An Economic Doctrine cannot start from the Assumption that we do not Belong

One of the assumptions I found so bizarre in Neoliberal ‘thought’ was the idea of asociality – that people are individuals outside of any society, making selfish, ‘rational’ ‘utility maximising’ decisions as if we do not belong. It is the very opposite of the indigenous view of whakapapa – our belonging to land, people and community.
From this cultish Neoliberal perspective, when someone makes what are patently unethical decisions – perhaps abusing power, or not considering others or our land, or the noam-chomsky-the loss of society.pngfuture of our culture – then that is somehow OK.  “The market will provide,” and other cliches (whenever you read a cliche, take it as a red flag – a thoughtless functionary mind).

And then we start hearing the rhetoric that greed is good, and that those with power have demonstrated ‘merit’, and the narrowness of perspective creeps into our way of life. Our society erodes.  George Monbiot typically writes well about that phenomenon.  An assumption of disconnection leads to disconnection, which leads to negative system effects beyond the ken of narrow men.

Because we think society is not there, it does not matter.  Because we frame the world as a set of infinite resources with an ‘all-knowing’ market, there is no ‘belonging’ to consider – only allocation at the appropriate price.  Yes, the market theoretically knows all about the the certain and controllable collapse that’s coming, and so naturally it won’t occur – no need to worry.   Welcome to the Machine.

When people challenge – for example a sociologist demonstrating that people are social animals, or some historian, anthropologist, land use profession pointing out the nature of belonging, the need to conserve functions, or the constant history of environmental, social and economic collapse (I mean … Hello!!) – the arrogance worthy of a weird cult dismisses it.


Authorities fear thought, and claim they speak for the common good.  And then they collapse under the weight of their own hubris and arrogance.

Worse, they set up structures as happened in our public sector where blind obedience is a career imperative (they call it ‘freedom’ and ‘merit’ – let’s take some words and do the exact opposite to them). The weird cult also dismissed the importance of wider ethics like duty, rights & virtue that go far beyond the ‘rationalised’ injustice that is common when relying on ‘utility’ calculations – dollars as happiness measures for me, today.  And they dismiss the reality that our place is patently *not* a set of resources but is first and foremost a functioning system (as we have a functioning social system), whose function can be destroyed by short term and narrow thought.  And you cannot predict how, when, where, or what straw will break the camel’s back.

I wonder how such an ungrounded, untrue, unethical, narrow and destructive perspective can permeate into our thought and action.  I really do.  It demonstrates the power of myth.  It also demonstrates how very *irrational* we are outside of a deeply social context – a paradigm of belief.

And that is the biggest irony of all.  The cult and culture *within* the Neoliberal clique is palpable.

“Economy” is the management of home.  There are wonderful economists who get that. You can tell who they are because they don’t talk in the framework of simply markets and dollars – they understand power for what it the-economy-is-linkedis, the planet for what it is, community and belonging for what it is, ethics for what it is, merit for what it is.  They understand people and the things that make us whole – our creativity and spirit, our sense of belonging.  They also understand that a ‘thin’ economy with all the money at the top and no demand in the rest of society is doomed to stall.  The small businesses suffer; health and crime rise; the potential of individuals, communities and landscapes lies moribund.  Greed eats the soul of our home, but the greedy can never see that because they aren’t looking.

We need to change this world, and one of the first steps toward a better future in uncertain times is to critique Voltaire’s Neoliberal Panglossian dreamers who think we live in “the best of all possible worlds.”  We need the critical voices, and the loss of those voices *within* our
public and private peterson-political-positioninginstitutions (companies, departments, research, policy, community) is a very serious concern in my view.  We become rigid, autocratic, centralised and hierarchical rather than flexible, dialogic, decentralised and empowered.

But Neoliberalism doesn’t understand the importance of those two cultural distinctions because (well, for a start they are cultural, and culture doesn’t exist) they think they know our world through their incredibly narrow lens.  It is why our Neoliberal Treasury was behind the changing of our public institutions with the State Sector Act 1988.  They created corporate autocracies, and destroyed dialogue and connection.  Read about it here.

And the 1992 science reforms were of the same thinking.  The myopic minds cannot see culture anywhere in their models.  There is no ethos of care, a long term view, a sense of breadth, esprit de corps, institutional knowledge, connection to practice in the field and other colleagues, a focus on cooperative public service goals, an ideal of excellence and inquiry.  There is only self interest and personal utility maximisation.  So it is written in their texts.  Never mind the real world around you.  All for one and one for all.jpegYou have to look beyond the mechanics of the model to the system to appreciate those core community qualities.  Sports teams understand it, the better managers, any half competent military unit.

Like dissent against state communism – to constructively dialogue and openly disagree is a sign of an extremist from the point of view of an extremist.

If any economic doctrine starts with the assumption that we can reduce our home to disconnected ‘resources’ (individuals included under the banner resources) that relate through transactional allocation outside of society, then I’d rather take advice from the soothsayers (and I seriously mean that), because such thinking actively destroys the things that make us whole.

It turns us into zombies and orcs, mere unthinking cogs who act on the whim of whatever ‘meritorious’ authority has schemed their way to the top.  The better soothsayers at least recognises what we all know – that we are part of a society.

Chris Perley

Posted in Thought Pieces | Leave a comment

Teaching Wisdom – To Know the World, you Have to Live in the World

child-in-nature“To know the world, you have to live in the world.”

Carol Black has written a beautiful and insightful essay on connection between children and the outdoors, knowing, and what education ought to be.  It resonates with me.  I think looking back that I was blessed with land and having my brother Andrew with whom to escape into the land and explore.  Meals brought us home.  We were blessed with our own New Zealand version of this …..

“A free child outdoors will learn the flat stones the crayfish hide under, the still shady pools where the big trout rest, the rocky slopes where the wild berries grow. They will learn the patterns in the waves, which tree branches will bear their weight, which twigs will catch fire, which plants have thorns.”

the-wonder-of-a-childFor us it was eels, cockabullies, birds nests and bees – and about any other thing that involved water, trees, mud and a live (or dead) thing, as well as the community activities on the land from mustering to dusty yards smelling of dung.  We were curious beyond measure. But it was never about measure.  It was about awe, reverence, contentment, and fun.  I’ve written about relationships to landscapes and people in my blog here and when trying to explain what is this thing we call a forest.

George Monbiot makes the same point in his book Feral: Searching for Enchantment on the Frontiers of Rewilding. To know the world, you have to live in it; embrace it with all our senses; see it, sense it and feel it withsanity-wholeness-of-consciousness both sides of our brains. Belong; to the wholeness of life, of consciousness. Realise the connections, and that you are connected to others and the landscape.

Ball’s Clearing – a lowland podocarp hardwood forest remnant near the Kaweka Ranges of inland Hawke’s Bay – was the start of a journey for me. That place of enchantment and its uplifting overload of sense experience, transcendence, awe and joy. Try and measure that.

I remember ‘getting’ the years of learning the foundations of forest ecology lying on my podocarp_forest.jpgback recording bird counts where all the connections of a particular spot, with particular qualities, were in play. The fact that it was a great spot for kereru had made the place in which I lay.

Keystones shrieked their ephemeral presence – in this particular place, in this particular time, within these defining yet not easily definable rhythms and dynamics of life.  The wider statistics of the forest don’t measure life; they don’t indicate these particular place-based connections, and the place didn’t exist in the aggregate models because we dealt beyond single plots in broader scales of vegetation types, means and standard errors – the world of STEME (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, economics).  We lose the fine resolution of things in our programmes of convenient standardisation, especially if our focus is ‘resource’ rather than ‘ecology’.  And we lose something more, a wise persepctive.

The whole Modern programme (for a discussion on Modernity as a ‘way of seeing’ read Ways of Seeing I: Paradigms of Progress – the Rise of the Machine) – with all its measures and murdering to dissect, its certain, controllable the-earth-does-not-belong-to-us-we-belong-to-the-earthfocus on predictability and technology – is, to me, a risky enterprise in unwisdom; in UNeducating the mind.

There is madness here, but we don’t
call it so.  Its perspective is mad in the sense that the world is defined as a certain mechanical path, walked upon by looking through a telescope, within a realm of mists surrounded on all sides by multiple treasures and mortal traps, beyond the ken or concern of myopic men.

Mr Magoo meets Jurassic Park.

Its purpose is mad in believing not only in the framework of the machine, a thing outside ourselves, but in an unquestioned destiny of eating the home that gives us breath.  It is unknowing, unwise, and extends to the classroom, Black’s focus in her article.

