Category Archives: Hierarchy

For “success”? Timing and conformity as key. Barry Jones, #Keynes and #climate

Barry Jones was the Australian Science Minister between 1983 and 1990, and a key figure in the coming of climate awareness to that country.  He is also a pretty smart guy (didn’t help him as a politician, naturlich).

barry jones timing is everything

Keynes said something different but similar –


We needed to be transruptive [another of my shoddy neologisms], but we weren’t.  Now we get to watch it (habitable planet, formal freedoms) all judder and spasm on a jagged downward trajectory, a kind of horizontally mirrored Keeling curve….

To quote myself (cough cough) from Facebook – Herd species. “Had to be, or else you’d get eaten by a sabre-tooth tiger or whatever. Stone age brains in space age bodies in a carbon (c)age of our own devising… Oh well. #funwhileitlasted

“This Changes Everything” changes nothing #smugosphere #emotathons #samemistakes #RoadtoParis

Here we go.  Here we go with the summit-hopping and the protestations that we have to Build a Mass Movement and the only/best/sensible (delete as appropriate) way to do that is to have a big march/ruck at (Prague/Genoa/Copenhagen and… Paris.  (Yeah, well – screw Paris. No, seriously, screw Paris.)

Here we go with the sages on the stage. Here we go with the ego-foddering,  the emotathons and all the pathologies of the smugosphere.

And, most unforgivable of all, here we go with the cynical or careless misuse of the language of liberation for a bunch of stale, unimaginative and exclusionary events that want to be sexy so wrap themselves in the cool lingo of the day, devaluing it. The lyrics change, but the song remains the same.

Example the first

Naomi Klein has written a new book (great review here) (some of us are old enough to remember the first biggie – “No Logo”).  It’s called “This Changes Everything”.

The facebook event says


“On 28th March, three weeks after the national climate demonstration, [you know, the one that got an attendance of 10,000 ish and caused the barest ripple imaginable in the mediaverse] we will be hosting a radical, participatory event called This Changes Everything. Inspired by Naomi Klein’s new book, the day will bring hundreds of people together in interactive workshops with leading campaigners and climate scientists….”

And to quote myself from an email I wrote to someone about whether I would go

“radical, participatory event” my fat arse. It will be same smug emotathon and egofoddering and sage on the stage tosh that they always do.

I’d just get too angry about it.

There will be denunciations of

a) the Conservatives
b) the Americans
c) Capitalism/Industrialism/Finance  (the three wil be conflated, elided etc)
d) “Big” green organisations that are, you know, totally complicit with the System, man.

And there will be precisely zero genuine searching critique of what the grassroots movements have been DOING WRONG.

And there will be ritual invocations that Paris Really Matters.
And there will be grandstanding and tussles for attention from various radicals who like to stand on soapboxes and lecture everyone about how participatory their movements are[redacted – we have libel laws in this country].
And loads of paper sellers and the hippy equivalent of paper sellers.
I refuse to be complicit.  To hell with the lot of them.

I am sure the organisers will survive my absence, just about.

Example the second; the  “Boom Bust Boom” conference happening in Manchester the following week. They have the brass bloody necks to call what they are doing an unconference, because unconferences sound ooh so sexy.


Oddly, my comment on their volunteer section about how it was perfectly okay and nothing to be ashamed of to be running a conference, but that you shouldn’t call it something IT ISN’T didn’t get approved.  How radical.

So one thing promises it will be radical and participatory but will be stuffed to the gills with “Celebrities” and experts talking at people.  The other claims to be an “un-conference” but simply isn’t.

Why do I care?  Because it debases the coinage.  Because I hate it when the corporations steal our dreams and sell them back, and I also hate it when Trotskyists –  be they liberal, anarchist, Trotskyist or whatever – do the same.  I hate being conned. To quote myself again –

“Throwing around terms like un-conference and “open space” and then perpetrating what Compass did seriously devalues the currency of innovation. If people who attended think “that’s what World Cafe is” or “that’s what open space is like” then they become cynical and dismissive about them. But these tools are are not – in the right hands – marketing ploys.

We laugh at  the economists when they present emissions reductions graphs that point downwards in a nice straight line to the chosen target but actually rely on fantasy technologies like carbon capture and storage and on nuclear-rolled-out-everywhere-tomorrow.  Ha ha ha.  That’s right. We should laugh.  Ha ha ha.

