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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, December 10, 2015

Losing the Plot

The plebs are stirring – and nationalist banners are flying high everywhere. Not just in Scotland, Sweden and Hungary – but now France and Turkey…
The barbarians didn’t need to clamour at the gate – they were smuggled in to the fortress via the Trojan Horse of the Human Rights industry.….Little wonder that “The Man in the High Castle” is playing so well – with its crude imagery of jackboot Japanese and German Fascists in the US of A
The political, professional, commercial and financial class – with all their underlings - are utterly adrift in a sea of moral decay with only a few outsiders able to record – in Spenglerian tones - the sad decline of the West.

Just 25 years ago politicians and intellectuals were celebrating not only the defeat of communism but “the end of history”. A few dissented from this Panglossian view, reminding us of the cyclical nature of things and warned of the arrogance, indeed hubris, involved in our assumptions about “progress” - what John Gray called recently “melioristic liberalism”

Whatever their position on the political spectrum, almost all of those who govern us hold to some version of the melioristic liberalism that is the west’s default creed, which teaches that human civilisation is advancing – however falteringly – to a point at which the worst forms of human destructiveness can be left behind. According to this view, evil, if any such thing exists, is not an inbuilt human flaw, but a product of defective social institutions, which can over time be permanently improved…………….

I don’t know exactly when the mood music began to change but I sense 2000 as the year – that’s when the Harvard Business Review ran an article from Canadian business guru Henry Mintzberg which warned that people were mistaken to believe that it was capitalism which won in 1989 - 
What triumphed in 1989 was balance. While the countries of Eastern Europe were utterly out of balance, with so much power concentrated in their public sectors, the successful countries of the West maintained a sufficient balance across their public, private, and plural sectors (usually referred to as “civil society” or the “third sector”).  But a failure to understand this has been carrying many countries—east and west, north and south—out of balance ever since, as power has concentrated increasingly in their private sectors.
Most notably in the United States, likewise in the realm of globalization, many large corporations have attained positions of entitlement, justified by the prevailing dogma of our day, from economics: that greed is good, property is sacrosanct, markets are sufficient, and governments are suspect.
We have to understand that a balanced society, like a stable stool, has to rest on three solid legs: a public sector of political forces rooted in respected governments, a private sector of economic forces based on responsible businesses, and a plural sector of social forces manifested in robust communities.

A year ago Pankaj Mishra – summonsing names such as Alexander Herzen, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Raymond Aron – told us that The Western Model was broken 
The most violent century in human history, it was hardly the best advertisement for the “bland fanatics of western civilisation”, as Niebuhr called them at the height of the cold war, “who regard the highly contingent achievements of our culture as the final form and norm of human existence”. Niebuhr was critiquing a fundamentalist creed that has coloured our view of the world for more than a century: that western institutions of the nation-state and liberal  democracy will be gradually generalised around the world, and that the aspiring middle classes created by industrial capitalism will bring about accountable, representative and stable governments – that every society, in short, is destined to evolve just as the west did.
The start of 2015 saw me in reflective mood - with a post “Will this too pass?” which referred to a paper about the global crisis I had just put online which opened with a table capturing the intellectual debates of each decade since the 1930s. The first few entries give the flavour – “the end of capitalism”, “the managerial revolution”, “meritocracy”, “the end of ideology”,” revisionism”
I suggested that .. many who look at the table 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
1990 was, as Mintzberg argues, a turning point when all restraints on greed and amorality were removed and that early January post reflected the new pessimism - 
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 
- 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
 -  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”

That was hardly online than the world was stunned with the cold-blooded killings in the Hebdo offices in Paris. With images of bodies of African migrants in the waters of the Western Mediterranean giving way first to those of flotillas of small boats in the Aegean and the onward treks through the Balkans and Hungary and then to the massacres on November 13 on the streets of Paris (and the lockdown of the city of Brussels), the full consequences of the “Great Game” being played in Syria by so many powers has at last brought home to many of us…..   

The painting is of the Ottoman troups battling outside the gates of Vienna.......posted the very day Suleyman's burial chamber is reported found in southern Hungary

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