Stuck? 5 World crisis and its roots

Continued from Stuck? 4 The technological/ business/ capitalist world

World crisis and its roots

As a result of ‘the system’, as is now widely understood by scientists, the world is in crisis[i] – stressed environments, species loss, global warming, social deprivation and poverty, weapons of mass destruction etc. The result of our selfish materialistic system, and its irrational over-dependence on oil[ii], threatens to destroy our civilisation completely. Recent environmental catastrophes such as oil and chemical spills and widespread floods, and political catastrophes such as wars and terrorism, are but some of many recent warning signs.

The symptoms suggest a collective mental dissociation from the emotional and physical effects of our actions. Just as in my own life-threatening crisis, the battle between material desires and spiritual values rages. It seems a reasonable analogy[iii] to suggest that we need to collectively grow up, beyond the simple certainties of selfish materialism, to integrate our human mind, heart and body (the planet) and build a world based on spiritual values, to the benefit of the common good.

Just as I needed to integrate my own neglected feelings, we need to connect with our hearts. We know that it is things of the heart that really matter, whilst the glamours and illusions of today’s transient desires for consumer goods and money soon pall and fade[iv]. If we will but listen, our hearts are in anguish over the state of our planet and the threat to our children, and to our children’s children and future generations. But, as Al Gore has persuasively argued, we are collectively still in denial[v]!

Only with inspired creativity and wisdom can we solve the many divergent problems of the world crisis. The mind alone acts out of the power-based balancing of interests we see in world politics today, leading eventually to the relative neglect of concerns of body, heart and spirit that we also see. Mind, heart and spirit in concert can harness intuition to act with wisdom, doing what is best for all[vi].


Many commentators have suggested that it was around the time of the emergence of modern science in the 16th/ 17th centuries that the current split in our consciousness occurred[vii]. Simplistically, Descartes split our mind (res cogitans) off from the world (res extensa). The disembodied intellect (cogito ergo sum) controlled the world. Francis Bacon clarified the separation of science and religion, stating that the scientific method has no moral significance. What sounded at first a reasonable separation of concerns and striving for objectivity became a flight from qualities and values. By the 18th century Enlightenment, science “seemed to have dispensed with the need for God as a necessary factor in its explanation of the universe”[viii].

The resulting paradigm of scientific materialism has proved to be inadequate to describe the world we live in. With its fellow, capitalism, it has in some parts of the world created wealth and technology undreamed of. On the other hand, it has destroyed and exploited communities on a grand scale and is instrumental in the world crisis. Humanity would seem to have a choice – to transcend this simplistic paradigm, or to create an environment that is increasingly unsympathetic to the existence of human beings, perhaps to perish.

Our collective human psyche needs to be healed from the ‘Descartian’ split and re-inspired.

2023 perspective: It is difficult to comprehend that things have actually got worse over the last 20 years, despite all the many clarion calls across the years. The modern ‘permacrisis’ now threatens humanity’s very future. We now live in the crisis years when change becomes inevitable.

Featured image is NASA chart showing global CO2 levels since 800,000 years ago.

[i] The world crisis is documented in many places, notably in the annual State of the World reports by Lester R. Brown for the Worldwatch Institute.

[ii] For an inspiring work on the problems of the oil economy and what we need to do, see The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, Thom Hartmann.

[iii] ‘As above, so below.’ Analogy and correspondence are tools of the traditional wisdom.

[iv] For discussion of glamours and illusions see GLAMOUR, A World Problem, Alice Bailey

[v] A good analysis of the state of denial of our dysfunctional civilisation is given in Earth in the Balance, Al Gore. The failure of the 2002 Earth Summit in Johannesburg to produce coherent action plans illustrates the continuation of this denial.

[vi] In A Guide for the Perplexed, E.F.Schumacher distinguishes between ‘science for understanding’, which he equates to wisdom, as primarily directed towards the True, the Good and the Beautiful, with the modern ‘science for manipulation’ primarily directed towards material power.

[vii] The evolution of Western ideas is brilliantly captured in The Passion of the Western Mind, Richard Tarnas. There is also a concise summary in Earth in the Balance, Al Gore.

[viii] Quoted from The Enlightenment, Norman Hampson.

