Adventures with a Manic Managerialist

Check box

I always expected my interaction with the local council (Armidale Dumaresq in Northern New South Wales, Australia) would turn to frustration and anger, even before the journey began. Years ago, I supervised a PhD project that traversed the slopes of ‘expertocratic’ planning at the local government level. More specifically, this show was all about how the ‘expert’ mindset of local council professional planners was a real impediment to meaningful community engagement and genuine partnerships between community and council as the foundation for a sustainable future. The ‘I am an expert’, machine-management culture of Planners had become a disease endemic to the Planning profession. Our project was all about how to escape the debilitation of top-down management with which nearly all local councils have become thoroughly contaminated. 

Some councils are better than others. Some Planners know that working with community should be fundamentally different to working on people like some kind of clay on a potter’s wheel. You don’t have to apply the heat of law and adversarial process when you have genuine engagement. You don’t have to spend all your time in court when you work with, rather than against your constituency. Plus, and here is the biggie, when you have meaningful colaboration, you get a synergy of intellect to apply to problems and issues. More minds working together in harmony can often apply a more detailed understanding of the issues at hand and work towards finding solutions that are as robust as possible across the greatest possible diversity of interests and positions. In other words, better collaboration leads to more resilient communities. 

The place to start is to try and persuade those in charge that they do not, in fact, know everything. That the world does not work like a machine, and that the Planners’ job is not one of a mechanic working on the machinery of their local community to achieve some desired outcome. Planners are not ‘cog tinkerers’, mainly because, in nearly every possible planning scenario, at least some of the cogs and the mechanisms that drive any situation at hand are unknown or at best poorly understood. You can’t wrench on a machine if you don’t know how that machine works. But that mechanic analogy is a very tight fit to the way so many Planners operate. 

Once upon a time I was involved in a project to open up local government planning to creative community collaboration. The context for the work was an explicit recognition, on the part of those who funded our work, that the old engagement models of command and control were inappropriate for at least environmental and sustainable community work. So we set out to work with lots of communities on community visioning and the like with a view to articulating processes for meaningful engagement that might then underpin some re-writing of Planning guidelines and underlying rules. The whole show really started to shine via some extraordinarily positive community enthusiasm and endorsement. So much so that it soon became apparent that local communities, when meaningfully engaged, really do have a terrific capacity for creative futures planning. I use the word ‘terrific’ intentionally here as terror became increasingly obvious by way of reaction from the upper hierarchies of the Planning profession as our work progressed. it became ever more evident that effective community engaged planning would mean ever greater devolvement of planning activity and responsibility to the communities involved. If the processes of engagement, or the methods of collaboration are effectively managed, what you end up with is a highly creative, synergy driven super intelligence of talent through which to identify, understand, manage and organise local issues. Which implies the beginning of the end of the old machine manager mentality of conventional, old-school Planners and their bureaucracy. The first victim of creative community engaged planning is top down management. That is quickly replaced with what could be termed ‘discursive’ deliberative democratic process and associated governance. The feedback loops of information and communication weave right around all levels of the Planning show via a breathtaking complexity of animated engagement. Top to bottom engagement becomes meaningless. No one is in charge anymore in the old ‘Top-down’ command and control sense. No wonder, then, that the State Government level Planning department sponsoring our collaborative community planning work soon pulled the plug and disowned our work in short order. I have never seen a project divested of official support so quickly as that. The local authorities even stooped to the level of sending out a letter to the legions of community members who had participated in our work to suggest that we had ‘gone off the rails’ and that the future of that particular project was under ‘new management’. That work never went anywhere. The communities have never heard a word since. 

Our experiences and insights definitely do not spell the end of the expert. Rather, the role of the expert is transformed. The discipline of Planning and the discipline of management is just as important, but these disciplines are differently organised and differently implemented under genuinely collaborative planning process. Indeed, there is a key need for a new discipline to be added to the Planning portfolio: the discipline of engaged community facilitation. Facilitating community engagement is most emphatically not something ‘anyone’ can do. There are profound skills involved, including a thorough grounding in sociology, psychology and philosophy. This skill set needs its own university degree and accreditation programmes. I am always stunned by the abject ineptitude of Planners appointed to the facilitation of community engagement tasks. Usually, we get a suited expert equipped with a clipboard and an enthusiastic aid manning a flip board of butchers paper seeking to list audience needs and wants to be followed by some kind of communal prioritisation of the ensuing lists. This is an abjectly dysfunctional way of going about a task such as this. For starters, you will never, ever, get any kind of meaningful community representation in gatherings such as this. Next, those with the loudest voices (and or those with the most to gain/loose) will shout their contributions to such lists over the top of any and all other potential interests in the room. But, worst of all, this listing process completely, and artfully, dodges all possibilities for the creative synthesis across the points represented in such lists. The possibilities for merging and synergising across different individual’s priorities and concerns are lost. The possibilities for really getting to know and understand why it is that two different people or groups can have such opposed viewpoints is a difference to be explored, not sorted via arbitrary voting protocols. Why do two people hold opposite viewpoints? What are the fundamentals of these differences? We have found, time and time again, that seemingly opposite viewpoints often become simply two ways of expressing the same set of preferences once those differences are systematically explored. ‘Systematic’ is the keyword. There is a process and skill set involved in managing a conversation such as that. The expert with his flip board assistant may not have the ideal skill seat to catalyse that kind of infinitely revealing dialogue. 

To foreshorten a book that could be written around these themes and my experiences in this regard (which I am, indeed, currently writing), I would simply say at this point that the old command and control, machine manager mentality of Planning is alive and well in the Planning community and, particularly, within the Council with which I have recently had ‘dealings’. 

My particular dealing was over a simple rural residential development application. Nothing could be more straight forward, I had thought. If ever there was a rubber stamp to be applied this particular exercise would be the most likely candidate. But we all came unstuck when the Planner-in-Charge discovered that the historical road that would access the new house site also services the residence of one of our rural neighbours. Though the road is entirely on our land, our neighbours had managed  (50 years ago) to derive a ‘residential benefit’ exclusive to themselves. Which implies that we could not use that road to access our new house, even though the road is on our land. Though there was no objection from those neighbours of any kind to us using the road ourselves, our Planner-in-Charge decided that there could be contestation over access (even when there was no contestation of any kind) so denied our application unless we chose to build a new access road. My proposal to build a new road exactly parallel to the existing road, with a metre or so separating them, was not interpreted as the sarcastic response I had intended. 

