Reflections 8 May

Photo by Laura Alda on Unsplash

On my Mind


From orthos “right, true, straight” (see ortho-) + doxa “opinion, praise” (from dokein “to seem;” from PIE root *dek- “to take, accept”).

Orthodoxy is a powerful idea. It arises during the early years of a system, somewhere beyond the stumbling and mistakes that occur as it emerges, and as those bringing the emergent into current reality understand how to harness it as a platform for power and influence. And it works, for a while to the benefit of all, but then it decays. Gradually, then suddenly.

There is a time I think in any man made construct, from organisation to civilisation, that orthodoxy fails, and the need arises for the heretic, the heterodox and the iconoclast. A time to speak truth to power, address the reality of what is happening, and question the narrative of those in power.

Medicine made enormous strides from the observations of Galen of Pergamon two thousand years ago, and the orthodoxy that it created commanded a near religious observance that persisted even in the face of its obvious failings (Galen observed three ventricles in the heart, which surgeons insisted on even though advances enabled Renaissance physicians to observe four). Copernicus got into serious hot water for noticing the Earth moved round the Sun. Even now in Economics, the notion that Adam Smith qualified “the invisible hand” of markets and warned against abuse does not sit easily with those for whom it is inconvenient. Never mind what quantum physics does to our understanding of convetional physics.

What is occupying me right now is that in the U.K. we are looking at the results of a spectacularly insipid set of local elections defined not so much by voting for someone we approve of, as tactically against those we do not. The Conservatives, understandably had a bad night, but Labour failed to have a good one, and most votes went to those who people know are in no position to make a real difference. Turnout was low, and this on the back of French elections where the same “nose holding” approach to voting was a key feature. Let’s not even think about the dynamics of the current systems on the rights of women in the U.S.A.

There’s the apochryphal story of the drunk looking for their house keys underneath a lamp post, and when asked where they lost them said they didn’t know, but the light was good under the lamp post.

When, I wonder, are we going to ‘fess up to the fact that not only are our politicians ineffective, but so is our electoral system, and we stop looking for its redemption under the light.

We have a neglected and barely maintained model over a century old. It effectively disenfranchises most of us via disengagement and distance from power. Whips disable our principled politicians, leaving us to a small cabal of egos who occupy a world far removed from our lived reality.

We have Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales queing up to take control of their own futures and if England had an opportunity to secede from Westminster, I suspect they might well.

The same is true of our largest businesses, the owners and management of which also live in a world far removed from their customers and staff. When was the last time you heard somebody from a corporate business say they were proud to do so? Are we content that we have a situation that enables Elon Musk to like free speech so much, he has decided to buy it? At what point do we not just say enough, but act enough?

This is a time for iconoclasts and heretics to nail their own equivalent of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses to the door of those who purport to govern, manage and lead in our interest, because what we are doing no longer works. If it were a product or service, we would return it as not being of marketable quality.

It requires us to stop going along with what is not working by finding our voice, having conversations with others who notice the same and quietly speaking truth to power where it impacts us. If poiltics cannot connect us, we need to find alternatives.

The pandemic has been a game changer. It has broken the link between work and office for many of us – not so much that we can work exclusively from home – we need association – but the orthodoxy of the office as modern workhouse, and centre of the work universe has collapsed. We are starting to understand that work orbits people, not the other way round, and the potential that creates for us.

Many of us have come to understand and appreciate the flexibility to manage our personal lives more producticely and socially, as well as use technology to connect with a far wider group of people. We are seeing the “great resignation” morph into something more systemic as older, tenured workers vote with their feet.

I can imagine many different consequences of what is happening, but have no more idea which ones might prevail than anybody else. I, and I think many others, do not want to be paying passengers in a ship that we have no say in the destination of.

The conversations are emerging. Jon Alexander, Sam Connif, Avaaz and others are becoming widely visible, and many more small groups like Originize and New Artisans are hosting dogma free, exploratory conversations around what we are noticing, because it is increasingly obvious we are not going to find the keys to our futures, and our children’s futures under the metaphorical light of the lamp post of current orthodoxy.

As Ian Berry would say, we need to talk.

Inspiring me this week.

Leading by Example

I read “The Club on the edge of town” in one sitting, mainly because I couldn’t find a place to stop. It is funny, poignant, totally inspiring and a wonderful example of a modern heretic. This short video gives a flavour, but please, buy the book, read it, and give it to somebody else.

Rethinking Intelligence.

I’ve had the good fortune to spend time with Johann L. Botha this week and his circle looking beyond psychometrics. It took me to this from Scott Barry Kaufmann on rethinking Intelligence. Another one in the eye for orthodoxy.

Old Growth

Yale are running a wonderful series on Old Growth exploring what we can learn from the ecosystems that are old growth forests. Here’s a wonderful example.

We need to Talk

I’ve long been a fan of Ian Berry and his work. Here’s a five minute taster. The real thing is, of course, better (and I think he has some places left on the next cohort starting pretty much now)

A Closing Thought

“As any change must begin somewhere, it is the single individual who will experience it and carry it through. The change must indeed begin with an individual; it might be any one of us. Nobody can afford to look round and to wait for somebody else to do what he is loath to do himself.”

Carl Jung

Have a great week.

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