I would like to extend my sympathies to all members affected by the tragedy in Christchurch last Friday. The perpetration of a mass murder on our shores is something few of us would have anticipated, It leads us all to personally reflect on the attitudes and behaviours that have brought us to this place, and what we might seek to change in the future. It has also rightly led the government to consider some significant changes to policies and regulations. The many different expressions of support for those most affected have been heartening and uplifting.
Thinking about the Ends before we focus on the Means
Some bright spark once wrote, “Remember children: Whenever you employ Instrumental Rationality, somewhere in the world an Gulag comes into existence.”
First, some sociology. ‘Instrumental rationality’ was defined by Max Weber as a focus on ‘means’ – what will work. Great for factories. Great when the goals are set, now let the engineers and the agronomists loose.
But what of that purpose, that strategic vision? That’s where ‘Value Rationality’ comes in, a focus on what is the good ‘end’. And that is far far more than simply positivist numbers. It requires a breadth, a ken of cause and effect, consequences and feedbacks within a complex system. More especially because we are looking out decades, not months or quarters.
Focusing only on means alone – the instruments – can take us down a dark path. You can rationalise all sorts of madness because – for instance – the discounted cashflow based on precisely enumerated, but subjective, assumptions might indicate a particular path. For example, the supreme and uncertain logic of producing a price-taking commodity in a discerning future market – or one that might not be there in 30 years time – which country will be the next building boom Japan, Korea, China?? – or passing costs on to the land, the stream, to future generations or a local community who … are human. Consequences.
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