The point to be made here is that, once again, when faced with even a slightly complex issue, all possibilities to determine a solution via engaged collaborative process were dismissed by this Planner with a dismal incapacity to even notice shades of grey between the ‘pass’ – ‘fail’ check boxes of his planning routine. Indeed, the only possibility for engaged discussion across all parties involved was, apparently, one of full legal adjudication. A process of discussion across already amicably disposed parties (us and our friendly neighbours) was not considered to be a meaningful foundation for  resolution. Rather, our Planner-in-Charge could conceive of no other possibility than pushing parties inclined to simple negotiation into the adversarial setting of the legal system. What were once a group of neighbours, if not friends, would be put to each other’s throats and into the cess pit of outrageously expensive legal arbitration. Why should two parties be forced to arbitrate over an issue that had not been an issue before this Planner became involved. At no stage did this Planner or his Planning cohort suggest or even, I suspect, conceive of the merest prospect that simple discussion across all involved parties could resolve what really is a very trivial problem. 

My simple development application case study reveals an endemic dysfunctionality in the Planning profession. The context of my group’s larger community planning work suggests the problem is a culture of managerialism at work within local government Planning. Managerialism is a disease that inflicts managers with an incapacity to understand real world systems as being complex, and as such, as being something more difficult to manage than the mechanisms of a clock. The invocation of the command and control perspective of management over people-involved planning situations is a tragedy given the modern political and bureaucratic rhetoric that would raise the necessity for ‘community participation’ in policy and governance to the highest possible priority. Indeed, the necessity to work effectively with communities of all kinds is actually embedded in the core planning legislation that governs Planning and policy making at local, state and federal levels. The simple problem here is one of mismatching professional capabilities with the job at hand. A manager with a command and control mindset should be appointed to tasks no more complex than the organisation of departmental coffee breaks or the organisation of the executive staff Car Park. They should never be unleashed on the public, particularly within the context of a job description that actually demands sensitive and effective collaborative engagement as the setting through which to transact client interaction. 

But most perversely of all, this council with which I have had such a frustrating engagement is one that had won a planning award for the machine-management system of check box planning that their chief planner had instituted late last century. I always delight in suggesting that the ultimate outcome of effective machine management is management by machine. Thus rendering those very machine managers redundant. 

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A Very Necessary Revolution

Pardon my noise… But just like everyone else, I have an opinion on the taxing state of carbon that is at least as partially informed as anyone else’s. Perhaps slightly less so, given the investment of a quarter of a lifetime in the ecological economics game. Perhaps not. You don’t have to read this after all…

As some might know, the current Australian Federal Government (to provide all its capitalisations, despite the fact that that Government is really nothing more than a Coup…) has recently launched itself into the carbon tax game. The aim is to deliver the world’s first and best testimony to political responsibility following the occasion of the failed Copenhagen Climate Change Summit of 2009.

But the negotiations thus far to sequester a policy on carbon pricing are much more of a testimony to the failures of human kind when it comes to humans paying any kind of mind to humans other than their individual selves. Self interest, in other words, is rising to the top in these discussions just like the sludge in an overused septic tank. Self interest applies here just like it does to the passage of traffic through a roundabout. The rules of roundabouts and the rules applying to this particular exercise in policy making go something like this: ‘I am here. I matter most. Give Way applies to everyone but me’.

Now in the classical economics game, we have a long track record in ascribing all kinds of powers to the objective force of the marketplace. Let the market rule. The marketplace will sort things out. Rewards go to the most efficient, and appropriately undisguised signalling (think of an oncoming steam train) goes to those who need to get out of the way. Once upon a time, an economic instrument like, say, a carbon tax, would simply be imposed and, if the policy settings that underpinned it were even vaguely well-considered, the market would head off approximately in the direction intended. More or less. With policy tuning via legions of bureaucrats to steer as we go. We know any policy will be incompletely considered as even economists know less than all that’s needed to be known about the situation at hand. Thus, we expect the repair-as-we-go approach is what will happen. That’s why we spend billions and billions on those legions of bureaucrats who weave and cast their way though the fertiliser of tax payer tenured salaries.

But as politicians find themselves in ever more marginal electoral positions, their bravery to launch policies of the more experimental kind diminish in direct proportion with the margins they hold. So, given that this current Australian Federal Government is one of the most precarious of recent times (being a Coup founded on alliances between Labor, a Green Party completely unused to be taken seriously and a bunch of intellectually feeble independent nutters – an assortment of religious and rural fundamentalists) you’d have to wonder at the strategic merit of launching a policy of such heroic proportions as a carbon tax. It must have been obvious from the start that any policy made in an environment such as this will be more bandaid than a thick skinned instrument through which market forces might wield their way.

A bandaid policy is what it has become. So much so that you really have to wonder at what madam Prime Minister’s actual intentions might be.

Right now, that great fundamental bulldozer of human-caused climate change, the coal industry, is making a case for its exemption from the tax! The sheer unmitigated gall of that pox of an industry to take such a stance is simply breathtaking; but completely expected. The problem is that under present circumstances of enfeebled government empowerment, the Coal Industry is likely to get its way. But there is more! All those wonderful family folk out there who fume up the environment with their cars are to be exempted as well. As will be any ‘small business’ operating in situations of less than carbon neutrality (what ever that might mean). So, who is this tax actually going to impact on? And what was the point of such a policy in the first place?

Let’s go back to basics. The entire point of delivering an instrument of change into a marketplace that generates climate changing ‘externalities’ is to mitigate those externalities to some kind of a lesser degree. The idea is to make it more expensive to gas up the planet, and reward practices and lifestyles that are of a more environmentally agreeable nature. Putting it another way, the idea is to change the behaviour of all players in the climate change game – that is, you, me, and the coal industry, just to name three. The idea of an economic instrument is to bluntly exert influence through the pain reception centres of the hip pocket nerve. This saves all that appealing to the ‘common good’ and related moralising that would seek to change behaviour if we chose to work outside the machinery of the marketplace. Because, after all, it’s way too hard to build policies that appeal to our sense of right-doing, right-thinking as the primary motivating force. We know the difficulties likely through such a course whenever we enter a roundabout…

But with all the fragility of the current political marketplace right now, our Prime Minister may actually do better by appealing to the moral virtues of her constituents than proceeding with what will be one gigantic bodged blight of a patchwork policy as this carbon tax is going to become. I, for one, will simply seethe with resentment as I watch the plutocratic coal and oil industries smirking at us from the bogs they are making of a planet we and every other species currently share.

