questions


I thought I’d take the opportunity presented by the pause between preparing/eating dinner and now to put a few words together and fulfil “a meaning to do”.

Reading Tiso’s now not-so-recent post on the return of Italian Fascism I was returned to my own study of politics, and reminded that although there is a tendency to see something like the development of a political movement as a discrete event, it is better expressed as a coalescing of already extant attitudes and norms within a society. I’ll try to unpack that slowly within the limited time I have.

A “becoming” is likely the best description of the rise of any movement, whether it be fascism, communism, or economic liberalism, because a political movement cannot exist without the support provided by followers, adherents, and leaders. There’s nothing new in saying that politics do not exist in a vacuum, right? Further, there is nothing new in saying that government and governance is a way of restraining people’s natures, and of preventing the more extremes of inhumane behaviour people routinely exhibit. What’s interesting to me is that within both these ideas is the kernel of what people and their societies can become.

It is a usual stereotype of conservatives that they fear other people. They worry about the protection of their property and act in accordance with the need to protect it, even at the expense of personal freedoms. Liberals on the other hand are frequently stereotyped as worrying about their rights and freedoms, and act to prevent society from limiting them. While these are both caricatures of modern left and right, and could do with substantial elaboration, they both serve the purpose of exhibiting in XKCD-style simplicity the potential for a society to pick two poles between which it will acceptably change to become something other.

The thing is, while these two poles have been the predominant political forces at contest in the West since the collapse of Soviet Communist, they are far from Fukuyama’s claim of being the only game in town. Varieties of political meme range across the spectrum, and although Communism and Fascism don’t feature very high on the popularity stakes, they are still present and active within our society, and many other societies. What Tiso’s post and ongoing commentary shows us is that something like Fascism is actually not too far from the top of the menu feeding popular appetites, and that if other alternatives are not satisfying the people, then… Hello, Mr Roman Salute.

My metaphors are starting to head west here, but the body politic is not a coherent object. Any body politic is necessarily a pastiche of distinct parts, each with its own utility. This means that some are Frankensteins, others are clay golems, and some are cosmetically super-enhanced whores; with all offering the opportunity to become, to transform, into something other that what they were designed to be, or serve. The word itself reveals why this is the case. Be-Come. Be-ing, the static but continuous present, and come-ing, the continuous future. Any body politics is both what we desire it not to be, while also not being that thing.

Hold on… just ducking off to put the potatoes on.

Right. Back. So… where were we? Ah, yes. Fascism. Like any political movement, Fascism exits because it is component part of the construction of the body politic. You don’t (yet) find or hear of many genuine Fascist movements in the African nations or in the Pacific Islands because the ideology, and its necessary memes, don’t find a home in the way those societies organise themselves (I stand to be corrected there). But were these places to adopt the right types of precursor, for instance industrialisation and consequent strong socio-cultural separation of worker and owner of means of production, then the possibility for Fascism to become present could exist.

It is not a commonly known fact that there was in the 1920s and 30s every chance that either the UK or the USA could also have assumed Fascist regimes. Both could have become Fascist had historical events not prevented the emergence of this body politic out of the turmoil of the Great Depression. That they did not is a quirk of history for the buffs, and an object lesson on what to look for when your nation is becoming something other than what you would wish it to be.

I think where all this is leading me is the statement that I am unsurprised by the continuing rise of fascism in Italy, just as it appears to be doing in modern Germany. Further, there remains the possibility that, while contemporary OECD countries continue to own the precursors of Fascism within their body-politics, the movement could rear its head anywhere in what are currently liberal democracies. Because, as George Mosse has shown, it was a liberal democracy that gave us “the worst” Fascist regime the world has seen, so far.

As part of my commitment to not sharing online too much of Chef Du Plunge’s short life (I figure he can make that choice himself in years to come, I have a suspicion that the current generation of “over-sharers” will find their enthusiasm… fraught… in years to come), I sent a copy of a short video of him “chatting” to me to a friend. She replied, flatteringly, that he was “beautiful, clearly advanced, and gifted”. My reply was, “but he’s only allowed to be one… which should be chose?”

While appearing facetious, the question is actually very serious.

Something great about international society is that you can succeed using only one of these attributes. Celebrity is frequently based on only slightly more than beauty, for example. In the modern world of careful media management we find beautiful people of barely recognisable talents making their way to fame and fortune with nary a sideways glance at the bucktoothed genii who may surround them, and by doing so will few raise to them a less-than perfectly formed eyebrow.

So which should he chose (were he old enough to actually make a choice, that is)?