“The purpose of school was to “elevate” children out of their [“totally depraved”] natural state and train them to take their place in man’s grand project of “subordinating the material world to his use”.”


Black continues …


“These original purposes, as John Taylor Gatto has pointed out, were so effectively built into the structure of modern schooling –– with its underlying systems of confinement, control, standardization, measurement, and enforcement –– that today they are accomplished even without our conscious knowledge or assent.

They are not, of course, accomplished in the ways that the social engineers had in mind. These visionary men assumed human nature to be infinitely malleable; children were to be molded and fashioned like any other industrial raw material into a predetermined finished product, and industrial utopia would be the result. But they did not count on the power of children’s instinct for dissent. The wild mind strives to protect itself the way a horse under saddle does, with a thousand strategies of resistance, withdrawal, inattention, forgetting; the children won’t do what the authorities say they should do, they won’t learn what the experts say they must learn, and for every diligent STEM-trained worker-bee we create there are ten bored, resistant, apathetic young people who are alienated from both nature and their own chained hearts.”itsnotyou-itsyourcage-stuart-hardy


The world as machine. A child as a machine with a chained heart. The proto-Picasso manufactured into an accountant.

We know there is a problem.  We know we need to fix it.  And we respond – in the best Modern mechanical way – by using the same reductionist, analytical and ‘objective’ – meaning disconnected – thinking in an attempt at solution …

“There is some dawning awareness these days of the insanity of raising children almost entirely indoors, but as usual our society’s response to its own insanity is to create artificial programs designed to solve our artificial problems in the most artificial way possible.”

We are at risk of creating the vicious circle of myopia breeding myopia breeding myopia, where the seer who points out the nakedness of the emperor is the one considered the mad witch.

Modernity is bad enough, but in our Neoliberal Age it is even worse – Modernity on steroids – we frame land and people as measured ‘resources’ with a dollar market price attached, to be used, disassembled, dominated, controlled, instructed, and exploited to achieve another madness, measured – unnaturally – in someone else’s dollars.

Perhaps the worst insanity of all is to assume that you can know the world from a classroom desk.  Aristotle wrote about this in Nicomachean Ethics in his profound discussion of the four intellectual virtues.

  1. Knowledge that can be taught in a classroom is the lowest form (Episteme).
  2. Knowledge learned by doing – being in the land, with other people, acting – higher (Techne).
  3. The rudder of a considered life and moral virtue – the Core.
  4. The practical wisdom and judgment (Phronesis) – the decision of what to do regarding this issue, in this place, in this time, with these unfolding consequences the Queen.

We reduce both knowledge and wisdom by assuming Episteme will define our future within our mechanical world. And we risk falling into an alligator pit we cannot even imagine.

Aristotle’s wisdom is being rediscovered by brilliant thinkers like Bent Flyvjberg and Alistair MacIntyre; who summed up the need for connection to people and place in order to be wise ….

“that it is only by participation in a rational practice-based community that one becomes rational.”[1]

And yet our approach to education seems to be the opposite; that it is only by non-participation in the real world and all its complexity that one can be rational.

Strangely, that is exactly the point of view that i-see-humans-but-no-humanityTreasury took relating to policy analysts from the 1990s. We were told that knowledge of a sector wasn’t required. Economics would be the ring that binds them all.  Not merely necessary – itself debatable – but sufficient. More, that any practical and professional knowledge within the field and within communities was a disadvantage.

We were ‘captured’ by the sector by knowing.  We were ‘subjective’. They, in their non-participation in life itself, liked to consider themselves ‘objective’. Their faith in the technocracy of Episteme and Techne as the replacement of ken and wisdom was complete.

Is this, perhaps, the nadir of the Modern mechanical age; where thought and perspective is divorced from the real world we experience as unchained hearts searching for eels along the banks? We are breeding GM dreams, aquifer frackers and water thieves; the unleashing of the Hyenas of Corporate commerce, reducing our complex world to expendable things, to means for others’ ends.

We have cast aside the moral rudder; discarded practical wisdom in favour of an input:output equilibrium model, mr-magoodisconnected from any real world in this universe.

And this is madness too; Mr Magoo is breeding the naked emperors amongst the alligators, both of whom he cannot see.

And perhaps we have lost the ability to teach a different way of seeing. Carol Black thinks so.

“But the truth is we don’t know how to teach our children about nature because we ourselves were raised in the cinderblock world. We are, in the parlance of wildlife rehabilitators, unreleasable. I used to do wildlife rescue and rehabilitation, and the one thing we all knew was that a young animal kept too long in a cage would not be able to survive in the wild. Often, when you open the door to the cage, it will be afraid to go out; if it does go out, it won’t know what to do. The world has become unfamiliar, an alien place. This is what we have done to our children.

This is what was done to us.”

I hope I am right in thinking that in New Zealand we have yet to reach that point of no return. But we do need to treasure our connections to doing things within family, community and place, in order to be learn to be rational and wise.

Teach your children well.




Chris Perley


[1] Quoted in Hauerwas, S., 2007 The Virtues Of Alasdair Macintyre. First Things.


Posted in Thought Pieces, Virtues, Ways of Seeing | 9 Comments

Everything is Connected: Make it Sing

parts-and-whole-we-are-connectedI’ve used this diagram often when talking about land use. But it is so much more than that. The connections between and among things, patches, processes, dollars, functions of soil, stock, trees, wetlands, water and thought – many not quantifiable, even definable in any consistent way because they shift, and sometimes die, and sometimes create something new – like life or consciousness – out of something that wasn’t a part of any part.  It’s why I like murmurations of starlings as an allegory on life – shapes come into being … and then dissolve into nothing but air.  You cannot understand it all by reductionism.  You have to see things as both whole and parts – Arthur Koestler’s holons.

I’ve used it to try to show a land defined by Sophie Windsor Murmurationfunctions and processes contingent on time and place, changing with the breeze and the season (verbs of relationships) far more than objects (nouns of measured things).  Land isn’t a ‘unit’ of anything we can visualise as a ‘resource’ – not in any meaningful way.  That is as blunt and brutal as looking at an individual and measuring ‘it’ in terms of how much soap you can make out of the body. There is so much more, and that is where morality and wisdom lies – outside the machine.

This is my stream of consciousness in the cold where nesting birds fight against the sound of traffic and men at work with mowers.


In land, patches and functions connect and make the whole sing. If you think within a confined space – perhaps a spreadsheet with a few quantitative variables and absolutely no nuance – you can destroy the very things that make the song.  Not can.  You probably will.

Overuse fertiliser and your carbon goes, so your infiltration and water holding goes, so you are more drought prone, and downstream has more floods, and you add to the very risk of climatic drought and flood …. because everything is connected …..

….. and you overstock the capacity of the soil to cope, and damage other functions, and you lose more nutrients and soil through overland flow, which increase overland flow even more, so you lose more, and more, and the positive feedbacks go into an overdrive of degradation, and the stream is polluted from the things that are good on the land and need to be replaced with more money, which makes you poorer and increases your risks …. because everything is connected …..

…. and what flows off that land doesn’t just degrade the land, and your pocket and reduce your resilience, it also pollutes the stock water which reduces their productivity and increases health costs, so you are poorer still, but we continue to think in the mechanical world of rigid certainties reducible to parts when the kicker – the keystone – the thing that makes the place sing – is not in your spreadsheet, because who puts in their spreadsheet infiltration rates and water holding capacities, and the health of the pasture diet and soil, nutrient and organic matter loss, and soil biological health, or the feeling of contentment an animal gets when it can chew cud in the shade – let alone water quality or the flood to the village downstream ….  because everything is connected, even if your spreadsheet implicitly presumes it isn’t …

… and because you have lost these things, you have to rebuild them, but all the cries are to intensify and increase ‘efficiencies’ of the scale of one thing, and trees and wetlands are “a waste of good land,” because grass is god and everything else is an ‘ineffective’ area, and so you run faster to catch up and drain the swamps and take the trees off the steeper slopes and narrow gullies to make more ‘effective’ your machine that isn’t, and so you lose more soil, and beneficial biodiversity goes, and where are the bees, and why are the stock dying and lack the gloss from browse, shelter and shade, and there are less productivity (input:output) efficiencies, and you lose more money trying to keep the land from going back to the land cover it wants to be because these areas will always be low production and higher cost in pasture but beautiful and contributing in wood or wet, but we are not taught to look for the synergies of diversity or – heaven forbid – the horrible unquantifiable things like a happy land, but you don’t see that because the technocratic advisor thinks all efficiency is about increasing the scale of one thing, reducing diversity, simplifying not adding, rather than building a biophysical systems that sings, and creates new things you never even knew about like a harvest of flowers wild and adventitious, or the call of a tui and the beat of a kereru’s wing … because everything is connected …

…and you reduce the diversity of the pasture, take out the legume and replace it with another input made from oil, which creates a dependency, and addiction, for a finite thing that increases our climatic risks even more, and degrades even more, and all the deep rooting drought-resistant ‘weeds’ that used to be the stock medicines our grandfathers took for granted are gone, replaced by the “high production” shallow rooting new swanky patented grasses that don’t grow roots of any length making the drought worse while there’s water at depth to roots that are no longer there to find it … because everything is connected ….

