Stuff it, shove it… where the sun don’t shine… lyrics for the #apocalypse

In ‘The Future’  (1992) Leonard Cohen sings
“Take the only tree that’s left
And stuff it up the hole in your culture.”

In   “I, Spy”,  (1995) Jarvis Cocker of Pulp sings
“Take a year in Provence,
and shove it up your ass.”

Do I have anything to add? No. Just I suppose that this thing of darkness, we don’t want to acknowledge. We want to throw it away. But as the ecologists keep telling us, there is no ‘away’.



The big picture: waving goodbye to Kondratieff, plausible futures etc…

Big Picture Thinking (BPT) is endlessly seductive, isn’t it?  What’s the old saying? “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”

(see here for more on this).

Well, some mediocre minds can discuss ideas, especially the big sweepy-generalisation-y stuff.  Then again, some super-bright folks have a go too.

BPT comes in multiple forms. We have

  • three revolutions- agricultural, industrial and informational from the Tofflers of this world.
  • There’s Marx of course (Primitive Communism, Slavery, Feudalism, Capitalism, Socialism and Full Communism.  These last two under control of the Infallible Party, natch).
  • Then we have the Kondratieff Wave stuff about waves of technological innovation since the industrial revolution.

But there are many  critiques of the whole K-wave thing, and the problem of pattern “recognition”  (i.e. seeing them when they ain’t necessarily there;  We’re the easiest people to fool).

One BPT effort that I quite like is the Boyden ‘biohistory’ thing.  Boyden, who’s been at the Australian National University since 1960, explains here that you can divvy up the last few tens of thousands of years in five phases

fifthwave bodyen.PNG

What the Kondratieff Wave stuff (I almost typed ‘guff’!) and the Boyden stuff have in common is the hope/assumption/prediction/whatevs that we are going to come into a wondrous new age of “long waves of prosperity” (cleantech and ecological modernisation and the uber-fication of everything) and ‘biorenaissance.’

Maybe the BPTers actually believe it, or believing it pays the bills, or maybe they’re hoping it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, or maybe again they just can’t get out of bed in the morning without sucking on a Hopium pipe marked Paris Agreement.

We SHOULD be able to reach such a state.  As a species we have (had) the capacity, in theory at least….

But me, I have a different BP”T” thing going on. I have long been convinced that the second half of the twenty-first century is going to make the first half of the twentieth look like a golden age of peace, love and understanding.  I am great fun at parties.  I think: I never get invited. Go figure.

Of Aristotle, courage and #ussstrikes

Anger fades. This is both a ‘good’ thing and a bad one. After all it’s no fun to go through life as angry as I am (trust me on this). Angry at our so-called ‘leaders’ who mouth pieties and platitudes while not taking actions which would give our species the slenderest chance of survival. Angry at social movements for bumbling along in the smugosphere and ignoring both their failures and the possibilities of useful innovation. And angry, of course – narcissistically and neurotically – at myself for missed opportunities, for failing to have the courage and discipline to change and to speak out effectively, and to demonstrate consistently how things could be done differently.

Please stay with this post. That is the last lot of “I”-ing you’ll have to endure.

Aristotle said

Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.

More recently, climate scientist Kate Marvel argued that what we need is not hope but courage.

Imo, that courage includes the courage to innovate, to get out of the stale ‘zombie repertoires’ that we so easily fall into.

Throughout this strike I’ve heard people talk about the “feeling” on the picket line. Feelings fade. I’ve seen this cycle play out on a bunch of occasions – people get enthused, hopeful for having hope again, believing “their side” can win. And then comes the dolchstoss – often from our own side – because we have followed the same old script of poorly (or NOT) designed and facilitated meetings, where big mouths make small points, where the same stale rhetoric and repertoires rule.

We have/had this opportunity on the picket lines and in our meetings after the pickets to begin to break down the isolation and silo-ism that is one of the defining features of any modern workplace, and especially the university. And to my eyes, at my university, we have not taken it. We have not created loose networks based on roles, interests, skills etc. We have not started each meeting with a ‘turn to someone you don’t know, introduce yourself, share an anecdote’.

