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!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Zen Calvinism and Pyrronian scepticism

Still on yesterday’s poem, another pleasure is inspecting the latest books from Amazon – particularly here in Sirnea where their arrival is more of an event. The process starts with a shout from the post office to my neighbour who then phones me to announce the event. Yesterday was such a day – with 6 new books – one of which was a new collection of Norman MacCaig’s poems. His wry, humanistic observations on man and nature have always been a favourite. I thought I had already reproduced a very typical one - “Smuggler” – on this blog but can’t find it (in fact it was Oct 17but this will save the trouble of searching).

Watch him when he opens
His bulging words – justice
Fraternity, freedom, internationalism, peace,
peace, peace. Make it your custom
to pay no heed
to his frank look, his visa, his stamps
and signatures. Make it
your duty to spread out their contents
in a clear light

Nobody with such language
Has nothing to declare

There are many similarities with the poetry of Marin Sorescu who is my favourite Romanian poet. Both died about the same time in the early 1990s. MacCaig’s last Collection is in the (small) poetry section of my library here – this one (edited by his son) contains about 200 additional ones (some unpublished)
His voice was to be heard even in the Introduction – which recalls how he replied when asked about his religious beliefs – “Zen Calvinist!”
I had just been reading the chapter in the Montaigne book which explores the sort of philosophical scepticism which influenced him.
“Ordinary scepticism asserts the impossibility of knowledge; it is summed up in Socrates remark; “All I know is that I know nothing”. Pyrronian scepticism starts from this point but then adds, in effect, “and I’m not even sure of that”. Pyrronians deal with all the problems which life can throw at them by means of a single (Greek) word – epokhe – which means “I suspend judgement”.
MacCaig has some of the same spirit.

One of the World Bank publications I downloaded yesterday was an E-book of 500 pages - Governance Reforms under real world conditions – which looks very useful. It is organised around what it regards as six key challenges facing governance reform efforts:
1. How do we use political analysis to guide communication strategy in governance reform?2. How do we secure political will, which is demonstrated by broad leadership support for change? What are the best methods for reaching out to political leaders, policy makers, and legislators?3. How do we gain the support of public sector middle managers, who are often the strongest opponents of change, and then foster among them a stronger culture of public service?4. How do we build broad coalitions of influentials in favour of change? What do we do about powerful vested interests?5. How do we help reformers transform indifferent, or even hostile, public opinion into support for reform objectives?6. How do we instigate citizen demand for good governance and accountability to sustain governance reform?
I was amazed to find the following section in the introduction -
There is an iron triangle of stakeholders whose interests seem to converge mostly on business as usual - Economists in donor agencies, experts in consulting firms, and CEOs in large NGOs are well intentioned. But the natural inertia of modern large-scale organizations, together with residual affinities for the cult of expertise, threatens to halt progress toward people-centred development in its tracks.No doubt much of the threat, if one can call it that, lies in simply not knowing exactly what to do. Large-scale organizations need to change their best practices.
Academia has not been terribly attentive to this need, and those who control the spigot of funding are those whose thinking remains most determinedly technocratic.
Things are looking up at the World Bank! Read for yourself here

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