Monday, January 3, 2011

A New Year’s Message - Aspirations for a divided world

A New Year's Message - Aspirations for a divided world
Torrey Orton – January 3, 2011

"…, plus c'est la meme chose."

Recently I ran into an IT consultant I had worked with in a bank years ago. From a quick hello, we stepped forward into the past. "How's consulting?" I asked. "Same as 20 years ago", he said. "They're making the same mistakes. IT doesn't understand user needs and users don't understand IT's needs." Since long before CP Snow's The Two Cultures it has ever been so.

He and I, and others, at that time worked to bridge that gap by running a system-building process with conscious intent to surface two-way communication blocks. I had been hired part way into it to front the eventual user helpdesk. We imagined that a defence against misunderstanding, and its siblings distrust, disrespect and dysfunction, could be created by engaging the different perspectives and their stakeholders early. The gap between the working practices of the players was deep enough to be unbridgeable by monthly management committee meetings or the daily drudge of the analysts disclosing the target business practices with enough confidence to warrant encoding them. Forces beyond our control short-circuited the effort. Fantasies are the yeast of imagination not the bread of its results.

Irrational merge-over
The bank in question did not survive its own financial incompetence 20 years ago. Recent memory is populated with more present evidence that they were merely instances of normal bubbles which pop in the national economic firmament, the product of what are now known as the irrational exuberance of capitalism, not the warning they might have been.

The merge-over* winner's own similar IT development project replaced ours, only to fail a year later to the tune of $90 million of that year's dollars. Hopefully some others since then have devised better strategies and finer tools. Legacy systems and system incompetence…for people, history is a source and a drag at once. But not for all peoples in the same way(s) at the same time.

Fast forward twenty years to find George Megalogenis' Quarterly Essay conclusion:

"What makes me pessimistic about the nation's politics now is the character of many of the people in it. The crew that delivered us such a silly campaign have to behave like adults to make the hung parliament work. They will need to overcome a generational instinct for instant gratification." (Trivial Pursuits, pg. 80, QE 40 2010)

Hung parliaments (and the close-call ones like the Victorian Liberal win a month ago) are a little less startling than normal ones these days. They are also promising because the clear lack of voter clarity is clarifying about where we and some others (UK, Iraq…) really are – namely, stuck. Stuckness, for shrinks, is a classic symptom of unresolved, and momentarily unresolvable, conflicts within persons, families and groups. For others, politicians for instance, it's the material of fear (of the uncertainty unavoidably present in the body politic) and loathing (of the pretensions of those who are seen to be uncertainty's cause – lesser political forces like Greens and independents). While being stuck is also a necessary precursor to solutions for difficult problems, it can turn into being mired. Political intransigence is a potent muck.

A sustainable response?
I find it easier to entertain aspirations for people rather than humanity in our collective forms - our cultures. Maybe this is proper in a deeply evolutionary sense, though merely an introverted preference in my personal one. The sustainable responses to present challenges may come from individual variations more than group ones?? Along the way many will not be adaptive or adapting.

In this view, the excessive late-capitalist focus on personal choice at the cost of all other levels and actions may be the 'right' emphasis in the natural tension between groups and the needs of their members. Our group and culture boundaries and meanings are breaking down faster than new ones being built, and that will likely be the case in the new powers of the east because their modernising is scientific like ours was and science eats traditional cultures, without consuming them. Sorting out the eaters from the eaten is usually violent, openly or implicitly.

While messages of wonder about the state and future(s) the "the West" increase, counterpoints from and about "the East" arise as well to remind us that the pathways of history are marked by cultures' living carcases, upon some of which their successors grow like the saplings of forest giants in California do on their parents' remains. Strangely, the rising and declining cultures (eastern and western) both identify themselves with their historical origins, all the more intensely as the pressures and strains of their respective stages of development torsion their psychosociospiritual innards.

So, engage
Rather than careening off into a revisit of the state of the world, I realise as a result of the difficulty of writing this so far – 3 weeks of stumbling around – that my aspiration for a divided world (which it has ever been so – nothing special about today's divisions other than their being the ones I'm experiencing now) is to be engaged myself in at least four dimensions:

My ageing and the possibility of a useless surviving (where unnecessary resource consumption meets loss of control of the choice to consume);

My need for an integrated professional practice in a context of dis-integrating forces moving persistently to decompose practice into specializations;

My enjoyment of therapy's endless opportunity for marvel at the different ways of being human;


My conflictedly engaged relation with the world, reflected in my various sub-optimal patterns mingled with my flowing ones.

There are many enjoyments yet to be had along the way. They are not subjects of self-dispute, only perhaps of indulgent imbalances or over-consumptions.

* merge-over – a term coined at the time by us to describe what in public discussion by leaders was just a merger, even though it was clear we would never emerge whole from the exercise, and many would fall along the way as branches were "rationalised", as they liked to say.

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