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.


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



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

A physiological demonstration with vivisection of a dog.  Emile-Edouard Mouchy 1838 

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.


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


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

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

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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


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


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] 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.


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.

Posted in Land Use, Thought Pieces | 2 Comments

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 – Again!

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.


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.


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

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?

Source: 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

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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What is Progress and How do we get There?

I have Tom Wessels’ The Myth of Progress on a shelf.  Tom has produced some wonderful books on historically continuous change across our wider Wessels The myth of Progress.jpglandscapes.  He sees patterns in that place where people and landscapes meet.  He takes to task what we mean by Progress, and the need to change our thinking.  There are principles we need to think about; the impossibility of continued material growth; the dangers of increased energy consumption; the life-giving potential of self-organised systems (our bodies are one, a forest ecosystem another).  Tom argues that the over-simplification of our life through eyes that focus only on numbers and scale ‘efficiencies’, are pushing us away from life toward a dystopian machine that will inevitably eat itself.

He writes of the wood in which he played as a child, the place that gave the neighbourhood joy and belonging – like many of our own childhood experiences with woods and rivers and mountains I imagine.  The Tukituki, Te Mata Peak, Waimarama and Ocean Beach, Ball’s Clearing.


From Te Mata Peak to the Southwest, Hawke’s Bay

And then the bulldozers came to Tom’s wood – to bring ‘progress’.

I thought of Tom Wessels because I’m currently reading Bill Bryson’s The Road to Little Dribbling. He brings out the same theme time and time again. Beautiful streetscapes and seascapes made ugly by developers and planners who think a certain way.
the-myth-of-progressBryson spurns the measures of wealth.  GDP tells us very little about quality of life, our opportunities, our hopes, our dreams, the capacities within our landscapes and communities we lose at future peril.  He points instead to the quality of things that those peering into spreadsheets will never see, and so will destroy without realising their own wilful ignorance. Those who cannot connect blindly destroy the things that make us belong.  Usually because they cannot measure them.
Bryson looking back on Britain: “It was in every way poorer than now.  Yet there were flowerbeds on roundabouts, libraries and post office in every village, cottage hospitals in abundance, council housing for all who needed it.  It was a country so comfortable and enlightened that hospitals maintained cricket pitches for their staff and mental patients lived in Victorian Palaces.  If we could afford it then, why not now?  Someone needs to explain to me how it is that the richer Britain gets the poorer it thinks itself.” p87-88

There will be those who think this is a call to go back in some time warp.  It isn’t.  It is about re-embracing life-giving capacities.  As Tom Wessels is so good at demonstrating in this and his starling-murmuration-chloeother books, everything changes on the surface.  Stasis is a myth.  Building and trees fall and regenerate; in life, everything grows and dies and is replaced.  This is the inherent creativity of not just ecological but social life.  But what lies beneath is what is really important; the capacities that keep this dynamic wheel called life revolving.  If we do not re-embrace as the basis of governance those capacities that give life, then it isn’t governance, it is a clearance sale.

If you only measure the wheel, but have no concept of those Clearance Sale.pngqualitative capacities that drive it, then you will treat people and the land as resources to grind.  And when you have ground them down, with them will go those social and environmental capacities upon which we depend: love, foresight, creativity, hope, trust, community-centred morality, belonging; the landscape’s capacity to mitigate flood and drought, climatic extreme, the capacities of growth and renewal.

One of the most horrifying moments when working with spreadsheet analysis that discount the future is when you realise the absolute ‘rationality’ of pillaging life as fast as you can – the insane rationality of the spreadsheet worshipper where more-money-today is the aim.  It is logical to minimise the costs and maximise the returns – to go for scale, to cut the forest, clear the seas of fish, take the water, lose the soil, drain the wetland, pollute the stream – grab, take, extract, pillage, now.  The uncivilised colonial and corporate agenda.

It gives you serious pause when you come to that realisation.  Some technocrats realise it when they are young, some never do, some don’t care, some work for large corporations who absolutely do not care because they do not Black People Starving to Death Due to Breeding Choices.jpgbelong to a place.

But if you do care and belong to a people and a place, you cannot accept the rationalisation of that form of insanity.  You go searching for moral meaning.  Morality matters.  You end up finding humanity and systems thinking as the rudder for decisions, not simplified numbers.  You lose respect for what some refer to as the ‘thinking’ of large organisations filled with disconnecting machines and polished shoes, who blame the victims for what the shoes have done.

What Wessels and Bryson highlight are that the current values of government and large business have to change to something a whole lot wiser.

I think we need to reverse the rise of those who measure their own deluded concepts of ‘efficiency’ (usually some version of rigid box-ticking obedient ‘accountable’ hierarchy where bigger is better) and who cherish disconnection so they can live within a theory far from pulsing life (they call it ‘objectivity’, which makes me want to laugh out loud).  We need to go back to the people; those who feel and belong and see beyond the spreadsheets to those qualities that give life meaning.  Ask yourself who is more the ‘expert’ of any particular place out of those two types; who is more likely to be wise; who more strategic; who more visionary?

But beyond the choice of people to whom we listen, we require a shift in *purpose* to something life-affirming and cultural – to something that cherishes the capacities and potential of our land and communities.  That requires a rejection of the short term maximisation of money flows irrespective of what is destroyed to achieve that end.

What we ought to do is treat people and land as the ends to sustain, and money as a means to that end rather than in any way an end in itself.

We have done the opposite over recent decades; we have put the counting of money on a pedestal and the consequent ground down people and land at its feet.  And so we have accelerated the cutting down of Tom Wessel’s woods, and Bryson’s village ideal.

For all the measured dollars, this isn’t progress.  It destroys the bedrock in order to build ugly castles of soon to be decaying and wind-blown straw.

Chris Perley

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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We abuse the land 2 Leopold.jpg

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Bizarre Economic Beliefs – Finding the Black Cat that Isn’t There

More evidence has come out that tax cuts don’t lead to economic growth, and let’s not go into how people ought to measure progress or growth.  But isn’t small government, and commensurately low tax rates, what the Neoliberal economists have been telling us is vital for, what, four decades at least?

i-am-all-for-small-government-smaller-military-industry-small-11604934.pngOf course, only governments should be small;  everything else can get as big as it wants and is entirely to do with private ‘merit’; big business, big banks, big private media.  Why do we keep believing them?

We’re living in a cliché world of —

“the market will provide,” “trickle down,” “equal opportunity meritocracy,” “the private sector does it better,” “small government,” even “allocating resources” (because it’s all about ‘resources’ and not underlying social and planetary functions apparently –

— without nuance or a shred of wisdom and deep connection to the real world of complexity, humanity and earthly dynamics.

It is truly bizarre – or is it the nature of humanity? – that the Neoliberal mythology of small government (which is vastly different from prudent government) has such a hold.

We have always had the examples of the Scandinavian and other European experiences. Refutation of the myth.

We have always had the examples of history where high top-end marginal tax rates and what John Kenneth Galbraith called a ‘thick’ economy (purchasing power spread throughout society and not exclusive to the top percentile) are consistent with economic and social benefit.  An economy that looks after social functions, instead of reducing people to production ‘units’ or consumption ‘units’.  Those economies represent an `empirical refutation of the Neoliberal myth – but when you live *within* a mythology, you can forget reason & evidence.

We have always had the examples of where communities with high “social capital” – largely unquantifiable things like strong social social-capital.pngbonds, trust, belonging, hope, connections, community and local democracy participation, the free creation of art and spontaneity of laughter, a sense of equity and dancing-in-rainopportunity, serendipitous meeting places, dialogic fora, cavorting with nature and dancing in the thunderstorm – all the things that make life worthwhile – have led to better economic outcomes.

Meanwhile – off planet Earth – Neoliberals in suits in soulless cubicles do their utmost to cut funding to the very initiatives that support that strength of community.  And so they destroy a key  underpinning of the economy because they live in a theoretical model rather than the real world.  And after all, society doesn’t exist in that model; it is just a collection of individual measured human ‘resources’ the market will efficiently allocate as it does the sale of bricks.  So it is a complete waste of taxpayers money to look after community, because to them community doesn’t exist.  They cannot see the social, and so they effectively advise starving it to death.

The Neoliberal corollary that democracy be replaced by consumer choice is a senseless, ignorant and evil idea.  To see no context other than the market is wilful blindness.

We have always had historic example of wealth and power accumulating to a point where oligarchy replaces any pretence at democracy – a consequence of policies that Productivity share of wealth.jpegfavour power, who then use power to take more, thus increasing power, thus increasing the take … until …… bang.

(You’d think economists would learn about history and the functioning nature of the planet – it ain’t a machine or collection of ‘resources’ waiting for the market to ‘allocate’ – meddle with social or environmental *function* at your peril.  To think of society and the planet as Neoliberalism does is incredibly, inexcusably ignorant.  Even from that reductionist mechanical premise alone, all that comes from their models has no more status than someone shaking a rattle over an eviscerated chicken.)

So why does the mythology continue in the face of empirical findings, as well as historical or case study example?  How can a theory not just *maintain* its power in policy making, but *grow* in power when, firstly, the assumptions are complete delusional nonsense *and*, secondly, the empirical findings are so contradictory, *and*, finally, the logical consequences of tipping over all three social, environmental and economic thresholds are so blindingly obvious to anyone who can imagine within any real-world understanding of both people and our planet?

But understanding people and planet requires aFreeing the caged birds slice of humanity (do Treasury analysts read history or novels?), a connection to the shifting beauty of the planet (do currency traders wander the hills and smell the roses?), and a sense of what is ethical beyond the utilitarian calculations that says if there is money to be made, then it is right (do neoliberals free expensive caged birds?)

Why does the mythology have such sway?  Is it not similar to the church of centuries hence, or the cult of Versailles?

I’ll put forward a few arguments that partly explain why.  I’d really appreciate knowing what people think.

Reason 1?  Partly it is the power of myth in our lives; the paradigms of belief to which we hold, and which in many senses define us.  So many people do not examine their beliefs; deconstruct them.  And the ‘educated’ are no less prone to belief I would argue – even those who proclaim ‘objectivity’ (even objectivity is very much part of the Modern ontology of separate bits, observer-observed, etc.).  I’d go even further and proclaim a heresy; the so-called STEM subjects are more prone to close their minds to the framework of their own mythologies.

The quantitative technocracies that must necessarily narrow their view to what can be socially constructed as measurable and consistent (utility, price, supply, demand) inevitably discount what is hard to measure and contingent (power, joy, hope, freedom).  This is not a mistake made by the Arts and Humanities – because the continued reflection and contextual shifting on these things – on life itself and our perspective on STEM-to-STEAM.jpglife – are their raison d’etre.  The fact that we look for the duality is the first problem.  STEM thinks itself above the arts, and yet you cannot see, nor create, nor wisely judge without it.  STEM to STEAM.

Yet we give some some hierarchical authoritarian ascendancy to the STEM disciplines???  For heaven’s sake why.  Because of some fallacy of misplaced concreteness to three significant figures?  Because you believe that some abstract number – i.e. a subjective choice to favour this supposedly consistent and measurable thing over that which isn’t – can be called concrete?  “Objective” perhaps?

Reason 2?  There are those with power whose selfishness and myth of entitlement wield that power to hold the rest of the world in thrall.  People once thought of aristocrats this way.  They are better, entitled, superior, wiser.  The great chain of being placed the lords above the peasant, and the peasants were indoctrinated by the churches and courtrooms to believe the bollocks that the ‘lords’ were there on merit.  Now we have the mega-corporate media and their political minions as a replacement for church sermons – the rich man in his castle, the poor man at the gate.

Reason 3?  Linked to 2.  Is humanity naturally, genetically predisposed to the unquestioned acceptance of any person or idea that proclaims itself an authority, where that authority has majority appeal?  Beware the cliché, because that is how authorities roll.  Like President Trump repeatedly spouting the nonsense of “clean coal”.  Say it often enough and it becomes an alternative fact in the minds of those who want to believe it.

Reason 4?  Are we lovers of groups?  Do we yearn to belong and be accepted, and wait until the others in the class raise their hands in answer to the teacher’s question to ensure we are in the right camp?  Are those who couldn’t care less if they held a different or nuanced view evolutionary outsiders?

I really don’t know the answers.  But I do think the answers to how an economic cult could for so long dominate policy making are deeply sociological and psychological – another thing the Neoliberals do not accept.

But the bigger problem is how do we change it.   Where is the weakness?  Do we work within the obvious ethics of people.  Ethics may have a stronger authority than economic and media power.  We do not like our people without homes.  We do not like our rivers polluted as drains.

Oscar Wilde - finding the black cat.jpg

The Black Cat of the Neoliberal Cult

We do not like stories of exploited workers by the more powerful.  We do not like lies dressed up as truths.  These are only the start of the unethical and unwise consequences that will role out from Neoliberal belief.  There are many more.

Or do we keep pointing out that their authority is unfounded?  Do we point out that the myths are supported by the very powerful whose ethics promote vice and whose dollars are used to manage thought and demote dialogue and any open search for truth.

Do we point out that the religious cult of Neoliberalism accords exactly to Oscar Wilde’s summation of religion; “… like a blind man looking in a black room for a black cat that isn’t there, and finding it.”

Neoliberalism is Wilde’s Black Cat that isn’t there.  Now *that* is the definition of misplaced concreteness.  And that is what we have.

Chris Perley

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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Reimagining Science for Our Future

Complexity murmuration

Where will science be in the future?  If we argue against the excesses and anomalies of Modernity – the metaphor of the reducible machine, knowable by breaking everything into soulless bits – and we also argue that many of the philosophical ideas of the Pre-Modern have merit – connection, belonging, enchantment, virtue, the irreducibility of many though not all things – then we get a curious response.  You want to go back to the dark ages?!   One cannot step forwards perhaps.

One of the features of Descartes was his setting up of such either-or dichotomies; body from soul, culture from nature etc.  And so questioning Modernity apparently means we want us to go back to the past – to the Pre-modern – when what we are really searching for is something that is neither one nor the other, but new, and perhaps incorporates the best of both.

Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis.  Pre-Modern, Modern, Future.   Richard Lewontin raises this new way here in his Massey Lecture series. Lewontin - Constructing a third view.png Neither pre-modern, nor modern, but a Third Way.

I do think Science has to work within a wider epistemological context to avoid the trap of Modernity, and our potential destruction.  It has to get out of the trap of taking Modernity’s metaphor of a the world as a machine, and turning that metaphor into a real thing within their own minds.  Parts of our world are *like* a machine in some ways, but they are not machines.  Dispassion can be both a virtue and a vice in both searching for knowing, and in acting upon that presumed knowing.  It depends.  And it is a moral (i.e. a value) position to presume that you can frame the planet, people, even life, as inert ‘things’.

Besides being very clear that the machine metaphor is merely a convenient – and often contextually wrong – social construct (i.e. supposedly objective science that lives and breathes the machine metaphor is based upon an unscientific metaphysic, for those who delight in ironies), science has to embrace complexity and reject Ceteris Paribus, the idea that the rest of the world remains unaffected by the focus of the effects of shifts in variable A on variable B.  You never do one thing in a complex system.  You have to be very careful in framing real-world complexity as a simple machine.

ComplexityScienceScience also has to see its place within a moral policy-making world, and within a wider knowledge system.  Once you see yourself as influenced by social context, you can judge what suits a science that advances our commonwealth of knowledge, and contrast that with a science that serves the interests of private power and a dominant idea.

Unquestionably, one of the very worse external influences on science from that wider policy-making environment is extreme Modern versions of economics, and from that exemplar of dispassionate sociopathy – the Corporate world view.  Yet some idiot in Treasury thought corporatising New Zealand government science would be a smashing idea.  It was – smashing – in a way.  More on that later.

But back to morality and a broader metaphysical milieu.  To say that science is unconcerned about morality and metaphysics is positivist nonsense (positivism relates to what ‘is’ as a ‘fact’ – the presumed preserve of science by those called positivists – or scientism).  The questions, the framing of the methodology, interpretation; all have normative influences (what ‘ought’ to be as a ‘value’).

Paradigms underpinned by assumptions.gif

Paradigms are underpinned by ontological and epistemological assumptions

You cannot divorce fact from value.  Else why put this particular question for science to answer if there is not a ought relating to that question?  Why this methodological framing?  Why this interpretation?  Why structure scientific enquiry in this way?  Ask down the responses – why?  why? –  and you get to values, morality and metaphysics as the bedrock.

Take an extreme, as practiced when the machine metaphor was undiluted by social outrage.  If the animal is *just* a machine, then live vivisection is morally irrelevant, moral questions need not arise.  In modern days, which we hope are more enlightened, if genetics is deterministic and predictable, and corporate commerce is benign, then corporately-sponsored genetically engineered food requires neither moral nor strategic critique.  Only  quantitative scientific critique is relevant, and even then, only such scientific critique as is consistent with the mechanical metaphysic – in other words, only critique that confers with our unquestioned metaphysics and value framing need apply.   Objectively, of course.

But what if your metaphysics is entirely wrong?  What if mega-corporations are far from benign, and consistently deal in power games and the management of public perceptions?  What if you are dealing with a complex, inherently unpredictable and uncontrollable system?  Thirty to forty thousand human genes manifesting as over 140,000 traits would suggest that is a relevant question.  The metaphysical milieu matters.  It is integral to science as practiced.  Science is not and never has been an inert soulless rock of objectivity orbiting far above humanity.

V0017128 A physiological demonstration with vivisection of a dog. Oil

Emile-Edouard Mouchy 1832 Live Vivisection

If you want to look at extremes of normative influence – of the reality of there being a sociology or ‘political ecology’ of science – look no further than money and sales.  Solving things – a moral and policy-influencing emphasis most would contest as ‘good’ – is what science has done for us in the past, and still does in most cases.  It was once particularly good.  In New Zealand, we once had a very adaptive and well-connected knowledge system from crown research arms of government departments to policy makers (who were often departmental and professional colleagues) and to the experiential wisdom of the those of us who lived and worked within a place.

It was connected, not atomised into silos.  It was collaborative.  Today we would call it a very good ‘knowledge system’ – motivated, socially-connected and caring people, working with others to define the context and sort out a problem or examine an opportunity.  Ideas and action didn’t have to go through the administrative torture of contested bids and milestone reporting.  More efficient, more effective, more adaptable, more rewarding, more motivating, focused on solving not selling.  But the high priests of mechanical Modernity – neoliberal economists – destroyed it.  They made our science more Modern, and arguably a lot less wise with the increased competitive disconnection they created in the image of their own supposedly objective idea of mechanical market-dictates-the-good virtue.

