Aidan Ward and Philip Hellyer
Have you ever been “consulted” when you knew that you were simply fodder for an exercise? How many times have you understood, at the time or later, that someone who was being paid to “consult”, needed to show that “consultation” had happened, but that the whole process was a foregone conclusion? Or worse, was an exercise in “facipulation”, convincing you of something that you do not believe under the guise of asking your opinion? Sometimes it seems as is half the world is asking questions of the other half, with their ears stopped up to avoid having to change their mind on anything.
My favourite quote is from a London Underground engineer in a collaboration workshop with a colleague of mine. When pressed on collaborative behaviour he exclaimed “look, I have been collaborated four times before and if I don’t collaborate I will lose my job”.
FIFA needs football far more than football ever needed FIFA
– John Smith’s second law.
Why are we speaking of the establishment here? Well, by definition, the establishment is not about to change its view about the world. But it needs to present itself as a democratic institution, there to protect the interests of the common man even when that is, transparently, arrant nonsense. So, it is the establishment that has the prime and prior need to be seen to be listening when it has no intention of doing so. Manipulation by facilitation and consultation, aka facipulation, is its stock in trade.
You will have guessed by now that I have a recent experience of this sort to relate. The RSA, recently embedded and confirmed, in my mind at least, as a very pillar of the establishment, is running a Commission on Food, Farming, and the Countryside (FFCC). The better to listen, they are touring the UK by bicycle. I have some grudging respect for the patience required to do so, and they may well be coming to consult moi-meme in October, by bike.
Let me just say what the problem is with the FFCC, then we can get on with unpacking the establishment problem. The FFCC believe that the correct approach to consultation is a sort of community development style based on existing assets, called ABCD (Asset-Based Community Development). They are not wrong. However, we live in a world where first tobacco and big oil, and more recently the food industry and big pharma, have learned how to capture the relevant regulatory agencies and how to comprehensively subvert the press and other source of “independent” information. They form research groups and quasi-charitable sources of public information and we are fed exactly what they want us to hear. The amounts spent on lobbying politicians are eye-watering and larger than any other agency can muster.
What chance has a community group of sorting out the nature of the problem and applying themselves? It is like pitting a primary school football team against Liverpool FC. Even if it happened it could never happen, if you see what I mean. (Just try having a sensible view on Brexit, I dare you.) When the Coca-Cola CEO says there is no evidence that sugar-laden drinks do any harm, what he is actually saying is that they are working flat out to destroy any basis of evidence that would stand up in court. And he will succeed.
So, the nature of the RSA’s establishment problem is that it can’t say that the national dietary guidelines are a bad case of regulatory capture and that the guidelines lead directly to an epidemic of severe ill-health of many kinds. They can’t say that the general view that a plant-based diet will feed more people and will help save the planet is based on some wacky ideas, expensive propaganda, and very poor science. They can’t take any radical view because, well, they are establishment and the establishment in its own eyes is always OK. The RSA is a bit-player, and if they tried to take on their paymasters, they rapidly would be in the position of no-one listening, with all the odds-of-success of that primary school football team. That would not be a sensible corporate decision.
I hardly need to complete this pen picture for you. A valued colleague persuaded me to submit my views to the FFCC. But it becomes my job to convince them! How did that happen? Who is being paid as a professional to run a commission to understand the future? Who needs to know how they might be being blind-sided and bullshitted? I don’t think it is me. It doesn’t matter one whit whether I am right or wrong in the detail of what I say: it is they who need to understand the big picture and they are not motivated to understand it.
Between consenting adults, it is well established that if I want to convince you of some point that I think is important then Marshall Rosenberg’s NVC is the way to go. First, I should empathise with your position and your views, then we can share. So, there is a point of view that says that if I want to convince the RSA of my points I should be as polite and caring as they are in their communication. But is that what I am trying to do? And what are they trying to do? And how does that compare with what they purport to be trying to do?
One of the heroes of this fight about the dramatic, overwhelming effects of food on health is Prof Tim Noakes in South Africa. He was recently at a conference in London where he received an overwhelming standing ovation for withstanding the aggression and bad faith of the medical and academic authorities. Someone recently asked him whether a style of throwing stones was appropriate and effective, and his answer was along these lines:
If you are trying to get to the truth, then calm and considered discussions based on the evidence are really great. If the other party is merely defending their ego and status, then the evidence buys you nothing. Indeed, that is how his persecution played out, even to the point of producing erroneous surveys of the evidence to discredit him. The book of his trial, The Lore of Nutrition, is a great read.
We have spoken before about meta-communication. What is the meta-communication of NVC? It is that we are both consenting adults who want to discuss something together. That, after all, is why it works when it works: because of what it signals. What is the meta-communication of propaganda and tendentious science? It is that my views are merely in the way and will be ignored or, if I make a fuss, steamrollered. I might as well shout and scream from the start and try and use social media to expose and embarrass the sham. Think of the meticulous campaign of one Edward Snowden. What a master.
Remember that all this is fundamentally about the corruption of the political and academic processes by corporate money. That cannot be admitted anywhere by anyone, but it is the corruption that explains the facts of the situation. Why did QOF, mentioned in the last blog, persist for 15 years and £30bn without achieving anything? Well, it did shift an enormous quantity of drugs…
Communication that counts
What this slightly sorry and negative tale has impressed upon me is the inestimable value of proper communication. It used to be the case that if you wanted to lose friends or spoil a party then you should talk about religion and politics. (I can still feel some historic shame!). Nowadays it is food that plays that role. That is to say that corporate disinformation fragments society along yet another fundamental dimension. The world is not flat as I have said and am afraid I shall say so again. Our food habits go deep, deep, deep. (Shhh! Vegetarians. There, I have lost some more readers.)
