorts.  

What waters are you.png

In Māori, to ask who you are is to ask what waters you are.  Ko wai koe? (Who are you? What water are you from?)  Nō wai koe? (Where is your place, your river, lake, spring?)  Mā wai rā (Who are you doing this for?  What waters are you doing this for?)

Realise we belong.  Get away from the dualisms – the us and them, the me and the other, especially where they are quantified to some small irrelevance of meaning, just because we can find a number …any number will do, somewhere … and we’ll call it ‘objective’ after we make the entirely subjective choice.

Reimagine.  Look to the world as connected.  Question what ‘it’ is.  It is not, say, just a ‘water resource’.  It is not even an it.  It is us.  It is you.  You have to look to the construction of reality that comes from culture and language to realise there are other ways to see.  Better ways.

 

I’m reading Val Plumwood, Carolyn Merchant, F David Peat, Freya Matthews, Gregory Bateson, political ecology books, new economic thinkers, indigenous philosophers, and they’re all saying the same thing.  Converging feminist thought with indigenous philosophy, emphasising relationships not parts whose whole meaning cannot be reduced to measurement and mechanics – reimagining what it is to be and know.

Dancing in sunbeams

Get off the Modern obsessions with mechanical measured marching.  Learn to dance within and amongst the motes in the sunbeam.  Learn to feel.  Deal in quality and virtue and belonging, not measured utility to self. 

Because we are not just selves.  And the world is not an instrument outside, set apart, over the fence, in the spreadsheet, bounded by this Modern defining.  Re-imagine.

 

Chris Perley
Thoughtscapes

 

Chris Perley is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability with a governance, research, management and policy background in provincial economies, rural sociology and land use strategy.

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Seeing Rightly

I watched, last night, the animated film of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince.

And I stopped the recording with this quote … and replayed it.

Because it is the truth that we have, perhaps, forgotten in our increasingly technocratic and “let’s rationalise some madness and a Gulag somewhere using only our heads and some carefully chosen numbers … which we’ll call ‘objective’ & ‘professional’.”

… hmmm …

Loved The Little Prince. As I loved de Saint-Exupéry’s Wind, Sand and Stars. He writes about his aeroplane crash in the desert in the latter …

… and on lying on his back in that Saharan dark stillness looking ‘down’ at the stars, floating in space.

David Abrams writes about that sensation as well – walking on those narrow paths in a Balinese paddy field with the stars in the water beneath you … and above you … surrounding you – in his The Spell of the Sensuous.

Chris Perley

Thoughtscapes

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Reimagining our Insane Policy Worldview

The Saturday morning ponderings after reading with coffee amongst the finches in the basil seeds.

Yesterday I read a quite beautiful Guardian article – a summary of a Neil Gaiman lecture – about reading and the necessity to dream and imagine.  It is still hitting me.

In our currently insane policy world we have so often reduced meaning to numbers and what we were taught to call ‘instrumental rationality’ – the technocratic way – all numbers in a spreadsheet and the reduction of life to so much potential rendered down soap.  Rendered and reduced from some ‘resource’ to another ‘resource’ you choose to reduce meaning to (and then have the ignorance and arrogance to call it ‘objective’ because it’s a mere number).  All to serve someone’s ‘utility’ – measured in dollars on the false presumption that a dollar is a surrogate indicator for happiness or ‘good’.

A dollar isn’t an indicator of good or happiness at all.  Beyond a point the instrumentalists’ idea of ‘progress’ – polluting the river, cutting down the child-wonder-bush patch for monuments to ego, etc. – reduces not just life’s meaning but the social and environmental functions that underlie our once and future wellbeing.  We need to reimagine what a better policy/strategy approach might be.  Recognise good from bad – in business, in the way councils think and act, in communities, in the environment. And then encourage and build the good and dismantle the bad. Dollar utilitarianism and ‘instrumental rationality’ won’t do that.

Virtues and duties to our wider world really do matter.  Aristotle’s Practical wisdom. ‘Value rationality’ – the Aristotelian idea of asking “what is the right thing to do, here and now, in this complex that can never be reduced to mere measured instrument?” cannot be satisfied by our current quantitative and mechanical obsessions – whether those on the extreme right (as the world lives now) or on the extreme left (where the corporate logo on the factory is merely replaced by one depicting Stalin or Mao).

Both neoliberal right and state communist left are Modern and mechanical. Both deterministic.  Both technocratic.  Both disconnecting of people from each other, the land, the future, from dimensions that standardardised measures cannot see let alone grasp.  Both ultimately diminishing of life.  Both reducing value and virtue to some power’s ‘utility’.  Fortunately, there are strands of thought coming from all directions that are weaving a new and far better rope.  The old one is unravelling .. not before time.

As some bright spark once wrote, when you use instrumental rationality …

(think spreadsheets and oracle models that only deal in numbers; essentially all headspace Modernity and no heart or feeling or dialogue or imagination)

… then you create a Gulag somewhere.

We’ve been creating Gulags in our country for decades, on steroids since 1984, following the US and the UK as always.

So I reread Neil Gaiman on the necessity of dreaming, reading and the imagination.  I’d add open ego-less dialogue to that list. Neil spoke this, and it took me right back to the need for virtues, obligations, a sense of place and belonging in that place and within community.  The need to reimagine a world that doesn’t depict us all as soulless cogs in a machine.  That doesn’t define our world as measured ‘resources’.  How I have come to detest that industrial word.

A need to reimagine society and place and ‘economy’ (which is, after all, simply the ‘management of home’ that logically needs an ecological ‘study of home’ basis if it wants to get it right – more than that, socio-ecological!, because humanity is part of this place).  We need to get far far away from the various mechanical reductionist Modern obsessions, whether mechanical mega-corporate or mechanical State that both treat you and me, the river and the tree, as cogs.

Stop trusting a suit with a spreadsheet who can see nothing beyond.  Those types build Gulags.  Read a book and discuss an idea with someone instead.

Think beyond. Reimagine.

Or just …. imagine.

——————

Take it away Neil.

“We all – adults and children, writers and readers – have an obligation to daydream.  We have an obligation to imagine.  It is easy to pretend that nobody can change anything, that we are in a world in which society is huge and the individual is less than nothing: an atom in a wall, a grain of rice in a rice field.  But the truth is, individuals change their world over and over, individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different.

Look around you: I mean it.  Pause, for a moment and look around the room that you are in.  I’m going to point out something so obvious that it tends to be forgotten.  It’s this: that everything you can see, including the walls, was, at some point, imagined.  Someone decided it was easier to sit on a chair than on the ground and imagined the chair.  Someone had to imagine a way that I could talk to you in London right now without us all getting rained on.  This room and the things in it, and all the other things in this building, this city, exist because, over and over and over, people imagined things.

We have an obligation to make things beautiful.  Not to leave the world uglier than we found it, not to empty the oceans, not to leave our problems for the next generation.  We have an obligation to clean up after ourselves, and not leave our children with a world we’ve shortsightedly messed up, shortchanged, and crippled.”

———–

Amen Neil.  Take the leap.

Chris Perley
Thoughtscapes

Chris Perley is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability with a governance, research, management and policy background in provincial economies, rural sociology and land use strategy.

About Chris Perley

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Choice: A Bigger Machine, or Democracy & Culture

The issue of local council culture and the failures of the Treasury-inspired corporatisation of organisational structures is reentering the policy dialogue. This new government has obviously helped. The public sector is in trouble and something needs to be done. More scale, standardised procedures and hierarchy are not the answer, they are the problem.

An updated version of a blog I wrote at the time of the Local Government Commissions self-serving roadshow on council amalgamation. It was a total farce, though the people saw through it for what it was.

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Victorian Fire

Years ago I drove up the Hume highway through the aftermath of the Victorian fires of 2009.  All the epicormic shoots had burst forth, empty branches with bottle brush stems.  At least, here, the eucalypts could demonstrate their resilience and evolution to a fire ecology.  I’d written reports to select committees on the effects of some of the fire management changes that were being suggested in the late 2000s.  All procedure and hierarchical box-ticky thinking, never mind local wisdom and the reduction and readiness that good fire management requires.  The Australian ACT reforms were responsible in large part for the 2004 Canberra fires.  A complete debacle very much exacerbated by the corporate management styles that had swept through the public sectors of the world because of the delusions of some mechanical policy makers.  

We’re going to see more fires.  They are inevitable.  I wrote this below some years ago after 2009 Victoria Fires, with all the lessons of the 2004 Canberra fires giving pause to those in suits who think in a cultureless space without regard to the wisdom of the local. 

We’re still doing it.  Mad management styles where the central administrators rise and the thinking locals leave.  Where you don’t listen, you direct.  Blindly.  With arrogance.  With a belief in certainty and control. 

And so they fail.

=============================================

Fire twisterFire in the landscape is like weather: unpredictable, able to shift from an easily manageable drizzle to a full blown tropical cyclone, or worse.  The most horrifying nightmare for any rural firefighter is when a bushfire turns into something that resembles nothing less than a huge twisting tornado sweeping all before it in a path of destruction, while able to leave unscathed a chicken coop not metres from where it passes.  Only it’s something more than a wind-fed tornado.  What rural firefighters call a “blowup” adds fire to that wind.

A blowup is extreme fire behaviour, and the biggest man-killer.  It is fire as weather, a spinning vortex up to 400 metres wide, several thousand metres in height, and with the wind strength to rip trees out of the ground and send them into a convection column. You can imagine how far such columns can disperse burning material once they exit the top.  They can toss burning logs all around them.

Smaller blowups act like fast moving fireballs, accelerating up valleys, one of the reasons rural firefighters avoid spending time in saddles on ridgelines.

Roleystone fire, south-east of Perth on February 7, 2011

Roleystone Fire, Southeast of Perth, Australia, Feb 2011

If one blowup is a nightmare, a series of them is hell unleashed.  That is what hit the Australian state of Victoria on Black Saturday, February 7th, 2009, fed by 47 degree temperatures, humidity of six percent, drought conditions, and wind speeds of more than 100 km per hour.  Add to that mix a hill country terrain with high fuel loads and valleys that can funnel uphill and you have perfect conditions for blowups.  More than 180 dead, hundreds of houses destroyed, comparisons with the firestorm of the German city of Dresden in World War II, stunned looks on the face of a Prime Minister, the town of Kinglake mauled, with its more prosperous hillcrest houses particularly badly hit.

A crown fire, where a fire moves from the ground to the forest canopy, is bad enough.  It burns at a greater intensity than a ground fire, and can travel at walking or jogging pace. A blowup fire-whirl can travel almost as fast as the wind.  That’s why there were stories of cars being outrun by the fires.

Once a blowup starts, there is only one response.  Flee very fast, preferably sideways.  You cannot stand in front of a tornado with much chance of surviving. You’d have considerably less chance of surviving a blowup.  The descriptions of houses literally exploding in wind and flame is a blowup in action.  If it can do that to a house, imagine the effect on people.

Mann-Gulch Fire MonumentFirefighters have been sucked into these blowups. Some have even survived. The Mann-Gulch tragedy in Montana 1949 saw the death of 12 of a crew of 15 smokejumpers, the US Forest Service’s elite airborne firefighters.  They were immortalised in Norman Maclean’s Young men and Fire.  One ranger, Robert Janssen, survived.  He was picked up by a blowup, dropped unconscious in its vortex, and revived only metres from the flame. He described the experience as being surrounded by a vast uproar trying to break the sound barrier; sounds were tapering off, and becoming silent.  It’s not an experience many would want to repeat.

Fires are still burning in Victoria as I write this, but they’re manageable by comparison with Black Saturday. Now is a time of taking stock, of asking how it got so bad, and what could be done to prevent such an event occurring again.

After the 2004 Canberra fire the coroner was scathing of the fire authority.  They had done what the last New Zealand government was proposing to do, to amalgamate rural and urban fire authorities under the leadership of the boys in the towns.  In so doing, they missed the point that rural fire is not just about putting fires out, it is obsessed with preventing extreme fire conditions in the first place, communicating with rural communities, preparing where you cannot prevent through ensuring access to likely areas.  If you get an extreme wildfire, you’ve lost a big part of the battle.  Rural fire management will actually use managed low-intensity fire as a tool to reduce the risk of less manageable high-intensity fires that have the potential to blowup.

After Canberra, the coroner found that warnings from rural people were ignored, firebreaks and access was overgrown, fuel loads in forests were at dangerous levels, and the cooperation with rural communities had declined.  The tactics for fighting the fire demonstrated a lack of understanding of bushfire behaviour, with fire fighters sent to initial outbreaks leaving no reserve for the inevitable surprises.  During the inquiry the fire authorities did themselves no favours by pleading ignorance of material being raised by the coroner, and accepting no blame.  They were as arrogant afterwards as they had been beforehand.  In that situation, luckily, only four people died.

This Victorian firestorm was different.  The conditions were extreme, even beyond extreme if that can be possible.  We will have to wait for the coroner’s report, but the response of firefighters is unlikely to be cited as a causal factor.  You cannot look upon those who give their all without an emotional response.  Well, perhaps some can.  But they are not us.

The effectiveness of prevention and risk reduction is likely to get the greatest scrutiny, and that in itself could create a culture change, particularly in urban communities.  If there is anything that would have lessened the risk of blowup fire conditions it is fuel load.  Reducing that fuel load requires disturbance of what many presume are pristine environments whose value is in the ideal – or delusion – that natural environments are static and undisturbed.

Rural communities have a much greater appreciation that disturbance, variability, and change are not only what defines any environment, they are also necessary to maintain the health of that environment.  This runs counter to the popular urban myth that any change or harvest is bad.  And so we get the conditions of the highly destructive Yellowstone National Park fire of the 1988, and Black Saturday, because fuel builds up until we get conditions ripe for the perfect firestorm.

These upland Victorian landscapes used to be periodically disturbed by grazing and cool ground fires.  That human-induced disturbance was removed by well-meaning people.  It may be time to bring active management of disturbance back into these landscapes.  And keep the bureaucrats away from the rural fire authorities and their much needed local knowledge and specialist skills.

Chris Perley
Thoughtscapes

Chris Perley is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability with a governance, research, management and policy background in provincial economies, rural sociology and land use strategy. 

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Shredded words

A flower gifted is like a poem
written on a paper scrap,
recited,
then torn to tiny shreds,
cast to the wind and the worlds beyond
where it will live forever
for someone else to,
some day,
call it forth.

cherry_blossom_tree_in_wind_by_omegadreams-d8a4kyo.jpg

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Looking After Local Enterprise and Life (Part I)

Now we have a new government, perhaps they might consider that all those well-dressed corporate executives that come calling might not have the answers to regional development, our community wellbeing, or our environmental health.

Let’s start talking around the smoko table, not the boardtable. Know who your friends are.

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Changing the Culture of Our Councils

We have had debacle after debacle within our councils.  Hawke’s Bay is only the start of it.  We keep promoting the most pedantic and amoral train schedulers who have no idea about where those cattle wagons filled with people are going, or why.

Our repeated problems highlight the fact that the public sector reforms of the last 30 years have created far more harm than good.  I’ve written before about the Slow Death of the Public Service and about the Fragility of Authoritarian that is the result of the neoliberal reforms.  Infrastructural issues relating to water, roads and sewerage, services relating to animals, and bewilderingly unimaginative planning, are just the symptoms.  Councils are looking more and more like unthinking hierarchical behemoths focused primarily on lining all the little ducks up neatly in a row, each within its own silo, ticking little boxes as they go, to please something – some measure or other, for some well-dressed Emperor mayor or other.  That type of unthinking, rigid machine is a complete failure in a complex and uncertain world.

Time lapse danceCouncils are now more structured to march across a dance floor while some fast waltz is playing; on the strict orders of some chap blind in the next room. They get hit every which way by all the other dancers because they are ordered as if there are no surprises, only control.  They are not allowed to feel, foresee or adapt; they are discouraged from dancing within the complex dynamic system which would allow them to get to the other side without a hitch.

God forbid you listen, care or form an opinion.  That’s not mechanical.  You can’t count culture.  Better to assume it’s not important.  All those virtues are replaced by one – obedience to the measured task.  And council people are certainly not encouraged to talk to the public dancers or each other.  Maintain your sense of hierarchy and perfect order.  No wonder they fall.

All of this pedantic detail looks so admirable on paper; so mechanical, so procedural, so linear and accountable, so doubtless and certain.  As ordered, linear, doubtless and certain as General Haig must have felt before the Battle of the Somme. Imagine the confidence and the supercilious arrogance; “I don’t need to ask the opinion of the troops – let alone adapt to what the other side might do; everything is on order,” … before there were 60,000 casualties on the first morning.

The Battle of the Somme is back.

The world is inherently complex and uncertain; an adapting system, not a constant machine. Think like the machine and we will continue to fall. It is a recipe for both missing opportunities and realising threats, neither of which are being looked for, let alone seen.

peterson-political-positioning

If you presume the world is certain and controllable, and set up systems accordingly, then you will destroy the very social systems and human capacities that you need to dance within an uncertain and complex world – those flexible and empowered “freedom within a framework” models.

If you are not looking for the unknown, don’t worry, it will find you. In autocratic hierarchies, foresight, questions, imagination and discussion are all treated as a threat by the box-tickers, and so, like a good Vogon, dialogue is quashed. And you can bet your boots that if dialogue and initiative is suppressed and all thought centralised, you will have fall after fall after fall.

It isn’t mechanical ordering that makes a council perform, it is a culture of service, discovery, purpose, resilience and connection.

These are the questions we must ask of our councils.  What is the culture within?  Are they lumbering hierarchical dinosaurs of little brain motivated by petty accountabilities or some megalomaniac sense of grandeur?

Do they smell of arrogant hierarchy?  Do they encourage motivated people focused on the future of our home in a complex and changing world where foresight and adaptability comes from caring, thinking and talking with others – especially beyond the silo walls?  Or do they value obedience above dialogue and thought?

Do councils recognise that wisdom and knowledge is held throughout an organisation and within a community who lives beyond the council walls?  Do they look for the value in people and foster their talent across silos, or are people defined merely by their job description?

Currently, many of our councils are filled with people who care, but their judgment is compromised by a fundamentalist doctrine and delusion of total control; foresight is banished, practical wisdom is kicked for touch, and adaptability is beaten to death with a very blunt stick.

The problem with that type of management style is that the real world is like that complex dance floor of life.  You cannot preordain every move.

Office life

Office life: business team during a meeting

That style also cripples the souls of people who do not come to work to be a slave to some order.  People want to belong to something, to do a good job.

We are not just creating incompetent falls with this obsession we have with command and control, we are crushing the spirits and potential of our people.

It is a form of totalitarianism.  It is a total structural and cultural failure.  And we deserve far better.  If we want better service for ourselves and future generations, the answer is not yet more measured controls; it is changing the culture to one of caring, purpose, thinking, dialoguing, connecting and making partnerships; and with the constant foresight and adaptability we need to be resilient in the face of an uncertain world.

We need our councils to relearn how to dance.

Chris Perley

Chris Perley is running as a councillor candidate in the 2018 Hastings District Council by-election.  He is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability with a governance, research, management and policy background in provincial economies, rural sociology and land use strategy.

An edited version of this article was published in the Hawke’s Bay Today on 27th February 2018

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The Trans-Pacific ‘Partnership’ and Our Environment

Given that the CTPPA is once again in the news, I thought this was worth reblogging. I think we need to make a very clear differentiation between small & medium enterprise commerce – the local variety – and large C mega-corporate – who don’t pretend to belong and tend to see things the way neoliberal economists do. As dollars and units in a spreadsheet – where exploitation is still a profitable game. We really need to think about how we are viewing the ‘economy’ – and this differentiation is a very necessary step

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Solving New Zealand’s Problems of “Underachievement”

Ran out of coffee this morning.  I know.  Disaster.  Heading for a café – Hawthorne’s – the best.  Pondering our PM Jacinda’s desire to help solve problems of incarceration and educational non-achievement.  Admirable intentions.  But ……

Why because - root_cause.gifSigh.  I can just see the dullards (not Jacinda, her policy advisors) charging at the symptoms.  Change nothing deep and react.  Add a drug to the next effect of a system in trouble.  Ponder not the underlying dysfunction.

You’ll have to get to the root Jacinda, not throw pennies at the symptoms of a frankly stupid economic & social order.  There are monsters in the deep.  Change the current order.  Shift us from treating people like cheap & obedient slave-cogs to help some rentier one percenter produce undifferentiated cheap commodities.

getting_to_the_root.jpg

What lies beneath?

Bring back hope.  Build social capital.  Purpose.  Community.  Trust.  Justice.  Freedom as integral to personal, social and economic development.  Participation.  Networks.  Optimism.  Cohesion.  No fear.  Cooperation and coordination.  Let ideas and conversations flourish and watch things happen.  Enterprise.  Realisation.  A virtuous circle toward something that doesn’t look like the insides of a grey and autocratic machine that grinds people to dust.  Incarceration ain’t the start of what you get.

Social networks have value.  None of these fundamentals of a better functioning society will you find in an economic policy analyst’s model.  None.  Nada.  Zilch.  And yet social networks are the vital blood that flows between and within the organs of our society and the economy that is a subset of that society.  The Neoliberals went into conniptions of denial and Vogon-like statements masquerading as deep thought when faced with Robert Putnam’s evidence that a strong society is what leads to a strong economy, and the realisation of individual potential.  For the neoliberal, what society?  There is *only* the economy.  All else, people and planet, are merely resources in the machine of commerce.

Would you accept advice from someone who thinks in such a tiny wee box.

Social Capital2.jpg

Money mindThat social capital research made their extreme mutterings of asocial Homo economicus wading around inside a machine (literally – a model – who needs to look out of the window and wander the streets when it’s right there at your desk) making ‘rational choices’ in an infinite world of ‘producers’, ‘resources’ and ‘consumers’ with ‘perfect information’ and ‘equal powerlessness’ where merit rises, seem a little …

.. Baseless?  Simplistic?  Unthinking?  Unobservant?  Prosaic in the extreme?  Rationalised insanity?  I mean, no sense of society and sociology?  Seriously?  No sense of a functioning planet?  Of what makes it whole?  Reduced to supply and demand?  *That* logical fallacy?  What, like a child reduced to calories in and out?  Can you seriously be serious?  This is serious!  Because it’s delusional.

If you want to work on our incarceration rates and educational underachievement, rebuild our society Jacinda, please.  The one the Neoliberals and the mega-corporates have tried so hard to destroy since 1984.  Rebuild social networks in our towns and streets.  Rebuild the Parihaka spirit.  The cohesion, the belonging, the dedication, the focus on purpose, the moral strength, that joyous rage you get in the best of teams.

Look to the community initiatives that happen even though the Treasury models cannot predict them.  Look to the SMEs as models where the owners muck in beside the ‘staff’, and where they argue about the work with a shared sense of purpose.  Rebuild our social networks in our public sector organisations.  You’ll be rebuilding democracy as well.  Something else that isn’t in a Treasury model.  Who needs democracy when “the market will provide.

little-lord-fauntleroy.jpg

For heaven’s sake, Jacinda, get rid of hierarchical thinkers who walk the wannabe corporate halls like Little Lord Fauntleroys.  Repeal the State Sector Act and the Local Government Act.  Authorities in peacetime always end up filled with the self-interested and mediocre types.  Spread the networks to the regions.  Bring back Directors General who build engaged, thinking, discussing, listening, connected organisations, and kick the sycophantic CEO types to touch.  Rebuild dialogue and long discussions in the smoko rooms.  The board table intellect is often dull by comparison.

The work emphasising the importance of social networks and social institutions by Robert Putnam and Amartya Sen came out in the 1990s, 20 years ago.  Twenty years after the nonsense root cause of our poverty, asset gifting, rise of the immoral mega-corporates, incarcerations and non-achievement began.

And my, haven’t the neolibs tried to bury that work since.

root-of-the-problem.jpg

Get to the roots

 

If we rebuild society Jacinda, we can bring the Picasso out of their crushed spirit world some moron in Treasury calls “meritocracy” … “equal opportunity.”  It’d be hilarious if such claims came out of some lunatic cell in a monastery.  Only mad fundamentalist seminary schools can put such nonsense in people’s heads.  You know, Commerce Departments worshipping Friedman.

Recognise poverty as a symptom of bad economics.  It is a far better indicator than GDP of how well our economy is doing – you know, an economy that serves the people and all that.

Shift our economy to long local locally-owned differentiated, batch-processed value chains whose market-position caters to the mega-trends of safe food, quality, produce with a narrative, a whakapapa to cherish.  A creative economy, not an extractive one.  Realise and emphasise human creativity and the joy of work that doesn’t feel like work because you love it, not stultifying MPI compliance bullshit that puts Biddy and her wonderful cheese out of business and makes Fonterra executives smile.  Realise the potential scope within a landscape, a cluster, a raw material that ranges from pure to puss.  Please don’t mix it all together undifferentiated and make Colby cheddar out of it anymore.

Quizzical Brown Cow

You did *what* with my milk?

Yes, I know you pasteurise it to kill all the bacteria, but you can do that to sewage as well, and I’d rather have Biddy’s quality and cheese story thanks all the same.  Differentiate the pure to make something premium, and make the puss-laden stuff into some bland cheddar a Fonterra executive might appreciate.

Realise the potential of our people.  Recognise they have a purpose in life, and life is so much better when you do what you love.  Stop thinking in bits and units and cheapness and scale and measured things that do not feel.  For heaven’s sake, avoid spreadsheets unless you very very clearly state that they are a tiny part of policy making, and can rationalise the insane.