Personally, I would vastly prefer to attack the climate change problem set outside the instruments of that very market place that created the issues we face in the first place. Any policy instrument as bandaided as that with which the Australian Government is currently involved is likely to make matters worse; by taking the heat off that now almost comatose sense of self-responsibility that has caused human-caused climate change in the first place. With ‘households’ (or ‘family’s, with whom our Government appears to be endeared), the coal industry, the oil industry and every other major agent of destruction involved in this current environmental war taken off the hook, we, the actual perpetrators can sit back and blame whoever or whatever the residual industry this new tax will actually hit once all the power haggling is done. We can revert to now officially sanctioned complacency for ever more (until the seas rise and the tropics take over the alps…). Rather, what needs to be done is to rub the noses of ALL users of our global climate roundabout to the fact that every single player is facing a Give Way sign, all at the same time. There’s a few good ways to catalyse change of this kind. The easiest is to let the system fail and hope that the survivors will, finally, find an existence that actually works with the Gaia our generation has despoiled. Or, we could start to actually use the power of engagement that current communicative technologies have enabled. Maybe it’s time for a new era of deliberative democracy, powered and empowered through a grassroots surge of serious self-responsibility taking. If that sounds a bit arcane, the opposite actually applies. All this means is that we need to dismantle the failed old-school top-down managerialist model of big policy making and empower the bottom-up instead. Grass roots revolutions of the most necessary kind. Arab Spring. Cultural shifts. We all face a Give Way sign when it comes to managing the planet we share.


Martyrs to the Religion of the Market Place

Listening to a future of small farming forum on Late Night Live the other day reminded me that, despite over a hundred years of furious and convoluted oceans of internal debate, economics is still being represented to the rest of the world as a seriously sorted bunch of uncontestable universal laws.

Politicians have become ‘second hand priests’ proclaiming truths from notions that should more appropriately be regarded as contested propositions. When communities and traditions are allowed to fail on the justification of truths that may or may not be truths at all, the pain they are forced to bear might be a pain that impacts, ultimately, even more on the rest of us. It all depends on which particular version of advice is applied to guide the policy maker’s axe.

You can listen to the proceedings of this forum or watch the movie… (recommended for students of body language or, perhaps, those who like to form their impressions of pervasive insincerities and barely disguised contempt – through watching the subtle signals from the faces of those involved).

Listen in to hear just how many times the imperatives of the ‘market place’ were raised to the status of gospel truth via the responses of the ‘Minister for Everything’ to any and every complaint raised from the floor. Listen carefully and you will hear the exasperation in host, Philip Adam’s reactions to what that Minister Bryan Green (Deputy Premier and Primary Industries Minister in Tasmania – also minister for Water, Energy, Resources, Planning, Racing (!) and Veterans Affairs) had to say.

In summary, it would seem that the failings of small landholders are, in effect, perceived to be an inevitable sacrifice to the ‘better ordered economic affairs’ that can only ensue through the inevitability of larger, more sensible economic scale. Politicians need to be brave and uphold the universal Truth of efficiency: bigger is better. Smaller is less efficient. Efficiency rules. If the signal is to get bigger or get out, then getting out is the way to go. Oh, it’s all very very sad, and we really do feel your pain, but suck it up, boys, your demise is for the greater economic good. That’s how someone schooled from the so-called ‘Neo-Classical’ or economic rationalist tradition might interpret and advise on these particular matters at hand.

I am not quite the ‘econoclast’ I might appear to be. I spent 25 years exploring the nuances of heresy which have inspired excitements within the economics profession for over a hundred years. Most people don’t realise just how diverse a field economics really is. It seems that very, very few, of even those within the game, are aware of all the different ‘schools’ of economic thought that might inform how we interpret and deal with ‘adjustment issues’ of the kind outlined above. Institutional Economics, Ecological Economics and the so-called Austrian School are three other economic traditions that might context an entirely different character of advice from the dominant Neo-Classical school. Each school has its own traditions, journals, heirarchies and leading personalities. Each can legitimise its own ideosyncratic positions; each can critique the insights derived through alternative points of view with equal and opposite conviction – at least to those from within each particular tradition. Like religion, each ‘tribe’ can become a passion of deep but distinctive conviction. Each tribe self-referentialises the validity and importance their disciples imagine they should have. Some more than others… Neo-Classical economics is the master at that particular game.

My issue here is why most of the thinking that underpins rural adjustment issues of this kind continues to be dominated, overwhelmingly, by the Neo-Classical, economic rationalist school. But worse than that, I am always astounded by how amateurishly (cynically, naively, and fundamentally ignorant of the specific situations addressed) their economic prescriptions are devised and presented. And worse still, without recognition that alternative positions could, with equal conviction, be devised by their counterparts outside the dominant paradigm. I can see little justification for the privileging the insights that prevail from the Neo-Classical school over those from, say, their Institutionalist counterparts. And when can we expect the perspectives of Ecological Economists to see daylight any time soon?

I have an undergraduate economics degree delivered exclusively (manically – with religion-like fervour) by disciples of the Neo-Classical school. I have a PhD informed by the Institutional Economics perspective. And I directed a university research group that promulgated the Ecological Economics perspective for 10 years. From observation of just these three schools, I can most emphatically state that the Neo-Classical school is, by far, the most insular and non-reflexive of the three (no introspection on underlying philosophies or tenants of the principles they proclaim). I distinctly recall being thrown out of my first teaching position once my perspectives shifted to Institutional Economics. Ecological Economics was the final straw. And that’s not just at the particular university with which I was involved. Prejudices and a profound disinclination to explore the borders of alternative points of view is an endemic academic curse, in most parts of the world.

Let me try to summarise thee different takes that might apply to the consideration of the small landholder issues discussed on Late Night Live. The Neo-cCassical tradition would, as outlined above, be inclined to simply ‘let the market work’. The Institutionalist tradition would focus on how those small landholders interact via cause and effect into the wider economy within which they sit. They would seek ‘pattern models’ of interaction through which to inform judgements of what could be done. Much of the patterns they would review would NOT be reduced to simple quantitative, stick-figure like representations of the kind so encouraged by their Neo-Classical counterparts. And those patterns would certainly not be reduced, necessarily, to the uniform metric of money. Interventions might be proposed without recourse to the vaguest consideration of changes in net stakeholder wealth! The Ecological Economics perspective would, of course, contemplate how the economic and ecological dimensions of the situation under review might interact. Both dimensions are considered as two components of the same integrated whole. Once again, money might not be the metric through which to decide on what to do.

The Neo-Classical tradition is, by tradition of practice all about the simplification of choices down to uniform values that can be ranked and measured. Choices are reduced to facilitate the application of particular decision making instruments (hence, ‘instrumental rationalism’). That kind of game is particularly amenable to third party decision support. Namely, if a policy maker is particularly naive, he or she can be convinced that a choice that is anything but, can be construed as a simple case of yes or no.