In 1992, someone with an economics degree had the bright idea of bringing the apparently superior and much more Modern social construct of corporatism and money into the fray – to improve effectiveness of course – and we got a reemphasis on bureaucracy (because scientist can’t be trusted to care about solving things) in the interests of accountability (which was supposed to lead to ‘efficiency’ which in turn would lead to ‘effectiveness’).  They also created horror stories of inefficiency, with various reports of administrative costs of 60 percent and more to ensure those profligate scientists spent our money wisely.  Nice job, chaps.

Science in New Zealand took a step back from integrated knowledge into the competitive and uncooperative silos of Modernity, and the focus of New Zealand government science shifted from knowing and solving to emphasising business managers over scientists and creating products to sell.

science-corruptedThere is a reason why many feel that short-term commercial imperatives are the corrupter of science.  Tobacco industry science.  And that is but one example of a normative influence.

There are lessons here.  To acknowledge and work within those sociological and philosophical realities requires science to embrace and learn from the Humanities, because Science is so obviously integral to humanity and to Humanitarian studies.  What happened in New Zealand science structures cannot be defined as an objective state.  There is sociology, politics and philosophy in spades.

Acknowledging and critiquing the reality of that wider knowledge system potential includes not just a sense and dialogue around what is ‘good’ as virtue, duty and vice (rather than what is expedient and what exploitation can be rationalised using utilitarian numbers) but also an acceptance that the practical wisdom (Aristotle’s Phronesis) of knowing what to do in this place, here, now, requires an acknowledgment of the knowing of those who are connected to a community and a place over time.  We had a certain type of science prior to 1992.  We have a much more disconnected and archetypically Modern version today.   There are all types of science.  We used to be more connected with and respectful of experiential knowing (aka, the field) understanding that it does not represent an ‘inferior’ knowing, but something integral to wisdom.

Create a more disconnected science in the image of the Modern machine, and you create a more arrogant science, a less knowing science, a less fallibilist science ( in the sense of having the curiousity to doubt rather than believe), a more fallible science that sees only what it wants to see with disregard for the charging bull, a more quasi-religious type of scientism thats place itself on a false pedestal of knowing.  And we end up with less wisdom, and the machines of Modernity accelerating toward the thresholds we are heading toward.  We increase the frequency of mistake, and possible the severity of those mistakes.

A future science would embrace complexity and reject Ceteris Paribus, which means endorsing  fallibilism and humility as key scientific tenets ; it would see and realise its place within a moral policy-making world, and within a wider knowledge system.  Part of that would involve embracing and learning from the Humanities without any sense that the STEM subjects are either superior, or that Humanities and Art live in separate Modern atomised silos that compete with Science.  And it would completely reject the continuation of a corporate business structure for government science as a major corrupting influence on these very changes to Lewontin’s Third Way that are needed.

This is not an argument for rejecting science – and it is certainly not an attack on science, however much some will see it so –  it is an argument for a better science that serves the wider commonwealth of knowledge; a strong rejection of scientism (any idea of there being a ‘faith’ of science); a move toward a better knowledge system where science doesn’t see itself as a superior driver by some metaphorical machine emphasising reductionism.  It is a part of knowledge, not the whole.  Thinking otherwise just leads to the continued treadmill of more technofixes created in response to symptoms that previous technofixes have caused, ad infinitum.  We need to step beyond that morass to ensure the direction and questions are relevant.

It is a reimagining.

Chris Perley


Posted in Reimagining, Thought Pieces | 3 Comments

A Curious Proposition – to Know Something is it Better to be Separate?

To know something, really *know* something, do you have to have a deeper connection? Do you have to love it, belong to it, to know it?  Or do you do the opposite, and sit outside?
Earthcare - MerchantWe have presumed that objectifying leads us to truth. Curiously this is a metaphysical belief; no ‘objective’ truth.  It is no position that can be tested using the analytical traditions … because the analytical tradition itself starts with the very assumption we ought to question …… It assumes objectivity as a virtue. And you cannot objectively analyse a virtue.
Let’s turn the question around; to know, do you have to separate yourself and objectify? Isn’t that an incredibly curious proposition?

I have sat by a rippling stream and looked for things I don’t even know I’m looking for.  I have felt good inside. I have known children, and land.  I have known dogs and cats. I have known individual trees and forest stands.   I have watched them grow and noticed the immeasurable things that make me frown and smile.  I have gone into landscapes to see what there is to see, without any preconceived focus that sees only what it came to see.  I have known purpose and concern and all the emotions that go hand in hand with attachment.Carolyn Merchant Thesis

It is an incredibly curious proposition to say that it is better for knowing to remove ourselves from all that.

You can more easily measure, yes.  You can measure those things that stand out and say measure me, those things you came to see, so you do not sully your precision by noticing anything else about that tree, that child, that stream.

Chris Perley



Posted in Thought Pieces | 4 Comments

The Fragility of Authoritarianism

I am fascinated by our propensity to tilt toward authoritarianism in certain times. They provide a delusion of hope.  Someone promises to make it all better, and something in us is attracted to the personality cult of bullies and what we think of as ‘strong’ – read uncompromising and not particularly thoughtful or engaging leaders.

The Origins of Totalitarianism - Arendt.JPGPerhaps this is why the writings of Hannah Arendt are increasing in popularity.  Arendt wrote so well about The Origins of Totalitarianism as well as the psychology of unthinking and blindly obedient functionaries like Adolph Eichmann.  A recent article in The Conversation, The Power of Ordinary People Facing Totalitarianism, highlights the trend.  People are showing concern.

But why this tilt?   It is toward an empty hope – a delusion – because authorities represent the opposite of hope for the human spirit, or for the resilience and adaptive capacity should life throw a curve ball – which it inevitably will.  They crush thought and dissent.  Faith in authorities is not just a delusion – it is positively extinction threatening.  It builds fragility, not resilience.

With authoritarianism we almost inevitably end up with the very hubris that blinds us to the truth, and kills dialogue and diversity of thought.  And that sets us up for an inevitable fall in an uncertain world.  Our world.

I know I continue to make this particular observation, and I will continue to.  It is this; those with a propensity to encourage authoritarian hierarchies are those who see the world in a mechanical way.  The STEM subjects tend – in my view – to see such structures as natural order.  It is the Humanities disciplines that reject their rigidity and monomaniac – there is only one way to see this presumably oh so certain world – because the Humanities and Arts rejoice in questioning and putting a mirror before us all.Time lapse dance

Neoliberals and mega-corporations are the worst at this imposition of order and death of democracy.  Treasury has been responsible for the design of our public service authorities and centralisation of decision making away from dialoguing communities since 1984 – all in the image of the corporate totalitarian machine.   Democracy takes away from the ‘efficiency’ of the extractive economy, which – to the corporate and mechanical economic mind – is all.

In a sense this type of authoritarianism is like having a monocultural and monomaniac gene pool, the least resilient to environmental disturbance.  Such systems are always an evolutionary dead end. They are headed for extinction because they live in a world of presumed certainty and control, and will brook no dissent that might suggest otherwise.  They may eat their own world in the short term; they may dominate and grow large as the behemoth and think that size represents evidence of their own success as a model of life – they may even appear invincible and make it to the outskirts of Moscow.

But in scales of evolution, rather than the mere blip of a human epoch, they are doomed.

The phrase attributed to Darwin says it all …..

“It is not the most intellectual or the strongest of species that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able to adapt to and adjust best to the changing environment in which it finds itself.”

If you want to survive as a species, don’t presume that some ‘efficient’ structural homogeneous mechanical construct will get you there.

Resilience comes from the capacity to have foresight that a shock will happen (though we can never foresee them all), the capacity for robustness to take a hit and bounce, the capacity to adapt and shift to a new system – one that maintains the functional integrity of that system.

We have come to be danced.pngResilient lands require capacities to cope and adapt – think of flood and drought, cost rises and price falls, the sudden unavailability of one thing around which you may have built your world.  Think of building the self-organised functional integrity of a social and ecological space.  Never think of life as a sausage machine, measured ‘resources’ on assembly lines.

Resilience thinking creates social structures that are the very opposite of authoritarian constructs.  Systems that openly question, openly dialogue, work together toward a shared goal without being merely obedient and functioning cogs; social systems of belonging and where those with spark can speak a thought, where artists can reflect on a different way of looking at the world; where Humanities can constantly uphold the Ethos of the Enlightenment to challenge the accepted mechanical Dogmas of our Modern mechanical Age.

I really think this is our greatest challenge – to move beyond seeing our world as a construct of some bizarre set of mathematical universal laws where the obedient march in single file is the metaphor for life, where certainty and control reign supreme.

We need to change the metaphor of life from the march through the certainty of a machine to a wild dance that embraces life in all its flux and flow.

That’s where beauty and expression replace dull order.  It’s also the rational and sustainable way to be, not to be a cog and look upon the world as nothing more than a dispassionate assemblage of ‘things’.


Chris Perley


Posted in Resilience Thinking, Thought Pieces | 1 Comment

The Systems View – But what else have you done?

Why don’t we teach our kids to think like this – in feedbacks and multiple effects, not simple lines of one thing’s effect on only one other thing?   It’s idiotic.  You never do one thing.  Especially not those things that just happen to be easily measured.  I mean for heavens sake, why would that particular property of measurability make something more meaningful?  There are soft parts of any system, which are actually harder in many ways Mechanical v systems view.pngbecause they relate to contingent and conditional shifting things, not just in the biophysical space of landscapes, but also in the psyche and sociology of sentient beings.  Create hope, and you do many things.  Lose hope and you do many things.

And who would choose in any mature and wise system to only deal with the simple things, and worse only the measurable things, when judging how we ought to act.  Aristotle’s brilliant analysis of knowledge systems so needs to replace our current Modern obsessions with the presumed mechanics of all life – Aristotle had morality as the guiding rudder, and the wisdom of knowing intimately those wider issues of context (and no, they are not the measurable things) the “queen of the intellectual virtues.”  Science, technology – all the STEM subjects – were where the wise turn for answers to specific questions.  Useful on tap.  But never on top, because the view of STEM disciplines is far too constrained to be wise.  Only a foolish world would think that their disintegrated analysis could or should replace a wider knowing.

We are that foolish world.

Because we give more credence to someone producing some simple and measurable relationship of A’s effect on B (the information in this tiny box) than all the obvious questions that arise relating to the wider world of oughts and consequences.

The disintegrated mechanical view speaks of the measured effect of A on B.  It speaks of the intricacy of the task, the necessary focus on the narrow of this technology, and the concentration and training required, as if this was a measure of wisdom and virtue.

The wise person asks, “Yes, but what else have you done.”

What is the effect on those other measured variables and other soft pathways of change that resist any attempt to make them behave like a regular and immutable cog?  The annoyingly irregular, contingent and conditional on other shifting features of the wider system.

What answer would you give; more emphasis vandana-shiva-monocultures-of-the-mindon reductionist and measurable STEM subjects, or more connection to the wider realities of this context, here and now?

We see this rise in the ascendancy of the myopic all the time.  More nitrogen (A) will increase grass growth (B).  Never mind the ripple effect to soil, water, commodity quality, overall farm economics, eventual market dominance, land aggregation, corporatisation, children swimming, further emphasis on mechanical scale.  You can go on, and on, and on.

Smacking a child leads to a red mark (variable B) – you can measure that – but also so much more that is contingent upon the child and the whole sociology and psychologies involved.  I dare you to measure and predict that.  And yet it is real, and only a fool would deny it.

Demands for ‘evidence’ – whose evidence?

If you work within the wider system space, which you must if you are to be strategic, or make anywhere near decent policy, then it is almost inevitable that some narrow technocrat (an economist or technologist unhappy with open questions about GM Food perhaps) will demands ‘evidence’ of your critique.  The fact that you critique from a broader systems space is no matter.  You must come into their parlour, because they are not opening the door to come and walk in the real world.  kremer-not-everything-that-counts-can-be-counted-you-can-count-sales-you-can-count-fans-and-followers-you-quote-1They mean provide the numbers – all immeasurables being non-existent apparently –   while the strategist may have talked of all these linkages in logical, qualitative and contingent ways.

We should try to remain calm in the face of their religious scientism (this is not easy where paradigms clash).  We can point out that ‘evidence’ is subjective (try to leave irony out of your voice), only goes so far, and that beneath their own call for a particular type of evidence they obviously value lies their own immeasurable metaphysics and epistemologies.  We could point out that those philosophical underpinning have the level of belief – especially where they remain unexamined as is the case for so many of the STEM disciplines that are not equipped to question what lies beneath … any more than they are equipped to question what lies beyond and into the future.  Those value-laden assumptions are there only because of the sociology of their upbringing and training into a particular technocracy.  Is sociological evidence OK?  It ought to be.

I confess I find it hard when faced with the challenge by those obsessed with measurable monomaniac myopia for yet another number – before they will even bother to *think* about it unless their own mechanical paradigm is bowed to with obeisance from all around – their god of method, their fundamentalist faith.   I find it hard because it is such an anti-On measurement - Hubelintellectual statement.  Thought is not just about numbers.  Thought is not just about focusing on the dynamics of a small number of variables – and only the convenient regular ones at that.

In that sense, a technocrat demanding ‘evidence’ (as defined by them) of a strategist who is connecting to deeper philosophies, breadth and the potential future ripples of any act, is like a Creationist asking for evidence within a construct only defined by their own fundamentalism.

Do you need technocratic definitions of ‘evidence’ when you say that pushing production leads to negative effects throughout the economic, social and environmental system?  How about history, or the examples over in this other land whose trajectory we are following.  It is almost irrefutable if you study the history!  How about rural sociology.  How about the philosophy and history of scientific paradigms and their own fallibility.

The Desperate Need for Humanities – they Implicitly Understand Complex Systems

Do you need technocratic definitions of evidence when you point out that abuse is immoral (and do not give me the nonsense that you only measure morality using utilitarian calculations – especially with dollars), it leads to outcomes of – where do we start – lost realisation of potential, the creation of future costs, it ripples out to others.

No, you need the Humanities.  You need exemplar and case study and thought and history and dialogue and the deeper depths of philosophy and art.  You do not understand Hamlet by counting the words.  You do not understand a forest by mere measures.  Nor a field.  Nor a farm.  Nor a community, embedded in a place.  Nor an economy.  Economists please note.

Myopia is a form of blindness.  Without the perspectives, connections, depth, breadth and vision of the Humanities, the STEM subjects are groping in the dark of this, our complex Destroying the flower.pngand uncertain world.   They certainly cannot get the potential of designing self-organised resilient complex systems.  They take a flower and dissect it into material, disenchanted and disconnected measured cogs.

And they cannot rebuild it, nor create another – whether that flower relates to a biophysical space, a community linked to land, or an economy.  They make dispassionate cogs, not the passion and meaning of flowers; of a resilient, innovative and motivated community.

We Killed a Flower, and now the Cogs are Killing More

We had this ability once.  Before the conversion of crown research in corporations we had interconnected science with policy and people in the field.  We had a knowledge systems that worked, now wrecked and ripped apart into passionless cogs by neoliberal economists, money and markets and the desire of corporations to sell things as saleable fixes rather than solve things though principles of human action.  We replaced the old wisdom we had for the myopia of corporates who can only think in the narrow breadth and short-sightedness of the market.

This is one symptom of our Neoliberal Age, this ascendancy of spreadsheets, models and technofixes creating more symptoms of dis-ease, requiring more technofixes.  I have written about this lack of systems thinking in practice in Ways of Seeing II: The Mechanical View and the Treadmill of Techno-Fixes

Here is another case: we have a nitrogen problem, so we design a chemical as an inhibitor (DCD), which leads to a chemical in the milk, which causes an international scandal, which reduces our price position internationally, which reduces prices.  Think in an interconnected systems diagram – a holon of interconnection, linkages and consequence – turning off and on in annoyingly irregular ways.  I once declined to fund DCD research within landscapes.  I declined it because it Systems effects - feedbackswas a technofix, not a system redesign.  I declined it not because I could predict exactly what would happen – DCD in the milk – but because I suspected something *would* happen – another advance on the treadmill of symptoms (“what else have you done?”) – and the underlying dysfunction and dis-integration of the base landscape system would not be solved.  No, let’s research in order to sell something, not solve something.  I had no evidence of specific concerns – I did not know the outcome – but from within a systems view the research screamed mechanical myopia, which cried consequence.

Technofixes are the very opposite of systems thinking.  They treat symptoms or single variables without any conceptual vision of the whole – the biophysical, the social, the economic world around them.


The history, the exemplars of colonisation, system collapse, the old classical stories thatgo back to the ancients of the consequences of hubris and arrogance, the poets – for heaven’s sake, read Ozymandias – the faith without that ethos of fallibilism , so reinforced by the commercialisation of science, of DDT and the rest.  See the world in a narrow way, and you will very likely fail.  And you will probably never see the feedbacks that bite back because you will not see them from within a particular discipline – especially a STEM one.

If we are not looking at the soft parts of the system beyond the models, and the multi-functionality of actions and elements (we *never* do only one thing), and the feedbacks, especially the positive (reinforcing) ones and the connected, integrated whole ….. then we are not fully thinking.

Not thinking of linkages and root causes is evidenced by those who think a minimum wage rise *just* means a higher cost on the business books (one thing).  Not thinking is exemplified by never considering that at some indeterministic point in our future a climate can turn around and bite us (what has the climate got to do with my business Auklet_flock_Shumagins_1986accounts?).  Or that losing your soil, water, biodiversity, etc. is not a long-term viable business model (I can always buy more N and PKE, eh – and there is no effect other than more grass growth and feed, right?).  Or that repressing people is entirely divorced from social revolutions (they are there to serve me, they should feel privileged).  Or that leaving it to ‘the Lord Market’ will somehow always self-regulate to some future utopia – like a nice predictable controllable machine.

All examples of blindness of thought leading to the ball tipping out of the bowl to who knows where.

Which is why people need some Humanities – to reference back and synthesise the shifting interrelationships over space and time, to illustrate how this complex adaptive word of ours actually works – not as a machine, as a complex constantly adapting system which kicks back and shifts very dramatically when you drive the ball up to the edge of the bowl.

