Kill Creativity and March to Nowhere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brace yourself - vogons are coming.jpg

Resistance is futile

service as a hierarchical corporate machine.”

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

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

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

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

Like … What are we trying to achieve?  Que?

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

Is there another way?   Absolutely not.

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

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

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

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

The real creative talent was below

….. or they had fled, screaming.

Chris Perley



Posted in Building Regional Economies, Thought Pieces | 1 Comment

Edible Landscapes – Away from the Factory Model

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There is many an idea presented as new that has its roots in days long past. We too often forget that the way things are done now was not always so.  We too often presume that the ways of today are destined to remain.

Beautiful_Reflections Jacki McCarten.jpgToday we are reinventing the old idea that we can make landscapes – farms and forests – yield many things of use to man and nature alike.  That doesn’t just mean looking at a forest or a field as more than a producer of wood fibre or grass and grain; it also means the development of a finer textured landscape where neither forests nor field dominate.  Forests of old were as much about food as they were about wood, and landscapes in older countries than ours reflect the potential of small sites rather than the singular obsessions of a narrow profession.  For those who see landscapes…

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

We laughed at her outspokenness.

We also laughed because it’s true.

Chris Perley


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

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

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This is the second in a series.  I wanted to write about where we have come from in land use and conservation, what we are doing, and where we could be going: from Pre-modern (Pre-Industrial), To Modern (Industrial, or Productivist), to Late-Modern (Post-Industrial, Post-Productivist).  

The first discussed the Rise of the Mechanical View from the days of Bacon, Descartes and Newton.  The legacy of that view is that we are encouraged to view land in a particular way, not just something outside ourselves, but a highly simplified system that shuts down our options and solutions.  Since World War II the technocratic approach has led us to think at a symptom level rather than to go deep into our understanding of and belonging to land.

My father was a walking sartorial stereotype of the East Coast country boy going to town; aertex shirt and moleskin trousers, with a hat, a pipe…

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The Wisdom of Intimacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Perley


Posted in Land Use, Thought Pieces, Ways of Seeing | 3 Comments

Everything is Connected: Make it Sing

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

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

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

Chris Perley's Blog

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

I’ve used it to try to show a land defined by Sophie Windsor Murmurationfunctions and processes contingent on time and place, changing with the breeze and the season (verbs of relationships) far more…

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Who is a Forester, a Farmer, A Fisher?

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

Julie Greig Homeward.jpg

Homeward – Julie Greig

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

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

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

Chris Perley



Jules Matthews

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The Trumps of History

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

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In the 20s, the Weimar republic – post WW I Germany – had hyperinflation; wheelbarrows of money, widespread penury.  The Allies had imposed vengeful and immoral reparations.  Most people suffered.  Austerity reigned.  Suffering creates resentment.  Resentment wants a target.  It wants to hear that it was someone else’s fault.   Who did this to us?

The IMF was here.jpg

That target might become the Establishment, and most of the Establishment have a sense that that is a possibility.  So they work to become an ally of the resentful, lest they turn their attention their way. They cause much of the misery, and wrap it in myth’ look over there, there is your villain.

But there is still resentment.  A sense of a deeply unfair world.  A lack of hope that things will ever get better.  The Establishment must protect themselves by refocusing that resentment on to others, to those outside of society – outside the sense…

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Building Land Systems for Drought-Flood Resilience

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

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

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

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A few notes from a morning rant

“Although rainwater harvest has been accomplished by humans in virtually every drought prone region of the world for millennia, our society seems to have collective amnesia about the utility, efficiency, sustainability and beauty of these time-honoured practices.”

Gary Paul Nabhan

  US drought Early 2015US-Drought-Monitor-Map1

The tendency of the technocrat is to only look for solutions within their paradigm. Drought and floods are but one example. The response to the mega-drought currently hitting California and its neighbouring states is a case in point. Senior water scientist Jay Famiglietti has caused a stir in California by highlighting the extreme drought situation they face, and the lack of systemic thinking to resolve this problem.

He criticized Californian officials for their lack of long-term planning for how to cope with this drought, and future droughts, beyond “staying in emergency mode and praying for rain.”

When we were focusing on…

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