My own preference is to not ever have to sacrifice one of these such things. Instead, I’ve worked hard to be all things to all men. Not in a superficial manner, but in a manner that both puts others at ease, and allows me to easily adapt to both others’ needs and their mores. And in a career of me that has spanned many different occupations, it’s been a trait that has held me in good stead.

But there is nothing to say that Chef Du Plunge will ever have to be a Jack of All Trades. In the future world, the one the other side of the nascent financial reckoning (like the high times of the 1980s, that lending-fuelled party was never going to last), it may well be that making a choice of one of these things could suffice?

So should he chose ‘gifted’? Would intelligence be enough to get you by in the coming future, with it’s technology, technologic society; it’s rapidly adaptive pace of life?

I’m not sure that it would. Personally my IQ usually rates just the high side of normal in any test I might be presented. Genious I am not, nor gifted. What I am is an extremely fast learner. Sometimes. Sometimes not. Languages (and things like names) being a pertinent example. But learning fast, and being highly amenable to change, is what has got me by. I have frequently been surrounded by people I consider far more intelligent than myself, and not always while feeling completely comfortable (smart people intimidate me).

And that is the nature of the, dare I say it, sibyllene complement paid to Chef Du Plunge. Which should he chose? Because any one of these things might be enough to limit him in some way, while propelling him in others.

A fascinating and compelling problem.

Had an interesting conversation yesterday that provoked some thinking about aging and world-weariness. It’s not an exaggeration to state that some people are old within their skin at 25, while some in their 30s are as dippy as a 16 year-old, and it’s something beyond naivety that creates it.

This set me wondering why this is? And what is the long-term consequence of it?

What I think it boils down to is that life-experience is an unevenly distributed asset. Furthermore, the ability to make experience meaningful, to turn events or occurrences into life-experience, is not something everyone does well.

An example. You might be working in a team or crew. A drama occurs and everyone experiences more or less the same set of events. But, some people will leave the set of events only to go through them again at some time in the future, because they didn’t actually learn anything. The more cruel among you reading this might think, “well… this is what they call ‘being a munter’.” But I’m suspicious that some people just have the ability to learn more from experience than others, and especially more than people who limit their world-views to static frameworks.

Another example. Someone with a difficult childhood can become far more worldly that someone with a stable, loving family. But the opposite is equally true.

Both these examples suggest that some people learn better than others, and I would accept that this is just a cognitive ability. Doubtless there are psychologists and like out there who are thinking, “old ground here Tibby… read the literature.” To which I would reply, “this is a blog… who the hell prepares for a brain dump?” Heh.

The import of this ability to digest experience becomes more interesting when you start to speak with persons who have a high capacity to do so, and explains why some people have different age and reaction profiles. (And here is where the ‘wacky’ quotient of the blog comes in)

Something I’ve often wondered about is the mythic idea of immortality. If you live forever, when does life just start to get a little dull? I wonder this now because medical science and better nutrition continues to lengthen our lives, with many or most living nearly twice as long as the average person did 1000 years ago. When “old” is 35, then 70 is ancient.

This is again a well-trod path. Plenty of writers have thought this one through and written it into fiction and non-fiction.

Taking this longevity in to account, people who have a limited, “programmed” world-view will likely live their entire lives making the same or highly similar responses to specific events. Meeting someone who makes a particular action, or speaks a particular way will elicit a programmed response, i.e. all poor people are obviously stupid, or they wouldn’t be poor. In this way they are able to filter and manage social interaction in a way that gives this interaction meaning within their established world-view, though without making this interaction meaningful.

However, persons who are highly responsive to interaction, and adaptive, will likely produce a range of different reactions to their social interaction as they age. They might accommodate other peoples ethnicity or gender in a given mise en scene for example, and react accordingly.

That said though, there are only ‘so’ many different mise en scene available to us. Sooner or later an individual, unless they are highly mobile, will eventually encounter the same type of person speaking the same memes or possessing the same concerns, and our reactive individual will in effect experience ongoing deja vu.

And if you live forever, or at least live long enough to feel as if you have lived forever, would that not weary you? Wear you down?

Worse, what if you constantly encounter programmed individuals, with a paucity of reactive thinkers in your society?

In a way, wouldn’t you welcome death when it eventually came? Wouldn’t you accept that the world has little else to offer you, when you have seen what the world is, time and again? If you were condemned to live forever, wouldn’t you in effect be condemned to an endless deja vu of events and people, each mortal learning again what their predecessors had? And perhaps badly?

But this made me think that acceptance of the wisdom this entails, and the willingness to accept that there is sometimes little else that one can contribute to the world, is perhaps a better place to be as a person reaches the end of their life. Immortality is of course a myth, and we must all confront our own end in time, but perhaps having been a realised individual will make that end easier when it comes, and prevent an unseemly clutching to life; a grasping, desperate end.

