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Speaking into power in the Age of Kittens

In Uncategorized on November 22, 2017 at 11:57 am

Questioning power doesn’t get any easier. At least not in the Age of Kittens and other cuteness. The trauma of speaking is still with us. Hearing one’s own voice can hurt. Richard Rorty says this concern or hesitation is a form of irony. As we open our mouths we are wracked with the thought that we should have said it a different way. Or if you are English not said it at all. The doubts are easy to identify.

Firstly, speaking is not going to make any difference at all. To anything. Withdraw like Wittgenstein to a life of modest primary school teaching, blessing little ones. Secondly, the world is all the same but different. There is therefore no There, and your heroic passions will just mess with the space-time continuum. Finally, you are not actually fundamentally committed to anything. Unless you are prepared to die on your version of the cross do not deceive yourself.

Such tortured concerns may well be a very British or probably English disease. Having messed with the world imperially and colonially we are coy. Adopting now a humble pose is a natural demeanour. This effete modality is not unattractive. Inside such languid postures ‘we’ can be decorous, polite and disinterested. In this skin multiple contributions to those categoric lesser species can be made. Whilst America writhes in some pain seeing their version of Diogenes as President the Brexiteers can furrow a concerned brow, knowing our days of caricaturing (see Kipling, Rhodes) are behind us. Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg’s reprise aside.

So, how do you question power in a territory marked ‘Opaque’? Where shoals of indecision flitter around mindlessly. No-one actually knows anything anymore is the admission. We are totally unconvinced by all speaking in Opaqueland. Banksy’s Dismaland was too dystopian. Dystopia is the weakness for the Left. It plays too hard on the bum-notes to recognise hope and movement towards Life with a capital-L are sound. Orwell knew this and offered his critique that the problem with Socialism is that it is full of Socialists who are too attached to the Outrage Bus. Outrage is convenient, if not lazy simplism. But it remains necessary. We should be outraged, frequently. But we should know when to offer Hope. Outrage and Hope are essential in Opaque Land.

Back to power. Power then has, not unlike the Taliban when off-duty, slipped into farmer’s attire and looks relatively benign. It says do not shoot me, I am innocent guvnor. I once roamed the earth burning crops and villages as the French advanced, readying myself for the fateful moment to deal death and destruction, but, now, I have changed my mood. I have slipped into something far more comfortable.

If power has changed its spots and slipped into the ether then speaking into the void left creates some discomfiture. The collective mass of letters to The Guardian are not sharing a destination. And it is the absence of destination that renders power awkwardly exposed. Like running through the woods naked, wolves on your tail, into a clearing complete with shops, bars and restaurants. The bar-tender catches your eye and you sit rightly disturbed at the horrible contradictions. Power has led you to a somewhere. But it is not where it was meant to be.

This collective ‘something is wrong’ mood is the effect of power not resisting its old foes. When you have something powerful to push against life is clear. Purpose is purposeful. A flurry of books inviting purposeful lives render us muscular. Only now having fulfilled a few purposes we are now sat at the cocktail bar. Power and purpose part their ways. Socrates dies afresh. Not unlike Macron ripping up the sacredness of France by frankly trying too hard. His admirable intellect is too self-conscious, too learnéd. You do not display such uprightness in France. You skulk in kitchen doorways. Socrates was similar. He was too self-confident, too definitive, too purposeful. He set things in motion from which we have not yet recovered. Hegel span these plates.

Why was Socrates flawed you say? Because any Method is destined for trouble. It attracts acolytes and they get enamoured with its potential. Again, back to power. And the possibility that power has been unstrapped from Cultural Platonism. That is power should always have inalienable qualities as defined by continuity. From left to right. Onwards, upwards, ever upwards. This type of power took part in propelling. But now, in Opaque Land, we are inevitably back to the healthy flux of Knowledge no longer working as it should. As a propeller. We are drifting on the Med in our sailboat and the hardest thing now is to enjoy the moment. Socratic dialogue is over as all cards have been played and none of them were a full-house.

So, power now is not just not propelling, it is not finishing modernity’s building project. As HS2 should have us waving union flags at its modern marvelousness it leaves us relatively cold. So what? Time and space is not what it was also. Escaping it meant getting to the seaside. Now we have seen the sea numerous times we ask so what? The excitement of airports as time portals is dying.

So speaking with Modern Reason into the embers of its project is why we feel a little embarrassed. Now Mugabe has resigned Zimbabweans will seek institutions that distribute power and protect from future despots. But we could say though that all modernisers, George Osbornes, Tony Blairs, Theresa Mays are despotically imposing a project which fewer folks have faith in anymore. Like high speed rail we are fundamentally doubtful about reason and its logics. Having screamed through the woods into the clearing we are butt-naked. When using reason to articulate purpose and speak into power we feel the draught.