The Myopia to Rule them All – Neoliberalism

Our current economic model – neoliberalism – cannot predict such shifts because tulip fevers, depressions, social revolutions, and environmental collapses cannot occur in its models.  It only know self-regulating (negative) feedbacks, not trend-reinforcing (positive) feedbacks that lead to system tips.  It only include in its models all-knowing, all-powerless (ha!), selfish ‘utility-maximising’ individuals & firms outside any concept of a life-support system of a planet and a community.  A cyberspace world divorced from the real world in so many different and profound ways.  And it has taken the flower of our science and technology, and our public sector, and our communities, and our landscapes, and ripped them into cogs to match their own fundamentalist faith.

So why do we bother to listen to these model-worshipping, linear, mechanical unwise neoliberal priests?  Seriously.  Why?  Why does any Treasury or NZIER Input:Output model get given any more credence than a shaman shaking a rattle over an eviscerated dead chicken.

It is the linear reductive mechanics of life that now make most policy in NZ.  The thinkers (i.e. “dissenters” who dared to dialogue and question the priesthood) are either gone or suppress their heresies to keep paying the mortgage.  How else do you explain our completely bonkers commodity and colonisation economic model – people and land being mere cheap grist for the corporate colonial mill of course.  No likely consequences there other than – in their blind eyes – more wealth, well-being, a lovely community, and a wonderfully healthy environment – right?  If they bothered to look and think, they would only see the opposite.  And no, GDP doesn’t count.  All rationalised by silly models and complex maths.  Moby Dick madness; rationalised stupidity.

At the core, the coeur, the heart of our future in this world lies this dis-ease and disconnection, and the ascendancy it has been given to the least wise and the most disconnected.

You can give it the name Modernity.  Neoliberal economics have put it into overdrive.  And they have let loose the worse of myopias – power-motivated extractive commerce – as their attack hyenas.

I do not know which beast we deal with first; Neoliberalism, Mega-Corporations, or Modernity.  I am hopeful we can have some Glorious and bloodless revolution of thought.

And start thinking about creating the bloom of flowers to replace the grinding of cogs, with we and the rest of the world as grist in the mill.

Chris Perley


Geometry of a flower

Posted in Thought Pieces, Ways of Seeing | Leave a comment

The Future of Managing Water in our Landscapes – Go Local Scale

There are so many examples both past and present where taking a decentralised approach to managing water in dry landscapes provides multiple benefits.  Such examples tend to be low capital as well as suited to a particular people and place – often


Johad – a crescent-shaped bund placed across the contour of sloping ground

with high social engagement.  They are all in such contrast to the large-scale industrial approaches we favour in the technocratic West.  Perhaps it is the social engagement and the contingencies of place that scare off those who live in large city offices?

The local solutions often have a history going back thousands of years, from the paddy systems of Asia, the terracing of the Mediterranean, Middle East and the Americas, the systems of Petra and the Hopi, as well as the ‘Johad’ systems of parts of South Asia that collect monsoon excesses for groundwater recharge.  A Johad is a crescent-shaped bund placed across the contour of land to catch excess run off.  They seems similar to the old pre-Columbian Native American upland bunds, check dams and contour terrace systems Aldo Leopold writes about in his visits to Sonora in Northern Mexico.

The Johads’ function is far more related to allowing the water to recharge the groundwater than in water storage itself.  And the results in some areas are claimed to be phenomenal.  Well worth looking into.  Much of this water would have flooded on down stream.  They also trap valuable soil which locals clean out prior to the next monsoon and put back on the land.

You read about these examples of ancient thinking not just in articles such as this about Rajendra Singh


Singh has brought water back to some 1,000 villages. (Tarun Bharat Sangh)

and his promotion of johads in Rajasthan, but also in the swath of books that have come out in critique of the Western mechanical paradigm of industrial scale.  I especially like Fred Pearce’s When the Rivers Run Dry, and the recently published A River Runs Again by Meera Subramanian.

Many of these systems have applicability in New Zealand, but the dominant narrative in not just the West but amongst the technocrats of Asia, is to look for the big input solutions.  The 1950s Aswan dam paradigm that result in win:lose outcomes. Decentralised systems so often end with win:win outcomes.

Paddy hoang-su-phi-vietnam.jpg

Hoang Su Phi Paddy System, Vietnam

So much of the resistance to taking up such decentralised Appropriate Technology (Schumacher) ideas relates to the way we are taught to think – not within a wide and complex socio-ecological system, but within a mechanical view of the world.

So often the construction of Johads were not supported by central and local government, so the initiatives had to be led by a small group working within a particular local community, whose results finally spread to others.  I have no idea why this is so.  I know many within at least our own government departments that would understand the principles – but perhaps the hierarchies above are incapable of the conceptual thought, and/or disconnected from those who live within these landscapes and their potential.  Perhaps – if I were to be cynical – it is the mere fact that there is far more kudos for the CEO, councillor or minister to cut the ribbon on some single great monument to ego and largess than on all these little things that actually achieve a better world.

That is the history of so many  authorities; ego gets involved, and they simply do not get the importance of working within local communities toward a common goal which requires a level of humility and question asking.  You go in as a guest, and you do not know this land in all its intimate moods.  Authorities may know centralised technologies, but they have far less feel for the sociologies and psychologies of place, not to mention local contingencies and conditions that make the central grand plan less than workable, potentially disastrous.

But then, central bureaucrats do not particularly like it when it is the locals who know more than they do.  Hierarchies are not used to listening to their own staff, let alone actual humble people of the lands and hamlets beyond the gates.

We could have started on local initiatives involving water in drought, flood and erosion prone catchments in Hawke’s Bay like the Huatokitoki, and let the ideas and practices extend from there.  Still could with the political will.

An important point is that these solutionsFarmland-near-Wharton-Fel-006.jpg that hold water are integral to so much else, so many other environmental, economic and social issues.  Water holding is one of those classic ‘sites of action’ that ripple out in positive waves from that pebble we throw in the pond of conventional, still and immutable ideas.

When you look to holding water in soils, you build soil quality with organic matter.  You sequester carbon.  You increase its water infiltration rates as well as its fertility and biodiversity.  There is more food for beneficial birds as well as stock.  When you grow more woody vegetation and keep higher herbaceous covers to reduce evapotranspiration you also improve soil infiltration rates and provide shelter and shade, more carbon, fodder and the potential for yet more biodiversity and economic value, not to mention aesthetics.

When you build pond systems to hold excess water you create water cleansing wetlands, keep any organic matter, sediment and nutrients that run off the land, biodiversity, more permanently flowing streams, reduced impacts of floods, less drought effects, more groundwater recharge in many geographies, and the chance to sit and watch a heron or hear a bittern.  Whatever the land produces is premium by any of the mega-trends of discerning buyers – food quality and safety, healthy environment, healthy community.

Never let anyone try and suggest that economic return and environmental and social

Neil Cullen Sth Otago.jpg

Neil Cullen, South Otago

performances are mutually exclusive.  I do not wish to be unkind, but if our ‘education’ system is in any way part of reinforcing that mechanical myth, then it seriously has to look at what ideas it is educating.  There is no wisdom to the cliché, “You cannot be green if you’re in the red.”  It’s actually the opposite over time, “You won’t be in the black for long if you don’t think Green.”

I think this is the great challenge to our incredibly obtuse conventions relating to the primary land-based sectors.  When will policy, research and education – as well as the dominant corporate agribusiness models of industrialism that those three bewilderingly look to as some relevant font of knowing – realise that their current systems are both morally and intellectually bankrupt?  Mechanical constructs of our landscapes, filled in their minds with ‘units’ (people included) rather than with functions whose very integrity is increasingly at risk because they degrade what they cannot see.

Look to our water as an indicator of economic, social and environmental health.  The quality of our streams, the extent of those lengths that permanently flow, the cleanliness of our groundwater, our floods and our droughts.

The stream rules the aquifer, and the land rules the stream.  If our streams are not healthy, then you can guarantee you will have problems with the land, our people, and our economy.  And the solutions lie with the way we think, engage and act within and throughout our landscapes – not on some large behemoth of concrete and capital sitting large and arrogant, like the statue of Ozymandias, in one place.

Chris Perley


Indian water Crisis.jpg

Posted in Land Use, Thought Pieces | 4 Comments

Weave our Philosophy around The Flux of Things

Musings from an old blog about how a forest flows.  It is a metaphor on life.  

Is thinking the way AN Whitehead argued – The Flux of Things as the essence of it all, with the observer a part of the whole experience – the step we must take in order to stop dismantled the functioning life around us as if it were some machine.  I think it is. We’ve stepped away from that wisdom and called it folk lore.


Think adverbs and verbs – the doing and connecting words as the defining words for life.  Emphasise less the adjectives and nouns – those words for frozen moments.

Edited from A Forest Flows:
View anything and it is as Alfred North Whitehead argued for all objects.  No forest or field or child or cloud or city or community has a simple spatial or temporal location. They shift, they extend, they change, they are influenced from their position within a geography, a history, and through the changing lens of humanity and other beasts.  They are complex, adaptive, alive, and beautiful.  You are allowed to use the word beautiful.  They are verbs, not nouns.  They are defined by process, not structure.  “All things flow” is what Whitehead said, as all things are integrated and connected to each other, and inseparable from the observer.

Is this too deep?  I would like to look into the eyes of those old kuia and kaumatua from a century past; those that lived before the western view clouded our eyes.  I would like to look into the eyes of Heremaima who people still remember from the 1950s.  This old kuia had the ways of the ancients, a knowing that made her one with things.  Heremaima would leave Te Hauke before dawn to walk thirty kilometres bathing in the mist to the battle sites at Whakatu, there to wash herself in the heavy dew she knew would be there then, before a full emersion in the Ngaruroro River.  Can you picture that?  It was a ritual of remembrance and connection.  

 If you had the privilege to look into her eyes, I think you might find Whitehead’s “ultimate, integral experience” there.

The flux of things.png

Chris Perley


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Kill Creativity and March to Nowhere

This is inspired by a conversation with a dear friend who doesn’t hug much.

Creative peopleI have a question … well, two.  First one.  Do we make room for creativity anymore – for the synthesisers?

(My friend was one of the creative ones who ran off screaming to do VSA in the sinking atolls of the Pacific.  No question about purpose there I suppose.)

Second question.  Are we now dominated by the mechanics of things – the tasks, the instructions, the prescription, the regulation, the expected unquestioning obedience, the Newtonian banality of a functionary job, hierarchical & formulaic, where dialogue and the merest suggestion of a question or a different way is treated with suspicion and fear by those whose sole desire is to ‘do’ without thought or creativity, and to climb the hierarchy one rung at a time?  

I mean, for heaven’s sake; do people never read about General Haig on the Somme anymore?  Do people believe in the delusion that you can raise a complex and ever changing thing like a child constantly exposed to the vagaries and varieties of life, and even *imagine* their life will be complete by institutionalisation in some mechanical box?  

This is the delusion of those who are so wrapped up in making a machine of everything they see and touch that they cannot hear the music of life.  They think us insane for dancing.  We think them insane for not moving to the grove.

But the music is real.  Listening to the music of life is part of the vision.  life nietzsche-music-dance.jpg

Vision without action may be a daydream, but action without vision is a bloody nightmare!  Our country has been living more and more in that visionless nightmare – musicless! – space for decades.

The two questions – any room now for creativity, and dominance of the mechanical view – are related of course.  Structure a world as if it is a machine the way Treasury and their government lackeys betrayed the public service from  1988, and you kill creativity.

I think to be creative and a synthesiser is now a disadvantageous trait in the job market.

And that disadvantage is at a considerable cost to the integrity of the whole and therefore to us all.  We need thinkers who care about something out beyond themselves.  A dear uncle who saw the demise of his bank from decentralised judgement to Sydney-based spreadsheet formulae explained it this way.  Where in the past the A-grade people hire A-grade people, now with the increase in control from the centre the B-grade functionary who loves the presumed regularity of things is promoted and hires C-graders because the Creativity is disadvantageousB-grader’s motivation is self and control rather than outcome.   And then the C-graders hire the D-graders ……. ad absurdum.

I witnessed that shift from quality thought and an ethos of outcome (what is the greater goal) to valuing the task-tickers in the public sector dismantling of the 1980s and 90s.  “You are all selfish and utility maximising asocial automatons,” said the neoliberal priests and their scary-eyed acolytes, “The world is mechanical and rational, so we will look to instruction rather than culture (there is NO culture!), and so will design the public

Brace yourself - vogons are coming.jpg

Resistance is futile

service as a hierarchical corporate machine.”

The rise of the Vogons and their guards.  Vogons don’t dance, and they cannot produce decent poetry either.

Those with ‘merit’** will rise. And they in turn will employ people even more ‘meritorious’ than themselves. Use your imagination and roll forward with THAT sort of crap for 30 years, and what do you get?

[**Merit. Noun. Obedient. “Jane obediently performed her task and so has merit.”]

And now all our processes are out of whack.  When I went and worked at a regional council I was very surprised to find that my responsibilities did not include Outcomes, only procedures and tasks.  WTF?  Asking questions was treated with shock.

Like … What are we trying to achieve?  Que?

Why are we doing it this way?  This is what we do.

Is there another way?   Absolutely not.

Are we looking at our land and community/economy wrongly as some predictable ‘resource’ commodity machine.  We’re technocrats.  Of course the world is a machine.

Should we perhaps rethink and look at the real If you don't know where you're going.jpgworld of uncertainty and surprise, which might suggest we think about resilience and building human and environmental capacities and functions that allow us to cope with the irregular; you know, a few future bumps?   We don’t deal in silly conceptual queries.  Just do as you’re told. 

They cannot hear the music.  They cannot even imagine the dance.  And so they march across the room, with life bumping against them in an annoying fashion, resulting in constant short-term reaction, constant in the belief that the bumps were an anomaly and the march would get them to wherever they were going.  Except they are not thinking so much about where they are going …. as the march.

I found that the upper levels of hierarchy were in general incapable of deep conceptual thought.

The real creative talent was below

….. or they had fled, screaming.

Chris Perley

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 Building Regional Economies, Thought Pieces | 1 Comment

Edible Landscapes – Away from the Factory Model

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The Future of NZ Farming… Or… If you don’t learn from your experiences …. you’re f%#!&

I have a copy of James Rebank’s A Shepherd’s Life.  It was where I first came across the word “Hefted” – of animals or humans embedded in a place – intuitively in sync and harmony with …

Source: The Future of NZ Farming… Or… If you don’t learn from your experiences …. you’re fucked

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The Future of NZ Farming… Or… If you don’t learn from your experiences …. you’re f%#!&

I have a copy of James Rebank’s A Shepherd’s Life.  It was where I first came across the word “Hefted” – of animals or humans embedded in a place – intuitively in sync and harmony with place – of it – Tangata Whenua.  I’ve used that word hefted in one of my recent blogs.

And then a friend sent me this NY Times article from Rebank, written observations of what he sees in American agriculture, suspecting I would concur.  I thought it excellent.  Here are some extracts…..



An abandoned building in Owlsey County, Kentucky. Mario Tama/Getty Images

I traveled through Kentucky, through endless miles of farmland and small towns. It was my first visit to the United States, for a book tour. I was shocked by the signs of decline I saw in rural America.


for my entire life, my own country has apathetically accepted an American model of farming and food retailing, mostly through a belief that it was the way of progress and the natural course of economic development. As a result, America’s future is the default for us all.

It is a future in which farming and food have changed and are changing radically — in my view, for the worse. Thus I look at the future with a skeptical eye. We have all become such suckers for a bargain that we take the low prices of our foodstuffs for granted and are somehow unable to connect these bargain-basement prices to our children’s inability to find meaningful work at a decently paid job.


Rebanks is writing from the perspective of an English shepherd.  His words are just as true for New Zealand.

Many of us have been writing and speaking for so long about the choices we have within land use – to continue to follow the deeply mythical, colonial, commodity, industrial, “Feed the World” model of ‘agribusiness’ where we become more and more alienated from stock husbandry and land husbandry.  Stock and land and stream become ‘units’ – and husbandry is subsumed beneath the technology treadmill which grinds everything down.  We become less husbandmen (the old name for farmers – those who *look after* land and beast) and more ‘managers’ of ‘agribusinesses’.  All the evidence is there – social, economic and environmental decline – that this path is a moribund bankrupt, but we keep treating those who continue to speak from within its sightless walls – however dim their bulbs – as the go-to commentators.  Perhaps it is the suits they wear.


But there is another path – to value, diversity, working with the patterns of the land to create – not trade-offs between economy and environment – but multiple positives.  Land is not a zero-sum game of this against that; you can design landscapes that sing like a choir – resonating harmonies.  You just have to know how to orchestrate; to build options and diversity, to hold price, retain local ownership, build long local value chains and all the civic, environmental and economic performance that comes, provide resilience to an uncertain future where climate and oil constraints – not to mention crises of price and availability – will inevitably kick in.

That orchestration can only come through retaining husbandry as the measure of a good land user – rather than some idiot measure of gross production – as if the land was a factory – whatever the social, environmental and *even* financial cost!

Read this article.  It so relates.  And when you hear Federated Farmers or GM Food advocates spouting their illogic – look to the gutted middle America – and the dispossessed who now vote for Trump because all hope is gone.  We are 20 or 30 years action-without-visionbehind the States.  And the decay is already well advanced.  Why don’t the leaders try to understand it, rather than enthusiastically call for one and all to put the hammer down – more dams, GM Food, more N, technofixes, get bigger, a bigger mill, reduced water quality standards, the right to exploit workers ….. ?

I don’t think we are led by thinkers who seek to understand before they act.  I think they continue to react … because that is the only nightmare they know.

We should learn from the lessons of America.  It was a phrase I heard today from someone who has suffered through life:

“If you don’t learn from your experiences …. you’re fucked.”

We laughed at her outspokenness.

We also laughed because it’s true.

Chris Perley


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Ways of Seeing II: The Mechanical View and the Treadmill of Techno-Fixes

I end up getting buried in arguments with technologists about GE vs no-GE and it really is pointless unless we can go a step deeper into the *context* of how and where we apply science and technology. I am accused of being anti-science because I challenge the technological thrust. I am not. But science needs a context within a wider knowledge system, as well as a wider world of effects that ripple out from any act we do. Science, by its very nature, does not pretend to be overly concerned with those wider system effects because of its focus on a particular question. And yet we need to apply that concern for the wider system if we are to make wise decisions and govern well.

