Changing the whole system

130227-WestleySocInnLab1 I might have titled this piece Big Brother. It would have been in keeping with last night’s 7.30 Report on the ABC. A title that would have mocked Tony Abbott’s, ”Team Australia,” his speech masters clearly seeing merit in the co-opting of the language of sport for the purposes of reinforcing a Nationalist ideology. And in Strengthening the Surveillance State,  Louise O’Shea certainly supports the observation that the most recent amendments proposed by the Australian government do indeed carry the big brother connotation. According to O’Shea, ”The National Security Amendment Bill (No. 1), introduced into Parliament in July, has so far caused little public outcry. It appears set to pass with virtually no serious opposition either from the political establishment or the liberal media. Yet the proposed changes constitute the most significant modification to Australia’s anti-terrorism laws in nearly a decade. They provide sweeping new powers to ASIO to spy on the public, act with impunity, collaborate with corporate interests and jail whistleblowers and those who support them.”

In this piece I find most disturbing of all the collusion of the Labor party, the political establishment and the liberal media. Yet again I ask myself when will people realise we no longer live in an authentic democratic society? That what should be preoccupying the concerned citizenry isn’t the latest debacle from Abbott and his cronies at all, it is the implementation of a new wave of structural reforms that have already swept through America and Europe. This is not about Labor or Liberal (in my view they are both on the same side), it is about a paradigmatic shift away from social democracy, one that effectively inaugurates what Sheldon S Wolin (Professor of Politics and Princeton University) calls ”inverted totalitarianism.” In other words, it is  a whole system change.

While we grapple with the old paradigm, the Elite is forging ahead with its implementation of the new. We are sounding like chattering monkeys, nit-picking the latest outpouring of scandalous revelation, from the fact that the Budget disadvantages low income earners (something I consider to have been transparent from the first), or that Bob Hawke had the audacity to recommend to indigenous Australians that they store nuclear waste on their land. Here we are, bickering and bemoaning  amongst ourselves over the multitude of injustices that are befalling us. In other words our thinking is locked in the old paradigm, which is exactly where those advancing the new paradigm want to keep us.

The closest those of us concerned for human and planetary betterment have come in our thinking towards an understanding of this new paradigm of inverted totalitarianism is, seemingly counter-intuitively, to be found in complexity science, ecology, social ecology and the very notion of paradigm shift inspired by  Thomas Kuhn. That the power Elite have also cottoned on to complex systems theory should come as no surprise. That complexity thinking is already firmly established within organisational management of corporations should also be of no surprise. That the sharpest intellects of the world, groomed through the private education system all the way through academia to work in the Elite’s own think tanks, are also no doubt working with whole systems theory, the most esoteric of scientific models applied in the fields of economics and the social sciences and driving this new wave of change across the globe should also be acknowledged. I contend that whole system change is the engine driving the ideology (rolled out like a red carpet) that is in turn informing the new raft of reforms. Reforms designed to weaken the power of the citzenry through fear and uncertainty, achieved partly through removing support for society’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged and (among a range of other means) partly through the new surveillance laws cited above, implemented under the guise of a looming terror threat.

What is wrong with models of whole systems theory? A full answer is beyond the scope of this blog. Instead, here is a brief critique of whole systems theory as utilised by the corporate world: Primarily that whole systems change models are based upon a set of abstract descriptors divorced from the reality most of us live in. These descriptors are of profound ideological import, typically using language that is cool and clinical (successful corporate evolution will maintain a high level of cohesion to minimise entropy); these models legitimate the corporation as a given, they therefore provide no critique of the new corporate system. If we want to know what the brave new world looks like, we need look no further. For example, even when those using systems theory to ostensibly advance socially beneficial change, such change has been subsumed beneath the new corporate ideology. As is evident in the following quote by Satsuko VanAntwerp of MaRS. ”Where are the key constraints that stop change from happening? Frances advocates moving up through scale to find the leverage points that have an impact on changing the rules and relationships that govern the system in the first place. For example, with regards to youth offenders she [Frances] says  innovation in government ministries may make more of an impact than a program or initiative on the ground.”

Yet paradoxically whole systems change may offer our best hope for human and planetary betterment such as can be found in Understanding Whole Systems Change by Andrew Gaines. One that at least contests the new world of inverted totalitarianism on its own ground, from within the lexicon of complexity thinking, rather than through the lens of the old paradigm that overshadows the rest of us like a ghost, an old paradigm that is I suspect strategically employed by the ideology web-spinners to impede any gains we might make in fostering genuine change.

Or is the reverse true? Is it that the vanguard of holistic thinkers seeking to further a paradigmatic shift towards a brighter better world have themselves become subsumed under the conceptual weight of complex systems theory, appropriated by the corporate world and are now found working in universities teaching MBAs? Perhaps we must work in the ghostly world instead, trying to hold on to and at other times resurrect what was good, the gains that we, the people, had made. For it seems to me that to pursue complex systems thinking and sacrifice the discourses embedded in the Left, is to seek change from within the new paradigm of inverted totalitarianism, tacitly accepting the lexicon and the ideology that it advances.