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.

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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”

So… what should I believe?

Psychologist Dorothy Rowe has a book out about religious belief, entitled What Should I Believe? She says,

it is possible to create set of beliefs, which allow us to live at peace with ourselves and other people, to feel strong in ourselves without having to remain a child forever dependent on some supernatural power, and to face life with courage and optimism.

What I find interesting about this is the acceptance of the idea that belief  as such presents itself as some kind of choice, while the content of belief is in need of construction by each and every would-be believer. It seems that DIY religion is not so much an option – it’s the only real possibility.

But I think there may be at least three alternatives… Continue reading “So… what should I believe?”

Pirates: just acting rationally?

pirate sunset

Economist Peter Leeson has a new book coming out about the economics of piracy in the late 16th and early 17th century ‘golden age’. He uses piracy as a test case for the claim that rational choice economics is what motivates much of human behaviour. In an article on the same subject, he writes:

‘“Pirational choice” differs from rational choice only in that it deals with rationally self-interested decision making in the uniquely piratical context.’ (Leeson, 36)

The book has a great title, But is he right?

Continue reading “Pirates: just acting rationally?”

Climate Change: is it a new religion?

Sydney Walk Against Warming 2008
Sydney Walk Against Warming 2008

The Murdoch rearguard action against climate change science just won’t die, although these days it tends to be confined to the opinion section of the newspapers, rather than counting as ‘news’. In today’s Sydney Telegraph, columnist Piers Ackerman gives another outing to his argument that climate change is natural (and, since you ask, probably isn’t happening anyway). He blames the state-run ABC media and the Fairfax press for perpetuating the myth. Which is slightly ironic, since in today’s Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax owned) columnist Miranda Devine writes almost the same article excoriating the ‘church’ of climate change ‘fundamentalists’ and promoting the same climate sceptic, who happens to have a new book out this month, Adelaide University professor Ian Plimer.

Paralleling Devine’s use of religious metaphor, Ackerman sees climate change as a kind of ‘religion’, which is not to be questioned, and has its own orthodoxy and its own high priest in Al Gore.

This is hardly a new line of argument, and it still doesn’t look like dying away any time soon, so what’s going on here?

Continue reading “Climate Change: is it a new religion?”

Can hierarchical thinking fix climate change?

A recent article about business responses to global warming highlights the extent to which hierarchical thinking can respond adequately to rapid changes in the climate. 

And it neatly illustrates the preoccupations of a hierarchical world-view, as understood by grid-group cultural theory.

The article, written by Leon Gettler, centres on the increasing role of ‘Chief Carbon Officer’ in businesses. 

‘The job of the future will be the chief carbon officer, or CCO. That’s because global warming is no longer an environmental issue.’

The author sees not only the CCO, but also new job titles like Director of Sustainability Strategy as ‘just the beginning’.

According to grid-group cultural theory, first established by anthropologist Mary Douglas, and expanded by numerous writers in several different disciplines, there are four fundamental world-views, related to social group strength and rule maintenance. The hierarchist position is ‘strong grid, strong group’. In other words it is both highly group-orientated and highly regulated. For this way of thinking, the crisis (any crisis) is less about external factors and more about who is in charge, and how the social structure is to be maintained. Continue reading “Can hierarchical thinking fix climate change?”

What we argue about when we argue about global warming

British Journalist George Monbiot has been writing a number of pieces about a TV ‘documentary’ which supposedly tried to debunk climate change by doctoring statistics and misrepresenting interviewees. Certainly it was one of the most mendacious things I’ve seen on TV, right up there with ads for shampoo that cures dandruff. Monbiot seems to think this kind of thing plays well because, as he puts it,

“We want to be misled, we crave it; and we will bend our minds into whatever shape they need to take in order not to face our brutal truths”.

I think he’s completely wrong on this. We are not self-deceiving in this way, and we are not living in ‘the age of stupid‘ as a film with a similar theory put it (although I look forward to seeing the movie). Well, not with global warming, anyway. Dandruff may be another matter. I’ll explain.

Filming a house wrecked by the New Orleans Hurricane
'The Age of Stupid' director Franny Armstrong films a house wrecked by hurricane in New Orleans

Continue reading “What we argue about when we argue about global warming”

Why shouldn’t the Pope wear Prada?

Is there a sense in the Vatican’s reply to the rumours about the Pope’s clothing choice that he shouldn’t be wearing designer accessories? Why not? It is restated that he’s a ‘simple and sober’ man, when in point of fact he isn’t: he’s the Pope. A simple man wouldn’t wear all the outfits that popes traditionally wear, Prada or no Prada.//www.flickr.com/photos/miqul/\">miqul</a> The reason for the disclaimer is that the Catholic Church is the quintessential Hierarchical organisation, and as such the leadership must be seen to be institutionally splendid while also personally unremarkable. Opulent vestments are permissible but signs of individual ostentation, or indeed, individuality, are slightly distasteful and  off-message. This is in stark contrast to the way the mass media treats the Pope. With its Individualist orientation, the media obviously sees the Pope as a celebrity, and his shoes and shades are to be celebrated as making him more uniquely him. Anything the Pope does to subvert the uniform is great, and newsworthy – at least to Esquire Magazine, which made him ‘accessorizer of the year‘ (‘have a signature… make it your own’).

This seems a fine line to tread. The trick seems to be to act like a star while denying you’re one, and hope we won’t notice the incongruity. How’s he doing?