what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What was the question, again?


My bones are aching as I write this – after a day of sawing, gathering and storing the branches of the two remaining limbs of the corner tree which, with another, stands guard over the front of the house. A power saw (Druzhba „friend”in Romanian) is quite tiring to use for this sort of work – as you are using all sorts of angles and levels to get at the branches of the trunk as they lie in the grass. No need for dumb-bells and Ten Minute Body Exercises with this sort of work! Fortunately the brick soba in the bedroom is at almost sauna heat - after only a basket-full of logs during the day – and will retain the warmth in the room for 36 hours with no further logs needed. And the wood from the 2 trunks will probably be all I need over the winter months for the occasional visits. Talk about self-sufficiency!
I am being advised to cut the limbs of the remaining tree – but I quite like the leaves at the attic window and at our verandah! So I will probably keep that until next year (Insallah!). A young neighbour shinned up the ladder to put the foam in the window frame – and also brought down the 2 limbs for me. He is one of several quasi-slaves many of these villages have – someone with no real home but kept in a house for a measly wage. Both are pleasant individuals in their 30s with little education who do all the dirty work – and have absolutely no prospects. It is the guy’s aunt who employs him and he has some rights to what is his parent’s house if only he would pursue them. Tomorrow he will return to finish the window frames – and I am being advised to pay him no more than 10 euros. I could use him to lengthen two of our chimneys – but it isn’t easy to persuade his „owner” to release him – he could get ideas above his station!

Revenons aux moutons – namely the questions which should be the focus of any inquiry about social improvements . On further reflection, I think the questions need considerable adjustment. All the change literature - some of which is summarised at pages 47-50 of the annotated bibliography for change agents on my website - tells us that people have first to be convinced that something is wrong; only then are they ready to consider a particular programme – which has, ideally, to be developed with their positive engagement. My recent posts have taken an egocentric view (looking at the issue from someone who has been convinced from an early age that the system is rotten – a common fault of impatient and over-confident reformers). Succesful change-agents start not from their own perspectives but from that of the larger population who need to go through the following stages -
• Judging the situation unacceptable
• Wanting to make sense of it
• Distrusting the conventional wisdom
• Learning to trust some perceptions and advice
• Getting involved
• Refining their understanding, trust and judgement about appropriate next steps
So it looks as if a Tolstoyan triple whammy of questions is out! I note that Robert Quinn’s very interesting Change the World is not in that list – so I will need to update it.
While I am thinking about the most appropriate questions for this inquiry let me indicate the direction in which the previous questions took me
• I feel that an important question is phrased along the lines of - what programme elements (drawing partly on the famous diagram on my website) might actually help release and sustain people power in a way which will force the corruption of modern elites to make significant and lasting concessions? France has a long tradition of taking to the streets (witness the last few days) – and winning concessions. But patently this is too negative, piecemeal and exclusive (to French citizens). A more global alternative has been the subject of so many endeavours – for example Envisioning Real Utopias which seems to be a very rigorous exploration which includes a look at the Mondragon cooperatives. The book can actually be downloaded from the link I give.
• The second question – where do we find examples that can persuade a wide audience that there is an alternative – actually is part of the first question! It would therefore seem to need rephrasing along the following lines - What processes offer the best prospects for engaging a sigificant number of citizens in a new vision? The Social Forum (Porto Alegre) had a huge impact in its day but seems to have run out of steam - precisely when its vision was most needed! I have just started to read Paul Kingsnorth’s very well written, sympathetic 2004 treatment of the various parts of the anti-global movement
• Only the Greens (and particularly the Germans) have properly recognised and tried to deal with the problem of the corruption of leadership (the iron law of oligarchy) by circulating leadership positions (as do the Swiss). However, I understand that the German Greens have now scrapped this practice.

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