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.
Signals, distortion and feedback
In order to change belief, it is necessary to show that something better is not just theoretically possible but is actually more in tune with human nature, Part 1 was all about this. It is not sufficient. To move towards sufficiency in Part 2 both a Vision and Examples of What God Looks are described.
There is something else going on; the inputs to the human activity system from our knowledge and in the form of feedback have a signal range and are subject to distortion
Signal amplitude is a massive problem, we are habituated to hear reports based on the latest data points in situations where the data has a wide range, that means we cannot actually interpret it unless we can smooth it or look at a long time series. Stock prices an obvious example, the daily new tells us that the FTSE or NASDAQ have risen or fallen each day, to get a view of what is happening it is necessary to take a longer view. Hans Rosling does a masterful explanation in his book Factfulnes (Rosling op cit)
Distortion occurs for benign and malign reasons. We can just get things wrong, or not know what the latest finding are. We can also be misled deliberately we all know the old joke about mushroom management – if you are subject to mushroom management you will be being kept in the dark and have sh.t poured on you from time to time.
Feedback is fully discussed in On Power, Time Reaction and Utility, here it is necessary add to that discussion a consideration of news coverage and social media since they are key mechanisms by which feedback in our human activity system occurs. The case is that we are misled and misleading ourselves. Alan Curtis film about Oh Dearism (Curtis) puts the case as does Catherine Viner (Viner)There may be other factors in play such as the limited ownership of media and their partisanship – if they are campaigning for a party they are not searching out the truth behind stories (Note: Media bias).
There is an element of moral panic but also a genuine problem – structurally we have applied technology to the mob, turbocharged it. Misinformation and hate have always been spread – if you were an older woman in the sixteenth century and were either unpopular or the subject of jealousy then there was a real chance that you could be accused of witchcraft. Now the mob has access to the internet and acts with anonymity. See Part 2 History Overview (the recent past) and Possible Futures (Using the projection of trends).
Gaps; perception, power and shortfall gap
So what this amout’s to is that, thanks to the internet, we now have better access to the worlds knowledge (as never before) but the factors creating distortion are also being magnified. Let’s consider three gaps, which are dynamic and are changing over time.
Perception – how we interpret the world. Our perception varies according to the degree of ignorance, irrational beliefs and deception that are present in the human activity system, as the critics of media manipulation and social media misuse show we are badly out of kilter big time right now (2018). But also the internet itself is a tool open to everyone to use – unlike the frontier which was an important factor in United Stated development but eventually disappeared, it does not matter how much of cyberspace is corralled by Facebook, cyberspace is always much bigger.
Power- Although there is a lot of progress the gap between a small group of powerful people and the majority is growing. This matters because it exceeds what social primates find acceptable, it will lead to (or at least perpetuate) resistance and conflict and so fails the test of the (enlightened) self-interest of all citizens. I looked at the power gap Part 2 Limited Participation and Disengagement
Shortfall– in business planning its routine to compare an view of processes as-is to description of processes that are to-be in order to determine the degree of change needed to bring about the to-be process. Included in this would be the extent it the change – large or small, how disruptive, the sort of changes that would be needed to allow staff to operate the new process, be it in recruitment or training. (POPUP – well I say routine, there are companies who impose change by diktat and then muddle through, usually those competing on cost rather then quality). The case here is that in order to bring about improvement there must be some notion of what good looks like (Part2) and some fair idea of how well are we doing (feedback, as described above)
The perception and power gap effectively stop a serious debate taking place about the shortfall. Let’s unpick this statement; it is not simple and it is not all being done as a conspiracy, we just blundered into it, but nevertheless;
- Social media is being used by the powerful to distort & manipulate perception (exposure of the use of face-book data to influence elections)
- Social media become a distorting mirror, we only see what we already like, moderated by those whose (only?) motive is to sell us stuff
- Balance has been interpreted as giving equal weight to both sides of a debate even when the evidence and majority opinion is decisively on one side which is only ok if the context is explained)
- Newspapers make no pretence at being un-biased and campaign relentlessly for extreme free market economics, which, since 2008 has been shown to be in need of radical change
- Ideas which are floated but not necessarily in line with the ruling paradigm (zeitgeist, received wisdom) are ignored, rubbished, parodied
- Many of the distortions and misconceptions are ones that we actively participate in, the system makes us all complicit; e.g. in the acceptance of sharp practice like up-selling in retail (how the PPI scandal came about), in the placing of outsource care contracts which don’t deliver a living wage, in subsidising poor wages through in work benefits, treating homes as investments and on and on…
The combined effect of all this is that we are individualised, fractured and set against each other. So, although grounded in our current understanding of human nature, our behaviour and natures, the case for holistic political economy has to find space to grow through these gaps – without being strangled at birth. This picture summaries the discussion of gaps