Enough is better than a feast

“… Desired substances, things, patterns, or sequences of experience that are in some sense “good” for the organism – items of diet, conditions of life, temperature, entertainment, sex, and so forth – are never such that more of the something is always better than less of the something. Rather, for all objects and experiences, there is a quantity that has optimum value. Above that quantity, the variable becomes toxic. To fall below that value is to be deprived.
This characteristic of biological value does not hold for money. Money is always transitively valued. More money is supposedly always better than less money. Fore example, $1001 is to be preferred to $1000. But this is not so for biological values. More calcium is not always better than less calcium. There is an optimum quantity of calcium that a given organism may need in its diet. Beyond this, calcium becomes toxic. Similarly, for oxygen that we breathe or food or components of diet and probably all components of relationship, enough is better than a feast. We can even have too much psychotherapy. A relationship with no combat in it is dull, and a relationship with too much combat in it is toxic. What is desirable is a relationship with a certain optimum of conflict. It is even possible that when we consider money, not by itself, but as acting on human beings who own it, we may find that money, too, becomes toxic beyond a certain point…”

Wise words from Gregory Bateson‘s “Mind and Nature”


I was talking to my friend Alex McKie yesterday about a book she is writing that has come out of her travels around the UK asking people for their three wishes for the future. The book is distinct from the three wishes project and equally interesting. Alex is a very experienced market researcher and advertising planner, among a whole lot of other things she does equally well. So during her journeys around the UK she couldn’t help noticing things. The picture she is building is far more complex, nuanced and in some ways more hopeful than the pictures we often presented with. One thing that does seem to be emerging is that on the ground people are developing ways of life that promising a more hopeful future than the banalities of New Labour’s modernisation project.
Talking to her I put forward the view that one of the problems we face is that much of the political agenda is driven by what Stuart Hall has identified as the flashocracy and the fellow travelers who service them. Stuart Hall characterises these people in the following way:
“No longer ‘the workshops of the world’, English cities have become the service centres, the financial and speculative investment engines and consumer retail hubs, of the global economy. The suited executives – those well–groomed, toned, and limousined corporate ‘heroes’ whose well–fleshed faces adorn the business pages of the quality newspapers and magazines – are either a new global entrepreneurial class or, alternatively, the remnants of an old stuffy one who have undergone a make–over. They are equally ‘at home’ in New York, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur or Tokyo as they are in London, or their country homes in Hampshire. Individually, their fortunes rise and fall but, as a class, they are installed as the permanent executive officers of the new global capitalism.
Many wealthier executives now live well outside the city or in its increasingly gated enclaves and pied–à–terres. They are ‘cosmopolitan’ in orientation. They travel constantly for work and pleasure. They remain in touch, through the circuits of instant communication, with mobile transnational elites elsewhere as they glide in comfort and style across the globe. They are ‘at home’ anywhere, and the more so since ‘elsewhere’ is increasingly like ‘here’, only more so. They are focussed on profit margins and share values, on restructuring core–businesses and absorbing other companies.
They are remorselessly attuned – and without a shadow of embarrassment – to salary settlements unrelated to any calculable performance achievements, guaranteeing the steady supply of staggering amounts of money for skiing holidays and private school fees. Their wives or servants are fully occupied ferrying the children in SUVs to select and selective private schools, those launch–pads to success. Fitzjohns Avenue in north–west London, where there must be twelve or fifteen private primary schools and nurseries within a half–mile stretch of traffic–crammed road, is notorious with taxi drivers. The ‘school run’ brings an army of jeeps, with their ranch–like bumpers, some parked in driveways, others perched on the bank–sides, others still blithely reversing into on–coming traffic.
This new global executive class are ‘flash, fast, fun, feckless, and fantastically frivolous’, as the editor of Tatler, Geordie Greig – who should know – describes the ‘flashocracy‘. Rapidly trading tweed for ‘bling’ (a multiculturalism of consumption only), they are experts in visualising for the rest new forms of urban style and status: not ‘status’ as an alternative to ‘class’, as in the old Marx vs. Weber dialogue, but status as the cultural signifier of new riches, as the materialization of social success. They are living their imprint on the global city.”

Those that service them and promote their world view are not just the people from advertising, marketing and design, who are self-described “creatives, but also the journalists, commentators, think-tankies and consultants, who articulate their agenda and also fall under this heading. As Hall describes:
“The ‘creatives’ who service this corporate and celebrity world are very different in background and in attitudes to the older professional and managerial middle–classes. They are more individualistic, consumer–oriented, culturally–savvy, life–style focussed, entrepreneurial, and hedonistic. More often they are on fast–track mobility or aspirational escalators from lower in the social order. Here, rather than higher up the urban pecking–order, the leading edge of the rising Asian and Afro–Caribbean new middle classes are beginning to carve out an elegant niche. The places they aspire to live in, the life–styles they covet, and the kinds of leisure pursuits and entertainment they invest in are very different to older, more puritan tastes.
They are the advance party of the new urban living – the agents of the ‘gentrification’ of older working–class residential areas and of industrial small–manufacturing dockland or storage areas of the city, whose abandoned warehouses, refashioned into loft–spaces and city–centre ‘pads’, they are rapidly colonising. Good food, art galleries, smart cafes, and health–clubs are the necessary accompaniments to this life–style. These are the pioneers of an intense, designer–shaped, global consumerism, the cultural happy few exquisitely attuned to every minor shift in global postmodern taste and design.”

What I hope is that as the agendas these groups promote are increasingly revealed to be threadbare, self-serving and, in essence, belonging to an age that is passing, other voices, like the ones Alex will be articulating, will be heard more clearly and we can begin the challenging task of building civilised lives in a period of ever increasingly costly carbon-based energy.

Contextual Intelligence

I’ve just spent a slightly frustrating couple of hours meandering around the web looking for stuff on “Contextual Intelligence”. I was alerted to the term by a posting on Creative Generalist linking to a piece in the current Fast Company. This was using the term in relation to business leaders.
But, the hints I found elsewhere that got me really intrigued related to the theories of Robert J. Sternberg. From what I could pick up from the snippets around the web his notion of Contextual Intelligence is very close to some of my ideas about Purposive Drift.
The three components of Contextual Intelligence, which would seem to apply as much to organisations as they do to individuals are:
I The ability to adapt to a context you are in by changing something in yourself.
2 The abilty to change the context you are in to create a better fit between you and your context
3 The ability to recognise when it is time to move out of one context into another more rewarding one.
All this sounds very purposive drifty to me, so if anyone can point me to where I can somewhere where this idea has been more fully developed I would be very grateful.