11 to 7 on the Paradigm Shift

There are great amounts of quality disparagements of business schools in general (intentional or not), and MBA programs in particular. The singular ethos, such as it exists, or lack of concern beyond profiteering for anything involving people, environments, good governance or even public safety opens a very wide field in which quite little is possible other than the growing of predator industries and the election of frauds.

But the hedge-fund guys and girls have largely gotten a pass for a long while now, though that just will not suffice and they refuse to have their lack of acumen for or understanding of the industries they destroy not properly respected for precisely what it is:

To me, this and so many other closings of quality publications leads to a broader question of whether journalistic outlets can even exist under this current age of capitalism. In short, I think the answer is basically no. Journalism can exist in a capitalist system of course, but only when the people who own these outlets have some higher purposes, at least in part, whether it is some belief in the truth or at least a willingness to accept relatively moderate profits instead of instant gold. But we now live in an era of venture capitalist schemes, where rank idiots stumble into massive wealth and believe that they are rich because they are smarter than everyone else. When this happens, as it did in the initial Gilded Age, these morons run roughshod over the world around them.

Just so. The jump comes from a ledge of dangerous combination: You make a great deal of money – however quickly – and also systematically evade any education that would have given you access to some self-awareness that might save you and others something a little more important than two points below prime. The serial misunderstanding of terms will be the subtext of the best work of many future historians and not-a-few extradition treaties. CRaP, for example, is a re-purposed acronym that should be far more useful that it is.

The new Feather-Knocker-Over-er, from Ronco!

Well knock us over with a…

The “shareholder comes first” has for years been the mantra of the Business Roundtable, a group that represents the most powerful CEOs in America and their thinking.

The group’s new principles on the role of a corporation released Monday imply a foundational shift, putting shareholders on more equal footing with others who have an interest in a corporation to some degree — including workers, suppliers, customers and, essentially, society at large.

“We know that many Americans are struggling. Too often hard work is not rewarded, and not enough is being done for workers to adjust to the rapid pace of change in the economy. If companies fail to recognize that the success of our system is dependent on inclusive long-term growth, many will raise legitimate questions about the role of large employers in our society,” the statement reads.

First, let’s think about presenting this as “news” ( it grows increasingly difficult to choose which word gets ironi-quoted)? Not just news but it was above the fold – meat space term for the top story on the site, as though the NYT (WAPO and others) wanted to make sure it was very definitely seen and just as likely unread, per their habits. Great placement! Either it’s meant for the shallow consumption of millions or the verification by the 65 to 85 people who mean the most to them. Theories welcome.

Unusually, I’m not a pitchfork sharpener. But let’s at least be a little skeptical about this gambit. CEO’s are now worried about this? I wonder why? Hong Kong, maybe. Hmmm, let’s think about that, broaden the context of what they’re saying because this may well be being introduced to lead exactly nowhere, as in See, We Talked About That Once. Kind of like a window of purses at Barney’s. Isn’t that nice?

But Hong Kong – complicated (why?). Scary (for whom?). 2047, huh. Interesting. Those people got born and are here now. But look over here – robot cars! Greenland?! What a goob!

Seeing Green – the ‘color-blind’ age

Films – our most powerful cultural vehicle – are, like our decisions about climate justice and immigration cruelty, only as good as the people who are making them. For a long time, the film industry hid behind a financial rationale behind the dearth of black, Latinx and Native American directors. Then it had to get even more sophisticated.

The NYT takes us back to the 1990’s, when supposedly everything was changing:

But as the decade wore on, a wall was re-erected, black filmmakers now say, and many of the same people who had been held up as the faces of a changing industry watched as their careers ground slowly to a halt.

“I was told that I was in director’s jail,” said Matty Rich, whose emotionally incendiary 1991 debut film, “Straight Out of Brooklyn,” won a special jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival that year. Major film studios hailed him as a prodigy. But he’s made only one other film since — in 1994.