Stuck? 4 The technological/ business/ capitalist world

Continued from Stuck? 3 Personal crisis and growth

The technological/ business/ capitalist world

After many years in the business world, first as engineer, later as manager, I became aware that both these disciplines are heavily dominated by that simple materialistic paradigm of my schooldays. Science and engineering are the drivers; science discovers technology, engineering puts it to work, management makes it happen. Money making is the object. And measurement of quantity is the ‘scientific’ management tool par excellence. Highly paid managers ‘persuade’ less highly paid managers to do things by setting them quantitative objectives which they have to achieve to earn respect, bonuses, salary increases and promotion.

Unfortunately, awareness of the uncertainty principle seems low – although it appears to be applicable. The act of measuring changes what is being measured. Thus I observed many a meaningless numerical target ‘achieved’ to no good purpose.

I gradually became more concerned about the quality of what was being done, and delved into the ‘quality’ movement. I discovered that, under the influence of quality gurus such as Philip Crosby[i], qualities were essentially reduced to measurable objective things in order that they could be ‘managed’. Qualitative things such as ethics, values, meanings and aesthetics were rarely stressed in business, except when it came to marketing the company.

We can observe that such qualitative factors are often not taken into consideration by many companies. Hence companies do bad things – ENRON and Worldcom being but recent examples of a very long list. Individuals are faced with the choice of achieving the approval of their bosses, and money and career, or following their own personal values where there is a conflict[ii]. Since the action is often ‘at a distance’ from the real human effects, such as the persecuted community in Nigeria or Indonesia, it is not surprising that the senior managers mostly get their way, to keep happy the shareholders of the even more ‘at a distance’ limited liability company.

Governments also increasingly treat government as management, with a similar quantitative emphasis. Not surprisingly, the current UK New Labour government is running into problems with its long list of numerical targets, and seems to have difficulty in articulating its values.

So we have a ‘system’ of science, technology, business and government (and economics and law etc.) that is dominated by this rather simplistic pseudo-scientific way of looking at the world, quantity dominating over quality, with self-interest and money predominant.

2023 perspective: no change here, then. The list of corporate scandals grows ever longer. Government has become even more about management. Increasing inequality demonstrates the lack of human values in decision making across the piece.

Featured image of Bell Curve by User:HiTe, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

[i] Philip Crosby’s ‘system’ of quality is described in Quality is Free, Philip Crosby. More comprehensive approaches to quality, such as the model of the European Foundation for Quality Management, now address more qualitative factors, but generally strive to reduce the result to numbers in the end.

[ii] Why even good companies do bad things is the subject of When Good Companies Do Bad Things, Peter Schwartz & Blair Gibb


My post Modes of knowing highlighted that we have two modes of knowing: rationality, corresponding to left brain function; and intuition, corresponding to right brain function. The human being operates at best when these two modes of knowing operate in tandem, and there is great danger when the rational/left brain function takes over and ignores or denies the right brain/intuition. This is the root cause of fundamentalism.

Fundamentalism appears in many guises in the modern world.

  • Religious fundamentalism. We all know about that. The word in the holy books is taken as a statement of fact, rather than as metaphor. We see these fundamentalists all over the world – Islamic Christian, Hindhu, Buddhist… The effect is to deny the basic truths that were initially espoused by the founding spiritual teachers – Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha…
  • Political fundamentalism. The dedication to a particular ideology, which is often the cover for a privileged class, even an individual, to stay in control of society.
  • Economic fundamentalism. The dedication to particular ideas about how an economy is run, such as that private is always good, public spending is always bad, of many modern right wingers – or indeed the very opposite from many modern left wingers.
  • Scientific materialist fundamentalism. The belief that objective science and the materialist paradigm can explain everything, and that subjective life – religion/spirituality, morality, values etc – are somehow unimportant as without foundation.

I’m sure you could add further examples. Yes, fundamentalism abounds wherever there is human thought and endeavour – particularly, I would suggest, in these days of significant left-brain domination. The task of human development is, as ever, to tread the path between the extremes that lead to fundamentalism, to respond to life with the full subjectivity of those very subjective values that fundamentalism is inherently unable to take into consideration. To be human beings, not the machines that various fundamentalisms would seek to turn us into.