If institutions no longer know quite where they are taking us then at least we can be naked together honestly. Nurses who joined the NHS after its inception were supercharged to clean and scrub with astringent pride. Now, the NHS is loved for its trapping the middle-classes into a shared project. We thank it for distributing wealth more fairly, as well as producing low-cost miracles.

It mixes chemicals like a shaman and people are healed. But we are numbed by the experience of being in an institution. With its zombie eyes. Once you have journeyed through modern life you have experienced more ‘chop logic’ than you care to consider. Just how many meetings can you refer to sub-section 42.7 with sincerity before madness sets in: “I would like to draw your attention to the aforementioned, underscribed, overarched, and paragraphed.” There are no shortage of modernisers wanting more of this. For its boundaries are clear. But what they do not realise is that modern institutions will replicate their selves endlessly. Once you have removed the risk of life from human relationships and trained the masses to all do ‘hospital corners’ correctly according to Matron there is little going back from there.

Lord Chris ‘Hong Kong’ Patten in his thoughtful bio unselfconsciously still blames the UK union movement for its post-war travails. This is the ‘chop logic’ of the modern politician believing in the power of rational argumentation. A politician’s career, especially conservatives, rest on tidy arguments. But fundamentally detached from the important. That new Ministers can sweep aside all that has gone before them reveals the weakness of law making as a way of speaking into power, and more so human hearts. The Greek Logos and Socrates forgot the relationship between hope and heart. A beautiful mind is not quite the same. Kierkegaard’s leap of faith then is a leap away from the logics of all, religion and logic. The UK union movement was roughly saying the same thing. That markets, economics, institutions and the assembled mass of rational argumentation was ricocheting off the glaringly obvious. That Life is not experienced through institutionalised living. Their last stab at community, albeit collectivised under industries, was a chant against modernity’s project. Whilst fuelling it.

Kierkegaard refers to a sickness that has not yet declared itself. This is modernity and its chop logics. Yes, it is a form of sickness that has yet to be diagnosed. The post-modernist declare it a finished project at times but in truth globalisation is simply modernisation. The spreading of institutional power. But a power that has slipped into frames or structures. A Socratic Method. Power that is in systems is largely immune to people who speak. The unions spoke against system power but their frustration turned violent at times. Playing into the hands of political power. They also proposed another system of power without recognising they were somewhat deaf to its critical flaws. Corbyn’s great opportunity is a self-consciousness. To recognise he is part of a system as much as any capitalist.

Here then is the shape of late-modern power. Largely embedded in systems and processes that defy the voice. An echo chamber that initially was resistant to the charismatic man, as de Tocqueville noted. But now resistant to ‘the good’ but more so ignorant of the human heart and its nature. John Lewis Christmas advertising has spotted this. As have many marketing men. The emotional labour required to post on Facebook is considerable. If you are not pink, cuty and fluffy you are probably avoiding it. In the vacuum of institutional life the temptation to be ‘lovely’ is strong. Those who speak with a breaking voice are getting a following.

This appeal to hopefulness, to the possibility of a life not dominated by modernity is where legitimacy is now found. Those who are extra-cute are scratching at an itch. What the market finds distasteful is genuinely loving communities that defy it. It is the same for organisations finding that legalistic leadership is destroying it. Leaders who create community ahead of purpose find life considerably less fractious. When speaking towards power the community can detect your intentions as the voice leaks meaning all over the place. All speaking is a confessional. If we are tempted to speak we reveal much more about ourselves than we dare even consider. Hence when we gambol into the clearing we are frighteningly naked.

The dissolving of supra-national structures, the weakness of all trans-national relationships is a result. The possibility of being lost in the labyrinthine mess of personal relationships is upon us. Liminal relationships are almost fully resistant to the market and modernity. As Wittgenstein says we make our own logics and construct our rules of the language or power game.

This tension between a head and heart life sits below issues of speaking into the world. To re-insert matters of the heart invites the speaker to ‘be lovely’, or ‘adorable’. As someone said to me the other day: “You have a great mind!”. The corollary of this was your both your heart and mind are somewhat in need of work. Such is the joy of having friends who speak. My back-hand top-spin return was, well, the heart and the mind need thought. It is a both-and. Another friend chipped in: “No, it’s all about the heart.” The problem with heart-people is they are very cute. So cute you want to take them home, frequently.

The serious questionable association though is between cuteness and love. To be loving in a late-modern context requires a big syrupy spoonful of kitten-cuteness. We have come some way from Captain Lawrence Edward Grace “Titus” Oates leaving the tent for a quiet non-attention-seeking death. And thank God we have come a long way. The recent argument that Scott’s expedition was bounced into a hasty bid for glory by the sneaky Norwegians who had not declared their intent with ‘British-style’ straightness suggests Scott’s party might bear additional culpability for misjudgements over issues such as not using dogs to pull their sleds. The race to the Pole like the race to the Moon look increasingly preposterous in a world where power is now spread amongst the masses. Who collectively do not see an early death as transforming much. The benignity of life now, that is, the absence of the Epic, suggests much. In truth ordinary life was already a Greek Tragedy, and additional Epicness impositions from governments et al were beyond madness.