I know enough about neo-classical economics to know that a fixation on over-simplification is not a necessary or compulsory mandate for those charged to provide advice. There are layers upon layers of assumptions that pertain to each and every choice economists of this persuasion are called upon to consider. A GOOD economist will consider those assumptions very carefully. A GOOD economist will write all those assumptions down and context all advice through their explicit recognition. Assumptions should remain attached to all advice right down to the most succinct of executive summaries. But that is rarely the case. Whether by negligence on the economist’s part, or through the intervening filters of the bureaucracy, the context of prevailing assumptions tends to be ruthlessly, and systematically removed. Politicians are now accustomed to receiving advice with all shades of grey removed. They are accustomed to now viewing their choices just in black and white. Which is both a tragedy and a shame. The tragedy is that, in many cases, the careful consideration of those excised assumptions might recommend an entirely alternative choice. The shame is that removing the assumptions will frequently remove the source of a wonderful laugh. You see, some of the assumptions of Neo-Classical economics are astonishingly absurd. Like the one that suggests we (farmers) should be and are just simple profit maximising machines. Or that choices are valued in simple linear terms (more is good, much more is much better; ten bicycles are ten times as much fun as just one). And best (worst) of all, feedback does not exist (or is at least assumed away because considering it is just too hard). Everything in our wonderfully curvaceous 3D this-effects-that-and-that-effects-this-all-the-way-back-again world is reduced to just a simple uni-directional line.

So, if Mr Green is advocating some plan of ‘natural unassisted attrition’ for the small farming community for which he has a duty of care, he is either astonishingly ill-advised or has some other agenda which he has not shared. I favour the former. Because I have witnessed the policy making process first hand for many, many years. Both here and throughout the world. Economists are in the very least negligent through underplaying the assumptions they have used. Cultures are at stake. Regional emergence – and even the character of our civilisation is at stake. And, via some fascinatingly complex feedback links, so to is the ecological foundations that sustain activities that generate our money. For instance, if we are to replace small farming with concentrated larger economies of scale, or even monocultures over diversified agricultural production systems, how will the ecological systems that sustain us fare? Are these things simply to be ignored. They are certainly outside the metric that Neo-Classical economics has a capacity to consider (via the tools economists of that kind are inclined to use). A GOOD economist, even of the Neo-Classical kind, should SHOUT the limitations and assumptions of the advice they provide. Choices should be shrouded in IF’s and BUT’s to a torrential degree. The decision maker should NEVER be misled to imagining that theirs is a simple choice to make. Ever. Unless you are in the business of constructing clocks, choices are never, ever a matter of yes or no. Choices are never, ever, black and white.

Rather than the unidirectional conversation we witnessed on the occasion of this small farming forum, what should have been considered was an interactive all-around learning exchange. No one position or point of view should ever be privileged above all the rest. Every perspective has some insight to add. And ALL perspectives should be open to evolution and emergence through effectively facilitated deliberation and consideration. Even that of Mr Green. The Economist’s job is much reduced in a setting such as that. The economist’s job is to present just a limited piece or two of a much larger puzzle to be considered. The economist’s job should never be to dominate discussions such as these. The economist’s perspective is limited and marginal, at best.

Are we to assume, then, that the persistence of perverse, blinkered, and yes, fundamentalist thinking of the kind evidenced by Mr Green, and just about every other politician we can observe with interests (at least) in regional development, is only a consequence of poor and unprofessional advising on the part of economists? If not, who is to blame? Because this kind of ‘reductionist’ thinking (reducing necessary rich complexity to the stupidity of digital-like ‘yes/no’ decision making) is so astoundingly generic in society these days, we must assume that there’s something much worse going on.

My thinking on this is that all humans, me included, are more comfortable with decision making when a stormy ocean of frequently conflicting signals that pertain can, somehow, be rendered down to a more finite, simpler set of criteria to consider. Simpler makes the brain hurt less… It’s vastly easier to choose from a menu of five or fewer choices than five thousand or more. It’s vastly easier to assume that our advisers have grappled with all that nasty complexity for us. Our job is then to simply empower that trust and chose from the options presented. That’s what most Ministers do when dealing with difficult choices. That’s why we have legions of advisors backing up each key political office. It’s perfectly true that the human brain is finite in terms of the detail we can take on board through which to inform the decisions we make. It would seem that some people’s brains are more inclined to simplicity than others… Via the modern culture of ‘managerialism’ (wherein the complexities confronting and characterising any organisation are fallaciously reduced to the delusional simplicity of running a clock-like machine) managers everywhere seek to reduce the depth and breadth of the information we really need to make decisions, more and more the higher up the decision making chain we go. So much so that the person in charge could, in essence, be simply replaced by a switch. With a culture like that, the siren call of ‘reductionism’ to which Neo-Classical economics is so prone, is an offer that’s usually too hard to refuse.

If the desire is for simplicity, as fallacious and dangerous as that desire might be, then those economist charlatans who would ignore their duty of care to context all their advice with an appropriate accounting of assumptions and limitations, will always find favour in decision making circles. Institutional economists have a harder time breaking into the domain of public policy making. Their advice is almost always a study in context, the very antithesis of reductionism. They cannot provide simplistic advice. They always test the patience of politicians and managers hell bent on managerialising the systems under their command. That’s partly why Neo-Classical economics remains the dominant school in public decision making these days. That’s why Institutional Economics remains as an essentially academic pursuit.

Even Ecological Economics has a harder time in breaking into prime time decision support. The interlinked dimensions of economy and ecology is one dimension too many for many managers who we have over-empowered these days. True Ecological Economics (rather than the cynically rebranded environmental economics to which that domain is so tragically drifting) is never about the reduction of all ecological concerns down to the metric of money. True Ecological Economics is a ‘transdiscipline’; a meta discipline of synthesis and synergy releasing insights above and beyond what either discipline could illuminate alone. Synthesis and synergy releases a richer picture through which to context choices; so once again, reductionist decision makers will feel annoyed.

I have contempt for those economists who, knowing the limitations of whatever perspective they follow, still play the game of simplification and placation so that their name will be known and their voice heard. That, in my book, is the true terrorism of this age. They discredit their profession and disservice the society of which they are a part. Part of this blame can be fairly attributed to academic economists who train each generation of decision makers with a stripped-down, over-simplified ‘economics for dummies’ training programme. I’ve seen economics courses pitched at science majors that are so over simplified as to present an entirely toxic perspective on what economics really is all about. If an economics teaching programme can’t accommodate a comprehensive accounting of assumptions/axioms and limitations, that programme should simply not be offered. There is no such thing as the ‘fundamentals of economics’. I know lots of economics professors who don’t even have a basic grasp of the diversity that their field embraces. I know lots of economic professors who submerge themselves in a spiral of ever tighter marginal contribution to an ever tighter sub-sub domain of the economics game. They higher their pay, the ever more marginal their contribution tends to become. We need economist teachers of the other kind to teach decision makers what it is they need to know. We need more generalists, and ever fewer specialists in a world where decisions are always broader in spectrum than any single discipline could ever accommodate. The economics teaching profession is, in my view, in need of a total overhaul.

