Category Archives: our doomedness

The tyranny of small decisions…

A transformational change in Australia’s assessment of cumulative impacts is required, including the comprehensive assessment of the direct and indirect impacts of coal mining, if the Reef is not to suffer from the “tyranny of small decisions.” As described by Odum (1982), this phenomenon involves a big decision arising post hoc from an accretion of small decisions, without the central question being addressed directly (in this case, how to maintain the values of the Reef) and without constraints or guidance from an effective high-level authority.

(Grech et al. 2016: 205)

Grech, A., Pressey, R. and Day,J. 2016.  Coal, Cumulative Impacts, and the Great Barrier Reef. Conservation Letters, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp. 200–207 doi: 10.1111/conl.12208

Thinking institutionally, dialectically, iteratively, recursively #noteasy

Our wetware has missed quite a few upgrades, hasn’t it?  It left the factory all buggy and in beta, shaped by encounters – over millennia – with sabre-tooth tigers etc that saw us as easy meat.  We have cognitive biases up the wazoo, and often lack even the awareness of that [Dunning-Kruger etc etc].

It’s only recently for me, when I’ve been trying to construct airtight arguments that synthesise a lot of other people’s work, that I realise quite what a kluge a brain is.  And how hard it is to think institutionally, dialectically, iteratively, recursively etc  (don’t ask me for the distinction between those last two – pregnant elephants or something).

Everything in our “DNA”, our educations, our culture(s) makes it easier to do system one thinking, and be happy, exp-post-facto-y with that….  Hmmm.

All this came from re-reading another excellent paper from Professor Thomas Lawrence, he of ‘institutional work’…  He has a good website, and it gives access to his papers, which is cool for people without a password through the paywalls…

Thinking institutionally, according to Heclo (2008), involves adopting an “appreciative viewpoint” that allows one to “acknowledge, and then through choices and conduct, . . . help realize some normative order reflected in the task of upholding (an) institution and what it stands for” (p. 102). This viewpoint, Heclo argues, provides individuals in contemporary civic society the capacity to think and act in ways that allow them to transcend the totalizing cognitive influence of institutions.

2011 Lawrence, T., Suddaby, R., &  Leca, B. 2011. Institutional Work: Refocusing Institutional Studies of Organization. Journal of Management Inquiry, 20(1), 52-58.



“Entrench warfare” or “why I don’t bother with one-off trainings” #smugosphere #inertia

A few years ago I organised a one-off training session on research for activists. It went well and had … no discernible impact on how anyone did anything.  So it goes.  I reflected on this – and other training I have been part of as a punter. And I came to the conclusion that unless you are part of a group that values the new skill/knowledge, then whatever shiny new training you have been on will simply not become embedded, and you and your group will stick to what you know.  This is not a particularly startling observation.  But now at least I have a citation I can back it up with when I am whining about the smugosphere

It’s from a bloody brilliant paper –

Perkmann, M. and Spcier, A. 2008. How are management fashions institutionalized? The role of institutional work. Human Relations, Vol. 61 (6), pp.811-844.

This bit

Zeitz et al. (1999) distinguish between the transitory adoption of a practice and its enduring ‘entrenchment’. Entrenchment is defined as the institutionalization of a practice to the extent that it is unlikely to be abandoned. They argue that while the mere adoption of a practice indicates the exposure to a fashion, entrenchment is required to induce a lasting change of practice. They identify five ‘pillars’ by which a fashionable concept can become entrenched: models (spurring imitation), culture (promoting identification), education (again spurring imitation), regulative/coercive influences (exerting power) and technical-rational influences (providing recipes for improving performance). Assuming that such entrenchment can occur at different levels of analysis, from individual, organizational, interorganizational to the societal level, they propose a set of ‘indicators’ that can be used for empirically assessing as to whether a practice has become entrenched: formalization, compatibility (with other practices), depth, systematic coherence (with other concepts and strategies) and the existence of ‘webs of interdependencies’ (Zeitz et al., 1999).
(Perkmann and Spicer, 2008: 814/5)

And that citation is this – Zeitz, G., Mittal, V. & McAulay, B. Distinguishing adoption and entrenchment of management practices: A framework for analysis. Organization Studies, 1999, 20(5), 741–76.

So,  a while back there was talk of me doing a training or two with a group. But since only one person in that group knew me/valued the training, and he wasn’t going to be sticking around, (he and I) decided it was at best a waste of time, energy and morale for all concerned, and at worst actively harmful (destroys the credibility of innovation, turns it into a ritualistic set-up-to-fail thing).

Doomed, I tell you, all doomed.  So what.

Coal, snow and the desert of the real #auspol

Scott Morrison, Australian Treasurer, brought a lump of coal to the show-and-tell at school today.  Sorry, I mean, to the House of Representatives.  It was a big lump of coal, metaphorically if not literally in the shape of a wedge.  Because this was about trying to make the Labor Party look weak/green/out-of-touch.  Meanwhile, in the real world, there is a heatwave of the real that is sending those rich enough to have them and afford them to their air-conditioners.  (Can the desert be far behind?).