But apparently you’re not supposed to laugh when people use the words ‘social movements’ instead of CCS, as if those are any less a “fantasy technology” for achieving emissions reductions.  We. Will. Not. Mitigate. We haven’t in the last 25 years, and we won’t in the next 25. We will wrap our ickle opposable thumbs around every last lump of coal that we can. The savannah did not equip our brains or our political institutions to think about everyone’s long-term futures. Deal with it.

There is only one thing funnier than the magical use of the term ‘social movements’ and that’s when those proponents think that they are going to magic those social movements into existence using exactly the same formats and tools that haven’t worked the last 25 years.

That? That really cracks me up.

But try to change it?  Well, to steal from another email –

Good luck with your attempt to restructure.  Final unsolicited advice – “expect resistance“.  Folks have their comfort zones, and they largely perceive no problem with the existing set-up. They will not take very kindly to the implicit rebuke of their previous actions in your proposal to change things.

“Radicals” are some of the most conservative people I know….


The Law of Two Feet


Radical information literacy, “domestic “violence and absolute control

Went to something on “radical information literacy.”  The questions are Who knows things,  how to know things/find them out, how to critique sources and figure out when they are being manipulated by friend or foe? Et cetera.   At least it flags up that a simple “information deficit” model is grotesquely inadequate for explaining why we are numb in the face of pile of debris growing skywards in front of us.

Apparently the big thinkers in this are Professor Louise Limberg and Doctor Annemaree Lloyd.  The latter talks about “information landscapes” which may or may not mesh with the Multi-Level Perspectives formulation of landscapes, regimes and niches, I dunno.  Me, I have grown to think in terms of battle-spaces.  And psywar.  And the deliberate creation of ignorance (aka “agnotology”).

Inevitably old Jurgie-babes (Habermas) and  his instrumental/communicative rationality came up.  His “ideal speech communities” didn’t.  When they do I always want to say ‘mate, the bourgeoisie didn’t mean all this guff about human rights; they just needed the poor as shock-troops against the old aristocracies. Deal with it.”

Right, so what has this got to do with “domestic” (1) violence?  Information literacy is about dialogue, the questioning of definitions of reality and (therefore) ultimately, power.

And violence is about power (pace Arendt -(2).  This from a brilliant and horrifying article “Home Truths,” by the journo Jess Hill, about Australia and domestic violence (going up)

We reach for these excuses because the alternative – that hundreds of thousands of Australian men have chosen to inflict diabolical cruelty on their partners – is almost inconceivable. Men’s behaviour change programs don’t treat perpetrators for anger problems, because anger management doesn’t work. The violence isn’t an overreaction, it’s a tool – one of many that abusers can use to exert control over their wives and girlfriends….

“People really struggle to understand that for family violence to be present, there are two key attributes to it. One of them is that one party is in fear of the other. The other is that the abuser uses a planned, systematic approach to remove a person’s confidence, support networks and independence in order to highlight their own power and control within the relationship” [says Annette Gillespie, the head of Victoria’s Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre.]

Most people have arguments with the person they love. It’s normal to feel jealous, say things you regret, even scream the house down. It only becomes domestic violence when this is bent towards controlling the other person, in a way that provokes fear.

Power. Silencing. Violence.

proyecto_cybersyn1Perhaps as well as citing the 1970s (3) (Cees Hamelink 1976 “An alternative to news.”) we also need thinking about what happened to earlier efforts at communicative dialogue and power attainment under, ooh, Maggie Thatcher’s favourite Latin American dictator, Augosto Pinochet.  He and his mates crushed the Cybersyn experiment of Stafford Beer et al, which put forward the shocking idea that maybe we didn’t need the rigid hierarchies, and that working class people might be able to self-manage….

Two more quotes and then I am done.

First from William Gibson

..Harwood blinks. ‘It’s what we do now instead of bohemias,” he says.
“Instead of what?”
Bohemias. Alternative subcultures. They were a crucial aspect of  industrial civilization in the two previous centuries. They were where  industrial civilization went to dream. A sort of unconcious R&D, exploring  alternate societal strategies. Each one would have a dress code, characteristic forms of artistic expression, a substance or substances of choice, and a set of sexual values at odds with those of the culture at large. And they did, frequently, have locales with which they became associated. But they became extinct.”
“We started picking them before they could ripen. A certain crucial growing period was lost, as marketing evolved and the mechanisms of recommodification became quicker, more rapacious. Authentic subcultures required backwaters, and time, and there are no more backwaters. They went the way of Geography in general. Autonomous zones do offer a certain insulation from the monoculture, but they seem not to lend themselves to  re-commodification, not in the same way. We don’t know why exactly.”‘
William Gibson, ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’.

