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


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

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

The Golden Rule.jpg

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

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

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

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

Mine, mine, mine.

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

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

Time lapse dance grace

There is where lies grace.

Chris Perley
Thoughtscapes

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Watch cricket, and save the world


Reading Thich Nhat Hanh and watching the test cricket.

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

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

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

Watch cricket …. and save the world 😊

Chris Perley

Thoughtscapes

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Fed Farmers Need to Flush in some new Thinking


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

Stagnant pond Fed Farmers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Accepting a little uncertainty would go a long way.

 

Chris Perley
Thoughtscapes

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

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Shifting to the Enlightened Age


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

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

Wes Anec - Culture of Awareness

Wes Annac – Culture of Awareness

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

Cloud Atlas evil - natural - good

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When we inevitably shift, I hope that kindness wins.

A few practical steps to a new enlightenment ….

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Ijken Art of Flying

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Perley
Thoughtscapes

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

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The Economics of Poverty, and the Poverty of Economics


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social networks.jpg

Enterprise comes from a culture of trust, confidence and belonging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chris Perley
Thoughtscapes

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

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

Bibliography

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

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Leibniz, a Library, and Neoliberalism


Random thoughts you need to write down.  A discussion on three things.  First, Leibniz’s concept of Monads – a single view of a complex whole, say London looking West from the Tower of London. Leibniz’s Monad concept is about seeing and knowing.  Of course, we intuitively know that that one view of that complex thing “London” is insufficient as a source of knowing.  A complex thing needs a sense of knowing from a complexity of points of view.
The concept of Monad is a critique of analysis.  Too narrow, too singular, and you are in no position to make a judgment.  You intuitively cannot be wise.
Yet Modernity has put us on a path to exactly that delusion of knowing. “Analyse and you will know,” is not dissimilar in many contexts to “Look at the world from only one position, and you will know.”  Then only select the measurable things, and lose even more wisdom.
Welcome to our world.
Trinity College Library

Trinity College Library

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

Or you could treat them as a functional system interdependent with the subject, a complete conflation of value and object, with meanings relating to touch, love, fond memory, moments of aha, links to a writer of the past, to wisdom, to beauty of prose, to the rhythm of words.
But of course, we live in a world where all that soppy stuff is not ‘objective’, nor easily measurable, so it must not be borne. Better – more ‘scientific’ (let us delude ourselves further that ‘science’ is the only intellectual virtue) – to see them as merely ‘resources’ whose only meaning is price, and whose only function is to be allocated according to price in the “free market”. They can only function in a market, not in a persons soul.
Third …… would you ever consider taking that library analogy and looking upon life, society, a planet in the same way – by reducing it to the Monad of a warehouse store for allocation and price? Absurd idea. That would never happen. We are too civilised and intelligent to be that blind.
And yet ….
…. that is exactly what we have allowed to happen to our world through the delusion and arrogance of an economic creed. And they can provide all sorts of numbers and mathematics to describe their Monad in details, to demonstrate that it is the only view that matters.

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

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

Chris Perley
Thoughtscapes

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

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Wall of books

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


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

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

Consumptive to creative.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

….. fuck them.

corporate-profits-labor-share.jpeg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Low wages support the Corporate, Colonial, Industrial Slavers.

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

saruman

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

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

Chris Perley

Thoughtscapes

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

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

Jacinda, can we please have the Goodnight Kiwi back!


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

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

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

Walker vs Muldoon.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

Checks & balances

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

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

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

HRC-public-broadcasting-870x489

End of Transmission

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

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

That’s where it starts and ends.

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

Chris Perley
Thoughtscapes

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

Donation to Thoughtscapes Blog

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

NZ$5.00

Wellington Public Service

Posted in Neoliberalism & Corporatism, Thought Pieces | 2 Comments

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps we ought to start with teaching our children that.

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

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Posted in Thought Pieces | 4 Comments