…. but you don’t even think about the drought resilient capacities of land and woody plants to reduce evapotranspiration and soaking-in soils and wetlands in the swales to capture runoff and all the goodies, and clean the stream and keep it flowing because the technocrats say drought is about rainfall not land health and exposure to hot dry winds because of a lack of shelter, and we can’t do anything about the rain can we . . and the stock are less healthy, and for each new condition you don’t think of the connections of climate and water and diet and being a happy animal – you add to the vet’s bill… and ask the advisor what new technofix – with its future problem unforeseen and unwritten on the ever-so-certain prescription on the packet that came with the bill – who studied in a silo of maximised and measured things and a belief that a machine can heal a soul …. because everything is connected ….

…….. and your place no longer has the pheasants and the pleasant places, and the joy starts to go, and then the hope, and you produce commodities without a market position so the price keeps coming down and the kids don’t want to own the farm, and you have to have a bigger farm (factory) to survive because the only thing you know is single function production system where building scale and sameness rather than diversities and patterns is seen as the only way because that is how we are ‘educated’ – and so you get into debt to buy the neighbour’s farm, or sell to the neighbour or corporate from Auckland….. because everything is connected …

….. and you spiral down and hope for the next technofix because it’s not about the way we see, it’s about bad luck and ‘this is what we do’ because you are not taught to look at *any*thing as a broader interconnected system – you’re taught to see the farm as a mechanical world of hydroponic inputs, and it’s simply a matter of getting hold of more fertiliser and more irrigation and more GE this and patented that, and you grind the system down and lose more market position, because no one wants to eat the food they consider unsafe and dubious, and you lose more money, and the cultivar that does so well in Templeton on their silt loams and irrigation doesn’t seem quite so well suited where cattle actually graze it rather than shears harvest it, and on this hot dry exposed place ….. because everything is connected …

.Kids in the river.jpg


… but we could look at land differently.  And a human and the employee – not a soap resource – in the same way – connected to whanau and community and place and what they eat and how they hope and dream and play, and what ideas they have that create new ideas and things emerge out of the system that sings, and we get more diversity and more connection and more opportunity and morale and enterprise in a positive, virtuous cycle …. because everything is connected ….

…. and you can look at a region in exactly the same way – that the hopes and fearlessness of people leads to greater cultural expression and enterprise, and if you don’t treat people like cogs, and a ‘town’ as a traffic grid with car parks, and a river as an irrigation ditch and a drain, but start with people and place; streets as places to sit and meet and walk and play; rivers as ours to be joyous in ……..

……. then things happen – and you can’t predict what it will be because life is not predictable any more than you can predict your own child’s future … because everything is connected, and you won’t know the connections all, ever …

…. but you do instinctively know to nurture and to build the outlook and capabilities of our children, and learnings, and an outlook of hope, and a few rough lessons, and the ethos of care toward others and protection from and censuring of the bullies who think it is all about them and their power, because you are family, and connected – and that your nurture gives the best chance of a good life for them, because you care, where the predictability of it all doesn’t matter because that is part of the joy of life …. because everything is connected …


… and so why is it we don’t treat the raising of our communities and local economies in the same way we raise a child?  Why do we think the way ahead is to see like a technocrat with a spreadsheet and a machine for a brain who would not know esprit de corps without someone giving a number to it. Why do we think it’s about attracting big outside business with our low wages and subsidies and free ‘resources’ to give away, and the right to take and pollute.  It can only be because we see like a machine and cannot hear the song; we cannot imagine there can be a song.

We cannot see that a better environment attracts and saves costs and raises our produce to where we demand a fair price, and the high value leads to long value chains and local ownership which constantly innovates and constantly differentiates, and fosters ideas and more creativity, and more ….

… because we are free to create and recreate … and everything is connected.


Chris Perley

24th September 2016

Posted in Thought Pieces | Leave a comment

Looking after Local Enterprise and Life (Part II)

This is the second part of an article looking at why do we put local government money in the big rather than the small?   Especially when the big tend to extract, while the small are so integral to a creative and vibrant place? I’m trying to argue why.  The first part is published here.  

There are a number of stories in why we have conveniently forgotten the evidence in favour of small local enterprise over outside owned corporations. The early work was done by Goldschmidt (in rural communities), Mills and Ulmer (in manufacturing) just after World War II.  They studied the benefits to communities and places dependent on small local in direct contrast with large outsiders.  But the work was buried with a heavy critique.  It had to be.  It was a direct challenge to the rise of the corporation as the 1941_jeep_assembly_linemodel for business following World War II.  Cognitive dissonance took hold.  The rise in the ideal of the corporation was the first explanation for our wilful amnesia.

Corporations were the showpiece of mass war production, even though it was fed by and dependent upon many layers of subcontractors and government (conveniently forgotten, all that wider context).  Stacy Mitchell put it like this, “….postwar policy was built on the idea that big business was more efficient and therefore would provide higher incomes and this improved social welfare. In the following decades, a wide range of government policies would work to promote the concentration of capital and the rise of big industry.”[3]

Well, the idea that the workers would all benefit from ‘trickle down’ assumes an equitable power between disconnected owner and worker, and surprise surprise, it didn’t happen.  But I’m sure some tinadoctrinaire Neoliberal economists are still looking at their models and believing that it will.  This is the second reason for our amnesia – the rise of Neoliberalism.  Strongly associated with it was the fall of empiricism within the economic discipline, having its nadir with Neoliberalism, upon which all reference to the real empirical world was lost.

Read in a machine voice,

We are an infinite number of equally powerless firms and individuals where there is no such thing as exploitation by the non-existent ‘powerful’, just willing buyers and willing sellers with perfect knowledge who rise and fall on their own merit by making rational choices to maximise their utility in an asocial context where location of ownership doesn’t matter and the world is a set of unlimited land, labour and capital resources whose transaction price – and only meaning – is determined by Our Lord Market. All hail.

Well, that all makes perfect (non)sense. It doesn’t matter who owns, or where.  A place is not a functioning social or environmental system, it is infinite piles of ‘resources’ just waiting to be allocated at a completely fair price by the benevolent market.  No need to look at history or the real world smacking you over the head with a large dead fish then.

The trouble with all this hero worship of both corporations and Neoliberalism is that it is all stark raving bonkers.  Here’s why.  Are corporations more ‘efficient’? No …. and yes. The idea of more ‘efficiency’ is only true relative to costs and production of masses of identical widgets, great for a war. But an economy does far more than that. It innovates, it builds community, it fosters thought, it works within a moral framework, it adapts, it protects local values, it is concerned with far more multiple values that a beast churning through ‘resources’ and making profit.  And how do large corporates stack up to those functions against local enterprise?  Not well at all.  Not very ‘efficient’ in that context then.

‘Efficiency’ of one is those meaningless words unless there is a context to go with it.  I can ‘efficiently’ exploit if I can use my power to influence the laws.

Efficient bulldozer.jpg

The “efficient” destruction of a stream in pursuit of the ideal ordered and obedient drain.

I can far more ‘efficiently’ destroy a stream with a bulldozer than a shovel.  A corporate can be very efficient in one thing.  Small enterprises can be very efficient in many, many things – the supporting values of community and place mentioned above. Corporates can efficiently destroy those same values.

Neoliberalism is also bonkers.  The love of large-scale and more wealth as merit is so linked with Neoliberalism ideals. If you fall under the heavy crush of a corporate foot, it’s merit.  You deserved it.  They won.  You lost.  Made bad choices.  They’re better.  You have less merit.  Willing buyer-willing seller. Rational choice.

There is apparently no need to make a distinction based on power, scale and location of ownership because none are relevant to the model.  So we treat all enterprise the same again, and give more public dosh to the big guys.

No power relations???  So perhaps colonisation and empires never happened.  Did we Europeans just politely come to New Zealand, smile, and invest much needed capital for the good of all?  Mr Key might think that – and he is quoted as effectively saying so – but it is a false and distorted view.