Inspired by Iain McGilchrist’s The Matter with Things.
Featured image by Stiller Beobachter from Ansbach, Germany, via Wikimedia Commons

Politics as my Footnote

In this reblogged post, Matt Tevebaugh expresses clearly something many of us have thought. The values of what I would call the ‘celebrity culture’ are what led to the election of a president like Donald Trump, the ultimate empty ‘celebrity’.
The politicians we elect reflect our values. What does this say about the Western world, and particularly US and UK? Too many have lost or ignored their depth of soul and meaning, and settled for the surface attraction of the celebrity culture and the sports star. When we regain some depth, we will elect politicians of genuine depth and substance.
Great post by Matt:

Matt's Notes

We are in the middle of a contentious election. And that is perhaps an understatement. There’s lots of opinions flying around, and even some violent displays of opinions. So this is a serious conversation. I don’t want to come off like I am taking the reality lightly. But I am doing my best to treat politics as a footnote for myself and other people.

I realize that statement can come across as a lot of things. Blind. Ignorant. Perhaps demeaning and even racist. It’s perhaps easy to say I am going to reducing a system that is oppressing people to a footnote because I am not part of the group being oppressed. But let me explain a little further.

My hope for the future does not rest in politics. Whether he actually said it or not, Albert Einstein is often quoted as saying some version of the phrase “We can’t…

View original post 846 more words

Measurement and Targets

Measure an aspect of a system and you will change it. For example, I once included a graph of number of people late for a regular meeting; the tardy individuals soon began to arrive on time and the measure ‘improved’. So measurement is a great management tool.

Set a target on that measure and you (possibly aim to) fundamentally change the system. The target becomes a part of the system.

If the system is one involving human values and relationships, it is likely to be thus dehumanized. It is quite apparent that immigration/removal targets set at the UK Home Office led directly to the inhuman practices that feature in the current ongoing ‘Windrush’ scandal.

The interesting thing about targets is that, if the target is the main way of measurement of staff (or of a separate subcontractor), then they are effectively being pushed into behaving in a value-free and inhumane way – and, when this is discovered, the management can hold up their hands, say ‘not me gov’, and blame the lower level operatives (or subcontractor) whose jobs depended on meeting the targets.

This is the dirty secret of much high level management, and of course politicians. Management by numbers alone is, at the end of the day, not management at all, but abdication of responsibility.

A target is a good servant, but a poor master.

Of course, profit and other financial numbers are measures, and our current capitalism depends on using them. Use them as the main incentive for senior management, and what do you get? Enron, banking crises, bribery, corruption, all sorts of value-free behaviour…

James Robertson

james-robertsonI was sorry to learn that James Robertson is to no longer produce his regular newsletter or maintain his website, This is a great shame, but one can well understand it at the age of 89.

I first came across James at Schumacher Lectures in Bristol, maybe in the 1980s, and was inspired by his ideas on economics and the money system, which originated in a career at times closely associated with UK governance. This inspiration has continued over the years since then, in his articles, books, talks, seminars and then his regular newsletters – Turning Point 2000 up to the turn of the millennium, and his regular email newsletter since then.

James’s ideas deserve to be more widely known. I won’t try to summarise; the following from the front page of his website gives a good idea. This truly does indicate a necessary component of a New Renaissance, as indeed James said in his Knutsford Lecture in the 1990s.Read More »

Just before the Dawn

I was struck by this observation by Steve Taylor in his February newsletter:

“The cultural conflict taking place now is between the old values and traits associated with the human race’s old state of ‘sleep’, and the new values and traits associated with a wakeful state. The old traits are threatened, and so are trying to assert themselves more strongly. It’s almost as if, within our collective psyche, the state of sleep senses that it is being superseded, and is trying to tighten its grip. So that’s why, in spite of all the madness in the world at the moment, I still remain optimistic.”

No doubt Steve is referring to the chaos of Brexit, the Trump presidency and the resurgence of values of discrimination against minorities, racism, misogyny, nationalism, separation, beggar-thy-neighbour…

It can seem disheartening that the progress made over the 70 years since the second world war is under threat and apparently in retreat.

I do feel that it helps in this situation to see the wider context, as Steve suggests. Humanity is undergoing a great developmental change, and it is inevitable that the ‘old’ values will from time to time reassert themselves with renewed vigour. It is our job to weather the storm and forge the path forward to the new world that we would wish to bequeath to our children and grandchildren.

As the saying goes, it is always darkest just before the dawn.

Featured image One Minute Before Sunrise by Jessie Eastland, via Wikimedia Commons