Darnell Martin, whose vibrant 1994 romantic comedy “I Like It Like That” was the first studio-produced film to be directed by an African-American woman (it won the New York Film Critics Circle award for best first feature), said she was later blacklisted in the industry for speaking out against racism and misogyny.

“You think, ‘It’s O.K. — you’re like every other filmmaker,’ but then you realize, ‘No,’” she said. “It’s like they set us up to fail — all they wanted was to be able to pat themselves on the back like they did something.”

The New York Times recently convened a discussion with six directors who were part of a wave of young black talent that surged 30 years ago this month — beginning with the success of “Do the Right Thing” in July 1989 — only to come crashing down, as Hollywood in the 1990s and 2000s reconstituted itself around films with white directors and white casts.

It may sound obvious – it is – but the way filmmakers speak with a forward voice and vision is of course connected to those individual filmmakers. Our tender baby steps on diversity are quietly arriving after a very extended epoch of everything-else-has-been-tried-to-prove-we-aren’t-racist. Some remain convinced that everything hasn’t been tried, but still… teeny, baby steps. For more on the racial politics of the movie industry,  see this interview with the author of The Hollywood Jim Crow.

Contradiction Valediction

The newer approach of media to report the widespread destruction of the natural world and the ‘unprecedented pace’ of extinctions,

Humans are transforming Earth’s natural landscapes so dramatically that as many as one million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction, posing a dire threat to ecosystems that people all over the world depend on for their survival, a sweeping new United Nations assessment has concluded.

The 1,500-page report, compiled by hundreds of international experts and based on thousands of scientific studies, is the most exhaustive look yet at the decline in biodiversity across the globe and the dangers that creates for human civilization. A summary of its findings, which was approved by representatives from the United States and 131 other countries, was released Monday in Paris. The full report is set to be published this year.

Countervailed by the older approach of companies using lawsuits to kill any actions to hold them responsible for the climate change they helped cause:

The stated goals of the Climate Leadership Council (CLC) include a $40-a-ton fee on carbon dioxide emissions in return for the gutting of current climate change regulations and “protecting companies from federal and state tort liability for historic emissions”.

Microsoft has become the first technology company to join the CLC, which includes oil giants BP, ExxonMobil, Shell, Total and ConocoPhillips among its founding members. Handing legal immunity to these oil companies would squash a cavalcade of recent climate lawsuits launched by cities and counties across the US, including one by King county, Washington, where Microsoft is based.

The name of the consortium alone has Orwell blanching in the afterbar, as Whitman and Descartes stroke their beards. The recent talk about the demise capitalism has no better illustration. Who are these companies negotiating with? Similar to President Garbage – an antagonist without a conscience, who are congressional investigators negotiating with? There are laws? Backed by what, if a shameless head of state or a group of corporations guard their power with only impunity? Fighting something isn’t a basis on which you will prevail, thought both seek to codify their impunity by its mere existence. Look at these defenses. They are but dares. What say us?

Image: elephant in the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy at the foot of Mount Kenya. AFP/Getty

Easy to See, Difficult to Look

Two peoples, separated by a common language, gaping and gasping at each others’ stupidity across the ocean blue:

There’s been perfectly understandable confusion expressed here, by more than one commentator, wondering why the British Parliament doesn’t just ‘cancel’ Brexit. The sheer weight of evidence showing how damaging any form of it will be is so clear, the level of corruption (including foreign funding and meddling) surrounding the 2016 Referendum is so obvious, the scale of the divisions it will leave in British society are so terrifying – why on earth are the democratically elected representatives of the British people still going ahead with it in the face of all that? What’s wrong with them? Why do the British people stand for it?

It’s a fair question, so let me answer it with another question.

