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?  

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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

 

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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

Thoughtscapes

Lennon - insane ends.jpg

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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
chris@thoughtscapes.co.nz
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Always Question: Never Simply Function and Obey

The brilliance that is Hannah Arendt. She wanted to look deep in what made Adolph Eichmann tick – the proverbial scheduler of trains from – was it Budapest? – to the death camps during World War II. But first you have to bring it into a human focus. You collect people from their homes (imagine the horror), put them on trucks (smell it, hear it), hold them somewhere, take them to the rail yards (again the trucks), and then you put a frail little old lady into a cattle wagon (how is she ‘put’?). And a mother with a swaddled baby in her arms. Imagine it’s winter. The cattle wagons are packed tight. There is a bucket in the corner, and a small speck of light above their heads. The trip will take many days. If there are delays, weeks. Many will die. The baby perhaps. The frail elderly grandmother.
 
What do the officers and guards feel?
 
How could people do this? Arendt referred to “the banality of evil.” Collective action by people who are not necessarily even antisemitic.  Ordinary folk.  Cliche spouting, not too bright, unquestioning group thinkers (that is, non-thinkers).   
 
And then think about today and our current blindness and cliches – the market will provide, there is no alternative, it will all trickle own, we live in a meritocracy, the private sector does it better, John Key knows what he’s doing, Labour taxes and spends, the Greens are a bunch of fruit loops (JK said so).  Arendt is highly, highly relevant today.
 
This is what she wrote about collective action. The unthinking mob. The technocratic madmen and women who simply function without deep thought.
 
“I want to talk about Eichmann. Collective action, where many act together – generates power. You are never powerful when you act alone, no matter how strong you are. The feeling of power generated by acting together is in and of itself absolutely not evil. It’s a normal human trait. But it’s not good, either. It’s simply neutral, something that is simply a phenomenon, a phenomenon of being human that must be described as such. There is a pronounced feeling of pleasure involved in such action. I’m not going to start quoting you examples – I could go on for hours just with examples from the American Revolution. And I would now say that the *real perversion of action is functioning*; that the feeling of pleasure is still present in such functioning; but that everything that is present in action – namely, we confer with one another; we arrive at certain decisions, we accept responsibility, we think about what we’re doing – *that is switched off in functioning*.
 
You have here [with Eichmann] a pure function without a goal, a running in neutral. And the pleasure in pure function – that pleasure was quite evident in the case of Eichmann.”
Quoted in Marie Luise Knott (translation 2013) Unlearning with Hannah Arendt p7.
This ‘functioning’ – becoming a functionary – is human trait, not particular to any one people. We have it. How do we avoid it other than by recognising it, and setting up strong cultural institutions that identify it in the thoughts and actions of others, and when it is without moral compass, temper and shape it to do good? It is why so many of us talk about being outcome-focused, not – ever – simply task-focused. “Doing my job,” is not a reason for anything. The broader purpose is the reason.

This dangerous cult of functioning is tied up with another human trait of our age – Peguy called “the family man” “the grand adventurier du 20e siecle … an involuntary adventurer, who … for wife and children … was ready to sacrifice his beliefs, his honour, and his human dignity.”  Ibid p27.

Arendt was deeply uneasy about one question: Could it be that there were people who had never had any convictions, honour, or human dignity in the first place?

And that question is more and more relevant today as Neoliberalism raises to powerful positions the unethical, self centred, and avaricious personas at the expense of those with honour.

Chris Perley
chris@thoughtscapes.co.nz
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Trust … in our Economy

Trust on the mountainThey don’t think of ‘trust’ much when they talk about the economy. They split it up. They, the technocrats. They put such things as ‘trust’, ‘integrity’, ‘truth’ and ‘justice’ in the box marked ‘social’; something to deal with “after we get the economy right.”