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The Wisdom of Intimacy

Edward Abbey – he of Desert Solitaire, one of the classics questioning the values of our modern world – wrote a short and scathing essay of a laboratory scientist intent on studying dog behaviour because “no one had done it before.”  In a lab of course.  Perhaps it would have its very own cage … with a blanket.  Abbey doesn’t bother to demonstrate his knowledge of dog behaviour by his interaction with dogs, he simply states that any 10 year old boy will know more from having a dog as a loved companion and playmate, than any lab scientist will ever know.  Sometimes we take the myth of objectivity a little too far.  Abbey’s essay woke me up a bit.  I realised that I had been doing similar things by looking at land through a particular lens.

It makes you think about what it is to ‘know’.  F David Peat – a nuclear physicist – discusses this in Blackfoot Physics in which he examines an alternative Indigenous worldview where the whole idea of an outside objective view is incomprehensible – the world into which quantum physics is taking us as well.  The Blackfoot have a concept of ‘coming to knowing’ which is only achieved by not just doing, but being – the gaining of implicit knowing of a huge complex rather than the specific facts of some single things outside a context.  It is more than a hunter learning to be a hunter by hunting, it is coming to knowing through some broad set of senses – the net effect being they expect a young person to survive and find their way home from hundreds of miles away.  This is intimate knowing.

Intimate knowing is what Aristotle referred to with Phronesis – practical wisdom – his “queen of the intellectual virtues.”  You do not get it in the classroom, because that has no context.  You do not get it by learning a technique through doing – riding a horse perhaps, working in a lab.  You get it by experiencing the complex, particular and shifting contexts.  You get it by being inside something.

And that is a challenge to our current world view – that intimacy is more vital than objectivity.

In order to know – I mean really know, to have wisdom, to understand, to ken (“D’ya ken, laddie? No ye dae-ye-kenwee counting instrrrument therre laddie, but rreally ken”) – you need intimacy – an intimate relationship with a thing, a space where you lose yourself in being at one with the new whole that is you and that thing (the actor, the act, and the stage)- without one reference at all to an explicit thought.  You know and act, because you are wrapped up within and around that thing – the implicit dominates the explicit.  You don’t Ken Meaning.pngthink, you just feel and do, because you just know.

You see this when artists get into a zone.  You can reach the sublime.  At a dinner party once when discussing the incredible intimacy you get when you allow your emotions to channel through you, our host suddenly rose and returned with a painting she had done in a burst of emotion when a lover had left her life; a naked form wrapped up in its own limbs – profound and beautiful in despair.  No words were needed to describe how she felt.

You see it with a great sportsperson whose 10,000 hours of doing allows them to just be within something.  The intuition of the expert of this particular place.  There is beauty here as well.  Miranda Leek - the mystery.pngSo much beauty.  The chef who can bring tastes together in some new complex which a food technologist could never do with all their chemistry.  The musicians creating something essentially indescribable outside of bearing witness to the experience.  Or a man and a dog working a flock where one slow step to the right can make the whole thing change. You see it when a nurse or paramedic just act with a lightness of being, where intuition supplants the procedural rules.  You see magic created not by the machine of ordered parts, but by the organic, feeling, intuitive thing.  They have moved beyond the measures and procedures and manuals to another world where lies creativity and art.

Call it being in the zone, or Zen and the Art of Archery, the-hitter-and-the-hitor channelling, or whatever. But it’s real.

Have we forgotten that truth in our rush to dissect and murder with value-laden measures we call ‘objective’?  Do the politicians and Treasury economists who think the world a machine have any idea what they are doing when they not only dismiss the inherent wisdom and intimacy of local democracy, but make the appalling judgment to emphasise the STEM subjects over the Arts and Humanities.  Back to the novice rules where there is no room to hold more than one function in your mind at the same time – so all we will be told to see is grass growth, or milk units, or trees but no forests.

Does objectivity – which I would argue is a complete myth – have a higher place than intimacy in our pursuit of better knowing and judging?   I think that is an epistemological fallacy.

And part of the myth is the arrogance that so often resides within the most myopic and irrelevant of spreadsheets.  I know them well.  All well and good as guides – sometimes you can laugh and do the opposite.  Dangerous as unthinkingly followed guide-dogs, leading those who dare not think outside the box, for fear of having a quantitatively unsubstantiated view – and technocrats are not good at questioning deeply buried assumptions.  Or is it professional ego?  The biggest fears (or egos) have the smallest ears.  The biggest egos are never vulnerable enough, nor curious enough, to listen and learn from the gentler folk, or the land.  The biggest egos must do and can never be content to just be.  Their love of mechanical order and dissection – and never mind all the metaphysical assumptions with that view – results in the imposition of hierarchical command, the dis-integration of meaning, the alienation of thought and reflection.  It results in separation, because it believes with the most ardent faith in separation, in the very opposite of intimacy.

Have we assigned a false status of ‘knowing’ to technocratic hierarchies where the least intimate, the least connected, those who least understand this thing, this complex, in this place, in this time, with these ever-shifting conditions in play, with these contingencies?

Some of these least intimate deign not to listen to the people “hefted” to this place; they think that being disconnected provides a hefted-meaningposition of better knowing.

Have we forgotten what it is to “heft” to land and place and community?  Why have quanta and presumed universal mechanical order been afforded a higher status than the shifting qualities of life as a murmuration of starlings?  What metaphors we live by.

Our world is more integrated system (think a parent-child or person-land or bird-bird-landscape complex) than it ever is a machine (think a factory with hard, obedient, single function and obedient cogs).

Start with this: our world is not a machine, however much they wish it so.

This world of ours; this world of people, landscapes, ecology, community, and economy is a soft system: complex, shifting and adaptive, and defined by relationships and place.

Look at those things through the eyes of a narrow machine operator of life, and you will always get it wrong.  You can destroy the promise in pursuit of a single function ‘efficiency’: turn the stream in all its beauty and constant creativity into a drain; turn a street where people meet and walk and talk, creating happiness, ideas, initiatives and play …. into a grey and foreboding place where all those unmeasured ‘inefficient’ things are destroyed in pursuit of more cars; without thought, without ken, without acknowledgment, without any concept of their own hubris and sin.  The totalitarian spirit-crushing, idea-killing, dialogue-silencing, unseeing and fragile world of Fascism, Soviet Communism and Mega-Corporate hierarchical madness.

You have to be hefted to a place to realise what can be lost when hierarchies of dull professionalism trump the potential they cannot see, and make a machine out of a work of art.  To realise the magic we can create requires intimacy within a thing – “the hitter and the hit as one reality.”

Our world is in a conflict with two comprehensive world views.  You can call them by all the names of spurious and confusing worth – Modernity or Indigenous perhaps – but what they really amount to is summed up by the relationships they encourage and discourage.  We are stuck – for the moment – in a comprehensive world view that encourages distance and discourages intimacy…..

… at a time when we need more than ever connection and intimacy.

Chris Perley

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

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Everything is Connected: Make it Sing

If we could only see the landscapes and our cities and towns as multifunctional systems rather than machines of single function silos, we could achieve so much. Low impact design. Soft systems. Rebuild landscape function. Agroecological.

But we were taught that the land is a factory producing units, and *single production unit* and *economy of scale* is how you think in a factory, while *synergy* and *multiple* function is how you think in a system.

Changing that dominant mindset goes deep into policy, tertiary education, research. But that is our challenge, and yes, there is huge potential.

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Who is a Forester, a Farmer, A Fisher?

These are the sentiments of a husbandman, a farmer, a forester.  You can teach all the agronomic head stuff you want, pile on the degrees; but if you don’t have the heart to see more in land, plants, animals and people than utility or ‘units’ of measured production, then there is something incomplete; something that leads inevitably to Gandhi’s industrial ‘nine-day wonders’ of ‘development’.  A burst of exploitative profit which is not real, based on degradation, with the inevitable decline that comes from mining legacies.

Julie Greig Homeward.jpg

Homeward – Julie Greig

You cannot ‘see’ this world in all its fullness and reality through a market or the metaphor of some satanic mill.  That allegory of markets and machines has to be discarded, before it kills us all.  You cannot govern in a way that nurtures the land, the community, a country, through those mad and twisted lens.  They are subservient, have their place beneath a wider wisdom, and can never represent the whole.

If you cannot feel the spirit, if you cannot see the beauty, if you think only in your head, and can only visualise the life supporting functions of land and community as something reducible to numbers, then do us all a favour …..

… don’t call yourself a farmer, or a forester, or a fisher.  Call yourself an agri-businessman.  Then the rest of us won’t be confused by imagining you might, possibly, have a perspective that’s worth a damn.

Chris Perley



Jules Matthews

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

About Chris Perley

Donations are welcomed with my sincere thanks. You can simply click the multiples of $5 donations, then click on the Paypal or any of the Credit or Debit Card symbols. It also allows me to get rid of the pesky advertisements! And it’s a nice way to say thank you. So thank you 🙂

Donation to Thoughtscapes Blog

Donations are welcomed with my sincere thanks. You can simply click the multiples of $5 donations, then click on the Paypal or any of the Credit or Debit Card symbols. It also allows me to get rid of the pesky advertisements! And it’s a nice way to say thank you. So thank you 🙂


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The Trumps of History

Written when Donald Trump was elected President. And now he is there and it isn’t just a dream. And he hasn’t stopped the knee jerk, foolish rhetoric. He really is that unsuited to preside.

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Building Land Systems for Drought-Flood Resilience

Reblogging because we are in the grip of another drought in Hawke’s Bay, and nothing much has changed. Yet there are all the examples in the world from which to learn, and beautifully written books by some of the minds I admire the most, and the logic of first principles. But the mechanical and reductionist paradigm continues, and you are considered a crackpot if you suggest another way of thinking about a complex issue.

Interesting that Jon Morgan dug up some of the presentation work we did back in 2009 during the last major 07-09 drought in Hawke’s Bay. He remembered the higher covers work – significantly reduces evapotranspiration as does integrated woodlands for shelter, along exactly the same principles of reducing the Osmotic Gradient from wet leaf/soil to dry hot air that you see in plants with sunken stomata or tomentose (hairy) leaves.

It is not information that is lacking, it is the paradigms of thought that are limiting us.

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The Gods of Technocracy and the Death of Belonging

if-we-have-no-peace-teresaI’m curious about how we lose empathy – in self or as a whole culture – toward people, or life, or land.  How we lose that sense that we are all connected, that we belong to each other.  How do we lose the perspective of life as interdependent.  I’m curious because Mother Teresa is right that without that sense of belonging we can have no peace.   We fight a war with ourselves.

I like peace.  I like people having hope.  I like the idea that our children will have them both as well.  We need to know we belong, and for that we need empathy; to see from the shoes and through the eyes of others; to feel how it would feel if it was we on the other end of heartlessness.

I’m curious because that battle between the gain and loss of empathy – of belonging and ‘othering’ – is so much part of our history.  We have created and shifted the borders of empathy behind which we feel a belonging – on that other side are the outsiders – the others.  We have created and then dissolved boundaries based on empire, nation, province, race, gender and class, corporate and public, one generation before and another yet to come, even humanity as distinct from the rest of life and land.  “Us versus them,” “it’s either one thing or the other,” often wrapped up in the rhetoric of competition, exploitation, dominion and threat.

We have presumed that our relative position is a reflection of merit and our particular god’s favour.   We think exploitation is gain because we do not measure the losses that count, because we do not have the empathy to even know what counts, nor to realise the risks to our own demise.  Things bite back …. because we are interdependent.  We who ravage the fisheries and the communities for personal gain think we do not belong to these people, or this planet …. even though we do.  We justify the sin of abuse of power from within a bubble of ignorance and bigotry.  We are better.  We are right.  We deserve.  They do not.

It makes the vice of exploitation a sweet virtue, measured in dollars.

And we keep changing our gods to suit our rationalisations of what is …. wrong.  Our current god is money and the market.  The weak suffer because they ought.  The poor suffer because they so choose.  The suffering are here because the market dictates.

I’m curious because when I read Terry Pratchett’s Granny Weatherwax the witch saying that evil begins when we start to treat Evil begins when - Pratchett.jpgpeople as ‘things’, it rings true.  I’m curious because I was trained to think and analyse as a technocrat of ‘resources’: the ultimate ‘things’ outside ourselves.

Think about what that involves.  You hone in on measured projections instead of out to the wider whole and what it is to live and be.  You create artificial boundaries in your own mind; monocultures of the mind.

We were also told of that risk of siloed thought, “Think broad, not too narrow.”  But to the younger Vandana Shiva - monocultures of the mind.pngmind the measured projections have the illusion of being tangible – “misplaced concreteness!” said Whitehead – and at least have the appearance of being defendable and grounded (numbers give that mythical whiff of ‘objectivity’), while the whole is a nebulous promise for those artistic ‘others’.   And some people, and some disciplines, will never grow up.  They will for ever fail to see that they mistake what is an abstract – a number framed by subjective choosing they cannot even imagine – as the real world.


You can’t count empathy

When you are older and wise enough to read Terry Pratchett, it makes you reflect on your own attraction to technocracy.  I’m curious because I know enough of history to recall horrifying stories of the narrowly justified rendering of two-legged ‘resources’ into soap, train scheduling, and of strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.  Just things.  Will our future generations look back on our treatment of our land and communities with the same judgment we now reserve for the slavers of yesterday?

I’m curious because is it not the most perennial of philosophies, of all the religions, to treat others as you would yourself?   That is a creed of belonging to each other.  I’m curious because while many will put their hands on heart and call themselves committed to this religion or that – all of which have at their core the Golden Rule of “do unto others …” – when it comes to acting, we apply the Rule within our own convenient boundaries of belonging.  If they are considered inside the border, then of course.  land-to-which-we-belongIf they are outside, then of course not.  Never mind the parable of the good Samaritan (the point being that he was an other, so empathise with others).  When it comes to how we apply the Golden Rule, we like to make exceptions.  We like to call some people infidel; unbelievers; other.  AKA things.  It gives us an excuse to abuse and still feel we have right and are right.

And if we cannot care for people, why should we care for the land?   How can you ‘abuse’ a mere measured commodity, a mere thing?   A thing is not a moral patient; we need not be concerned.  And if we get to the point of treating people as things … well, what hope has the land?

Industrialise, commoditise, otherise – pick your synonym.

 All this waxing and waning of the boundaries where belonging ends and things begin is confusing.  We are not – however much we would hope – on some inevitable progression of a more inclusive sense of belonging.  I think we are going backwards on the journey with the rise of pernicious and power-concentrating commercial fetish.

Aldo Leopold writes (optimistically) in his Land Ethic of a broadening empathy of that family of belonging from Odysseus (who on return from his odyssey,


If we are told that we are independent, alone, an individual without connection, are we evolving ethically?

hanged his young slave girls – mere property – on suspicion) through to the emancipation of our “Enlightened” age.   He is an optimist.  We began back in the depths of slavery and some bizarre hierarchy of being; but look how far we have come!

Have we?  Oh that it was that simple; that one day we would progress upon Leopold’s single premise of each of us as a member of a community of interdependent parts – with a land ethic as simply an enlargement of that boundary of belonging.  Lie back and watch as we extend emancipation and belonging to all of humanity, and then bring in the land.

But Modernity gave us new ways to set ourselves as individuals apart as ‘man alone’, to distance ourselves, to place some of us above and others below; new hierarchies of beings.  Rationality hasn’t hindered the development of a new elite who consider themselves entitled and above.  If anything the new Dogmas of the day have encouraged it.  Let us worship the dollar and anything else we can multiply and divide.  Modernity gave us technocracy, and then the more insane versions of economics where abstracts substitute for what is real.

We have glorified independence, silos and competition; factions and fractions and cameron-quote-not-everything-that-can-be-counteddisintegrations; reductions and rejections of anything that does not sit still long enough to be measured.  Our current fetish is for seeing the world even more as silos of us and other with all the incumbent blinkers of within the box thinking.

We have regressed by turning Aristotle on his head and placing wisdom and questions of “what ought we to do?” and “what is good?” far beneath what he considered mere facts and techniques.  We have let the tools drive our humanity, rather than humanity decide where and when we apply the tools.  Because we can exploit the land – in a measured, monetised, industrialised, commoditised and wonderfully technological way of course – then ought we?

Utter fallacy.  Naturally.

Our once indigenous ways of seeing the broadest interdependencies of land and people are now treated as superstition before the gods worshipped by the technocrats. STEM.png They see no irony there.  The wisdom of the Humanities and the Arts that seek truth in ways other than through numbers are treated as infidel by the STEM technocracies.  Do a STEM subject, the policy makers say, get paid more relative to those unbelievers.  We are so much in competition that we feel the need to label ourselves, so that we can position, again.  I’m frankly sick of spreadsheets and models.  I know how often they are misapplied, what contexts they deride, in whose status quo interests they lie, and what crap they hide.

And now the defining of people and land by some abstract dollar measure has come along to break up the sense of belonging even more.  Now we are all things, ‘resources’, ‘consumers’, ‘customers’, ‘clients’ in the marketplace that they try to tell us defines what it is to live.  Class is re-emerging; winners and losers.  The recolonising of land and communities by the new powerful corporate elite whose own definition of merit – great commercial power over the ‘worker/peasants’ – justifies much the same abuse in their minds as colonisation was justified in the past by greater military power over the ‘natives’.

I’m curious about how we lose empathy for those with whom we in reality coexist – to whom we belong – because the diminishing of land and people and communities to things is not just a deeply unethical way of seeing; it is also a completely unsustainable way of being.

And I’m curious because I don’t really know how it is going to stop, or when it will turn around.   Though I know it will.  Because we won’t be here for many more generations if it doesn’t.

Chris Perley


White Cliffs Rangataiki - Peter Macintyre.jpg

Peter McIntyre – The White Cliffs, Rangatikei.  This is not a ‘resource’.

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What’s Good about Gorse

I recall some time in the distant past having to put up with Wordsworth going on a bit about ‘golden’ daffodils.  Saccharine sweet.  They’re not even golden.  More yellow really – similar to broom.  Now for the colour of deep, rich, gold you can’t go past gorse.


Where you see me, put a forest there instead of making the world safe for ryegrass

I got to detest Wordsworth’s poem, pushed down the throat of the young.  They should have used more e e cummings, Pablo Neruda, or some raging Dylan stuff –  including Bob’s Hard Road and Desolation Row.  Something to stir our blood and hormonal rage.  We do *get* the sublime as children and teenagers, but it is a different form of sublime than hideously boring roses and daffodils.  Mountains, streams, chasing small eels in the creek and balls on a field were our sublime.