Yesterday was the nadir (so far). Our union branch told us there was a meeting. About 40 or 50 of us were there, and waited for it to start. I made sure that various people I knew got to know each other. And we waited. And then, finally, with no explanation, the meeting was cancelled and we were told to come back tomorrow.


We need novice lines, we need small group discussions about how we cope with the inevitable hangover from these strikes. We need to talk about what the management will do over the coming months to punish trouble-makers, to chip away at solidarity and whatever deal finally emerges.

We actually needed to start with the movement-building (as opposed to mobilising) weeks, nay, months, nay, years ago. Maybe we will start today. But going on what I have seen so far of the skills, knowledge, atttitudes and aptitudes of those in office if not in power, I doubt it.

“You’ve had your fun” – on emotions, rituals and resistance #USSStrike

So, the USS strike moves into its fourth week, with more industrial action likely.  I’ve just lost a small gig because of it, but am not on the breadline yet.  For the Vice Chancellors to climb down now, and admit that their scare campaign around the pension scheme is based on the rubberiest of figures and assumptions that make Australia’s climate denialists look sane and rational, will require some delicate footwork. Meanwhile, students suffer because of their intransigence.

There have (as you’d expect given who is striking) some extremely astute analysis of what is going on, on all levels. The latest I’ve read (and h/t Graeme Hayes) is

On the emotional and material politics of the strike

by Dr Chris Millard.

It’s short and astute, and very highly recommended.  One of the points that struck me was this –

“As I see it, this brings into focus the demand to reschedule teaching, which had previously been backed by, by many institutions, by a threat to deduct up to 100% of pay for each day teaching was not rescheduled. (Most institutions have backed down under public pressure on this particular point. A list of institutions not understood to have backed down on this point at the time of writing can be seen here). However, the fact that the demand was made at all is important, in both material and emotional terms. According to the view that mistakes strike action for an expression of feeling, once the feeling is expressed, there is no reason why the teaching can’t be done. It can be rescheduled (the logistical impossibility notwithstanding), because making the point was the point, rather than the withdrawal of labour. In other words: the supportive demonstrations, the protest, the signs, the placards have obscured the core of the strike, i.e. the withdrawal of labour.” (emphasis added by me)

This put me in mind of something I read in Saul Alinksy’s Rules for Radicals about 20 years ago-

Once a specific tactic is used, it ceases to be outside the experience of the enemy. Before long he devises countermeasures that void the previous effective tactic. Recently the head of a corporation showed me the blue-print of a new plant and pointed to a large ground-floor area: “Boy, have we got an architect who is with it!” he chuckled. “See that big hall? That’s our sit-in room! When the sit-inners come they’ll be shown in and there will be coffee, T.V. And good toilet facilities – they can sit here until hell freezes over.”

Now you can relegate sit-ins to the Smithsonian Museum.

Alinsky, S. 1971. Rules for Radicals. P163.

We mistake the feeling and the appearance for the thing itself.  We are hairless chimps with opposable thumbs and ideas above our station.  And it is not ending well, in biological terms.

IAM what IAM – on models, muddles and human failure.

Six weeks or so I went to a talk by a man I respect immensely. I knew exactly what I would be getting – he’s delivered basically the same talk every time I’ve seen him, going back over a decade. He explains what we need to do, starting now (we should have started decades ago, but we don’t have a time machine). He explains how the longer we wait, the harder it gets (like dieting to fit into a wedding dress/suit). He always finishes with the same Roberto Unger quote. He’s sincere, incredibly well-informed (it’s his day job, after all) and fearlessly honest.

He’s added a new element to the talk over the last few times. He has explained just how disgusting/bogus/insane (take your pick – they’re my adjectives, but I am sure he’d agree) our reliance on “Bio Energy Carbon Capture and Storage” is. This is the proposal by which – now, you’ll think I am making this up, and I kind of wish I were – we would plant gazillions of acres of crops which we would then transport to power stations, burn, then capture the carbon dioxide and then pump it into aquifers left empty because the oil has been sucked out. And we would do this on a global scale, for decades, in order to get ‘negative emissions’ to keep the world from overshooting the so-called “safe” limit of two degrees of global warming. It’s a scheme so hubristic as to make Dr Strangelove blush.