(image: ‘Weary’ by Sue McNiel Jacobsen)

You can do anything, but lay offa my blue suede shoes

While sorting through the mountain of gear family have kindly given us, Second Chef asked the very excellent question,

“Why do they need tiny tiny shoes?

They can’t walk…”

So here’s something, I’m most of the way through Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky, and I’ve almost had enough. It’s an interesting book, and I agree with many of is premises and arguments because I’ve thought them myself. For instance, his assertion that you shouldn’t fret about all the stuff being written on the net. It seems that because we’re used to stuff being directed at us we tend to assume that everything we read in social media is written for us. But this simply isn’t the case.

Most social media is written for a small group of people known to the author, although this group may vary from topic to topic, and the stuff is put out into the ether as a complement to day to day conversation. Or put another, slightly more theoretical way, our embodied selves are now extended and expanded into cyberspace. The SciFi writers are already all over that one though, with independent avatars working to process or accumulate additional embodied knowledge for us a common (some would say banal) feature of contemporary novels.

What has annoyed me about Shirky and other authors boosting the “Web2.0s” is the constant carping about how social media will fundamentally transform the way our society works. So, you, Shirky, and that guy who wrote Wikinomics, we get the picture!! Move on, please. Yes, social media has allowed the masses to free up their voices, and centralised organisation no longer carries the weight it did. And, we can now harness multiple points of thought to achieve what it used to take hierarchical organisation to achieve. But where to next?

After working with and reading about social media for a bit now, I’m in agreement that it is a revolution in social organisation and creation of information. In day to day terms that means we are able to access more and better information from across the globe, if we know how. And if we don’t know how then there are more and more people stepping into the market opportunity that is; filtering signal from all the noise. But does that mean that people are better at utilising the unprecedented amounts of information they have access to? 

Are we actually any wiser?

Awhile back I heard a geezer from Canterbury University speaking about IQ testing. Apparently average IQs in this day and age are much higher than the turn of the C20th. But, he argued, this is mostly because the kinds of intellect the tests are looking for is now far more prevalent, and primarily due to modern education. So rather than intelligence being higher, the kinds of thinking we’re teaching is well entrenched enough that more people score higher on the test to see if that education is entrenched. If you get what I mean.

So people aren’t actually smarter, they’re just better trained in the way the academy wants us to think.

This suggests to me that increased information won’t actually change people themselves. It will however recondition our society to know how to manage large volumes of, for want of a better word, crap. Something I toyed with a wee while back was the idea that ‘the path is wiser than the walker‘. In the context we’re talking about here, the shape of the interweb is influenced by the way that people act. Lots of people using social media leads to lots of noise of a particular sort, and there are signals for some contained therein. Social media in effect creates a series of “paths” followed by people, and which over time become “the place to get information”. Witness Wikipedia.

The revolution produced by social media really just means that we produce reliable information for each other, and don’t source this same consumable from corporations. Nothing new in that statement though.

Where this big circle of wondering leads me to is, how much are we creating the web, and how much is the web creating us? Because I’m inclined to think that our increasing dependency on the interweb to source and manage our information will begin to influence social thought itself in much the same way as education has shaped IQs. The production of noise becomes normal and expected, with the most valuable members of society becoming those who can filter for signal.

One of my mixed fortunes was being brought up by my mum. Solo motherhood is a hard row, and I had two younger brothers she had to keep an eye on as well. But, it meant that I was able to chose my own male role models. Naturally this included my uncles and my grandfather, but also included blokes off TV, out of books, and in bands.

It’s a strange thing trying to define yourself, but I guess it’s something we all do. It’s just that some of us have more clearly defined markers, aeh?

So, masculinity. What seems to be a common mistake is defining femininity and masculinity as roles, or in the doing. Consequently calls are made for men to be more masculine by not being afraid to do childcare, or perform domestic duties.

I’ve never really understood that though, because what you do and who you are two entirely separate things. Yes women were traditionally relegated to particular roles and activities, but I’m not certain that they actually defined femininity itself. Certainly these roles were used to restrict women, but I can’t see having men performing some of these tasks would or could change masculinity or femininity.

Put another way, men doing domestic chores doesn’t make them feminine, so why is it assumed that performing domestic chores makes women feminine? My answer would be that it does not. There is without doubt a strong relation between the “domestic space” and “femininity”, but it is only a relation, not a dependency. The real question is, “to what extent does domesticity contribute to femininity?”

And I’d have to assume that for some women the answer is, “not at all.”

Now, you can flip that question over and ask to what extent traditional male roles like ‘providing’ define masculinity. And again, for some men the answer is negative. It seems that the doing isn’t what masculinity is all about.