Re-engineering the teaching side of economics is probably the most strategic lever to pull towards improving public decision and policy making. That decision makers like Mr Green can sit by and let ‘the market’ destroy small farming communities for the sake of toxically simplistic economist mantras of market efficiency and the like is an overwhelming indicator that something is seriously wrong with the processes and substance of politics these days. The character of public decision making needs to change. Changing the way we teach our decision makers is a sensible and fundamental priority for improving all our prospects into the long term.

As E F Schumacher (roughly aligned to the Institutional Economics domain) advocated so convincingly a long time ago, small is beautiful when it comes to managing the future of our regions and local communities. There are huge economic, social and environmental virtues from propagating the small as beautiful in the face of the all-consuming voracious appetites of ugly global corporate greed. It’s about time that our politicians and their advisers should aspire to positions and postures that are vastly less naive. Maybe this means that instead of standing back and allowing the small farmers of Tasmania to disappear, the Government of Mr Green should proactively invest (not necessarily just money) in their sustained future.


Planning My Place

Consider a desert. Make that a featureless desert of endless sand dunes, each indistinguishable from all the rest.

Now, consider the opportunity you might have been given to take ownership of one small bit of this endless sea of sand. Let’s say you have been allocated 100 square meters to call your own. So you take out some pegs and place them on the GPS coordinates your friendly land authority may have provided. You rope off your bit from all the rest. Now stand in the middle of your kingdom. What, apart from these pegs distinguishes this place from the rest of the place within which it sits? If you took away those pegs, and your GPS, do you think you’d be able to recognise your particular place in the sand if you came back in a week or so? Probably not. There’s not much to feature your place as a Place apart from all the rest.

So, what makes a place a Place? Something with which to identify; something to make the place your Place. Maybe a home. Maybe just a tree. Or a termite mound. It doesn’t really matter if the only person who recognises your Place is you; what matters is the identity you build with that Place in your mind or in the minds of those with whom you might share that Place. Your Place might be a favorite camping spot beside a river; or a spot where you might have been thrown from your horse; or the Place separated from all similar Places by the presence of your workplace desk; or farm.

For years I have lived on a farm. This farm is like every other farm and there are farms adjoining farms as far as you can drive in a day. Of course, my farm is my farm; my farm is my Place. But my sense of place might only extend to our boundary fence without the presence of some kind of community space. Consider the village store. We have one of those. While the village store might belong to some person who calls that store his particular Place, the store is effectively a shared common ground across all those farmers within a half hour drive or so. This store is a bit like the shaded cross-over venn diagram core connecting a whole mess of otherwise separated Places. It is the hub of a wheel of Places that would otherwise barely connect. The spokes of this wheel are the journeys we all need to take to get to the hub, and back again.

The village itself is nothing but a collection of about ten houses relatively closer together than anywhere else in a neighbourhood of farms. If you came across this village, you’d probably not recognise it as such until you noticed the store. With the store in place, the local authorities agreed to locate a telephone box, a park bench, and a public amenities buildings all close by. There’s even a small church. People from outside the Place stopped for drinks. So the store keeper added a bar. And then they became a pub. A public Place. We who live around here identify ourselves to this Place (it’s called Wollomombi). When I am asked ‘where are you from’, I could give the name of my farm, but that would draw a blank. So I tell people I am from ‘Wollomombi’, despite the fact that getting there involves a 45 minute drive (or a one hour overland mountain bike ride). I live in a rural Place and the Place is identified by the presence of this village and the village is defined by the presence of it’s store.

It’s a curious thing, but there’s another Place within a 45 minute drive from where I live. This time, it’s an officially designated ‘city’ called Armidale. Instead of a village of 10 houses, Armidale is a Place where 20,000 people live and work. It even has it’s own university (as sadly managerialist blighted, tenth rate of a place). No one I know around where I live identifies with that city Place. Though there are plenty of journey spokes we all travel down to visit that particular hub, it’s such an alien urban Place that those spokes don’t really seem to connect from the Places on our rural rim. Our rural identities are sustained when we head off to the Wollomombi store. But when we visit Armidale, we have to get all dressed up and feel compelled to ‘citify’ our rural minds. There’s a real cultural divide to be negotiated when we travel into town. It’s a Place with its own cultural rules; its own protocols through which individuals engage. There are no traffic lights in the Places we Wollomombi people live! Or roundabouts; or regulated parking, or multi laned roads, for that matter. Despite its claims to be otherwise, Armidale is not a rural town. It’s just like any suburb of Sydney, or Tokyo. That Place is not my Place.

Yes, we all spend lots of money in that big city Place (in my case, mostly at the local bicycle store…). And that City Place keeps on delivering bills we rural people have to pay; particularly rates from the local Council (rates pay the salaries of those who levy the rates we have to pay via an endless wheel of otherwise worthless city-serving enterprise).

All of which leads me to an observation worthy of note. I once led a team of researchers (at that local university which, then, was much better than tenth rate…) who roamed far and wide asking people in all manner of Places what it was that they think made their place a Place. Because once we understand what it is that makes a place a Place we can then, and only then, start to imagine where that Place might be wanting to grow and go (or maybe just stay the same in a robustly resilient kind of way). Nearly everywhere we went we found that people had rarely, if ever, given such matters much thought. People identify with Places in very intuitive ways. Our job was to tease their thoughts out and share them about; to develop pictures of the Place with which the whole group could identify. The results were always, invariably, enlightening to those who took part. I never met anyone who thought the exercise to be a waste of time. Indeed, these collaborative conversations almost always helped to cement notions of Place to the point where identifying future pathways became almost automatic. We called this practical community-driven regional development planning. All we ever had to do was catalyse conversations around the notion of Place. The people would then take it from there. No bureaucrats need to be involved. No professional planners need to drive this kind of development machine. It’s low cost and ruthlessly effective.

Until the bureaucrats decide to intervene.