Where is the communication that can withstand that aggressive fracturing? Who still talks about things that matter? Has the power of money to buy loyalty to ridiculous propositions emptied the world of solidarity?
We promised to speak of when radical thinkers become seen as establishment. This is a common aha! for me, looking at figures who now are associated in my mind with boring conventional arguments but of course were dangerously radical in their day. (Perhaps Darwin is a good example.) Sometimes by recovering the context and Weltanschauung they lived in, it is possible to reinvigorate their message as the spirit of what they fought for, as distinct from the content of theirs that has been co-opted into quite other agendas.
This gives us a clue to a process we might call annealing, where cracks in the establishment get healed over so you would never know they had even been there. Which word, cracks, takes us to Joseph Chilton Pearce, The Crack in the Cosmic Egg, one of the great radical books of our time, and of course the inestimable Leonard Cohen:
There is a crack, a crack in everything: that’s where the light gets in
Leonard Cohen has a way of saying things that are utterly unacceptable to the establishment and it is as if they don’t even notice. Vaclav Havel had a similar talent; it might be a key element of worthwhile art. I would give a lot to learn that skill, it seems to me to be utterly foundational.
Everybody knows the boat is leaking
Everybody knows the captain lied
Everybody’s got that sinking feeling
Like their father or their dog just died
Maybe the point of being radical is only to puncture the establishment’s self-satisfaction. Maybe the point is to be an insurgent culture like in Morris Berman’s Wandering God: A Study in Nomadic Spirituality. The groundedness and living quality of any culture just solidifies and ossifies until it is mainly constraint and coercion; it needs to be attacked and destroyed as culture so that life can be found again. Maybe the RSA was a progressive institution once.
The world is not flat
Caitlin Johnstone (@caitoz) is an Australian blogger who takes on the warmongering lies of US (and other) politicians. She is worth following. In a recent piece she made the point, in her habitual forceful way, that whoever controls the narrative controls the world. Let’s look at that against my habitual refrain that the world is not flat.
A flat-earther looks out at the world and can see that the world is indeed flat. That is a typically self-confirming narrative and we know how instinctively good people are at avoiding disconfirming evidence. If someone can convince you, and there are powerful institutions out there seeking to do just that, of a particular flat world narrative, you will have to work quite hard to escape it. The reason it is hard to escape is that it is built from seemingly separate pieces of logic that are all joined up under the water like a complex iceberg. Things that seem on the surface to be independent “facts” are untruths that are in fact connected.
We can use the food and diet material that we keep returning to as an example. There is a narrative about saturated fat raising blood cholesterol and giving you heart disease. It doesn’t. There is a narrative about too much salt raising your blood pressure with similar outcomes. It doesn’t. And there is a narrative about the base of the food pyramid being carbohydrates essential to health. They are not even necessary. Now, if you cut down on carbs to manage your blood sugars, the proportion of fats in your diet will go up: these are ratios. And that is scary because of the fat myth. And if you successfully burn fat in ketosis you will get “keto flu” when you feel awful because you have run out of salt. In the real world which is never flat, it is not possible to deal with these issues separately, any more that we can decide whether President Assad is good or bad for the stability of the Middle East.
The master narrative in health involves the nature of human metabolism. Human metabolism is taught wrongly to medical and other health professionals in a tendentious way that leads to them blaming patients and keeping big pharma in business. A Nobel Prize winning geneticist said the other day that given his time again doing cancer research, he would study metabolism not genetics: that is how much of a blind alley we are down!
The behaviour of a system rests mainly on the patterns of connection within it, not on the behaviour of the parts. The narratives we are sold control just those patterns of connection, which is why if you control the master narrative you control everything: you control who relates to whom about what.
As usual in these blogs, the content of that relating is distinctly secondary and almost irrelevant; rather like what effect Brexit might have on the UK economy, which you might naively think is the whole point. You can see when things are a master narrative because they typically point blame away from the perpetrators and the creators of the narrative: in food you are fat because you are greedy and lazy. (Funny how more than half the people in the entire country suddenly became greedy and lazy!)
This, ultimately, is why we get manipulated by consultation and why the RSA’s FFCC is naïve. The consultation never touches the master narrative, so all discussion takes place within the establishment story. I think I read of some indigenous Colombian Indians caught up for ever in fighting between the government forces and the rebels. They were used and abused just as badly by both sides, in a fight that was not theirs. They managed somehow to represent that truth against the narrative of the war, at great danger to themselves as you can imagine. That is what we need to do: we have no duty to the food industry, to the NHS, to big pharma, not even to the RSA! Our duty is to sanity and solidarity.
 I first learned the portmanteau ‘facipulation’ from Chris Potts, world-wide practitioner in enterprise investment, author of the world’s first-ever trilogy of business novels. I know this because that’s what he’s written at www.dominicbarrow.com… Tongue removed from cheek, his courses are well-worth going on and will change how you think about your role in an organisation.
 Don’t try this at home.
 Even if the RSA contains elements that want to express these thoughts, their funding lines and royal stature might be endangered, so there is a tendency toward suppression. But we’re one step beyond that, I think, in that the establishment can’t even think non-establishment thoughts. 1984’s doublespeak at its best.
 Conversely, informal NVC seems to attract people who need a gentle approach (rather than an assertively clear and merely non-violent one). I once gave an improv theatre workshop to a group of NVCers, and when one of them apparently broke down in tears there was a tense moment while I checked with her whether she had in fact been acting. Huge sigh of relief from me when that turned out to be the case…
 Schumpeter would doubtless approve. Creative destruction, anyone? But always of someone else please!