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!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Will this too pass?

I’ve been busy these past few weeks editing 3 E-books all of which will hit the world in the next few weeks. I start with Ways of Seeing …..the Global Crisis which – as has become the template for my E-books – has emerged from an editing and restructuring of those blogposts of the past couple of years which have touched on this (very general!) issue. What follows is taken from the book’s “Inconclusion”
The table with which the small book starts identifies the various “debates” which gripped English-speaking countries at least, decade by decade, from the 1930s…through to the present.It’s impressionistic – so doesn’t try to bring google analytics to aid – and people may quibble with some of the references. But many who look at it will perhaps feel a shiver down their spine as they recognise how transitory many of our discussions have been. The issues don’t necessarily go away – some are simply repackaged
It may cover an 80 year period but all the themes still echo in my mind since it was 1960 when I embarked on my political economy education at Glasgow University - and the key books of the 40s were still influential. Indeed the writings which had the biggest impact on me were Europeans from the start of the century – such as Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, Robert Michels and Karl Popper. Outside the university, it was the writings of RHTawney and Tony Crosland which shaped me – and had me joining the Labour Party in 1959; becoming first an activist; then a councillor; and someone who quickly developed a rather contradictory mix of corporate management and community power principles. 
I didn’t know it at the time but I was at the start of an ideological upheaval of tectonic proportions as the Keynesian certainties began to crumble in the face of the Hayekian onslaught.For some reason, however, I chose to focus on regional development although the ideas of the strangely named “public choice” theorists did get to me in the early 1970s - through the pamphlets of the Institute of Economic Affairs
But it was the social engineering approach of the managerialists which eventually won the battle for my soul. I vividly remember sitting in front of the radio enthralled as Donald Schon delivered the Reith lectures in autumn 1970 under the title “Beyond the Stable State”.  During it he coined the phrase “dynamic conservatism” - a phenomenon which I was to study for several decades in different countries.
I read the literature on organisational change avidly – and tried to apply it wherever I went…John Stewart of the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Local Government Studies was a particular inspiration…. Policy Analysis – then in its early days - was an obvious attraction and I enrolled on the UK’s first (postgraduate) course on the subject at the University of Strathclyde, run by Lewis Gunn which disappointed for its over-rationalistic approach – although it was there that I first came across the notion of “framing theory”. I confess, however, that when I actually had in 2002 to draft a primer on policy analysis for some civil servants in Slovakia, it was the rationalistic approach I adopted rather than that contained in the Policy Paradox book by Deborah Stone which I only encountered later. 
What, however, the “This too will pass” table doesn’t record is the amazing change that occurred in the late 1980s in HOW we talked about these various “issues”…in short the “discursive” or “narrative turn” which post-modernist thought has given us (see Annex 2 for a short explanation of this).
Although I’ve grown to appreciate the rich plurality of interpretations the postmodernists can present on any issue, I’m not quite ready to join their carefree, fatalistic band…”Whatever……” does not strike me as the most helpful response to give to those anguished by the cutthroat actions of those in privileged positions…. The point I have reached is
It seems impossible to get a social or moral consensus in our societies for the sort of rebalancing which Henry Mintzberg has brilliantly argued for
·         the voices are too diverse these days – as explained by Mike Hulme
·         people have grown tired and cynical
·         those in work have little time or energy to help them identify and act on an appropriate programme of change
·         those out of work are too depressed
·         although the retired generally have the time, resources and experience to be doing more than they are
·         but they have lost trust in the capability or good intentions of governments
·         let alone the promises of politicians
·         and are confronted with too many disparate voices in the reform movement
 ·         Most of the “apocalyptists” (such as William Greer and Dmitry Orlov) who have confronted the collapse of industrial civilisation counsel a Candide-like “garden cultivation”
 ·         And yet I still persevere in my naïve belief that governments are capable of doing more……
 Am I wrong? 
It’s perhaps appropriate that, at this point I reach for TS Eliot - …….
And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate - but there is no competition -
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again; and now under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.
 (The Four Quartets)

No comments:

Post a Comment