Massive Change II


As I said in the last post, I had a chance in Vancouver to hear Bruce Mau describe his Massive Change project. The project will show the best ideas, people and projects with which to take on the 4 Ps: pollution, poverty, politics and paralysis.

Mau puts his project somewhere between the good hearted Left and hard headed Right, right there in the excluded heartland of our ideological world.

Good hearted Left

The trouble with most projects that want to “do good” is that they don’t believe they have to “do well.” Somehow, they believe that caring about social problems absolves them having to be efficient. Worse, they use their good works as a way to install collectivist solutions…as when the community organizers “help” the poor by mobilizing them to “fight capitalism.” Still, there are moments when you have to say that this side of the ideological divide is able to capture for free intellectual capital, imagination, and dynamism that is the envy of the business world (think Apple vs. IBM). Perhaps more important, there is a very substantial group of people out there that say only collective, NGO-type solutions can “save the planet.”

Hard Headed Right

On the other side is the private sector. For them, “doing well” is probably enough. They believe that public solutions will swim up out of private initiative. Personally, I believe that this is usually the right approach: governments and NGOs often destroy more value than they create. (See my passionate defense of this notion in the blog entry called “Dr. O’Neill, may I present Dr. Boudreaux?”) More to the point, this group knows how to get things done. The private sector has problem solving skills that make the Left look like an amateur dramatic production of a very bad play. But still and all, it is not clear that private initiatives will address the most global and the most serious of our collective problems. In particular, pollution appears to be, from a private initiative point of view, an intractable problem.

Mau in the middle

I give you Bruce Mau. He scorns the Left and its inclination to pretend solutions it does not have. He was apparently roped into designing Naomi Klein’s NO LOGO before he fully understood its content. He casually dismisses the Kleinian approach as “lunacy,” (I think this was the term he used. I still prefer my own “clanking stupidity,” as below.) Brands are not, Mau says, the work of the devil. They are the “public address system of capitalism.”

Mau stands with Ashoka, the champion of the “social entrepreneur.” Ashoka will be one of the themes of the Massive Change exhibit. He believes that capitalism has got steadily better in the last 50 years, while governments have changed not at all. Mau believes that social solutions come when we harness the economy, the profit motive, property rights and market initiative.

But these solutions happen faster when summoned and dramatized by a collective undertaking. And that’s what Massive Change is for. This will be, among other things, an exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery in October of 2004. If the exhibit is anything like Mau’s talk, it will be a stunner that manages in a few hundred square feet to review the best and brightest people and ideas now at our disposal, and to create a problem solving momentum that you normally associate with the CEOs rallying the troops at the annual conference. The sheer imaginative scope and energy of the thing is something to behold.

Mau embraces Arnold Toynbee’s notion of ‘the welfare of the entire human race as a practical objective” What differentiates his ‘take” on this notion is the emphasis he gives to the word “practical.” Mau may have his head in the clouds, but he has his feet firmly on the ground. This exhibit is about what we can do right now to begin doing something right now. His review of the best and brightest people and ideas leaves you thinking, ‘that’s right. We can do this.” So much for the “J’accuse” indignation and pessimism that comes so often from the Environmentalists.

It is now clear that we live on a “small planet.” We are looking at problems that are global in reach. We are looking for solutions that must be global in scale. And, as Mau demonstrates, we have the solutions. What is called for as something that pushes us beyond the conventional approaches into the realm of the possible. Massive Change is a wonderful push.

3 thoughts on “Massive Change II

  1. sarah

    I’d like to hear your ideas about theory vs. practice, often such a sticking point for anthropologists and other people who understand the friction which arises between idealistic/pragmatic views.

  2. Grant

    Sarah, thanks for your comment. What I like most about Mau’s project is precisely that it is both idealistic and pragmatic, when so many others are one or the other. (I am trying to respond to your other question, but I am having a hard time getting at it. I failed to title the post in question and that makes it hard to get at. Will keep trying.) Thanks again. Best, Grant

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