The ‘economy’ is presumed to be about measured outputs and inputs, jobs, resources, costs, returns, GDP. The environment is even more disconnected. It’s just a set of ‘resources’. Easier to exploit when you remove moral consideration for generations to come, or of any need to understand how an environment and a society actually work in the long term.

It leads to an engineered future in a world they think is certain and controllable, to autocracy, hierarchy and obedience, to small set tasks, to the grind of life within a corporatised machine where free thought is a risk, and where expression of that thought – whether from inside or from the public – is seen as dissent, even open revolt. And then we begin to distrust them. Who are these people who presume to rule?

Such limited economic and social thinking is so dry, it’s combustible.

It is also dangerously wrong.
If you were to ask the question of what it is that makes a community, a workplace or an economy work, then looking at it through numbers in a computer model alone is as blind, blinkered and stark raving bonkers as raising a child without any ethical ethos of care. Which, come to think of it, some mechanical thinkers have proposed in the past – and still do with such things as national standards in education.

Some better-educated political economists see the world within a richer space outside the delusions of computer models and assuming what cannot be counted doesn’t count. Manfred Max-Neef refers to the need for ‘people-centred’ development; building essential capacities for engaged and hope-filled communities. If development is just focused on ‘resources’ and building the next big mill with land and people as mere grist, then it does more harm than good. Easy exploitation is the consequence of treating land and people as lifeless lumps, as numbers.

Amartya Sen researched the need for justice, without which economies don’t perform. Why? Because why bother achieving anything if someone with more power, worse morals and less merit will cut off the poppy before it can even flower. Are we building or degrading justice in our world?

But the real clincher is the work of Robert Putnam. He researched what he termed ‘social capital’, and the links with the resilience, dynamism and diversity of local economies. And he found something profound; if you want to build a strong economy, or any highly Social-Capitalperforming organisation, then build the social capital – the trust, participation, sense of belonging, engagement, spirit of cooperation and collective action. You cannot create that culture if you don’t have integrity, a real regard for the greater good, and for truth.

You could – and we do – pursue a Viking raider type extractive economy based on the exploitation of some finite resource like coal, gold or oil; or on the degradation of a slow-revolving natural system such as a forest, a fishery, water and soils. But such an economy won’t last, and it won’t build a strong society.

But build a strong society, and you’ll build a strong and creative economy without the exploitation. Putnam’s work in the late 1990s was such a challenge to those economists who can only see the world through models and nonsense assumptions, that they promptly ignored him. Better to be the ostrich than look out into the real world. And yet it is such a hope-filled message. The control freaks are wrong. The technocrats are not wise. Culture matters. An openhearted, openly dialoguing democracy is gold.

And the same lessons apply to 6 keys to relationshipsorganisations.  If they have strong cultural capital – open dialogue, participation and engagement that goes far beyond cynical box-ticking tokenism, honest reporting and integrity – then you build trust and the cultural freedom to see beyond boundaries in time and convention, to innovate, to live and work to greater goals than any prescribed task.

That is a culture of learning, dialogue, wisdom, innovation, diversity and achievement.

Which all raises the question about where we are heading within New Zealand and our provinces. Trust in our Members of Parliament has fallen to 8 percent. In 1992, around the time leading up to the MMP debate, it had dropped to 23 percent from over 50 in the early 1980s. We thought then that 23 percent was bad!

tricks-and-treachery-are-the-practice-of-foolsWe now live in an age where many of the people and practices within our public service departments, large corporations and our parliament are far more interested in deal making, back room collusion and the manufacturing of truth. The erosion of integrity has lead to an erosion of trust. That cannot be disputed.

But what those responsible ought to realise is that this erosion of our democratic culture and our trust in the agendas and integrity of key institutions is costing our economy. It is eroding the very spirit and function that is its foundation.

 

Chris Perley

chris@thoughtscapes.co.nz

An edited version of this article was published in the Hawke’s Bay Today.