In fact, put a sign on all policy analysts’ computers, “THIS MACHINE SOMETIMES RATIONALISES THE INSANE.”

Think the very opposite of our undifferentiated, centralised, increasingly corporate-owned, extractive, short or non-existent continuous-processed undifferentiated mediocre cost-focused zero-positioned (so real market prices only go down) commodity volume.  All with the right to pollute, extract and reduce wages and conditions because cost-plus is the only way they can think.

Only corporate and colonial minds (blind to their own re-colonisation by corporates) think like that. Which one are we?

Ball in a bowl shifting thresholdLearn to integrate the natural, social & economic as a system.  Never focus on some mindless economic model of transactional nouns.  Understand uncertainty, resilience, the social, natural and economic *capacities* we need, feedbacks, thresholds, what moral principles and qualitative contingent functions are core to the integrity of a social or environmental – or socio-ecological!! – system.  Understand the history of environmental, social & economic collapse.  Tip our social and environmental systems beyond the thresholds and predictability is lost.  And so might be reversibility.  Another thing neoliberals know nothing about.

For heaven’s sake, stop treating our land, our communities, our towns & cities as factories – grey grey grey monochromatic scale scale scale boring moronicville Mordors.  Emphasise the Arts and Humanities.  Without it, the STEM subjects are rudderless.  Worse, they tend to RATIONALISE INSANITIES!

Learn about the indirect approach to strategy, not more mindless charging at the machine guns with the same old thinking of last time.  There’s more crime.  Charge at it with more prisons.  There’s more poverty.  Charge at them with a lecture about how bad they are (in our exemplary meritorious world of perfect information, powerlessness and equal opportunity) and look at the wonderful ‘job creators’ that like to have lots of innocent gins with the ministers.

KingGeorgeV Passhendale.jpg

How did this happen?

If anyone suggests such a ‘charge the machine guns’ approach, give them the General Douglas Haig award for unforgivable stupidity, and force them to watch Blackadder goes Forth over and over until they realise that Baldrick’s poem is a parody. Boom boom boom boom. Boom boom boom.

Change the current system of bad economics and corporate power.

Then you might be able to solve the problems of incarceration and educational underachievement.

Oh, and get rid of Treasury advice and the State Sector Act.  I wouldn’t let them advise me on anything strategic or policy.  Just turn to them and ask about the beans when you need to budget or report.

Chris Perley
Thoughtscapes

Chris Perley has experience in the field, management, policy, consulting and research with a background in land use, rural economies, environments and communities.  Chris is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability.  If you want to be added to an email link for this blog – or if the email link above isn’t working –  you can contact Chris direct.

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Land Degradation – One Insidious Step at a Time

“Once again, the principal villains across Greece, Southern Italy, Southern France, and Spain, were fires, goats, and timber felling. … Able to thrive anywhere, goats often create an environment in which little but goats will survive.” Ronald Wright. A Short History of Progress

History is sobering.  It rocks us out of those favourite delusions that what is now will ever be, and that our present ideas and social structures are natural and eternal.  Hold to those delusions, and we may never change… not willingly.

Cole_Thomas_The_Course_of_Empire_Destruction_1836

Cole Thomas: The Course of Empire Destruction, 1836

That’s the thing about change and history.  We look to the experience of land degradation – and with it social and civilisation collapse – and wonder; how did this happen?  So often it wasn’t a matter of explicit choice.  History did the choosing for us.  It wasn’t explicit because we did not see it; did not think about it; hid behind the now and the shallowness of specialisation and small lives that in today’s world we think of as ‘wise’, even truth.

We did it then, and we are doing it now.

We respect focus and clichés more than philosophy.  We even encourage that least resilient of social capacities – obedience to authority and attention to instructed tasks and narrow job descriptions.  A bounded view of life, of experience.  Huxley’s Soma, drugging us into dispassion and apathy.  Teach to this standard.  Attend to these step-wise mechanical procedures.  Do not speak outside your speciality.  Do not think, act as instructed by The Man.  Think of the world is a set of objective and analytical bits, where synthesis and wonder are merely subjective.  Merely art.  Merely the Humanities.

And when we look back with anything resembling smugness of these repeated historical collapses, ponder the systems of box thinking and hierarchical and specialised knowing we encourage today, and ask whether we are better or worse than our once civilised ancestors.

Today, we do not encourage critical thought, outside-the-box thinking, open dialogue,  art, the Humanities, synthesis, mad dancing and self-expression.  Obedience is promoted.  The Eichmann’s scheduling trains without any ability for critical thought.  The National Party advocating more STEM subjects taught because they make better cogs for their patrons in the corporate machine.

And this makes the insidious steps of decay even less visible.  The willful blindness of Modernity.  ‘Education’ as an exercise in closing minds and killing experience and wonder and thinking of something new, something that might just happen tomorrow, over the horizon.

You don't know what you've got till it's gone.jpg

It is so easy to rationalise another step closer to the abyss as nothing to worry about.  Treat the doubters and speakers as dissidents.  Label them hippy, Greenie, latté suppers.  Hilarious.  It was just a little bit of degradation, nothing to worry about … and you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.  It’s partly why we maintain a blasé attitude toward climate change.  Humanity deals in what Jane Jacobs referred to as “exclamation points”, a wake-up-call from an indisputable shift in a system – an ecological, social or economic collapse.  Until that happens, all the insidious step by little step evidence of a problem is rationalised away.

None of this means it cannot be us that makes the choices and does the shaping of our future.  It starts with thinking beyond our today – back to the lessons of the past, and forward to the banquet of consequences upon which our children of tomorrow will feast.

Or perhaps not.  Perhaps it starts with learning to be free in our thoughts, to look at any industrialised mechanical hierarchy whether corporate or public sector as about as bright as a lumbering dinosaur with a tiny brain.

But first of all, the context and the warning.  I’ll look at one example in one place – Hawke’s Bay – of insidious degradation made ironic because of the potential in this place; a potential the dinosaurs cannot even begin to visualise.

Hawke’s Bay is about as close as we’ll get in New Zealand to a Mediterranean climate and landscape.  We have the limestone and the mudstones, the craggy mountains, the hot dry valleys, the droughts and floods.  That combination is both a curse and a blessing.

Land degradation Embalse de la Cierva, Spain

Land degradation Embalse de la Cierva, Mula (SE Spain)

It’s the reason why the Bay has potential problems.  We need only look to the worse examples around the Mediterranean to see a potential future; waterless hills feeding waterless plains, eroded valleys, silted up harbours, few forests, many goats, and those periodic Greek fires.  These areas would be very unpromising if it wasn’t for the fact that the Mediterranean is where travelling East meets the travelling West, and the history and natural beauty draws the tourists.  And the Mediterranean has around it arguably *the* most studied examples of environmental and civilisation collapse.

There is our context.

Then there’s the upside.  We could look to other parts of the Mediterranean as our future model.  We could make Hawke’s Bay the Provence or Tuscany of the South Seas if we really wished; a model of the good life.  Think vineyards, olives, apple cider, cheese-makers, cafés serving artisan coffee‚ local foods and boutique beer.

Think the opposite of the industrial brain-dead models of scale and cheapness.  Think growing high value, multiplying it, retaining it so the dinosaurs don’t take it away, distributing it so local enterprise does even better, attracting even more because people want to live and be within a place where living is not about being a cog in a machine.  We draw culture, art and the odd busking Bohemian nose flautist just to make life a little more interesting.

That better example is being shaped right now, but it doesn’t mean that the worse scenario won’t happen as well, the Eastern and Southern Med.

It’s easy for us to assume that we now have knowledge of the causes and consequences of land degradation that the old civilisations didn’t have.  Those old Cretans, Sumerians, Greeks and Persians were perhaps a little dim.  Especially the Cretins.

Soon bas relief.jpgThat’s another delusion.  Solon, the Athenian that got rid of that nasty piece of work Draco and his laws, tried to sort out the land management problems that were clearly evident then.  That was in 590 BC, 2600 years ago and almost at the height of Greek power.  Solon tried to ban over-grazing on steep slopes, and a generation later Pisistratus, another Athenian ruler, offered grants for olive planting and encouraged terracing.  To no avail.

To no avail.  Sound familiar?

Not bad thinking for the day.  Pity they didn’t ban the bloody goats.

Plato lamented the result two hundred years after Solon.  He called the resulting country “the skeleton of a sick man, all the fat and soft earth having wasted away.” Where once the land was – as he put it – “enriched by the yearly rains, which were not lost to it, as now, by flowing from the bare land into the sea; but the soil was deep, and therein received the water, and kept it in the loamy soil…feeding springs and streams running everywhere. Now only abandoned shrines remain to show where the springs once flowed.”

Sierra_de_la_Gessa - Land degradation.jpg

Sierra de la Gessa – The Skeleton of a Sick Man

What’s interesting about that quote is that the focus of Plato’s lament was on the retention and flowing of water.  That results from both soil loss and the degradation of soil to the point where rainfall no longer easily infiltrates or stores so well.  So streams dry up and springs don’t recharge.  We repeat the mistakes of the past with our focus on removing water quickly.  We ought to be working to store it and slow it in our hills.

Land degradation is associated with economic and social loss, and often complete social collapse.  It is no coincidence that Greek power and achievement began to wane just a little later than Plato, after the last bright flame of that megalomaniac Alexander, hell-bent on world domination.

What’s interesting is why the decline in those more erodible Mediterranean landscapes continued when people knew what was happening.  Partly it’s those delusions; what is now will ever be; our present ideas of how to manage land are natural and eternal.

Or, putting it another way; we can keep on doing as we are at the moment, and soil erosion and loss of water holding capacity from our hill country isn’t really that much of a problem.  After all, the big storms only happens every few decades, and those little storms that make the farm streams run brown with topsoil are just our form of normal.  Don’t even think about it.  It’s what we do.  So easy to dismiss or forget.

Unless you know your history.

We can choose to believe those delusions, or we can look hard at what we do on our steeper lands and gullies, work to keep water in the landscape, work on that vision of a South Seas Provence, and get rid of those damned goats.

But first, can we please get rid of the unthinking dinosaur hierarchies, and bring thought and discussion back into the centre of a resilient social fabric?  The machine is a failed model.

Chris Perley
Thoughtscape

Chris Perley is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability with a governance, research, management and policy background in provincial economies, rural sociology and land use strategy.

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Posted in Land Use, Neoliberalism & Corporatism, Reimagining, Thought Pieces | 7 Comments

Shelter from the Storm

It is hard to remember during the sunny days of summer that we had some freak snow storms back in August, and a few wintry blasts in early October.  The television news ran lamb death stories, as they did the year before – dead lambs on the transport trays.

Coastal shelter Southland.jpgThere is always a lot of talk about shelter after those storms occur right on lambing, some of it apparently suggesting it is a new idea. Not so.  I was trudging through mud in Mid-Canterbury around Highbank in the early 1980s studying old radiata pine shelterbelts planted in the 1880s and 1890s.  Like the old guys on the cheese advertisement, the mixed cropping farmers in the area were saying the trees were just about ready to mill.  You don’t want to be hasty with these decisions, especially when that shelter meant the difference between growing barley or not.

Without shelter, the northwest winds would come down from the Rakaia Gorge and beat any unsheltered barley into submission.  The farmers there relied upon a mix of barley and wheat to hedge the climatic risks; dry years giving good wheat returns, wet years suiting the barley.  Without protection from the wind, the barley lodged, and farm risk increased.

Shelter and wheat

It has all changed now with the move away from mixed farming to continuous cropping and the rise in irrigation.  Just increase inputs.  Don’t use stock and legumes in the rotation to rebuild the soil quality before the grain cash crop.  Just add soluble fertiliser and demand more irrigation.  Never mind the low input and resilient system we once had.  Never mind the effects on the climate, the soils, the streams, downstream water supplies, kids playing in the brooks.  Industrialism, industrialism.  And when the prices drop, demand more production, more inputs, more energy, less democracy.  Demand we see the world as a machine through soulless corporate eyes.

Some of us look back on the farm foresters of old and wonder at their wisdom – whatever Lincoln taught in favour of simplistic agronomy without the wit to see consequences.

Shelter was only part of that wisdom.  And it wasn’t just for stock losses.  The increases in crop yield are real. The late Joan Radcliffe found a grass production increase of 60 percent in the calmest part of the well-sheltered paddocks at Hororata, on the opposite bank of the Rakaia from Highbank. It’s an often quoted figure, but at the high end of the range. That’s because Hororata is subject to the same northwest winds that hit Highbank, channelling down the Rakaia Gorge and fanning out over the plains once free of those pesky mountainside constraints.

Rakaia Gorge.jpg

Rakaia Gorge, Canterbury, New Zealand

Not far from Hororata, just outside the Gorge, is a place called Windwhistle, which just may suggest something to those of you who are not in a coma.  The soils were light Lismore stoney silt loams, variously described as four inches of dust over river gravels, or as “having the water holding capacity of your average sieve.”  (I liked that one.)  Reduce the evapotranspiration effects of the hot, dry norwesterlies on those sorts of soils, with those sorts of winds, and you’ll have big gains.  But elsewhere, depending on winds and soils, you might get a gain from effective shelter of up to 35 percent.  ‘Effective’ is one of those wonderful variable things that is elusive to technical study.  Length, height, porosity, alignment relative to wind, relative to the crop, relative to the time of year, relative to stock, relative to the soil, relative to the storm and the vulnerabilities right here, right now (which if you ‘measure’ for merely three years you may never observe), relative to the type of wind – its speed, its heat, its dryness.

Relative, contingent, conditional, variable, irregular, developing, growing, falling down, place-based.  You have to feel the land and know its nature to make the call in these wonderful complexities of land.  You have to listen with open ears to the people – to the wise old gaffer who points out what happened in the blow of ’75.

Define knowing in that context.  Don’t listen to the mechanical agronomists with small trials on regular pieces of land with simple variables – more irrigation, more fertiliser, more inputs of x and y and z, measuring only yield and never the contingent – never the neverending rambling story that is land and the people who belong to it, who are within it.  Shelter is like that.

action-research-diagram.jpgI could go on about appropriate ‘research’ and the need to stop putting small-scale, few variable statistical designs on a complex that will hide her secrets from such telescope minds …. but I won’t be able to stop.

…… OK, just a short paragraph.  In complex spaces – like landscapes where communities, politics, nature and economies combine (a complex as irreducible and unpredictable as a child or a game of cricket) – we need to rethink research; embrace Action Research, Learning by Doing, adaptive, integrated approaches, 4th Generation Assessment, socio-ecological systems views, the embracing of anecdote and all the traditional and local knowing of the people of the land.  Forget trying to regiment art and seeing, forget trying to reduce what cannot be reduced without destroying something significant – like ordering a child’s purpose and “its” ‘management’ as a mere calorie factory.  (More objective to treat ‘it’ as a thing of course, a unit, a consumer of resources, a machine ….)

If you want to learn, ask the old gaffer.  Get in a vehicle with him and let the talk of land come out of its own accord.  And feel it yourself.  Step away from the spreadsheet and feel.

We confront some very serious questions about what it is to know, and how you build knowledge when you are faced with complexity.  You cannot but recognise it within landscapes, and what you can do to make it better.  You can realise a scope of potential if you know the patterns and connections of land.  But you won’t see them – let alone realise them – if your view is specialist.  We focus on mechanical factory ideals and scale of course.  Our colonial and corporate – and university technocratic – mythology.  The nonsense of production as a prime focus rather than value potential and resilience to the inevitable surprise, the storm, the market shift, the political awakening, the public backlash.

And so we cut down the shelter …

We treat land as a regular unit, a factory.  Potential scope doesn’t get much chance.  The factory mind bulldozes it all.  Destroy the potential created by shelter, the free gifts provided by a healthy environment, or the gully woodland, the wetland, the water absorbing soil; the healthy herb.  So much of this potential polycultural functionality is trumped by the poisoned agronomic mind, blinkered, buried in a bunker far underground, never seeing the beauty of the hovering skylark.  Measuring inputs of soluble fertiliser, water and yield.  With all negative system effects dealt with by adding another input, and another, and another …

We make the world in that bunker image – thousands of hectares of shelterless dairy factory, regular paddock sizes, regular water, regular fertiliser, a regular Gulag with regular vulnerabilities requiring regular political and commercial power to keep them afloat, ever more teetering on the edge of some abyss they cannot see in the model.

Ask the gaffer.  He’ll tell you about the abyss.

Was that more than one paragraph?

Back to shelter.  Down south the concern is more to do with protecting stock than reducing winds for herbage growth. After the pictures of dead lambs there were some suggestions that farmers could do more to look after their stock. Some probably could. There are still those who think that any square foot of land planted in a tree or shrub represents a loss of a potential grass patch.  A few agronomy professors I could name used to speak like that.  If anything, that mindset has hardened with the rise of the irrigation lobbies and their political friends.

Stock shelterBut most southern farmers appreciate trees. Otago and Southland host the strongest farm forestry communities in the country.  If you go out and ask them why they plant trees – but don’t bother, because we already have – they place shelter at the top of the list. And not just low stock shelter, but tall shelter to stop the northwesterlies drying up the soils, and for the cold southwesterlies reducing the growing season. Farm foresters will tell you that their country is warmer with shelter, that they can grow more types of plants, that the birdlife is better, and that the grass grows sooner in spring and longer into the autumn – and that’s without mentioning the benefits when the blizzard hit right on lambing in 1989.

The trick with shelter is to make sure it is effective from the ground up. That means no gaps from dead trees or from a browsed area beneath which just accelerates the wind – and the wind chill. That means fencing both sides, and keeping the stock out from under the trees.  If they need shade, put some trees out in the paddock.  Some brilliantly thinking agroecologists like Dr Marion Johnson were suggesting just such internal paddock systems for deer; using blocks of trees planted within paddocks along with properly designed shelterbelts to provide multiple functions: shade, stock shelter, grass shelter, fodder, animal health benefits, reduced deer stress, fawn cover – not to mention the odd bellbird and walnut.

It’s not just about lambs and spring storms.  There is such scope in our landscapes.  Building the social capacity to realise it is our constraint; the capacity of ideas and the hearts that can see.

Chris Perley
Thoughtscapes

Chris Perley is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability with a governance, research, management and policy background in provincial economies, rural sociology and land use strategy.

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A long following note …..

The bulk of this article about shelter was written in 2004 for the Otago Daily Times.  We had had a bad winter, with storms at the worst times around lambing.  

It’s an unusual thing to study, but I did my honours 20 years before this on shelter within a complex landscape system:  what it meant to the strategy and management options of the farms; what it meant to animals; how conditional and contingent the effects of shelter were; how complex and shifting.  Add shelter to the system, or take it away, and what do you get?  

I think I was always a systems thinker – “but what about?” – and I loved connecting the landscape to social, as well as environmental, as well as economic domains – rather than reduce down into looking at a bug in a bush, or conversions in a mill.  It’s why when I read Aldo Leopold’s essay Thinking Like a Mountain it so resonated with me.  He was advocating the viewing of life within its complexity, without which we do the unwise things – and shoot all the metaphorical ‘bad’ wolves because we want more of the ‘good’ deer …. and then the mountain falls down.  

We cleared woodlands and wetlands because we saw them the same as Leopold’s ‘wolves’.  Our Modern Colonial obsession, augmented in the last 30 years with our Modern Corporate obsession.  We planted ryegrass and radiata pine because we thought they were ‘good’.  We are taught by mechanical theories of analysis not to see, or we are blinded by our own short term and narrow avarice, that we cut away the thing that keeps the whole functioning.  

I saw it very clearly when jumping from an education in forests as multifunctional systems linked to society, environment and economy in many ways, to agricultural fields whose only meaning was to produce more for Mother Britain (who had left by then … but never mind).   And so agronomy professors at Lincoln pointed to shelterbelts and arrogantly stated, “That is a waste of good land.”  The storm, or the resilience of the farm to limiting winds, or anything for that matter that didn’t involve a myopic study of crop production and land area in production in a perfect mechanical world, was completely outside the analytical thought of the great man.  The irony being that he built lower production and more fragile farm enterprises that put farmers out of business.  

His inability to think like a mountain meant that the mountain fails.  Welcome to colonial New Zealand, where to discuss complexities and building the landscape’s – the socio-ecological system’s – “functional integrity” to immeasurable uncertainties brings all the analysts out wanting you to give ‘evidence’ by numbers.   The gaffer didn’t need numbers, nor are numbers the language that can communicate his wisdom, the land’s knowing.

That is the thing with shelter.  Its worth is so dependent on contingencies.  Measure it for five years based on stock deaths from a storm, and a storm won’t occur.  Pack up the gear, and the storm on lambing will arrive the next week.  Meanwhile you don’t measure the other things it does, because you are only looking at one thing.  Your stats say there is no significant difference between shelter and no shelter.  And the farmers who know – because they live *in* a place rather than just visit with myopic measures for short periods every now and then – just sigh and shake their heads.  

It is why I am so suspicious of any utilitarian keep-all-the-parts-leopoldapproach to life …. because compartmentalising life in units of value or happiness will end up with more of the same mistakes as Leopold’s culling of wolves.  We are doing it now in our world, reducing the functional integrity of the whole because we have some view of life in bits, disconnected – actually dys-functional – where some things are placed in the ‘good’ column and others in the ‘bad’, and everything has to happen *now*.  

It is culture and intelligence to keep all the parts.  It is wise to understand the contingencies of life over time and place.  It is the least you would expect to know what uncertainties are a reality, and how we as a people, and we as the land to which we are embedded, will cope with the inevitable surprise.  Meanwhile we march in ordered steps in our mechanical construct of the world, with all the unmeasured bits discarded as being of no value – and we destroy the potential and the integrity of our landscapes, and our cityscapes, and our communities, and our economy.  

We convert what is perceived to be unimportant to what is perceived to be important.  The kauri forest for a dollar (and grass), the aquifer health for my extracted wealth, the soil and water conserving woodland for water-shedding grass (and then cry for irrigation because the water-holding function is destroyed), the huia for its feather ….. 

….. the shelter of trees for enough room for the irrigation pivot to swing in an ‘important’ arc.  Factory thinking reduces complexity to the simplest mechanics – land to hydroponics and units. 

Scale, scale, scale – because someone thinks overheads are fixed and unrelated to the functionality of land and people (but that is another story – a shift from scale thinking to scope of potential thinking – from transaction to transformation).  Bigger is better.  “Get big or get out.  Plant fence row to fence row.”  The legacy of Earl Butz written across our mass-production factory landscapes.    

Place a value on a thing, especially with a dollar attached, and you very soon stop thinking about wider system effects; you reduce your vision to the part without constant reference to the whole.  The whole is not of any interest in our analytical minds.  We analyse without a context of synthesis; of bringing thing together as a necessary step to understanding; the opposite of reductionism to random measurable bits.  A cricket match reduced to bats and balls; to ‘things’ without reference to how they combine – dynamically and unpredictably – creating something more.

Be assured, the whole still has a very great interest in the part.  Reductionism assumes that the parts build the whole.  Complexity and systems thinking reveals that the whole also builds the parts.  You are a function of your environment.  You do not just shape society, society shapes you.  Or the organs and cells in you.  Or the shaping of the economy by the people and the people by the economy.  Stop building things in some silly nonsense hierarchical order of parts TO wholes.  See a wider view – the Humanities and Art – as critical to any analysis that can ever hope to be wise.  See synthesis as vital to good analysis.  

…..

You can see stories within stories, the mindsets that lie beneath the visions and actions that so so many of us think are so so ‘rational’.  

That is ever the theme here, and ever our challenge if we are to have a better world for our grandchildren.  

That current thinking creates our storm.  And there is a bigger storm coming.  The predominant way we think – the Modern technocratic artless way of seeing – rips the raincoats off our kids, removed the walls and the roof, and points at the cost savings, and the money the commission salesmen have made … Black things made virtuous by a bankrupt way of seeing and being.

And “When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud…” sang Bob.

Chris Perley

Come in I'll give you shelter from the storm

Bob Dylan

 

Posted in Land Use, Thought Pieces | 3 Comments

Corporates Behaving Badly: What to Do?

Is it extreme to suggest that corporates of a certain size and motivation (demonstrated by behaviour) should not be tolerated anymore?  I’m curious.  What do people think. Seriously.  No knee jerk hate.

Reflect on the feudal lords of the past, especially those of Eastern Europe that lasted until the 20th century, like the Chinese warlords pre Mao’s takeover as Warlord Supremo.

Medieval conservativesBut back to the new Lords, the mega-corporations and their feudal behaviour.  Excuses are made for their viciousness.  We are the peasants of old, in different guise.  With lots of latter-day Medieval Conservatives tugging forelocks to those they think their ‘betters’. “The market will provide, it’s a meritocracy, it’s the way it is, there is no alternative, they have blue blood.”

I’m curious because there was a time when Kings and Emperors were just accepted, along with the idea of the Great Hierarchy of Being – God, the Angels, the Kings ….. down to mere us.  It was a given of an age that those ‘superior’ and worthy entities had some god-given right to exploit and parasitise on the people and the land.

Feudalism_then_now.jpg

And they are either no more, or their powers have been curtailed by constitutional reforms.  Even the Kings that remain know that they must live in a moral way, or be gone.

We – the people – did this because we could not tolerate their parasitism any longer.  You can have a place – we will not necessarily cut off your head – but it is a place that we define. And we decide.

Is the growing power of impersonal and – let’s be frank – psychopathic behaviour of mega-corporations something that has a ‘right’ to be?