And Professor Kevin Anderson – for it is he – explains just how crazy it is.

And yet, and yet….

I’ve known Kevin for over a decade. Kevin kindly spoke at the first ever Manchester Climate Forum event, in February 2007, just after the release of the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC. Kevin wrote a lovely intro to the “Call to Real Action” document that a bunch of us put together in early 2009, in an effort (ultimately futile) to get Manchester City Council to take, well, Real Action, on climate change. Kevin and I have shared beers, jokes etc. I’ve interviewed him a bunch of times.

But there is a thing that is bugging me. And it is the IAM question.

In his talk six weeks ago Kevin explained that there are these things called “Integrated Assessment Models” which bring together economists, technology wonks and some social scientists to develop models of ‘how we get to two degrees’. And the only way they can make the numbers work, is with BECCS.

Now, I know about the idiocy of IAMs from other sources. So I was probably laughing earlier and harder than some others when Kevin explained them that day six weeks ago.

And here is my big but.

It is fun, but WAY TOO EASY  to point at ‘smart’ people in love with their computer models, too scared to tell their political paymasters that social change is needed at an unprecedented scale, and that we are not going to geek our way out of this mess.

It’s shooting fish in an acidified barrel.

Because when you point one finger at someone else, I recently learned, you point three others back at yourself.

There are two other “IAMs” that we need to challenge with sincerity, knowledge and honest. Those two models are (drum roll please)

The Intellectual Advice Model and the Inane Activism Model.

I’ll describe each, explain what I think each leaves out, and then explain why, in my opinion, it persists.

Then I will riff on class.

If you want my SOLUTIONS, well they’re scattered all around, like confetti at a mass wedding. Pay me in beer and I’ll consolidate them.

Intellectual Advice Model

The model that Kevin, and I and countless antecedents since “pollution”, “conservation” and “the environment” became big ticket items in the late 1960s have have been engaging in is the Intellectual Advice Model. Smart and diligent people would Do Science and then present their findings.  This would convince our lords and masters of the errors of their ways, and things would – as if by magic, change for the better, albeit slowly.

It’s a myth of Enlightenment thinking that we dare not puncture. For then we would see that our hierarchies are less overtly vicious than the Stalinist ones, but not significantly more amenable to education. There is a plan (five year, ten year, the plan of ‘let the “market” (sic) rip’) and they’re gonna stick to it. Take the Peter Principle, throw in some Wilhelm Reich and it all makes sense. We are led by scared and scarred people who need power not just to feather their beds, but to resolve psychic wounds. So it goes.

What it leaves out

All the best environmental thinking in the West (I’m shamefully ignorant of Majority World thinking) comes from Australians. Oh yes. And here is a satirical piece from an Australian who was combatting rapacious forestry chainsaw-happy bureaucrats, who knew what they were up to.

Sift available information carefully, water down scientific recommendations, add large cup of public money, a hint of public consultation, mix in essence of buzz-word, season with the merest pinch of artificial green colouring. Boil together until all logic has evaporated, heat until light and fluffy and garnish with the promise of jobs.

And he wrote that … in 1991 I have other examples from the 1960s and 70s available upon request.


And academics to be involved in these, desperate for ‘policy relevance’ tokens that they can use at their next promotion/retention panel.

Why it persists

The model conveniently leaves out POWER (political, economic, and in large parts of the world military power). It means that those proffering the advice get to see themselves as somehow disinterested, neutral, above the fray. And it means they can persist in believing that they live in something approaching a democracy, when ultimately they live in plutocracy, semi-benign at best.

Inane Activism Model

[Update 4 March – here I am talking about activism in the Minority World (aka ‘teh developed world’, ‘the West’.  The picture is vastly different in places where they blatantly shoot you for dissenting.]

