what you get here

This is not a blog which opinionates on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers to muse about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

The Bucegi mountains - the range I see from the front balcony of my mountain house - are almost 120 kms from Bucharest and cannot normally be seen from the capital but some extraordinary weather conditions allowed this pic to be taken from the top of the Intercontinental Hotel in late Feb 2020

Saturday, October 31, 2020

The Blog which keeps on giving…

Most of the mail I receive is from impersonal feeds – mainly from journals.

A letter from friend or family makes the day worthy of celebration. 

But every now and then there is a welcome post from one of my favourite bloggers eg Michael Robert’s Blog; or Mainly Macro – both of which specialise in economic commentary which I tend to skim very quickly – and another 4 I picked out for special mention in a recent update of my blogroll also focus on specialised subjects – as do, indeed, 99% of the blogs I know about…… I’ve occasionally wondered about this – once in 2014 and again last year in the post A Musing Decade when I asked 

What exactly do I mean when I say the blog is one of the longest-running “of its “kind”? Simply that the majority of blogs specialize in a particular topic - whether political commentary (yawn), book reviews (a popular subject), economics (ditto), Brexit, EC Law etc

Mine, however, darts like a butterfly to a variety of flowers. 

One blogpost which arrived this morning is always worth a close read – namely Canadian Dave Pollard’s powerfully-named “How to Save the World” and indeed is one of the very few other blogs which defies classification and which could be grouped in the “perennial” category I tried this week to claim for my own blog.

Having said that his blog defies specialisation, I then found myself immediately putting Pollard into categories by calling him both a “survivalist” and “radical non-dualist” (admittedly the phrase he uses to describe himself) And his blog certainly encourages such a labelling by grouping the people he follows into “others who write about collapse” and “radical non-dualists” 

His latest post was a typically thoughtful one sparked off by a recent interview with Frederic Laloux whose book “Reinventing Organisations” (2014) I summarised some years ago.

I would normally be pretty cynical about books with such titles – after the fiasco of the “reengineering movement” in the 1990s - but Laloux’s book looked to be a sober taking of stock of the literature on organisational excellence. And, unlike most business books, it clearly rated the notion of self-management very highly…..Laloux has been fairly quiet in the 6 years since his book was first published but, as this site and videos show, he has actually been very active   

Pollard’s post poses ten important questions which Laloux is now raising for the 2020s 

Frédéric is now asking himself and others to consider ten “revolutionary” questions to deal with the terrible crises now facing us, and the growing likelihood of large-scale collapse. All of these questions apply at both a personal and societal level:

·         Accepting unhappy truths: How can we recognize the wilful blindness we each have to “inconvenient” truths, and how can we re-train ourselves to appreciate and accept what is true even if it is not what we want to believe? It takes some intellectual courage, honesty, openness and patience to move to such a mindset.

·         Sitting with not knowing: How can we learn to admit we don’t know, and that there are no simplistic answers, so that we can then create a safe space to just sit with not knowing, with incomplete understanding, with uncertainty and ambiguity, and let possibilities emerge as we learn more, think more, and interact more, instead of rushing to resolution?

·         Admitting our powerlessness: How can we allow ourselves, especially if we’re in positions of authority, to admit that we are simply unable to solve the complex predicaments we are facing — that they are larger than all of us. That also entails breaking the co-dependency between “powerful” decision-makers (parents, bosses, preachers, and presidents) who thrive on that power and the fame and self-satisfaction it provides, and the “powerless” rest of us (who are often content to let the “powerful” shield them from any sense of obligation to make any decisions or take any actions to address what is happening).

·         Moving to blamelessness: How can we train ourselves not to blame complex predicaments on others’ actions or inaction, and to acknowledge that we’re all doing our best and that no one (and no group) is “responsible” for the crises we face? This requires letting others, and ourselves, off the hook before we start to work to address these crises. And it requires the terrifying acknowledgement that firing the boss, or the president, will not fix the predicament that has seemingly arisen under their watch.

·         Overcoming the fear of failure: How can we enable ourselves to push forward and not be paralyzed by the fear of what could go wrong and the potentially awful consequences? This need not require either exceptional courage or indemnification, but rather a collective shift in what we define as failure and how we assess others’, and our own, value, intentions and actions.