Journalists are bewildered. Katherine Murphy began her piece thus

There is no way you can write the sentence, “The treasurer of Australia, Scott Morrison, came to question time with a lump of coal on Thursday,” and have that sentence seem anything other than the ravings of a psychedelic trip, so let’s just say it and be done with it.

Scott Morrison brought coal into the House of Representatives. A nice big hunk of black coal, kindly supplied by the Minerals Council of Australia.

The obvious link, which I’ve not seen made, is with another buffoon in another country, almost two years ago.

These seem like desperate claims by desperate men, who are the epitome of the political class (“out of touch”) using props to try to build to their constituents, earnestly proclaim themselves to be “real”(1) and ‘authentically working class’ (In July 2014 Senator Ian MacDonald came to parliament in a fluorojacket, provided to him by the same people who gave Morrison his lump of coal).

What does it all mean? These are bids for a foundational ‘common-sense’, for ‘authenticity’ by a dinosaur breed that can’t accept that the meteor has struck.   There is going to be a mass extinction event.  The only question is what – if anything – is on the other side. Bye Brasil.


Update- a further thought – The Liberals and Nationals have clearly “decided” – as far as you can say there is a central organising intelligence- that they cannot win on price or emissions reductions. Instead they are remorselessly focusing on only one of the three legs of the energy trilemma – namely security of supply.  It may “work” politically. It will not on any other metric – economics, environment…


(1) Gramsci, Baudrillard, Derrida and that crowd would have a field day.

Emergent, emergency, urgency. “Properties for sale…”

Hmm, am puzzling over the distinction between synergy and emergent properties. I found this –

“Today, unfortunately, the term emergence is used in a bewildering variety of ways, often as a synonym for synergy. However, I side with the early theorists; emergence should properly be confined to those forms of synergy in which different parts merge, lose their identity and take on new physical or functional properties. Thus table salt has emergence properties…”
(Corning, 2003: 23)
Corning, P. 2003. Nature’s Magic: Synergy in Evolution and the Fate of Humankind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

and I guess it’s about a dialectic – where the “two” “opposing” “forces” are both/all changed into something – ‘rich and strange‘.

And being able to leverage and guide ’emergent properties’ – either to monetise them or Save The World  (“transition management and other forms of hubristic cock-pitism).  Well, I reckon the former is easier than the latter, sadly…


Meanwhile, the coincidence (?) between emergent and emergency rattled my brain and out popped two song lyrics.

“And it happens to be an emergency
Some things aren’t meant to be
Some things don’t come for free”
Put down that weapon by Midnight Oil


“We need all hands helping, the urgency is overwhelming” (TV Smith, Home Town)

That’s just how my (odd?) memory works, as distinct from beserk autobiographical memory.

See also –

Sokal so good; on targets, reports, fantasies…


The “keeping anthropogenic global warming (global average) to less than 1.5 degrees above pre-Industrial levels” at COP21 was never a serious proposal, surely?  I mean, you’d have to be totally fricking scientifically illiterate to… oh, wait.

But look, even if the policy-makers put it in there to keep the AOSIS (fn1)  crowd from vetoing the agreement, then the scientists themselves ought to know better, and tell the UNFCCC lot that it is a waste of time and bandwidth to study ‘how to hit 1.5 degrees”?  Or would that be too fraught? Is this just a Nekkid Emperor shituation, independent of it being  a nice little job creation scheme and prestige-arena for some social scientists?

I don’t know. But I DO know the last time what happened the last time some social scientists didn’t understand basic physics and ignored shit.

Hilarity and egg on face is what happened. It was called the ‘Sokal Hoax‘-

The Sokal affair, also called the Sokal hoax,[1] was a publishing hoax perpetrated by Alan Sokal, a physics professor atNew York University and University College London. In 1996, Sokal submitted an article to Social Text, an academic journal of postmodern cultural studies. The submission was an experiment to test the journal’s intellectual rigor and, specifically, to investigate whether “a leading North American journal of cultural studies – whose editorial collective includes such luminaries as Fredric Jameson and Andrew Ross – [would] publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions”.[2]

The article, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity”,[3] was published in the Social Text spring/summer 1996 “Science Wars” issue. It proposed that quantum gravity is a social and linguistic construct. At that time, the journal did not practice academic peer review and it did not submit the article for outside expert review by a physicist.[4][5] On the day of its publication in May 1996, Sokal revealed in Lingua Franca that the article was a hoax, identifying it as “a pastiche of left-wing cant, fawning references, grandiose quotations, and outright nonsense … structured around the silliest quotations [by postmodernist academics] he could find about mathematics and physics.”[2]

The hoax sparked a debate about the scholarly merit of humanistic commentary about the physical sciences; the influence of postmodern philosophy on social disciplines in general; academic ethics, including whether Sokal was wrong to deceive the editors and readers of Social Text; and whether Social Text had exercised appropriate intellectual rigor.

What should we be doing, then, smart arse?
Thinking about social movement failure, state democratisation, resilience rightly-understood.  Thinking about how to put the politics ‘back’ into Transition Management, and thinking what social movements that applied relentless and irresistible pressure for both technological and social innovation (the two are entwined) would actually LOOK like. What support would they need from academics, for instance?


  1. This would be the same AOSIS folks who, since 1990 [indeed earlier] have been pleading for rich (mostly white) people to take this seriously)