But our politicians from 1984 until the present day, love this new age neoliberal religious faith.  It’s either love, or they are just completely devoid of an ability to either synthesise or dig deep into philosophical assumptions.  Or they are, frankly, not very bright. I haven’t decided yet. Ruth Mother of all BudgetsSome time in the early 1990s, flush from the Mother of All Budgets, then Finance Minister Ruth Richardson made the comment, “What’s good for business is good for New Zealand.”[4]

She was wrong. It very much depends – of course – on the type of business.  Blood diamonds anyone?  A slave economy of cotton?   All business is good???   The mafia perhaps.  Union Carbide and Bhopal?  A grinding monster chomping through people and earth, stamping on the little man, spouting toxins and dumping slag to the detriment of we natives, and for the benefit of some colonial master far, far away is no one’s idea of ‘good’ …. unless you are that colonial master. This was a part of the early history of our country; a feeding frenzy of power, destruction, extraction and taking from others who didn’t have the gunboats and the regiments in red. We should have learned from that, because it could, and is, happening again. Big and central is attempting to dominate over small and local.  And we, the people, through subsidies to corporations (I need not mention tax havens, blind trusts and tax cuts for the very top), are helping them.  How on earth did that state of affairs evolve?

No region benefits when the city dominates. No small country when a larger threatens. No small local business benefits when the large business dominates. No people benefit when some oligarchy with a sense of entitlement sets all the rules. The growth in power of a few is destructive to our own.

Smith Beware commerceAdam Smith recognised and wrote about this – keep checks on the powerful, their political influence, and on immoral behaviour. Once that is done, regulate lightly, because the village looks after itself – but his words have been twisted. The Neoliberals who hold Smith up as some saint for the ‘free market’ don’t mention his warnings and lessons of immorality and power, his preconditions to free commerce.  They don’t mention that before we deregulate, we need to ensure we have both an ethos of care, and checks on those who would use and grow their own power to influence the field of play.  Power and morals don’t come into it remember.  Just utilitarian calculus – if the mob’s happiness is greater than the innocent’s they happen to be lynching, then that is the ‘rational choice’.  All good.  All calculus, with each dollar a unit of happiness.

How times have changed.  We used to know about the influence of the big over the small as a given.  Now if you mention it, you’ll probably be called a bolshie pinko lefty activist. We pinko negative lefty antis like to call it “a pretty damn basic knowledge of history.”  After all, we’ve had feudalism, and empires, and robber barons, and J P Morgan et al., and the industrial revolution with children under the cotton looms of Manchester, and manufactured famines, and colonisation, and, and, and.  I mean, for heaven’s sake, power relationships go back to the cave, and into almost every social setting you can imagine – the home, the classroom, the workforce.

And now we have the corporate kind of power.  Who wouldn’t know about that?  Who could teach any Economics 101 class and unthinkingly talk of meritocracy and equal powerlessness?  But they did, and still do.  And most quietly take down their notes.

And we know, but do not teach, that a community with many locally owned enterprises outperforms those communities dominated by outside-owned corporates in so many ways – socially and economically.  Adam Smith’s village of smaller enterprises is superior to oligarchies and outside owners. theownershipsociety1Ownership matters. What size and dominance it has, and whether those owners are part of a community and place or distant geographically and without a sense of belonging. This is what we need to look after; our structures of ownership that drive creativity alongside a motivated people and a healthy landscape. Beware the Vesteys and the oligarchies. Build de Tocqueville’s democracy; Jefferson’s vision of agrarian democracy.

As a country, New Zealand once acted upon that awareness.  Around the turn of the previous century, the Liberal Party under Richard Seddon imposed land reform, broke up the 50,000-acre estates and parcelled out the landWalmart to the many.  Our policy people were not then so blind that they saw no difference between the local hardware store and our then equivalent of Walmart.

We understood that power needs tempering, it needs to be looked on with if not suspicion, at least an open awareness.  We know that some will act on the basis that, if they made more profit by exploiting the less powerful, then they will do it.  If they can privatise the gains and socialise the costs, then why not.  If they can degrade the land and water, then leave, then they have no moral responsibility beyond the profit on the spreadsheet.  They don’t belong to that place; their children will not be affected by the consequences; it is not their large company’s concern.  And believe me, with slow cycling natural systems like forests, soils, water, fisheries and climate, as well as with the social ‘capital’ of a community – it is very profitable indeed to degrade and walk away.  And they call that ‘efficiency’.  It is ‘efficient’ to degrade if you don’t think as a connected local and long-term.

Integral to why big business are not great for local communities is because of how they frame the issues.  What are people for?  What is the river for?  Or the land?  What defines them?  The post WW II glorification of the big business ideal has led to a loss of meaning of people and the planet, reduced to a short-term dollar.  People and land became more like expendable, substitutable cogs.  Grist.  Things to mill.  Inanimate, unthinking parts in the machine.

The mechanical, hierarchical, impersonal and autocratic approach is now the norm in many large organisations; where engagement, dialogue and creativity are crushed by rigid box-ticking and obedience.  Cogs are not expected to think or have anything relevant to say.  Who needs thought, foresight, adaptability, vision, dialogue, laughter, love, when the world is certain and controllable.

It is no wonder a town dominated by corporate thinking results in a less vibrant and diverse economy alongside the reduction in social and environmental foundations whose health and integrity is essential to all, including – and here the irony begins – the large impersonal corporations themselves ….. because the world is not certain and controllable, and they will *need* those who can foresee and adapt.  Because without them, they will fail …. eventually.  Unless the people bail them out again, of course.  After all, what are the taxes we pay (but they don’t) for, anyway?

Adam Smith and all the other thinkers about community and place – the Jane Jacobs, quote-it-is-a-city-of-villages-closely-connected-each-village-dedicated-to-a-different-way-nancy-spain-117-57-75Christopher Alexanders, Lewis Mumfords – are right.   Think local.   Don’t get seduced by some swank from the metropolis with the big cigar.  Look to the artisans in the back alleys.   Preserve our neighbourhoods.  Create a network of villages in our towns and cities; places to gather and sit; each with its own cultural expression.  Make it fun.  Remind people of who they are and where they came from.  Build an ethos of moral and enlightened care.  Build beauty and patterns that connect.  Places to be and belong.  Inspire and encourage the weirdness of continually differentiating expression.

Maintain the integrity of people and place.  Call ugliness for what it is.  Create checks on power and its influence on local economies and policy, especially on those who would

presume to be aristocrats and corporate thinkers (profit whatever happens to our legacies and beauty) who live outside any place and moral code.

Then we can live lightly.  Look to the village and the town as more than just a market place of transaction; as a place and a community to be part of, living within a wider environment – the Shire, a green and pleasant land – unravaged by Sauron and the dark satanic mills.

This is not some naïve vision. It is the alternative to a potentially very bleak future dystopia. We need to stop thinking that bigger is better, and that autocratic hierarchies of command and control are more ‘efficient’.  That’s straight out of Sauron’s business manual, and we are not yet Orcs.


Chris Perley

[3] Stacy Mitchell (2006) Big Box Swindle: the true cost of mega-retailers and the fight for America’s Independent Businesses. p75


Posted in Thought Pieces | 3 Comments

Looking After Local Enterprise and Life (Part I)

The following was submitted to the local paper as an opinion piece.  It corresponds to the news that the local district council subsidised the very unpopular investment in water bottling by outside interests, utilising our very high quality aquifer water for no charge.  The rationalisation was more ‘jobs and GDP’, and caused a local outrage.  I wrote about it here in reference to the water being our ‘common’.  Hawke’s Bay people are also subsidising the investors in the large, corporate-scale Ruataniwha Dam.  

Alternatives of decentralised local capacities on farm are dismissed with selective arguments relating to single function ‘efficiencies’.  Alternatives of smaller firms and artisans who employ more and benefit life in so many more ways than the county-size agribusiness or dominant crunching mills.  This is a pattern of preferring the big over the small, without regard to where ownership is seated, or the major benefits of local enterprise.  We are following the example of the US in supporting big business over small local start-ups.  Why?

The article is in two parts.  The first (with slight edits) was presented to the Hawke’s Bay Today.  Part two looks at some of the history, the research that has been undertaken on the benefit of local enterprise, and why it has not had a voice within central and local government policy.

markets-headerThe question of how we as a region encourage a better economy and jobs for our people is not often debated.  Certainly not deeply.  We seldom differentiate.  There is an implicit view that we support new enterprises, but which ones.  I know of artisans who do incredible things with sound systems but lack the start-up capital to take the next step. Who knows what could come of them.  And yet too-big-vs-too-smallif an outsider comes in and promises a number of low paid jobs by extracting something of ours and ‘compromising’ our commons, the suits are on full display for the photo op.