So …… in praise of gorse – an ode to gorse if you like.  It’s a prickly beast that is much maligned.  I have a theory that we treat it as a weed because, historically, it has been the antithesis of what people saw as the more desirable land cover.  What we particularly desired was grass.  Lots of it.  Everywhere.

Does it deserve the scorn?  Perhaps, like hawthorn, it has its place.  In the wrong place it can be an economic, environmental or social nuisance.  But so can daffodils and two-legged naked apes according to some.  So can ryegrass and radiata pine.  The problem may not be the gorse so much as our particular prejudices and conventions.

Think of it as something that speaks about site, somethings that does many more things than regenerate on to doubtful quality pastures.

Furze is the ‘nice’ name for gorse.  Some


Regan Gentry gorsey things – Invercargill

New Zealand websites even advertise wooden ‘furze’ coasters set alongside platters and bowls made of Kauri and peach.  A nice looking timber, and great firewood – which is why it burns so well when you put a match to it!  Bakers used it of old, as they once used Silver Pine on the West Coast – a quick and hot burner.  And the mineral and alkali rich ash was always recognised as a soil improver and soap maker. You can even dress up a salad and make tea with the flowers.

In Thomas Hardy’s Wessex novels descriptions of cutting ‘furze’ from the common was more…well, common… than some old gaffer admiring daffodils.  I don’t recall what they cut the stuff for, but presume it was for winter fodder (after ‘bruising’).  Alternatives such as mattress stuffing don’t bear thinking about.  Could it be?

Foresters argue that gorse is an excellent indicator of a good growth site for trees, suggesting deep soils and relatively good moisture content, whereas its cousin broom indicates shallow, dry and gutless soils.  From a grazing perspective, the fact that some faces ‘degrade’ into gorse suggests that stock aren’t too keen on the topography or the tucker offered.

Farm foresters look a little askance at steep gullies being cleared at great cost for pasture, knowing that in ten years time it’ll likely be back, and in the meantime the return from pasture will be low.  A complete waste of money often, encouraged by an obsession with a colonial expanse of one thing.   Monocultural thinking, blind to the variation in patterns and connections within our landscapes – the different values and stories you can read by *not* seeing through only one myopic lens.  Don’t start me on technocratic obsessions, please.  Broader minded and multi-lensed farm foresters see gully gorse, a financial black hole in pasture, and think forests.

Is the real economic pest the gorse, or the ideas and conventions that encourage a debatable way of looking at land and landscapes?  I very much believe the latter.

Beekeepers also look askance at gorse haters.  Gorse & bees.jpgIvan Dickinson from Clover Land Apiaries in Milton once told me that gorse is the vital early season provider of protein-rich pollen.  And it keeps producing pollen right through to autumn.  Where there isn’t gorse handy, the beekeepers sometimes have to supplement the hives.  Alas, no honey to speak of.  A bit of a dry well there.

A few of the local Otago savants have taken a great interest in gorse.  Dr Jill Hamel planted macrocarpa through her furze patch above Purakanui Inlet.  It wasn’t the done thing at the time, radiata pine being the only tree species thought vigorous enough.  Jill even studied the growth rates of this charming shrub.  The stuff grows fast, 1.5 metres after two years on her site, and up to seven metre high after 25 years in other studies done by Dr Ralph Allen and Peter Johnson.  At that age it gets the title ‘old man’, and it’s near death, and becomes of interest for native tree regeneration provided the litter layer is not too thick and dry, and there is light available as the gorse crowns start to open.  A number of people around Otago, including the late Les Cleveland, close-up-of-pattern-of-gorse-woodwere actively underplanting their gorse with natives as an alternative to the match and the bulldozer.

A great soil improver as well, a nitrogen fixer and organic matter depositor, all while keeping the soil in place on steep slopes and keeping the streams clear of run-off.

I used to look out on the truly golden faces of Mt Cargill in the spring.  I know that it was a furzy face of gold I saw.  Today I like daffodils – I accepted in the days following youth that they can be sublime – especially because they are harbingers of spring.  But so is flowering gorse.  Gorse says more than let us welcome the spring.  It is saying something about the landscape.  Stock don’t like it here.  That’s why I’ve regenerated.  Call me a messenger – a Hermes, a Mercury – I’m letting you know this is a great place for a forest.  You can enrich me with a kowhai, a wild cherry and some tree lucerne to bring in the native birds from the surrounding native bush, and the kereru will come and spread their seed.  Or interplant me as I grow old if you have the stomach.

Just don’t put a match to me unless you’re baking bread.

Chris Perley


Edited version first published in the Otago Daily Times in January 2005.

Posted in Land Use, Landscape function, Thought Pieces | 5 Comments

Four Arguments Against GM Food Production

Safe Food.jpgThe argument for GM Food is supported by those taking a number of positions: 1. That GM will increase food production and we need to feed the world (false on both counts); 2. that GM will provide business opportunities for our local farmers (false, though it is true of the owners of GM patents); and 3. that we ought to trust the science and technology of GM, and fear of eating GM food is merely the ignorance of the masses that will soon be put to rest by even more science (supercilious, and false).

In response to a letter arguing for essentially all of these dubious positions, I penned the following.  


Letter to the Editor, Hawkes Bay Today (January 2017)

science-vs-humanitiesDaryl Petersen obviously believes that GM food production is merely a technological tool whose science is secure, and eventually the people will all wake up and mature to his higher level of knowing. For the benefit of those that think like Mr Petersen, there are actually four arguments against GM.

The biggest by far is the premium price position of GM Free versus lower than commodity position of GM. Have a look at the nightmare real price reduction of agricultural commodities over the last 60 years. You do not want to be on an even worse trajectory than that. GM is that worse.

The second is containment. Once some short-term thinker decides on GM, it effectively cuts out his neighbour from going for premium market position, forcing below-commodity as the position of NZ agriculture. That is pure and utter madness.

The third is that – despite what Mr Petersen expresses so patronisingly – the science is nowhere near settled, partly because so many of the mega-corporates who do the GM have all sorts of veto rights to ensure there is no independent science presented – only their approved variety. I have seen visiting academics who don’t want to be sued, so don’t monsanto-no-food-grown-we-dont-ownpublish, but present horror stories. And then look at the concerted attacks on those that do publish within the loopholes of the veto rights.

And the fourth is the attempts by mega-corporates to control the wider food system by effectively patenting food, including ancient foods and plants whose genomes we all own as a ‘common’. More privatisation of the commons. Anyone think that is a desirable end? GM is a corporate-sponsored Mordor in the making.

Chris Perley


Posted in Land Use, Thought Pieces | 5 Comments

Elation and the Wharves of Home

Part of my healing was to get to the end of that wharf. I’d come almost six hours, with a night a little to the north of middle.

I’d started with a feeling of elation that is hard to explain.  I’ll try.  It was the start of a roadtrip where every sense was honed – all that you touch, all that you see. North out of Napier, the sea at Tangoio by the Urupa rock was the most amazing milky aquamarine. The air was alive, warm, every breath an intake of spirit.  The wind in the northwest.  The lyrics of Pink Floyd brilliance on the stereo.

I believe so strongly in synchronicity.  And there I drove north, free, and – by the aquamarine and the rock where I once picked up stones from the beach on a day to remember – Eclipse played on …

All that you touch 
All that you see 
All that you taste 
All you feel. 
All that you love 
All that you hate 
All you distrust 
All you save. 
All that you give 
All that you deal 
All that you buy, 
beg, borrow or steal. 
All you create 
All you destroy 
All that you do 
All that you say. 
All that you eat 
And everyone you meet 
All that you slight 
And everyone you fight. 
All that is now 
All that is gone 
All that's to come 
and everything under the sun is in tune 
but the sun is eclipsed by the moon.

Everything under the sun is in tune.

Elation is when you’ve been scuttled into a coma, all the bungs pulled out, sucked to the seabed, connected to a physical life by tubes and machine, and surprisingly (for some) made it through to float again.  When you float when you ought not, you are primed for elation.

When you’ve sensed the weird and felt the big love; when you’ve been confined oh-so-unwillingly to first the bed, then the ward, then the hospital, then the confines of day-to-day then week-to-week home-based medical care – for a year – then you are primed for elation.


Anauru Bay, East Coast, New Zealand

And then they do the last surgery, give you a couple of weeks to recover, and a nurse who has become a friend, a sister, hugs you and says with a smile that you are no longer on the outpatient system, a year and two weeks after they flew you to the big city for the first emergency surgery – then you are primed for elation.

When you are elated, there is only one thought.  To feel the joy.  No district, no house, no room or bed can hold it.  You have to leave.  To go.  To travel far and fast.  To find life again, embrace it, greedily suck it up. Every. Last. Drop.

tolaga-bay-wharf-from-landYou need to feel the land again, to hear it say kiaora as you sale on the winding paths, swoops and zooms and leaning banks and diving turns of New Zealand hill country roads – the nearest thing to flying on wheels. You wind the window down, push every bar on your sense equaliser to the extremes, turn Pink up, feel the poems come into your head, and scream into the wind.

Elation is wheeling out to the end of the wharf, to feel the sea embrace the land. Elation is being blessed by people and their essence – their humanity and humour and goodness. The world is still a beautiful place.

Tolaga Bay was named by Captain Cook.  I’m not sure if that was before or after he shot the local who had an interest in the ship’s stores.  The Maori name is so much more beautiful – Uawa Nui A Ruamatua.

The Uawa wharf was being restored.  At 600 metres, the longest in New Zealand.  Rubble and hard clay between me and the concourse.  I started negotiating the obstacle course on wheels and a great big-hearted man asked me if I needed a hand. “No,” I said, “but thanks. I need to do this myself.”  My emotions were right on the edge.  I’m doing this.  I’m alive and I’m doing this.

We wheeled and walked and talked. His name was Hombre.  He was gentle and caring and with the strength of character you see in gentle men.  A shearer from Ngati Kahungunu working amongst the Ngati Porou.

“Hombre is an unusual name.”

“My mum and dad really liked this old


The end of the Tolaga Bay Wharf

western, and named me after it.”

“Was is a good western?”

“Nah, I thought it was shit.”

We laughed, kept talking, went all the way to the end where we met three Dutch tourists, a dog and a Cawthron Institute researcher taking water samples.  Hombre sat on the bollard, all zen and humour.

On the way back we said kiaora to all the children with rolled towels under their arms, hurrying toward us in groups.  They smile, say kiaora; shy but with shining spirits, anticipating the wild leap into the sea and the hurried climb back up the rusty ladder.

The anticipation of joy.  The joy of anticipation.

A man in a Harley Davidson growled toward us, waved and said I had nice wheels. Laughter.

The East Coast is more than a place. When you’re born to it, as are generations before, you are a part of it whether you like it or not. Spirit flows through the land and back through you. I came back once after working as a presser in a Northern Hawke’s Bay shearing gang, and hearts embraced me.  Welcome home.

And the wharves call to you.  You have to go to them.


Tokomaru Bay wharf, with the dark remains of the once freezing works behind.

They are part of the history of these once thriving towns with wool stores, fishing boats, freezing works and dairy co-operatives.  Part of the quest.  I remembered these wharves.  I remember as a boy going out on to the Tokomaru wharf in evenings back in the 1960s and early 70s, with men carrying beer crates, crayfish pots and sacks. The pots to bait and drop off the wharf; the crates to sit on and talk; the sacks to divvie up the spoils. The boys would run around and play the games we always found without looking, in the days before handheld screens.

We didn’t eavesdrop on the boring grown ups and their laughter, but there were old men, some from the Maori Battalion, and I’d

Wooden carcass of the Tokomaru Bay Wharf.jpg

Wooden extent of Tokomaru Bay wharf

give my eye teeth to hear their korero today.

So after the Tolaga Bay wharf I headed for those memories.  No people.  The old wool store restored, the freezing works a carcass, and the green wharf sheds underneath the mountain.  The wooden end of the wharf is “at your own risk.”

I so wanted to clamber out to the place we used to run around.   The ghosts of men and children still sit and play out there.

Looking back from the sea, you feel the landscape.  Powerful.  The old urupa on the mountain we once walked up to, and were told in no uncertain terms to respect.  You can feel things here, looking back to the Maunga and back in time.  Chi.  Mauri.  Many benevolent spirits saying Tenakoe.

The powerful benevolence of belonging.

Chris Perley


Posted in Thought Pieces | 6 Comments

Greed, Cruelty & Ingratitude – and a Short Future

the-river-why-duncanI’ve been reading David James Duncan’s The River Why.  The movie does absolutely no justice to this book.  I suppose big philosophy books like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, or Catch 22, will always struggle to get the questions and arguments across in a two hour movie.

There is a wonderful passage looking at how we look at the world and eat of it.  The act of harvest is not itself a problem; Jesus fed people with loaves and fishes.  It is when harvest loses reverence, gratitude and care.  When tevil-begins-pratchetthe bounty becomes a ‘thing’.

Terry Pratchett once wrote that evil begins when you start treating people as things. We do that now by referring to people as ‘resources’, even worse by defining them as measures and dollars in some heartless and unwise spreadsheet.

But evil arguably starts before that.  We start by looking at land and water and the seas and the soil as ‘thing’.  We lose appreciation that these systems are linked to each other and to humanity by meanings, by functions that shift and can suddenly tip into a famine or disaster. More verbs that will change than measured nouns.

Lose that reference to wider meaning and we risk life itself.  That reverence for life often manifests as spiritual belief, something those in the technocratic West will consider ‘superstition’, yet it works.  James Scott found that hill tribes of South East Asia focus on a resilience strategy – have the-environment-around-youreverence, be grateful to the earth and the spirits, and from a practical sense improve resilience and cover the contingencies by focusing on diversity of food type and source, and by a strategy of minimising the minimum – reduce the possibility and the degree of that killer famine year.  What have we done in the West in our Modern age?  By focusing on maximising the maximum – often of a single and hugely problematic KPI measure of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – we have emphasised the possibility of the worst of bad results at the other extreme.  Resilience to shocks is not a dominant feature of modern policy making, though the use the word more and more with absolutely no comprehension of what a shift in thinking resilience represents.

We lose reverence, connection and gratitude when we harvest with a ‘thing’ in mind, a ‘resource’.  We don’t ask, as they do in Findhorn, and we don’t thank. Even when we refer to the ecosystem, we call them ‘ecosystem services’, when they are far better framed as ‘ecosystem gifts’.   Either a world of measured ‘utility’ to us, or one defined by an ethical interdependent relationship where there are duties and virtues, and their opposite.  A world that sees the world and people as moral patients instead of mere means to selfish ends is the perspective we need.  Is this what defines an indigenous perspective – the way we see and feel when we are native to a place?  The idea of a ‘service’ by a subordinate world to us is a framing we probably don’t consider, and yet the difference in meaning between service and ‘gift’ is profound.  We take what is our entitlement, or we are gifted sustenance because we show the proper respectful relationship.  We propagate the legacies for our great grandchildren, and harvest the reverence and care from our great grandparents.

Within the novel, a Native American points duncan-the-principles-that-will-save-earth-sout the lessons of the past, and the fact that Spirit Father will have the last word. He tells a story of when his own people lost reverence for the world; a reverence that is lost now in our technocratic world ….. “Then it was the river of fire. Now it is the white man’s dam. These are the Spirit Father’s weapons. Always it is the same: it is the greedy, the cruel, the ungrateful that bring about suffering upon the people.”

This is our recipe for a short-term future; greed and a focus on self, cruelty to others and the planets, and the ingratitude of the tyrants who are all hubris and no reverence for something bigger than themselves.

Chris Perley


Makaroro Upper Waipawa River.jpg



Posted in Land Use, Thought Pieces | 2 Comments

Reflections on Wisdom, and the Log from the Sea of Cortez

Reblogging because of a conversation with a High School teacher at Lake Karapiro today, recovering from a couple of Waka Ama races. We talked of the rise of the administrative and mechanical minds destroying effectiveness in pursuit of various charades of accountability and monocultural thinking. And how the magic is in a culture that sees through many eyes, and feels. The very things they have somehow determined are no longer part of the pantheon of what is wise. Poor deluded they.

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Neoliberalism Kills Strategic Thought – and that is Killing our Future

Tactic one for changing our political environment. Hmmmmm….. How about, as the first one, we refocus on strategy, not technocratic analysis?  Strategy requires thinking qualitatively – long and broad through connections.  Where are we wanting to go?  What are the factors, issues, etc. impacting

Rockwell Kent Landscape.jpg

Rockwell Kent

positively and negatively on that idea of ‘good’?  What is a society?  What is an environment?  What is an economy?  How do they relate?  Know that each place and time is different, so build flexibility.

What knowledge systems do we need to be wise in this particular place, with these particular issues, where the people desire these particular goals.   Look to our place – the biophysical world with all its permutations and patterns.  Look to our people, with all their cultures and perspectives.

Know that the world is inherently uncertain and uncontrollable – not a machine – so what capacities do we need to build in order to cope with uncertainty and uncontrollability.

Know that you cannot separate community from land, or economy from community, that there is interdependence, and the ‘economy’ is the most dependent thing of all.

peterson-political-positioningKnow that there are root things (ideas especially) that make the proximate things – the symptoms – happen.  Know that any solutions must dig deep into those roots, and that the worst thing to do is blindly fiddle with the symptoms – the surface things (more crime? Build prisons! More poverty? Benefit cuts to create ‘incentive’ and tax cuts for the rich (to encourage speculation?)! , etc.), and add ad hoc epicycles to your pet theories to try and justify a suite of false ideas.

And look deep at ourselves – look deep into our past and our present and our future and give time to think about our place in the world, and the assumptions we hold so dear – as all cultures have held their assumptions dear.

…….. the nature of power and colonialism; the mechanical assumptions of Modernity – all prediction and control – the nature of uncertainty – the importance of cultural values and the spirit of people to how things function – how they trust, the culture of cooperation and caring, how they participate, how they see these lands and rivers and forests and fields and beaches and mountains and lakes to which they belong.  What meanings define them.


I have not mentioned a measured thing.  Not one.  That is because you cannot justifiably delve into numbers until you create a framework of principles and goals.

And yet that is exactly what we have done for the last 32 years, since 1984 and the rise in position of a neoliberal cult that defines our world as resources, and price, and exchange within a framework that conflicts with thought and experience.

An example.  Many of us have argued for particular strategic positions for New Zealand based on dialogue about all these defining issues above.  There are once again no numbers.  They are qualitative positions, arising from that dialogue, to ensure that we have a better New Zealand for our grandchildren, whoever they may be; yours, mine, a neighbours’.  This is what the dialogue comes up with ….

