The Common Cause Report: A line in the sand?

November 29, 2011 by
Filed under: Social Brain 

Matthew Taylor  argued yesterday for the need to keep communications on climate change simple, and implied that the more radical call for an overhaul in our value system was too utopian to work. He may be right, but an Oliver Wendell Holmes quotation sprung to mind:

“I would not give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side.”

A truly ‘simple’ approach to climate change would have to go beyond (transcend and include) the complexity of the issue, rather than avoiding it. It is not just about insurance, or a sophisticated form of the precautionary principle. As Matthew pointed out in his lecture on 21st Century Enlightenment, the world system continues to be driven by three main logics.

“The success of the Western post-Enlightenment project has resulted in a society like ours being dominated by three logics: of scientific and technological progress, of markets, and of bureaucracy. The limitation of the logic of science and of markets lies in an indifference to a substantive concern for the general good. If something can be discovered and developed it
should be discovered and developed. If something sells then it should be sold. The problem with the logic of bureaucracy, as Max Weber spotted over a hundred years ago, is its tendency to privilege procedural rationality (the rationality of rules) over substantive rationality (the rationality of ends).”

We need an approach that recognises the power of these logics but is not complicit in their perpetuation. If simplicity is the answer, it lies on the other side of this complexity. (Or, at the risk of overquoting “Everything should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.”- Einstein)

So here is why I think we need to take a viewpoint on the common cause report. Their argument- that we need to work directly with our cultural values- represents a radical change of strategy, and what the profound Psychologist Paul Watzlawick might call ‘second order change’- not merely a strategy for change(first order change) of which their are thousands, but a meta-strategy for changing the way things change.

Their argument- that we need to work directly with our cultural values- represents a radical change of strategy, and what the profound Psychologist Paul Watzlawick might call ‘second order change’- not merely a strategy for change(first order change) of which their are thousands, but a meta-strategy for changing the way things change.

I hope to come back to the Common Cause Report later(and a recent selection of their updated briefings will be worth writing about), but for those who are unfamiliar, the following captures the gist of the argument(forgive the long quote):

“It is increasingly evident that resistance to action on these challenges (humanitarian and environmnetal crises) will only be overcome through engagement with the cultural values that underpin this resistance. It also seems clear that, in trying to meet these challenges, civil society organisations must champion some long-held (but insufficiently esteemed) values, while seeking to diminish the primacy of many values which are now prominent – at least in Western industrialised society. The values that must be strengthened – values that are commonly held and which can be brought to the fore – include: empathy towards those who are facing the effects of humanitarian and environmental crises, concern for future generations, and recognition that human prosperity resides in relationships – both with one another and with the natural world. Undoubtedly these are values that have been weakened – and often even derided – in modern culture….they are values that must be championed if we are to uncover the collective will to deal with today’s profound global challenges.”

That bald overview does not do justice to the structure of the argument, or its considerable evidence base. The heart of the challenge is moving from values are that essentially selfish to values that lead us to identify with ‘bigger than self’ problems.

It it difficult to be take a stand on either side of this argument. At first blush, you either position yourself as an ally of the values that are (arguably) destroying our habitat, or you look naive in arguiing for a complete otherthrow of everything that is assumed to be acceptable and normal. A third perspective is to deny the importance of values in the context of global challenges. So which is it? How do you begin to position yourself on this issue?

I look forward to writing again about this later, especially if I get some good feedback.

 

Comments

  • Elzi Volk

    Excellent post!

  • Elzi Volk

    An excellent post!!

  • http://twitter.com/ferdydurk sebastian raul

    “you either position yourself as an ally of the values that are
    (arguably) destroying our habitat, or you look naive in arguiing for a
    complete otherthrow of everything that is assumed to be acceptable and
    normal. A third perspective is to deny the importance of values in the
    context of global challenges.”

    I would choose the second position. The first position  represents the ideological framework of today’s worldview, in which the present values actually represent the “natural” evolution of social life. I make no secret in resenting such premise, mainly because this would mean the perpetuation of today’s society of consumption as “normal”. More than simple moral outrage or indignation, the stakes far outweighs the comfort we still cling on, menacing, bluntly said, our own lives.
    The second position represent the commonly held assumption that values are socially constructed, and thus, socially destructible. A value is not born out of some pre-existent principle (a priori naturalness, a transcendent will etc), but au contraire, principles derive from values. The latter are context-dependent, and so, exposed to (social, political, environmental) change. It seems to be theoretically&practically easier to change when change is needed rather than to change when change is not viewed as necessary. From this point of view, a change of values is possible and will take place. What matters now is how  we can speed up things a little bit.
    The third perspective is pure ridiculousness (it would mean that the economic spheres -  and its decisions – completely supervene on social and civil spheres -  a thing not to be desired in any possible case).

    • Jonathanrowson

      Thanks Sebastian. I broadly agree, but how might we ‘speed things up a little bit?’