·         Giving ourselves permission: How can we move past waiting for the permission of “authorities” to take whatever action we (individually and collectively) feel must be taken to address big scary issues we care about?  [And do that while still recognizing that others are scared, conflict- and confrontation- and risk-averse, and that’s OK.]

·         Appreciating that waking people up isn’t enough: Now that many people are aware of the existential crises facing us, what more will it take to get all of us actually working on addressing these crises? It’s been a decade since Al Gore showed us beyond all doubt that merely waking people up to the reality of an “inconvenient truth” is not sufficient to lead to any meaningful action.

·         Understanding what we long for: Personally and collectively, how can we come to a better appreciation of what really matters to us, what on our deathbeds we will be most proud, or rueful, about, and why it matters, so that we can’t not act on achieving it?

·         Consciously and continually reassessing our role and purpose: How can we keep considering, every day, what else we could, individually and collectively, be doing right now that would be more useful, more joyful, more “on purpose” than what we’re currently doing? And, of course, then, why aren’t we doing that?

·         Reimagining our future as the journey of a lifetime: How can we overcome our resistance to thinking and acting on plans for a better future, when it seems so scary and hopeless, and see our future instead as a great adventure? If we’re inevitably into the sixth great extinction of life anyway, why not approach it with gusto and give it everything we’ve got? What have we really got to lose? What’s really holding us back? 

Asking these questions, first at a personal level, and then collectively, in our communities, in our workplaces, and as citizens of a world in collective peril: It’s a lot to ask!

We might well add an eleventh, meta-question: How can we learn to craft great questions? Great questions can help us, personally and collectively, engage in the conversations (the word conversation literally means “turning with”) needed to help the system (at whatever scale/scales possible) to self-correct. In other words, sometimes it’s enough just to ask the right question. 

You can listen to the interview itself here.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Between the Lines - IV

Drafting the brief intros to the series of this year’s posts I’ve been rerunning this week has been a useful exercise – at least for me. It’s encouraged me to express more clearly the philosophy behind the blog viz –

-      Reflective – taking distance from “current affairs”

-      Sceptical

-      Open – to deeper analyses

-      questioning the nature and effects of (social) media 

It’s interesting that the blog has taken recently to using the title “Whatever happened to??” to explore the sudden (and strangely unremarked) disappearance of a topic which used to be on everyone’s lips… 

We need to think more deeply about who’s pulling the strings of such intellectual fashions 

Today’s batch of posts somehow resonate with me– they may seem a bit fixated on the irrelevance of most books written by social scientists (except generic ones) but this serves only as a contrast with those written by David Graeber whose death has been such a tragedy for anyone with common sense.


Post Title - just click the title to get the post

Inspired by

The basic message


whatever happened to governance?

Realisation that no one was talking anymore about what was once a hot topic

did we actually learn anything from this abstract debate of the past 2 decades??

"Governance" as New Kid on the Block

Some material on networks

A reluctant concession that governments actually have to share power

why are political scientists so irrelevant?

Trying to find useful books

Penis envy has made academics in the field of political studies avoid interesting topics which are of public concern

Le Trahison des Clercs 

Asking the same question today which Benda did in the 30s

How few good non-fiction books there are 


Untypically short, almost poetic post

Keep them low

Fiddling while Rome is Burning

Continuing disappointment with non-fiction books

Ban the specialists who have never tasted other worlds

The Americans take no prisoners

US libertarian article goes over the top

and accuses all progressives of being Marxists

Some Advice for social activists

Street protests in Sofia

A great reading list

Links I liked


Includes review of  the “Hope Gap” film; and powerful excerpts from Martin Hagglund’s “This Life - secular faith and spiritual freedom”

This “scooping up” of odd hyperlinks is proving less easy than I thought? Why? Too scrappy?

Why do Economists talk Gibberish?

More people need to take this question seriously 

Recommendations for those who want economics explained in clear language

David Graeber RIP 

We lose one of our clearest prophets 25 years too early

Most of Graeber’s work can be read online free

Strategies for Governing

My most inspiring book of the decade

We need more skills of statecraft

So Isst die Welt – und musst nicht so sein

I try (again) to explain my fixation on public admin

Most of the literature is useless – a mere handful of books are worth reading

Links I liked

The German model; meritocracy; democracy by lot?