Posted in Linkages, Resilience Thinking, Socio-ecological Systems, Thought Pieces | 2 Comments

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

Ruins of Lindisfarne_Priory_1797

Lindisfarne Monastery

Is our whole New Zealand economy a bubble built on speculation, the Christchurch rebuild, the Viking-raid exploitation of society and place for short-term gain, financing expenditure out of debt, and the hope that undifferentiated price-taking commodity prices will rise?

I want to confront an idea that keeps New Zealanders from seeing where we are going.

That idea – supported by the corporate media – is that this current National government is somehow a good economic manager. The idea is delusional, and it is a collective delusion for many of our people.  What we are creating is the wreck of a ruin.  The hollowing out of a people and a place for the pillage of short-term gain.  A Viking raid on a monastery.

The mythology is made up of these components. Each is a mirror of the opposite reality, and yet it is the delusion that is trumpeted as the ‘truth’.

Myth: ‘John Key knows how to run an economy because he is a financier.’ Truth: Financiers as a set neither understand the functions of what makes an economy tick, nor do they understand society, nor the environment that both underpin our economy.   Nor do they tend to care.  They are on a different planet. They see the world through a spreadsheet and short-term commissions. John Key has no capacity to think strategically (other than how to jolly the public to get himself reelected), only fiddle at the edges of his ideology – an asset sale here, a deregulation to allow more exploitation there, a tax cut over the horizon. We have never – I would argue – had a more disconnected PM with less concern for our nation, our people, or our future..

Myth: ‘The economy is doing well coming out of the Global Financial Crisis and the Christchurch earthquake.’ Truth 1: this government has borrowedTransparent accounting to ‘balance the books’. We had c. $17Billion of public debt in 2008 because Finance Minister Michael Cullen paid down debt over Labour’s previous term in government, and resisted the then National Opposition’s call for tax cuts at the top.  By the last election in 2014, National had increased government debt to over $60B. It has doubled in the two years since. Anyone can borrow to ‘balance’ a cashflow account.

Truth 2: The earthquake was a crisis gift (allowing the classic Neoliberal ‘Shock Doctrine‘) to argue for more privatisations and centralisations. A comparison with Napier in 1931 would be a very useful exercise. Large Corporates were given the rebuild, with small firms and public agents marginalised. They even have gagging clauses in their small firm contracts so they cannot speak their grievances about Fletcher Building shenanigans to the media.   One said to me that eventually all the small firms will be little more than contracted labour.  This process of gutting our small & medium enterprises (SMEs) to make a corporate even wealthier is just what happened to Iraq post the last invasion with Dick Cheney’s Halliburton et al. ‘rebuilding’ Iraq and subcontracting all the local – and highly competent (after all, they built the original infrastructure) – Iraqi SMEs.  Christchurch has become an exercise in corporate welfare once again.  The earthquake gave a boost to GDP, because rebuilding destruction does that. GDP is a measure of money flows that takes no account of the loss of an asset – an environmental asset, social capital, or built infrastructure.  And so it is illusory for the National Party to claim GDP ‘success’ when that was always going to be a consequence of the quake. Half truths galore.

Housing bubble

Is our whole economy a bubble built on speculation, the Christchurch rebuild, the Viking-raid exploitation of society and place for short-term gain, financing expenditure out of debt, and the hope that undifferentiated price-taking commodity prices will rise?

Myth: The government does not print money as they did with quantitative easing in the US & Europe. Truth: Yes they do – through the growing real estate bubble. As house prices rise, people use the book value equity to spend & consume more, and to invest in housing speculation. A drop in house values would have a negative effect on spending in the economy relative to the degree of the inevitable drop. This government is propping up a Ponzi scheme asset bubble for short-term political and economic ends – whatever the long-run consequences; whatever the effects on removing investment from productive investment to conspicuous consumption and property speculation ….. because the alternative is a horror story waiting to happen. Our crisis in available and affordable housing that affects our least well off is directly related to this economic mismanagement. The longer they delay dealing with the underlying drivers, the bigger the negative consequences and the slag heaps will be in the future.