I will confess for a long time I used to think technocrats Baaad. Academics okay. “Grass roots” struggles authentic and better.


My experience (these days limited by the need to write a thesis and the inability to stomach any more bullshit) of ‘grass roots’ activism is that it made up of people fighting a cause who are unable and/or unwilling to insist upon reliability in their colleagues, some of whom are clearly fighting parental battles through their ‘politics’ (and yes, I am perfectly aware of just how Daily Mail I sound right now. Even broken and fascist clocks are right twice a day).

And the activism – especially the middle class stuff – is based on the information deficit model, whereby Informed Activists will offer Intellectual Advice to our lords and masters, who will then see the error of their ways. Srsly.

And it goes on about a three or four years cycle, by which time people are exhausted, burnt out (never to return in many cases) cynical and confused. But the hard core persist, waiting for the next recruiting opportunity.

And the activists are – for reasons of time, emotional resources etc – unable to see the broader cyclical patterns, and to intervene to improve their own cultures.

I wrote something in Peace News last year about this – about the NGOs (and other groups) inability to even understand the need for absorptive capacity, let alone the capacity to build that capacity. While you’re at it, I wrote for the same excellent journal on the nature of academics and/vs activists.

I’ve also written about the Smugosphere, emotathons, ego-fodder, and much else.

What it leaves out

The Inane Activism model, with its inflatable elephants, its petitions, its importuning of our lords and masters, and its willingness to conflate access for influence, leaves out the same things that the Intellectual Advice Model does: Power.

Why it persists

The inane activism persists because it meets the psychological needs of those doing it (to be Right, to be Righteous, etc. Some forms of Inane Activism offer valuable martyrdom tokens too). It meets social needs (there is one group in Manchester which is basically a friendship group that might admit new members if they stik around for a year or two, which they tend not to do). It meets their financial needs in some cases. So it goes.

At this moment, if you’ve read this far, you’ll be thinking “he is some sort of Trotskyist.” For your benefit, and that of SDS or whatever they now call themselves, I. Am. Not. A. Trot. I am a bit like Frank Turner, but without the guitar. I am some kind of classical liberal, or a disappointed romantic or whatever. I don’t know, don’t care, and I don’t see how it is relevant to my observations about the failures of the IAMs above. So if you’re asking who I am, then maybe it’s because you don’t actually want to address my criticisms of the models, but instead engage in some ad homineming and some tu quoqueing…

That elephant. #Stayclassy…

The elephant in the room, with all three of these models, is of course, class. I am achingly middle-class, but even I have enough common sense and empathy to see that.)

  • The IAM modellers are, to a man and a computer, middle-class (or even part of a technocratic elite of sorts).
  • Those who engage in the giving of intellectual advice are middle-class, though some are falling through the cracks into the precariat, shoved by the USS and their pension-shredding, against a broader back drop of the marketisation of the university etc.
  • And the activists who campaign “purely” on climate change in the UK are usually middle class (I will now have a thousand people point to poor people involved in fracking. But that is a local poisoning the land for fun and profit issue as much as it is a broader climate issue). The climate movement is riddled with it. One of the many many reasons for its collapse in 2009/10 (that and some idiotic ‘strategising’ (if you could call it that) by the big NGOs. They do love a good summit…)

We (middle-class) people would rather cling to our class privilege (akin to white skin privilege) than actually change the way we do things, and take working class concerns seriously. They’re a ‘distraction’, they’re ‘messy’, they’re ‘social problems’ etc etc.

So, the next time someone invites me to laugh at an Integrated Assessment Model, I will ask them to join me in laughing at Intellectual Advice Models and Inane Activism models. That at least will add the hilarity levels on a planet being stripped of its biological wealth by some crazed infantile hairless apes with opposable thumbs and more neurons than is good for them or anything else.

Holy Moses or “There’s never an irony policeman when you need one”

We watched the documentary. Excellent if problematic, it was basically a morality play: a bunch of old white powerful men in a self-designed and policed echo chamber are eventually brought low by a scrappy band of diverse (gasp) women. And so immediately after the film there was to be a discussion. And a bunch of old white powerful men sat around and started to talk among themselves about their memories, while (BME) women watched on from the back of the room.