  1. We need to accept uncertainty and the nature of complexity, so build the capacities to take and hit and adapt within our people and the natural systems on which we depend.
  2. We need to build decentralised and integrated social and knowledge systems that can face the truth and foresee and dialogue and learn and engage and be wise – not a hierarchy, a transdisciplinary system of knowledge integrating practice, local, policy and research.
  3. We need to accept as Adam Smith (and Marx) argued so coherently, commercial power can be short-term, exploitative, and ultimately destructive – and so policies must focus on working for people and local enterprise more than for colonising mega-corporates, and especially their access to central and local policy making.  Don’t sell your commonwealth.
  4. We need to go for diverse and high value, not monocultural commodity volume.  Look to the trends of the dominant and powerful buyers dropping real prices.
  5. We need to rebuild our communities, because that is the essential function of democracy, and it happens to be good for environmental stewardship and the economy as well.
  6. We need to rebuild our natural systems because that is the basis of life and meaning – yes, including the economy though neoliberals cannot seem to grasp this principle.
  7. We need to look to the magic that can be created by rejecting the single-focus factory model of our lands, our towns, our designs and our infrastructure – replace it with multifunctional systems thinking; the win-wins, the synergies, the joys that create belonging, hope and spirit, and from them enterprise.
  8. We need to never be a colony – so retain our ownership of diverse enterprise, build creative and never extractive economies, multiply value down long and local value chains that thinks more about ‘creating beauty’ than ‘processing a resource’.
  9. We need to distribute the commonwealth so that our money flows around our people and between our firms – meaningful employment
  10. We need to create an attractive place – our landscapes and townscapes and communities – so that we attract the creative souls that value the quality of people and land, those that would build the Shire rather than a Mordor of cheap Orcs and slag heaps.

Here lies the contrast.  In every one of these strategic positions, our current neoliberal priesthood – who for whatever reason gained the ascendancy in 1984 to the point that government policy has as its core – have ensured the very opposite of these strategic Lack of systems thinking.jpgpositions.  They haven’t even thought of them, because their lens is the model, not history.  Their lens is a suite of false assumptions about the nature of our natural systems, and our communities, and of the difference between meritocracy and power.  Their lens is completely oblivious to the short-term and narrow nature of unwise commerce.

For neoliberal zealots, people and natural ‘systems’ are ‘resources’, and the market will work it all out because it is all knowing, so no need to think – and consequently we’ll build hierarchies of obedience and non-thought, and treat any building of capacity as government interference, and therefore ‘bad’.

And so, we have allowed this to happen, and continue to happen.

  1. We reduce the capacities within our people and our landscapes to take a hit and adapt to an uncertain world.
  2. We build centralised social and knowledge systems that do not face the truth, nor foresee, nor dialogue, nor learn, nor engage and are increasingly wise.  Silos and competition replace integrated thinking and cooperation.
  3. We have let loose the powerful and unscrupulous Hyenas of Commerce to the detriment of democracy and economy because neoliberals assume power is not a factor in concentrating wealth, power being ‘merit’.
  4. We focus on the industrial production of ever more cheap commodities, because that is the nature of corporate continuous-process thinking over smaller scale batch-processed local enterprise thinking.
  5. We degrade communities, because under neoliberalism communities don’t exist – never mind the work of Ostrom, Putnam and Sen who showed how vital community is to the economy.
  6. We degrade our natural systems because – apparently – the Lord Market will ensure the correction of everything from Cyclone Bola (yes, Treasury did not accept Bola represented “a market failure” – which was beyond bizarre, because no one was suggesting a market anything) to climate change.
  7. We simplify landscapes to monocultures of presumed industrial scale ‘efficiency’ and so destroy the synergies and potential for value creation, and replace it with potentially terminal degradation.  In other words, gross INefficiency.
  8. We are much more a colony than in the past by the gifting of our commonwealth assets to in most cases external and extractive owners, whose scale and industrial thinking accords with the best colonial tradition of Cecil Rhodes – cheap resources and cheap labour, with the most valuable part of any value chain located to suit them, not us.
  9. We concentrate the commonwealth, and by so doing make the lives of our local firms and local people more and more in peril.
  10. We create a more and more unattractive place where community and environmental concerns are less of an issue – which means we attractive extractive Saurons looking for cheap labour and low community and environmental standards.  A recipe for a vicious decline into third world status.


Since 1984, that ascendancy of what is patently a priesthood who leave their catechisms of belief unchallenged, have taken us away from thinking strategically about a country called New Zealand, in all its complexity, history and meaning.  It has replaced strategic with technocracy – as patently ridiculous as a quartermaster of all his measured stores dictating the strategy of a war.  As ridiculous as raising a child by measuring calorie intake within a spreadsheet.  As mad as calculating the net present value of marriage or having children before you “invest.”

In the meantime, since the madness is so entrenched, we sell more, degrade more, and
encourage the vices of greed and exploitation and power as virtues.

It seriously is time for us to stop fiddling with minor policies around the edges of the beast, and deal to the beast that lies within.  Perhaps in 2017.

Chris Perley

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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Creative vs Extractive Economies

Expedient ‘Government’: Build the Slag Heaps of Tomorrow for New Zealand

Trust … in our Economy

Looking After Local Enterprise and Life (Part I)

Looking After Local Enterprise and Life (Part II)

Reforming our Regional Economy I: Value over Volume

Reforming our Regional Economy II – Making Magic in the Landscape

Reforming our Regional Economy – III: Never be a Colony

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

Reforming our Regional Economy – III: Never be a Colony

The South Island West Coast of New Zealand is a colony of its eastern neighbour Canterbury.  Think of all the gold, the beautiful timber, the coal, the fish.  Think of the tourism dollars flowing from that extraordinary raised coastal road from Westport to Greymouth, and then the lakes, forests, glaciers and mountains – and spectacular mountain passes – and ask yourself: why isn’t the West Coast as rich as Croesus?

West Coast GMount WPort Road.jpg

Where does all the money go?  Why isn’t it going around from hand to hand and multiplying in that particular place?  Why are all the benefits of multiplying value happening away from the primary source of that wealth?  It has nothing to do with merit. It comes down to relative commercial and political power, and to ownership.Smith Beware commerce

It wasn’t just Marx that understood power and the transfer of wealth from the weak to the strong.  Adam Smith wrote against the role of both corporations and aristocrats, especially merchants being anywhere near policy.

Cecil Rhodes certainly understood:

“We must find new lands from which we can easily obtain raw materials and at the same time exploit the cheap slave labor that is available from the natives of the colonies. The colonies would also provide a dumping ground for the surplus goods produced in our factories.”

Imagine being on the weaker side of that ‘bargain’.  Well, we were.  Take the cheap resources and watch the profits flow out with them, including further processing, and – best of all – leave most of the social and environmental problems behind with the ‘natives’.

Colonisers justify their abuse of power by claiming ‘direct investment’ and ‘jobs’.  The fact is that the colonial approach is very good news for the ‘investor’ and very bad news for the local community and its lands.  The history of the abuse of colonial power by Britain, who de-industrialised India for the benefit of the English Midlands, is a classic case study of what to think about, and what to avoid.  The current economics religion is blind to these political realities, focused as they are on miracle-water-suitsthe mathematics of a myth of powerlessness.

That propaganda of investment and jobs is all part of the dealmaking injustice.  We know this in our hearts, as demonstrated by the
widespread disgust at the gifting of our premium quality Hawke’s Bay water to an outsider, justified by the same empty clichés and the smiles of avaricious men.

This concentration of wealth, privatisation of gain and socialisation of costs is a phenomenon as old as man.  The tribal war for slaves and land.  The classical empires growing fat on the wealth of the conquered.  The conquests by self-appointed feudal ‘lords’ who then ensure that no surpluses trickle down to the land-bound serfs.  The enclosures and clearance of commons so the Lairds can grow fat.  Taking the water.jpgEuropean colonisation of our very own country.  Today the agents are powerful nation states supporting their mega-corporates.  The same corporates that (I will never say ‘who’ – they are not people) fund their politicians so the game of taking where and when they can, keeps working for them.

The current economist priesthood still apparently alive and kicking in Treasury presumes none of this historic reality.  In their models, we all live in a tiny village of equal opportunity, equal powerlessness and meritocracy.  That is complete and utter bunkum.

The West Coast is an extreme example of a local colony Extractive vs Creative economies.jpegwithin a colony.  It is made worse by being a classic ‘extractive economy’, a contrast to ‘creative economies’ that thrive on a base of human ingenuity and enterprise.  Extractive economies only last while the ‘resources’ being mined are economic to extract – including those slow-cycling natural systems like forests, fisheries, soil and water.

Extractive economy.pngExtractive economies are doomed, like Nauru.  Where are the people of Nauru now?  Where are the fishing villages that used to fish the Grand Banks cod?  Where are the fishers of Somalia, who resorted to pirating because their seas were ravaged by outsiders?

What does this mean for our local provincial economy?  Do not be fooled by extractive commerce, no matter the empty clichés.  Who owns matters.  Where that ownership resides matters.  The relative political and commercial power of that ownership matters. How money locally flows and grows matters.  If an economist doesn’t recognise those issues, then don’t listen to them.

Avoid Being a Colony.pngThe first imperative is avoid being a colony.  Retain value in our region. Avoid the loud sucking sound as profits, expenditure, interest and lost opportunity for local value chains drains away.  If there is any sucking sound to be had, make it in our direction.

Given our own colonial past you’d think our governors would be mindful – like the Chinese, Indians and Brazilians certainly are – of strategically avoiding any sort of repeat of the colonial process.  For almost 40 years we’ve heard nothing of these political realities from Treasury.

The second imperative is to build a creative economy Creative Economy.pngand avoid an extractive one. Extractive economies attract the worst of ‘investors’; those who want things – labour or resource – cheap or free.  They follow the creed of the coloniser Cecil Rhodes – cheap resources and labour, and never mind the slag heaps left behind.  Those on the look out for cheap Orcs and the land of Mordor.  Those who do not care about community or place.

A creative economy relies on social capital – trust, participation, social engagement with others, and local ownership.  These are the institutions of a just society.  Justice matters Multiplying value.pngbecause hope is vital to creativity.

The third imperative is to multiply that value locally with long value chains.  You can harvest some bounty of the earth and make it sing; put your soul into it with love and gratitude.  Multiply its value and meaning.  Or you can simply take it, and sell it for a penny to the man; send it to some huge continuous throughput mill in Hawera for not even the song.

The forth is to distribute value by paying people brilliant-economists-cant-work-it-outwell, because a local economy thrives when people spend locally.  Build John Kenneth Galbraith’s ‘thick’ economy where the commonwealth is not a thin stick with all the money at the top, but spread.  His Affluent Society.  Treasury and right-wing politicians don’t understand this either, convinced as they are that money flows to where it is deserved.

Lastly, create an environment, townships and a society that attracts the community-minded and creative, those who treasure our land and waterscapes as we do.  Redesign our streets and towns and landscapes to put people and good feelings at the centre of things.

a-place-to-call-homeWe live in a province, often bombarded by the rhetoric of those who would do the very opposite of Retain, Create, Multiply, Distribute and Attract. They argue for making our home an extractive economy, owned by outsiders, populated by poorly paid people in a crumbling environment.  That suits them, not us.

It should be our choice whether we want Hawke’s Bay to be the Shire or Mordor.  A choice that is obvious.

Chris Perley

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. You can simply click the multiples of $5 donations, then click on the Paypal or any of the Credit or Debit Card symbols. It also allows me to get rid of the pesky advertisements! And it’s a nice way to say thank you. So thank you 🙂


Edited version published in Hawke’s Bay Today 16th Jan 2017

Posted in Building Regional Economies, Thought Pieces | 3 Comments

Rebuilding our Relationship with Land – The Emerging World View

Here lie so many interesting questions – the idea of land ‘ownership’.  Is it a modern social construct?

papatuanuku-in-the-mist-smallWe used to live in tribal common lands – in much of Europe as well as in Aotearoa; in land referred to by the pronoun ‘thou’ not ‘it’, as mother, as a sentient being to which we belong and which requires reciprocal care as she cares for us – Papatūānuku.

That personal relationship, reverence and belonging lies in such stark contrast with the framing we grow up with in so-called Western thought today.  We are expected to think in terms of personal ‘ownership’ of a mere thing – a ‘resource’ – diminished even further by economics to mere capital, numbers and calculations on a spreadsheet.

I have done that often myself, without thinking.  That is what I was taught.  That was my naïve and unconsidered worldview of youth.  I know how to calculate Internal Rates of Return and Net Present Values.  And I know how to change the variables to get the answer I want.  But as you grow older you realise more and more what is missing, and how you can be lead down a garden path to some bleak future by not examining the conceptual frameworks – the deeply buried paradigms of belief – the metaphors by which we live, which in most cases lie unexamined in our own minds.

It is why we ought to cherish different cultures.  Tuwhare Papatuanuku.pngHearing a Māori Kaumatua talking about land as something which we cannot own but which owns us, rocked me two decades ago.  Then you read Hone Tuwhare writing about  the love for, and from, Papatūānuku.

It is interesting that there is currently such a resurgence away from the extremes that a particularly anti-real economic dogma imposed.  Many of us marinated in the presumed objectivity of technocratic disciplines are dissatisfied.  We look for deeper meaning.  We challenge the underlying assumptions beneath the façades of what we are told are facts.

The literature is burgeoning.  Not just in a re-examination of commons as a form of relationship between people and land, but also in looking at land and people as a whole  – ‘a socio-ecological complex adaptive system’, irreducible with any meaning – reducible only with considerable risk because that is not the path to understanding.

Land is knowable much more in the sense of a relationship between a parent and child – unpredictable change and changer both, having to be viewed from within – than some thing reducible to engine parts viewed ‘objectively’ from without.

peterson-political-positioningAll the work on uncertaintyResilience Theory, transdisciplinary knowledge systems, Traditional Ecological Knowledge and ‘ecology and society’ that do not place reductionist science with numbers on some undeserved pedestal.   A challenge to the metaphysics, the epistemology and even the cosmology of how we see people and the land.  New forms of socially-engaged and locally-based interaction between values, practice and learning – action research, adaptive management, learning-by-doing, Integrated Catchment Management.  There is a lot happening in this space.

phronesis_logo_smallAristotle wrote that in order to make the right decision you have to have a concept of virtue and vice, and the practical wisdom (Phronesis) that gives you the broader perspective of this particular challenge, in this particular time and place.  He was essentially arguing for a knowledge system similar to these above.  Wisdom does not come from exact and narrow thinking.

I’m a strong believer that we are on the cusp of another Weltanschauung – a comprehensive world view – one that rejects the analytical reductionist determinism of Modernity, the machine metaphors of our Industrial Age.  We are not going back to a Pre-Industrial Age as so many presume when we critique the status quo, “you want us to go back to the cave!”  The future will be different than the past, and there will be features of the Modern that will flow through, and we will pick up many things we discarded in our pursuit of a mechanical ideal.

Mahatma Gandhi challenged the Modern view, suggesting we need to move from ownership of a land as a thing to a reciprocal relationship with something that cannot be reduced in meaning to a number, however grand.  Albert Schweitzer wrote from a Weltanschauung of Reverence for Life.

Ghandi - We belong to the land - from ownership to relationship.jpg

And then there are the prospects of a re-embracing of the Commons where the engagement between land and community is re-emphasised.  Elinor Ostrom, David Bollier, Peter Linebaugh, Gar Alperovitz, Alistair McIntosh all examine this potential re-emergence.   And there is another dimension that keeps being mentioned in this emerging comprehensive world view – the cosmological dimension of spirit.  Can we have reverence without it?

Let Heather Menzies have the last word from her Reclaiming the Commons for the Common Good …..

“In the rugged glens of the Tay River Valley, I discovered a legacy of which I had known nothing: a people, my people, living in direct relationships with the land in self-governing commons and commons communities, small villages or hamlets called fermtouns or townships.  They set stints, or limits, on the number of sheep and cows to be sent to the upland common pasture, and decided how often field strips should be left to rest, to lie fallow and recover their fertility.  The legacy I discovered included great loss as well: a loss that goes well beyond the dislocation of people from the land itself through the Highland clearances.  My ancestors weren’t just displaced.  They were dispossessed.  They were stripped of their traditional knowledge vested in the land, their ways of knowing through the experience of working that land, their ways of sharing this in a commons of knowledge and, in their spiritual practices, honouring their place in Creation.  They were disenfranchised too because they lost the legitimacy of self-governance, the local interpretation of justice, fairness and the common good.  The so-called tragedy of the common, I learned as I explored this lost history, turns out to have been based not on the facts of how people like my ancestors lived on the land but on assumptions useful to those trying to clear them off it.” p1-2

Highland Scotland w cattle.jpg

Menzies could be writing about the actions of colonisation, privatisations (enclosures) of commons, manufactured famines, the imposition of private ownership of tribal lands, and clearances, from around the world.

What is the right thing to do?  To answer that you first have to have Aristotle’s moral compass.  That depends on relationships between people, and between people and land.  Ethics matter.

Our ethics depends on the framing of our world as either something to care for and treat with reverence because we are one with it …. or merely as a ‘resource’ to exploit.  I don’t think the latter view – our current Modern view and very much the view of objectifying, alienating, ‘othering’ framing of utilitarian economics – has any future at all.  It will kill us because it kills the land, frankly.

You cannot do the right thing if you reduce life to weights and measures, including the life of the land.  That is wrong.  That is vice.  Start from that premise in our new world view.

We need to replace ownership with relationship.


Chris Perley

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

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Posted in Land Use, Thought Pieces | 3 Comments

Reforming our Regional Economy II – Making Magic in the Landscape

In the late 1940s my father came down from the East Coast to be a shepherd on Omakere Station in Central Hawke’s Bay.  Part of the work was removing regenerated shrublands of manuka and kanuka and turning them into pasture using war surplus bulldozers and aerial fertiliser.

He always had an eye for stock welfare, and so for shelter and shade.  He thought it would be a good idea to leave a contour strip of kanuka mid-slope and another adjacent to the stream. But he admitted that he never thought to raise it, because he knew they’d laugh at him in the local pub. Such is the power of myth.  We forget that this was still the age of the colonial pioneer.  And in many ways we have still to grow up beyond production myths.