Myth: The government keeps taxes where they need to be. Truth: Any mayor can get elected by promising to hold or reduce rates. The easiest way to do that is not to invest in infrastructure maintenance – physical, environmental or social. The problems then come after they have gone. They mine the wider asset base, the slag heaps happen on the next watch, and then they will blame the new government for those slag heaps of their own creation.  This government is doing exactly that. It gave unaffordable tax cuts to the least deserving top, in the next breath scapegoated the poor and now turns a blind eye to mega-corporate rip-offs and domination of our own SMEs whose health is vital to a local economy.  And then in pursuit of ‘balancing the books’ with productive assets sold and taxes cut to the rich, it grinds down the social, environmental and local economies of regions. Yes, you can ‘balance the books’ that way, but you are destroying the bedrock of what makes a country perform in the future.


Myth
: This government cares about regional economies. Truth: The provinces have suffered greatly relative to the large cities since the emergence of Neoliberalism in the mid-80s. The provinces were the traditional preserve of the ‘compassionate conservative’ side of the National Party.  The other side of the National Party is now dominant – the big city-slicker wide boys, financiers, greedy commission salesmen, deal makers, nouveau riche wannabes. They do not give a toss for the regions.  They are more interested in concentrating power in the centre and for the 1%, and are motivated by the thrill of dealing with those rich and famous who benefit from the mess.  This is who and where they want to be.  Amongst the entitled.  Many National Party regional electorates are now held by the city-slicker corporate types trying to act like community-minded farmers and small local business owners.  They are not.

Myth: This government is strategic in its thinking. Truth: nothing could be further from the truth. Their economic approach is to sell on price, not on quality, to produce more and to cut costs.  They do not understand value or market position.  They do not understand that ‘leaving it to the market’ alone (where power *does* truly exist, though the Neoliberal priests assume otherwise), is tantamount to leaving it all to the powerful.  That does not mean locally owned, batch-processed, long, high value differentiated value chains; it means the opposite.  It does not mean that we create value, multiply value locally, and retain value in a place; it means the opposite: a latter-day version of extractive colonisation by corporations.

This government support policies that suit the large corporates who deal at the low-cost, large-scale end of the business spectrum.  Their focus is on maintaining short, low-value commodity, increasing outside-ownership with centrally-processed supply chains where less value is created, multiplied and retained locally.  They extract rather than create.  As such, they are the new agents of colonisation where we ‘colonies’ provide the cheap raw material and the cheap labour for their overseas profits.  But deal makers are not history buffs.

Colonisation is a great strategy if you are a mega-corporate, but simply appalling if you care about New Zealand as a nation or your region. And that is why the corporate giants back this government.

This Government’s focus on increasing exports by extracting more, producing more undifferentiated dross (National have resorted to calling it “high value commodities” – an oxymoron), irrigating more, polluting more, degrading both environmental and social standards, concentrating ownership away from local economies, is a Viking raider approach to economic management.

They are riding on the Pure New Zealand market position while seriously and very quickly degrading that essential narrative. That is either economic stupidity or economic sabotage or both, without any concern for long-term consequences. Strategic?  Or simply expedient?

Once again, you can see the short-term expedience of getting a vote and feeling the glow of a new ‘big irrigation dam’ loaded with promises of “jobs and GDP” for the unthinking and the desperately hopeful.

It’s a deal to make, a corporate whiskey to share, a clap on the back for good old Sir Michael, a message to spin, a perception to manage, a game, a con, next month’s opinion poll.  It certainly isn’t motivated by our future.

And the slag heaps of tomorrow are none of their concern because they live in the now, and won’t be there tomorrow.  They’ll be in a metaphorical mansion in Honolulu.Tar sands before & after

My personal belief is that this government is setting us up for failure; a failure that will occur in the future and that they will attempt to blame on others.  If the corporate media are on their side, they may well get away with it.  The whole Neoliberal Age has eroded the things that both matter and are the essential underpinnings of a decent economy – a functioning environment and a strong adaptive society without autocratic institutions and fear.  A society with an Ethos of Care for others and for our place.

