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‘Woke’ religion filling the void in modern societies

‘Woke’ religion filling the void in modern societies  The Australian editorial, 17 September 2019

Post-materialist activists and ultra-moralist guardians are tuning in and turning up everywhere. On Twitter and the ABC, of course, but time-rich “wokerati” also can be found on forlorn anti-coal convoys, sprinkled over ballot papers and, somewhat surprisingly, within the top ranks of corporations. Last week Scott Morrison castigated business leaders for losing the plot on bread-and-butter issues: jobs, growth and profits. The Prime Minister was echoing his department’s assistant minister, Ben Morton, who declared corporate chieftains were busy on the frontline of activist causes and missing in action on economic ones. “Too often I see corporate Australia succumb or pander to similar pressures from noisy, highly orchestrated campaigns of elites typified by groups such as GetUp or activist shareholders,” Mr Morton told a business gathering.

In the wake of the global financial crisis, with a focus on the excesses of the uber-rich, capitalism, at times, has been on the nose. A demoralised populace has asked questions of the chief executive class, which has responded via modish social responsibility programs. Go “woke” or go broke. The noisy Australians are spouting a new secular religion — of social justice, affected grievances and a tendentious “diversity” edict — that is spreading across a tinder-dry polity. Is nothing sacred? To the contrary, given so much ground has been won in liberal democracies for minority rights — and rightly so in cases of historical dispossession and discrimination — niche identity is all.

This rapid onset progressivism has come about because of a void of meaning in our culture. Traditional religion is in abeyance, abuser-ridden and ripe for demonisation. Political dysfunction — illustrated here by six prime ministers in eight years, the ever-fluid Senate crossbench, section 44 disqualifications, foreign donation scandals and national energy policy, to name only a few prime examples — has diminished voter trust in the system. The times are ripe for exploitation.

 

On Saturday we ran an extract from a new book, The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity, by British journalist Douglas Murray. Despite the tumult, Murray has caught the spirit of the febrile age with an understandable snapshot of an often internally incoherent ideological push. He shows how the progressive assault fits together in a series of hot-button fields such as race, relations between the sexes, and the gender-bender explosion. These ideologies are filling a vacuum, which has come about because of the postmodernist demolition of grand narratives, the failure of the Marxist economic agenda and the post-1960s rise of the New Left. The result has been crude identity politics and a relentless politicisation of society, arbitrarily divided into oppressor and victim groups. This ambitious ideological project threatens to become dogma in Anglophone countries, already having considerable influence in politics, the public sector, business, education, health and much mainstream media.

Part of the reason for its encroachment is digital technology. Like the internet itself, social media began with idealistic, sometimes utopian, hopes. For people who are sensible about this tool, it has brought increased productivity, cultural connection and the interchange of ideas across vast distances. But it also has had some hideous unexpected effects, especially on our young people: working on our primitive in group/out group makeup. Facebook and Twitter have amped up and spread tribalism and political polarisation; they seem purpose-built for policing orthodoxy. Social media has coarsened debate, with participants being abusive in a way they would never be in a face-to-face encounter. In politics, these digital modes have supercharged unreason, sloganeering and the bullying of individuals and sceptics. Murray shows how social media and identity politics are a toxic combination; the transgender area is perhaps the most toxic because it is the first form of identity politics native to social media.

His new book offers some sensible solutions. “Compared to what” is the suggested response to the latest hyperbolic complaint about the miserable injustice of Western society. Murray also calls for generosity in debate, not immediately attributing bad faith to opponents. And he makes a case for less politics, more variety in life: “Politics may be an important aspect of our lives, but as a source of personal meaning it is disastrous (because) finding purpose in politics laces politics with a passion that perverts the whole enterprise.” The woke movement is destructive, it only pretends to care about the problems it inflames. Yet precisely because of the “madness of crowds”, it may seem daunting to get a nuanced and sensible message through to mass audiences.

Still, we suspect Murray is not naive in hoping in time intelligent young people will be repelled by the futility and exhausting anger of this pseudo-progressive campaigning. The first step is to keep pushing common sense into the public square, as Murray has done. It’s certainly a conversation starter, a stimulus to honest debate that ultimately outflanks activist folly.

