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.

Donation to Thoughtscapes Blog

Donations are welcomed with my sincere thanks. It also allows me to get rid of the pesky advertisements! And it's a nice way to say thank you. Thank you 🙂

NZ$5.00

Posted in Thought Pieces | Leave a comment

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.

Donation to Thoughtscapes Blog

Donations are welcomed with my sincere thanks. It also allows me to get rid of the pesky advertisements! And it's a nice way to say thank you. Thank you 🙂

NZ$5.00

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.

Donation to Thoughtscapes Blog

Donations are welcomed with my sincere thanks. It also allows me to get rid of the pesky advertisements! And it's a nice way to say thank you. Thank you 🙂

NZ$5.00

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.

Donation to Thoughtscapes Blog

Donations are welcomed with my sincere thanks. It also allows me to get rid of the pesky advertisements! And it's a nice way to say thank you. Thank you 🙂

NZ$5.00

 

 

 

Posted in Building Regional Economies, Neoliberalism & Corporatism, Thought Pieces | Leave a comment

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.

Donation to Thoughtscapes Blog

Donations are welcomed with my sincere thanks. It also allows me to get rid of the pesky advertisements! And it's a nice way to say thank you. Thank you 🙂

NZ$5.00

Posted in Thought Pieces | 6 Comments

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 ….

Donation to Thoughtscapes Blog

Donations are welcomed with my sincere thanks. It also allows me to get rid of the pesky advertisements! And it's a nice way to say thank you. Thank you 🙂

NZ$5.00

Posted in Land Use, Reimagining, Thought Pieces, Ways of Seeing | 1 Comment

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

Donation to Thoughtscapes Blog

Donations are welcomed with my sincere thanks. It also allows me to get rid of the pesky advertisements! And it's a nice way to say thank you. Thank you 🙂

NZ$5.00

Posted in Thought Pieces | 2 Comments

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

Posted in Thought Pieces | Leave a comment

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.

Donation to Thoughtscapes Blog

Donations are welcomed with my sincere thanks. It also allows me to get rid of the pesky advertisements! And it's a nice way to say thank you. Thank you 🙂

NZ$5.00

Posted in Thought Pieces | 20 Comments

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
Posted in Thought Pieces | Leave a comment