I think we are raiding the cathedrals for the gilt, and building tacky houses on the Honolulu hills with the proceeds, with the slums at the bottom.

All ideas are contestable.  Anyone want to dialogue. Have I got anything wrong? Have I forgotten anything?

Chris Perley
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Is This our Neoliberal Meritocracy?

AutocracyI know many people who are truly amazing.  They think outside the box, they practice an art, they connect to community and to land, they have passion for some goal, they can hold a humorous conversation and be great company in any context.

And many tend to be ‘underemployed’.

I find this very, very curious. Isn’t the cream supposed to float to the ‘top’ – at least in the sense of being closer to the inspiration and big decisions?

Most of these amazing people are not the dull conformists who keep the trains running (sorry, I know that is important), the same people who then get promoted to positions where understanding culture and the broad context required to think strategically and adaptably is so, so necessary …. and so, so lacking.  Why does this happen?

We are told we live in a meritocracy.  But I have seen less and less merit at the top.  I once worked in a public sector that cared about service and New Zealand, had no concept of separating ‘managers’ from ‘staff’ (no one was called ‘manager’, you were senior, principal, deputy, officer in charge amongst other officers, etc.), and where you got brownie points for thinking and where there was explicit concern for your personal development and career path if you had a particular personality & skill set.

We genuinely admired the competence that rose.  That went from the 1990s after the State Sector Act 1988 started to kick in.  And then the rot accelerated; because while A-Grade people hire A-grade people, B-Grade people hire C-Grade people, and they in turn hire D-Grade people until ……..

I’ve worked in latter rigid hierarchies where the top ‘managers’ were separated into largely two types (with bright exceptions who were generally looked at sideways).  There were those who were incredibly dull and concerned about their positions.  Administrators.  Not thinkers.  Some were good train schedulers but completely divorced from big picture outcomes and incredibly focused on tiny measured outputs.  Little results, not big achievements – Just tell me what to do, I don’t want to know about greater purpose.  I’ll go in any direction, so long as you instruct me where to step.

Being particular and obedient gets promoted.

Resistance-is-useless-VogonWith conformity comes rigidity – and any demand for immediate innovation or adaptation results in a headless chicken panic (change!! uncertainty!!!), and any questioning dialogue about how we are going relative to a purpose resulted in shock, more rigidity, denial, anger and blame, reference to the manual, intakes of breath, and Vogon guard behaviour where Resistance is useless !

And then there were the megalomaniacs who played the game to rise.  Like the train schedulers, not particularly bright, usually very narrow, also taking any dialogue as dissent and personal attack.  In serious need of dealing with some deep wounding personal issues perhaps.

Both the megalomaniacs and the train schedulers use “the way of nature” as their management style – only want to please themselves and so build and demand command The way of nature and graceand control of a minutely regulated machine with hierarchical layers of instruction and the expectation of blind obedience.

None use “the way of grace“, which builds a ‘can do’, open-hearted, adaptive team.  Personal ego doesn’t matter, it is the purpose that does.  A team committed to an outcome, where ideas and dialogue are a way of being, an esprit de corps, the very essence of high performance.  Yet I’ve heard such approaches explicitly referred to as “bad man-management” by those who subscribe to command and control.  Allowing dialogue was apparently a sign of weakness.

This is partly McGregor’s Theory X versus Theory Y management; Theory X assumes people are inherently individualistic, selfish and lazy, and so set up structures and procedures to control.  Theory Y thinks people naturally want to be a part of a community and do a good job, and so focuses on freedom within a framework, and a culture of resilience and performance.