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Nostalgia, recalling the golden age of rock music

Nostalgia, recalling the golden age of rock music  By Damon Linker, The Week, 31 August 2019

Though popular music sales in general have plummeted since their peak around the turn of the millennium, certain genres continue to generate commercial excitement: pop, rap, hip-hop, country. But rock — amplified and often distorted electric guitars, bass, drums, melodic if frequently abrasive lead vocals, with songs usually penned exclusively by the members of the band — barely registers on the charts. There are still important rock musicians making music in a range of styles — Canada’s Big Wreck excels at sophisticated progressive hard rock, for example, while the more subdued American band Dawes artfully expands on the soulful songwriting that thrived in California during the 1970s. But these groups often toil in relative obscurity, selling a few thousand records at a time, performing to modest-sized crowds in clubs and theaters.

But there’s another sense in which rock is very nearly dead: Just about every rock legend you can think of is going to die within the next decade or so.

Yes, we’ve lost some already. On top of the icons who died horribly young decades ago — Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Elvis Presley, John Lennon — there’s the litany of legends felled by illness, drugs, and just plain old age in more recent years: George Harrison, Ray Charles, Michael Jackson, Lou Reed, David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Tom Petty.

Those losses have been painful. But it’s nothing compared with the tidal wave of obituaries to come. The grief and nostalgia will wash over us all. Yes, the Boomers left alive will take it hardest — these were their heroes and generational compatriots. But rock remained the biggest game in town through the 1990s, which implicates GenXers like myself, no less than plenty of millennials.

All of which means there’s going to be an awful lot of mourning going on.

Behold the killing fields that lie before us: Bob Dylan (78 years old); Paul McCartney (77); Paul Simon (77) and Art Garfunkel (77); Carole King (77); Brian Wilson (77); Mick Jagger (76) and Keith Richards (75); Joni Mitchell (75); Jimmy Page (75) and Robert Plant (71); Ray Davies (75); Roger Daltrey (75) and Pete Townshend (74); Roger Waters (75) and David Gilmour (73); Rod Stewart (74); Eric Clapton (74); Debbie Harry (74); Neil Young (73); Van Morrison (73); Bryan Ferry (73); Elton John (72); Don Henley (72); James Taylor (71); Jackson Browne (70); Billy Joel (70); and Bruce Springsteen (69, but turning 70 next month).

A few of these legends might manage to live into their 90s, despite all the … wear and tear to which they’ve subjected their bodies over the decades. But most of them will not.

This will force us not only to endure their passing, but to confront our own mortality as well.

From the beginning, rock music has been an expression of defiance, an assertion of youthful vitality and excess and libido against the ravages of time and maturity. This impulse sometimes (frequently?) veered into foolishness. Think of the early rock anthem in which the singer proclaimed, “I hope I die before I get old.” As a gesture, this was a quintessential statement of rock bravado, but I doubt very much its author (The Who’s Pete Townshend) regrets having survived into old age. [Editor’s note: recall The Who’s Rock Opera Tommy, Pinball Wizard, performed here in 1969 at the Isle of Wight festival – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aOUqRZkR8dE&list=RDaOUqRZkR8dE&start_radio=1 ]

It’s one thing for a young musician to insist it’s better to burn out than to fade away. But does this defiance commit the artist to a life of self-destruction, his authenticity tied to his active courting of annihilation? Only a delusional teenager convinced of his own invincibility, or a nihilist, could embrace such an ideal. For most rock stars, the bravado was an act, or it became one as the months stretched into years and then decades. The defiance tended to become sublimated into art, with the struggle against limits and constraints — the longing to break on through to the other side — merging with creative ambition to produce something of lasting worth. The rock star became another in our civilization’s long line of geniuses raging against the dying of the light.

Rock music was always a popular art made and consumed by ordinary, imperfect people. The artists themselves were often self-taught, absorbing influences from anywhere and everywhere, blending styles in new ways, pushing against their limitations as musicians and singers, taking up and assimilating technological innovations as quickly as they appeared. Many aspired to art — in composition, record production, and performance — but to reach it they had to ascend up and out of the muck from which they started.