Given the huge damage that the Trump Administration is doing to America, and given that the level of corruption (including foreign funding and meddling) surrounding the 2016 Election is so obvious, and given that the scale of division Trumpism is causing in American society is so terrifying, why on earth haven’t the democratically elected representatives of the American people done the right and obvious thing and removed the Gelatinous Orange Pustule from office? What’s wrong with them? Why do the American people stand for it?

In both cases, it’s the same sad boringly predictable answer. The people who want to stop it are a majority within the country, and they might be a majority within the Legislative branch, but they are not a majority within the Governing Party. While the minority Party, which does have a (large) majority in favour of stopping the whole shit-parade, is a MINORITY, with a small minority of members within it (some of them in pretty senior posts) who don’t really want to stop it. It can’t force or win a vote to stop anything without substantial crossover support from members of the Governing Party, and the members of the Governing Party who think it should be stopped will not give that support unless they absolutely and unavoidably have to in order to save their own skins. They won’t even loan their votes to slowing it down unless they’re face to face with a sharp-fanged decision-point that they can’t avoid, and as soon as that vote has taken place it’s straight back into Line of Battle and clocks are reset to zero.

Another obvious question, given the relatively simple proposition that Anything Else > This Parade of Gobshittery, is why there isn’t a majority within the Governing Parties to stop Brexit/dump Trump? Or, more realistically, why won’t the minority of elected members of the Governing Party who believe it/he should be stopped/dumped join with the minority Party to make it happen? Again, it’s the same answer for both countries. Fear. The very real and well-supported fear these elected representatives have of losing their access to high-status positions and post-politics employment in the ‘Studfarm for Past Favours’ sector if they don’t stick to the Party line; either through being deselected by the radicalised membership of their local Party branch, or by being denied electoral funding by the Party leadership.

How did seeing through Brexit/protecting Trump become unchallengeable Party policy? Well, that’s the result of decisions made earlier. They put themselves in this position through being half as smart and twice as cowardly as they thought they were. In the case of the Tory Party it was the decision to put a referendum on E.U. membership into its 2015 manifesto in order to finally lance the boil of Europhobic bastardy and give the slightly less insane leadership room to move on the European stage, a decision which blew up in Cameron’s face when the national vote of his Liberal-Democrat Coalition partners (who he was banking on to veto the idea of a referendum for him once they returned to office) completely cratered and the Tories actually became a majority Government with an obligation to meet their manifesto promises. While for the Republicans it was the decision to go all-in on Total Obstruction and White Power in the face of Obama’s tyrannical melanin levels, which led directly to the popularity amongst GOP Primary voters of the Birther-in-Chief and the mainstreaming of his brand of sneering, liberal-baiting racism.

Once those twin errors had achieved electoral ‘success’ the Parties were trapped within the ideological cages they represented. Cameron had to have a Referendum, the GOP had to have Trump as their candidate. Both were destructive decisions based at their inception on maintaining internal party-political unity at all costs, screw the greater good, but both were errors the respective Party leaderships thought they could get away with once the voting public – rather than the extremists within the Party electorate – got a good look at the reality of what they were offering. No one would be stupid enough to actually vote Leave/elect Trump, would they?

(Insert image of surprised looking bear crouched behind a woodland bush reading a newspaper with a prominent “Is the Pope Catholic?” headline)

Enter Fake News and illegally funded campaigns aimed at leveraging widescale public fear of changing socio-economic realities and the ever-pulsing vein of white racism into a multi-tool for getting people to vote against ‘something’, against ‘anything’, against every bloody thing that pissed them off, because it was all THEIR fault and THEY needed to be taught a lesson. Enter compliant and complicit Media entities that wanted the drama and the controversy, that were so fixated on ginning up an eyeball-dragging horserace that they were quite willing to overlook overwhelming evidence of cheating on behalf of the ‘underdogs’ if it made for sellable conflict. In Britain, as in America, established and provable facts were put in the dock alongside barefaced lies and debunked conspiracy theories, with ‘so-called experts’ forced to justify and explain their entire field of expertise in 30 second soundbites while spittle-flecked nutcases in red, white and blue romper-suits were given uninterrupted airtime to puke-funnel any damned thing they wanted into the bemused face of a general public that were less informed at the conclusion of campaigning than they’d been at the start.