Ernesto Sirolli, who visited Hawke’s Bay two years ago, challenged that ‘subsidise the big outsiders’ view.  It favours the extractive economy over the creative, with all that comes with that (I’ve previously written about it here). The challenge to what is effectively corporate welfare in the US is growing with various claims that up to $US 450,000 of central and local
government subsidy is being paid for each job created[1]. In the US at least, it has become an industry, and their trends in governance, commerce, environmental and social issues, are very much our trends, just one or two decades in front.

Outside-owned business is treated with open arms and subsidies. bakerSmall business and artisanal start-ups are just not as sexy. Perhaps it is about a sense of importance. Is there


The opening of New Zealand Miracle Water’s water bottling plant.  Photo Duncan Brown


a provincial cringe in favour of the well-dressed swank from outside rather than the inspired and head-down artisan why might be considered – quelle horreur – an artist!  Ministers of the Crown come along to complete the perfect picture. You can have a nice lunch.  A large irrigation dam anyone? Let’s not talk about multifunctional alternatives that build the capacity of the whole landscape, economy and community. Small people live there.

The poor positioning of how we promote enterprise is beyond simplistic. We tend to come with spreadsheets from the top instead of recognise the linkages between culture, a quality environment and enterprise; all the social capital, justice and people-centred, small enterprise start-up work.

english-lower-wages-australiaWe have even heard politicians appeal to outsiders with our ‘low wages’, attempting to compete based on lower costs rather than higher quality. They are not lower costs.  Someone always pays, and it is us in lack of hope, the dulling of local enterprise, engagement and thought, and water we cannot drink and in which we cannot swim.

We have also ignored the research on how a community of local enterprise outperforms in every way those communities dominated by a smaller number of outside corporations.

A community blessed with many locally-owned, rather than a few outside owned SmallBusiness-image.jpgcorporates, has higher median incomes, less inequality, lower unemployment, better community infrastructure, streets, schools, community gathering place, as well civic and social engagement.

The findings are extraordinary. Buying local makes economic and social sense. Encouraging local start-ups makes sense. Local owners are both financially and personally vested in their communities because it is home, not a place and a people far away to be milked for profit.keep-it-local
And our dollars churn around far more as multipliers of value. The economic impact of a locally owned store is between two and four times that of a chain[2].

Local firms are more reliable, they do not take the subsidy keep-portland-weirdmoney and run; they are more locally accountable; tend to buy local themselves; generate greater creativity and entrepreneurship; and care about the local identity and celebrate diversity and difference. Look at our Hawke’s Bay cafés and bars. Some of them are proudly weird. That’s Austin Texas’ small business slogan; “Keep Austin Weird.”  Portland Oregon as well.  We really ought to steal it.albuquerque  Albuquerque’s is even better and focused on buying local – “Keep it Querque.”

Why is this not a policy focus of our central and local governments? Why don’t we hear more about it? The pile of research references grows higher, and yet we encourage the big and centralised over the local and smaller.

It is time to embrace and play an active role in encouraging and assisting creative local start-ups and treat them like gold.  Build a vibrant artisanal society. Celebrate the ideas. Make Hawke’s Bay weird.

Chris Perley


The explanation for why we have chosen to ignore much of this evidence is discussed in Part II to follow – Looking after Local Enterprise and Life (Part II)



[2] The two pioneer studies include [Rural communities] Goldschmidt, Walter R. (1947). As You Sow: Three Studies in the Social Consequences of Agribusiness. Montclair, N.J: Allanheld, Osmun and Co. Publishers, Inc.;

[Manufacturing centres] Mills, C. Wright, and Melville J. Ulmer. (1946) Small Business and Social Welfare. Report of the Smaller War Plants Corporation to the Special Senate Committee to Study Problems of American Small Business. 79th Cong., 2nd sess., Document 135.

They were dismissed by the new emphasis on big is better policy development, and with it research initiatives, until rediscovered in the late 1990s by Dr Thomas Lyson from Cornell University and others. They expanded the research with large scale statistical studies over 3000 US Counties testing the relationships between small businesses and social conditions.

Irwin, Michael, Charles Tolbert, and Thomas Lyson. (1997) How to build strong home towns. American Demographics 19: 42-49.

CM Tolbert, TA Lyson, MD Irwin (1998) Local capitalism, civic engagement, and socioeconomic well-being. Social Forces 77(2): 401-427

Irwin, Michael, Charles Tolbert, and Thomas Lyson. (1999) There’s no place like home: nonmigration and civic engagement. Environment and Planning A 31 (12): 2223-2238.

Lyson, T. A., Torres, R. J., & Welsh, R. (2001). Scale of agricultural production, civic engagement, and community welfare. Social Forces, 80(1), 311-327.

Tolbert, Charles M., et al. (2002) Civic Community in Small‐Town America: How Civic Welfare Is Influenced by Local Capitalism and Civic Engagement. Rural Sociology 67 (1): 90-113.

Posted in Thought Pieces | 3 Comments

Rethinking our World – Ethics Really Matters

Reading Aldo Leopold blew my mind a few decades ago – the grace and cadence of his words, the context and logic of his arguments, his recognition of respectful harvest as part of who we are and must be, and his deep and personal connection between people, and between land and community.

His own ‘seeing’ of the world shifted from seeing it as an object, and favouring utility – the deer over the wolf – to ‘seeing’ it as a system where every part has its place in the whole. “The first rule of intelligent tinkering is to keep all the parts.”

And his take on ethics was more than the dryish study of Aristotle, Kant and Bentham. He summed it up in other ways – the limitation of freedom of action, distinguishing between social and anti-social conduct – and ethics as interdependent things evolving modes of cooperation.

Isn’t that so very different from treating everything as disconnect, as apart from oneself, as competition, as valuing a thing through a narrow measure of utility (in dollars), as us and them, as either-or, as “sensible balance”, as “progress”, as self over others, as the rationalisation of degradation and mining of slow-churning and finite systems – soils, forests, fisheries, waters, climate – because my discounted cash flow says that is the ‘profitable’ thing to do.

The myth of progress.pngWhich highlights two things.  How you see the world – as mechanical device with people and land as measured cogs, or as a system of mutual interrelationships and necessary cooperation – is one.
The other is that ethics – as Leopold saw them (social conduct and rules of cooperation) – really, really matters.

Chris Perley

Candidate for Hastings District Council
Posted in Thought Pieces | 4 Comments

An Ethos of Care Matters in Public Life

People-don’t-care-how-much-you-knowHawke’s Bay Kaumatua Des Ratima quoted to me once “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Actually, I have to take a notebook with me when I meet Des because you can guarantee you’ll have to write a few things he says down!  Yesterday it was “That’s bricks and mortar.  Where’s the *soul*?”

And it’s true. Philosopher Annette Baier worked within feminist ethics (a kiwi who studied philosophy at Otago, then went overseas and became famous, and then returned to Dunedin). She argued that people act not on credentials and information, but on a sense of trust in the messenger. The presumed ‘objectivity’ of the message is not enough.  You have to ‘subjectively’ connect to that messenger.  A mother will trust the teenager next door to baby sit her child because she has a long-standing relationship with that teenager – an extended community of concern.  A mother will not take the credentials of a PhD in babysitting until they know that person.

People have to know that you stand with them and for them, and – in the case of our institutions such as government, science, technology and commerce – that you stand for the truth and independence, and not just self.  A challenge to the spin doctors.  Spin too much, and you risk losing complete faith.  trust is like paper.jpgAnd then it won’t matter what you say.  Our trust in politicians has fallen from well over 50% in the early 1980s, to 23% in 1992 after a history of lies and not listening from Roger Douglas, to Jim Bolger promising “a decent society” in 1990 and giving us Ruth Richardson instead.  Now it is at 8% under the regime of overt justification for the selfish and destructive agendas of mega-commerce.  Who patently, obviously, demonstrably …. do. not.  care.


The idea that there is a cultural setting – a humanities, a moral setting – that needs to be
considered in any work we do is a foreign concept to many technocrats who insist that the ‘objectivity’ of the message will sell itself.  It is divorced, some of them think, from any value set.  It is a strange perspective for me.  Thomas Kuhn showed how much observation is theory and value-laden.  We perform our kuhn paradigm shifts‘normal’ science from within a theoretical construct.  Most we think of as completely true.  Most probably are.  But we also know that in 50 or 100 years time some precious theories and constructs will probably be rejected and replaced with another.  The history and philosophy of science clearly demonstrates it – geocentric to heliocentric, the four elements to Lavoisier’s chemical revolution, Aristotelian to Newtonian to Einsteinian to Quantum physics, static plate to plate tectonics, eugenics and physiognomy to “what race?”  And it is still goes on, with a current shift from mechanical determinism to complex adaptive systems where the focus shifts from the parts to the relationships within particular and shifting settings.  I was taught climax ecology in the early 1980s – the idea of a predictable succession to a ‘natural state’ climax, and then along came patch dynamics theory.  What is true?