Before rock emerged from rhythm and blues in the late 1950s, and again since it began its long withdrawing roar in the late 1990s, the norm for popular music has been songwriting and record production conducted on the model of an assembly line. This is usually called the “Brill Building” approach to making music, named after the building in midtown Manhattan where leading music industry offices and studios were located in the pre-rock era. Professional songwriters toiled away in small cubicles, crafting future hits for singers who made records closely overseen by a team of producers and corporate drones. Today, something remarkably similar happens in pop and hip-hop, with song files zipping around the globe to a small number of highly successful songwriters and producers who add hooks and production flourishes in order to generate a team-built product that can only be described as pristine, if soulless, perfection.

This is music created by committee and consensus, actively seeking the largest possible audience as an end in itself. Rock (especially as practiced by the most creatively ambitious bands of the mid-1960s: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, and the Beach Boys) shattered this way of doing things, and for a few decades, a new model of the rock auteur prevailed. As critic Steven Hyden recounts in his delightful book Twilight of the Gods: A Journey to the End of Classic Rock, rock bands and individual rock stars were given an enormous amount of creative freedom, and the best of them used every bit of it. They wrote their own music and lyrics, crafted their own arrangements, experimented with wildly ambitious production techniques, and oversaw the design of their album covers, the launching of marketing campaigns, and the conjuring of increasingly theatrical and decadent concert tours.

This doesn’t mean there was no corporate oversight or outside influence on rock musicians. Record companies and professional producers and engineers were usually at the helm, making sure to protect their reputations and investments. Yet to an astonishing degree, the artists got their way. Songs and albums were treated by all — the musicians themselves, but also the record companies, critics, and of course the fans — as Statements. For a time, the capitalist juggernaut made possible and sustained the creation of popular art that sometimes achieved a new form of human excellence. That it didn’t last shouldn’t keep us from appreciating how remarkable it was while it did.

Like all monumental acts of creativity, the artists were driven by an aspiration to transcend their own finitude, to create something of lasting value, something enduring that would live beyond those who created it. That striving for immorality expressed itself in so many ways — in the deafening volume and garish sensory overload of rock concerts, in the death-defying excess of the parties and the drugs, in the adulation of groupies eager to bed the demigods who adorned their bedroom walls, in the unabashed literary aspirations of the singer-songwriters, in mind-blowing experiments with song forms marked by seemingly inhuman rhythmic and harmonic complexity, in the orchestral sweep, ambition, and (yes) frequent pretension of concept albums and rock operas. All of it was a testament to the all-too-human longing to outlast the present — to live on past our finite days. To grasp and never let go of immortality.

It was all a lie, but it was a beautiful one. The rock stars’ days are numbered. They are going to die, as will we all. No one gets out alive. When we mourn the passing of the legends and the tragic greatness of what they’ve left behind for us to enjoy in the time we have left, we will also be mourning for ourselves.

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    •  A sea of frothing, sweary, often pompous, intolerance  By Tim Black, Spiked Online, 29 August 2015

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About Peter Senior

I'm a very experienced and pragmatic management consultant. I've reviewed and led the restructuring of many organisations - large and small corporations and Government Departments, much of the time as President of the New Zealand Institute of Management Consultants. Before that I was General Manager of a major NZ newspaper; earlier, an analyst for IBM UK. I gained an honours degree in engineering at London University, and studied management at Cambridge University. This wide range of experience has left me frustrated: I continue to see too many examples of really bad management. Sometimes small easily fixed issues; sometimes fundamental faults; and sometimes really tricky problems. Mostly these issues can be fixed using a mixture of common sense, 'management 101' and applying lessons from years of management experience. Unfortunately, all too often, politics, bureaucracy and daft government regulations get in the way; internal factors such as poor culture and out-of-date strategies are often evident. So what's gone wrong, and why, and most importantly, how to fix 'it'? I hope there are like-minded people 'out there' who will share their thoughts enabling 'us' to improve some significant management failures that affect the general public. If you just accept bad management, you don't have the right to complain! If you'd like to share thoughts on any aspects of management, send me an email to petersenior42@gmail.com . My latest project has the interim title 'You’ve been conned. Much of what you were taught and read is largely irrelevant, misleading or plain wrong – this is the REAL story of life: past, present and our possible future.' The working paper so far comprises 105 pages, many listing references and interim conclusions. The main problem is finding sufficient credible evidence, and realising the more Iearn, the more I realise I don't know!
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