Or is it we who have the right – because we at least have the ethos of care to be concerned for our grandchildren, and our place, and our community.  We are the wise.  They are the sociopathic narrow who struggle with the virtue of living with any reverence at all toward anything other than their own pathetic short term gain …. whatever the expense.

If mega-corporates do not act in a defined way, then don’t we need to do what is needed to make sure they use their power in positive ways, or lose them completely?  As we did in the past with the feudal robber barons.  These corporate giants are no different. So legislate, constitutionalise, or heavily sanction “Pour encourager des autres”?  Or just break them up because any concentration of power must be stopped?

the-glorious-revolution-by-herrera-paola-1-638.jpgI think we need another Constitutional reform, another ‘soft’ Glorious Revolution, another Magna Carta to protect the commons – the forgotten Forest Charter.  That means recognising corporations as the new power, motivated by a desire for absolutes, for less and less constraints on behaviour.  Think the Stuarts and the Bourbons before one ran away in a dress and the other set up the legacy for Madame Guillotine.

We need a specific constitutionalising of mega-corporations and the boundaries within which they can act, as monarchies were once constitutionalised.  I think we need a bill of rights for both communities and nature, perhaps a set of core duties as additional bases for laws to protect us and our mokopuna from the Hyenas of Commerce.

What we have at the moment is patently not good enough.  Even some of the plutocrats know this.  They see the pitchforks on the horizon.  They see the potential for a hard revolution – a potential Terror –  if we do not work together toward a soft one that might save our world.

This is about power, and particularly the reality that power and bad scruples are about the worst combination you could wish for if you wanted to have a planet and a community in a few generations.  Power always needs to be balanced.

Meritocracy - not.jpgIt is also about economics, and shifting the policy analysis framing away from the nonsense currently holding sway – all the rational choice and mechanical reductionism that only glimpses a part of life, and not its heart.  What always amazed me about Neoliberal fundamentalist assumptions is the ‘equal powerless’ one which sits snugly alongside the ‘meritocracy’ one; Adam Smith’s tiny village taken to a global scale, as if that is in any way realistic.

With those nonsense assumptions, being big is a reflection of merit, not power; so might is right; empires are cool; colonisation is grand; Viking raids are just the berries; fish pillaging, forest destruction, the legalised theft of the commons – all powerless market transactions – and it’ll all trickle down and provide the best environmental solution.  The King is superior to the Duke.  The Mega-corporation is superior to the local artisan baking the best bread in the county.  And before you know it, you get a cult of entitlement, and a hair job.

Python Holy Grail

“Listen. Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.”  Dennis

All of which – the equal powerlessness, meritocracy, might is right, hair job entitlement cults – is complete and utter bollocks.  Bollocks so enormous`I have no doubt that fundamentalist economics is mere religion – funded to stay in policy power by the commercial power it unleashes.

Power is everywhere, and its abuse and inevitable comeuppance (by kickbacks via the environment, society or the economy) has been arguably the theme of history.  Don’t wonder whether fundamentalist economists have any sense of history or geography – it isn’t in their models.

So what do we do?

Chris Perley
Thoughtscapes

Chris Perley is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability with a governance, research, management and policy background in provincial economies, rural sociology and land use strategy.

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There is Goodness in our World

There is goodness in our world.  Never let those who seek a measured ‘objective truth’ tell you otherwise.

You can recognise it – and its opposite – when you feel it in your soul.

The better artists can emphasise that truth.  I think Anthony Doerr is in that rank. All the Light we Cannot See is an extraordinary novel. You come away reeling at the truth of love, and art, and goodness, and humanity, and the threats from those who think of their power and our world as their machine.

I often wonder about our obsessions with Modernity – the measured, predictable, reduced-to-bits machine, eating the joy and love and good some will themselves not to see. Why do we put it on a metaphysical plinth?  I wonder why we think technocratic subjects deserve that exalted position in so many minds, as if saying it is ‘science led’ makes a thing right, or good.  As if pointing to some number generated from selective data in an economic model of nonsense Modern assumptions makes it right, or wise.

We don’t need to read Frankenstein or Doctor Strangelove to question that mythology around science and other STEM subjects (note to technocrats – putting one type of knowledge on a plinth is not a ‘measured objective truth’ – you swim within a metaphysical bowl, we all do – if you had some Humanities education you might note the irony). You don’t have to read John Ralston Saul.

You only have to look to the excesses and the wrongs of our Modernity-obsessed history. The destructive WWI Western Front with generals playing with numbers, making human mince.  Nazism reducing people to another form of meat.  State-Communism the same.

de26fd0c-2768-4ea3-8db6-4507ee0acb07-1827-000002bc39714147.jpg

Robert Bork

And now the Corporate machines with their sponsored politicians and that pinnacle of a Modern thought they endorse and support for their own ends – the fundamentalist economic policy makers who rose above wisdom and good from the early 80s.  Our latter-day substitutes for 20th C despots.  More human mincemeat.  And let’s add some planetmince to the mix.

Without art or the Humanities, science and all the other number-obsessed disciplines are like a dry tongue counting calories … and never the taste and quality of a thing, the good and rightness of an act or a thought.

Let us reduce child rearing to calorie counts, because we cannot put love and joy and spirit and confidence and belonging and culture into the model.  Let us do the same with society, community, the river, the land, the fish in the sea and the forests in the valleys.  Let us call it economics, or objective science.  Never mind the birdsong, or lying down in a wildflower meadow listening to the hum of tiny wings gently stirring the scents.  Never mind feelings. Let’s call it a ‘resource’ instead.

The Positive myth ever trumping the Normative truth, to someone’s foolish end.

There is good in this world.  And if we try to count it and apply some measured ‘utility’ to it … then, like fixing the position of a quantum particle … it will disappear from view.  More than disappear … we will destroy it.

And that is the truth.  And it is not good.

Chris Perley

Thoughtscapes

Chris Perley is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability with a governance, research, management and policy background in provincial economies, rural sociology and land use strategy.

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Review – The Secret Life of Cows by Rosamund Young

Rosamund Young’s The Secret Life of Cows gives far more than a simple description of animal personality, behaviour and communication.  It speaks also to and of humanity.  What animals eat impacts on their health and the quality and taste of their milk and meat.  And we are animals.  Land health is our health.

The Secret Life of Cows.jpgBonds of relationship, compassion and love impact on performance and health.

Young so well demonstrates that there are other ways to ‘see’ land, people, animals, plants, soils, all manner of combinations of things, which could enable us to make a wonder-filled, robust and quality whole.  Create a functional mix of very many things in combination (a system that goes beyond just the material to the behavioural), and we can realise so much potential.  Yet we tend to reduce complexity to a physical machine of units and numbers (and murder the potential in our dissection) of a very few things to suit the technocratic mind – like dry matter production and metabolisable energy and homogeneous scale.

And by so doing, we stuff it all up with the arrogance of a blinkered worldview, as so well demonstrated by one science reviewer who disdainfully referred to Rosamund Young’s observation as ‘anecdote’ rather than ‘science’.  If I might be permitted to use a bovine term – what bollocks.

What is science if not in-depth observation of complex and changing interrelationships over time and space?  Deep knowing isn’t found by taking a cow out of a complex environment, putting it in a standardised laboratory with all the variables removed so you can get precise statistics, and asking some small question that never gets to the heart or the whole of a thing …. “How many times does a cow blink when under the stress of a laboratory environment?”

Yes, her book is anecdote, glorious anecdote, wisdom, observation of what was there to be observed without limits to her curiosity, to avoid at all costs the trait of specialists who see nothing they didn’t come to see.

More important than all this though is the way Rosamund opens us up to the intricacies and examples of communication.  This applies to ‘human to human’ communications, though human communication is never mentioned.  Along with ‘animal to animal’ and ‘animal to human’ connections, all those subtle layers of non-verbal communication are a language of its own, understood through movement, relative body position, eyes and body changes, sometimes not even that – just a feeling, a sense.

There is an almost mind reading communication here.  A knowing that cannot be taught but through experience and a connected and open heart.

On an occasion when the weather was doing wonderful things in the sky, my once partner watched as I sat outside looking out across the land, got up and came inside – and as I went past her (on the way to get a notebook) she simply said “you’ve got a poem, haven’t you.”

She was right ….. but how did she know?  Rosamund Young might have an answer to that.

Chris Perley
Thoughtscapes

Chris Perley is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability with a governance, research, management and policy background in provincial economies, rural sociology and land use strategy.

A time lapse of the Young’s Kite’s Nest farm in the English Cotswolds.  It could be New Zealand ….. except of course that there are far too many trees ….

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Returning our World back to the Grace that is The Golden Rule

Aldous Huxley’s Perennial Philosophy emphasises the point that the Golden Rule transcends cultures.  This is deep wisdom.  Do unto others.  The thinkers of the Ages have come to the same conclusions.  Living with hubris and selfish ego has no future. Spartan Greeks are not the model for a meaningful & lasting life.

Our pre-modern myths are replete with parables where self-centred, entitled, ‘above the gods’ hubris has led to a fall.  It matters how we care for others.  If you centre your life on only the self, then do not expect that life to end well.

The Golden Rule.jpg

We’ve lived in a modern world where the very reverse of this rule has been treated as a virtue. Especially since the rise of a Gordon Gecko economic creed of egoism.  Neoliberalism; an economic creed as destructive, as mechanical, as power-concentrating and as unstable as the worst totalitarian regimes of the 20th Century.  The *vices* of selfishness, avariciousness, coveting, otherising, exploitation, extraction, privatising gains and socialising costs – have all been treated as virtues.

We know those who position such vices that way.  Most of us can work out that the consequences are dire – to our future as well as to the others we exploit.

These vices enable the true vicious (vice-filled) scum to rise, those without a care for others or tomorrow.  They rise on the back of our world and our communities.

And it is oh so profitable to exploit and destroy in the short term.  To drift net the ocean, ransack the Kauri, degrade society and working conditions.  It looks oh so ‘rational’ to do so with dollar figures in a narrow spreadsheet that sees nothing complex, no connections and feedbacks over space and time.

Mine, mine, mine.

I really think there are change in the winds.  Back to a more inclusive, broader, more long term, connected, wise, resilient, sustainable way of seeing, thinking and being.

It requires us to look far more broadly than the technocratic world.  Put the technocrats back in the position of servants.  Bring wisdom, the Humanities, the arts, the poets, the Spiritual and deeply wise Perennial Philosophies back as the rudder to direct us in our complex and ever-shifting, ever self-organising, dancing, seeing, feeling, joy-filled murmuration world we live within, on which we depend, and in which we share.

Time lapse dance grace

There is where lies grace.

Chris Perley
Thoughtscapes

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Watch cricket, and save the world

Reading Thich Nhat Hanh and watching the test cricket.

It’s a Zen thing. Have always loved the beauty, the quiet and changing pace of cricket. You can listen to the birds, marvel at the grace, determination or skill of a shot, a ball, an innings. Feel the mood of the crowd.

You can be very present watching or playing cricket. Meditative. In the moment. All senses open to the colours and the sounds.

“The quality of our presence is the most positive element that can contribute to the world.” Thich Nhat Hanh

Watch cricket …. and save the world 😊

Chris Perley

Thoughtscapes

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Fed Farmers Need to Flush in some new Thinking

If the speech summary of Federated Farmers President Katie Milne is anything to go by, the farming lobby group needs a bit of radical thinking. Ms Milne effectively laid down a challenge to the government to allow land use to continue as before.  No change. “This is what we do.  There is no other way.”  All our past senseless Lincoln-borne industrial maximise-production mediocrity, where each failure is rationalised using selected metrics as justification to stay on the treadmill.

Stagnant pond Fed Farmers

Katie Milne’s rhetoric was wrapped up in clichés of “certainty,” “properly thought through,” “solid evidence,” “sound analysis” and “the business of farming.”  Many of us bridle at those so-often poorly thought through, unsound and empty phrases.  And life isn’t certain.  We can either delude ourselves that it is and strive to develop some soulless machine of perfect fragility – or we build those capacities that make us resilient within our communities, enterprises and farm landscapes.  Resilient to inevitable change; the drought, the flood, the fertiliser price leap, the commodity price crash.

Resilience and scope are the new paradigms, replacing fragile commodity and the delusion of factory scale efficiencies.

Her comments that the government’s recent decision not to permit mining on DoC land as “a surprise announcement and policy made on the hoof,” beggars belief.  If that comes as a surprise, so I would presume will be the next drought.

The currently prevalent view dominating all the discussion within land use is to make us all cogs of course; all ‘efficient’ producers of lots and lots of cheap stuff on bigger and bigger land holdings run like corporate businesses, processed though large centralised factories, to “feed the world.”  And, naturally, without having to worry about things like water pollution, climate change or the effects of those trends on community and local economy.  The mechanical construct will support the delusion of certainty.

Let the treadmill keep spinning, ever faster.  Never think of getting off.

Where does “evidence-based” fit within that particular model?  There is no ‘objective’ framework outside a particular worldview, a paradigm gold fish bowl where the fish don’t see the water within which they swim.  If Katie Milne’s comments are anything to go on, Federated Farmers are still very much in the economies of scale, cheap production paradigm dominated by corporate and colonial thought.  With all land rightfully open to extractive practices — including DoC – so never mind building creativity and realising a world where healthy commerce, community and environment can co-exist.

Federated Farmers need to change their water.  The stagnant backwater of thought over which they preside is part of the reason their membership is dropping.  They do not represent the viewpoints of all farmers, for which we ought to be eternally grateful.

Their corporate view of farming is a culture in crisis.  It isn’t working. We face vulnerabilities in our markets and our business structures because discerning markets want safe, quality food.  Our farms are aggregating, farm families are leaving, real prices are in long-term decline, our large processors lack imagination, we marginalise the ‘scope’ within our landscape systems, the potential of our marketing structures, the creativity of our people and the value potential of our processing chains.  A focus on scale ‘efficiencies’ destroys our potential to reduce costs, increase enterprise options and provide the market narrative to dictate a premium price.

In the light of our potential future, Ms Milne’s comments that “there are very limited mitigation measures farmers could take,” is very far off the mark. Let us be specific.  A farm can mitigate green house gases by reducing energy inputs particularly of nitrogenous fertilisers – many of which are at levels far above optimum profit and risk – and by building soils, establishing wetlands and adding woodlands.  We can do this for climate change and make more profit and lower risks and lower costs and increase enterprise potential and enhance the environment and provide the narrative for market premiums.  Think scope, not scale. Think systems, not machines.  Think knowledge intensive, not energy intensive. Think soil systems, not hydroponics.

Of course, many will see that as “not what we do,” perhaps even a bit hippy or greenie.

And that is the problem.  New ideas that fundamentally challenge the structure of that faith in the “feed the world ever cheaper” mythology, with all its wariness of a tree or a wetland spoiling the monochromatic symmetry of grass, are marginalised.

It is not the potential within our agricultural landscapes and enterprises that is limiting, it is the dominant mindset within land use that we must only think and act as we have always done.

Accepting a little uncertainty would go a long way.

 

Chris Perley
Thoughtscapes

Chris Perley is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability with a governance, research, management and policy background in provincial economies, rural communities and land use strategy.

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Shifting to the Enlightened Age

I’m trying to be zen about yet more reveals of what is a deeply corrupt world dominated by large corporates.  Those who can pay to place their lackeys into political power, all the better to erode our democracy.  All the better to ensure they can exploit and dispossess more, and more.

It’s hard.  It seems so incredibly immoral.  It seems so incredibly short-sighted and unwise.  It is as if they have no idea of the consequences of extractive thinking and the degradation of our society and planet on the long-term.  Are they that disconnected from community and place.  We see people whose actions surely threaten their very souls, or perhaps they have none.

Wes Anec - Culture of Awareness

Wes Annac – Culture of Awareness

There are very good reasons why there is a perennial philosophy through all spiritual thought – forget the fundamentalists.  Selfishness, greed, and believing you are above the gods – or believe you live sacrosanct from reaping any “banquet of consequences” – are always bad.  Always vices.  I do not care how you can cleverly rationalise them within a spreadsheet with dollars as measures.  You rationalise insanity and immorality.  You rationalise the incredibly unwise.

Cloud Atlas evil - natural - good

David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas – the historical and future contest between good and evil.

But there is consolation.  More people are aware.  And the whole of history gives us evidence that it will not last (history which these incredibly unwise and vicious people know nothing about apparently).  There is a growing realisation of the fact that the system has been tilted to an extreme in favour of the worst of people who are concentrating power, encouraging corruption, and degrading our (and their own) life support systems.

What sort of shift we get is what worries me.  It could end up as the Terror – a radical swing to another form of fundamentalism – a hating, othering, violent dystopia with lawyers and CEOs swinging from the poplar trees.  We know this could happen.

And we know how fear and outrage can be manipulated.  We know how effective scapegoating tactics are.  The malevolent may thump podiums and turn the anger away from themselves, to the innocent.  The Brixton rioters went after the ethnic small store owners rather than the City bankers et al.  We could end up with an Animal Farm scenario – a replace of arrogant selfish greed by arrogant selfish greed.

Or we could see a complete environmental collapse – a worldwide evolutionary dead end where the line that is humanity is expunged by the incredible stupidity of the best dressed people with the poorest minds and morals.

Or – hopefully – we could see a fundamental economic and constitutional change – an acknowledgement of a few facts and the need to address them.  A social change that brings back into centre stage those perennial philosophies – belonging and the so-called ‘feminine’ virtues of love and care – seeing hubris as the vice of tyrants.  Make the powerful quake when immorality trumps responsibility and the reality of their own connection.

Our lives are not our own - David MitchellWe could see that age old battle between the best in humanity and the worst, between those who see us all as connected, bound to others *and* ourselves through every act of kindness  – and those who use power to treat their own world as mere grist in their own petty mill.

When we inevitably shift, I hope that kindness wins.

A few practical steps to a new enlightenment ….

 

 

1. Large Commercial political power must be made ‘illegal’ – they have the worst of minds and morals.  They will destroy our life-support systems.

2. We need an economic framework that see the economy as dependent upon both our society and our functioning environment.  You extract from life and turn it into cash and concentrated power, and you eat the heart and soul of yourself.

3. We need an economy that is a servant to the people, rather than people as a servant to the economy.

4. We need to rebuild our individual moral responsibility.  It is a vice to treat people and the planet as a means to your own selfish end – whether ‘you’ are a corporation or a person.  Working for an organisation can never absolve an individual from their personal responsibility to be moral.  I fear that Hannah Arendt’s functionaries are again on the rise – those who unwittingly or willingly partake in the Banality of Evil where the culpable hide behind their orders from the hierarchy above.  “Just obeying orders.”  “Not my fault.”

5. We need to extend democracy to local levels.  Make it real, and about knowledge systems where there is not the arrogance of hierarchical Herr Professor-types who think they hold everything relevant within their increasingly specialist and technocratic narrow minds.  We see it in the CEO cults, in the Prime Minister and President worship.  Leaders who are not humble are not wise.  Despotic authoritarianism and wisdom are mutually exclusive.

We need these rights of people, rights of nature, control of power, personal responsibility to be good, devolved democracy.

But I think there is another necessity – redistribution of what the powerful have stolen – yes legally stolen, and sometimes not even that if you bother to read about William le Batard (William the Thief and the Invader, not the Conqueror).  A reform of ‘ownership’.  Create new ‘commons’ where a sense of ownership is replaced by a sense of local belonging ad care. There is a revolution of ownership concepts around the world, a rethinking of relationship.  Gar Alperovitz has written extensively on it, and all the work on the management of commons is brilliant.

All this is effectively a rejection of the Neoliberal consensus, which pits the market as in direct conflict with democracy, as it pits the short-term and expedient against long-term social and ecological function.  You can have one or the other, but you cannot have both.  Neoliberalism will degrade democracy as well as other fundamental functions of society and the planet.

Changing that way of governing our world represents a key shift in the relationship we have with both the earth and our society.  The Modern Western thought disease is the metaphysics of mechanical determinism with all the assumptions of reductionism, disconnected dichotomies of self-community-land-other, predictability, mechanical constructs of life without meaning.  We need to re-embrace what all indigenous people understood – whether Polynesian, Asian, Germanic, Native American or Celt.  Re-embrace the idea that we do not ‘own’ the land, or staff, as ‘resources’.  Re-embrace the truth that we are integral to these functioning systems, whose integrity is our integrity.  Stop feeling other than, apart from, dis-integrated.

The mechanical construct is so wrong-headed – you cannot sustainably view a functioning life-support system as just a set of material quantitative things, nouns.  Such systems are fundamentally verbs, shifting and integrated relationships – a murmuration of starlings.  We live within, as part of, a functioning system.  It follows that if we harm it, we harm ourselves.

Any new economics has to appreciate this, as well as any science, and policy, and engineering, and all the other increasingly dangerously narrow technocratic disciplines.  What that represents is a shift from our Modern view that “Science & Technology” is the leading paradigm of management and policy – to Aristotle’s far more important human abilities to ask what is a connected and good life for us all, and what is the practical wisdom (Phronesis) we need in order to choose the necessary policies to achieve that good.

Humanities and spirituality are very necessary to that end.  They provide the rudder and the perspective.  Science and technology does not have the wisdom to be either that rudder or provide wider perspective, though it provides necessary information and knowledge – so let it be on tap, not on top.

I don’t know if we will achieve a new Enlightened Age after the inevitable social, economic or environmental collapse.  I fear that the most stupid people are in front of the camera.  But we have to live as if it is a possibility.

Very little else matters – your mortgage, your job, your retirement savings.  Because if we don’t get the change right, all that mere process and toil may have been all for nothing.

Chris Perley
Thoughtscapes
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The Art of Flying ….. and Life

I am a sucker for murmurations, that greatest and most beautiful metaphor on life. They are so representative of the new (and old) way of seeing the world, of the fundamental metaphysics underlying life.

Watch this amazing two minute excerpt from Jan van Ijken’s short documentary The Art of Flying.

Ijken Art of Flying

Yes, you can *simulate* a murmuration by assuming a set of individuals acting under mechanical patterns of close response. But you cannot *predict* an actual murmuration of sentient and deeply social creatures, actual life, actual human society, actual ecology, actual human economies.

I wish the model-bound economists and other technocrats would realise this. I wish they would seek to understand the capacities we need to build into our people, communities and environments in order to maintain life-fulfilling functions upon which a resilient – and joyous – future depend.

And so you change the metaphysics to complex systems, to uncertainty being the ruling paradigm, to music & dance not all ‘ducks-in-a-row’ marching in step, to self organisation not regimented order, to conversation that can go anywhere not to command and control, to the trickster keeping you humble not the arrogance of the tyrannical Ozymandiuses, to beauty not machine, to building capacities to adapt not fragility to the merest unforeseen change, to experience of life and love not a wage slave existence subservient to some megalomaniac power.

This is both the indigenous world views (yes, including the Germanic & the Celt) of old (be respectful, be wise) and our future.  We are stuck in a Modern abyss where we think those male virtues of order, rationality, quanta and control are the underlying structures of life – God’s formulaic System of the World.

That unfeeling heartlessness trumps the experience of what it means to fly.

Chris Perley
Thoughtscapes

Chris Perley is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainabilitywith a governance, research, management and policy background in provincial economies, rural sociology and land use strategy. He was the 2017 Green Party candidate for Tukituki.

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The Economics of Poverty, and the Poverty of Economics

A few years ago, a couple of local politicians made an extraordinary offer.  Come to Hawke’s Bay and invest, they said, for we have low wages and conditions.

This thinking imagines that economic success comes, not from the creative dynamism of our own local culture and enterprise, but when some outside ‘investor’ comes into our place like some latter-day colonist.  All the better to be cheap.  Hail cheap ‘human resources’, cheap environmental ‘resources’ (even free, if you can get it), cheap compliance costs.  Hail their ‘freedom’ to take the land and whatever lies beneath.

This is a seriously visionless view of our commercial world, whatever the propaganda of jobs and prosperity for all.

305K kids in poverty.jpgWe can think and act a whole lot better than this.

It was also more confirmation of what we have known for some time: there are many men in suits who see the wage rates of Bangladesh as our economic goal. Let us have poverty. Poverty is good for business. And let’s put the blame on the victims, make it a sport if we can. Perpetuate the myth of the undeserving poor and laud those who drive a Maserati.

Seriously, this approach to life and the economy is very dumb. It is stupid because it degrades the very basis of a strong local economy. It is morally and intellectually bankrupt because child and family poverty is our poverty, just as the degradation of our natural systems is our degradation. It is myopic because it kills opportunity, creates costs, and makes life worse for local business. It is deluded because it promotes the takers and the short-term wheeler-dealers who work in boardrooms, and makes life harder for creative enterprises that have smoko tables.

We lose community cohesion and quality, get less enterprise, get additional costs, and less money going around local business.

Here’s how. Kaumatua Des Ratima once told me that our people have lost hope. We were comparing the feeling of optimism and opportunity we once had with the feeling today that life is now different. When people lose hope and optimism, then society is worse, and the realisation of talent stalls.

The four capitals.pngWe are poorer.  Our social and human capital is degraded, and hand in hand goes the exploitation of our natural capital and our underfunding of essential infrastructure and service.

Social Capital Eroded: Potential Unrealised
This loss of social cohesion and belonging is the first and major cost of poverty. When we make policies that reduce hope we degrade our localised ‘social capital’; the very thing that creates economic prosperity – trust, participation, belonging, social and individual responsibility, justice and caring.

