The Wisdom of Intimacy

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Originally posted on Chris Perley's Blog:
Edward Abbey – he of Desert Solitaire, one of the classics questioning the values of our modern world – wrote a short and scathing essay of a laboratory scientist intent on studying dog…

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Ruataniwha Dam will Transform the Region

Regional Councillor Debbie Hewitt is quite right that should the Ruataniwha Dam go ahead it will be “absolutely transformational” (quoted in Hawke’s Bay Today April 2017).  You need only look to Mid-West rural America, whose communities were also sold the same slogans and promises of nirvana for local business and community. Now they are disillusioned with it all, and vote for a hoped-for saviour in Donald Trump.

Midwest farm house decay

Somewhere in the Midwest of the United States

The consequences of large commodity programmes without consideration of ownership, community and environment can all be seen by looking at places like the Mid-West. The small towns wither, and the hamlets cease to be. The trend to outside corporate ownership certainly ‘transforms’. They take out profits and expenditure, and the local communities lose all the significant economic multipliers from having local ownership and high wages spending locally through many hands.

The health of a local economy is very much dependent on how much money circulates and distributes. When all you hear is a sucking sound as it is extracted to somewhere else, especially if the social and environmental costs remain, then you know you are being colonised.

It can be worse than merely having land aggregated and owned elsewhere. The Ruataniwha Dam will create commodities. Processing commodities depends on scale to cut costs, so expect more centralised processing out of the district. Yet more money lost to local circulation.


Site of the Ruataniwha Dam

The economic analysis of simple input:output models presumes that the money generated from the farm will cycle through the local community the same, whatever the structure of ownership and processing. It won’t. Colonisation, commodity supply chains, and big corporate models make us poorer, not richer – with the exceptions we all know.

Then there is the nature of employment. Agribusiness corporates focus on cutting costs rather than creating a premium price, and so they focus both on scaling up and substituting capital for labour. Less labour is employed, and increasingly sourced from cheaper migrants who send much of their money home, further compounding the loss of local money circulation.


Combine in field with rows of corn and soya bean plants, aerial view

That is the combined trend of ever-larger agribusiness; less begets less, begets less. Studies from the 1940s demonstrate that most important for the economy of a region is a strong mix of locally owned and creative enterprises – in direct contrast to the model of a few outside owned extractive corporates.

Local ownership is not just better economically because of money staying and circulating through the layers of a community. There are further benefits in civic pride, hope, creating yet more enterprise, and to the care of their place, including their environment. It helps build belonging, in contrast to some reduction of life to a meaningless resource unit.

You won’t hear about any of this from neoliberal economists, because they don’t think about or even believe in community. They think people and the environment are simply resources, all the better to put in a spreadsheet with a cost attached. Then it’s easy to exploit, because why care about a figure in a spreadsheet.

xerces_andrew polyculture.jpg

Andrew Holder (Xerces Society)

There is a much better way to do things than this extractive approach to commerce, community and place. We can focus on creativity, value and diversity. We can see the quality of our community and environmental as keys to that high value and diversity approach; trust, hope and community engagement are strongly linked to creative and dynamic economies and communities. We can recognise that local ownership and local secondary processing really matter. We should never endorse what is effectively a cheap resource (people included) colonial model. We’ve been there. We don’t want to go down that path again.

It is good economics to care about your community and your environment. It isn’t about trade-offs.

We will see none of this thinking within the bloodless computer models and spreadsheets of those who advocate for the dam because they conveniently assume that none of it matters. They do not know the history of the world, nor contemporary examples.

They do not even look to the real world models that have been staring them in the face for the last 40 years. Middle America is one model. You could as easily look to colonial models of South America. These models are real. They aren’t in a computer. They have real people in them, with real history. They have real rivers running through them and real children swimming. They have real land degradation, and ownership appropriation. And they have real people voting for Trump or some other personality cult, because they have lost all hope as they watch all that they produce and work for flow out of their counties to someone who lives far away. With names like Trump.

Should it go ahead, the Ruataniwha Dam will transform Central Hawkes Bay. But whoever wants this sort of soulless ‘transformation’ for the benefit of a few, it isn’t the rest of us.

Chris Perley


Chris Perley has a management, policy and research background in land use, rural economies, environments and communities at Otago University, remains an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability, and is the Green Party Candidate for Tukituki.

This article was published in the Hawke’s Bay Today May 4th, 2017

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Hitchhiker’s Guide to Homo sapiens

Historical Footnote: Homo sapiens

Once, on the ex-planet Earth, there was a species Homo sapiens – who were ironically not very sapiens (wise) at all.  They became extinct after about 80,000 years in existence, which is pretty dumb.  Homo erectus by comparison lasted two million years (perhaps Homo sapiens eradicated them?).  Homo sapiens thought Homo erectus ‘primitive’.  Irony was not their strong suit.

evolution-go-back.jpgThe real demise for H. sapiens happened after some idiot savants thought the whole of existence could be conceptualised as an atomised machine around 1600 years after the birth of a man who actually tried to point out some truths in direct contradiction to ordering life by hierarchy and machine (which was then completely turned on its head by something called “the Church” …. see “Religious Cults – Earth”).  Irony again.  Irony is important for an understanding of H. sapiens.