The ordinary navigation of daily existence comes with its own journeys to the Pole. The brushwood that blows when we speak might be this new reality that when folks have space to tell their own stories we all stand back in some amazement. The imperialists and colonialists still want Knowledge to come with old forms of power, imbued with the Greek Logos. But as Polanyi says mythos was always there. Logos and Mythos are the conversation. Socrates did open up the space for speaking, but it was a Logos space. That is true of most modern spaces. They admit the rational and empirical happily but little else. Hence, kittens!

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What I have Learnt So Far..

In Uncategorized on January 9, 2017 at 12:03 pm

bluntrhetoric

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There are many things I don’t know and even more thing it seems that I have to remind myself of on a daily basis. The obvious things like:

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Is it really so bad to have a business mogul as president?

In Uncategorized on November 11, 2016 at 11:54 am

Published originally in: The Conversation: https://theconversation.com/is-it-really-so-bad-to-have-a-business-mogul-as-president-68265

Donald Trump’s image as a street fighter offering a voice to the disenfranchised propelled him to victory in the US election. But beyond the artifice of political stage management, it just might be possible that an executive business brain will cut through Washington’s House of Cards.

Trump has never held public office so he’s a total newcomer to the Washington bear pit that scuppered much of Obama’s agenda. His experience as a business mogul, however, comes with some transferable skills. Executive and global leadership are wholly interlinked and so there are some important lessons to be learned from business. This can be seen in the way that the crisis in America’s auto industry was handled.

The impact of Ford Motor Company’s US$12.7 billion 2006 and General Motors’ US$79.6 billion 2007-08 losses were overshadowed by worldwide economic collapse soon after. Global governance, political and economic systems have become the dominant debate since. But executive leadership was also key.

Disaster in America’s auto industry, staved off only by US government bail outs, has been a result of senior leadership’s failure to react to global signals. The emerging trend for downsizing from big, gas-guzzling sports utility vehicles to smaller models, driven by the 2003-08 oil price hikes, were reacted to too late. Interpretation requires mature executive leadership minds, with a desire to embrace both data analysis and creative solutions.

Ford’s old leaders failed to react to global trends.
EPA/Andrew Gombert

Any real embrace of subtle global trends must be rooted in extended dialogue between government and industry, not one or the other dictating. Trump’s brutal, old-school bruiser mentality might be sorely tested by this. A strong hand may be needed when faced with existential threats. But if a business executive persists with a sovereign will, this can end in significant damage.

Commander-in-chief

The role of president is akin to the CEO of a company. They are the commander-in-chief and dictate the vision. Those that are dubious of a Trump presidency should take heart that he will be surrounded by advisers who will be experts in their field. But it’s important that he has a listening ear.

An openness to change – and detecting its subtle signals – is crucial. Indeed, CEOs play a critical role in encouraging their leadership teams to spot subtle trends in their industry. On the hopeful side, it was Trump’s acute understanding of the deepening social divisions in the US, that galvanised so many to vote for him, to the shock of many.

The tunnel vision of senior leadership both drives and restricts performance. The key role of a chairperson in a business is to aid the CEO’s openness to change, sometimes bringing their gaze up to the horizon. Margaret Thatcher’s propensity to drown out questioning ultimately led to her exit. What voices will Trump permit to speak? Will he be open to criticism? His propensity to shout down his critics throughout his campaign would suggest not.

The art of the deal

Any good leader must maintain a macro view of what’s going on. Yet leaders have a propensity to get bogged down in micro issues; a heavy focus on planning and control by 20th century businesses was a reaction to the industrial upheaval of the 19th century. Trump will have to cope with the shift to today’s more ambiguous and interconnected world, which needs a flexible and organisational mind.

Organisations are probably the last space that despotism is allowed to exist in the West so Trump will find the bird’s nest of government bureaucracy maddening. He has, however, boasted of his ability to make deals. This will be put to the test, as he will have to engage in the kind of political compromise and back room dealing that orthodox business leadership can despise.

A strong hand is only good sometimes.
EPA/Michael Reynolds

Ultimately, President Obama stepped in to save the US auto-industry. But it took judicious leadership to regenerate it. Ford avoided government takeover by putting together its own strategic recovery plan, led by CEO, Alan Mulally. A sophisticated range of measures from union negotiation to settling a nervous leadership team were skilfully deployed – and it required capturing both the micro and macro perspectives, sustaining business through volatile trading. Behind the bluster, is Trump an intuitive business brain that can see the macro as well as the micro? Mulally demonstrated the deft touch that was needed.

The hunger for deal-making – something Trump has made a name for himself in – is a core strength of the classic business mogul. But in the long view of history these need to be deals that stand the test of time.The Conversation