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!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Variations on a theme

This is the time of the year when some of us like to “take stock” – so I have been looking at the 180-odd blogposts of 2014, trying to identify patterns, high-points and…. deficiencies.
There were many more thematic postings than in previous years – this time last year, for example, I began a series of ten posts on Romanian culture which occupied the early weeks of 2014 and became the basis for my first E-book. The blog  then moved on to a series of reflections about political and professional power, drawing particularly on the writings of such diverse individuals as Anthony Jay, Peter Mair, Christopher Lasch and Dennis Healey which, coincidentally but symbolically, presaged the death in March of one of Britain’s most iconic politicians, Tony Benn. The forty subsequent posts on the Scottish referendum debate (collected in an E-book – The Independence Argument) were, in a sense, “variations on a theme”.   

After some musings about the absence of “European writing, I had moved back by June to knaw on my “change the world” bone – which made me think that it is perhaps time now to make a new E-book from the draft Guide for the Perplexed paper with which I have been playing around for more than a decade. This might help properly launch the new Mapping the common ground website which has been lying dormant after I explored its possible name and purpose in several posts in the summer.

Clearly I seem to have reached an impasse with that paper - first drafted in 2001 – and I’m beginning to suspect that one reason is the tension between the “rationality” model - with which I was imbued by my education - and the richness of other prisms which have been attracting me in my effort to make sense of the world. It is not an accident that the sub-title of that new website refers to multiple perspectives!
Chris Pollitt’s small book, “State of the State” (2000), had first brought me up against Mary Douglas’ “Grid-group” theory (reminding me of Amatsai Etzioni’s scintillating dissection of our approach to Social Problems into three basic schools). But it was Mike Hulme’s book – Why We Disagree about Climate Change – understanding controversy, inaction and opportunity - which really opened my eyes in July to the full potential of the sort of post-modernist “discourse analysis” which I had held until then  in such disdain……..

Most radicals take a “mechanical” view of the world (Gareth Morgan’s Images of Organisation is still the best read on the metaphors we use) – they assume, that is, that societies and systems can and should be diagnosed and “fixed”. Political parties have operated on this pre(o)mise for most of the past century. For more than a couple of decades, however, a lot of serious thinkers have been questioning the simplistic nature of social interventions driven by this principle – pointing to the lessons from chaos science and systems theory….. Picking up on this theme, one of July’s posts featured an energetic old activist called Grace Lee Boggs who argued that protests these days need a new model -
I think it’s really important that we get rid of the idea that protest will create change. The idea of protest organizing, as summarized by [community organizer] Saul Alinsky, is that if we put enough pressure on the government, it will do things to help people.
We don’t realize that that kind of organizing worked only when the government was very strong, when the West ruled the world, relatively speaking.

But with globalization and the weakening of the nation-state, that kind of organizing doesn’t work.
We need to do what I call visionary organizing. Recognize that in every crisis, people do not respond like a school of fish. Some people become immobilized. Some people become very angry, some commit suicide, and other people begin to find solutions.
And visionary organizers look at those people, recognize them and encourage them, and they become leaders of the future.

This took me back to one of the seminal books for me - Robert Quinn’s Change the World, produced in 1996 and an excellent antidote for those who are still fixated on the expert model of change imagining it can be achieved by “telling”, “forcing” or by participation. Quinn (a neglected thinker) exposes the last for what it normally is - a form of manipulation – and effectively encourages us, through examples, to have more faith in people.

Normal blog service was resumed after the Scottish referendum result in late September with a long post - Some Notes on a crisis – on a reading list which, with a couple of exceptions, shows the extent to which the mechanistic model still dominates the debate about the crisis.
An apocalyptic note entered the blog in October with a couple of posts – Are we going to Hell? and Have the Kleptomaniacs and Liars really won? the last of which itemised 13 vicious social trends.

The year ended, however, on a fairy-tale note – with the incredible victory of modest Klaus Iohannis in the Romanian Presidential elections.

But one important conclusion from this initial overview of the year’s posts seems to be that I can and should continue with the thematic approach to posts – using this year’s posts on “changing the world” as a basis rather than the essay on guiding the perplexed. But with a strong dash of the post-modern material on “frame analysis” etc a list of which can be found in the post on Stories We Tell.

I haven't been offering as many paintings on my posts - for which my apologies. I will try harder.....
This is one of my favourite Bulgarian aquarellists - Grigor Naidenov - and I have just discovered it in a small cache of stuff bundled with some old calendars of Bulgarian art which I brought down from the crowded Bucharest flat.......

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