Then from psychologist Carl Rogers, talking to a businessman whose company had set up a ‘flat hierarchy’ factory.

He told me that while the experimental plants continue to do extremely well, and he feels pride in the work he has done with them, he regards his work with the corporation as a failure. The top management, though appreciative of the increased profits and good morale of the experimental plants, has not moved to follow this model in their other plants, even though it appears evident that overall profits would be increased.

“Why not?” I inquired.

His answer was most thought-provoking: “When managers from other plants look closely at what we are doing, they gradually realize how much of their power they would have to give away, to share with their employees. And they are not willing to give up that power.” When I stated that it appeared that power over people was even more important than profits­ which are supposed to be the all-­important goal in industry­ he agreed.

Carl Rogers and H. Jerome Freiberg Freedom to Learn 3rd Edition page 372

Hope (4), eh? Oh well.  And forty plus years later, we are heading for the not-so-great acceleration and the  Panspectron.  Hohum.

I left the thing early, mostly because of the widening gap between theory and practice.  There was a time I used to get angry about that stuff, but now I am either resigned to it or more compassionate (poor poor humans.  Apes with opposable thumbs, gods that shit. Oscillating between the two)


1.  To quote a friend on facebook – “I don’t like the term ‘domestic’ it implies some kind of loophole, a get out clause, it’s a right of property or possession, and therefore it fails to attract the same kind of criminal sanction as assault, GBH or worse. Such conceptual terminology is important as it reflects the seriousness of how societal norms function and how they are perceived. Change the name and its conceptual nature, how society perceives these crimes and the punishment will follow – its a form of judicial performativity, but their needs to be a will to promote the unacceptable nature of failing protection.”

2. For Hannah Arendt, seriously smart thinker of the mid 20th century, physical force/violence was the antithesis of politics, and politics was about discussion, debate, rationality and all that sort of thing.

3. And because you can never have too much Donald Duck – Ariel Dorfman and How to Read Donald Duck

4. ‘A January 1994 conference of Jesuits and lay associates in San Salvador considered both the narrow and the broad aspects of the state terrorist project. Its summary report concludes that “it is important to explore to what degree terror continues to act, cloaked by the mask of common crime. Also to be explored is what weight the culture of terror has had in domesticating the expectations of the majority vis­-a­-vis alternatives different to those of the powerful, in a context in which many of the revolutionaries of yesterday act today with values similar to the long powerful.” The latter issue, the broader one, is of particular significance. The great achievement of the massive terror operations of the past years organized by Washington and its local associates has been to destroy hope. The observation generalizes to much of the Third World and also to the growing masses of superfluous people at home, as the Third World model of sharply two-­tiered societies is increasingly internationalized…’ Noam Chomsky, World Orders, Old and New page 53

Barriers to Social Movement (reflective) Learning. Burblings

There are so many reasons we don’t DO reflective learning.

  • We live in our habits/routines/comfort zone (as as Charles Duhigg points out, habits can be Good things)
  • Time (lack thereof)
  • Energy (exhaustion)
  • It’s difficult to reflect. We get little or no training. It’s not something we are encouraged to do in school. It’s far more important to have the Right Answer and get the Smart Token in exchange.
  • Ego protection (you will be accused of thinking yourself too good, whereas reflecting might also lead you to think yourself not good enough). Easier not to go there…
  • Group ego protection (there are shibboleths, taboos)
  • Morale protection (“don’t open the can of worms,” “let sleeping dogs lie…”)
  • “Too navel gazing; we DO, not talk.” The NVDA crowd are impatient with “theory”, which is for Marxists. And for Marxists, they are impatient with any theory that isn’t explicitly Marxist…
  • Learn the “wrong lessons” (fight the last war)
  • Some reflections are just too personal,not easily transferable. Or so you might think stories “but that’s just me”

“If the only tool you have is a hammer,
all your tools begin to look like nails

There is I suspect a difference between passive and active barriers, internal and external barriers (though of course these distinctions are shifting, have fuzzy borders)

  • Not a habit for individuals
  • Not validated – doesn’t get you status tokens
  • It’s hard to do well and then to FOLLOW UP. The insight may be good, but changing own behaviours/actions/perspectives is hard enough, without thinking about the broader sub-culture/ecosystem, whichever phrase you want to use.
  • Badly-run reflection, ending in acrimony and discomfort can have long-lasting “prophylactic” effect
  • Limited individual and group capacity – “we tried that once, it ended with half the people in tears and the other half not coming back.
  • And of course, people have different types of learning styles – formal, informal, messy, and different types are more appropriate at different times.