Believing (and it is a value, rational_choice (1)
a belief) that the “objectivity of the data” will sell itself so smacks of the atomised view of neoliberal economics, where there is no such thing as society or culture, just a reducible collection of rational calculating all-knowing individuals with spreadsheets for brains.  It is not a credible view.  Any witness to history can see that.


And nor is this a story about the ‘irrationality’ and ‘subjectivity’ of the plebs.  Technocracy can rationalise insanity and immorality.  It can The kestral's viewbe blind to the bull charging because it is closeted within a bubble, looking at its feet.  It assumes that their view is the only view.  They would presume to know the kestrel from a position in another world.

Everyone is ‘subjective.’  We grow up in a society, a view of cosmology and categorisations, within a language that subtly frames how we see the world.  We have these nouns, verbs and adjectives – another language has others often completely untranslatable.  Everyone has paradigms of belief.  Some think themselves to that position and have examined the underlying philosophies bounding a point of view.

It is written.pngAt the other end of the continuum people speak in cliches to justify an unexamined life – “the market will provide,” “it is written,”  “the financial analysis demonstrates,”  “we need to be science-led.”

No it won’t, no it isn’t, no it doesn’t, no we don’t.

The context by which each of us sees the world deeply matters, and people look to that instinctively.    The questions are implicit.  What are their values?  Can I trust this person and his worldview?  And people will judge, not on Ghandi your beliefsdata, but on those values they presume you hold.  If, for example, you are tainted with a short-term or narrow worldview – or profit before people – or what people see as narrow technocracy – then you may lose peoples’ trust to the point where they will not care one iota what is said; *even* if you speak the truth.  Others, of course will think you are a fine fellow because they share those values others find appalling.   If you are insincere, it eventually shines like a warning beacon.

I wrote about this in a previous blogpost on the need for trust and integrity – for our economy as well as our society.

I have seen this in action in both the past and present. There were forestry processing developments in the south where the lack of trust in the company involves, as well as their ‘outside’ gucci-shoed consultants, meant that what I thought was a reasonable proposal didn’t go through.  I suggested they develop some trust.  Show they meant well.  Engage with the community.  I even mentioned Dr Baier’s work on the importance of trust.  They disagreed.  They thought the ‘data’ and the ‘objective’ appraisal would do the job, and then they shut their doors, appeared more and more secretive and untrustworthy, and to top it all, made simple mistakes about even some local technical issues that if they’d bothered to listen and ask would never have happened.  Credibility gone.  Attitude and competence matter if you want to build trust.  We have a Ruataniwha Dam debacle that constantly finds itself on the rocks for similar reasons.

pravda-manchette.jpgI’ve seen councils use spin and propaganda to such an over-the-top extent, which alongside an attitude of arrogance and actions that are more to do with self-preservation than solving a problem or listening to either staff or community, with the result that trust completely goes.  People get to the point of thinking, “if it speaks, it probably lies.” Eventually the Soviet people thought that whatever the Communist Party paper Pravda (which means ‘truth’) published was probably a lie.

Within public engagement processes, you always start with shared and motivating values rather than instruction, whatever the outcome desired. You may have an outcome of more wetlands & woodlands for both a better rural economy and environment? What are their motivation and beliefs?  If it is about profit, or risk, or ecology, or clean water, then work within those beliefs and become a part of it.  Inform, discuss, don’t instruct.  Have an open heart and care.  When selecting staff we shifted to a value-based selection criteria.  Technical expertise is necessary but not sufficient.

Innovative communities.png

National Innovative Communities Conference

 If you are dealing within our rural community and are a completely arrogant arsehole, we didn’t want you.  If you are always positioning yourself and not open to rigorous discussion without taking or giving personal offence, then you won’t be able to serve the community well.  And you won’t learn about this place.

Trying to get a handle of why what some might consider completely rational (e.g. putting woodlands and wetlands within farming systems) is why I started to look at the economics of microsites, and the systems effects of different landscape patterns. You can readily redesign farmscapes that produce multiple positives.  Seek system positives across the field, not some pat instruction manual developed from on high and from a point of view that may be shared by the people, or be completely contradictory to it.

What was hugely ironic was the technocratic and quantitative justification for *not* redesigning integrative land use patterns for the simple reason that the agricultural economists who did that work had no idea about what patterns were there.  They assumed a farm as a uniform flat paddock with a mechanical factory system of agronomy.  Completely false, but with numbers to three significant figures.  You see this sort of nonsense form the most myopic of technocrats and you get a real feel for why so many Tyranny of experts.jpgpeople don’t trust the outside ‘expert’.  They distrust their competence until they prove themselves able to think within a space.  But once a technocrat who understands the field, you encounter more problems from you ‘expert’ colleagues.  I you counter the false analysis by referring to complexity and pointing out that their analysis is framed too simplistically,  then you risk – within the technocracies – being called “anti-science.”  Been there, had that, many times.

Some forestry researchers used to argue discounted cash flows with farmers and try to convince them to become someone they were not – a forester.  Epic fail.  Care about who they are, point out how woodlands and wetlands can make a farm better in so many ways, and farmers – who are farmers first – may listen.  And be completely honest.  If you don’t agree, then disagree.  I’ve told farmer discussion groups in a good natured way that they’re a bunch of chainsaw-happy bastards that just want to cut every tree down from the point that it makes a crash.  We laugh.  But they listen if they trust – not your every word (they’ll still think about it for their context), but at the fact you are trying to do something for the greater good.  Because they know you care.  You can argue and dialogue with people who know you give a stuff.  They may not agree with everything, and they’ll probably be RIGHT in a lot of cases – dare I say the majority.  And so you learn as well.  Everybody learns, everybody teaches.

The learning and communication of information relies on shared beliefs.  Without it, people don’t want to know.  Truth is secondary to belief.  I could put it another way: I can bury someone in literature and ‘data’ and technocratic and scientific ‘evidence’ about the nutrition and sustainability and methods blah blah relating to cooking a dog, and I can give money in order to allow people to buy a dog, but it won’t change many.  This is what so many technocrats do not understand.
It is heart first, not head.  And you *cannot* fake it, certainly not for a lifetime.  They can see it in your eyes, and sense it in your voice.  They can witness the results.  Look quote-we-ve-had-trickle-down-economics-in-the-country-for-ten-years-now-and-most-of-us-aren-molly-ivins-115-74-99at the failures of neoliberalism.  Belief fades when the results don’t come.  Spin becomes a liability because it suddenly stands in sharp relief.  We hear the words “trickle down” and we laugh.  They don’t say those words any more.  They know their power is gone for good.
Advocating a culturally horrifying dog-eating fete at least is not so bad as that.  We see dog eating clearly as a cultural difference rather than a self-serving advocacy (unless you have a dog farm).  Where spin really hits a negative is when the interests of the advocate are so obviously self-serving.

And that pursuit of self-interest replacing any sense of care or community belonging has been the accelerating pattern over the last – I would argue – 30 or so years.  I may not have agreed with all the politicians then, but I did sense that they had the interests of our future generations at heart, bar the odd slimy exception.  They just liked to eat dog.  Fine.  Not for me.  But I didn’t distrust, I merely disagreed.  Discussion and innovationThough now to disagree and discuss is dissent.  And so I trust even less because who can abide a frozen mind in the head of bully.  We have lost a great deal with that loss of care for others from our political and commercial heads.

But the erosion of trust is indicative of a mode of behaviour within particularly big business and politics; and it is working its way down into local government politics.  I would also argue that it has tainted science and taken us from an ethos that sought to communicate, dialogue and understand how to *solve* things, to a more disconnected approach dominated by ‘business management’ rather than caring scientists, such that our once world-renowned public science institutions are now far more focused on creating and then selling a commercial product.  Not all, but the taint is there.  I trust corporatised science far less because there is a lack of care associated with salesmen trying to sell me a water filter in the middle of a campylobacter outbreak (yes, this happened in Havelock North, I kid you not).  Commercial public science, the blind and foolish application of neoliberal market fundamentalism, has degraded our hopes for both science.  The ever-concentrating corporate ownership, and the vampire squid morals of owners like Rupert Murdock, have done the same for the corporate media.