In the end the loudest shouters won. And while their shocked enablers in the establishment media turned all of their time and energy towards sending expeditions of bead-and-button carrying urban sophisticates out into the Wild to bring back precious recordings of the sacred ways and eternal truths underpinning the unspoilt, rough-hewn and not-at-all racist Homo Sal-in-Terra cultures who had delivered these electorally narrow but also – in a sensuously metaphysical sense that just flicked the hell out of every savvy, everything you know is wrong bean in the infotainment industry – somehow incredibly portentous and paradigm-shifting victories at the polls for White Suprema…(Editor’s Note – Are you sure you meant to say this?) …..Working-Class Populism, the Parties found themselves lumbered with the job of translating the cut-and-pasted ravings of comment section misanthropes into national and international policy. The ambitious and the deeply stupid flocked forward to take up the challenge, while the guilty sloped away to hurriedly change their shoes and deny in indignant tones any responsibility whatsoever for tracking bull-shit over the nation’s creamy carpets.

In both cases what we’ve had since is the result of putting nearly unfettered power over the nation’s present and future into the hands of utter fuckwits; people who achieved prominence in the field of fuckwittery by steadily building up a portfolio of crass stupidity, whining victimhood and uninformed wrongness for all to see, taking the retrograde side of every argument and proving themselves suitable for no post more challenging than bringing up the rear in a Human Centipede. But these are the people with the whip-hand in our respective Governments. We’ve got Brexiteers and you’ve got Freedom Caucus types. They may not have the numbers, but they’ve been empowered by their Party leaderships to set the terms of acceptable debate and that’s what’s killed any hopes of good government or compromise. It’s their way or… well… that’s your only option. They’ve been reborn as avatars on Earth for the Dark Lord Willadapeepul and their Word is Law. With the Right-Wing Media providing the songbook and the establishment Media happily humming along to the chorus their malicious lunacy has been given an unearned patina of plain-spoken common-sense and amplified across the nation with a result similar to sticking a trumpet up a hippo’s arse – it’s noisy, the shit goes everywhere and only the deeply kinky are smiling.

So, basically, neither of our countries can have nice things because the Parties in Government are in the grip of ideological tractor-beams dragging them further and further away from reality, and the Media are either leading the way on behalf of their Europhobic publishers or are happy to go with them in pursuit of ratings and promotions. What this means over here is that, as the prospect of Brexit begins to resemble the ‘Libera te tutemet ex inferis’ scene from ‘Event Horizon’, the nutters are digging in their heels and making the choice for anti-Brexit Conservatives stark. They either break with the Party whip and grab onto the next available life-raft, whether that means backing a confirmatory referendum on May’s deal, revoking Article 50, or backing a Labour vote of no-confidence in the Government to force a General Election. They are the only people who can stop this, but in doing so they’ll break their Party for a generation and probably never win elected office again.

It’s in their hands. Even Theresa May says so.

Via BalloonJuice.

What does Gilets jaunes mean?

Rumblings on the hustings, the corporate global economic order has Always been predicated on sacrificing the working class. Always:

It’s obvious now, however, that the new model not only weakened the fringes of the proletariat but society as a whole.The paradox is this is not a result of the failure of the globalised economic model but of its success. In recent decades, the French economy, like the European and US economies, has continued to create wealth. We are thus, on average, richer. The problem is at the same time unemployment, insecurity and poverty have also increased. The central question, therefore, is not whether a globalised economy is efficient, but what to do with this model when it fails to create and nurture a coherent society?

In France, as in all western countries, we have gone in a few decades from a system that economically, politically and culturally integrates the majority into an unequal society that, by creating ever more wealth, benefits only the already wealthy.

