Reflections 19th September

On my mind this week.

I sometimes get frustrated by the mass invitation to helplessness displayed by media and politicians n the face of what we know are natural cycles; some shorter, like a year, some a little longer, like businesses, on upwards through our own lives, to civilisations, to aeons.

A chance comment made earlier in the week stayed with me; that the music of the 1970s and ’80s was generally more optimistic than we hear today. So perhaps there’s an element of nostalgia there, but generally, I think the speaker had a point. If it was the case, why might that be?

Everything has a cycle, a pleasing wave pattern to it; it’s just that we can’t see that wave while we’re in it. We spend the first twenty years or so of our lives, if we’re lucky, preparing. The next thirty establishing ourselves, the next twenty harvesting our work, and then reflecting as we prepare to leave. In businesses, we hatch an idea, get absorbed in establishing it and enjoying the success, and often far too long watching it decline as it falls behind.

Economic cycles do the same. So I’ve always found the idea of Kondrattief Waves appealing – long term economic cycles with distinct patterns characterising eras which he divided into seasons.

  1. Spring: Increase in productivity, along with inflation, signifying an economic boom.
  2. Summer: Increase in the general affluence level leads to changing attitudes toward work, resulting in a deceleration of economic growth.
  3. Autumn: Stagnating economic conditions give rise to a deflationary growth spiral that gives rise to isolationist policies, further curtailing growth prospects.
  4. Winter: Economy in the throes of a debilitating depression that tears the social fabric of society, as the gulf between the dwindling number of “haves” and the expanding number of “have-nots” increases dramatically.

The thing is that when we have short term perspectives, as our current culture encourages, we cannot see the slope we’re on.  If we’re in Spring or summer, we’re experiencing an upwards slope, and optimism abounds. We anticipate more of the same. Autumn is more reflective as we feel the changes in the air, hoard and prepare for more challenging times, and winter is, well, winter – but it also precedes Spring.

We know winter is coming, and also that the only way back to spring is to go through it, but we hate the idea. So instead, we’d rather take that last summer holiday and pretend it’s still summer. And the marketers are pleased to sell us the idea, even as we know that our rush to consume will make winter harder.

The reality is that Spring will arrive; we just don’t know quite what it will look like, and until then, we have to deal with winter. 

I cannot see winter as something to be feared, as long as we treat it accordingly and respect it as part of a natural cycle. We have to use our resources carefully, hunker down, and look after each other while waiting for Spring. 

It’s very tempting to listen to the doom-mongers and to be sure they have a point. But they don’t know and can only look at the future through the lens of today, and today we’re on a downslope, so it’s easy to sell the idea that it will be continual.

If we behave appropriately, Spring will come.

So what does “winter” mean, I wonder? Perhaps it’s time to get to grips with reality on how we work and where we work from. Working from home works for many, and we can do without pointless commuting. Of course, we need to meet face to face, but we need to choose with care and an eye to real purpose, not just adopt a meaningless mantra of “x days in the office” to keep those who refuse to let it go happy. To cut back on unnecessary travel, frivolous fast fashion and other products of the search for perpetual growth. To reduce the dependence on long fragile supply chains, when we can make things more effectively and reliably closer to home – even if they are more expensive. 

And perhaps most of all, get to grips as a society with those who exploit it, from people smugglers to tax avoiders to those making expedient empty promises on climate compliance at some mythical point in the future.

Winter is not a miserable time, it is a point in the cycle, and we need to act accordingly until Spring arrives. It’s only a problem if we pretend cycles don’t exist.

Food for thought

Back in the optimistic 1970’s Donella Meadows wrote “Limits to Growth”. In this talk, her husband Dennis reviews what has happened since then. Salutary.

I’m currently reading Michael Sandel’s “Tyranny of Merit”. This short TED video summarises it well.

Iain McGilchrists new book, “The matter with things” comes our in November. This eight minute review covers it well – quite a challenge for a sixteen hundred page book. I think it’s important.

How did ‘personal responsibility’ evolve into its opposite, ‘everyone for themselves’? From Aeon Magazine – a powerful review of how we have come to now.

A Quote that has resonated.

“The eternal gulf between being and idea can only be bridged by the rainbow of imagination.” 

Johann Huizinga. Homo Ludens.

Have a great week. Spring is coming, We just have to give Winter the respect it deserves.

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