We seem to be living in an era of big ‘P’ Planning. Planning with credentials, sixteen levels of bureaucracy, procedures manuals and an ocean of policy through which to keep the entire show on its rails; linear, direct, command and control rails bound by policy steel. The planning my group sought to catalyse was small ‘p’ planning. Because the planning was handed over to the people who self-identified with their Places rather than to those from outside. The job for small ‘p’ planning is for Place-based groups to plan their interface with the bureaucracies with which they choose to strategically engage (to engineer the outcomes they decide to pursue).

The deal for big ‘P’ planning is entirely the other way around. There, the credentialed planners turn up and declare the rules of the game. A game which which the locals will probably never, ever, identify. The inevitable response is the over-priveliging of that local few who always volunteer to offer their views and demand the right to be heard on matters concerning mainly themselves. We all know the kind… I’ve heard these types described as the local ‘gazelles’. Those who take the running of local affairs. The problem here is that the Places these gazelles seek to represent are represented only by the impressions of Place that the gazelles hold for themselves. There is never any attempt to elicit a shared notion of Place. Or, indeed, who might actually identify with the Places involved.

All of which, in turn, contexts a process I am watching in this city Place next to the rural other Place where I live. I am watching a government sponsored regional planning process constituted through policy and implemented through bureaucracy. I am watching the head of our local university conversing with these big ‘P’ planning officials holding their inner sanctum regional Planning discussions with a view to delivering some kind of regional progress plan. This Plan will seek to ‘make’ the university locally relevant! They say. They will brainstorm a list of regional planning priorities and channel available funds and resources down funnels of their own exclusive design. The result will signify nothing and do nothing for anyone but them. Key performance indicators will be tick boxed off and notes duly noted in the official minutes. Money will be spent and no one will notice the difference. They’ll probably even erect a sign beside the main road. That’s big ‘P’ planning at work!

The worst thing to observe from this parable of mine is that it is all actually real. Regional planning really works this way. There’s a word for the big ‘P’ planning approach. That word is ‘managerialism’ (managing a world imagined as a machine). Managerialism is probably the most odious, obnoxious, dangerous and insidious disease facing the world today. Managerialism ensured the worst possible outcome from the Global Financial Crisis. Managerialism has given us sixteen layers of government through which to strangle every possible attempt for communities to self-articulate themselves. Managerialism, perversely, killed my local university research group from it’s community-endorsed small ‘p’ planning endeavours. Managerialism explains why our politicians can speak only in a language of platitudes and the convoluted non-sense of marketing spin. The machinery of governance is now too complicated to understand, let alone direct in any kind of meaningful way. The whole world of planning is now restricted to the one set of rails; a steel band of unbreakable connection between command and control all the way down the line.

And all of which, again, contexts my concern that the store in my local village has just shut it’s doors. There’s a store there no more. The houses are still there, so is the telephone box, and the church. The main road now by-passes a hamlet without any kind of public enterprise. What will happen now? Will the Place become a faded place and loose all our well trodden Place-making spokes? Or will the local bureaucrats turn their attentions to the Place and turn it into another kind of place through which to self-validate their master plan? It’s time for a local meeting, I think. Before the bureaucrats turn our Place into some place else rather than the Place of space with which the locals can continue to identify.


Mind Matters

Any who saw the fist film in the Matrix trilogy series would no doubt remember that great ‘moment’ when human kind has been reduced to the status of bio-batteries to power the mad world of the robots-in-charge. Everything we think we see, feel, and know is an implanted delusion.

Imagine that! Everything you see and think you know is fake; a construction implanted in your brain. We are all living a reality scripted for us by the bots in charge.Your favourite music: fake. Your favourite book: fake. Your family, your friends, your personal memories: all fake, fake, fake.

And before the Matrix, there was Arnie Schwarzenegger’s Sci-Fi film, Total Recall. Do you remember that moment when the lab technicians in charge of designing our hero’s virtual reality holiday asked: (I paraphrase) what’s the one thing that always goes with you on holiday? What’s the one thing that you can never leave behind (and thereby reducing your prospects for a really good time)? You! Of course. You can never take a holiday from yourself. You will always be there in the background writing the script and filtering your experiences. You take your baggage and re-create your personal miseries someplace else. Some holiday… You can’t BE someone else and live an experience through the eyes of someone else; unless you invest in that premium virtual reality Total Recall holiday plan…

Both these film propositions are two sides of the same existential coin. This thing we call ‘me’ or ‘I’ is always there driving our mental car (and what a lousy driver ‘me’ or ‘I’ can be).

What would we become if we did indeed take a holiday from ourselves; or if we woke up from our role as a power supply for the Matrix? Who or what would be peering from our eyes? Would we then be like a tree? Or would we see the world like a Kangaroo?

But consider this. And many do. Consider the notion that we could observe the observer who is seeing the world through our very own eyes. Imagine you are watching yourself via spy cam. Consider yourself to be clinically observing yourself in a rampaging rage. Or in the process of getting upset. Or retreating under the weight of monumental injustices. There you are, silently watching this real-time video show starring yourself living the raw life out to a script that you are writing as the world goes on.

That’s what Buddhists do. That’s what philosophers have pondered since philosophy began. That’s what we usually fail to do when the rage/pain builds to a flood. We stop watching; we become. Some never watch, some never see. Some, or could that be most?, just play to the script without ever knowing there’s a plot to play.

The constructions of the mind start from birth. From the moment we are born we start constructing the sense of self to which all matters are referred, through which all matters are interpreted and which directs our responses; at a speed no computer can emulate. Like an onion, we add layers and layers of detail to this construction of our selves. Our constructions are always changing, always moving; but the layers are all still there. You can mine yourself to re-play the self you perhaps once held yourself to be. But what if we could play back to that very first layer? Back to that layer before all the neurotic bits got added in… To see the world again with an intelligence unclouded by the indulgences of an ego in perpetual need of validation or flattery!

Some people are in perpetual search for self-validation. It seems that some of us are very insecure about the constructions of selfhood with which we have been busy since birth. We crave evidence that our vision of ourselves is shared by at least those who matter most to us. Some of us devote our entire lives, or at least careers, to building fortifications around doubt that the image we seek to portray is the image picked up by those who choose to look. If, for example, your self image is one of ‘success’, you might surround yourself by the sort of toys that our society’s collective meme for ‘success’ might usually entail. Like expensive cars, towering houses, expensive suits, a villa someplace that attracts others with a similar affliction for external validation. There’s an entire economy devoted to providing all that any person could ever possibly need by way of fortifications for personal pride…

The games we sometimes play to project our self image can get pretty subtle. Even those who profess to be ‘in charge’ of their inner ego delusions can end up playing the same game as the diamond tiara BMW set. Beware the pseudo monk in saffron sitting in his cave. Can we be sure that he’s not projecting a display through which to tell the world about his imagined purity of mind? We can be truly taken in by monks claiming control over the delusions of a self-made mind.