WHAT, you might ask, are you TRYING to learn. And how/why. Not that learning can ever be so compartmentalised, I fear…

So, how to Make People Aware of the problem(s), , co-produce tools, get them believing that change is indeed possible? How to inspire, perspire the making and sharing of tools?
(Dropping boxes of tools on people’s heads – cartoon anvil style – just does not work)

Knowing what to reflect on (both failures and successes and everything in between)
how to do it
when to do it
why to do it (improve, transform, anticipate)
who to do it with (people you trust – but this takes time! Can’t be doing it with “newbies”, can you? [remember though, while people are “newbies” to you and your group, they have HEAPS of other experience(s)]

In order to have “capacity to reflect” (ctr) you need

  • high levels of trust between members (ergo, fairly stable groups)
  • high level of intra-group value attached to reflection
    (and therefore likely previously valorised examples of its effectiveness)
  • “Soft skills” up the wazoo.

These seem, imho, to be lacking. Not just from the ‘left’, whatever that is, but from ANYONE. Or am I missing something?

See also
Kolb learning cycles
Peter Senge
Donald Schon

Of Leviathans, the Tube and #climate crisis.

The last post was about what happens to technologies that challenge the “Leviathan” – of hierarchy, class, habit and the external and internal oppositions. It’s worth a read, and I can say that because there are big slabs of quotations from two brilliant articles (about the 1970s industrial-policy-from-below Lucas Plan, and the present problems of Wikipedia).

This isn’t abstract though. When an elephant can’t tapdance, when people are silo-ed, and refuse to see what they need to because of the turf battles, then 31 people can die.

See these quotes from Chalres Duhigg’s excellent “The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and business.”

The Underground was governed by a sort of theoretical rule book that no one had ever seen or read – and that didn’t, in fact, exist except in the unwritten rules that shaped every employee’s life. For decades, the Underground had been run by the “Four Barons” – the chiefs of civil, signal, electrical, and mechanical engineering – and within each of their departments, there were bosses and subbosses who all jealously guarded their authority. (p. 168)

Duhigg makes the point that for the trains to run on time (and it’s a VERY complex thing), you need there to be a “truce” between groups that would otherwise be trying to jockey for position, and causing havoc. In normal times, therefore, a “truce” can be a Good Thing.

But – and Duhigg also makes the point using a hospital A and E in the United States – when staff are “trained” not to step outside their very strictly demarcated (more than my) job (is worth), then they train themselves not to see things. Things that matter, like burning material at the bottom of an escalator on a November evening in 1987…

The London Underground’s routines and truces all seemed logical until a fire erupted. At which point, an awful truth emerged: No one person, department, or baron had ultimate responsibility for passengers’ safety. (p. 175)

fennell front coverDuhigg then goes on to point out that the period after a disaster, where everybody is shook up, and the ability (or willingness) to defend turf is shaken, is the time where things MIGHT be up for real change. He recounts what happened when the appointed investigator tried – on the basis of interviews with people in the Tube hierarchy who had known for years that “fire safety was a serious problem” – to fix things.

When Fennell began suggesting changes of his own, he saw the same kinds of roadblocks – department chiefs refusing to take responsibility or undercutting him with whispered threats to their subordinates – start to emerge.

So he decided to turn his inquiry into a media circus. (p. 179)

Sometimes, you need the klieg lights to keep things warm. It shouldn’t have to be like that, but it’s the world we live in, eh? But what do you do when things need to change, but the media just isn’t interested, because it’s not something that affects/scares its readers and therefore sells eyeballs to advertisers? What do you do about long, slow, unsexy emergencies in which we are all complicit, not just faceless “barons”? Like, to pick an example entirely at random, climate change?

References/further reading

Duhigg, C. (2012) “The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and business.” New York: Random House

Fennell, D. (1988) Investigation into the King’s Cross Underground Fire London, UK: Department of Transport

Gawande, A. (2011) The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right London: Profile Books