Reader, I. Am. Not. Making. This. Up.

There really never is an irony policeman around when you need one.

The documentary was Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, a skilfully made but partial hagiography of Jane “The Death and Life of American Cities” Jacobs, and the battles she fought – and won – with the infamous Robert ‘The Power Broker’ Moses. Moses was drunk on the sort of power that being part of the winning side in an World War gives you (planes, tanks and atomic weapons). Moses then planned to redesign New York City to his own particular purposes. Not captured in the film (one of its silences) was just how fantastically racist (even “by the standards of his day”) Moses was. This would have complicated the straightforward (largely white) narrative that got told. So be it. Anyway, Jacobs, a journalist and all-round good egg, fought Moses over his plans to drive a road through Washington Park in 1954. Then, a few years later, Moses had a hard-on for a Lower Manhattan Expressway. Jacobs and co beat him again.

The documentary then took a good turn – looking at the Chinese government’s falling-in-love with Moses’ technocratic dreams. It didn’t have time to explore the new resistance (e.g. the Shanghai maglev doesn’t make it from the airport to the city centre). There are other problems of course.

For a film that celebrates “diversity” it didn’t have that many non-white faces (though to be fair, it did have some). It didn’t historicise- would it have killed them to say who Moses’ hero was – Haussmann of Paris (instead we got heaps of Le Corbusier. Interesting, but, meh). It could have further contextualised Moses’ will to power (he was both a regime and a Nietzsche actor) by better referencing the chaos of the Depression and the “successes” of US planning and power during the war, and put it alongside the white heat of 1950s ‘successes’ (DDT, the space programme, blah blah), and also pointed to the collapse of that faith not just with Jacobs, but also the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War. But to be fair, this was a documentary that needed to have a Bad Guy and a Good Guy (well, gal). It wasn’t, after all, an Adam Curtis documentary. My rule of thumb of a documentary – do I feel I know enough, but do I still want to know more? The answer in this case is an emphatic yes.

Meanwhile, Jacobs instantly puts me in mind of Rachel ‘Silent Spring’ Carson (mentioned by one interviewee) and more latterly Elinor Ostrom. Moses harks back to Haussmann but also to a near contemporary, Robert McNamara, an equally ‘modernist’ figure who prosecuted the Vietnam War (3 million dead at the time, more since from land mines and defoliants etc) with the same gusto and the same playbook as Moses did the enemy ghettos of New York.

Back to the ‘discussion’. Would it really have killed any of the initial speakers to look around the room and say ‘hey, if we’re gonna have a discussion about diversity, it would help if we were all in a big circle. You don’t have to say anything if you join the circle, and you don’t have to move to be in the circle if you don’t want, but we can hardly honour Jacobs and the documentary-maker’s capital M Message about inclucivity if we don’t at least try to reshape the space for conviviality in the Illich sense, rather than a Powerful White Men get to Express-their-opinions-Way.’

Didn’t happen, at least while I was there: I then invoked the law of two feet. Also, I have a thesis to finish.

Nice power/authority distinction

I have been – by wiser heads than mine – warned off trying to bite off much more for The Thesis, and we all agree with the imperative to Get The Damned Thing Finished.  So, am not going to open up the box marked “power” more than a little peek…  That’s for a mythical post-doc…

Meanwhile, Gerard Henderson (I’m not really a fan, but “stopped clocks” and all that) had this to say this morning about the Barnaby Joyce fiasco (the latest one, I mean) on ABC’s Insiders this morning (18 February 2018)

“As we know in politics, politicians often think they have power.  They don’t really have power, they have legitimate authority. They may make powerful decisions, but what they have is authority. Once you lose your authority, once you’re de-authorised, like Barnaby Joyce is, it’s very difficult to hang on….”

Reminds me of Somerset Maugham‘s observation in Then and Now (his imagining of Machiavelli past his prime) about the thing politicians not being able to survive being ridicule/mockery….

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