What my lack of predefined male role-model allowed me to realise is that masculinity is about the being. Men don’t do things to make themselves masculine, they just are. Masculinity is something you can learn and imitate, but the essence of being a man is not an activity, it just is. And it is also an individual essence, ineffable.

Perhaps Austin Powers is so funny because everyone recognised ‘the mojo’ for what it is!

Putting aside cheesy stereotypes, masculinity is an acquired essence that grows and/or changes as a man matures. Moreover, like many ineffable things it is better defined by what it is not. It is not independent of femininity for example, but is enhanced by it.

My own opinion is that freeing up masculinity from the doing is liberating for both genders. Because we can start to see it as a essence, or an attribute, it can vary and amend itself to its circumstances. Moreover, my masculinity doesn’t undermine or boost yours, we’re each able to define ourselves.

This probably needs teasing out, especially to prevent the introduction of dogmatic or stereotyped masculinity of the sort I mentioned in the last post on the concept (fundamentalism). Would like to hear from anyone about it.

So if you’re not familiar with the cynefin framework, it’s an idea under iteration by Dave Snowden and his colleagues. It’s a deceptively simple-looking framework that allows, as I understand it, a problem solver to more easily interpret two things: the current structural coherence of an organisation, and/or the mind-frame of a decision-maker.

To be more specific about the first thing, it doesn’t usually apply to an entire organisation. It can however be used as a frame to better interpret how aspects of an organisation are working, or not, as the case may be. So for example, a phone room is probably falls into the simple domain. It’s all “calls in, answers given”. Things can become complicated, and it’s then that a manager needs to make a decision about something, and everything returns to ‘simple’. But, elsewhere within that same organisation, things can be totally out of hand and could only be characterised as chaotic.

In relation to the second thing, someone could possibly see their occupation or vocation as simple, when in fact it’s complex, or at least complicated. They might say… be seeing everything a little too black and white.

Regardless of whether the frame of reference is internal or external to the subject individual, what all the cynefin domains have in common is the requirement that a leader or manager make a decision or set of decisions. Something we can assume is that the motivations for these decisions will frequently be constructed to ‘order’ their environment. We can assume this because people like ordered environments, especially in organisations, hence the noun, and even more especially in public sector departments (which have constituencies, or a worse title, ‘clients’, organisations who rely on predictability and reliability). Actions by decision-makers in the cynefin framework will most usually be undertaken to ensure improvement in order, even if ‘improvement’ actually means ‘establishment’.

What dawned on me while listening to Dave outline these ideas (which I may or may not have completely grasped), is that an illustration of the duration and effectiveness of decision-making was lacking.

There are at least two dimensions to this effectiveness. The first is the wisdom of the decisions made. Some decisions are just stupid, so their effect is (hopefully) short-lived. We’ve all worked for someone who issues an order that we immediately discover a work-around to avoid. The duration of the effect of the decision is therefore very low. The second dimension is the ‘depth’ of the effectiveness of the decision. Some decisions are so good (or bad), that they not only effect the immediate environ of the decision-maker (for instance their team), but also other units with the ‘ecology’ of an organisation. A positive example of this could be the conduct of a safe-fail experiment that creates a tool useful to an entire organisation.

So how to illustrate this? I think there are two main components; time, and duration/depth of effect.

Time always advances towards us from an unknowable future. We make decisions as time brings the need to do so forward. We can preempt some future events and decide a course of action or response beforehand (what I’ll wear to work tomorrow), but most decisions are made ‘on the fly’ (which of the foods presented to me will I chose?) Decisions in time establish order for a particular duration, i.e. what I chose to wear in the morning is what I wear all day. And sometimes tomorrow. I don’t need to make any more decisions for a given time.

In the simple domain of the cynefin framework time will present fairly predictable decisions, and at a fairly predictable pace, and this will change/accelerate as you move around the framework to the chaotic. No surprises there I hear you say.

Confronting the future, and the advancing ‘issues’, is active “decision-making horizon”. This is space in which decision-makers operate, and to which each of the cynefin domains are assigned. Everything within that horizon is well-covered by the practitioners’ network, but what happens afterwards is interesting. 

In an abstract sense, once a decision-maker creates order, all those bubbles floating around before the horizon are placed ‘just so’ beyond the active horizon on which the decision-maker operates. Once they’re beyond the horizon they represent ‘order’ and ‘decisions made’. But as time progresses that order disintegrates and another decision-making horizon is likely to be needed.

My thinking is that the durability of the order is dependent on the context in which the decisions were made, i.e., which cynefin domain, but also the wisdom of the decision itself. A good decision made in a chaotic time could well outlast a poor decision made in an simple environment.

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