Social networks.jpg

Enterprise comes from a culture of trust, confidence and belonging

When you feel good about life, you meet, you trust in justice and each other, you exchange ideas, discussion flows – and things happen. Start-ups, clusters, art, expression, value-chains, new connections. And enterprise leads to more enterprise, hope to hope, a virtuous circle.

Social capital – or its lack – is more than related to the realisation of enterprise.  There is no such thing as a ‘rational’ thought outside a sociological system of belief and feeling – about yourself and the world.  When you are feeling like one of the ‘Precariate’ shifting from one short-term casual gig to another, or your expectation is that the next gig will be another controlled, thoughtless and unfulfilling job without any shred of commitment to you in the way of training, recognising what you are good at, or your personal development, then you can very quickly give up.

You build people Ziglar.jpgThese are sociological phenomenon understood by the best economists, those who focus on people-led development. Build a community, a team, not a mechanical factory staffed by unthinking and obedient Orcs.  The worst economists and corporate dealers do not accept sociology, because it doesn’t fit into their asinine models that reduce the complexity of life to a dollar number.  And so they perpetuate and accentuate failures that are very much their own, and presume those failures are all related to the individuals whose potential lies dormant.  The “Rational Choice” of “Human Resources”.

Social Costs Increase
To compound the idiocy of crushing potential, we get costs instead. The personal cost of misery when children are sick with preventable diseases. The public cost of having an ambulance at the bottom instead of cheaper prevention. More mental health problems. Wasted education investment. Violence, theft, police and prisons all increase.

We are poorer, though the GDP may rise with all the extra work we need to do to repair all the damage.

Local Purchasing Power Lost & a Shift from Local Firms to Cheap Bulk Retail
The last negative effect of poverty is in reducing economic demand upon which our local firms depend; less money to cycle and multiply, a vicious cycle. The Great Depression is a classic example of what happens when you reduce demand to a trickle. But we had our own mini-example when New Zealand’s local economies tanked after National Party Finance Minister Ruth Richardson stripped $1 billion off welfare support in her 1991 “Mother of all Budgets”. It tanked because poor people – who tend to spend locally – could no longer buy, and so those enterprises laid off staff, compounding the reduced spend and the layoffs.  And Big box retail came in to compound the problems for local business.  We become a more corporate uncaring world compounding the problems for local economies.   Communities dominated by local enterprises do far better on all metrics.

WalmartRichardson made the lives of the already poor even more miserable because economic fundamentalists in Treasury believe in the bollocks that people ‘choose’ to be poor and we all live in some Yellow Submarine world of equal opportunities. It follows from those cloud cuckoo land assumptions that any reduction (or elimination) of welfare payments will allow the market to adjust, and people will go out and get the jobs that are no longer there. Genius.

So let us start a conversation. Poverty is a choice we make; a very bad one. It is both a symptom of a stupid economic creed and a key driver of our own material and spiritual poverty. Poverty suits the takers, not the creators. Poverty is not the consequence of some moral or meritorious karma; it is a clear sign of an economy in trouble, and a need to think and discuss new ideas.

 

Chris Perley
Thoughtscapes

Chris Perley is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability with a governance, research, management and policy background in provincial economies, rural sociology and land use strategy. He was the 2017 Green Party candidate for Tukituki.

An edited version of this article appeared in Hawkes Bay Today.

Bibliography

  1. Key Facts from the 2008 Ontario Study
    – Poverty disproportionately affects certain populations, and has a complex mix of institutional and individual causes.
    – Poverty has a price tag for all Ontarians.
    – The cost of poverty is reflected in remedial, intergenerational, and opportunity costs.
    – Reducing poverty with targeted policies and investments over the life course generates an economic return.
    ————————————————————–
  2. According to a 2016 report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, poverty costs the UK £78bn a year. 
    From the Guardian article
    ——-
    They “estimate that dealing with the effects of deprivation costs £1,200 for each person in Britain. ….. estimates that the impact and cost of poverty accounts for £1 in every £5 spent on public services.”  The biggest chunk of the £78bn figure comes from treating health conditions associated with poverty, which amounts to £29bn, while the costs for schools and police are also significant. A further £9bn is linked to the cost of benefits and lost tax revenues.”Julia Unwin, the chief executive of the foundation, said: “It is unacceptable that in the 21st century, so many people in our country are being held back by poverty. But poverty doesn’t just hold individuals back, it holds back our economy too.“Taking real action to tackle the causes of poverty would bring down the huge £78bn yearly cost of dealing with its effects, and mean more money to create better public services and support the economy. UK poverty is a problem that can be solved if government, businesses, employers and individuals work together.”
    ——————————————————
  3. Report Poverty and Education: Finding the Way Forward 2013 estimated the cost of US Child Poverty at $US 500 Billion per year.
    —————————————————–
  4. The banal view that we live in a Yellow Submarine world of equal opportunity and meritocracy is only believed within Neoliberal Economists’ models – the very empty vessel discipline that determines much of public policy, and is supported by corporate wealth and the political far right.John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health reports “Linking extreme poverty and stunting among children to poorer educational outcomes and earnings as adults, researchers said that failing to invest in early child development is blocking about 250 million children globally from reaching their potential.”  The findings were published in a series of reports in the Lancet in October 2016.
    ——————————————————
  5. Child poverty is only a small part of the whole poverty story, but the statistics compiled by New Zealand’s Child Poverty Monitor make bleak reading, and are deeply embarrassing.

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Posted in Building Regional Economies, Neoliberalism & Corporatism, Thought Pieces | 6 Comments

Leibniz, a Library, and Neoliberalism

Random thoughts you need to write down.  A discussion on three things.  First, Leibniz’s concept of Monads – a single view of a complex whole, say London looking West from the Tower of London. Leibniz’s Monad concept is about seeing and knowing.  Of course, we intuitively know that that one view of that complex thing “London” is insufficient as a source of knowing.  A complex thing needs a sense of knowing from a complexity of points of view.

The concept of Monad is a critique of analysis.  Too narrow, too singular, and you are in no position to make a judgment.  You intuitively cannot be wise.

Yet Modernity has put us on a path to exactly that delusion of knowing. “Analyse and you will know,” is not dissimilar in many contexts to “Look at the world from only one position, and you will know.”  Then only select the measurable things, and lose even more wisdom.

Welcome to our world.

Trinity College Library

Trinity College Library

Second, a library.  It’s just a set of books, right. Nouns. Things with objective properties, independent from the observer. Stored within a machinery of order. You could put a value on them, a dollar. Or categorise them by size, age, author, age, paper, smell, feel, subject.

Or you could treat them as a functional system interdependent with the subject, a complete conflation of value and object, with meanings relating to touch, love, fond memory, moments of aha, links to a writer of the past, to wisdom, to beauty of prose, to the rhythm of words.

But of course, we live in a world where all that soppy stuff is not ‘objective’, nor easily measurable, so it must not be borne. Better – more ‘scientific’ (let us delude ourselves further that ‘science’ is the only intellectual virtue) – to see them as merely ‘resources’ whose only meaning is price, and whose only function is to be allocated according to price in the “free market”. They can only function in a market, not in a persons soul.

Third …… would you ever consider taking that library analogy and looking upon life, society, a planet in the same way – by reducing it to the Monad of a warehouse store for allocation and price? Absurd idea. That would never happen. We are too civilised and intelligent to be that blind.

And yet ….

…. that is exactly what we have allowed to happen to our world through the delusion and arrogance of an economic creed. And they can provide all sorts of numbers and mathematics to describe their Monad in details, to demonstrate that it is the only view that matters.

This is why we talk of corporate Viking Squids in the cathedrals, and economic fundamentalist priest in the libraries of our society and our world, selling and privatising in rational order, and burning anything that isn’t measurable, burning anything that hints of a function of life or love.

This is why so many of us want to fundamentally change the way we see our world.

Chris Perley

Thoughtscapes

Chris Perley is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability with a governance, research, management and policy background in provincial economies, rural sociology and land use strategy. 

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Wall of books

Posted in Neoliberalism & Corporatism, Thought Pieces | 1 Comment

Are Lower Wages Better for Business? Will they Shift us to a Creative Society?

Morning rant after listening to Steven Joyce et al. on Morning Report (25th October 2017) claim to be the friend of business.  Tosh.  Increasing wages are linked to building economies through building *both* social capital and demand.  Yet we’re already hearing that a lift in wages will be a business cost for Small & Medium Enterprises (SMEs).  This is reactionary, unthinking and dinosaur thinking.  Simplistic.  Mean.

We’re hearing that SMEs will suffer?  Will they?  Who buys?  Who are those who create and think within a commercial team?  Who *actually* benefits?  The one slave owner who can produce the cheapest cotton for export to a disconnected social system?  Ever cheaper milk?  A race to the bottom of third world costs structures?

Consumptive to creative.jpg

Source: Takashi Iba: Pattern Languages as Media for the Creative Society

There is a dialogue happening around the world that links so strongly to this discussion.  Our world is changing.  The abuse of corporate power with the loss of unions and the rise of the Neoliberal religion has lead to undeniable disparities.  Add to that technological shifts with the potential for huge implications for the future of work.

But it is more than that.  There is a fundamental shift in thinking – from the Productive/Consumptive society (the Neoliberal’s wet dream) to the Communicative society, and then to the Creative Society.  Suddenly systems thinking and the Pattern Language and ecological systems of thinkers like Jane Jacobs, Jan Gehl and Christopher Alexander are coming into the policy space.  (This shift necessarily requires that Treasury Neoliberals be told to go and make the tea after counting some beans of course).

This is a shift!  A shift from Having and mechanical measures, to Being.  And this does not mean some idiot trade-off assumption so loved by the technocratic mind.  It can mean a significantly better place within which local commerce thrives.  Strong societies make strong economies.  Creative people make creative and attractive places, make creative economies.

OK, the Corporate Colonial Industrial Slavers may lobby hard (and spend money on media and deal-maker far right politicians) to see this terrible thing never occur, but …

….. fuck them.

corporate-profits-labor-share.jpeg

Source: The Economist, quoted in an article from Business Insider that argues technological shifts requires us to completely rethink minimum wages.

A number of people have researched what makes an economy tick, and it isn’t about putting corporates at the centre of things.  Adam Smith’s suspicion of them was very well placed.  And there is so much research out there.  I’ve written a number of blogs about building regional economies by thinking differently here.  Others have looked at low wages as both the cause and the consequence of low productivity.  In other words, a poverty trap, a race to the bottom, to Mordor and the Third World.  The unions of the past that argued against the power and short-term of the robber baron types (the types that have been welcomed back under Neoliberalism with open arms) did a great deal for the economy as well as for society.

To think of staff as just a cost (lower the better) is ridiculous unless you want a slave style economy.  Narrow.  Unthinking.  Mechanical.  Such thoughts highlight the linear myopia of the technocratic class who so often cannot think beyond the spreadsheet by looking at only the numbers they can count.  If it’s not in the accountant’s spreadsheet, it apparently doesn’t exist.  Fallacy.  Fallacy.  Fallacy.  There is an interconnected system out there if anyone can be bothered to look for it.

Two examples to think about – 1. Henry Ford raises wages in 1914 or thereabouts. 2. Ruth Richardson cuts benefits in the Mother of All Budgets (Neoliberalism gone completely barking mad) to below subsistence.  In both situations it wasn’t just the dollar demand figure that was affected. There was a significant social and psychological component.

One had a significant positive effect.  One had a significant negative effect.

Why?  That social/psychological component is at least as important as the effects on aggregate demand – if not the most significant according to Robert Putnam – trust, participation, expression, cooperation, sense of belonging, hope, esprit de corps, the freedom to be creative and act, with self-organised clustered collectives for recreation or commerce etc.

And so says Amartya Sen – justice and the freedom to be is vital to enterprise, and especially justice for the thinking and actions of women and cultural diversity.  Both Sen and Putnam argue that strong economies are built by treating people well – treating them with morals – as an necessary condition for creating resilient, thinking, adaptive enterprise (whether commercial or community).  They’re also built on favouring SMEs over outside-owned Corporates (and here) – the locally-owned enterprise over the Walmart.  Creative verses Extractive enterprise.  A vision of Tuscany or the Shire rather than a corporate Mordor.  Here and here and here.

These are people-centred economies, not resource-centred dystopias.  They go beyond the measured machine and bring the Goddess back into our thinking.  Kick Milton Friedman to touch and invite Manfred Max-Neef or Jane Jacobs to speak.  The Corporate Dystopian slave economy is not the vision most of us have in mind.  So think soft systems.  Think Humanities and humanity, and what it is to be human living within a world that cannot be objectified without losing our souls.  Never think of people as merely ‘resources’. Ignore any models that are framed that way.  They are bullshit.

You won’t find *one* *single* neoliberal economist discussing this soft social part of our economic system – because if they recognised its importance, they couldn’t accept neoliberal axioms.  Neoliberals hated Putnam’s research that demonstrated that Strong Societies build strong economies, not the other way around.  It completely refuted their direction.

On Measurement - the McNamara FallacyBut if you cannot think outside the machine, or autistic measures, then you’ll never get it. I pull my hair out when people think that only the measurable matters – or even *exists*!!!! See the McNamara Fallacy – “we’re winning the Vietnam war! Look at the respective body counts! I have created a model of the results, and predict VICTORY!”

Neoliberalism essentially dismissed all the research and understanding of workplace sociology (let alone what it means to be in a community) – because they cannot deal with anything that isn’t part of a measured, predictable, mechanical, Physics-envy, machine. That is their metaphysics and cosmology – but they think they rest on a solid objective plinth of rationality and truth because they are not taught to test assumptions, logic and corollaries.  They are not taught to think philosophically about their subjective metaphysics. Better to presume it’s ‘objective’ and ‘factual’.  Less messy.

Narrowly technical and tactical without any strategic sense. The nightmare of action without vision.

Let’s corporatise all public departments, schools, hospital, universities and research organisations.  Let’s cut benefits.  Let’s sell assets.  Let’s subsidise those big & therefore meritorious mega-corporates (under Neoliberalism, big is better, might is right).  Let’s allow the pollution and degradation of the environment, because, “the market will provide!”  Let’s give carrots to the axiomatically deserving rich and beat the axiomatically unworthy poor with a big stick.  Let’s call it “freedom.”  And let’s never examine our axioms, naturally.  But we’ll still call ourselves a science.

Total bunkum. Those economists shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near policy making; put them in the “don’t call us, we’ll call you” room along with the Stalinists.  They don’t understand the complexity of our home – and how our societies and our ecosystems function as verbs self-organising into life.  Our world is not just a warehouse of stacked ‘resources’ for allocation and price.  Actors in the simple ‘market’ can rationalise the destruction of those qualitative functions (even if they acknowledge and understand them! – it’s still profitable in the short-term to destroy, sack and pillage) if all they look at is supply/demand and price – production and consumption without a shred of understanding of what it is to be a communicative and a creative society.  I’d rather ask a dustman’s advice than that of a Neoliberal economist.

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So 1. In 2014 Henry Ford significantly increased the wages of his workers.  He got less turnover, happier people caring a lot more, less costs, more productivity.  Profit. “Hang on, my little spreadsheet doesn’t say that …. surely higher wages, means higher costs, means less profit.”  Presuming Ceteris Paribus of course – all else remains the same. Which it absolutely doesn’t!  Kick that assumption to touch as well.

I remember being taught about the shift in thinking from early 20th Century Frederick Taylor’s mechanical incentives to work – piece rate reward and punishment – to the motivational approaches of Hertzberg, Maslow, McGregor and Edwards Deming in the middle and later 20th C.

(MY GOD, these people are *people*, working in a workplace and wider *community*. They *care* and want to belong!  They aren’t cogs in the machine!)

And then the appallingly ignorant Neoliberals – who are taught not to think in social systems, only mechanical individuals who are ‘resources’ and ‘consumers’ (in all aspects of life – because, of course, the market defines life – all hail) come along and take us right back to Frederick Taylor thinking – long debunked in work place sociology.

The market defining life …. Remember Dr Gift from Jane Smiley’s Moo who calculated the NPV of marriage and children and decided not to invest?  Hilarious, and a little glimpse into the withered mind of the Neoliberal Professor.

Of course, neoliberals don’t want to hear about hearts and minds and communities with a collective moral sense and inspiration in their souls, never mind cooperative communication and creativity – they are frustratingly inconvenient in putting in your model.

So with Ford, higher wages in workers’ pockets created more value, less costs, and – by some commentators view – the creation of the middle class who could buy the cars.  They also nurtured the creative.

This demonstrates a system of feedbacks where no one is on the top, the system is socio-ecological and self-organising.  And that system is not just about measurable ‘male virtue’ linear hard measured bits.  So much of economic success comes from the heart of people – their motivation and vision in life – their desire to be and belong and create as much as to have – the archetypically ‘female virtues’ of belonging, love, care, nurture, sharing etc.  People have a sense of morals, they either trust or don’t, they participate or not, they express their ideas and have the confidence to speak and act, or they hunker down and be the cog the idiot corporate bosses want them to be (because they really lack anything like a complete worldview).  We need the Goddess back.  The wisdom and the caring and the purpose and the qualities as well as necessary (as distinct from convenient) measures.  Not just the measures.

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2. Darling Ruth and her slavering adherence to Milton Friedman’s nonsense. Cuts the benefits and the economy tanks.  Less money in the economy, and so SMEs go DOWN!!  Then they had to let staff go.  So more unemployed on below subsistence benefits.  So yet less money in the local economy.  Idiots.

But it gets worse.  Our people lose hope and connection – some of those social and psychological things that are fundamental to the realisation of both individual and collective creative potential.

WalmartAnd guess what. That’s when the Warehouse rose because we need to buy cheap – our very own Walmart corporate style operation killing the SME retailers.

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So treat our people well.  Pay them decent wages that don’t require the subsidisation of Corporations by Working for Families, and refocus on the whole of what makes a society and an environment tick and function, rather than the most asinine accountant measure that presumes that lower wage costs means more profit because they haven’t the wit to see the connections that go beyond the number on the sheet.  It is simplistic bullshit; the bullshit that has become so prevalent in this least Wise of ages – the Age of Neoliberal Madness.

In a system you never do one thing. Ceteris Paribus is bollocks. And assumption that needs to be explicitly assigned to the scape heap.  That is not how systems work.  You tug one strand of the spiders nest, and the whole things moves.  You might even wake the spider.
Ask yourself what else you do to the system when you raise or lower wages.  Ask what you do to the motivation, sociology and psychology of people, as well as to your customer demand base.

Are you supporting a productive/consumption society.  Emphatically, no.  You undermine both production and consumption.  Are you supporting a communicative or a creative society from which we – local people and enterprise – benefit?  Categorically, no.

Low wages support the Corporate, Colonial, Industrial Slavers.

If you listen to the nonsense accountant logic of lower wages simply meaning more profit (the thinnest slice of our social and economic system you could imagine) then the logical corollary is slavery, with the ever present hope that the Lords at the top will buy your SME shoes.
Mind you, some would say we have already that.  Under our Neoliberal madness, that dystopia of obedient cogs, living within an authoritarianism fear-based slavery is exactly what is being promoted.

saruman

Can you follow the trend lines?  Think about it.  That’s why we need to change.  That’s why we need a vision of something a whole lot better, with very different policy making frameworks.

Make the differentiation between SMEs and outside-owned corporations.  Treat decent wages as a part of that vision of a better world – economically and socially bettter.  Adam Smith’s village and a Tuscanesque Shire is what we ought to be striving for – not a Corporate dystopia run by obedient and expendable Orcs for the benefit of a few Sarumans and Saurons telling us in we are “free!” in the media machine run by the Uruk Hai.

Chris Perley

Thoughtscapes

Chris Perley has a background in embedding himself in our landscapes and fields, in management, policy, consulting and research relating to land use, the environment, provincial economies and communities.  He is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability.

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Posted in Building Regional Economies, Neoliberalism & Corporatism, Thought Pieces | 1 Comment

Jacinda, can we please have the Goodnight Kiwi back!

Jacinda, can we please have the Goodnight Kiwi back. And while you’re at it, can we have our once superb, public service, independent questioning broadcaster back.Goodnight Kiwi

Load it again with bags of satire and documentaries where the face of the questioner is never seen (find someone with the dulcet tones of Ian Johnstone or Dougal Stevenson – but please – no Garners or Gowers).  Bring back that deep search for truth and wisdom, that questioning ethos, the courage of Simon Walker taking on the PM. Bring back the celebration of what public *service* means.

You’ll have to nobble Treasury of course. They were the ones who told us that it was impossible for us to have a public service ethic … because they couldn’t find one anywhere in their models of selfish, all-knowing, asocial, utility maximising individual automata from the Planet Urras.

Walker vs Muldoon.jpg

Can we please have a broadcasting system that has a duty to educate, inform and build civics.  Can we please have a public system that owns the paramount duty of holding power to account – government and corporate power.

You can keep the rest of the reality tv greed-fodder crap promoting housing speculation and – let’s face it – the worst tastes imaginable.  And take the sugar advertising off the kiddies’ cartoon programming.  That’s just pure corporate scumbag evil. Nasty.

Speaking of scumbags …. Hoskings.  I mean, really?  He has the perfect mind, as well as that shrill, arrogant, uneducated, cliché-laden, reactionary, back-of-the-pub-bore voice that is perfect for Talkback.  Such a waste of talent.

Rinehart Murdoch.pngTo that end of controlling the abusive power of the mega-corporate media magnates – who care not one whit for this world and its future, only their salivating selves and their filthy lucre – can we please ensure that no one Murdoch, Packer, Rinehart type can own any more than 10% of the print, TV & radio media in our country.

I fancy a bit of decentralised ownership. Forget “too big to fail” – try out “too big to be allowed to continue existing if your practice is to rort the system for your own immoral ends.”  Hold them to account.  Try the unique idea of allowing the people to make the laws to suit the future of our children rather than this filth paying politicians to make the law to suit their next quarter’s profit.

Checks & balances

We’re not talking about these types of checks & balances

Try the idea of a thing called ‘democracy’ with checks and balances on power.  The nation builders and constitutional reformers of the past knew that if you didn’t balance and control power, that all hell would eventually break lose.  Jefferson and his lot – Danton and Camille before they had their very fine heads removed by the Nero of the day, Robespierre.  Those brilliant few who designed the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

The idiots who desire power never seem to understand the All-Hell-Breaks-Lose reality. Blinded by baubles and a delusional sense of superiority and entitlement perhaps. A Statesperson – and I think you could be one of those Jacinda – might practice a bit of balancing, for the sake of our Non-Hell-Breaking-Lose future.  Call it self-interest if you like.  I really don’t care.  Just do it, please.  We had land reforms once.  We broke up the big estates.  Corporates have been broken up before.  Let’s do it again.  Never mind their bleating, or their claims of “the market will provide” or “you’re being elitist; it’s what the public wants.”  That’s just the mechanical chatter of proto-fascist neoliberal corporatism.

HRC-public-broadcasting-870x489

End of Transmission

Can we please come back to a paradigm that will actually ensure our survival instead of a short term rush as the Vampire Squids raid and burn the Cathedrals.

Perhaps this can be our core premise – “that our people are neither the servants of, nor the resources for, ‘the economy’.  The economy is the servant of our people.”  Yeh, Service! Giving, not taking.  Creating, not exploiting.

That’s where it starts and ends.

But the Goodnight Kiwi is on the top of the list.

Chris Perley
Thoughtscapes

Chris Perley has a background in embedding himself in our landscapes and fields, in management, policy, consulting and research relating to land use, the environment, provincial economies and communities.  He is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability.

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Wellington Public Service

Posted in Neoliberalism & Corporatism, Thought Pieces | 2 Comments

Instead of Dam Thinking from the 50s, Look to the Landscape

Reblogging with edits away from the previous focus on just the Ruataniwha Dam.

————

Rethinking, reimagining land, community & economy. Unless we fundamentally change away from the dominant ideas expressed by Treasury, the current public service model, the right wing political parties and their corporate sponsors, then I think we will be fighting environmental, social and provincial degradation for a very long time.

The root causes of decline are in the simplistic, linear and mechanical thinking they remain wedded to. Fiddling around the edges will not suffice.

The trouble is that the shadows on the wall they see are the only world they know. And if someone should point out the colours and life beyond the cave entrance, they will continue to recoil with horror. I’m not sure how you change this within the time constraints we have.

We could get a change in thinking from our obsession with quantified homogeneous industrial scale to realising that building capacities in landscapes (and social-scapes) creates a more resilient, sustainable, meaningful and prosperous future.

There are so many wonderful thinkers, doers and writers who have demonstrated that truth – in landscapes, in communities, and in regional economies. But they all have Humanities souls. They feel and connect, and are happy within the complexity and uncertainty of life.

Perhaps we ought to start with teaching our children that.

Source: Instead of Dam Thinking from the 50s, Look to the Landscape

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I want to write about ….

I want to write about how we cannot afford poverty, how stupid it is, how it degrades our economy and our spirit.

I want to write about the trends in our New Zealand economy to a power-crazed, corporatist, extractive, one-dollar-one-vote destruction of democracy; the destruction of local enterprise and family owned farms – and why those targets of the corporate agenda would even think of voting for their own turkey christmas.  There is nothing good in this trend.  There is no creativity, nor meaning, nor soul.

Writing.jpg

I want to write about how a strong community is your business friend, how treating people as things is stupid if you want a future for your own town and region.  The only people – if you could call them that – that benefit from treating us as third world colonial slaves are the corporates who do not live here.  Wake up.  We are being colonised – and that colonisation is supported by the right because they are paid by the colonisers and the media is owned by the colonisers.