But there is something we can all do to control the rampages of our ego inner-child. All we have to do is simply know that the things we do might be driven by neuroses of this kind. All we need to do is to simply know that we all hold an ego-beast within the confines of our minds. All we need to do is to know that the beast is in perpetual need of escape and display. All we need to do is to maintain a watching eye over the workings of our mind. That’s called being ‘reflexive’ of what it is that is driving the thoughts we have. Perhaps you can touch and prod those inner workings via meditation. But even without that, we can achieve a great deal by applying some ‘testing questions’ to the inclinations, urges and pathways we might choose. As yourself. Am I thinking this, doing this, or reacting this way because of some need to act out the script our ego might have devised? Are our actions motivated by some need to conform to the persona we imagine ourselves to be or to desire? Did we choose that career, that car, that hair style or react the way we are reacting to any given crisis at hand because of the dictates of our inner beast? Are you sure? Really?

Just think how politics would go if our representatives inserted such a reflexive firewall between what they think and what they do. Just imagine how your workplace might be run if those in charge considered their inspirations in a more self-reflexive way. Imagine all the wars we would no longer need. Imagine all the miseries the world could easily avoid. There’s a word for such an enlightened place. Nirvana. A place for enlightened self-reflexive minds. From where I stand right now, I reckon nirvana has a population pretty close to the number of humans currently on Mars. But to get to that better place, we all need to take the first step. Any step forwards is one removed from where we were before.


Being Human

There’s no getting away from it; despite the most dedicated of management or political intention to pretend otherwise. Humans are and always will be, humans. Which means individual bundles of self-constructed world views wherein each and every single one of us sees the world from the perspective of our … individual selves. There’s no getting away from it. You can only see the world through the goggles of your individual ‘circle’ of perceptions. If it were otherwise, you could see the world through the leaves of a tree or from the perspective of an ant. Which you can’t. You might imagine yourself peering at the world through the veins of a leaf, but it’s always going to be you that’s looking through those veins. Or through the eyes of your cat. Or from the eyes of Steve Jobs, or from the eyes of that soaring eagle you might have wished you could become, at least for a day. Whatever we do, it’s still you doing the looking. If you could manage to leave yourself behind, how then would you be able to report on what it was that was seen through these eyes that are not yours? The ‘you’ in this viewing equation is like a sheet of photographic film. Nothing will be recorded if you are not there to receive the images involved.

We spend our entire lives building the perceptions from which we interpret the world around us. Just like a hugely deep, sponge-like emulsion of film. Genetics are the framework. Nurturing, schooling, and every experience we ever had come together to resolve the pixels in the fabric of the lives we live. Every pixel of light we receive is rendered via our own personal palate of interpretative crayons. We will always have fewer shades of colour to apply than there are shades to be recorded. The picture we paint will always be an abstract view of what it is that we think we see. And everyone else is rendering that same landscape through a nuance and distinction that’s at least slightly different for each observer involved.

What if you see through a palette of 128 colour crayons and I see through 256 shades of charcoal grey?

It’s all pretty scary to those who prefer to imagine a world with the capacity to be described with shared objective precision. This is the source of all arguments. This is the source of wars. Why can’t you see things the same way that I see things? Why do you hold a view that’s different to mine? Can’t you see what it is that I can see? What’s wrong with you! What’s real to me must be real, also, to you. If not, you’ve got it wrong…

Here’s where the fantasies of objectivity come undone. To see the world the way I see the world, you are going to have to refurnish your mental landscape with exactly the same world view as mine. Which means that you will have to erase the mind you have now, to take on mine. But even then, that graft might not take. The furniture of your neurones and all the other minutia of physical difference that describes me as me and you as you will provide a seedbed of difference to shape the way that mind-swap might take hold. The equatorial jungle of your mind might not take kindly to the desert space that’s the landscape by design of my own mind…

So, let’s admit defeat. Our perspectives will always be different.

So, what do we do? There’s two broad paths.

The first is to tune and lock the world to the colours that I alone can see. We can stand with our Nazi salute and insist that every one sees things exactly the way I do. Or throw dissenters into a cage.

The second is to unpack our dissentions through an exploration of difference before we even start. We need to calibrate our monitors to account for the unique values of light that colour our particular views.

Guess which approach is the highway and which is the unused goat track that few ever seek to travel? Why do you suppose there are wars? Why do we have courts? And why do you suppose that politics these days is either an exercise in dictatorship or an exercise in vacuous rhetoric?

One path is fairly flat but heads off ultimately into the hills. The other starts with a mighty climb. The first path is easy to start. But ever so hard to complete. The second is a challenge to start, but a pleasure once we get past that pass now shrouded in clouds.

The whole world is set to take the path that easiest to start. Let’s all pretend that what you see is what I see in exactly the same way. Then let those in power assume all difference away. Let’s construct our theories of the way the world should work and let the theory take the driver’s seat. That’s precisely how modern economics works. When reality diverges from theory, change reality to fit. Then when economics ultimately fails to resolve that which it has no real capacity to consider, we leave it our politicians to sort. Or to our grandchildren. Or, generally, anyone but us.

When we take the more immediately challenging high road, we must tackle the fundamentals of our fundamentalisms. We must deal with the questions we’d rather not address. We must deal with the demands of our insatiable selves; we must open our egos to the introspection of others. We need a talented guide to facilitate journeys like that. Buddhists consult their lamas. The rest of us will probably need facilitators more tuned to the landscapes of the lives most of us live. But digging we must do. Listening is the key. Communication is the power of progress. Deep listening, meaningful conversation. Collective deliberation. Deriving detachment from positions to which we may have become stuck. Like barnacles on the hull of our otherwise sinking ship. It’s not easy. It’s a tough opening climb. But the vistas open to the opened mind are vast and inspiring. Progress is the crop to reward the efforts of that early ascent.

The easier path is a path to dissension. Dissension is the reward when we close our minds to minds that are coloured differently to ours. The downward spiral is actually an unconquerable hill. Like Sisyphus, we’re stuck to push a rock that gathers mass with each additional step. All the better to roll back down over our heads when we think progress has been made; and recycle history all over again.

But that’s the path we always seem to take! History keeps repeating the traumas we think are unique to our current times. Civilisations rise, civilisations collapse, for reasons that are alarmingly the same. Just like the recycling of Sisyphus’s stone.