Some great reading recommendations

Another Landmark 

The blog hits 400,000 clicks

9 justifications for why blogging is good for you

Crowds and Power II


Another blog invites me to do a guest post about protests in Sofia – and I offer 4,000 words

The title is from a famous book by a Bulgarian émigré written in 1960 and the post looks at the varying success of street protests in the region

Crowds and Power !!!

how the past has 30 years have treated Bulgaria and Romania

Go back to Some Advice for social activists

Whatever Happened to Planning?

A dream; John Friedmann’s “Insurgencies – essays in planning theory”

It’s been absorbed in strategic thinking

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Le Temps Perdu – part III

Why do I persist with this little conceit of mine – pointing back to “Posts Past” – like Marcel Proust’s A La Recherche du Temps Perdu? Not just posts of previous years’ (see top right-hand corner of blog for list of titles you can access) – but even those I’ve inflicted on you so far this year? 

The answer is simple – this blog posts on “perennial” issues which repay study even years later. Very few of the 1,500 posts have dealt with “current affairs” – and then it has to be a pretty major issue eg the two UK Referenda - the 2014 one on Scottish Independence and the 2016 one on Brexit 

Current Affairs” is like a conjuring trick – our fixation on the action distracts our attention from the real levers of powerIndeed one of the French words for entertainment is “distraction” and, since the times of Celine and Guy Debord, the French have recognised the dangers posed by the “society of the spectacle”.

Americans have seen such disdain as elitist – with only Neil Postman’s “Amusing ourselves to Death” (1983), Jerry Mander’s “Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television” and Douglas Kellner’s various books daring to voice it 

This is the third in a series of this year’s posts I am listing this week in celebration of hitting the 1,500th post earlier in the month. It’s a fairly typical selection…. Starting with scepticism, moving on to groupthink, John Berger, capitalism, Human nature, intellectual history, hyperlinks to the world’s best English-speaking journals, the learning process, the role of the state…to…extinction…

Each post with a brief summary to tempt you in…

What more could you ask for???


Post Title - just click to access the post

Inspired by

The basic message


Musical interlude


Gavin Bryers

To soothe our souls

Scepticism and moral panic

courageous posts from a fellow-blogger

Newspaper headlines about Covid19 need to factor in deaths from normal flu; economic lockdown could be counterproductive

Critical Masses, naked Emperors and freebies

a question left hanging in a previous post


What happens when groupthink takes over – a popular post this one

Visual and other Links I Liked

images and spectacle - the weekly roundup

John Berger, Guy Debord and George Galloway (and an amazing mag resource) all figure in this whimsical collection

Back in the saddle


PC issue causes blog silence for a few weeks

Some important Covid19 analyses

Links I liked


A book explores a century of foretelling the end of capitalism; Bregman’s “Humankind”; and intellectual history

We need to think more about what and why  we think

My Day

a (rare) video conference; and a tabular presentation of the structure of a book I’m drafting

How young and self-confident academics are these days

Learning to Learn


A video on the learning process takes me back to my memories of lecturing and training

A polyglot reveals her secrets

Journals worth reading updated

A desire to share goodies

Although newspapers are in deep trouble, small mags seem to be thriving

Links I liked

A richness of links


Podcasts and videos

A Challenge to Financial Thinking

Robert Skidelsky is pouring the books out!

Political economy is the only useful way to approach economics

Money Talks - why we need a new Vocabulary of social change

“Capital Rules OK” – why can’t we come up with an acceptable word for our condition – neoliberalism? The Beast? Minotaur?

Capitalism is undermining what’s left of democracy

revised blogroll


Recognising the few deep, consistent bloggers

It was a bit invidious to select only 6 blogs – all 50 are worth a look!

We need to talk about...the state

Long Pankaj Mishra article in LRB

Covid has demonstrated that only a few states are strategically governed

Who's having a good Covid19 War?

Some political scientists actually giving us useful assessments of government performance

Neoliberalism has stripped the state of its capacity

Covid19 as a warning shot

some Reflections/Lessons from the Future

We face extinction