I want to write about how the environment is your friend.  Not just in building your soul and a meaning in life, but in your business as well – unless you are an absolute scumbag who will pillage the kauri, the water, the soil, the fisheries for your immediate self-gratification.  Vice.  Business does not have to be vicious.  It can be virtuous.  Realise that building the hope and dreams and connections and laughter and spirit and trust and participation and esprit de corps of people – community – staff – *creates* and drives our world.

I want to write that only an unthinking moron would throw the capacity and value of their land down the stream by washing away soil and nutrients. Pure and utter stupidity. Dumb and dumber.  Fed Farmers type moronity.  I want to write that land capacity to cope with drought and flood is your friend. I want to write that you get benefits from a functioning landscape where diversity and biota are your friends. Free gifts, cashflow options, resilience, beauty, function, stock health, less need for inputs – more dollars made for less dollars spent.  I want to write that the environment means you have a story to sell, a market position essential to a premium while commodities continue their downward slide.  Better environment, more resilience, better economics, a better place within which to create and be.

I want to write about systems thinking and strategy and getting your head out of the technocratic falsehood of only looking at the measured things in a spreadsheet. At the insanity of discounting your future by 10% real.  The immorality.  The death of art, and with art, wisdom.

I want to write about the need to be able to differentiate lies from truth, to dig into the root causes and not – ever – be influenced by some empty cliche like “a war on P”. I want to write about scapegoating, and the nonsense of some economic theories, and the history of stupidity within various economic extremes. Beware of economics, especially when it involves absolutes – “the market will provide,” “the state will dissolve to a worker’s collective,” “there is equal powerlessness in the world,” and “people make rational all-knowing asocial choices to be poor.”  Think for yourselves.  Learn for yourselves.  Dig into the assumptions.  They are easy to find.  You’ll quickly spot the bullshit there and realise that the smartly dressed men in suits do not have superior minds.  They have no authority of thought – and we should never give them that.  They live within a social paradigm of unquestioned belief without internal critique.

I want to write about Modernity and finding our way back home to becoming native to place – to return to *being* *in* and *of* our lands and our communities where they are never defined by the measurement of stocks.  We do not raise children by measured calorie flows alone.  Why would we do that for economics or society.

I want to write about the radical radicle root core philosophical depths of wisdom.

And how we are not being wise in our political choices.

Chris Perley
Thoughtscapes

Chris Perley has a background in embedding himself in our landscapes and fields, in management, policy, consulting and research relating to land use, the environment, provincial economies and communities.  He is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability.

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Neoliberalism and Rawls’ Theory of Justice

How would you structure the justice in our society today?  One method is to look at a blank canvass of what might become a moral society from an “original position” behind what John Rawls described as “A veil of ignorance” [A Theory of Justice, 1971].

john-rawls original position

Imagine you do not know who you will be in the real world – you might be poor or rich, black, white or brown, male or female, young or old, felon or victim, born today or in 150 years time, etc.

Then consider what sort of justice system you would think is fair for whatever your real position in life will be.  Justice is fairness.

Now ask yourself a few questions about how the justice of the world is structured now – take particular note of power structures – and how that contrasts with your view from behind the veil.  Is our justice – built into the structures of social norms, behaviours, sentiment and legal frameworks – fair?  Think particularly of your ignorance of whether you will be born today, or in 150 years time.

I ask this because – in my view – we have structured deep injustices over the last 30 to 40 years in New Zealand and around the world.  We have allowed more exploitation of our people and our land & sea natural systems upon which – ironically – our long-term society and economy depends.

Ironic because we were told by the priests of the Neoliberal faith that it’s all for the best.  The ‘market’ – all-knowing as it is – will magically allocate and price ‘resources’ as they ought to be allocated.   So if the system is exploited, that is right.  If you are poor, that is right.  If power accumulates and you invade or buy another part of the world far far away, then that is right.  Might is right because the market recognised your ‘merit’, and made you mighty.

John Rawls Veil of Ignorance

We have ‘justified’ that exploitation – an exploitation that cannot be sustained without eventual economic, social and environmental collapse – by 1. that Neoliberal faith, 2. the glorifying of mega-corporate business entities who act for their short-term expedience at the expense of any value that gets in the way of making an immediate profit (never mind even their own great grandchildren), and 3. the scapegoating of the victims; the poor and dispossessed.

Their poverty is apparently their own choice.  They could have gone to the banks, I was once told, and talked to their old school buddies there, and asked for the billion dollar loan, just like anybody else (I was given that actual excuse once when pointing our that only the already wealthy have the opportunity to buy billion dollar public assets at fire-sale prices, and thereby enrich themselves and impoverish the rest of us).

Then the felons who perpetrate this ‘fair deal’ are given knighthoods.

Neoliberalism is very much implicated in this system of injustice.  Let us consider the following.  Neoliberalism presumes there are no power differentials because that is convenient to model.  Power is far too complex and relational to model easily.

Smith Beware commerceWonderful.  The market is presumed to be always fair.  Problem solved. Who needs an original position behind a veil of ignorance when there is no chance of an unfair outcome.

And so arithmetic convenience overrides truth & questions about reality.  We presume that the world of business is like Adam Smith’s village of bakers and candlestick makers.  Let’s also presume that we can just ignore Smith’s warnings of the need to control the power of corporations and aristocrats, to publicly educate an enlightened and moral populace (What?!  State intervention?!) and to be highly suspicious of merchants anywhere near the making of our laws because they will try to exploit if they are given half a chance.

Neoliberalism also presumes that rational decisions are made through exchange of goods and services within the market.  So if someone makes a lot of money in the short-term out of pillaging the kauri for personal gain, or drift netting the ocean, or depleting or polluting the finite or slow-cycling water ‘resources’, or – sigh – destroying the soils that will not recover for many millennia (in the case of our hill country soils), then that is all fine and good.  People will – apparently – rationally discount the future cashflows at a rational rate, using rational calculations of Net Present Value, and the benefits will accrue to future generations in accordance with the wisdom and justice of the market and private investment.

Except that if you have anything to do with discounted cashflow over intergenerational periods of time using any real rate much over 2% you see the moral nonsense that you can rationally advocate the bankruptcy and extinction of your own family’s future.  Rationalised insanity.

Cutting your own roots.jpg

What bunkum.  Meanwhile the fisheries collapse, forests are pillaged, soils wash or blow way, water systems are depleted and degraded, species go extinct, the functionality of our natural systems teeter on the edge, we run out of key nutrients, and the globe warms and warms.  What could possibly go wrong when we cut our own roots from under ourselves.

Never mind that history has demonstrated that for finite or slow cycling natural systems it is exceedingly profitable to pillage to the point of system collapse, and that such collapses have happened time and time and interminable time again and again and again.

Newfoundland fisheries collapse.jpgNice to ponder upon this when discussing with Neoliberal economists that a forest or soil natural *system* is not the same as a bean farm with a canning plant attached.   Short-term market cycles can be fine for short-feedback systems.  They can be destructive and terminal where the feedbacks take generations, or occur over distant geographical scales, or are positive feedbacks – such as happens all the time in agriculture where a price decline leads to a production increase, which leads to a price decline, ad infinitum – until the social, environmental and economic system collapses (most demonstrably in the US Dustbowl of the 1930s).  The Neoliberals, living as they do with faith, not empirical evidence, will tell you that this couldn’t possibly happen.  Must be the government’s fault, obviously.

Yet it happens …. I’m sorry, I mean to say it happens in the real world, outside the models.

[Also note – please Mr Neoliberal – that you do not adequately describe such ‘natural systems’ by describing them as ‘natural resources’.  The latter (resources) reduces complexity to an inert set of things without function.  Natural systems evokes the considerably more accurate view of processes of energy flows, feedbacks, thresholds and emergence of something with entirely new properties not inherent in any part.  This is the dynamic complex that provides for trivial things – like life itself.  Life is – perhaps unfortunately – not often included in discounted cashflow accounts.  It’s often more profitable to do without it.]

quote-a-just-society-is-a-society-that-if-you-knew-everything-about-it-you-d-be-willing-to-john-rawls-81-28-14Neoliberalism is in direct conflict with Rawls original position in presuming that there is a true meritocracy in play.  Isn’t that wonderful.  Problem of justice solved.  The market will provide.  There is no need for a government-determined justice beyond property rights and obvious violence crimes – because the perfect market and a world of presumed equal opportunity will ensure all the dice of life fall where they ought through fully informed rational choice.

Because there are no power differentials in their models, then there is no need to recognise the real, empirical, industrial, feudal and colonial exploitation of people and natural systems.  All, apparently, willing buyer-willing seller structures of equal powerlessness and rational acts by benevolent firms.

As someone in a wheelchair one might expect that I would be outraged by this.  I am outraged, but it has nothing to do with the dice I know people suffer from; it is because it is a deeply unjust and philosophically ignorant view.  It is pure and utter bollocks justified for the sake of a convenient mathematical model.  And that is both deeply, deeply immoral as well as far more a fundamentalist faith than the normal academic critique you expect from both the sciences and the humanities.

The long & short term selfSo let us presume that there are some problems in the Neoliberal view.  Let us presume that power does concentrate and can and does buy political parties of the right, degrades democracy where it suits (who needs elected local body councillors in Canterbury anyway) and effectively buys the policies they desire.  Let us presume that the success of that rort by the powerful, as allowed and actively encouraged under Neoliberalism, has concentrated the worldview (or rather the me-me-me-view) that short-term profit is far more fun and acceptable than worrying about future things like the life of the planet, functioning natural systems, and the future of society.

Let us presume that expedience, the abuse of power, and greed will lead to everyone losing in the long-term and fewer and fewer people ‘winning’ in the short-term – if by ‘winning’ we mean gambling on a living in meaningless luxury and dying before the consequences take hold.  Let us presume that there is patently not a meritocracy in play, somewhat the reverse if by ‘merit’ we presume some moral dimension – that is, a good person who thinks about the future of community, and the need for meaningful lives beyond their own short spell on our planet.

This is the world in which we have been forced to live for over 30 years.

Knowing that, and putting yourself in Rawls’ original position, behind that veil of ignorance, what then would you do about it?

1768115-John-Rawls-Quote-The-principles-of-justice-are-chosen-behind-a

Would you view the concentration and abuse of power as antisocial, far worse than minor theft because it has the potential to destroy our world?   Would you treat that abuse as a root cause of evil, and put in place constitutional means by which such commercial absolutism was prevented, as has been done before with various constitutional permutations from the Magna Carta?  Would you retain or discard the economic ideology of Neoliberalism that has let loose these Hyenas of Commerce upon us and those unborn?  Would you safeguard the functioning of our life-support systems as paramount, and treat them as systems, not mere stocks of ‘things’?

Would you ensure – should you be born in 150 years, brown, women and poor – that there were unwritten and written norms of justice in our society that allowed you to be the talent that you are?

What would those be?  Or do you think the market with all its power distortions and lack of concern for consequences – even to your own individual survival – will suffice?

Chris Perley
Thoughtscapes

Chris Perley has a background in embedding himself in our landscapes and fields, in management, policy, consulting and research relating to land use, the environment, provincial economies and communities.  He is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability.

Rawls, J. 1971.  A Theory of Justice.  Belknap Press, NY

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The Joy of a Moment

I need to say something.  We all need strength at times, and it’s nature and people that give us that.  They feed the soul.  They provide meaning.

Our world seems strangely to treat these blessings – people and nature – as mere ‘things’ to use, rather than the whole of whom we are, inseparable, the place within the sum of us where we can ‘be’, within.

It is worse when we see ‘them’ – the destroyers of worlds – take a whole like nature and community combined, and deny their very existence; deny the quality and the function, and reduce to quantity and noun.

It is so strange that we have elevated those who do this.  We have promoted the visionless and the least feeling to positions of power, and allowed them to tell us that this is how we ought to see and be in this world.  The dominant narrative ought to be this truth; that the really valuable things are those that are as fleeting as the joy of a moment, and which we cannot measure – and nor should we bother to try – for any longer than an instant, in this place.  Even thinking of measuring these moments diminishes them; destroys the joy of them.

The burst of a golden pheasant, the smell and light of a forest, the absolute joy of leaping from a height into a river, feeling a fish on the line, going through a gap running for all hell and passing for a try.  

Our friends, the meeting of eyes and the smiles you see every day, the sparkle of voice and the humour of a glance, a melody, unspoken connections, hearing a poem read with emotion, a piece of art that moves you.

I do not like that we have put measures above these things.  We need to keep reminding ourselves not to listen to those who would reduce life’s meanings to some form of measured control.

Be wild.  Be free.  Feel.  Love.

Murmuration_Print_Photo_1024x1024.jpg

Little Truths Studio

Chris Perley

Thoughtscapes

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Is This our Neoliberal Meritocracy?

More on the theme of Neoliberalism, and what enormous damage it has done to the very culture of New Zealand society and our organisations. We are far less encouraging of talent, wisdom and thought. Our country is less a meritocracy than it once was, and we should remember that when we see immoral wheeler dealers with knighthoods, and those who have exited today’s concentration camps for the sake of their souls.

Chris Perley
Thoughtscapes

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The Housing Crisis and Neoliberalism

The housing crisis – Crisis? What crisis? – is still with us after years of denial by the National Government. I wrote this a year ago when they were claiming there was no crisis – denial being the mantra de jour – no housing problem, no homeless, no child poverty, no job problem, no economic problem, no water quality problem, no climate change, no provincial problem.

Crisis what crisis.jpgThey are promising us now that they will fix housing, yet they are doing nothing that differs from the neoliberal and corporatist delusions they and Treasury have followed since 1984. Those same delusions that created all the problems. It is pathetic that they are going after the populist treat the symptom policy option, instead of trying to identify and treat the root causes. Here I discuss some root causes.

We need to change the framework, not just add populist surface policies that seek to empty the toxic river with a bucket, while doing nothing about the toxins flowing in at the top.

Frankly, I seriously doubt that National have the intellect to see, let alone critique the dysfunctional ideologies through which they see the world. Gold fish in the goldfish bowl …. what water?

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Neoliberalism and the Bullying of the Poor & Dispossessed

The National Party’s latest bullying of the poor and the punitive threats to those without hope needs more than just our outrage for their ignorance and immorality.  It also deserves a critique of what the hell is going on in their heads and our society where such idiocy can be seriously put forward as a supposedly ‘rational’ policy.  Any sane person – one with empathy that doesn’t see humanity as a mechanical automaton in a Neoliberal Treasury model – can imagine the consequences very readily; more problems; more costs; less hope; more despair; more suicides; more mental health; more people losing the plot in a WINZ office near you.

Glynis Sherwood’s thoughts on scapegoating shines a light on National’s continued attempt to blame the poor for their lot.

Scapegoat.jpgThe most vulnerable are scapegoated, not the most powerful.  It is ever so.

We ought to reflect on that.

Scapegoating the most sensitive, the most unhappy, the most vulnerable, or those that speak out when something is morally bankrupt, or a distorted untruth, is straight out of the Neoliberal worldview of course; the lie we have been told to believe in, and worship, for 33 years.

Do not care for others.  Be selfish.  Be judgmental of the embarrassing poor, the homeless and Third World child health diseases – the things who stand in stark relief against empty and dishonest claims of a “strong economy” – those who do not deserve because merit rises in their models, and so the only explanation is that those who are sick, or poor, or die, lack merit.

Under Neoliberalism we are told by people who call themselves economists in Treasury and the corporate media, not to adversely judge the other end of the asset and income spectrum.  Those destroyers of worlds, the Koch brothers and the rest, are simply “maximising their utility,” and we all will prosper from their meritorious works.  So it is written in the good book of Milton Friedman.  When that patently doesn’t happen, no matter.  We’ll rationalise it by blaming the ones we exploit,

psychopaths_vs_humanityor hold conferences looking at The New Zealand Paradox (shouldn’t we be rich by now?) like a bewildered flock of hen pecking chickens.  Everyone is to blame except their completely bonkers theory.

Neoliberalism frames of the poor as undeserving, as choosing to be poor within their models of asocial rationality, equal opportunity, perfect information and no power differentials, where all the dice of life fall where they ought.

Nonsense all.  Complete and utter delusional nonsense.  Extraterrestrial, off the planet, outside this galaxy, in a universe far far away, beyond bonkers.

Yet they teach this crap, and their students worship The Lord Market (Hallowed be Thy name) as the arbiter of all, where we and the planet are just sets of things, resources, for the efficient allocation of.  Then they get a job in Treasury, join the National party, or go trading derivatives in London.

The poor are undeserving, lacking merit.  But the uber-rich non-tax paying buyers of politicians and world trade policies are the best of the best.  This is a pernicious evil, and the National Party apparently cannot think in any other space.

We have set up a society that gives knighthoods to – let’s face it – some pretty ghastly scum, and a society that vilifies those who are poor, and brown, who’ve lost hope, and who do things they might, once they dig themselves out of their hole, regret.

Deflection

But many will only be driven deeper into that hole by National’s quite incredible stupidity.  And we wonder why we have a P problem.  And bursting prisons.  And health issues.  And mental health.  And suicides.  And child poverty.

If you have no other reason to change the government, then choose this.  Their complete inability to see society, community, sociology or psychology.  Their apparent complete inability to feel empathy.

What are the respective definitions of a sociopath, a psychopath, a narcissist?  I’m trying to work out which one best fits this government’s policy making and distortions of the truth.

They, and their fellow travellers in Treasury, need to go.  We need a morality back that puts people and the future of our communities back at the centre of things.

We need a government that has some measure of common decency and thoughtfulness.

Chris Perley
Thoughtscapes

Chris Perley has a background in embedding himself in our landscapes and fields, in management, policy, consulting and research relating to land use, the environment, provincial economies and communities.  He is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability.

Evil begins Pratchett

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The UN Declaration of Human Rights: We need this Moral Compass back.

The UN Declaration of Human Rights was ratified in 1948.  It is a measure of any government.  Just how well are our people doing?  It is a measure for any commercial behaviour as well.  Are you a contributor to this world and its people, now and forever, or are you here to extract, abuse and take, whatever the cost?  Do you govern and manage with some element of soul, some moral base to what you consider right or wrong …. or is it just expedience and the short term deal that spins your wheels?

UN Declaration on Human Rights.jpgI got politicised in the early 1990s when Ruth Richardson came along and continued (on steroids) to rip the soul out of our society – and these, our human rights – continuing the Neoliberal agenda of Treasury and Rodger Douglas since 1984.  People and place were no longer at the centre of things – of economics and policy.  No, the dollar was, and those who owned most of those dollars, and had the contacts, and could buy all the public assets that were gifted to them.  They were those who wanted more and more for themselves, and were applauded for their greed.  They were and are those with the least morality, the greatest selfish, and the most manic madness for power.  

The eaters of worlds.

When would all this madness end?!?!?!

I got politicised *and* contemptuous – because of the obvious rogues that clasped their new ‘freedoms’ to exploit and make our world more nasty, brutish and short-term in outlook – and far less moral or wise.  The rouges are very much alive.  We heard the some ACT mouthpiece only recently suggest giving money to schools whose teachers were not unionised.  They used the word ‘freedom’ of course.  Their freedom, grounded on the shackles they put on others.

Freedom.  There is always some loss to our culture when a word that means so much is taken and twisted by some fanatic to represent its opposite; Arbeit macht frei.

I became increasingly contemptuous also because in the 1990s I was witnessing 1984 (the book, not the year) and Brave New World in one – with some people blowing deeply dishonest Newspeak smoke in the eyes of the public while claiming

Work will set you free

“Work will make you Free,” at the gates of a Nazi concentration camp

all these fatuous clichés involving ‘freedom’.

The clichés came thick and fast: “There is no alternative,” “no gain without pain,” “we all have the same opportunities and the same power exercised through the market,” “meritocracy” and “rational choice” (even the presumption that the poor ‘choose’ to be poor) – while thought and expression of any disagreement was increasingly stifled – or you were pigeonholed as extreme left if you questioned all the nonsense assumptions.

“You don’t believe in the long list of completely spurious assumptions of Neoliberalism?  Well, then you must be a baby killing Stalinist obviously.”

But I don’t think there would be more than a handful in Treasury – let alone Richardson or Douglas – who had ever read either 1984 or Brave New World, and perhaps they wouldn’t have understood them even if they had (I think Brave New World won btw – their system is much less overt than the totalitarianism of 1984 – which is what we have; a form of covert thought control and consumerism and reality TV soma to keep most people in some state of acceptance).  The Treasury-types certainly didn’t get any of their own ironic parallels with fundamentalist state communists and their oh-so-similar fraternal totalitarian methods of ensuring obedience, group-think and thought control.

I realised how far politics in this country had lurched to the far right, and it just kept on lurching – with all the ‘third ways’, and oh-so-deep wheeler-dealer commission salesmen like John Key calling himself “centre-right.”  He probably had no idea.  Our governments

Eleanor-Roosevelt-declaracion-universal-de-los-derechos-humanos.jpg

Eleanor Roosevelt holding the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights

since 1984 (the year, not the book – confusing coincidence that??) have leapt so far to the right that they could no longer look at this UN Declaration and presume that they were in any way directed by the people-centred moral rudder it provides.

It was as if we tore up our UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and began working on some Declaration of the Rights of the Powerful and Never mind the Rest.

Faced with the inevitable abuse and decline from such a shift in our moral compass, you have to speak.  The world needs its moral compass back.  It needs to think in human rights terms both for the people alive today and for those yet to be born.

That will be a particular challenge for the powerful commercial interests of the world, simply because you make more money – if that is your sorry obsession – by degrading the worth of tomorrow for the cashflow of today.  And you make more money – until the pitchforks inevitably come – by using your power to suppress the rights of people and the natural systems of the planet you would prefer to be defined as measured ‘resources’, mere ‘things’; means to your singular end.

David Orr wrote that these brain stem behemoths,corporate_palaeontology“… spawned gargantuan organisations with simple goals, roughly analogous to the body/brain ratio of the dinosaur … lack[ing] the ability to think much beyond business equivalents of ingestion and procreation.  The monomania drove out thought of the morrow, warped lives, disfigured much of the world, and dominated the intellectual landscapes.”

Such minds should not be in any position to rule.  They have no moral rudder, nor a shred of wisdom.  We have put the fools on a pedestal and called them statesmen.

Chris Perley
Thoughtscapes

Chris Perley has a background in embedding himself in our landscapes and fields, in management, policy, consulting and research relating to land use, the environment, provincial economies and communities.  He is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability.

Orr, D. 2002. The Nature of Design: Ecology, Culture and Human Intention. OUP, NY p69-70

Manaakitanga - mycommunities

The Perennial Philosophies of the world all involve treating people as people, as ends in themselves,  and never means to your own ends. Treating people as mere things, means, resources, is immoral.

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The Future of Belonging in This Place

This gallery contains 12 photos.

Beneath all the politics, increasingly shrouded in the mist that hide both truth and meaning, there lies the bedrock upon which our landscapes, our peoples, and our economy depend. They are philosophical. Everything depends on a philosophical base – yes, … Continue reading

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The Myth of New Zealand’s Strong Economy

I keep hearing the repeated emptiness that New Zealand has a ‘strong economy’. It has become a cliché, a soundbite that has become unthinkingly repeated, a lie that is now absorbed into the national psyche.

Homeless in NZI was writing something on the stupid economics of poverty (lost potential, so lost value, increased costs & anti-social behaviour, less money in the local economy, favouring the colonial corporates over local businesses, loss of democracy & therefore wisdom), and ended up writing about the Smoke and Mirrors deceit we keep hearing.

New Zealand’s economy is a cocaine-fueled rush, on a base without a future – a low wage, low value, low diversity, short value-chain, socially-degrading, environmentally-degrading extractive economy that suits the colonial/corporate model of Cecil Rhodes – take the cheap resources using slave labour, leave the environmental & social costs in the colony, and take the money and multiply it back ‘home’ to a country or a disconnected gated community far far away.

I ended up writing this ….

Child-poverty-inequality-2-June-c

The rise in child poverty & inequality from 1988 is a direct consequence of the emergence of the Neoliberal agenda imposed on New Zealand since 1984.  The economic negatives are considerable

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There are disconnects in New Zealand between the sobering stories of poverty, inequality, housing and child deaths from Third World diseases, and those who stand on podiums in suits claiming we have a ‘strong’ economy.  How can both coexist?  Isn’t an economy there to serve the wellbeing of us all?

These social costs associated with poverty and death are indicative of a number of things.  The economy is clearly not working as it should.  It self-evidently no longer serves us all; it serves the few who are increasingly disconnected, both geographically and psychologically.  Claims of merit rising and the poor choosing their own poverty are arrant nonsense, much like ‘trickle down’.

Most of us have become increasingly subservient servants to the economic beast.  It is

Rhodes - cheap resources & slave labour

Statesman, my arse

also self-evident from the smoke and mirrors and the denials of various problems that the current government does not care.  And all to further a frankly dumb economics of poverty that only serve the interests of the international corporate elite who are emulating a form of latter-day colonisation – cheap resources and slave wages.  Cecil Rhodes will be cheering from his Zimbabwean crypt.

In making these claims of a ‘strong’ economy, the government hopes that people will look away.  It hopes that their cynical – even deceitful – use of smoke and mirrors will work.

There is a danger in that approach.  The right wing propaganda machine of Lynton Crosby has already faltered. People began to laugh at Teresa May’s ‘strong & stable’ political tag line as it was increasingly exposed as empty blather.

And it is empty blather in New Zealand as well.  For instance, what growth we’ve had is due to immigration, house price rises and earthquake rebuilds, while the current direction of our low wage, low value colonial and increasingly corporate-dominated economy continues.  In that context, our economic performance has been worse than

Auckland house speculationordinary.

