How to be a Fatalist

rs_speed_posterOf the four worldviews of grid-group cultural theory, the one cultural theorists themselves most often exclude from the discussion is fatalism. They do this by claiming it is ‘passive’ (Michael Thompson), or ‘isolate’ (Mary Douglas), and by claiming fatalism opts out of policy debates, or is excluded by the others by definition. This betrays a real bias and a failure of imagination on the part of researchers.

Continue reading to find out about fatalist activism and the fatal nation. Continue reading “How to be a Fatalist”

Economic Crisis – perhaps now we’ll have some decent music

A recent article about 1980s British band the Specials makes me ponder the link between economic downturns and quality popular music.

It was an era of strikes, unemployment, recession and a hundred thousand school pencil cases with black and white checks scratched on them…

So it would be nice to hope for better pop  now the bottom’s dropped out of the economy. At least in the midst of shipwreck we could be buoyed up by  music.

But before getting our hopes up, let’s pause and remember that while Coventry gave us Jerry Dammers, Terry Hall and the Specials, just along the road in Birmingham,  gearing up for world domination was –  Duran Duran.

Economics of the Singularity

Crooked Timber has been running a ‘book event‘ on the economic ideas of science fiction writer Charlie Stross.

In case you haven’t come across him, Stross is a prolific (300,000 words a year) writer of extravagant ideas who lives in Scotland. His approach to  pulp sci-fi is reminiscent of  Philip K Dick’s.  Sure it’s commercial, but with Stross as with Dick, it’s also art.

Perhaps the thought of economics puts you off an otherwise good read. Or perhaps the thought of science fiction puts you off some otherwise good economics. But for anyone still left in the room, the discussion, including posts by economists Paul Krugman and John Quiggin, as well as by writer Ken MacLeod, is well worth reading.

Warning: cheap joke ahead.

Of course, some might say all economics is fiction…

What the world needs now is… efficiency plus resilience

Economist Bernard Lietaer has an interesting paper on handling the current financial crisis. It’s based on the interplay between efficiency and resilience.

Lietaer’s main point is that in going all out for efficiency, economic managers have failed to pay attention to the importance of resilience, which requires such seemingly ‘inefficient’ features such as redundancy.

He is also concerned with the very idea of a general equilibrium theory in economics, when financial systems are, for him, better seen as being in dynamic disequilibrium.

As Lietaer notes,

“The misclassification of economics as a system in equilibrium is brilliantly explained in chapters 2 and 3 of Beinhocker, Eric The Origin of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity, and the Radical Remaking of Economics (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard Business School Press, 2006)” (Lietaer 2008:15)

Competely independently of this, but on a related topic, the Association of American Geographers has a session at its Annual conference in March entitled:

From Growth to Resilience – Changing Perspectives on Regional Development.

Dear Davos, How much is there?

Rupert Murdoch at the World Economic Forum
Rupert Murdoch at the World Economic Forum

News channel  CNN is giving ‘influential bloggers’ a chance to ask world business leaders a burning question at the forthcoming world economic forum.

The question Fourcultures would ask is:

How much is there?

This question is deceptively simple. Think about it for a moment, then if you like, take the little poll to the right of this page.

The answers given at Davos would increase awareness of the way our assumptions are conditioned by the four biases described by grid-group cultural theory. Given the context – a meeting of world business leaders – it can be predicted that the most popular answer by far would be:

‘There is plenty, as long as we  harness our ingenuity and hard work’.

It would speak of, in Rupert Murdoch’s words, ‘what happens when human talent, ingenuity and ambition is given free rein’. This is the world view of the individualists, for whom the world is a cornucopia, to be unlocked by innovation and personal prowess.

The second most popular answer would be:

‘There is enough, as long as we regulate it properly’.

This is the hierarchical approach, and it is to be remembered that, internally,  many large businesses are effectively hierarchical bureaucracies.

Way behind would be

‘There’s not enough – we’ve got to change our values, share more and be more frugal’.

Unfortunately this is the answer of most egalitarians, including a large part of the green movement. I say unfortunately, simply because it’s hard for them to see that when they speak with business leaders they’re often speaking a different language.

Also unpopular would be

‘How should I know how much there is, let’s just spin the wheel and see where the ball lands!’

This is the fatalist worldview, and it’s extremely populareverywhere except Davos. But in their spare time, the business leaders of Davos may well apply exactly this approach to life; indeed there was something of this about the financial markets prior to the recent crash.

These four answers to the question ‘how much is there?’ don’t just contradict each other, they actively compete.

So when the Transition Culture website (a meticulously egalitarian and wonderful endeavour) works out its question for CNN, it’s hardly surprising that the question chosen starts with the words

‘On a finite planet…’

Picture the business leaders at Davos rolling their eyes and saying ‘Let’s just stop right there – who says it’s finite?’

For as long as business leaders think the environmentalists are really just defeatists, we have a big, big problem. Conversely, when the environmentalists learn to translate their words for the benefit of their hearers, we begin to have a solution.

City air makes you free but that’s not all it makes you

In the morning at the railway station the woman sitting next to me gave a big sigh and said,

‘Doesn’t this beat looking at all those city buildings!’

Given the view from the platform, you might see why I felt I had to agree. But are city buildings really all that bad? For instance, Ely Cathedral or the Chrysler Building can surely be  inspiring, not least because they seem to enhance their wider context. The former dominates the Cambridgeshire Fens; the latter sets the pattern for Manhattan.

Jonah Lehrer (editor of Seed Magazine) recently wrote an article that tries to explain why city life hurts your brain, and what you can do about it. He even manages to mention one of my heroes, Frederick  Law Olmstead.

What’s more, Jonah Lehrer’s blog is so interesting, in a ‘popular science’ kind of way, that I’m adding it to the Fourcultures bookmarks on Delicious. Follow the ‘Related Bookmarks‘ link at the right of this page.

Grid-Group Cultural Theory: a way of trying not to fool yourself?

complaints departmentTwo recent blog comments  are critical of the way I have presented grid-group cultural theory’s four cultures.

At journalist George Monbiot’s Guardian blog, TheNuclearOption says:

FourCultures: Astrology at least gives one 12 choices, rather than limiting it to four. People are wild chaotic creatures who at any time can flap their wings and turn into a Black Swan!

Meanwhile, over at economist John Quiggins’ blog, KieranO says:

Fourcultures, i like what Richard Feynman says ….
“Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself. The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”

These four cultures that you describe, simply find and fool themselves. Science is about discovery.

To take the first criticism first, why are there only four cultural solidarities – why not two, twelve or more? Continue reading “Grid-Group Cultural Theory: a way of trying not to fool yourself?”

Grid-group cultural theory and hierarchical churches

The Gag WarehouseIt came to my attention recently that there are still churches which don’t let women preach or lead worship.

Choosing the leaders because they are men is a hierarchical approach to social organisation and needs to be set in a context. The other ways of choosing leaders should be noted:

Egalitarian – ‘priesthood of all believers’ (become more like the Quakers and be suspicious of activities that require structured leadership)

Individualist – ‘work out your own salvation’ (become more like the new age and construct your own tailor-made religion out of bought pieces. Leaders are entrepreneurs).

Fatalist – ‘the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles’ (Acts 1.26) (become more like a lottery and embrace chance. After all, leadership is pointless –  who remembers what Matthias ever did?) Continue reading “Grid-group cultural theory and hierarchical churches”