Reforming Capitalism

Will interest several here. Laurie Taylor’s Thinking Allowed on BBC R4 later today and podcast thereafter. With David Harvey and Colin Crouch.

In Laurie’s newsletter introducing the episode:

Anyone for Tennis?

It was Jill Ryder who provided my introduction to politics. When I told my school friend Pete Roberts that I kept seeing this beautiful, elegant, blonde-haired girl walking home from school along Alexandra Road, he warned me to keep away. She was well out of my thirteen-year-old range. Not only did she live in the posh area called Blundellsands but she was also a Young Conservative.

But couldn’t I become a Young Conservative too? Pete reckoned it was impossible. They’d never allow someone like me onto their tennis courts or into their posh dances at the Blundellsands hotel.

It was, I suspect, this failure with Jill, rather than any ideological impulse, which led me, just one year later, to join the local Labour League of Youth.

As with many later versions of Labour youth groups, the League was well-stocked with adolescent radicals ? a situation which was eventually to lead to its expulsion from the Labour Party. But at the time we were left to pursue our revolutionary ambitions, to organise marches in support of striking dockers, to protest at the wages paid to workers in local factories, to demand a halt to council house rent rises.

As a relatively junior member my role was confined to printing off leaflets and helping to construct placards for our regular demonstrations. My favourite slogan was nothing more than the stark injunction ”Smash Capitalism Now’. And my greatest triumph, still spoken about in later years among League members, was to smuggle myself into the grounds of the local Conservative club, and then once I was positioned outside the tennis courts, unfurl my revolutionary slogan. It was a testimony to the casual dominance of the local Conservatives that I was allowed to hold up my banner for several minutes before being firmly escorted from the grounds.

And there, among the group of young people ironically waving me farewell, was beautiful, elegant blonde-haired Jill Ryder. Or, as the League preferred to have when the matter was discussed at a later meeting, beautiful, elegant, blond-haired filthy capitalist Jill Ryder.

Capitalism and its faults and contradictions and how these might be remedied. That will be on the agenda today when I meet two leading critics of our current economic system: David Harvey, author of Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism, and Colin Crouch, author of Making Capitalism Fit for Society.


Wiser Universities

Yesterday evening Nick Maxwell presented “How Universities Can Help Create a Wiser World” launching his latest book of the same name. Alan Sokal and and Philip Ball provided responses.

Some 50/55 in the theatre as the UCL Grand Challenge on Human Wellbeing is introduced.

Nick is describing his main theme that science has enabled the technologies that have contributed, even created, many of the global problems we face, but blaming science is the wrong response. Obviously science and technology are to be credited with immense positive progress. The problem is a damagingly irrational conception of “enquiry” that dissociates the pursuit of knowledge from how we apply technologies to achieving what is of value in the world.

The idea that Human Well-being is seen as a grand challenge by an academic institution like UCL is an indication that some part of the necessary revolution is already under way. But the rationality of Wisdom Enquiry is not yet recognised as part of this. The problem is that Knowledge Enquiry excludes value-based aspects of problem definition and problem solving – objectivisation and even hyper-specialisation often, without any interaction with the values and aims of the bigger picture. And that’s true even though the concern with the bigger picture may be exercising the minds of the same participants in their wider social world, evenings and weekends.

If you’ve read Nick’s earlier works, the continuing arguments are well recognised and rehearsed. (From Knowledge to Wisdom and Is Science Neurotic for example.) His 7-level model of Aim-Oriented Empiricism / Rationality. In fact as Nick concludes, it’s the same message he’s been pushing for over 40 years.

Feeding AOR into “Social Life” –  the task is social methodology or social philosophy, not social science. Methodology notice, philosophy of action, about doing not theorising

Dr Philip Ball responds, mainly to the book itself. Science is much less methodical than it appears, than it might formally admit (Maxwell’s scientific neurosis?). Trend to have to define and justify (funding) aims in terms of economic benefit. (But must aims be economic – bean-countable?) Dr Ball sees the solutions as essentially economic, even if they may require alternate market models and incentives. The recently recurring reminder that Adam Smith was a moral philosopher before and above his position as an economist. (Very Benthamite – reducing all issues to cost-benefit, even justifying art projects on relevance and benefit.) Democracy is not a necessary part of scientific progress. Agree focus must shift from knowing, but to doing.

Alan Sokal responding;  Science does make metaphysical assumptions, even though it would deny it. Scientists take weekends off, but we all know when non-unified scientific hypotheses are crazy. Nick’s work on the hierarchical AOE/R are important contributions to the philosophy of science, but the lack of “Wisdom Inquiry” in academic institutions is not really the fundamental problem preventing progress, rather than say economic incentives. Nick’s wisdom inquiry claims are probably more targeted at the social sciences than the natural sciences. (Quite the opposite in fact.)

My take is this.

Alan Sokal is well known for his fighting on the side of strict rationality against social constructivism, and yes we can all shoot PoMo Social Constructivists like fish in a barrel. Nick Maxwell’s “Aim Oriented Empiricism” basis for wisdom is however at that interface of rational knowledge with the social.

Yes, the rationality of the processes of gaining and applying knowledge may be strictly objective, logical, scientific. But, the rationality of aims is more than that. It’s also about what we value and how we agree what we should value. That is philosophical, even subjective and clearly social. They’re “problematic” – the task as Nick says is social methodology or social philosophy, not social science – requiring more than rational knowledge to manage and solve. Wisdom.

So, does Alan Sokal believe there can be more to applied wisdom than strictly logical, objective, scientific rationality and knowledge? Apparently not.