But on top of that mediocrity have come our social costs, including child mortality.  Some of us are involved in politics because we are determined that we have to change from our vicious cycle of mediocrity.

Similarly, the smoke and mirrors of ‘job growth’ ignore inconvenient definitions.  A one-hour, casual, temporary ‘job’ so common amongst the under-employed ‘precariat’ is markedly different than a permanent full time position.  But the spin-doctors hope that the public will interpret ‘jobs’ as full time equivalents. Meanwhile, under-employment has tripled since 2008, and the precariat grows and grows.

 

Rhodes - our duty to take it

It is our *duty* to take?

Perhaps the most ludicrous claim is the right’s non-inflation indexed wage growth that takes no account of the massive increase in top salaries and the static or decreased bottom.  On ‘average’, we’re told it’s all fine when it patently is not.

It really is time we looked deeper at where New Zealand’s economy is going.

============

You cannot look at our extractive increasingly outside corporate-owned and directed economy without hearing the distant echo of Cecil Rhodes. We are heading into a new colonialism.

Rhodes - Annex the stars

While the agent of power has changed, the ideas of superiority, entitlement, taking, exploiting, reducing of land and people to resources, even the ‘duty’ to take, is *exactly* the same.  The mega-corporate mind would annex the stars if it could.  These are the immoral sentiments of the gluttonous psychopath.

Chris Perley

Thoughtscapes

1st September 2017

Chris Perley has a background in the field, in management, policy, consulting and research relating to land use, the environment, provincial economies and communities.  He is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability.  He is a 2017 Green Party candidate for the Tukituki Electorate.

 

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Governance for the Many or Expedience for the Few

I’ve always been interested in the distinction between short-term expedience and long-term governance – between the technocratic narrowness that focuses on the quantitative and the broader strategic wisdom of knowing that culture and nature cannot be known through numbers alone.

The long & short term selfI’ve always been interested in the distinctions between types of commerce – distinctions apparently not recognised by those economists who put generic ‘firms’ in their models with assumptions of equal powerlessness and other complete nonsense.  I’m interested because I know that qualitative distinctions are vital.  I know of companies that do great and creative things within the local communities and environments to which they belong … and I’ve seen the extractive and exploitative mega-corporate types who live far from our local life, and who do not care whether they push our environment and society to the edge.  Their narrowness and short sighted view is the very reason for their lack of wisdom.  Their cult of entitlement blinds them to their own connections to this world we all share, like those in the 1789 Court of Versailles.

I’m interested because the latter extractors are dominating in our world, and we have right wing governments who are effectively their lackeys.  The extractive corporates now pay these parties to govern in their short-term and narrow interests, and provide them with the marketing apparatus to “manage the perception” and “manufacture the consent” of the voting public.

We have seen good governance eroded since 1984 and the rise of Neoliberalism.  The ‘Lord Market’ has become the governor of all, assumed to be all knowing, benevolent and wise, and encompassing of all things – including community and the planet itself.  How they could presume such scope is a reflection of both Neoliberalism’s ignorance and its fundamentalist quasi-religious arrogance.

Without the constraints we once imposed on the worst excesses of exploitative commerce, we have seen the short-term financial model of the corporate world completely replace the long-term governance model that cares for all, now and yet to be a-culture-is-no-better-than-its-woods.jpgborn.  And with the extra wealth generated for the already powerful by the freedoms to exploit provided by the Neoliberals, we have seen the perpetuation of the trend – a positive feedback accelerating us toward the edge – of the money from the Koch Bros, the Fays, Richwhites and Gibbs of our world supporting political parties that think only in short-term markets.

Deregulate those constraints on our opportunity to abuse, and call it freedom.  Privatise, and call it efficiency and wealth creation.  Pillage and call it progress.

Expedience begets extraction and exploitation, begets the money to finance your favoured political party, begets expedience …

As anyone knows when studying systems, positive (i.e. self reinforcing) feedbacks are potentially very destructive – vicious cycles, racing to the edge of the abyss.

There is a ‘logical’ rationale for thinking short term.

Cecil RhodesYou can become rich rather quickly if that is your thing.  In the short term, and if simply having more money in circulation or your own wee pocket is your aim, then exploitation of other people and the environment is ‘good’.  You can cut down all the Kauri forests as quickly as possible, take your ‘hard-earned’ cash, reinvest in drift netting some other distant place in which you have no interest in living, subjugate and colonise for cheap ‘resources’ and slave labour, and retire with a degree of smugness to a palace on a hill.  Cecil Rhodes’ Colonisation meets Corporate Globalisation.

It’s really good if more cash is the goal to ‘extract’ from the system, and have no regard for the continued functioning of that system once you have gone.  You do not even need to recognise the system, nor any value that is not measured as a dollar.  Beauty, belonging and love are not tradable commodities.  Functional integrity – the qualities that keep a system working now and forever – require a breadth of view far beyond the narrow technocrat looking at a computer screen.  After all, if you cannot measure them, do they really exist.

After retiring to your palace, you can even smoke a cigar and pontificate on why you are such a ‘good’ businessperson.  You live outside the world, disconnected, with no sense of reverence for something bigger.  This is the life of hubris, or Ozymandias, the King of Kings.  And without the humility that recognises the power of Papatūānuku Mother Earth, or the power of the people once stirred, you become the tyrant of our classical myths.

Ozymandias.jpgI once had an argument with one of those neoliberal economic acolytes who tried to tell me “the free market provides the best environmental solution.”  I explained that pillaging a forest is always better financially than attempting any for of sustainability.  I couldn’t believe he was taught that nonsense.  I despaired that such unintelligent and baseless beliefs were directing the policy of my own country.

There is another way.

In the long-term, if we are interested in the wellbeing of the world, local community and local economy, then our approach must be different.  We can recognise the bedrocks of the good life and a ‘good’ society.  We have a moral concern for others.  We build and maintain the functional integrity of the environment upon which community depends, and the functional integrity of community upon which the current and future economy depends.  We build legacies rather than destroy them.  We create rather than extract.

This is the role of good governance: the long-term view, the building of legacies; the caring for others and for our joint future.

Smith Beware commerce

But particularly, good governance has to get real.  It has to recognise the distinction between bad expedient commerce and good creative commerce; it has to recognise that there are those who would extract, colonise, commoditise and destroy for short-term personal financial gain.  They will do it simply because it pays to do so; because it pays to pillage.  Good governance must not only appreciate the nature of such commerce; it must also ensure that those Hyenas of Commerce be constrained.

This is not just the message and lessons of the ages – of our cycle of environmental, social and economic collapses into chaos – it is also the message from Adam Smith, whose ideas are used so selectively to justify their excesses.

Good governance recognises the short-term deal makers for whom they are, the destroyers of worlds.  Good governance recognises and builds upon our underpinning bedrocks of environmental and social function.

Good governance recognises the value and vital need for a healthy planet, and for the hope within communities and individuals, and for love.  Good governance knows that the values of local knowing and a sense of belonging cannot be measured in financiers’ spreadsheets, but are real for all that.  Good governance recognises the overriding moral rudder of providing the good life for the many, not the few, and for both the future and the now.

There is another truth.  Good governance is our choice.  We decide.  We could wait until the threshold is reached, but that is a very risky strategy.  The abyss can lead us into horrors from which we may not recover.

Or we can demand the change now.

Elections are very very important.  We can choose between good governance for the many and expedience for the few.

And the world has had quite enough of the tyrannical few.

Chris Perley
Thoughtscapes

Chris Perley has a background in the field, in management, policy, consulting and research relating to land use, the environment, provincial economies and communities.  He is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability.

lookfuture.jpg

 

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Alternatives to Conventional Economic Development: And the Philosophy of Not Realising our Potential

Reblogged because we need this debate. We are mining our legacies to make the numbers look good. “Real economic development requires first a rethink of these underlying conceptual metaphors they frame our debates.  We need a deeper discussion about the real nature of people and place, and of the key role of human values and the nature of powerful and destructive interests, and their failing ideas.”

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The Commodisation of Water and Life Itself

The commoditisation of life – humans as ‘work units’, as mere ‘things’, land as capital, produce as lifeless ‘pork units’ etc.  All the meaning reduced to the most basic measure; weight or volume or cost, at its worst undifferentiated by any quality or moral perspective that presumes there may be a moral obligation.  All the connection reduced to an ‘object’, an ‘other’, outside ourselves.  The objectification of life.

Commoditising life

Sarah Lazarovic

We have to reimagine our world before the mechanics in corporate offices and in our own Treasury completely destroy the essence of life they cannot even conceptualise in their own mind.  What you cannot see, you unwittingly destroy.

And then we have water …. we ought to reject any suggestion of commoditising it.  Listen to the indigenous philosophers – including the old European indigenes before Modernity burnt them at the stake – not the corporate traders or the neoliberal economists.  Reject completely the ideas of Nestlé chairman and former CEO Peter Brabeck-Letmathe that evil-begins-pratchett.jpgaccess to water should not be a public right,” in justification for Nestlé’s attempts to control aquifers around the world.  Commoditisation and any semblance of a moral worldview (and I do not consider today’s dominant economic utilitarianism as a relevant ethical base for governance in any way) are not easy bedfellows, especially where there is a combination of power and the pursuit of personal gain.

I made this very point about never treating water as a measured ‘thing’ for ‘sale’ at a recent Forest & Bird candidates meeting.  Neither commoditise, nor sell.  If you sell, ownership will likely concentrate to the powerful, and that natural system to which we belong is lost to us.

Rather, assess those that apply to join our community, into our ‘common’, into our own common vessel that is all that water is and does.  If they pass the test, give them the right to be part of our water story for a time if they demonstrate the right morals as virtues or duties of care and belonging (never mind their money or measured financial ‘utility’), even levy them for the use, fine.  But never commoditise and sell.  It is that approach that is the basic of commons thinking around the world.Water Sale

But keep your filthy Neoliberal hands (to paraphrase Roger Waters) off our water.

Commoditisation of water is based on a way of seeing the world that is completely false.

It is based on a 400 year old Western myth – Modernity – that has been blown to bits throughout the 20th century though used by all the ideologies of the day – Cecil Rhodes’ Colonialism, Il Duce’s Fascism, Hitler’s National Socialism, Stalin’s State Communism, Thatcher/Reagan/Douglas/Richardson/Keys’ Neoliberal Market Liberalism.  All essentially heartless and mechanical, oh so Modern constructs of life and policy.

All are ideologies based on untrue mechanical, reducible and deterministic fallacies.  Life as a machine.  Even people as ‘other’, categorised into simple dichotomies; black and white, good and bad, etc.

Resourcism

Resourcism – It’s running out fast

Such ‘resourcism’ thinking will kill us all unless we change, because it is based on no understanding of life as it is; its complexity, uncertainty, feedbacks, thresholds, etc.  It sees only measured cogs in their factory view.  It will tip us over all thresholds – social, economic & environmental because it is too busy operating the machine to look up and see the bull charging.

This deep set philosophical debate is at the very heart of our future; the return to philosophies of belonging and an ethics that rejects dollar measures of ‘utility’.

Dame Anne Salmond says it so well.

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“To treat freshwater as a commodity is to treat it as an object, based on a Cartesian split between mind vs matter that has been undone by brain science; subject vs object which has been exploded by quantum physics; and people vs environment which is confounded by the findings of the environmental sciences.

This is old, dead science, and non-adaptive.ANNE-SALMOND-350.jpg

Treating freshwater as a ‘resource’ providing ‘ecosystem services’, as though water was created for human purposes, echoes ancient myths in which men and women were ‘given dominion’ over the plants, birds and fish, and commanded to ‘subdue the earth’ (e.g. Genesis).

Like the old geocentric cosmos, this kind of anthropocentric thinking has no scientific basis.

We need to catch up with the insights of contemporary science, and see that freshwater is a vital element in an array of complex systems, human and non-human. To degrade and pollute freshwater puts those systems at risk, with severe impacts on human health and prosperity, among other negative consequences.”  

Anne Salmond

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Simply put, if we “subdue the earth,” we subdue ourselves.

And if we commoditise and sell our water, we sell ourselves.

Chris Perley
Thoughtscapes

Chris Perley has a background in the field, in management, policy, consulting and research relating to land use, the environment, provincial economies and communities.  He is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability.

 

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The Legalisation of Corruption – Bring back the Brown Bag Swap in the Park!

Why can’t we have the good old days back of honest corruption.  You know, brown paper envelopes filled with cash shifted between suspicious looking guys in trench coats, wearing sunnies.  Clever slights of hand in the kid’s playground at the local park, or, (Maxwell Smart voice), “ahh, the old swapping suitcases on the park bench trick.”
obviously-a-mafia-drop.jpg
Good ol’ day Mafiosi off to the Drop zone

Nowadays the unscrupulous use ‘legal’ means. It’s like a rerun of Godfather III where the Mafiosi becomes legitimate ….

And that is where Metiria Turei’s ‘illegal’ act clashes with the ‘legal’ world designed to extract from us all.  There are any number of situations.  Let’s consider:

– corporates helping to write the TPPA, or as ‘partners’ at Paris COP 21;

– or the legal tax havens, and legal transfer pricing so Apple NZ buys the right to use the Apple label from some set up in the Cayman Islands, or wherever & whatever, to ensure all the tax is paid in the Caymans, and sweet FA here;

– or the legal discussions between the Rupert Murdocks’ and the cabinet ministers to barter his good coverage for their privatisation – all legal;

– or the Saudi deals where Murray McCully and John Key make someone happy with a bundle of cash that makes sleaze just that little bit inadequate as a word, especially as Key cackles that “it’s legal! Haha” on Morning Report.

But the best one – you really have to admire those corporate lawyers who work for their Mafia and corporate clients (their combined dinner parties must be so much fun) – involves the contract in the white envelop delivered in the board room offices.  Quite legal.  Quite open.  Nothing to see here.

It’s the direct contrast with the envelope in the park.  Forget the brown.  Substitute a white A4, embossed with corporate letterhead.  Lots of countersigned signatures and legal tabs.  Sign … here.  And …. here.  And over the page …. here.  Set up a legal contract between a politician and the Oil & Gas sector for argument’s sake – I’m sure that never happens.  Here is $40K for this contractual intent.  Deliver us a report on – “oh, we’ll work out those details later.”  Nothing will be written, but it is understood that continued ‘consulting opportunities’ will be dependent upon you saying the right things in Parliament.

Because that is the way corruption works nowadays – legally.

Can we please go back to good old brown envelope honest corruption – where the trench coats are afraid of the SIS and the police?!

And then Metiria Pointing out some Disturbing Realities regarding Poverty and Dispossession

Corporate corruption.jpg

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a cartoon with a Merrill Lynch logo

Meanwhile a 23 year old silly who 24 years ago (!) struggled to feed her child and performed a sin of omission (do not tell the full story), and put her name down in another electorate to where she was living (as, from my comprehensive survey on our misspent youth – a hell a lot of us have done) – and is treated as beneath contempt because of the the view that it is all about being ‘illegal’.

It is not beneath contempt at all.  There is no need to condone it, but contempt ought in all fairness to relate much more to the morality and motivation of an act, not whether it as a status ‘legal’.  For heaven’s sake, slavery used to be legal, beating your wife and children, child labour, and never mind all the once illegal acts performed by ‘criminals’ like Henry David Thoreau, Mahatma Gandhi and Oscar Wilde.

That single criterion is far too black, white and simplistic.  That exempts us from looking deep into legal structure and root cause, at context, at the history of those who were once hanged or transported as indentured slaves for often desperate theft.  (Ahhh, good old legal slavery, how we miss that.)  We can unthinkingly avoid asking the question of what is the purpose of the law, and the question of whether it is achieving that stated purpose.

Why *do* we have the law?

That is not a rhetorical question.  It is a challenge.  The oligarchy don’t want us to think or talk about it.  They want you to repeat as a mantra “The law is the law,” as if it’s God’s stone tablet.  Their media will naturally jump all over anyone who questions otherwise.

So in open defiance, let’s talk about it.  “The purpose of the law is to protect the property classes from the mob,” was the hilarious call of the old judge in the 17th century historical comedies.

I don’t think that line is funny anymore.  Not even satirically.  I think it is becoming true … again.  In which case, the purpose of law is being once again subverted to suit the interests of the least lovely of men (in a gender neutral sense, of course – but they are, mostly).

We went from that old aristocracy where descent from a mafiosi-like William the Bastard Invader, ‘scourer of the North, mass murderer and stealer of just about everything’ is seen as some form of ‘merit’, to periods of robber barons, followed by a brief mid-20th century flowering with an actual focus on people and some semblance of a relatively enfranchised democracy, to today’s rising corporatocracy.  Naturally, corruption of that democracy is now legal again.  The law is the law, rings a little hollow in that context.

And that is very much part of the context surrounding the judgment of Metiria Turei, promoted by a media whose interests are the oligarchy (if you don’t think that is true, contrast the treatment of Mike Hosking with John Campbell – and thank heaven for Radio New Zealand, who survive despite the bloodletting).  The support for Metiria’s message while not condoning her acts is not about “you can’t have it both ways.”  It is not some hypocrisy where we do not condone illegal acts by the powerful but do condone illegal acts by the poor and dispossessed.

Firstly, Metiria has never asked for people to condone her acts.  Quite the opposite.  She did wrong, legally.  But she made the admission to highlight a context – how broken our system and our democracy has become.  She made the point of admitting and recognising the wrong without asking for anyone to condone the act, *and* without any attempt at justification based on the relative insignificance of that act.  Not once.  Meanwhile, in a boardroom done the road, someone was planning a meeting with a minister to discuss a few suggested policy tweaks, and a party donation – completely unrelated to each other of course.

And secondly, it’s not just the *illegal* acts of the powerful we ought to be judging.  People and the land are both ‘legally’ suffering for the ‘legal’ benefit of the very few and the very powerful.  And they influence legislation through ‘legal’ donations and ‘legal’ contracts.

Legal shenanigans are enough to occupy us, and frankly the more worrying because they indicate a deep and ravenous worm within the apple of our democracy.  I haven’t even mentioned their illegal tax frauds; the legal ones alone are enough to make you blanche.

 

Dorothea Lange - Poor Woman Great Depression.jpg

Depression Mother – Dorothea Lange

The powerful are rorting the system very well thank you through perfectly legal means.  If we take the view that “if it’s legal it’s fine,” then we miss that.  We give legitimacy to the immoral rort.  We conflate moral with legal; we make them the same thing when they patently are not in all cases (we would concede murder as both morally and legally aligned), and increasingly are not. We hide exploitation and dispossession behind a piece of thin paper as a veil beyond which you need not go in your mind.  That amounts to worship of rule without question; and, it follows, to the worship of whomever makes the rules, and for whomever they are made.

Behind that veil of rule and rulemaker worship, we have a system that now builds injustice.  We have those with near enough to a free ride to exploit people and the land for short-term profits (I say short, because it will not be in the long-term as such action eats its own future).  And then there are the other rules – labour rules, local democracy rules, welfare beneficiary rules, environmental rules – for the exploitees.

Our democracy has been shifting toward an oligarchy – a corporatocracy – for 33 years since neoliberalism was given its head in 1984 (which in turn gave the Hyenas of Commerce *their* head).

Take the attitude of ‘legal = good’ and ‘illegal = bad’ without consideration of context or the purpose and motivation of any act – and by association we condone the legal rorts of this world that are now – unhappily – the way the corrupt operate.

I’ll swap you One Hanmer drunk for Don Corleone – Well, not really, but I do have a Point.

The CorporationMany will remember that pathetic nobody National MP who got ‘a little wobbly’ in Hanmer (“Don’t you know who I am?!”).  Can’t remember his name, thankfully.  I’d love to know what that nice contract he had with the Oil & Gas sector actually said.

Though I’m sure there was nothing in there so incriminating as “you will further the interests of the Oil & Gas sector by all means possible via press releases, speaking in the House, representing our interests in Select Committees, keeping us informed of any government issues that may impact on our profitability and expansion within Aotearoa/New Zealand, and any other potential threat or opportunity over which you may have influence.”

No, it might be something about helping them choose the type of teaspoons recommended for the cafeteria.  And don’t worry about doing any work.  We’ll write it, and you add your signature ….. here.

Don Corleone was an honest man by comparison.  He was into good old fashioned brown-bag-on-the-park-bench corruption where there was no question regarding what it was; both morally and legally ….. wrong.  And if you cross me …. you’re dead.

And he liked cats and children.

Chris Perley
Thoughtscapes

Chris Perley has a background in the field, in management, policy, consulting and research relating to land use, the environment, provincial economies and communities.  He is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability.

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Reimagining Landscapes I: Rejecting the Machine

How do you separate the personal from the professional?  We are taught to deal in the ‘objective’, in measured things.  But the whole idea of reimagining how we look at landscapes – our so-called ‘working lands’ of farms and forests and beyond – surely opens us to a reimagining of what is the essence of knowing a place, a piece of land, as connected, always connected, to other forms of life (bio) and the other forms of material (physical).  What is a landscape?  We have to look to the wider system because whatever we do, we do to the whole; and we never do just one thing within a complex and connected system.

Why separate?  You cannot fully know landscapes if you do.  You cannot understand, and therefore cannot make the wise decisions without that sense of a functioning whole.  If you remove the children playing, or the caddisflies in the stream, if you do not extend the effects of fertiliser beyond mere pasture growth – on to soil biology and carbon, and then infiltration rates, and then drought, and then back to economic health, for just a start (I could go on and on) – then you are less wise, not more.  Your focus is the problem, not the solution.

All those connections and functions are part of the system.  The ‘cleverness’ of disassociated agronomy cannot compensate for the trade-offs it may create when applied without context.  Without the wisdom to make the right choice instead of focusing simply on, say, increasing inputs to maximise yields, or increasing scale to reduce costs – it cannot see the consequences that are obvious to those who can connect.  Reimagining includes ensuring you look to those patterns and connections beyond a single discipline.  Ask the question, “What else have we done?”  Because there is always something else.

Lines of connection and feedback ripple out from any act.  We’ve put on a pedestal the idea that we can think and act within a measured box, when there is no box.  The cleverness of any act is as of nothing beforeThe cleverness of the act the wisdom of the choice.  Looking at land as if it is a reducible machine has turned that truth on its head.  Disconnected cleverness has come to trump wisdom, and for each problem it creates, another piece of cleverness is devised; what Willard Cochrane called “the technology treadmill,” where the economic, social and environmental health of a place degrades until we lose Arcadia.  Agronomists and other technocrats ought to read Plato.  The story of Arcadia’s loss is being repeated not because technology is bad, but because it alone cannot make the right choices without a reimagined concept of the whole.

Arcadia

So look to land as an integrated whole.  People live in it.  Animals are born and die.  Energy flows from the sun to layers and side connections through all the trophic levels, through one gut to another, including when we die.  There are water patterns; harvest patterns.  There are spatial patterns where the grassland edges to woodland, which edges to wetland, and then to a stream, each vegetation cover with polycultural patterns of their own.

There are economic patterns where the profitable pasture in one area turns to the unprofitable in another.  There are multiple values where the woodland gully is both profitable and protecting; where ecological diversity is an economic benefit, and the wetland a giver of biodiversity, water regulation, recreation, stock health and more.

There are temporal patterns seasonal and through disturbance big and small.  There are thresholds of change, feedbacks, synergies where building diversity and pattern begets improved function begets social, environmental and economic benefits.

Those patterns move far beyond the biophysical function and health of the any landscape.  They impact on humanity in so many ways, both social and economic.  That is the great shame in looking at land as a factory.  The technocrat focused on one thing is more than likely disconnected from the good life, certainly from the rural sociology of degrading communities and the real price decline of commodities.  The solutions lie in the reimagining.  A healthy landscape can create free ecosystem gifts and reduced costs, as well as a marketing narrative and a price premium.  A functioning landscape can create diversity of enterprise because there is kai moana, the pheasants and birdsong have returned, and the landscape is beautiful on a horse.  The emergence of the something new.

By being told to keep to our discipline, and ignore the context of life itself, we both turn away from seeing and thinking about potential, and unwittingly degrade not just that potential, but what we have.  Taken to a place where there is no understanding of broader context, then analysis alone creates yet more dysfunction.  It destroys the connections and the functions it cannot see outside its own analytical bubble.  It imagines this discipline competing with that one over there; a necessary trade-off rather than a potential synergy.  The economist competes with the environmental scientist, ignoring and degrading the very basis of the economy.   The pastoralist may treat soils, wetlands and the woodlands as things to ‘improve’ in their own factory-orientated way,  ignoring and degrading the very basis of a resilient farm system.

So here is a direct reimagining challenge to my professional colleagues.  It is all right to care and to love.  No parent looks at a child ‘objectively’, and no one would suggest that such a view would make a parent wiser; it’s the very opposite.  And nor ought we look at our landscapes that way.   Our analytical tradition of the last few hundred years in the West is but a tool in gaining some aspects of knowledge, but it is not the essence of knowing.  Focus on patterns, functions, ripple effects and connections, including your own.

There are solutions to the decline in our landscapes, and the people and economies they support, that run far deeper than the endless treadmill of techno-fixes presupposing landscapes as machines.  We need to become wise again, and part of that involves re-embracing connection, and what it is to belong.  Embrace the personal.  Hell, celebrate it!  Dare to write a technical paper and mention the word beauty.

