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, April 20, 2017

It's All About...Values

For almost 30 years I have been living in central european countries (actually seven of the years were in central Asia) and working on projects designed to adjust their administrative and political cultures to European (indeed ”global”) norms of transparency and accountability.
A battery of techniques (variations of ”stick”, carrot and moral rhetoric) has been used over this period - by a legion of missionaries and mercenaries from organisations such as the World Bank, OECD, the EC and private consultancies - to pursue this task.

I drew on my own experience to present in 2011 a detailed analysis - The Long Game – not the log-frame – with the title trying to summarise the main thrust of the paper’s argument that too much emphasis was laid on rationalistic techniques which didn’t fit the local context - and which were expected to deliver overambitious results in ridiculously short time-periods.
The paper coined the phrase ”impervious regimes” to suggest not only that the elites of these countries treated their citizens with utter disdain but that this was hard-wired into their DNA – ie that the underlying social values made it difficult for the elites to behave in any other way....

There was a further strand to the argument I have been conducting for more than a decade – namely that the management techniques imported into these countries by the missionaries and mercenaries (who have morphed into local experts) have given the ”power elite” a new weapon in the armoury used to keep citizens in servility....
I might indeed have added that the EC’s Structural Funds have also given a powerful additional boost to the corruption which had for so long been systemic in most of the countries....  

But I realised yesterday that this ”values” and ”path dependency” argument is far too static....after all, so much of my writing of the past 20 years has been about the moral corruption of our very own ”Western elites”  (see the latest version of Dispatches to the Next Generation) .....
This week I came across an important book by the famous Francis Fukuyama - which he had written in 1999 but which had passed me by - The Great Disruption – human nature and the reconstitution of social order and which is a critique of the loosening of our social fabric (and declining social trust) which he argued has been going on since 1965.
At first glance, it bears some similarities to Christopher Lasch’s The Culture of Narcissism which does, however, bear the curious sub-title “American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations”.

Both books are important correctives to the all-too-familiar refrain from “the West” that “the East” has some catching up to do….More importantly they touch on a theme central to this blog’s very existence – the tension between what I might call “the moral universe” and “technocracy”. Remember one of the quotations which grace this blog (if you scroll far enough down the right-hand boxes) – 
"We've spent half a century arguing over management methods. If there are solutions to our confusions over government, they lie in democratic not management processes" JR Saul (1992) 

The final section of The Long Game – not the log-frame was a rare attempt to place the unease we feel about management techniques in that wider moral universe......but this post has been long enough.....

Tomorrow I will try to pick up the argument where I seem to have left it all of six years ago........

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