You know you are in trouble when X is the way.  You may note the association with some Manaakitanga - mycommunitiesassumptions of Neoliberalism; “there is no such thing as society, just a collection of individuals.”  Look after number one.   Assume that is the way.  Never think that there are such virtues as Manaakitanga, Whanaungatanga, Kaitiakitanga.   Never imagine that we could have a world that is better because at the centre of it all is not control, or a desire for power, or selfish ends, but an Ethos of Care.

Neoliberalism and the authoritarian and petty Way of Nature go hand in hand.  Neoliberalism and a sense of belonging and the purpose to care and create something bigger than ourselves are mutually exclusive.  You can have or the other, but not both.

I think Neoliberal Economics has not only degraded the concept of community and care,

and discouraged questions about purpose,

and displaced a culture of deeply critiquing assumptions and the consequences of short-term selfish actions with a perverse faith in greed and expedience ….

…. it has also actively fostered the rise of autocratic hierarchy.

Dialogue is dissent.  Only the megalomaniacs and the train schedulers rise.  And for the rest, we have as Albert Hirschman argued, three options: We can Exit, we can Voice in the hope of effecting change, or we can become actively or passively Loyal to the growing machine.

But when the D-graders and megalomaniacs are holding the reigns, what then?

I once had a CEO say these words to me after I was discussing the importance of an engaging and purposeful culture over organisational structure, and how restructurings can adversely affect both morale and a desired culture (a wise friend once renamed ‘restructuring’ ‘DEstructurings’ after we had seen babies thrown to the winds, and bathwater preciously coddled).

The CEO said in dismissal of my concerns about morale, “You can have high performance or high morale, but you can’t have both.

Conversation was pointless after that.  If you advance that sort of belief, then you can have absolutely no faith in the organisation’s future.

We have created less adaptive, less thinking, less committed places… built more on blind obedience than foresight, thought and adaptability ….

…and there is less and less room for my friends who are truly amazing.

The Neoliberals claim they are Work will set you freethere for ‘freedom’, while in the meantime they construct signs over the factory gates with new versions of Arbeit Macht Frei.

And when there is no one left Voicing from within because they have either Exited or become Loyal for the sake of their mortgage …… what then?

Chris Perley
Thoughtscapes

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Putting Culture back into Nature

Guided_growth_rootbridge_882x300We have spread across and changed our world.  Change is the constant.  But it is maintaining the integrity of our systems that is more important than whether there is any particular ‘natural state’.

I doubt there is any such thing as a natural state.  I was taught climax ecology in the early 80s, but by the mid 80s Pickett & White and Daniel Botkin were strongly suggesting that the idea of a deterministic path to some natural ‘climax’ was very dubious indeed.

Pristine landscapes

It has been thousands of years since the Earth had pristine landscapes.  A new article identifies four major phases when humans shaped the world around them with broad effects on natural ecosystems: global human expansion during the Late Pleistocene; the Neolithic spread of agriculture; the era of humans colonising islands; and the emergence of early urbanised societies and trade.  Credit: po808 / Fotolia

The whole idea is a hang up from Modernity: certain predictable deterministic paths governed by mathematical ‘laws’ that science will discover through time.  Never mind that Lorenz showed that even within a deterministic system with only a few variable, you got chaotic predictive patterns with slight ‘butterfly effect’ changes to initial conditions.   Then along came complexity theory, complex adaptive systems, the inseparability of observer and observed, and the whole challenge to reality that came about in the 20th century with Heisenberg and Einstein.

Pick your place, then pick your geological epoch, then pick your discordant harmony and patch dynamic, then see the particular structure and composition of individuals and associations.  They are never constant.

And then you add humanity to the disturbance mix ….

The nature-culture debate is always an interesting issue. What do we mean by ‘pristine’?  In what context?  Does it simply mean completely devoid of human influence?  What, both direct and indirect?

Yet we breathe and we connect.

We used to ask three questions within environmental philosophy and ecosystem health workshops at Otago University. We were trying to challenge embedded assumptions of Modernity, and all its dichotomies – nature from culture for e.g. – all the analytical separateness, mechanisation, seeing through Newtonian-like mathematical laws – Wordsworth’s ‘murdering to dissect’.

