Of 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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
It seems Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the RSA, former chief political strategy advisor in the UK, is popularising grid/group cultural theory on his blog – and provoking an interesting discussion within and beyond the RSA.
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.
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.