Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Frank Furedi and a fine flurry of quarries, initiative and leadership ...

(Above: the Bulga mine, as featured here).

Bulga's not much of a village, more a bend in the road, on the way from Singleton to Windsor on the Putty road.

There's a pub, a store with petrol, a cop shop, and some scattered homes, and that's about it. Oh and a rickety bridge that's narrow enough to make meeting a semi a hair raising experience, but with a sandy river, and an attractive profile framed by the hills behind. Your standard lyrical rural scene.

I've always liked the Putty road, and driven along it more times than I can count. There's a stretch of winding road through Yengo National Park that boasts a most attractive set of gullies and Arthur Boyd rocks, and later on you hit the Wollemi National Park, and it's altogether better than driving the freeway.

But what always astonishes me is the way the Hunter Valley has now become a gigantic quarry, with long snaking trains, and trucks carrying huge tyres taller than your average basketballer, and now the vast hole near Bulga is on the march towards the town:

Best of luck Bulga, as you mount your protests against the encroaching beast, but somehow I'm reminded of that that Poe poem Eldorado:

And, as his strength
Failed him at length,
He met a pilgrim shadow
"Shadow," said he,
"Where can it be
This land of Eldorado?"

"Over the Mountains
Of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,
Ride, boldly ride,"
The shade replied
"If you seek for Eldorado!"
(the rest here).

Over the mountains of the moon and into the valley of the shadows - that's a rough approximation of travelling through Bulga these days.

You don't have to be a soft-hearted greenie to marvel at the trashing of the countryside that's ongoing and never ending, at least until the last shard of coal is extracted (and don't get me started on the Liverpool plains).

The notion that somehow this once beautiful land can be restored is risible ... it's lost and gone forever, no doubt part of the wondrous chain that delivers the goods available in the two dollar stores of the urban dreaming.

Enough of the brooding. This is a pond dedicated to outrageous columnists, not outrageous destruction of the land beneath our feet, and so on we go, riding, boldly riding, to find some shade who will promise us an Eldorado of insights.

Come on down Janet Albrechtsen:
Hold on a tic tac toe second.

What does that gold bar signify, and what did John Birmingham just write in Ignorance is bliss?

There are certain types of stories in the media I just won't read. Anything involving dead children or puppies. Anything written by Janet Albrechtsen. Some things are just too distressing and not worth the grief.

Pay for personal distress worse than a story about dead puppies, or perhaps drowning cats and PMs in chaff bags?

Get thee gone Albrechtsen.

But surely there's someone, somebody who can tickle the elbow funny bone and provide a spectacularly silly sight that does something to erase the memory of the mountains of the moon?

Come on down Frank Furedi, who has today for some strange reason been downgraded from the pages of the paywall lizard Oz to the sozzled Punch.

Furedi's topic, as delivered in a lecture for the CIS, is Leadership, liberty and the crisis of authority, and it surges to a climactic pronouncement:

That is why we need to confront the current process-driven culture with one that is hospitable to risk-taking and the freedom to experiment and explore. Winning cultural support for the value of initiating and cultivating the virtue of phronesis is essential for resolving the current crisis of leadership. Such a project requires many attributes, but above all, it requires taking our freedoms far more seriously.

Say what? The virtue of phronesis?

Yep, it's another solemn, pedantic, pompous, dour academic treatise, seemingly designed to prove that academics are dull, dogmatic, humourless and don't have the first clue, all the more comical when Furedi's ostensible aim is to remove regulation from the world, and provide hope for dynamic, effective leadership.

Amazingly he thought he could find effective leadership by participating in a NATO sponsored workshop in 2002 on the psychological impact of terrorism.

Didn't anyone explain to him that by definition NATO involves a bunch of bureaucrats and treaties and regulations, and workshops are the ultimate folly designed to fill in a few hours when otherwise people might have to find something useful to do? (Oh the days of the workshops, and the conferences in exotic regional convention centres, and the all day committee meetings, how I yearn for you and your junket delights. Free tea and biscuits at the morning break, for starters).

If you can stand the tedium, and Furedi's trawling through Aristotle and the Romans and Latin words that would go down a treat in Penrith, you will discover that discussing his conception of leadership - free of petty befogging rules and regulations - might well involve a breach of Godwin's Law:

Reading of the Roman classics shows that those with auctoritas possess the power and influence that come from being trusted and respected for their capacity to initiate and lead.

You can almost see Mussolini in a corner nodding his head in quiet satisfaction. At last someone who understands ... the trains must run on time!

Presence is not so much about the person but about the person forcefully expressing the direction to be followed to confront challenges. Such a presence is established through conviction, commitment and taking responsibility.