The questions ….

Are humans ‘a part of’, or ‘apart from’ nature?

Does direct human interaction (harvest etc.) necessarily harm?

Do preserves necessarily protect?

Some great discussions, and students were seriously challenged.  You can imagine the discussion.  Context is all.  Yes in these contexts.  No in these.  Contingency.  Under these conditions, not those.  Suddenly you had to define a system space, a locus of action, a nexus of considerations that went beyond the environment to encompass society, culture, specific community … even economics.  Everything is connected.  We live in a system.  Extend yourself out to synthesis and connection and meaning before you draw down to the analytical detail.

We needed students to dig deep into our assumptions of our human relationships with nature. We clearly cannot think of the environment in an industrial utilitarian ‘resource’ way – outside, separate from ourselves – and hope to care for either our ecosystems, the many values associated that are beyond economics, or our future generations.

But the flip side of the dualist Modernity coin that sees humans as separate is the idea that the only ‘healthy’ ecosystem is one without people in it – preserves.

“Pristine” in the context, the narrative, of people not being involved, ever, at all.  …… Consider, if you will, the values around that view of “pristine.”  Are we bad?  Do we always do bad things?  Is pristine good per se, always?

Think only of that context that removing culture makes a place ‘pristine’, and you create a a type of Faustian bargain with the other Modern thinkers who would treat the land and people as utilitarian ‘resources’.   Both views are deeply Modern.  Both views segregate people from the land.  Both views emphasise one thing – economy or environment – without a context of connection.

And then the battle begins about where to put the fence between the two camps – factory and the preserve.  It is a form of partnership in separation – in segregation of culture from nature – which then marginalises examples and exemplars of the very systems of integrated socio-ecological relationships that represent our future.

Modernity

Human specimens (resources) in a jar

Preserves in a jar – the people and land as resources; the land without cultural meaning.

Because if you happen to be a little Tolkein Shire of close relationship – the forest people of South East Asia, a New Zealand family that lives within and from its Kauri forest – you will tend to be looked at askance by both the industrialists and those who can only think of conservation as preserve. There can only be one fence – on one side land as Mordor and on the other the Wilderness, sans the elves. The Shire dies.

Nature preservesCase in point ….. The equatorial tropical forest zone is a hot bed of how we look at socio-ecological systems. Authorities are still trying to get people out of the forests, either to make them preserves (is that ‘making’ a natural or an anthropogenic process?), or to turn them into the local equivalent of a Palm Oil plantation.

 

So what is ‘good’ within an environment: a context of social exclusion, or one where the processes of renewal and ecosystem health are maintained and enhanced?

Land Health LeopoldThe challenge I think is to shift from a structural/compositional (noun) view that any disturbance and harvest is a negative – to a functional (verb) view that a healthy system is one where the integrity of all the functions is maintained above all else – the fertility, reproduction, recruitment, dispersal functions etc. In the long run, culture can only survive within that framework.

Being *a part of* does not mean a static world. It is much more defined by verbs than nouns – processes and relationships, not things like ‘resources’. Harvest is not ‘bad’ per se. What is bad is extraction and degradation that destroys the functions and connections that ensure renewal.

Making the shift away from Cartesian dualities means thinking as integrated socio-ecological systems which cannot be known by dissection (see www.ecologyandsociety.org).

Modern times Chaplin

Chaplin’s Modern Times

Modernity is not working. We cannot solve the problems created by mechanical deterministic metaphysics (Modernity) unless we shift away from thinking of an economic system as *separate* from an social system, itself *separate* from an environmental system.