A D Sutton Tea Tree Line

His concern was for stock in the event of storm or heat, though he had a romantic eye for beauty as well.  He thought a little about reducing soil erosion, but almost nothing about water retention, extending or maintaining permanent stream flows, stock water quality, water infiltration and holding under woody vegetation, or the stream ecology.  Certainly nothing about energy use, biodiversity, green house gases, or free ecological services like the benefits of anthelmintic browse or pollination.  Those weren’t the times.

But his idea would have done all of that, and more.


Robin Purcell

More profit, lower risk, more beauty, a better environment, and that often overlooked satisfaction there is in feeling that a landscape is well, and you well within it.  Concerns tend to reduce when you can hear a morepork at night, watch a glossy cattle-beast chewing its cud in the shade, or wake to the sound of a shining cuckoo.

What could be is so starkly contrasted with what we have become in pursuit of a mad singular goal of pushing our lands to yield more and more of fewer and fewer things.  And we don’t just lose the multiple values within our landscapes, we lose potential profit and the health of our communities along the way.

We lose scope in pursuit of scale.  And because it takes imagination to see a scope of potential, but only a spreadsheet to see economies of scale (with all the soul of land and community removed), the man (they usually are) with the spreadsheet gets promoted where they can drive a stake through those who dare to think conceptually.  We cannot seem to get off the madness of maximising production and treating the land as a factory.

Picture this.  Let’s look at another system as if were a machine. In the interests of cost efficiency and production line economics, let us raise children by focusing on calorie intake in order to produce ‘work units’.  We concentrate them in a camp and feed them children-labournutrient gruel to make them into obedient cogs for the machine.  All those qualitative things like love, the potential of imagination, touch, belonging, worth, spontaneous spirit, creativity, community, consciousness, soul, and life’s meaning are considered ‘unscientific’.  Numbers trump values.  Meaning is reduced to a delusion of value-free ‘objectivity’ by the state or the corporation.  Consider the Picassos we turn into lever pullers, the Mozarts into button pushers.  The psychopaths we mold.

We would never – beyond the insanity of totalitarian despotism and the Industrial Revolution – consider a child in such a narrow way.  Yet we do for land and adults as mere numbers in a financial spreadsheet.

There is the same analogous potential for making Picassos and Mozarts in our landscapes.  You will not hear, see or smell them if you are not looking for them, if your mind is monocultural – or worse, mechanical – in how it views the world.  Perhaps, like realising the potential of a child, you first need love to see.  You have to love the land.  Perhaps we need to foster the artist in each of us in order to see and create.


Dick Frizzell – The Road West to Lawrence

The opposite of the seeing eye of the artist is industrial thought – and that is our iron cage.

It is the root of our inability to conceptualise and realise potential, because we see the land and its people as units of production within a factory emphasising volume over value and static sameness over dynamic diversity.

And by so doing, by pursuing a narrow end through a narrow lens, we actually destroy rather than realise potential.  We make less money, become reliant on more artificial inputs, are more vulnerable to every shock imaginable – a drought, a flood, a cost increase, a price decrease – and end up having to sell.  One less family owned farm.

There are at least five principles to realising the joint economic, social and environmental potential of land.

  1. Quality soils that are sponges of water, and givers of health to the whole.
  2. simon-palmer-modest-margaret

    Simon Palmer – Modest Margaret

    Diversity across the wider ‘polycultural’ patchwork quilt of our landscapes by realising the potential of each particular place – Terroir – its qualitative potential; its value potential.

  3. Diversity within each patch, so each woodland, wetland or pasture patch is more than one thing; building layers of multiple function and values.
  4. Build connection and value between and within the patches so this woodlands builds on the value in this pasture; herbs, browse, beneficial fodder, wood, honey, bird habitat, that shelter or cover to keep the stock well.  See the patterns – the water flows in the landscape, the energy flows, the kidneys of wetlands that trap the sediment and clean the water.
  5. And lastly, create social connection and enrich meaning beyond the economic.  Create memory.  Many of us are who we are because we treated the land Jane Smiley - love comes before beauty.jpgas a much loved playground to which we belonged.

Make a diverse, highly value, complementary Tuscany-style landscape as the future for Hawke’s Bay – multiple values. Let other countries follow the agribusiness factory model.  Let them be the agri-corporate Nebraska where the small towns wither and the hamlets cease to be.

Chris Perley

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. You can simply click the multiples of $5 donations, then click on the Paypal or any of the Credit or Debit Card symbols. It also allows me to get rid of the pesky advertisements! And it’s a nice way to say thank you. So thank you 🙂


Edited version published in the Hawke’s Bay Today

Posted in Building Regional Economies, Land Use, Thought Pieces | 4 Comments

Reforming our Regional Economy I: Value over Volume

Why do we manage land the way we do?  Why does New Zealand focus on ever-more gross production over a great scale of sameness?  Why do we talk of “feeding the world” when we can at best feed 40 million or so?  Why do some defend the consequences of pollution of streams?  Why do we think we can keep on managing land this way, and then add some token riparian fences as some panacea solution – which it patently is not?

If you do not change direction  Lao Tsu.jpgEnough with all the mechanical in-the-box thinking.  It is leading us in a vicious treadmill downwards.  This is not a time for defending some cherished ‘tradition’ of land use; it is a time to start thinking conceptually and strategically.  How can we create a better landscape that provides multiple benefits for all, and puts us in the best position for an inevitably uncertain future, whether climatic, financial or social?

Because the answer to that question is definitely not by seeing land the way we currently do, or thinking in a gross production space, or treating ‘the environment’ as something outside the narrow concept of land ‘industry’.  There is so much potential in our regions – if we could only think outside the boxes we build in our own minds.

We really should not be bothered anymore with the repeated clichés and mantras that are pulling us down; “we need to feed the world”; “you can’t be green if you’re in the red”; only greenies plant trees; get big or get out; there’s nothing wrong with our streams. All nonsense.

This dominant mantra of production for a colonial parent is our history.  And then it all changed, and we didn’t adapt with that change.  When Britain joined Europe in 1973, we didn’t stop to think what that meant because all the momentum of ‘education’, research and policy was geared to that mythology – Britain’s farm.  We didn’t adapt; we were rigid.  We kept thinking the same way and heading in the same direction; only faster, more, more.  The rodent runs on the wheel …. and remains in one place …. eating the land and the community in a desperate attempt to never have to think about something different.

The myth of production. Getting more yield out of the land. Putting more in to get more out, far beyond optimum profit or risk. Damaging the very land, our biodiversity, our stream systems, our energy efficiency, our carbon balance, the very story that provides our price premiums. Damaging the free ecosystem services that create a better financial return – stock water quality, water retention, flood mitigation, animal health, soil biology.

World Ag Commodity graphAnd then the inevitable tragedy plays out. We watch as the dominant buyers say thanks very much, we’ll now drop the price by your cost-efficiency. The price reduction then kicks the narrow technocratic myopia into gear – led often by the so-called leaders within policy, education and research. They didn’t pause to think because they are too busy measuring yield, and that is what they do.

Here is a new grass bred on irrigated fertile Templeton silt loans, so it’ll be great for drought prone hill country; we’ll build the Motonui Urea plant; mechanise the land more; industrialise more; aggregate ownership to get 1000 Acres.jpgeconomies of scale. Plant uneconomic grass on the perfect site for a Grand Cru vineyard.  Be forced to employ less people, and make them migrants on lower wages.  Spend less locally. Push ever more costs onto the downstream community (“they ought to pay us for the right to swim really”), or into our own future by degrading the capacities of the land into the machine – a hydroponic factory of nutrients and water.  Who needs soil anyway?  Look forward to Monsanto’s next GM saviour wonder plant.

Build a dam and irrigate.

The traditionalists in love with a colonial myth revel in it, particularly the big owners who swallow the small.

And the corporates are in heaven. They get to finance the deals.  They get more land, more scale.  They get to sell the extra inputs to the farm.  They live in the world where buying cheap commodities for processed food is their prime concern, quality being entirely secondary to price.  They produce the bland and try to dominate those that produce quality.

None of this is inevitable.  We can think our way out.  We can start having conversations about alternatives.

The tradition of gross production is patently not the best choice for our land; every square metre in grass or crop or radiata pine isn’t the ideal.  Far more important is the capacity to hold or increase price by emphasising a qualitative point of difference – the adjectives that make a consumer pay – ‘safe’, ‘quality’, ‘Hawke’s Bay’; unique produce with a story of a healthy environment and community.

Lamb in hill country.jpg

Before the agronomists brainwash the minds of our future land users, the more strategic thinkers should emphasise the importance of never producing a mere noun – say lamb – without a set of adjectives to go with it – Hawke’s Bay, grass-fed, free-range, finished on the mixed herbal pastures and browse of the eastern coast, tasty, delicious … lamb.  We should not be aiming for some cheap thing to put into a boil-in-the-bag microwave meal end of the market.  Leave that to the GMO producers and the Third World.

rodent-on-a-wheelPosition over production, every time.  Else we will continue to spiral down.  This is strategy, not technofix laid upon technofix laid upon the bankers’ dream of the industrial scale dam to produce yet more adjective-less dross – whose price will certainly fall, perpetuating the treadmill.

We need to stop being the rodent on the technology treadmill before the bearings break. The first step is to focus on diverse value over homogenous volume.


Chris Perley

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. You can simply click the multiples of $5 donations, then click on the Paypal or any of the Credit or Debit Card symbols. It also allows me to get rid of the pesky advertisements! And it’s a nice way to say thank you. So thank you 🙂


Edited version published in the Hawke’s Bay Today

Posted in agricultural strategy, Building Regional Economies, Industrial Mindset, Land Use, Land use strategy, Primary Sector Strategy, Thought Pieces | 4 Comments

Smash the Machines in our Minds

murmuration-of-starlingsI was going to write something about how to create a better economy … and society … and culture … and environment – because they all go together, because they are all connected, and you cannot know, understand or make wise decisions relating to them without understanding the interconnections (eco – ‘nomists’ note for heaven’s sake).

But of course, most people don’t think that way because they have been taught to think in boxes, and put a number on some physical yet ephemeral thing (a state or a linear relationship presumed immutable and universal) that shifts and dances one second later to a new state, because of interactions to something new you cannot presume to know – like a murmuration of starlings. Life is not a predictable mechanical machine. However much those who live in fear of chance and change and lack of control don’t want to see that. Ask them their predictions for their grandchild’s future.

I was going to write something about the strategic space we need to think in in order to thrive. To accept complexity and uncertainty, and so build the capacities in our place – our people, our public engagement in governing our home (eco), our landscapes, our *type* of economy. Resilience and adaptation to shocks. Diversity (in everything). Culture. Dynamism and free expression. The vital necessity to think long-term and wide – to see connections and consequences, to never see ourselves as islands of “but we’re alright Jack” – because you won’t be.  Any harm is harm to self.

 pf_marching_hammersWe need that sense of belonging, of connection.

In a space that rejects the authoritarian machines and the artificial walls that divide us from other, we need laughter and dance to replace instruction and marching. Adapting without panic or the pathetic assumption that some centralised zombie who has never smelt soil or dug dirt from under his nails will instruct us

improve-yourself-pirsigwisely.  Get this.  Authorities are almost never wise.  Work on yourself and your community.  There lies the future.

We need the encouragement of ideas. To never ever go down the mechanical industrial colonial track of producing lots of cheap shit – ever, never, never, ever. To never make the world a set of precisely measured cogs where to think let alone voice is the act of a non-believer, an infidel, a rebel.

But all those qualitative feeling, coping, changing, human and earthly things are never in the completely irrelevant models pumped out by those of us who were taught financial and economic decision making. The ability to think strategically dies when you think you can paint the world by numbers. You cannot nail jelly to a wall. Unless you freeze it in a state in which it will not last.

I was going to write about an economic schema that might help – a set of considerations and then links to how to encourage and evaluate those considerations (mainly through a people/culture-focused and earth-focused shift from the nonsense of mechanically ‘allocating’ ‘resources’ –

Create value,

Multiply value,

Retain value,

Distribute value,

Attract value.

Value in all senses – environmental, cultural, be-the-flowereconomic – create Tuscany, not Nebraska Inc. where the corporate model turns people into the voters of Trump – a glimmer of hope for those too busy struggling to think.  Create the flowers that attract.  Don’t bother measuring the scent.  Just sense it.

But we are set on the opposite, because that is how those blinkered minds in power suits who believe in the mechanical world and use the word ‘efficiency’ without having one iota of a clue of what a completely meaningless word that is without defining the context as well. Efficiently destroy the earth perhaps? Efficiently extract the ‘resource’? Efficiently eviscerate the community and leave it with the slag?

And so we:
– *Destroy* value and its potential in order to produce dross – what stream? What possible terrior?
– *Reduce* potential value chains, or don’t have any at all – the mode of corporate colonial commodity thinking;
– *Give our value* away to someone outside the local – the big owner, the big centralised supplier;
– *Concentrate* the value in the hands of fewer and fewer, and;

– *Repel* value because what poet, philosopher or lover of life and spirit from whence entrepreneurs emerge, wants to come and live in Mordor – unless of course you are a the-wall-screamSauron, and you are looking for some cheap Orcs, or a Shire to ravage, or an Ent Forest to destroy.

This is madness.  And they dress the destruction up by referring to jobs and GDP.  For heaven’s sake, get rid of those who cannot think.  A curse on the political parties who smile with mad eyes, salivating with greed at the outsider who would (‘efficiently’) take our water and eat our souls.

I was going to write about this and that, but it is not enough. It will never be enough until we change the way we see the world.

There are deeper philosophies that need to be

pirsig-zencritiqued. And I read Robert Pirsig, and he wrote …..

“If a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. If a revolution destroys a government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves…. There’s so much talk about the system. And so little understanding.”

And that is what we ought to write and speak about. That we need to think in systems. We cannot continue to think mechanically, because it will kill all meaning, and eventually ourselves as well. And systems thinking does *not* mean in *hard* systems where you merely extend your quantitative senses beyond your normal narrow agronomy or dollar measure. You have to bring in consciousness, and morality, and what a community is, and how a bird will change behaviour with the puff of a breeze, taking a small pocket of warm air from beneath that shrub, onto her wings.

It means looking at the world through a Complexity and Adaptability of a parent and a child. Neither are ‘objective’ one to the other. There is no wider predictability beyond the basics of what will harm in extremis.

We need to think and see the world as in part a loving parent views a child – who wants that child to be happy, to experience joy, to live a full life that is rich in meaning, to take the inevitable hits and move on, to belong to family, community and whenua, to be more than to have. We need to see as the child as well – because we are each nurtured and nurturers. By all the gods, we need to re-embrace reverence and other virtues. We need to feel the spirit, see the potential of the dance, to create the beauty.

We need to write and speak and sing and dance and have conversations about *that*. A way of seeing that does not perpetuate the soullessness of an increasingly mechanical

leave-the-technocrats-til-lastview of what some dare to call – life. The mechanical dogma of material mathematical reductionism to cogs and wheels is not life. It is a zombie existence.

There is no point talking about the surface things unless we dig deeper into the dogmas that are so engrained we do not even know they are there.  If you want a better future for this province, or that country, or this planet, we need to have those conversations – about rejecting the models of Modernity, and seeing the world anew.

I think I’ll write about that.

Chris Perley

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. You can simply click the multiples of $5 donations, then click on the Paypal or any of the Credit or Debit Card symbols. It also allows me to get rid of the pesky advertisements! And it’s a nice way to say thank you. So thank you 🙂


Posted in Thought Pieces | 4 Comments

My Red Admirals

red-admiral-2Yesterday, a Monday, I saw my first Red Admiral since a day in April 2015.  You will say I am not observant.  I would say I am …. at least for land and the things in the scape of land.

Don’t ask me about the number plate or the make and model of the car, or what the dull accountant was wearing, but my eyes are drawn to the sounds, smells and sights of the landscape.  I’ve had colleagues laugh at what I point out, and I remember my father doing the same – expressing the beauty of a Hereford bull with a perfect back.

And the patterns and connections.   It is not just the image, but also the song of land.  Yes, land will sing in many ways, in melodies you cannot hear.

It all delights me.  I often find myself in the state of watching, still.  I still feel childish awe.

I find myself always on the look out for Red Admirals. I’ll watch every Monarch … just to check … to make sure.  There is always a very slight disappointment when it’s not.  Because when it happens I know something is up, and, whatever it is, it’s going to be something good.

I’ve had that feeling of awe ever since a day in March in 2012, after I had returned from two healing road trips through the North and South reconnecting to this land and the people I love who make this my home …. and I’d had a sleepless night ringing around the world to London and Panama, contacting a brother and a sister to tell them our father had died.

And then the Red Admirals came.

Red Admiral.jpg

They are my messengers from beyond …. something.  Do you believe in that?  It doesn’t really matter.  I do.

They are the harbinger of change, of hope, and of love.

Some know my story, and it isn’t for telling all, so I’ll leave it there.

One day I might tell you.

Chris Perley

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A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall …. Unless

I had an interesting conversation today heading into the beauty of the Eastern Wairarapa on the road to Castlepoint and Riversdale.  The question was put, why do you even care about the future?  The planet will be fine.  People are naturally selfish and self-serving, so humanity will go extinct because that is our mortal failing – we’ll mine and destroy the very functions upon which we depend.  We’ve done it in the past in smaller settings than the globe, so why should now be any different.


I said I didn’t believe in any inevitable destinies, and I certainly wasn’t going to just let it happen.  We are moral agents – we can act morally – and humanity now and into the future is as much a moral patient as the planet itself.

And I don’t accept that humanity is “naturally selfish and self-serving.”  I’ve seen many examples of the very opposite.  Many of us try to live that opposite.  Selfishness is a cultural construct, no more inevitable than physically punishing children – admittedly reinforced by the last 40 years of a set of pernicious and evil ideas called Neoliberalism, and supported by those very worst of scum taueru-rd-bridgewho manifest as power-hungry mega-corporates.  But the people are ultimately in charge, with – if we choose – the power to resist them, and to control them, or even eradicate them.  Behave, or be gone.

There are other social constructs. The most “heritable traits” are politics and religion.  We follow our family and the communities to which we belong.  We are not objectively ‘rational’ the way neoliberals proclaim.  We can only be subjectively ‘rational’ within a social construct of what we think is right and wrong.  Our family and community make that lens through which we see the world, and those cultural mores are very powerful.

If you witness compassion, caring and shared giving, then you will tend to emulate. If you are shown that the earth is something OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfrom which you are inseparable and on which you depend, that will colour your judgments and actions.  If you are taught reverence for something bigger than yourself as a virtue, you will tend not to act with the hubris of a despot.  If you are raised with love and self-esteem, you will tend not to feel the need to continually justify yourself by personal aggrandisement and putting yourself above others, or others down.

