Just by looking at The Nature of Managed Change we can see that nothing like this taking place in our current political economy, even from those who say that they want a peaceful transformation of society. So the big answer to what is stopping change is the absence of a clear shared vision of what good looks like, something I have addressed in Part 2 Vision. However we also know that change is always taking place and even though it is messy and contested we are often exhorted to embrace it. So change is happening but makes us uneasy, why? Firstly (its obvious) lack of shared vision means change is essentially directionless; we are either just deploying point solutions which, even though well intended, don't add up to a transformation, or change is being imposed on us by those with wealth and power. Secondly there is constant doing and undoing, the ideological driven change in one direction is reversed by its ideological antithesis in the other direction. It just depends on who has won the competition to control the state for the time being; nothing is ever settled.
Lets make the question, what stops change, more precise. What is stopping the sort of change that would make politics into a quest for good governance and insist that business be about improving the commonwealth?
At the start we should recognise that we got here by chance, we didn't plan where we are now so much as evolve to it. If we were just a couple of billion we could probably get away with trial and error. Now we can see the political challenges we face, and know that our most likely possible futures are grim, we need to plan our way out.
Current politics, Inertia and Social Control
In Current Politics we have seen how difficult it is for cooperation to gain traction in a political system that is competitive and wedded to the idea of competition, In Poor Governance that various forms of agencies, are remote from scrutiny. The lack of participation and engagement and concern about it was looked at in Limited Participation and Disengagement
The idea of inertia is simple enough; unless something changes things will continue along their current lines. In order for change to happen there needs to be an injection of energy that is sufficient to overcome inertia. This can be regarded as a negative power, although it possible to use it to secure hegemony, see Ways of exerting power and again Limited Participation and Disengagement
Is what is stopping change deliberate?
There are those on the left who see the use of hegemony as a deliberate strategy of the dominant class. They would see the ruling ideas of society being actively used as a tool to support the interests of the ruling class, to protect and maintain their advantage. There is some truth in this, for some governments, some of the time, but...
- When politics is a fight between the powerful for control of the state over their idea of the best way to organise things none of them may actually care about the great majority of people who are are the done to in Lenin's usage.
- The powerful may genuinely believe that they know best and that their policies will improve things
- To be deliberate it requires the idea of class to be more than just a category (of rich wealthy people) but that they have shared beliefs and act in unison – it approaches conspiracy theory
- Thinking of it as deliberate ignores simple inertia, it isn’t broken enough to be worth the effort to fix it
The idea of hegemony however seductive, is still a route to class war, conflict and ultimately failure. It leads to failure for many reasons, amongst which are that fact that class is merely a category and, critically, that the the tactics employed to combat it lack utility. Any tactics that rely on on top down change face the contradiction of forcing people to cooperate; we can be forced to comply, but we are unlikely to be committed.
An alternative explanation that is richer requires the complexity of things to be taken into account. We can allow for the possibility of change because behaviour is partly the outcome of the human activity systems and political and economic behaviours are just the same - our political economy is a cultural construct.
- We make the assumption, which a lot of social science appears to, that culture is something we have (and it may evolve) but it is not something we create. In this view what happens is both complex and academically interesting to observe and explain. The mixture of instinct and culture; collective knowledge as well as ignorance, misunderstanding and group think which account for things that happen. In this view people are just people, they act according to the situation they find themselves in; be it inherited, appointed or sought. People may be in thrall to ideas that are wrong, or circumstances and these may leave little room for manoeuvre (as in Shakespearean tragedy).
- Alternatively, because such a large component of any human activity system is culture, and culture is a human construct it is not a given and does not just evolve, what we make we can change. What is more by changing our culture we end up changing our behaviour (see Appendix, Systems an Overview, Change). This has the potential to open up a route to greater co-operation and collaboration by changing the paradigms of belief away from competition towards cooperation within our culture. We would (eventually) see this in all areas, from the physical design of spaces, buildings and institutions to the style of debate from ideological argument to facilitated consensus building, from coercion (velvet gloved or not) to persuasion.