But there is hope.  Extremes can shift so

Yin yang tree

Yin & Yang – one journey creates the prerequisites for another

dramatically.  The world is a ‘complex adaptive system’ with feedbacks and thresholds, not a linear machine reducible to parts.  We are defined far more by uncertainty and complex interactions and behaviours than predictability.   And I think we are reaching that threshold point.  You can’t fool all of the people all of the time.  I think the erosion of public trust means that spin is now far less effective.

Eight percent trust in politician in New Zealand is pretty compelling.  We now expect spin.  We know the word.  We have witnessed the rise of power, and the continued justification of what amounts to immoral ends from people who are so obviously self-serving and narrow in often commercial agendas.  We saw the Global Financial Crisis.  We see the housing crisis justified by neoliberal economists telling us “the market will provide,” and we see the property developers and slum landlords with far too close a connection with – and certainly no condemnation from – the politicians currently on the government benches.

And now we see the chickens coming home to roost with land use intensification’s direct lights flickereffect on our communities and local businesses.  We can connect the dots.  We can see the red light flickering on the dash.  We can see the spin and deflections away from any possible blame on intensive land use, and irrigation, and attempts to make our land a factory to suit the narrow commercial ends of mega-corporate thinking.  Giving our best water to overseas owners is “just the market in action,” they say.  Oil and gas fracking over the catchments feeding our precious Hawke’s Bay aquifers is “great for jobs and GDP.”  The Ruataniwha Dam will bring prosperity and free ice-cream for all.  Wadeable water is fine says Minister for the Environment, Nick Smith.  Campylobacter has nothing to do with the drive to more irrigated land use.  Blame Tai ChiThe people in the regions do not need a democracy to decide whether they want industrial agriculture and GMOs because they are all flat-earth plebs who don’t understand the science.  That’s why we gave Canterbury an appointed commissioner in place of a democratically elected council …. twice.  Totalitarianism by stealth.  And we won the last election by a whicker because a nice German created a fiasco that scared the public, so we should try that getting-rid-of-democracy game again.  It’s a good one.

We don’t trust you anymore.  You don’t care about us, you care about yourselves.

We don’t trust what you say.

Why don’t you go away.

Chris Perley


Chris Perley is standing in the 2016 Local Body Elections for Hasting District Council

Posted in Thought Pieces | Leave a comment

Connections – Harm People and the Land, and you Harm Your Future.


Letter to the editor sent to the Hawke’s Bay Today 28th August 2016.   Context.  We are currently experiencing polluted drinking water, the result of intensive farming locally.  Some old people have died from infections impacting on underlying health issues.  Water pollution nitrates.jpgOur aquifer water has always been superb.  We did not need systems of water management that had to treat for such things as campylobacter.  The impacts on people and local business has been extremely hard.  A great local butcher, our high quality food producers and cafes.  And we are a region known for the quality of what we produce – quality water, quality food, quality environment, quality experience.  

And yet we have heard, and still hear, the short-term narrow thinkers that dominate our policy making with their corporate influence arguing for more compromises on our environment with the promise of “jobs and GDP.”  Which rhymes with “more for me.”

There is a very strong lesson here for those who want to think about it.  And the tactics of both the government and the local Hawke’s Bay Regional Council to point the finger at the Hastings District Council Mayor and their bores is a cynical spinning of distraction away from their own thoughtless thrust for more industrial and corporate land use intensification, environmental degradation and the marginalising of people as wages – the lower the better.  They are both advocates for the strategic nonsense of GMOs and local fracking because it suits their extractive corporate take on the world.  The Hastings District Council – whose functions rest under the Regional Council – deserves praise for their ability to strategise and protect our region, and our economy, from both GMOs and fracking.  This has not made them popular with the industrial thinkers in other governance positions.

Ask yourself who are the better governors, and who deserves the questioning of their actions?  


Connected thinkingThe key lesson with the Havelock North water crisis is the need to acknowledge connections. We so often think of the environment, community and business as silos to trade-off one from the other. That is the sickness of our modern economic age, and it is a deadly idea.

Poor environmental practices impact on our environment, then our community and our local business. You cannot push one small part of our wider system to excess without impacting on the whole. We need to build the integrity of that whole.

It is no wonder that the hurt of our local communities has seriously impacted our local enterprises, and their pain kicks back again to those that rely upon their income, and their lack of income hits back at local business in yet more reduced demand. And so can a downward spiral begin.

Short-term and narrow thinkers that disconnect environment, society and economy don’t get these system effects. They don’t get that we live within an uncertain world and that building resilience means retaining and building our social, environmental and local business legacies.

We should be mindful of this when we hear any suggestion that we ought to ‘compromise’ and trade-off our community or our environment for short-term commercial gains – especially if they are commercial gains to outsiders who do not live and spend in the Bay. Such thinking – fracking, GMOs, excuses to reduce water quality, degrading working conditions, the industrialisation of life itself – will eventually negatively impact on us all, local enterprise included.


Chris Perley


Posted in Thought Pieces | 1 Comment

The Horrid Mechanical Screech of Modern Conformity and Order

Hannah Arendt was the author and philosopher of the Auden Golden HoursNazi era of inhumanity; of totalitarianism, of the ascendancy of soulless mechanical acting where humanity loses itself in instruction, obedience and order.

She described the behaviour of such functionaries as Adolph Eichmann as “the banality of evil” where people who we would not necessarily consider ‘bad’ do appalling things. They become part of the machine, deeply socialised – because we are as a species so incredibly social, and only act ‘rationally’ within a set of social norms and implicit beliefs. Arendt was highlighting the unthinking acceptance of this mechanical life and, with that unexamined acceptance, raised real questions about what is the essence of being human. And that unexamined acceptance raises other questions about the consequences.

Arendt quotes W H Auden.

All words like Peace and Love,

All sane affirmative speech,

Had been soiled, profaned, debased

To a horrid mechanical screech.

We were exposed to that mechanical screech with fascism, and with Stalinist state communism. But do we only see that mechanistic autocracy only in hindsight? The question is; are we exposed to that infernal screech still, in other forms of administration and policy framing? I think we very much are.

And yet we are ‘accepting’. To not accept is to be radical, extreme, out of step, a wishy-washy artistic type, irrational. Perhaps a poet. Quelle horreur.

Feeding_the_corporate_machine_by_jonnyrosebush-d7woxleWe hear the screech with the metal on metal jarring of the corporate automaton; the hierarchical order of a machine reduced to outputs, tasks and ‘accountable’ measures. Human as machine; animal as machine; society as machine; economy as machine; corporation as machine; planet as machine. We hear it in the accosting of good science and quantitative disciplines into a rationalisation of the insane. We see it with the reduction of the whole damn planet in all its glorious complexity to a neoliberal economic defining of all things as weights and dollars – yes, life included – to infinite and measured ‘resources’. We see it in the pursuit of ready money, quantitative ‘instrumental rationality’ without the guiding rudder of ‘moral rationality’, transactions and markets.

We hear it with the hubris of technocrats who

Another brick in the wall

Just another brick in the wall

would synthesis and control life itself for commercial ends. We feel it with educational ‘standards’ and hierarchical autocratic organisations where dialogue is dissent.


We hear it. We see it. We are told it will achieve ‘results’. Certainty and control, order and hierarchy – and with it the diminution of a stream to a measured irrigation ‘resource’, of a pulsing life-filled landscape to industrial production, of humanity to an unquestioning obedient button-pusher, lever-puller, train-scheduler, sliding inexorably to looking upon humanity as so much fat to render down to soap at this specific price.

It is obvious that we ought to question this mode of narrow ‘knowing’ and decision-making. It would be apparent to any artist, or reader, or Peterson & Strategy copythinker, or student of humanities. It should be apparent to us all. Life means more than this. We do not live in a certain and controllable world known through numbers and technology alone. It is unwisdom masquerading as objective truth. It is monochrome presenting itself as the light from a prism. It is totalitarianism trumpeting “freedom and folk”; exploitation wrapped up in the rhetoric of sustainability. It is words like ‘balance’ and ‘efficiency’ and ‘accountability’ and the clichés of power. It is loss and eventual collapse hailed as profit, progress, jobs and GDP. They point us to the promised land, and march us toward Mordor.technocrat 2

It is insanity masquerading in a suit with a breast full of medals. Why on Earth are we seduced by the pomp and pomposity?