Podocarp Hardwood - Totara Walk Spencer Clubb

New Zealand Podocarp Hardwood forest.  Photo: Spencer Clubb

So here is something personal.  Our life creates the lens through which we presume to ‘objectively’ see.  I grew up on land, caught cockabullies and koura in the creek, threw dead lambs into the wetlands to watch the eels come, lambed my first ewe when I was only four, knew the cold places from the warm places, knew when to avoid the magpie trees.  I wanted to study forest ecology because I loved Ball’s Clearing as a child, a Podocarp Hardwood remnant sitting beneath the Kaweka Range in Hawke’s Bay.  The experience of that place was all the motivation I needed.  The sounds of wind in the canopy, boughs creaking, birds singing; diversity in pattern, colour and light.  The grandeur and beauty of height and dance. The smell – almost the taste – of the air.  The overwhelming sense of something being alive; something being literally wonder-ful.

And then I went to university and learned many things about ecological function and links to society and economy, but I had to hold those memories within because I was not taught about the patterns of light and the smell.  Perhaps you cannot teach an appreciation of art and beauty.  Or can you?  You can at least acknowledge it.

Here is the nub.  Our disconnected and mechanical view of landscapes in New Zealand that reduces irregular complexity to measured and homogenous regularity has led to the continued degradation of those landscapes.  Along with that degradation we have lost values vital to community and local economies for the short-term benefit of a few who do not even seek a life in that place.

A reimagined view of our landscapes can do the opposite; create multiple beneficial Gestalt tree & lionsfunctions; take the Gestalt and make it both.  We can restore environmental, social and economic health to place.  We can recreate the functions of water regulation to mitigate or avoid droughts and downstream floods.  We can improve aquatic ecological systems and water quality.  We can reduce the boom/bust cycle of feeder streams.  We can improve biodiversity and with it the economic and social values biodiversity gifts to us all.  We can increase input/output productivity, even increase the great god gross production, while reducing energy inputs and building deeply functional carbon banks, and reduce greenhouse gases.  We can increase the quality of produce and reverse real price decline.  We can improve the economy and resilience of farmscapes to the irregular events of climatic extremes and market shifts.

And when we do it from a reimagined worldview, there need to be no trade-off between the land, community and enterprise; just synergies.

So why hasn’t it happened yet?  Because the Modern ideas that dominate the minds of those who consider themselves ‘objective’ are the wrong ideas.  Those ideas, oh so ironically considered ‘objective’ and value-free, are deeply embedded within the culture of New Zealand land use.

The unsettling of America Berry.jpg

Wendell Berry was right to frame the crisis in American agriculture as “a crisis of culture.”  New Zealand is no different.  Unfortunately, the culture has shifted from one mode – the Modernity of Colonial thought – to another not dissimilar mode, the Modernity of Corporate Agribusiness.  Both have an interest in mechanical and homogeneous production systems (factories); cost-efficiency through scale rather than building free ecological gifts, value or diverse resilience; increasing production and throughput of a commodity; cheap ‘resources’; and the viewing of both people and landscapes as sets of those ‘resources to utilise’, rather than ‘potential to realise’.

Both impose those subjective reducible factory beliefs on our landscapes with the justification of supposedly ‘objectively’ measured reports.

We need to decolonise and decorporatise our minds before we can decolonise our landscapes.  That is where the problems lie deep.  Changing that mythology of machine, reimagining that, is where the solutions lie, hidden from sight.

 

Chris Perley

Thoughtscapes

 

Reimagining Landscapes II: The Biophysical Agroecological Argument

Reimagining Landscapes III: The Resilience Argument

Reimagining Landscapes IV: The Microsite Economic Argument

Reimagining Landscapes V: The Market Narrative Argument

Reimagining Landscapes VI: Rebuilding Decentralised Knowledge and Value Systems

Reimagining Landscapes VII: Breaking the Policy-Education-Research-Agribusiness Nexus

Chris Perley has a background in the field, in management, policy, consulting and research relating to land use, the environment, rural economies and communities.  He is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability.

Posted in Alternative Vision, Land Use, Land use strategy, Landscape function, Reimagining, Thought Pieces, Ways of Seeing | Leave a comment

Trust … in our Economy

The current government is claiming a rockstar economy – never mind that most of the activity is a bubble (immigration, earthquake rebuilds & house price rises raising aggregate demand, while we still aim for 3rd world production systems producing cheap products with cheap labour and lowering environmental and social standards).

Meanwhile they degrade the social capital, and focus on the corporate commodity (cheap high throughput cost focus factory approach) rather than high value, long value chain, local ownership and batch processing.

And the degraded environment is exactly the opposite of what we need to sell at a high price into discerning markets. Dumb economics.  Reblogging.

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The Wisdom & Sanity of Indigenous Thinking

I read this line from a multicultural anthology of how we relate to the places within which we live.
 
“… helping us move toward a new sanity and an old wisdom in our relationship with nature.”  Barnhill, D.L. (ed) 1999, p xiii
 

I think that the raising of both “sanity” and “an old wisdom” is so interesting.  We are living within the sociological delusion (the insanity) of Modernity – all machines, reductionism, resources, predictability and determinism.  Cut up and live vivisection the mechanical dog – do not worry about the cries.  It is only the mechanics of the soulless thing emitting a sound.  All part of the machine.  

Live vivisection Emile-Edouard Mouchy, 1832.jpg

And then we do that to the land, and to communities. ‘Otherise’ and reduce everything to parts, as disconnected from self.  Ignore the cries as merely the market at work, all rationality and meritocracy.

From that worldview, there is no reason to judge the destruction and exploitation of those mere things – people, community, land, soil, water, forests, the air, fish, the sea.

Live vivisection. Emile-Edouard Mouchy, 1838

 

 
The claim to “an old wisdom” is also interesting.  Modernity presumes a superiority of wisdom.  Aristotle doesn’t agree.  His intellectual virtues put mechanical thinking many pegs below the practical wisdom of place and knowing the good goal.  It doesn’t matter how technologically clever are your ‘means’ (the whaling technologies demonstrated within Melville’s Moby Dick) if your purpose – your ‘end’ – is mad (the irrational revenge on the white whale Moby Dick).
 

Study the old pre-modern or indigenous philosophies of all the tribes – from Oceania to Asia, the Americas and Europe – and there are similarities.  An enchantment as well as a connection, a belonging.  A humility that there are bigger things outside ourselves.  They are strong on purpose and connection whatever their technologies.  
prometheus & fire
I’m not suggesting a complete return to the pre-Modern and a complete rejection of Modernity.  We have gained much.  But we have also lost much.  Modernity is at that point (the darkest hour before the dawn?) where technology sans wisdom seems all the rage – “Go STEM young man!”

It is the voluntary plucking out of eyes, led by the already blind, disconnected and unaware of the enchantment, beauty and potential of our people and place.  

Now we have the most dangerous of things; the Promethean capacity to destroy, without the wisdom of purpose and connection tempering how we act. 

The cleverness of the act

 
 

It’s what we’ve lost that may turn out to be the critical thing determining our future.  

Our connection to things, working toward appropriate ends and wisely choosing between the means to achieve them, in this particular place, at this particular time.  Aristotle’s Phronesis (Practical Wisdom).  A form of Indigenous Thinking, the prerequisite being that we belong. 

The cleverness of the act is as of nothing before the wisdom of the choice.  That’s the new sanity *and* the old wisdom.

Chris Perley
Thoughtscapes

 

Barnhill, David Landis 1999.  At Home on the Earth: Becoming Native to Our Place, A Cultural Anthology.  University of California Press


Chris Perley has a background in the field, in management, policy, consulting and research relating to land use, the environment, rural economies and communities.  He is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability.

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Listening to the Discordant Harmonies of Land

I have stood on hilltops in the south and felt the bone-biting blast of Antarctic winds. I have felt the difference between that and the relief you get when you shift to a space three to four tree heights out from a shelterbelt, or mid way down the sunny lee slope. I’ve felt the climate shift from winter to spring in 150 metres.

Catlins tops.jpg

I’ve watched stock move in the morning from their night camp on the northeast of the ridge, sheltered from the winds, then work the gentler tops and spurs before heading down the face for the valley, and then back up to the ridge with the waning of the day to escape the coming frost and catch the early sun.  The face a route, not a place to be until the feed grows short on the best places.  I’ve worked with stock GPS collars and mapped the patterns on a page.  I’ve watched stock seek out shelter and shade at times, and not in others, and lamb in the dumbest places.  I’ve watched some respond by planting trees, and others who prefer “the good clean farm.”

I’ve looked at how the height, form and species of trees in a natural woodland shift with topography and edge.  I’ve seen pines grow only to the height of the dunes,

McBride Flood Taranaki

buds sheared by salt-laden gales, ancient and sculpted to the land.  I’ve seen them in the depth of dissected gullies reach for the sky.

I’ve seen cattle bogged in a wetland; desperate rescue efforts with a tractor and a chain.

I’ve been woken from a deep sleep by a big slip on a back face that should never have been in grass.  The land growls.  I’ve been woken by the sound of a grandmother Rimu falling on a calm night – just its time to die.

I’ve seen gorse cleared in gully systems for yet more grass, and the stock travel there once for every five times they

gorse on facesfeed on the ridges and valleys.  I’ve seen the gorse come back, and seen the helicopters fly to douse it again with chemicals to clear it once more – because there is a god called grass … and then again …

…. because you get no wisdom in the classroom, only the capacity – or not – to learn lessons for yourself.  Lessons that sink into your soul come from your observation, not from taught commands, and if you do not observe the patterns and music of the real world outside the theories, you do not learn.  I’ve seen those educators who open the capacity of minds and souls to see and think and be, and those that close them.

I’ve seen creek banks falling, and streams in flood snaking like a garden hose on the lawn, cutting and gouging a wadi out of the bottom lands – scouring away all that is good.  I’ve seen streams filling with soil like an arterial spurt from the land.  Blood you won’t get back in your lifetime or those of your kids.

Whitehead the flux of things

Shifting conditions in time and space. The patch dynamics of ecology.
Interrelationships. Patterns. Linkages. Multiple function and polycultural forms. Uncertainty and combinations of indeterminism and chance.

Variations and patterns in production of pasture.  Variations in woodlands and trees.  Variations in how animal and vegetable combine, in how water meets and moves.  Variations in the species mix, where the ‘weeds’ appear and where the ryegrass hold in, and doesn’t.  Patterns of birth and death.  Variations in the costs of care.  You don’t just see these patterns, you feel them.  And you can music when you feel.

Flux! Though we’re not always taught about the Whitehead the-flux-of-things-is-one-ultimate-generaliza-image-black-backgrounddominance of that integral experience of flux; the dominance of diverse pattern and interrelation creating something new with each step and breath; the difference in the combinations of things and which one drives the system – on this day, in this hour, in this patch.

Discordant Harmonies.  One of those books that makes you go “Yes!  This is what I see.

We’re told to presume in most cases a regularity, all the better to formulate, to predict, to regulate, to measure, to control, to command.  A presumed regularity in all things, which – like Dark Matter – isn’t necessarily there.

We’re told to prefer the one function, and make it one form. We’re told to push the complexity into something that suits the less patterned monochromatic view of life …. as a machine.

Chris Perley

Thoughtscapes

Chris Perley has a field experience, management, policy, consulting and research background in land use, rural economies, environments and communities, and is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability.

 

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Instead of Dam Thinking from the 50s, Look to the Landscape

Reblogging because this article is far less about the Ruataniwha Dam than it is about shifting our gaze away from the idea that we cannot change the paradigm of land use, and so we demand more dams, more fertiliser, more technofixes, more industrial thinking. But the solutions lie in the land. In rebuilding a healthy land. And that is good for family-owned farms as well. All the rhetoric toward the big technology solutions are motivated by a way of seeing the land and communities and the environment and what farming is, as all cogs in a factory. It is visionless.

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Confessions of an ex-Public Servant: Watching the slow death of the Public Sector

Remember Geoffrey Palmer suggesting we need an it-is-not-power-that-corrupts-but-fear-aung-san-suu-kyi.jpginquiry into the public service in 2014?  Low morale and the fear culture which gets in the way of “free and frank advice without fear or favour” were some of the issues.  There were no surprises in Palmer’s comments for me.  I wrote this blog for The Daily Blog in Winter 2014, herewith very slightly edited.  Nothing has improved.  The underlying ideas are still prevalent.  And now we have Trump, whose own fear, and that fear he creates, corrupts.


Back in the 16th century, good Queen Bess said to her Privy Council of advisors something along the lines of: “I want your free, frank advice, without consideration of fear or favour.” In other words, tell me what you think, and don’t expect either a new estate, or a beheading. New Zealand inherited those traditions.

The public service was born.

In the New Zealand of 1988, they smothered it.

In 1988 that Elizabethan Privy Council ethos, that moral compass of professional independence and at least an attempt at recognising practical wisdom as a virtue, was subjugated to the new world order of Treasury and the quasi-religious faith in the Lord Market.

The State Sector Act of 1988 was the tool, implemented by the Lange-Douglas government of 1984-1990.  But it was only the tool.  The real culprit was the new ideas, Human Resources - the pot-bellied man Sam Mahon.pngthe new concepts through which we ought to determine policy: rational choice theory; a world ruled by personal gain, not a sense of community and individual purpose; a world in which all interactions are essentially transactional market exchanges – such as selling my obedient labour for your desired outputs – a focus on ‘resources’ and things, not people and purpose.

The Cult of Treasury was on the rise, and, lacking as that cult does in any self-reflection through the usual philosophical tests – clearly false assumptions, poor logical structure, observed contradictions in the real world, logical consequences that are untenable – it remains so.

This rigidity of dominant ideas, dominant concepts through which we see, was well articulated by Jane Jacobs[1].  She argued that the entrenched and false metaphorical concepts that underlie so much of what we assume are ‘rational’[2] processes, are only finally brought down when the real world provides the ultimate test – an irrefutable collapse.

When the consequences in the real world come slowly – over decades or even generations (think climate change, planetary resource limits, an economic theory based on false assumptions, as well as the destruction of the functional core of the public service, etc.) – then:

“it is seldom the evidence itself that is slow to appear; rather, observers are blind to evidence or emotionally can’t bear to credit it. This is why the crashing of the Berlin Wall was required as an exclamation point, after unheeded evidence of many decades reported that Marxism was untruthful as an economic theory.”

Jacobs argued that the salient mystery is when culture discards something that is vital , and replaces it with an amnesia. And then the slow decay begins, until some exclamation point or other is reached.

the-salient-mystery-of-dark-ages-sets-the-stage-for-mass-amnesia-people-living-in-vigorous-jane-jacobs-240062She thought that the situation is made worse by our change in focus within ‘education’ toward mechanical principles of measured standards, obedience, and dealing at the level of outputs rather than values.  She argued that, at least in the Anglo-American world, changes to our education systems are reducing our capacity to make change prior to an irrefutable – and potentially disastrous – wake-up call.  The mechanical technocrats have raised ‘credentialing’ (whether as ‘standards’ or degrees) above education’s purpose to further the capacity in our people to see, create, engage, dialogue and think.  They replace the culture of society with the machine.

Neo-liberalism presents itself as the champion of freedom and choice and the individual, but its modus operandi is highly centralising and controlling.  It is strikingly similar to some state interpretations of Marxist solutions in many ways: mechanical and impersonal in construct; hierarchical and authoritarian in practice; accumulative of power (though with different beneficiaries; states vs. corporates and the super rich); marginalising of alternative thought and dialogue especially where it involves critique of its inner workings; and relying upon ‘rational’ utilitarian ethics rather than concepts of socially-cohesive virtues or duties.

The question is, do we have to wait for the real-world ‘exclamation point’ to recognise the problem and change, or can we demonstrate an ability to think our way out?

Calls for reflection seldom come from within the group

Kennedy people need to be informed

The principle of being ‘free and frank without fear or favour’ is a fundamental tenet – a vital cultural norm – of both the media and the public sector – increasingly lost since 1984.

zealously committed to the era of neo-liberal reform, though we do have thought leaders who will question.  Back in February 2014, former Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer called for a royal commission of inquiry into how we could make the public sector better.  He was making the challenge because the public service is not in good shape.  He specified how it was failing, and he pointed the finger directly at that State Sector Act of 1988 as the cause of that failure.  He claimed that some of the reasons why things are not good in the public service world are due to the rise of managerialism and the cult of the all-powerful Chief Executives, the loss of expertise, and the appalling morale.  Then he outlined some possible issues and options that an inquiry might consider.

 

Sir Geoffrey’s highly logical thesis caused a ripple of concern for a nanosecond or two.  A few ex-public servants got a little excited for a while.  I was one of them.  And then the damp squib went out.

Which rather highlights Jacob’s thesis above.   The dying of the damp squib of concern and the restoration of amnesia makes doubtful whether we can make any necessary change without a potentially very nasty ‘exclamation point’.

We certainly cannot expect it from Treasury.

A personal journey

Back in the 1990s, less than a decade on from the State Sector Act that started all the destruction of the public service – and I mean ‘service’ – one of my policy colleagues was a respected ex-MP.  I gently chided him over office coffee of the powdered kind that perhaps the worst thing the 1984-1990 Labour government did was enact this State Sector Act.  I know, a big call given the destruction and corporatisation of old operational departments, but hear me out.

He would politely riposte with talk of ‘efficiency gains’, ‘accountability’ and ‘greater George-Orwell Newspeak.jpgeffectiveness’; all cliché-laden Orwellian Newspeak non-thought Big Bertha PR leaflet barrages that seem highly meaningful to those that just love the metre and rhythm of 10-second sound bites. I’m unconvinced he believed any of it, but loyalty runs deep.

All this jargon was part of the conceptual framework embraced by some of the zealots of a neo-liberal economic persuasion – corporatise, deregulate, ‘reform’ by redesigning every social space using the market transaction and machine metaphors (spaces that were not acknowledged as ‘social’ but rather a collection of individuals acting selfishly), and privatise.

Key to that agenda was to bring the same principles to bear on the public sector, to rebuilt it in the image of the corporation; ‘efficient’, focused on its bottom line, delivering of its outputs as defined by the chairperson (Minister) and directed through the Chief Executive Officer (who were once called Director-Generals, Secretaries, and in local government, Town Clerks).

Stan Rodger, the State Services Minister at the time, or at least his speechwriters, put it this way:

“There is scope for improving efficiency in the public sector. This will increase our ability to reduce the government deficit, lower taxes, and provide income support and social services for those least able to help themselves. In the case of trading operations inefficiency can represent a tax on their customers. The essence of the problem is that the public sector needs to be adapted to meet the management needs of a modern economy. The present environment can be frustrating not only for those who have to deal with public sector organisations but also for those who have to work in them.”[3]

So the public service was painted as unresponsive, old-fashioned, out of touch with the ‘modern economy’ and wasteful.  There was undoubtedly scope for some better performance, even though he chose not to define what ‘efficiency’ meant.

Some challenged his view by pointing out that we could ‘efficiently’ destroy an ecosystem with a bulldozer rather than a shovel, so any concept of ‘efficiency’ had to be qualified to have any meaning.  You can be ‘efficient’ of cost by centralising all functions into one city – Wellington – better still, one building.  That may be true on the spreadsheet, and is certainly easier to control ‘human resources’ and count beans and measure their obedience, but it doesn’t make it more ‘efficient’ in a ‘quality of real world policy making sense’, nor ‘effective’ in terms of delivery and outcome.  It is highly likely to make the whole thing worse.  Well …. so it has.

Others pointed out that you can take accountability to the bean-counting point where most people employed either collect beans or count them, and that beyond a certain point of monitoring, the whole charade turned into a wasteful, rigid, non-thinking nonsense.  The early 20th century French had perfected this government bureaucracy, and here was New Zealand doing the same, while claiming it was all going to turn out as wonderfully effective administration.

Yet others pointed out that much accountability was more about covering your own butt by putting the brain in neutral and blaming the model and obedience to the assigned task rather than having any care or commitment to actual outcomes.  Heaven forbid you encourage judgment and the can-do attitude to local context and change over time when the situation demanded it.  Far from being more thoughtful, responsive, knowing, wise and engaging with the public in the face of a complex world, the public service has become less of all of those capacities. Sir Geoffrey was right to raise his concerns.

John Ralston Saul lambasted what he referred to as this ‘Dictatorship of Reason’ in his book Voltaire’s Bastards.  His examples of top heavy, hierarchically and status-orientated administrative minds stifling those with the ability to think and judge within any real localised context, are more than persuasive.  They are also darkly amusing, as long as you don’t dwell on the horror and death perpetrated by puffball Colonel Blimps.

The ‘management needs of the modern economy’ suggested by Stan Rodger now ring like a line from 1984.  You cannot help but smile in recognition, and reach for the Bullshit Bingo formdilbert-bingo[1]; similar to when someone mentions ‘trickle down’.  Stan’s cliché de jour – now so hackneyed that only those with robot-like Don Brash artificial intelligence do not smile – demonstrates a faith.  Treasury and the State Services Commission – and Stan was then Minister of State Services – believed truly that a corporate-style dictatorship staffed by people who know less and less about any specific field – whether education, health, or innovation – would create better outcomes by focusing on quantitative outputs, performance measures, obedience and rigid annual project plans.

I know this, because Treasury and State Services came and told us so.  In the most bizarre of meetings, straight out of Monty Python or Yes, Minister, we sat in a room while being told that those of us with practical and professional expertise in a field, in my case relating to the management, strategy, economics, environment and sociology of rural land use – were likely “captured by the sector.”  I wrote it down.  I had apparently transmogrified into an alternative reality, with a new set of alternative facts.  These people with their Vogon logic are still there.

We were told by those people dripping in a quasi-religious faith worship of monumental proportions, that we were not “objective” in our policy advice, because we had had dirt under our fingernails.  We might even care.  Values have got in the way.  On the other hand, a commerce degree that specialised in not questioning its own assumptions and completely ignored society or anything other than selfish utility measured in dollars …. was completely different.  Especially economics degree recipients who had never worked anywhere in the real world where they might be “captured”; give us raw potential with an honours degree, ripe for Treasury Truthspeak and the imparting of more economic ‘objectivity’ as prescribed by a model replete in untenable value-laden assumptions (which had – apparently – no corrupting values at all).  You may shake your head, but this happened.

Who needs knowledge, judgment and personal purpose of service if you are a robot to hierarchical order and you are defined by job descriptions and project plans. People became as substitutable as cogs and widgets.  You were not a person, you are a ‘human resource’, substitutable of course.

Following neo-liberal ‘logic’, poor public service performance must be so because their faith presumes that not only is the public sector staffed by individuals who have neither ethos nor purpose outside their selfish selves, but it is a service existing outside the magic influence of the Lord Market.

public_service ethos.jpg

Some of the Principles and Ethos that attracted many to the public sector … except those in Treasury of course.  They are selfish, utility-maximising, asocial, all-knowing and rational automatons in dark suits.

Never mind the evidence that the performance of the public sector relative to the goals with which it was tasked suggested that it was good in practice, it just didn’t work in theory.  It must be bad, so it is.  Using this devastating logic, the proponents within Treasury made a relatively competent public sector worse, when if they had bothered to understand the complex role and purpose of the sector – as a vital cultural ‘asset’ (to use a word Treasury might understand) in a viable democracy – it could have been made better.  But if there is no such thing as a society, just a collection of individual ‘human resources’ acting dispassionately within the economic machinery some apparently call a life, then there is little hope of any recognition that there is such a thing as ‘vital culture’, let alone consideration of it.

Sir Geoffrey’s call for reform is highly valid, but any chance of reforms achieving a positive outcome is dependent upon refuting the ideas that underpin the reforms of 1988.  That means not listening to the neo-liberal ideas of Treasury.  That effectively means reducing Treasury to counting beans, which they appear relatively competent at doing.

 

Chris Perley

Thoughtscapes

Chris Perley has experience in the field, management, policy, consulting and research with a background in land use, rural economies, environments and communities.  Chris is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability.

 

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[1] Jacobs, J. 2004. Dark Age Ahead. Random House, NY Chapter 4. Science Abandoned. p66

[2] By ‘rational’, Treasury prefers that there is little context involving shifting qualities or personal experience (staff with practical experience are ‘biased’, whereas those without real world context are apparently wise beyond compare) or, heaven forbid, morality beyond $-focused utilitarianism to sully the purity of the quantitative model.

[3] http://www.ssc.govt.nz/decade-of-change. Accessed 5th June 2014

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Reimagining the Potential of Landscape I: Start with the Deeper Story

This is a paper in two parts, or perhaps three.  This first part looks to some of the mechanical assumptions within New Zealand’s colonial land management, and a glimpse at the potential by shifting that view.  There is so much potential within that shift for a better economy, and for a better place within which New Zealanders can belong and create.  The second part will be practical – examples of woodland synergies in gully systems and side faces.

I may include a third part on the loss of wisdom that comes from being a colony founded in the days when Modernity was all the rage – all ‘resources’, racial destiny, and land, animals (and inevitably humans) treated as machines, one consequences being that live vivisection is somehow a defensible act.  I have spoken about how we as European colonisers rejected most of the old traditions from whence we came; those traditions that connected us to land and where the wilful destruction and degradation of the commons by the powerful was never without serious challenge and disapproval. (They could not sustain their rationalised horror of live vivisection thank goodness.)

We in New Zealand embraced a dubious destiny and made a factory mirroring the monocultures within colonial minds.  Our country – however romanticised for its declining beauty – is a most ‘Modern’ mechanical Cartesian space where life and land is reduced in meaning to one thing or another, made more so because a colony is a Tabula Rasa – a blank slate – for the dominant voices of the exploration age, importing technocratic extremes uncontested by those dreamer romantics and the wiser indigenous philosophies of either European or Maori tribes.  