It’s why I also like an integrated landscape approach to environmental conservation issues rather than a focus on preserves. We need preserves *as well as* a functioning landscape that involves ‘working’ lands …. and people.  Leopold we abuse the landTurning those lands into factories that separates and treats everything – EVERYTHING – as a ‘resource’, simply and inevitably leaves the reserves as dysfunctional elements within an environmental desert. It inevitably degrades.  It all degrades because it is all connected, each is integral to the other. That degradation includes cultural values because it is valued by neither the ‘resourcists’ nor preservationists. And it inevitably includes the loss in the end of the gold ‘rush to destruction’ economy.

Most indigenous cosmologies see themselves as embedded, including European Celtic and Germanic roots. It is only the current Modern age since Bacon & Descartes 400 years ago that posited the mechanical analytical view.

I suspect that if you were an indigenous culture *without* that cosmology of being a part of nature, then you wouldn’t last long (relative to ecological time scales).

And that applies to our current culture as well.

 

Chris Perley

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Our Land is not an Industry

“To heal is to make whole.  This applies as well to the ‘industries’ of landscapes: agriculture, forestry & mining.  Once they have been industrialised, those enterprises no longer recognise landscapes as wholes, let alone as homes for people and other creatures. They regard landscapes as sources of extractable products.  They have ‘efficiently’ shed any other concern or interest.”

Wendell Berry.  Our Only World p6

Landscape children

This quote by Wendell Berry above sums up why I do not like the name (and explicit framing) of our renamed public department ‘Ministry of Primary Industries‘.  It disturbs me when the technocrats, especially those who see the world through the myopic lens of dollars and markets alone, have the power to fundamentally shift from a metaphor of culture – agriculture, silviculture, apiculture, horticulture, viticulture, aquaculture – to a metaphor of ‘industry’.

I think we ought to ‘see’ landscapes in a broad sense, as places of potential for people and the planet, without the industrialised overriding assumption of ‘trade-offs’.  We cannot see potential synergies (win-wins in policy speak) if we don’t have a sense of the shifting patterns of a place; its mysteries and its beauties.

And this is the point that the industrialists and narrow technocrats don’t get.  They also lose in this new industrial framing.  They do not see that a woodland, a wetland, a tall pastoral ley, a soil that sings within a pastoral setting does many things that not only provide for people and the landscape wonders with which we share our home, but also are better at the hard business considerations of cost savings, input reductions, risk reduction, productivity (output per input) and profit.  They think that their ‘efficiencies’ and focus on mechanical homogeneity and scale makes our world better when it does the very opposite.

Their ideas of landscapes are analytical without a prior synthesising perspective. These ideas are not ‘real’, they are a social construction from within their moulded minds – their learned dys-integrated myopias made narrow by a particular education. Their technocratic perspective is blind to either potential or problem.

And so they fail to realise the opportunity, and continue adding more costs and struggles to the people within their land, ever sicker.

You cannot heal a place by industrialising.  But you can create Mordor, where inevitably the people ourselves are reduced to meaningless ‘resource’, ‘waste’ and ‘tradeoff’.  That way leads to work camps and death.

The heart of any healing perspective is to see through the eyes of culture and the fullness of landscape, never industry.

Chris Perley

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Civilisation – It’s about Values

Updated from a couple of years ago because I think those who govern no longer do so in the interests of people or our grandchildren …. and it really has to be reversed. We need a values campaign.

Chris Perley's Blog

Planet of the Apes - LibertyAt a time when we are governed by opportunists, expedience, selfishness and the narrowness and short-term perspectives of money, we do need a re-examination of what it is to be ‘civilised’.   I do not think we can hope to survive if our current dominant values continue to reign, as they have since what Bryan Bruce referred to as the virus of neoliberalism infected our country in 1984.

By way of contrast …. a story.

In the 1960s when a proposal was tabled to sell a Crown-owned asset, an island, the then New Zealand Prime Minister, Keith Holyoake asked, “But what will we tell our grandchildren?” The proposal was then taken off the table.

That is about as good a seven-word description of ‘sustainability’ as you will find. Not just in terms of a goal – create legacies for a future society – but also in terms of…

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