Ralston Saul referred to this technocratic obsession as the “dictatorship of reason,” where horrors of the mechanised logistical slaughter on the Somme and Vietnam ‘body counts’ Lennon - insane ends.jpgrationalise the pursuit of a mad end. Without a moral rudder, you can rationalise anything. Melville’s Moby Dick was about that. Only their purpose was mad; the deranged pursuit of the white whale for revenge; all by rational means – the technocracy of the harpoon and how to get close enough to thrust it home. The same ill-considered purpose of the rational Dr Frankenstein – let us build a man from body parts – the insanity but technocratically brilliant Dr Strangelove riding his precious bomb.

Technocratic knowing is not wise. Yet there are technocrats who confuse the idea that they can do a thing with the idea that we ought to do it. In Old English, it is the distinction between clever ‘wit’ and the deeper judgment of ‘ken’. D’ya ken, laddie?

The mechanical screech of technocracy holds no mirror reflecting the ways of seeing our world. It presumes to know the only truth. Only art can make us reflect that there is more than one position. Without art, it is easy to slip into the belief in objectivity, in the immutability of our mechanical world, especially when conventions and pride of position supports that myth.

Because objectivity is a myth. The ‘objectivity’ of the totalitarian state or the corporate state is a delusion. There is always a political ecology surrounding our questions, chosen measures, analyses and acts. We ‘frame’ the whole process – usually implicitly. We have this particular worldview, we have these particular power structures and knowledge networks, we ask these particular questions, we choose a method that suits that worldview and that chosen question, and we interpret the answers within that whole political ecology of accepted conventional technocratic thinking.

Conventional thinking. The acceptance of Mechanical mantotalitarianism as convention. The machine as metaphor for life. Love as chemical reaction. Reducible to that. This is how it is. This is what we do. To question is dissent. And my reductionism mechanical screech is superior to yours.

Aristotle thought that technology and science were necessary knowledge, but always within a wider knowledge system – directed by the examined life and practical wisdom. Of themselves, science and technology are certainly not equipped to lead the choice of policy and practice. Policy must have a wider sense, transdisciplinarity, an artistic view of life, steeped in humanity and the perspective of place, history and the whole; a moral rudder, the practical ability to judge what is right, and what questions we need to ask of science and technology; whose position is on tap, never on top. Synthesis before analysis; Humanities before Technocracies.

This is the nub of our avoidance of the mechanical screech. A return to questioning of dogma and of open dialogue. A re-enlightenment with the Ethos of deep philosophical inquiry, without the Dogma of the Machine. A rejection of the Modernity of Bacon and Descartes. The encouragement of placing mirrors before us, to reflect our values. A complete rejection of the idea that because one discipline deals in numbers of its own choosing – especially when its worldview is the metaphor of the machine and it embraces the religious hubris of scientism and economic dogma – that is has any right at all to set up our world in their own mechanical image. I confess to irritation when I see any form of supercilious ‘scientism’ or model worshippers expressing disdain for deeper thought.

We don’t have to look to totalitarianism tEugenics as technocracy.jpgo see the potential corruption of humanity when technocrats take charge, or corporations and economists.  The cult of Eugenics was one shared by many others besides the Nazi regime.

We so need art and the philosophies for any re-Enlightenment. Poets write about murdering to dissect, expose the lie Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. Goya paints the horror of it all in sketches that cry despair and wrong, that drip blood and scream pain. Turner brings the storm to visceral, horrifying life. Playwrights stir the heart and prize open the cracks so the light can get in.

The real wake up that Arendt gave us is that we are all capable of “the unexamined life.” Without an Ethos of questioning and a base of breadth beyond the quantitative, we can fall so easily into the trap of doing and scheduling because ‘that is what we do’; we perform tasks and measure outputs. We can so easily lose any sense of wider purpose and morality, or any thought of strategy and the deeper questioning of concepts and meanings.

Without either that self-examination or the moral courage to voice, even disobey, we can so easily fall into the role of functionary; easily following orders; another cog in the machine; another brick in the wall. And so we risk ending up playing our small part in scheduling the trains filled with innocents to some horror beyond the horizon whose concern is not ours …. until we reap the whirlwind.

It comes down to whom we choose to trust and hear. The precursors to the mechanical screech are those who seek to dwell secure in their dark narrow hierarchies of self-importance and secrecy. A will to power is a sign: a focus on self and position. Conspicuous consumption with no sense of whakapapa and connection to community and place.  Mark them.  Avoid them.

Or we can look to those who choose to think, feel, care, express, and live a life worth living; those who are obviously asking what is that life.

Between a double-bass playing (or yes, even a mandolin playing) Bohemian and the ambition and hubris of a smiling business suit, I’ll take the wisdom and perspective of the Bohemian any time.

Or else we risk only having the Suburb of Dissent.

But where should we find shelter

For joy or mere content

When little was left standing

But the suburb of dissent.


Chris Perley


Lennon - insane ends.jpg

Posted in Thought Pieces | 2 Comments

Thinking About Energy – Uncertainty is a Certainty

Welcome to the Bay

Photo Paul Taylor, Hawke’s Bay Today

Now we sit out this storm. No power because the Napier-Taupo road is being hammered at the moment. It has been down for 30 odd minutes. It was blown out last night as well for two hours.

The Napier-Taupo road is closed. It’s snowing up there and down to 200 metres which is *really* low for Hawke’s Bay, famed for sunshine and warmth.  And there is only one major power line that comes into Hawke’s Bay.  And this is a southeasterly, which almost always brings three days of heavy rain to the East. Normally the farmer’s and forester’s friend. Unless it’s during lambing.

Certainty is an absurd assumptionThe one line thing is such a topic here. Like Auckland CBD 15 odd years ago where the reliance upon a single line of power led to a major failing for six weeks.   They did not heed advice from wise engineers arguing for the need of back-up options and resilience.  Their obtuseness led to a major national economic disaster.  And these same financial administration-type ‘managers’ – these narrow technocrats with spreadsheets for brains – argued during the disaster that their purely financial focus (and their assumptions of certainty and controllability) indicated a “well-run” business.  Interviewer Kim Hill was almost speechless in response.  There is no power in the most important CBD in New Zealand and you say it is a well run business??!!

All relevant for us in Hawke’s Bay. We have an energy ‘strategy’ meeting next week, run by the HB Regional Council; the same organisation that thinks the Ruataniwha dam is a good idea .  At the last energy strategy meeting, the convenor (some engineering PhD who did not impress me at all with his obsession with The certainty of uncertaintyquanta as the only basis for decision making) was unable to grasp principles of policy and strategy.  He *could not* grasp the concept of a decentralised system with modularity (different ‘module’ subsystems that can keep going if the “centre does not hold”) and with built in resilience to shocks and uncertainty.  Solar and other potentially decentralised systems – micro-hydro, wind etc.- may be more expensive.  They certainly were within the contexts within which he chose to place them.  He had a spreadsheet, so that’s ok then, it must be true.  And so, it follows within his chosen myopic space, then obviously the large centralised mill approach is just the berries.  We keep failing to think.  We get more narrow and hierarchical and autocratic, and the narrowest non-thinkers and administrative types climb and climb well above their level of incompetence.

This is New Zealand’s obsession with the narrow efficiency approach, rather than system resilience and multiple outcome thinking. It’s why we like building big centralised dams, and centralise our public sector so they live in Wellington with less and less attachment to Stop being busy start being strategicand engagement with the complex real world outside.   There is this strange conjunction between desires for power, ignorance, arrogance and technocratic thought.  And they build castles in the sand with nonsense assumptions of control, and by so doing set up the conditions for not less, but *more*, uncertainty and uncontrollability by pushing us toward thresholds they do not see.

And the same guy is convening next week’s meeting. We argued for a resilience approach last time (some of us) and a scenario analysis approach – what if? Another Napier-Taupo failure. Climate change. Fossil fuel constraints of availability or price. etc.

Technocrats are not wise. They work within a bubble, a tiny world that is certain and controllable, the inside of the Peterson Graph (below). This is a big part of New Zealand’s economic, social and environmental problems. We are dominated by the technocrats, the tyranny of narrow ‘experts’.

Peterson & Strategy

We really should always be thinking out where the real world is – where so much is uncertain and uncontrollable. And we that are trained as technocrats need to be educated (which is different than training) to think in that wider space.

embracing-uncertainty-graphic-2You cannot predict when the storm may hit, or what type of ‘storm’ it will be (economic, social, environmental, a structural failure), or its effects.

But you can at least include within your assumptions the fact that there *will* be a storm … at some time … and some place.  Uncertainty and uncontrollability are certainties.

*That* should be our prime assumption.

Chris Perley
Posted in Thought Pieces | Leave a comment