The change is not down to a conspiracy, a wish to cast aside the poor, but to a model where employment is increasingly polarised. This comes with a new social geography: employment and wealth have become more and more concentrated in the big cities. The deindustrialised regions, rural areas, small and medium-size towns are less and less dynamic. But it is in these places – in “peripheral France” (one could also talk of peripheral America or peripheral Britain) – that many working-class people live. Thus, for the first time, “workers” no longer live in areas where employment is created, giving rise to a social and cultural shock.

Switch out France périphérique for the Rust Belt. They are interchangeable, except that the former has not, as yet, voted straight fascist and retains the habit of taking to the street – as well as tearing up parts of it to throw at the police. It’s how different cultures tackle the same problem: the left-behindness, debt, low pay, high taxes, inequality, and ignorance upon which the limited successes of late capitalism depend. It’s certainly not pleasant, but people have long-understood this and attempted to warn us from the dragons – Dr. K, Joe Stiglitz, Thomas Piketty – nor it is unrelated to the bizarre vortex we’ve been documenting here for ten(!) years. And the Gilets jaunes are not solving this problem. But they are making us look, and we’re not even used to that.

Image: Author photo of a different type of inundation, near Pont Neuf, 2016

A.I., A.I., captain!

Joseph Stiglitz, he of former World Bankiness, haver of the 2001 Nobel Prize in economics who warned that globalization was taking place at the behest international conglomerates rather than “forces,” now comes to light his hair on fire present similar cautions about Artificial Intelligence:

“Artificial intelligence and robotisation have the potential to increase the productivity of the economy and, in principle, that could make everybody better off,” he says. “But only if they are well managed.”

Beyond the impact of AI on work, Stiglitz sees more insidious forces at play. Armed with AI, tech firms can extract meaning from the data we hand over when we search, buy and message our friends. It is used ostensibly to deliver a more personalised service. That is one perspective. Another is that our data is used against us.

“These new tech giants are raising very deep issues about privacy and the ability to exploit ordinary people that were never present in earlier eras of monopoly power,” says Stiglitz. “Beforehand, you could raise the price. Now you can target particular individuals by exploiting their information.”

It is the potential for datasets to be combined that most worries Stiglitz. For example, retailers can now track customers via their smartphones as they move around stores and can gather data on what catches their eye and which displays they walk straight past.

The data farming of which we are all willing seeds know no boundaries, recognizes no politics and sees only profits. Shaded with the camouflage of complexity, it is a winning hand. Are we up for the ‘boring overwhelming’ of taking on the Tech giants? Wait, let me come in again…

Image: Warehouse operated by Amazon, via The Guardian

Elevation of Silicon Valley

The lowest point in San Jose is 13 feet below sea level and though it has its high points, I agree that the tech boom is probably done. The way in which profits are squeezed from marginal web apps has gone the way of wide brim ties for the moment, and though Musk remains a hero at the major news outlets there seems to be only shadow chasing for the big start-up fashion show funding carnival that was all the rage until the lights came on. And despite the hype, even autonomous vehicles appear to be circling back to their original question: how?

BUT… the economy is… booming? Okay, the business news will all turn negative as we reach full employment and wages go up because anything that is good for workers must be bad. The captains of cronyism continue their long-term project of undermining capitalism from within. Now they’ll have pay higher wages or else. I kid. Will the know-nothings in power begin to learn to love the tariffs as they slingshot back at US? How many socialists will take the oath of office after November? Can capitalism be crippled without putting representative democracy in traction, too? This is to say nothing of the boiling racism at the heart of every policy question from immigration to the environment to voting rights.

Okay, enough vacation. Everybody back to work.

Image: Author photo from a somewhat great height.