If you are taught to love the creation of music and art, people and the land and sea over money, then you will lend to preserve those things you love.  Even if you are raised without nurture, you can witness it around you and replicate it because of what you know in your heart.

Even Adam Smith understood this.  Ethics are important.  We need enlightened and moral people, and we have to constrain the power of the least enlightened.  It is not perfect. There will always be those whose soul journey leads them to harm others. Society has to temper those excesses.

But the conversation did make me realise that we have a number of jobs to do.

Maori food sharing.jpg

One is to toss out pernicious views of the world that reduce people and the planet to quantified resources.  That can never be the major basis of policy making in our future.  It bears no relationship to how our planetary and community home functions, and so can never dominate the ‘management’ of that home (Eco-nomics) because it will destroy those functions it cannot see.  Culture is far more important.  Ethics.  The qualitative capacities that keep a people and a place thriving – not measured dollars in a model.

The second is to fundamentally reform our political and commercial systems to put back on the leash the growing corporate and political power that will – if left to itself – destroy us all.   Like the Absolute Monarchs of old, the cult of entitlement, any hint of superiority, and disassociation with people and place, can no longer be tolerated.  Commerce as a practice will either live within the boundaries of a resilient future society and place, or can have no place.  We did it to those monarchs who thought they were above society, and we can do it to these anti-social and future eating behemoths.

And the third is to practice the ways of living and being that can create an enlightened culture that is the opposite of narrow, short-sighted and selfish.  That culture has its exemplars in indigenous thinking around the world. petrusich-Patti-Smith-Bob-Dylan-Nobel-1200.jpg

I had to write this not just because of a conversation in a car, but because late at night, I experienced this –  Patti Smith singing Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall as part of Dylan’s acceptance of the Nobel Prize in Literature.  It makes you remember that there is real hurt out there, that it is getting worse, that a precipice is approaching, and – unless we change to check bad ideas, the power of despots, and embrace sharing and compassion as the virtues we know they are – a hard rain *will* fall.


Chris Perley

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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Expedient ‘Government’: Build the Slag Heaps of Tomorrow for New Zealand

John Key has resigned. Some of the media is trumpeting the myth that New Zealanders has been well looked after under his term. This rankles. Just because a deal maker and spin doctor in a suit tells us that we are healthy doesn’t make it so. For heaven’s sake look a little deeper than a man who can load more than four clichés in a single sentence …. “At the end of the day, the people know that going forward this is the best thing for New Zealand.” Seriously. Take a deeper look.

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Twining the Spirals: Is Real Beauty Reciprocal?

I keep notes, in a black Moleskine notebook with its history and paper, Bruce Chatwin and all that.  They come in various sizes and lie in a drawer.  Some on a shelf.  I’ve been writing less in them since I stopped formally studying a few years back.  That’s a bit of a shock when you think about it.   Like realising that you are not moleskine-classic-pocket-soft-cover-plain-notebook-3-5-x-5-5-ms717-2popping CDs into the player they way you always did.  What’s going on?  But the quotes and the musings are part of who I am, and they go back years.  You never really stop looking at the world, and wondering.
Not a heart-to-heart angsty diary.  Just thoughts about what makes it all tick.  What the hell is going on here?  What lies beneath?  I’ve kept personal relationships well out of them – except the odd poem.  Observations, poetic scratchings, the beginnings of something to write about.
Sometimes I pick one up and flick through the pages; remember. I’m sometimes surprised – why didn’t I develop on that?  Did I write that?!

There’s a note – rough words really – on beauty.  “The reciprocity of beauty.”  I’d jotted down a reminder to look for the Maori meaning – because anglo-saxon-knotssomeone had spoken to me about how beauty in Maori metaphysics – like kaitaikitanga – goes both ways; centred around wholeness and connection.  Kaitiakitanga is not paternal ‘stewardship’, as so often translated, because that suggests you are an objective observer, outside the world and “looking after it.”  It sets up a hierarchy when there isn’t one there because harm to it is harm to yourself.  Stewardship suggests whatever happens won’t impact on you.  You are being benevolent, from a position above, Double helix.jpgand you are doing all the impacting on ‘it’ – this impersonal ‘thing’, inert and without soul.  

Kaitiakitanga is mutually caring – the metaphor of an koruinterlocked spiral perhaps – call it a helix if you want.  We and the planet are intwined (twins), knotted together, as we are with a far greater oneness, somewhere, out there.  The Maori koru as unfolding life, rebirth, a deeper connection to the earth, as potential and hope.  That symbol – twin-spiralslike the knot – is everywhere in indigenous thinking; Western as well, from the pagans through to today.  

I was intrigued by *that* concept of reciprocal beauty.  Seeing beauty, creating beauty, caring for beauty – makes us all anglo-saxon-knots-2beautiful – complete, perfect, whole.  Doing the opposite does the opposite to us all.  

I’m not talking about adornment or superficial make up; it goes far far deeper into our being and our souls.  Beauty is in not just form – the south-africa-spiralsnouns of the world – but in actions and functions – the verbs of creating a form, having gratitude, hospitality and grace, the way we move in a dance with the world and each other.  Twining the spirals.  We are how we act and be, what we create that sings to others, Dorian Gray.jpgor what we destroy like Dorian Gray.  We are not what we have, or mere outside appearance.  

Indigenous thinking has those concepts.  We used to in the so-called West as well.  There are many people – perhaps the ones they disparagingly call peasant – païsant – people of the land – who still hold to those connections of land, hospitality, community and – yes – spirit.


I had been reading F David Peat’s Blackfoot Physics – a blow-your-mind metaphysical challenge to the Western world view.  Life as one.  Close to Buddhism?  It’s where I first Blackfoot physics.jpggot that theme I drum on about of a world defined far more by relationships, adverbs and verbs than analytical nouns and adjectives.

If our focus is on a world that will be there for our grandchildren and beyond, I certainly don’t think it is in the surface allocation of heartless things we diminish to ugliness by calling them ‘resources’, and then multiplying the harm by counting them with dollars.

Perhaps it is creating and being beauty – both in form and in how we think and relate to our other twins; people, planet, cosmos  – where lies the future of the world.  By creating, being virtuous and healing we heal ourselves.

Chris Perley


Manaakitanga - mycommunities

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Measuring the Marigolds – An Anthem for our Time?

There is a part of me – that part steeped in my education – that seeks to dig deep into knowing, and from there, solution.  I think I try to dig deeper than most – and depth comes from synthesis – putting things together as a whole, folding down through the layers of why – not analysis of one small part viewed through one small lens, in isolation, reduced to what is presumed to be the physical essence of a thing.

A focus just on analysis is utter nonsense – and a focus on just the physical compounds the delusion – and A thing is never a thing in and of itself.pngyet we laud that process as some form of higher, professional, academic ‘better’ knowing.  But a thing is never a thing in and of itself.  You have to think like the god Janus, who looks both ways – down to the parts, and up to the whole.  Both give meaning.  Context really does matter.  Context beyond the measured things.  Arthur Koestler taught us that much – things are Holons, both parts and wholes whose boundaries are defined by the mind’s eye, or perhaps something from beneath and beyond.

Inch worm - the Anthem of our Age.pngDon’t look for rigid, universal order; look for the dance within life.  But there is yet more than even that.  A depth to the world that goes far beyond the material.

I find myself very intolerant of the technocrat who presumes knowing – and worse, wisdom – is achieved by looking no wider or deeper than their particular obsession – yield, soil fertility measured thus, a dollar subjectively chosen and discounted – which they then present as ‘objective’ truth – treating proximate Rigid order vs dance.pngsymptoms and never the root cause.  They work on the surface of things and are not wise.

But a broader, deeper synthesis is not enough.  Even the best synthesis can still be wholly material, without room for feeling or any sense of a wider sublime.  That is the challenge.  To shift beyond material synthesis, to some transcendent depth.  Why do you get this particular feeling when you listen to Arvo Pärt’s piano and cello playing slow single notes, each hanging in the air …… individually yet never alone, perfect in tone, and Loving a forest.pngcount, resonant with emotion?  Why?

I was taught to measure and predict forests, and yet loved them for all the things you cannot measure.  Is love irrelevant to knowing?

Eventually – when you dig beneath all measurements and presumptions of objectivity – you find deeper layers hidden behind the screen in the more elusive recesses of our minds – where metaphysics and cosmology lurk.  You can, if you want, ‘describe’ a piece of music by analysing its arrangement and composition.  It becomes a score, not an experience.  We know because we have experienced music, that that is insufficient – like analysing Hamlet by word count.  What is knowing?  What is beauty?

Vermeer Woman in windowlight.jpgDoes it matter?   Are we just material stuff, cogs connected by wheels grinding forward without purpose?  Is that how we best know the world?  Is that how we best manage our world.  Because this is the Anthem of our Age – measuring the marigolds, inch by inch, without stopping to observe their beauty.

I can’t help thinking that we – we university trained technocrats – are still more obsessed with ‘describing’ in a modern mechanical sense than seeking the deeper explanations.  I think for explanation we need our feelings.  We cannot disconnect our sense of consciousness and connection and truly know.  Life is far more analogous to art, music and dance and the connections they create within our sense of life than an engineered machine.  Wisdom is as well.

You cannot look at a child through mere material description.  Well, you can, but you would be considered a monster, an aberration, sick.  You would be outcast because we know the consequences of that; we know from some deeper The Anthem of our Age.pnglevel where rational models justifying the insane have absolutely not place.  We who know history; can describe the horrors of the machine, especially when ego, delusion, power and blind unthinking functionaries combine – none of which they include in the models.  We have read the wisdom of the great classics, from Moby Dick to Frankenstein; the rationalised functioning without any deeper sense of the whole – insanity.

And yet we give such ‘rational’ ‘uncaring’ ‘objective’ models the ascendancy in thought for our lands and our communities, no less complex and no less in need of love and care than a child.   We continue to rationalise and excuse what is – by any definition of the loss of grip on the whole and their own connection to it and place within it – insane.

Why would we presume to merely describe land, or a community, or this mythical thing we call an economy as if they only exist as material things; disconnected, knowable after we dissect and discard the life and beauty within them and measure the body parts.

I am still grappling with breaking away.  I am still stuck within my professional paradigm.  We can take the first step relatively easily – to reject narrow and shallow technocratic silo thinking as in *any* way the answer to our world problems.  A few life traumas help you becoming a heretic.   Being in a coma on the edge of things, puts life in perspective.

Coma & perpective.pngWe can focus on synthesis – looking at things as a whole as well as parts – as essential to knowing.  To get away with our academic obsession with always breaking things up into ever-more isolated bits and then putting some numbers on it with complex mathematics to shroud the illusion.  But it isn’t enough.  It is still presenting the world behind a magician’s cape, it is still not much more than clever representation and the thrill of mystery to give a sense of something real.

The difference is, we know the man with the top hat and cape is an honest trickster.  He knows the magic isn’t real, and most of us do as well.   Somehow we have deluded ourselves about how we look for solutions in our world because we have been sold that the solution is in cutting our world up into lifeless things, unlovely things, ugly things.  We have been told to not trust feelings and emotions.  And because our technocratic tricksters are themselves deluded, and accompanying that ignorance is the comforting glow of authority and credibility – we have taken the Knownig & caring Teddy Roosevelt.jpgextraordinary step of believing in both our narrow technocrats *and* their tricks.

It is only when our technocratic magicians are so obviously and scarily deluded – the Dr Strangelove types like Don Brash – that we pause.

There is a test for whether we ought to listen to our latter-day alchemists.  Find out if they care for and love the life and beauty all around them.   We don’t care what you know, until we know that you care.

And that is at the root of where we need to shift.  Caring requires feeling.  It requires a sense of beauty and right and wrong.  Caring requires empathy.  It requires the ability to put yourself in others’ shoes and to see the world through others’ eyes.  It time-lapse-dancerequires some base of perennial philosophies such as doing unto others – others including our community and the planet of which we are a part, and on which we all depend.

It isn’t enough to see this
world as a material thing through utilitarian eyes.  You cannot calculate what is right – no matter how broad and deep your calculations extend – unless you have the heart and soul to lend appreciation and wisdom to the dance.

Chris Perley


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Propaganda and the Rhetoric of the Ruataniwha Dam

I published this over a year ago, and it still gets a lot of traffic. The Ruataniwha Dam is now under review, and the new Hawke’s Bay Regional Council is doing quite frankly an excellent job of peeling back the layers upon layers of dubious rationale. But one thing the review will not focus on is the initial rationale for the dam, which went something like this “Central Hawke’s Bay is declining, therefore we need the dam.” It seemed that understanding the reasons why was never in the interests of the proponents – and so they accelerate the trend to our very own provincial Trump voting middle America, because we don’t heed the lessons of an industrial commodity approach to human life and land.

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Creating Disorder and the Capacity to Renew

What does stability mean?  How do you provide for it?  If you are student of ecology you see patterns of disturbance Leopold A land ethic.pngeverywhere.   Stability comes from dancing through the inevitable disturbance.  Functional integrity comes from a position of accepting change and maintaining the capacity to renew, and renew, and renew again.

I’ve crawled over the pick-up-sticks of 2000 hectares of Mountain Beech wind-throw caused by some wild wind whipping over the main divide and down the dogleg course of the Poulter River before it meets the Waimakariri.  Seen the burst of life with bush lawyer, supplejack and two metre tall beech saplings that had two years before been bonsai in the shade.   There *is* stability here!  It is the stability we get from that capacity to renew.

I’ve woken to the sound of a forest podocarp giant fall not 300 metres from our camp on a wet night without a breath of wind.  Not a sigh.  A thousand square metres of thrashed undergrowth and dismemberment.  Glorious chaos amidst the human silence – standing atop the horizontal trunk, in awe.

We live within patterns of flux where the merest straw collapses the house of cards we delude ourselves will be forever.  Was it some straining tiny root finally letting go?

In neither of these disturbance events were we present.  We studied them after they had happened.  We learn a little more about the flux of the ecosystem, but did not presume to model the next wind-throw or that last stretched and weakened root.  We cannot know where and when and how bad.  We cannot know on that day the battle for succession has already commenced what struggling sapling will make it to the canopy decades hence; which of the 70,000 per ha will become the 2,500 left standing at the end, or what will topple them next.

We cannot evacuate Kaikoura a day before the midnight quake.

It is our particular and oh so Modern arrogance to believe we can predict complexity.  It is the big delusion of the men in suits.    And because they believe they can control, they design the world as a factory with human and natural cogs obediently turning, and they destroy the very capacities of renewal – of foresight, diversity of thought, robustness, adaptability, knowledge flows and cooperative wisdom – upon which our world and our very species depends.

wessels-reading-the-forestTom Wessels writes beautifully about how to read the landscapes of change around us.   And the change and diversity and surprise and unpredictability is a beautiful thing.  It creates chaos and beauty, mystery and dance.   Better that than the ordering of marching lines, following some idiot over the edge of the next abyss.

I know it’s a theme I keep referring to – that the world is far more defined by complex and interconnected functional verbs than a world reduced to a few structural nouns – let’s call them resources to create the illusion that we have any idea what we are doing.

Within that reality of complexity, you cannot control stability by marching in some predetermined, never-to-be-varied path.  That is rigidity.  That will always fail.  You have to learn to dance. Tom Robbins understands.

tom-robbing-what-is-stabilityAnd yet we live and think within a false materialist and reductionist view as if the world in all its complexity – its geology, meteorology, ecology and sociology, to name a few – is better represented by some metaphor of a certain and controllable machine.

Technocratic delusion.  Obsessive and baseless belief wrapped up as order and the blesséd rigid and the often insufferable pretentiousness of the expert.  They are blind to Alfred North Whitehead’s Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness – confusing an abstract belief with a real concrete thing.

Many applied STEM (and economics) subjects do not deeply question their metaphysics because they claim ‘objectivity’, and metaphysics is apparently beneath them.  They are right in a way; their metaphysics is the very base of everything they do, buried deep within their own minds.  So best not look unless your belief be shaken.  From Whitehead’s fallacy flows a torrent of nonsense and the danger of our world slipping into a totalitarian functionally obedient hierarchical state – the most fragile and stupid of things.

The geologist cannot think like that.  Nor the meteorologists.  Nor the ecologists.  Nor the peterson-political-positioningsociologists.  They better understand the home within which we live because the systems they observe are so defined by change and thresholds you can only examine after the event.  They understand the ‘eco’, the home.  The public health professional responding to the outbreak which came from who knows where.  The educationalists who know that a child can go many ways in life, irreducible to nonsense assumption of ‘rational choice’ and educational achievement of some rigid and baseless standard.  He can count, so he should be ok then.  They want to build capacities in children to live in a society and a world.  The government think you do that by building obedience and standardised order.

Those that live within the complexity of life understand that the world is largely uncertain and uncontrollable, and so they focus on resilience and do their very best to avoid the worst of order, uniformity and control.

Hell, the local dustman gets that things will surprise you!  So revere those at the sharp end of life, the artist, the poet, those that shine a mirror and question the status quo.  Those that feel.  Those that dare to be different.  Those that dare to *be*.

This is my particular beef; that those that hold the most sway in how our world is overexploited and abused are the least equipped to understand that world – the dull financiers, corporate psychopaths, narrow and shortsighted technocrats, doctrinaire economists of rigid mechanical belief.   And I cannot understand for the life of me how they hold their apparent appeal as worthy governors of our planet and community home.

They do not get that we need to revel in the guaranteed disorder and rebuild the capacities to renew.  Your standards and reduction of life to measured and ordered things will eventually kill us all.   Trust the poet economists and the musician financiers; those that have some semblance of a soul.

Insist they read Tom Robbins.
Chris Perley



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What Kind of Times are These?

I drove home from the Otaki Gorge this afternoon. Stopped on the one lane suspension bridge thirty metres over the gorge.  Wanted to just sit there, in the car.  Own it.  Just breathe it in.  But a car was behind me so I drove on … through the beauty of the Tararuas on my right and then the Ruahines on my left, driving north through another gorge with the windmills starkly white against the green hills and nimbus clouds – almost purple.

The cricket hadn’t started so I listened to random iPod tracks. And then Adrienne Rich came on, reading What Kind of Times are These.  And so you push repeat … and repeat.

Addrienne Rich What Kind of times are these.jpg

Chris Perley


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