The extremes of partition, othering, allocation, monocultural specialisation of this or that where combinations are seen as sub-optimal and where ‘either’ and ‘or’ leave no space in minds for ‘and’.  So we have grass from fence to fence with all the woodland cut and the wetlands drained, because – in the mind of those who cannot see potential synergies – that is the way it must be for the sake of delusion of ‘efficiency’.  And so we lose what we can not imagine.  Oh how the Modern mind blinds itself; oh how these extremes of partitioned and segregated parts – all the murdering to dissect – are now not even seen as extreme, simply normal.  It is a very strange normal in which we live.

What we have done to our country wouldn’t – I would argue – have been permitted in a Europe that – as Bruno Latour famously wrote – has never been Modern, has never fully embraced the soullessness of reducing live and land to machine of cogs. It also would not have been permitted if our own Maori cosmology and philosophy had held sway over the minds of those who cared less for belonging to this new land and its communities than for the adventures of colonial opportunism.  The colonial mind is a distant mind.  It not only doesn’t seek to belong, it positively works against the very idea of one ‘object’ being part of the other.

It’s part of the reason why we should seriously question any romanticisation of colonisation.  In the past and in its current form perpetrated by those who think only of power and money ‘legally’ taking what belongs to others, it represents a dispossession not just of the ‘natives’ of a land, but also of the sense of belonging and moral perspective of the colonisers themselves.  Decolonising is not just an agenda for the dispossessed, but for those who did the dispossessing.  

How we look at land cannot be anything other than a personal journey, and I make no apology to my profession for that.  It is the professions that need to get off their delusions that they see the world through an objective lens.

landscape-nature-mist-valley-morning-forest-farm-field-trees-hill-748x468


This is a personal story.  I think all stories are that, including the ones we present in our ascendant academic annals of objectivity and rationality.  It is best to be up-front about TRUTH-300x225our stories of how we see the world – and why – and to expose in the light what lies deep beneath any position – examined or otherwise.

Those academic annals are filled with stories too, with deep-set personalities, their ways of seeing the world. The best examine those beliefs, because truth is I think good, though I can provide absolutely no objective proof to that effect.  Lots of rationale, yes.  Proof, no.  That is what we ought to strive for I think – in my completely subjective opinion – an understanding, a ken, a knowing.

I am increasingly of the opinion that we don’t get that within any belief in the mechanics of uniformity and reduction of the complexity of life to some simple mathematical algorithm. We throw out the baby, and rationalise those things that will ensure our evolutionary end, because we have placed hard technique Where-we_re-coming-from - what lies beneathabove the wisdom of intimacy and connection.

Those ways of seeing are always a part of everything we speak and write, including the ‘professions’, perhaps especially the professions!  I was taught at university to view agricultural land in one way, but it grated like a discordant note against my own lived-in experience, intimacy and love of land.  The rationality I was taught was no more objective than the rationalising of a prior belief by an implicit appeal to the authority of an idea – partitioned Cartesian Modernity in particular.  Most people simply ignore those hidden depths, and presume they are seeing the world clearly.  They then function through an unexamined life, seeing this way because that is how we were taught.

Building the Lens Through which we see the World

My story is about digging down into the roots of how we see our land.

I was lucky in a sense.  The first learning is the experience of childhood, where you build connection and belonging.  You do not like your favourite patch of bush and the very best Tadpoles in a jartadpole pond destroyed (rationally) in pursuit of something called progress.  What do those people know about the feeling you get when you come out covered in duckweed with an Agee jar filled with tadpoles, or when you lie still in a podocarp-hardwood forest?  Isn’t that feeling part of the search for truth as well?

I started the professional life with the study of the broad sciences and first principles underlying forest systems, essentially an ecological systems view, the geography of these places, their history, their multiple functionality and meanings.   I was taught that there was no ‘right’ way to manage a forest, no right goal; that depended on the context, and on people.  What were their goals and constraints, what were their frameworks and their particular conditions.  Go seek context before you act.  It included being taught those agronomic and technical mechanics of assessing the relevant parameters of a site, its establishment, forest health, growth and harvest; but the deeper frameworks enabling strategic thinking within a context were always strong.

My experience of further studies in agriculture was in stark contrast.  I had studied for my forestry honours the complexity and connections of arboreal shelter systems within farmscapes.  At Lincoln College those shelterbelts – so essential for the risk reduction and shelterBelts Canterburyfunction of the mixed farms of inland Canterbury – were pointed at by an agronomy professor while chanting an empty and highly ignorant cliché, “a waste of good land.”  I felt as though he looked at me with a withering eye.  It was downhill from there.

There was only one prime focus and that was agricultural production – usually through more inputs – without any sense of the rhythms of land, or the environment, or the doomed strategy of commodity production to “feed the world.”  There was no thought of qualitative and broad strategy, just measured and narrow technocracy.  The point that in order to function well both science and technology needs art and a moral view, was missing.

There was no base of thought in the ways that an ecosystem dances across time and place.  No history.  No multiple functionality of land.  No social connection.  No environmental connection.  A mechanical, narrow, short term, reductionist and highly technocratic approach to one of the most complex of things in the world – land and the communities embedded in them.  Reduce land to quantifiably regular, people to measured costs, and disregard anything hinting at a complex systems view of life; the contingent and conditional.  And never mind art.

Forget the dance of land, the music of land.  Emphasise the march, and the soulless maddening drone of a single note.  It was physics envy; a search for the Newtonian laws of agronomy, the ‘rational’ pursuit of a mad end.  It is not only some economists who suffer from physics envy.  It is not only Time lapse danceeconomists that would benefit from seeing the world as a constantly dynamic, adaptive and complex ecosystem rather than some Modern Cartesian dream of the machine.  I’ve been trying to climb off the damn thing ever since.  But the machines are everywhere, welcoming you to the cubical and the assigned marching order of what some call a life.

The irony was that while the agronomic minds were convinced of their rational pursuit of positive ends, they were advocating things that had negative consequences for people, the land and the farm enterprise that I thought were obvious.  They destroyed the opportunities they could not see.  In the field, I shut my notebook often at some nonsense and looked around, while most people blithely scribbled on.

Woodlands on Farms

I was particularly interested in how most agricultural academics looked at woodlands within farms, and taught how they should be seen.  In simple terms, any woodland, whether forests or reverting shrubland, was apparently bad because it was not part of the ‘effective’ farm area.  A reverting gorse gully is ‘a waste’, not some indicator of a potential alternative to some poor grass, erosion and stock aversion.  Wetlands were in a similar boat.  Forests at least could be ‘crops’, but only if you factored in the ‘opportunity cost’ of having the areas taken out of pasture.  Pasture and agricultural crop was the baseline reference point from which all other alternatives were assessed.  That is so different and so much more myopic that a base that looks at the economic, environmental and social functions of a landscape as the reference point.

What I learned appalled me.  Lots of numbers justifying the either-or view that putting say 15 percent of your land in trees meant you would lose 15 percent of production, and an even higher percentage of your profit.  That’s complete nonsense!  Apparently, if you plant trees – or establish a wetland – you lose because it isn’t pasture, and so you have to include an opportunity cost as a charge on top of that alternative, that isn’t even there in the real world.  They failed to see the costs because so many were hidden as indirect costs when they are in fact very directly associated with any particular site.

So never mind that the the two cattle beast you lose every year in the bog – because stock losses

Gully system Northern HB.png

Wetland, Northern Hawke’s Bay, where stock once went to die

are in the ‘overheads’ column undirected to that site, so doesn’t count in the Gross Margin analysis you use that includes the $500 one off cost of a fence! You may see the one-off cost, but not the perpetual savings made – you see the $500, but not the annual loss of $3000.

The particulars of any one site are lost in the averages you presume.  Never mind that the areas put in trees by farm foresters are not the average of any farm – they are those areas where low production, high cost, land use problems and environmental sensitivity all combine, and where woodlands and trees provide shelter and other benefits.  A win-win, not a win-lose.

We can design a landscape of synergies by building a self-organised, low-input, low risk, and profitable agro-ecological system.  But first, you have to be able to see the picture smacking you in the head.

Report after report by the professionals within agriculture used an assumption of uniformity and complete disregard for landscape patterns that simply isn’t true.  You don’t get an either-or loss by putting woodlands in farm systems unless you are a complete idiot.  I knew it wasn’t true.  I had grown up with a father discussing the consequences to land and stock from over-enthusiastic land clearances, as well as the importance of stock health and therefore the environment within which they ate and sheltered from the storms and the sun.  I had been exposed to a few old and venerated farm foresters who had come back from the war and made a song out of some very hard land indeed …. with trees.

Yet all these agricultural farm-forestry reports going back into the 1970s coming out of the Department of Agriculture and the agricultural colleges that I collected all said the same thing – it can only be done at a cost.  The opportunity cost approach to trees and wetlands within landscapes.  All they saw was loss of opportunity and reduction in scale efficiencies of the ‘factory’.

Where was the reference point to healthy landscape function, to healthy land, to good land management?  I saw a similar unseeing delusion when researching and presenting on drought within farmscapes.  Many agricultural advisors simply saw drought as a function of lack of rain, resulting in less grass, so destock.  Making the land sing by managing it as a system?  What nonsense are you spouting?!

When discussing drought, I did not start with the nonsense assumption that land is some immutable factory.  I wanted to get across that there are things other than destocking that we can do.  We can make the land healthier, more whole!  So we started by asking the farmers, “What is a drought?” because if your farmscape *function* is such that no rainfall soaks in and holds, no roots reach far below 100mm, no run-off is checked by wetlands from whence it can be redistributed, and the evapotranspiration is running at 4mm/day, then you can have a drought a day after a 25mm rainfall.  Farmers sat up and listened.  Most consultants – the older the more rigid in their mechanical world – looked on suspiciously.  Don’t ever believe that the better thinkers and observers are the professions.  As a general group, we are not, especially when hidebound by numbers over shifting qualities and connections in real time and space.

Stop trying to simplify the land to some asinine machine of measured grass growth and stock and perhaps you’d be able to imagine something organic and alive.

It was through looking at such technocratic agricultural reports purporting to ‘objectively’ consider the economics of trees within farms that I realised that their presumed ‘objectivity’ and professional ‘rationality’ was entirely premised on a false view of land.  They simply did not understand.  I know this may come across as an obsession of mine; but perhaps that is because it is so pervasive in our country.  I see it in policy making, in the rationalisation of approaches that are the opposite of strategic in many primary sectors.

Symptomatic is a focus on uniformity and quanta, treating land as a sausage machine where the presumed ‘efficiency’ of the scale of one thing trumps the potential synergies of many things; or where production is everything no matter the future, or the consequences both inside and outside a particular farmscape.

We see in the ‘industrial’ structure of the New Zealand dairy sector.  We see it in the renaming of these various primary sectors through which rivers flow, birds fly and children play as primary ‘industries’.  The land framed as industrial factory.  We see it in the quite incredible lack of concern within the ‘industrial’ minds of the ‘professionals’ when the precious elements upon which the capacities and function of the land depend – nutrients, organic matter and soil – are washed down the ‘drain’ most others see as functioning streams.  They may even – in their myopia – attempt to *justify* the need to pollute in pursuit of the gross production god, mining their future and present profit as they go.

We see it in the belief in predictability and controllability rather than managing for the built-in resilience to the inevitable surprises and shocks; for the qualitative capacities and integrity of land.  There is no need to ride the storm if there are no storms considered – let us assume there will be no surprises.  We measure the wrong things, assume too much, and disregard what really counts because of we cannot count it.

Gully forest Plantings GisborneThis approach to analysis represents a disconnect between economic, social and environmental futures by either choice or by resigned acceptance of a false philosophical view as truth; one that sees only a land of averages, without variation, or pattern, or connection.   Talk about the loss of opportunity because of the unexamined assumptions of narrow technocrats!  Talk about the inevitable reduction in resilience and the actual increase in uncertainty by building a system that presumes regularity!

You shake your head at the obviousness of it all.  It is like being told that the dog is harmless while it has its jaws around your arm.  That is when I went searching.  I discounted the bullshit figures to three significant figures.  I wanted to know why they had this so wrong; why couldn’t they see?  What are they thinking that results in the rationalisation of nonsense?  What is their life and education story that justifies the answer they want to hear?  Do they even bother to question the norms?  Did they actually bother and go out and ask a farm forester?

I went searching for the refutation.  I had received a wake up call – the professionals are not necessarily the wise.  I even studied philosophy with a focus on environmental philosophy, ethics, and the history and philosophy of science as part of the quest, not for land use alone, but because there were all these other faiths trying in all innocence to rip the heart out of the world through what they presumed were rational means and the best of intentions.

Thankfully, there are thinkers amongst all professions. They are the ones that are not afraid to stray from the mantra of “this is what we do.”  There were excellent agronomists researching farmscape patterns in Invermay, outside Dunedin.  Gordon Cossens had production variation figures between paddocks.  He insisted that the range of production was 100 percent plus/minus the mean, and said the same range of variation occurs within paddocks.  And farm foresters nodded their heads when I raised it.  You ask them why they plant trees and where, and it is in those particular areas that are a drain on the functioning of the *whole* farm; those areas that create problems.  They do not deal in averages.  They deal in particulars of place, and how those areas relate to a wider view of the farm.

Matching the Patterns

The secret to understanding why farm foresters do well from trees lies in the patterns as well as the combinations and alignment of those patterns.  This is the alternative to the Farmland near Wharton Fell overlooking Lammerside Castle, near Kirkby Stephen, in the Eden Valleyuniform industrial model of land.  Production and feed utilisation varies with site.  Costs do not spread evenly over the landscape; 80:20 principles hold often where most costs of this or that relate to a smaller proportion of the land.  Eighty percent of woody weed control may occur on 20 percent of areas – usually gullies where the stock do not like to go.  We were neither taught to look for those patterns, nor to work within them, and so we worked against them.

Consider the patterns and irregularities of the following especially across the space of a farmscape, but also across time (think of the sine wave frequency of pure notes, and then think about combining them in harmony):

  • Gross pasture production;
  • Stock utilisation and preference;
  • Total cost including those costs conveniently termed ‘overheads’ rather than directed to particular sites (like labour, weed control, r&m, stock losses) where 80:20 patterns hold;
  • Returns on investment where any given investment may multiply the gain, or you lose it all for nothing other than a by losing soil, OM and nutrients to make both a polluted stream, a lower ‘natural capital’ value if you measured it, and a lower bank balance;
  • Potential for other farm benefits (shelter, fodder, retention of fertility, drought resilience, evapotranspiration reduction, stock health, soil holding, water regulation, ecosystem services, diversity of economic option, etc.);
  • Suitability for other land covers – woodland, wetland, herbaceous leys; and
  • Environmental sensitivity.

They all vary as patterns in the landscape; pure notes ……..

…….. and they all tend to align with the Sound wavelengthpotential to strike a chord or create a harmony; low production areas combine with high cost, low returns on investment, better suitability for woodland or wetland compared to pasture, and high environmental sensitivity.  These areas combining negatives represent both financial and functional black holes when kept in pasture.

In contrast, there are also alignments of high production and low cost in pasture – areas that make most of the money on any farm, give high return to investment, and are cheap to maintain without environmental risk.  Patterns and synergies; functions and dysfunctions; the potential to combine land health, water health, soil health, bank balance health, social health.

Economics and environmental benefits can align; do align. We just have to stop thinking in averages and maximums, and stop listening to the minds that promulgate such views. The narrow industrial machine view that seeks to make uniform and maximise the efficiency of one thing is death to a deeper knowing of land, and to the chance of creating a farmscape that provides the best of all worlds.

You would be far better to go and have a discussion with a farm forester instead.

Chris Perley

Chris Perley has a field experience, management, policy, consulting and research background in land use, rural economies, environments and communities, remains an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability, and is currently the Green Party Candidate for Tukituki.

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Elation and the Wharves of Home

What is it to belong? This came back to me last night in a conversation about the world and its future. We are taught to distance ourselves, as if that is some virtue. I no longer believe that any more. I no longer think that understanding, or making the right choice, the moral choice, the wise choice, comes from distance. First, we have to *be*. Be in ourselves. Be native to a place. Be long. I’ll listen to those that be.

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The Wisdom of Intimacy

This gallery contains 8 photos.

I’m reposting this old post The Wisdom of Intimacy because I am working on something about the shifting of perspective from one place to another.  We move from the intimacy of the field to the office and make our decisions there. … Continue reading

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Ruataniwha Dam will Transform the Region

Regional Councillor Debbie Hewitt is quite right that should the Ruataniwha Dam go ahead it will be “absolutely transformational” (quoted in Hawke’s Bay Today April 2017).  You need only look to Mid-West rural America, whose communities were also sold the same slogans and promises of nirvana for local business and community. Now they are disillusioned with it all, and vote for a hoped-for saviour in Donald Trump.

Midwest farm house decay

Somewhere in the Midwest of the United States

The consequences of large commodity programmes without consideration of ownership, community and environment can all be seen by looking at places like the Mid-West. The small towns wither, and the hamlets cease to be. The trend to outside corporate ownership certainly ‘transforms’. They take out profits and expenditure, and the local communities lose all the significant economic multipliers from having local ownership and high wages spending locally through many hands.

The health of a local economy is very much dependent on how much money circulates and distributes. When all you hear is a sucking sound as it is extracted to somewhere else, especially if the social and environmental costs remain, then you know you are being colonised.

It can be worse than merely having land aggregated and owned elsewhere. The Ruataniwha Dam will create commodities. Processing commodities depends on scale to cut costs, so expect more centralised processing out of the district. Yet more money lost to local circulation.

proposed-site-for-ruataniwha-dam-supplied

Site of the Ruataniwha Dam

The economic analysis of simple input:output models presumes that the money generated from the farm will cycle through the local community the same, whatever the structure of ownership and processing. It won’t. Colonisation, commodity supply chains, and big corporate models make us poorer, not richer – with the exceptions we all know.

Then there is the nature of employment. Agribusiness corporates focus on cutting costs rather than creating a premium price, and so they focus both on scaling up and substituting capital for labour. Less labour is employed, and increasingly sourced from cheaper migrants who send much of their money home, further compounding the loss of local money circulation.

967246-002

Combine in field with rows of corn and soya bean plants, aerial view

That is the combined trend of ever-larger agribusiness; less begets less, begets less. Studies from the 1940s demonstrate that most important for the economy of a region is a strong mix of locally owned and creative enterprises – in direct contrast to the model of a few outside owned extractive corporates.

Local ownership is not just better economically because of money staying and circulating through the layers of a community. There are further benefits in civic pride, hope, creating yet more enterprise, and to the care of their place, including their environment. It helps build belonging, in contrast to some reduction of life to a meaningless resource unit.

You won’t hear about any of this from neoliberal economists, because they don’t think about or even believe in community. They think people and the environment are simply resources, all the better to put in a spreadsheet with a cost attached. Then it’s easy to exploit, because why care about a figure in a spreadsheet.

xerces_andrew polyculture.jpg

Andrew Holder (Xerces Society)

There is a much better way to do things than this extractive approach to commerce, community and place. We can focus on creativity, value and diversity. We can see the quality of our community and environmental as keys to that high value and diversity approach; trust, hope and community engagement are strongly linked to creative and dynamic economies and communities. We can recognise that local ownership and local secondary processing really matter. We should never endorse what is effectively a cheap resource (people included) colonial model. We’ve been there. We don’t want to go down that path again.

It is good economics to care about your community and your environment. It isn’t about trade-offs.

We will see none of this thinking within the bloodless computer models and spreadsheets of those who advocate for the dam because they conveniently assume that none of it matters. They do not know the history of the world, nor contemporary examples.

They do not even look to the real world models that have been staring them in the face for the last 40 years. Middle America is one model. You could as easily look to colonial models of South America. These models are real. They aren’t in a computer. They have real people in them, with real history. They have real rivers running through them and real children swimming. They have real land degradation, and ownership appropriation. And they have real people voting for Trump or some other personality cult, because they have lost all hope as they watch all that they produce and work for flow out of their counties to someone who lives far away. With names like Trump.

Should it go ahead, the Ruataniwha Dam will transform Central Hawkes Bay. But whoever wants this sort of soulless ‘transformation’ for the benefit of a few, it isn’t the rest of us.

Chris Perley
Thoughtscapes

Chris Perley is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability with a governance, research, management and policy background in provincial economies, rural sociology and land use strategy. 

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This article was published in the Hawke’s Bay Today May 4th, 2017

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Who is Chris Perley?

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Hitchhiker’s Guide to Homo sapiens

Historical Footnote: Homo sapiens

Once, on the ex-planet Earth, there was a species Homo sapiens – who were ironically not very sapiens (wise) at all.  They became extinct after about 80,000 years in existence, which is pretty dumb.  Homo erectus by comparison lasted two million years (perhaps Homo sapiens eradicated them?).  Homo sapiens thought Homo erectus ‘primitive’.  Irony was not their strong suit.

evolution-go-back.jpgThe real demise for H. sapiens happened after some idiot savants thought the whole of existence could be conceptualised as an atomised machine around 1600 years after the birth of a man who actually tried to point out some truths in direct contradiction to ordering life by hierarchy and machine (which was then completely turned on its head by something called “the Church” …. see “Religious Cults – Earth”).  Irony again.  Irony is important for an understanding of H. sapiens.

The mechanical deterministic idea resulted in the worship of the narrowness of quantified technocracy, consequently narrowing thought, and creating hierarchies of knowing.  That new hierarchy treated white lab coats and dark suits as symbols of wisdom – sort of a new cleric and ermine robe thing.  It treated romance with disdain, and placing reflection, thought, community, as well as the emotion of experiencing nature, live music and poetry far below a new form of ‘life’ involving the occupation of hours obediently sitting in a cubical, looking through a light pulsing screen at numbers in columns and rows.Thoreau a fool's life

This mesmerising hypnotic state replaced all wider meaning, and people went home to watch reality TV, corporate advertising with lots of bright colours and yelling (nine-ninety-nine!!!! was a favourite), all in search of accumulating what they were conditioned to believe are ‘treasures’ and happiness, of a measurable kind.  Unmeasured happiness didn’t count (haha, little pun there … hahum … yes, well).

r-d-laing-quotes adjusment to an insane world.pngMadness was, of necessity, redefined.  Those who noticed too much under the new order, were ‘mad’.  Those who didn’t notice anything at all besides dollars that didn’t exist in any real sense, were ‘sane’.

Need I mention irony again?

This new order created the justification for new measures of superiority, and the right of might to use new technocratic power to colonise and eradicate others and the planet (aka “resources”), with even ethics reduced to calculation.  What the Wider Sentient Universe (WSU) knows to be vices became virtues.

The last stage was the worship of a new god, ‘Our Lord Market’.  The madness of reducing beauty and meaning of life within and beyond the material plane to those things that obediently stayed still long enough to be measured, was insane enough.  Not to be outdone, H. sapiens took a further quantum leap into absurdity by reducing all those selected quanta into an imaginary thing that didn’t even exist other than in the mind, called ‘dollars’.  More imaginary dollars meant more ‘worth’.

UntitledBy contrast, what was meant by, for instance ….. experiencing the soft fall of snowflakes on your cheek, holding and squeezing the warm hands of someone dear with which to share, wreathed in a smile, listening to the sound of a descending rainbow with a warbler accompaniment, beside an outdoor crackling log fire …. was …. precisely …. zero.

The consequence of this delusion involved giving prestige and policy making power to those personalities with the least reverence for life and others.  Warblers, snowflakes and rainbows kept moving, were annoyingly inconsistent, refused to behave in predictable ways, and were obviously ‘subjective’ – and therefore ‘bad’ because meaning shifted with observer.  Because such beauty could not be placed in a spreadsheet, it ceased to exist within the apparently superior technocratic H. sapiens (ha) mind.  I think that is called the irony of objectivity … it isn’t an object that a wise sapiens can demonstrate objectivity toward if said object doesn’t behave to sapiens subjective metaphysic.  Because their subjectivity of theory-laden observation involved metaphysics, and you can’t put metaphysics in a spreadsheet, it was only right for them to not even think about their subjectivity, because – according to their highest levels of technocratic thought – it cannot possibly exist.    This is a convoluted and roundabout way of saying, well, boo hoo to beauty then.

Failing to notice - Laing.jpgAnd so the consequences rolled one to another to another.  The consequence of that delusion of misplaced concreteness by only noticing numbers that stay still and behave was the inevitable destruction of planetary functions – which are not numbers but contingent verbs – necessary for human life (let alone meaning).  The consequences also weren’t too crash hot for anyone who happened to live with the apparently deluded belief that they lived in a community, and thought it remotely reasonable to look at rainbows in the arms of a lover lying beside a log fire.

 The consequence of wrecking planet and community was a form of wilful – and not very sapiens at all – mass suicide.  This is a trait common throughout the WSU in those communities who worship personality cults, especially when they wear a uniform involving either pure white or professional black.

Henry David Thoreau, Alfred Lord Whitehead, R D Laing, Prot from the planet K-Pax, children and other thinkers tried to point out the madness of it all.  But only the flower people were listening.  They went to live on the land and await the inevitable.

And so ended the story of the very short-lived species, Homo not so sapiens.

Hands in the air.jpg

Some of the more sapiens Homo sapiens asking for help

Chris Perley
Thoughtscapes

Chris Perley is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability with a governance, research, management and policy background in provincial economies, rural sociology and land use strategy.

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