Modes for toads

Nice DE-veining of ‘design thinking’ in the CHE:

Despite his enthusiasm, Miller struggles to define design thinking. “It’s an approach to problem-solving based on a few easy-to-grasp principles that sound obvious: ‘Show Don’t Tell,’ ‘Focus on Human Values,’ ‘Craft Clarity,’ ‘Embrace Experimentation,’ ‘Mindful of Process,’ ‘Bias Toward Action,’ and ‘Radical Collaboration.’” He explains further that these seven points can be reduced to what are known as the five “modes”: “Empathize,” “Define,” “Ideate,” “Prototype,” and “Test.” He seems particularly impressed with “Empathize”: “Human-centered design redescribes the classical aim of education as the care and tending of the soul.”
Beautiful. Compelling. But what does it mean? According to the d.school’s An Introduction to Design Thinking PROCESS GUIDE, “The Empathize Mode is the work you do to understand people, within the context of your design challenge.” We can dress things up with language about the “soul,” but this is Business 101: Listen to your client and find out what he or she wants.

Miller calls the Empathize Mode “ethnography,” which is uncharitable  to cultural anthropologists who spend their entire lives learning how to observe other people. Few anthropologists would sign on to the idea that amateurs at a d.school boot camp strolling around Stanford and gawking at strangers constitutes “ethnography.” The Empathize Mode of design thinking is roughly as ethnographic as a marketing focus group or a crew of consultants trying to suss out their clients’ desires.

Design thinking, in other words, is just a fancy way of talking about consulting. What Miller, Kelly, and Hennessy are asking us to imagine is that design consulting is a model for retooling all of education. They believe that we should use design thinking to reform education by treating students as clients. And they assert that design thinking should be a central part of what students learn, a lens through which graduates come to approach social reality. In other words, we should view all of society as if we are in the design-consulting business.

Okay maybe not so nice. But still, the designification of arts and any other kind of education is a wagon train that should stopped, frisked, emptied of its contents, its wheels broken and used for firewood and little shacks built from the wagon bodies to shield the shysters pioneers from the winter cold because THAT’s empathy and we’re not barbarians. The business-minded think everywhere they look is a frontier – that’s where all this consulting jargon comes from – when most of it is just the old world, with a deep culture you can share and learn something from, and even use for helpful, positive purposes that, yes, might even earn you a living. But no. Instead, it’s space travel. Deep tunnels. The hyperloop. Self-driving cars. Personal pods, juicer-toasters or whatever. And now some of the design thinkers want to change higher ed so their ‘IDEAS, man!’ make more sense. Just stop.

Following the facts to where they lead

Via LGM, the approaching 200th birthday of Karl Marx is indeed a moment to digress upon the notion that Marx was right about a lot of things:

The key factor in Marx’s intellectual legacy in our present-day society is not “philosophy” but “critique,” or what he described in 1843 as “the ruthless criticism of all that exists: ruthless both in the sense of not being afraid of the results it arrives at and in the sense of being just as little afraid of conflict with the powers that be.” “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it,” he wrote in 1845.

Racial and sexual oppression have been added to the dynamic of class exploitation. Social justice movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, owe something of an unspoken debt to Marx through their unapologetic targeting of the “eternal truths” of our age. Such movements recognize, as did Marx, that the ideas that rule every society are those of its ruling class and that overturning those ideas is fundamental to true revolutionary progress.

We have become used to the go-getting mantra that to effect social change we first have to change ourselves. But enlightened or rational thinking is not enough, since the norms of thinking are already skewed by the structures of male privilege and social hierarchy, even down to the language we use. Changing those norms entails changing the very foundations of society.

Also true that quite a number of people are afraid to even delve into Marx because ‘Marx,’ which is it’s own quiet little brand of pathetic. Add ‘closing books you’ve never opened’ to the long list of epithets at the heart of our ignorance. Plenty of ills have flowed out of his ideas, but the posture of critique about all of this madness is one we cannot afford to be afraid of.

Image: Marx welcoming pedestrians in his birthplace of Trier.