Ultimately disappointing, the discussion drew out into very general criticisms of “too hard”, and wider questions of national, resource and conflict governance – the arithmetic of democracy not excluded (*1) – well beyond academe. In fact both respondents really failed to pick up on the social values aspect of Nick’s “Aim Orientation”, slipping too easily to see aims as quantifiable economic goals (*2).



(*1) Sure, the one man one vote emancipation, epitomises the importance of the value of any human, but we’re talking here about methodology and doing, We can’t all take equal roles in every action, let alone deciding every action.

(*2) Sure, technology is universally recognised as the main driver of global economic activity, and science as the main enabler of technology (Kondratiev, Schumpeter, Kuhn, you name them). But as well as enabling, what we do needs enacting, requiring populations of people with hearts and minds, hopes and fears, that ultimately determine what is achieved; Hiroshima or Heysham.

Daniel Kahneman – Battleground between Logic and Intuition

Don’t miss today’s BBC2 TV Horizon documentary.

The good things we want to achieve by fixing the worlds ills are no-brainers. How we achieve decisions – by democratic or revolutionary means – to achieve our aims is a more difficult and immediate problem.


Better Basis of Thinking

I know this has been shared on some mailing lists, but not so far on The Global Circle so far as I can tell – it’s a worthwhile read, so I’m posting the link here.

Towards a New Philosophical Foundation for Physics

It highlights how our received wisdom of the nature of 3D space could be the cause of much unexplained weirdness at the root of modern physics, with examples. It doesn’t claim to solve those puzzles, but emphasises how alternative ways of thinking might produce less paradoxical physics.

Everybody Wants a Revolution

Hi Folks, I drafted this piece partly prompted by Jeff’s post and Ronnie’s response on the topic of climate change scientists calling for political revolution. I was prompted to publish it this morning after seeing Rob Webb’s response to Russell Brand’s call for “revolution” in British politics.

Hope you find it a useful contribution.
(Read the link to Rob Webb’s piece, even if you don’t read all of mine.)

Some Housekeeping Suggestions

Now that we have some traction with getting valuable content and interaction on The Global Circle Blog, I want to remind us of a number of other tasks which will add and maintain value. Remember we still have a very crude template (or “theme”) which limits functionality seen, and I’m keen to add more in.

The basic posting / titling / tagging of posts / pages / statuses is clearly a little confusing – in what you can do on the public page and what you can do via the dashboard – we shouldn’t need to worry about such techy options. I can fix that with a change of theme.

Secondly the style of contributions – we have several distinct styles, worth getting into some habits how we use them. We have
(a) This link is interesting – full stop.
(b) This link is interesting – and here is how and why I think it related to some specific part of our agenda.
(c) Here is a longer essay / piece of writing I’ve created, with or without links.
(d) Emails to the JISC Mailing List, which really are candidates for blog posts. I’d like to encourage all who still post to the mail list to post to the blog – everyone on the mail list gets a notification copy anyway.
In all cases these are valuable resources.

The actual essays / longer pieces we should capture as separate documents / pages rather than just leave in a date sequenced set of posts. Much easier to add additional links and suggestions later. (If anyone needs help publishing any new writing in on-line formats, just ask.)

The linked articles of interest, comments on these and the original writings are all resources. Resources we should organise, and we should probably do this using Lee’s Wikiversity pages – since that’s exactly what they were intended for. Myself (and I’m sure Lee) are happy to do the legwork organizing, moving, linking, publishing – but we need the group to give us pointers as to the topics the resources should be organised and linked under. What I’m asking is that people start to use the tagging for all posts, be creative, invent tags as you go, if the existing ones don’t take your fancy. I / we can use these to create actual categories and structure so that the resource grows in long term value, rather than fleeting interest.

(Don’t panic if my changes of theme and configuration change what you see on the blog, all content is safe, and will re-appear somewhere.)


Scientism has become a fashionable topic recently.

The piece by Steven Pinker in New Republic defending science against charges of scientism, whilst nevertheless implying science had all the answers for non-scientific challenges, prompted lots of reaction.

I happen to agree with Wieseltier here, and relate this blind-spot of science, denying the value of any wisdom beyond GOF scientific empiricism to Nick Maxwell’s “Scientific Neurosis”.

What do you think?
It’s an advance on the tedious science vs religion debate, and maybe a public conversation where we can inject some vital philosophy, bring some values of wisdom to life?


Having now got this simple blog up and running, I’m conscious that the mantra emerging from the mailing list so far is let’s maximise action and minimise the mail box. It’s a common frustration with on-line communities, that whether email, forum or blog based, that all we ever seem to do is talk (in or about written text). Sooner rather than later, the on-line communications should concern actions we’re taking individually and as a group. However, it will be exceptional, that many of us do actually get together to act in any physically co-located activity, so in general we are only going to get to know each other through our conversations, mainly conversations via electronic media.

One of the things I like about the way this group has come together so far, is that despite the common aims, we are nevertheless from many overlapping groups and initiatives with their own principal activities and goals, each with our own pet-projects and pet-subjects. In some sense, since “wise action” to tackle global problems is our common aim, we all must be to some extent “pragmatic” yet we’ve got this far without nailing our common colours to the mast of any particular methodology or “ism”. I think that’s healthy.

One suggestion I have, is that in order to fast-track “getting to know” each other, and respect each other’s existing projects and activities, we should probably each pen an “introduction” for a members page, with links to our existing activities and pet resources. One reason to do this (from experience) is that we will often feel the relevance to “plug” something we’re already doing, yet feel guilty about too many personal plugs hijacking other members posts. The links and resources, should all find their way into the wiki and or other web-pages as appropriate, but a personal statement of interests, publications and aspirations of each member should stand in their own right?