Surely it’s better to deconstruct the differences we each enjoy. Than to follow the car crash notion that we are all the same. But no. Instead, we have built huge mega industries of band aid denialism. Entire professions feed off the compost of our denial that we do indeed see the world as an infinite array of artistic impressions. Academia is strangled by the tyrannies of conforming with like-minded peers. Public servants tow lines of the politically correct. Corporate stoogism rules the world of commerce. Medicine is strangled by a straight jacket of conventional wisdom purpose-built to deny lateral thought. Politicians tell us exactly what it is we like to hear, rather than what we need to know. With the legal profession ready-leashed to settle the arguments that ensue. We live lives in a thermal sweatbox of deeply composted rules. Rules to constrain what happens when we disagree. Rules to adjudicate, rules to enforce conformity of view. Rules that are laws, rules of religion, rules of fashion, rules that govern procedure at every step. Rules that constrain thought. The greatest construction of mankind has been the edifice of rules we’ve built via denial of the distinction of perception that separates every mind on the face of the earth. That construction is the real Tower of Babel. Like the waxed wings of Icarus, that tower will collapse as it expands ever towards the Sun… Or strangle our view until the entire edifice falls; after apocalypses like global warming and the steady eradication of life-defining biodiversity have tipped beyond the tipping point of no-return.

Surely it’s easier to simply have a chat. To talk things through starting from scratch. Deliberate difference and go from there. There are no objective truths where only one truth can define all. Unless our individual visions can be contained via the propagation of clones. But even then, I am sure the clones would eventually head off to war. The light over here no doubt throws different shadows to what you might be seeing over there…


Educating the Borg

I remember way way back into the depths of time when I was a wee primary school lad. I remember that these were not happy times. I remember that I pathologically hated school. Or more precisely, the noxious, scathing, appalling horror of a teacher with whom we had been afflicted. Ms Fielding was her name. The School was St.Ives Primary. A nice school, except for that teacher.

I remember it all started when, for some reason or another, this terrible woman singled out a girl classmate for some misdemeanour or another. She was told to stand in the corner and not say a word. She stood there for at least an hour. She was very upset. She was also a ‘special needs’ kid, labelled, then, as being mildly mentally retarded. She wanted, she said, to go to the toilet. The teacher refused. The girl wet the floor. The class giggled, the teacher screamed abuse. The poor girl was told to go get a mop…

It was approximately from that point on that I decided I would no longer agree to learn anything at all from this dreadful woman. I went on a learning strike. I remember a meeting set up between that teacher, her Principal, the ‘School Councillor’ and my parents. I remember the Councillor telling my parents that I had a ‘learning difficulty’. I remember then being put into a ‘remedial maths’ programme wherein I had to sit up the back of Ms Fielding’s class and do my ‘special maths for stupid people’ while everyone else attended to their more usual routine. I remember a second ‘counselling’ session convened to suggest to my parents that I should consider careers in sheltered workshops and the like…

Then I remember that this teacher left the school. I recall a brand new teacher who I immediately liked (Mrs Cameron, as I recall). I recall that all the remedial programmes were dropped for me. I recall going on to excel in the School Certificate, the Higher School Certificate and then heading my year in mathematics in my undergraduate economics degree than then, ultimately, doing pretty well with a Phd and becoming a professor of economics…

All this sticks in my mind as I cringe and fume a fury of exasperation at the recent attempts of the education bureaucracy machine to assault our schools with quantitative school quality scores based on measured ‘performance in literacy and numeracy’. You can study the background story here. For current purposes, the basic idea is that the State Government is proposing to measure and rank all schools to allow parents to check the scores of prospective schools and underpin ‘informed choices’ with regard to where they place their kids.

Our polyester-suited education bureaucrat machine is telling us that parents will appreciate the ‘transparency’ that this ‘quantitative branding’ will provide. To my mind, this is a story that captures the very essence of all that’s wrong with the world these days…

There’s a disease going on here. To be technical, it’s all about the curse of an ‘objectivist epistemology’. To be less technical, it’s all about the plague of reductionism. I’ve mentioned this disease in its various forms in just about every post to this blog to date. It’s the chronic debilitation of managerialism. When the world gets all nice and richly complex, bureaucrats of this demeanour go all simple-minded by way of response. Like ostriches hiding their heads in the sand, those who would tame complexity with statistics start playing trains. They put on their engineering caps and build more rails of rules; and higher walls. They build ever more elaborate fortifications to keep all that unruly complexity out; to keep the war of chaos out of sight and (blinkered) mind. Reductionism is the key. When confronted with complexity, build a bigger wall, grab a pair of shears. Cut away all the detail and leave just the bits you want; especially those bits you can measure, and cast into improved bricks for the wall. When the world is full of so many nasty hard-to-measure things, there’s ever more fortification and cutting to do. Cut, cut, cut away until all that’s left are the bits for which the statistics look best. That’s the mantra of the bureaucratic machine. That’s the mantra of Instrumental Rationalism. Management becomes a task for the implementation of tools that fit only those cogs that can fit the tools at hand. If the cogs don’t fit, why, change the cogs! If reality does not fit the perspective we would seek to apply, the task for management becomes the task of changing reality to suit. Soon enough the world will be filled with a universal one-size-fits-all set of nuts.

To return to my childhood traumas. How, exactly, would measurement of literacy and numeracy have helped my cause? Actually, that would have simply made matters worse. The problem was a psychopathic teacher who, incidentally, was pretty good at teaching spelling and numbers. The problem was a nut beyond the reach of any tool then being applied. The problem was within the chaos of all those ‘soft unruly bits’ that are beyond the reach of any instrumental rationalist’s tools. Soft unruly bits like a teacher with a personality unmatched to the psycho-social requirements that good teaching requires.

Which leads me into a domain very close to my heart. I have a passion for the Steiner education system. Or for Waldorf schools if you prefer. I sent both my kids to such a school. This school left a mark on my soul. It left an even greater mark on the souls of my kids. It was absolutely everything that my old school was not. There was a passion, here, for all the components of learning that engage kids for life. There was joy in learning there. This is an educational system beyond the comprehension of education bureaucrats who would rather be playing with trains. Here is a school system with no walls. The chaos of all those things that merge, intertwine and spark journeys into a life to be well-lived are cherished as in a garden fertilised by all that’s good if not great about mankind. These are schools that would defy any attempt by the instrumental rationalists to measure and rank. Because all those things which make such a school truly great are outside the dimensions with a capacity to be measured.

In my view, all that we can get from the misguided efforts of our education bureaucracy to calibrate our schools, like cattle marked with fat-test-scores, is a best-fit pathway to the education of the Borg. Resistance (to the psychotic compulsions of Instrumental Rationalism) will then truly be … futile.