(The task of the folkish state) ... is not to preserve the decisive influence of an existing social class, but to pick the most capable kinds from the sum of all the national comrades and bring them to office and dignity. It has not only the obligation of giving the average child a certain education in public school, but also the duty of putting talent on the track where it belongs. Above all, it must see its highest task in opening the gates of the higher state educational institutions to all talent, absolutely regardless from what circles it may originate. It must fulfill this task, since only in this way can representatives of a dead knowledge be transformed into brilliant leaders of a nation. (more here).

Sadly Furedi doesn't seem to have much time for Thomas Carlyle and heroes and hero-worship:

The reason why Aristotle’s insight is crucial today is because practical wisdom helps leaders face uncertainty and judge what needs to be done. It is only through the act of judgment that uncertainty can be transformed into risks that can be managed through calculation. Most importantly, it is through practical wisdom that leaders gain the confidence to deviate, when necessary, from the script and exercise discretion.

Yes, yes, shit happens, the muddle theory is the best theory, and when you're bogged up to the axles, make sure to spin the wheels.

The heart of the problem of leadership is also one of the paradoxes of our times: Although we continually demand effective leadership, we organise public life in such a manner as to make its exercise very difficult. There are powerful institutional barriers to exercising discretion and judgment. Sometimes it appears almost as if much of the public sector and sections of commerce have become a discretion-free zone. Individual initiative is continually subjected to the tyranny of paper trails, risk assessment documents, codes of practice written to a template, and micro-managers.

Oh indeed, except of course in the matter of high finance and banking, where risk assessment and auditing are mere paperweights up against the joys of individual initiative. After all, what matter if a banker goes rogue, because it makes a most amusing Foreign Correspondent report.

Dear sweet absent lord, how we are weighed down by treaties and alliances and rules and regulations and bureaucrats and pontificating academics and ponderous columnists.

Take it away Thomas, admonish those prattlers for their idle talk and rhetorical blather and theoretical posturings seemingly designed to restore the strong man to history and Vladimir Putin to rule in Russia:

For three years, Cromwell says, this question had been sounded in the ears of the Parliament. They could make no answer; nothing but talk, talk. Perhaps it lies in the nature of parliamentary bodies; perhaps no Parliament could in such case make any answer but even that of talk, talk! Nevertheless the question must and shall be answered. You sixty men there, becoming fast odious, even despicable, to the whole nation, whom the nation already calls Rump Parliament, you cannot continue to sit there: who or what then is to follow? "Free Parliament," right of Election, constitutional Formulas of one sort or the other --the thing is a hungry Fact coming on us, which we must answer or be devoured by it! And who are you that prate of Constitutional Formulas, rights of Parliament? You have had to kill your King, to make Pride's Purges, to expel and banish by the law of the stronger whosoever would not let your Cause prosper: there are but fifty or threescore of you left there, debating in these days. Tell us what we shall do; not in the way of Formula, but of practicable Fact! (and the rest of Carlyle pretending to be Frank Furedi here).

Ah that Oliver Cromwell, now there was a leader, no doubt superior to Napoleon, as Carlyle contends. Enough of the talk and the yammer, bring on Ayn Rand!

The final point about leadership is intimately linked to gaining authority. In every walk of life, a leader is an authoritative figure. However, society seems to have a problem with authority and invariably sees it as something to be restrained and controlled. That’s one reason why Western societies have become so obsessed with making rules. Instead of cultivating authoritative leadership, we one-sidedly rely on rules explicitly designed to penalise taking initiative.

Uh huh. Could it be the pond has a problem with Frank Furedi posing as an authoritative figure spouting some standard nineteenth century nonsense about authority, replete with Greek and Roman references?

As if we have no historical examples of authority going haywire? As if a few checks and balances might come in handy every now and then?

Good luck Bulga. It seems you're in the camp that cavils at cultivating authoritative leadership and wants to rely on rules explicitly designed to penalise taking initiative, and a huge amount of coal out of the ground, from under the village if necessary.

It's called leadership and the taking of initiative. Happier now? Thank the good and wise Prof. Furedi ...


  1. Free tea and biscuits at the morning break, for starers. Too true, DP, and to hell with spellchuckers. The thousand-yard stares brought on by tools from the management class with their powerpoints, KPIs and black belts in sucking up.
    Consultants, you say? There's never too much taxpayers' money to chuck at them. If you're not a part of the solution, there's good money to be made in prolonging the problem.

  2. oops, must have been wondering why everybody was staring.

  3. Furedi demonstrates, again, that the Right has a thing for the Fuehrerprinzip.

  4. And today, thanks to Furedi, Paul Sheehan shows a taste for Asian leadership ... perhaps China, or perhaps Singapore, or perhaps even Malaysia ... or perhaps Burma or perhaps Thailand ... or perhaps Vietnam. While Europe languishes from its leadership disease, Asia is booming. Go Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the CPC, no crazy regulations or petty restrictions for them ...


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