The mechanical deterministic idea resulted in the worship of the narrowness of quantified technocracy, consequently narrowing thought, and creating hierarchies of knowing.  That new hierarchy treated white lab coats and dark suits as symbols of wisdom – sort of a new cleric and ermine robe thing.  It treated romance with disdain, and placing reflection, thought, community, as well as the emotion of experiencing nature, live music and poetry far below a new form of ‘life’ involving the occupation of hours obediently sitting in a cubical, looking through a light pulsing screen at numbers in columns and rows.Thoreau a fool's life

This mesmerising hypnotic state replaced all wider meaning, and people went home to watch reality TV, corporate advertising with lots of bright colours and yelling (nine-ninety-nine!!!! was a favourite), all in search of accumulating what they were conditioned to believe are ‘treasures’ and happiness, of a measurable kind.  Unmeasured happiness didn’t count (haha, little pun there … hahum … yes, well).

r-d-laing-quotes adjusment to an insane world.pngMadness was, of necessity, redefined.  Those who noticed too much under the new order, were ‘mad’.  Those who didn’t notice anything at all besides dollars that didn’t exist in any real sense, were ‘sane’.

Need I mention irony again?

This new order created the justification for new measures of superiority, and the right of might to use new technocratic power to colonise and eradicate others and the planet (aka “resources”), with even ethics reduced to calculation.  What the Wider Sentient Universe (WSU) knows to be vices became virtues.

The last stage was the worship of a new god, ‘Our Lord Market’.  The madness of reducing beauty and meaning of life within and beyond the material plane to those things that obediently stayed still long enough to be measured, was insane enough.  Not to be outdone, H. sapiens took a further quantum leap into absurdity by reducing all those selected quanta into an imaginary thing that didn’t even exist other than in the mind, called ‘dollars’.  More imaginary dollars meant more ‘worth’.

UntitledBy contrast, what was meant by, for instance ….. experiencing the soft fall of snowflakes on your cheek, holding and squeezing the warm hands of someone dear with which to share, wreathed in a smile, listening to the sound of a descending rainbow with a warbler accompaniment, beside an outdoor crackling log fire …. was …. precisely …. zero.

The consequence of this delusion involved giving prestige and policy making power to those personalities with the least reverence for life and others.  Warblers, snowflakes and rainbows kept moving, were annoyingly inconsistent, refused to behave in predictable ways, and were obviously ‘subjective’ – and therefore ‘bad’ because meaning shifted with observer.  Because such beauty could not be placed in a spreadsheet, it ceased to exist within the apparently superior technocratic H. sapiens (ha) mind.  I think that is called the irony of objectivity … it isn’t an object that a wise sapiens can demonstrate objectivity toward if said object doesn’t behave to sapiens subjective metaphysic.  Because their subjectivity of theory-laden observation involved metaphysics, and you can’t put metaphysics in a spreadsheet, it was only right for them to not even think about their subjectivity, because – according to their highest levels of technocratic thought – it cannot possibly exist.    This is a convoluted and roundabout way of saying, well, boo hoo to beauty then.

Failing to notice - Laing.jpgAnd so the consequences rolled one to another to another.  The consequence of that delusion of misplaced concreteness by only noticing numbers that stay still and behave was the inevitable destruction of planetary functions – which are not numbers but contingent verbs – necessary for human life (let alone meaning).  The consequences also weren’t too crash hot for anyone who happened to live with the apparently deluded belief that they lived in a community, and thought it remotely reasonable to look at rainbows in the arms of a lover lying beside a log fire.

 The consequence of wrecking planet and community was a form of wilful – and not very sapiens at all – mass suicide.  This is a trait common throughout the WSU in those communities who worship personality cults, especially when they wear a uniform involving either pure white or professional black.

Henry David Thoreau, Alfred Lord Whitehead, R D Laing, Prot from the planet K-Pax, children and other thinkers tried to point out the madness of it all.  But only the flower people were listening.  They went to live on the land and await the inevitable.

And so ended the story of the very short-lived species, Homo not so sapiens.

Hands in the air.jpg

Some of the more sapiens Homo sapiens asking for help

Chris Perley


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What is Progress and How do we get There?

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Perley


We abuse the land 2 Leopold.jpg

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

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

i-am-all-for-small-government-smaller-military-industry-small-11604934.pngOf course, only governments should be small;  everything else can get as big as it wants and is entirely to do with private ‘merit’; big business, big banks, big private media.  Why do we keep believing them?  We’re living in a cliché world of – the market will provide, trickle down, meritocracy, the private sector does it better, small government, allocating resources – without nuance or a shred of wisdom and deep connection to the real world of complexity, humanity and earthly dynamics.

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

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

We have always had the examples of history where high top-end marginal tax rates and what John Kenneth Galbraith called a ‘thick’ economy (purchasing power spread throughout society and not exclusive to the top percentiles) are at least consistent with economic and social benefit.  Refutation of the myth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oscar Wilde - finding the black cat.jpg

The Black Cat of the Neoliberal Cult

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

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

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

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

Chris Perley


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Reimagining Science for Our Future

Complexity murmuration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paradigms underpinned by assumptions.gif

Paradigms are underpinned by ontological and epistemological assumptions

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

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

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

V0017128 A physiological demonstration with vivisection of a dog. Oil

Emile-Edouard Mouchy 1832 Live Vivisection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is a reimagining.

Chris Perley


Posted in Reimagining, Thought Pieces | 3 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Perley



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The Fragility of Authoritarianism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The phrase attributed to Darwin says it all …..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Chris Perley


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The Systems View – But what else have you done?

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

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

We are that foolish world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Demands for ‘evidence’ – whose evidence?

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

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

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

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

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

The Desperate Need for Humanities – they Implicitly Understand Complex Systems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

The Myopia to Rule them All – Neoliberalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Perley


Geometry of a flower

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