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October 08, 2007



One of the merits of Bush the Elder was his suspicion of "vision". One of the faults of Bush the Younger, and Clinton I, was "vision". I dare say that it'll be a weakness of Clinton II, too.
(P.S. Here's an easy way to remember whether Little Madam Cattle Futures spells her name as "Hilary" or "Hillary" - Hell.)

Peter D Cox

Just two quick points:
The fact that “vision misperceives the nature of rationality” seems to me its very essence and value. To take Oakeshott’s example: the first cooked food may well have occurred by accident; a pie, on the other hand, is such an absurd confection of unconnected ingredients and processes, that some one at some point must have had a vision of something – even though they didn’t know the result would be a pie. They would not have had initial success but they would have known that their failures were merely the struggle of the journey to achieving pie making.
And yes, it is striking how limited the vision of politicians seems today. Isn’t this because we now distrust notions of political conviction so much: all is designed to appease the focus group, rather than to drive forward a heart-felt (and head too) set of convictions (aka vision). I think I still have a set of (old fashioned?) paradigms against which I judge proposed policies (strategies?): words like socialist, democratic, empowering etc. Now I think they are vision words: have we just lost the agreement about what they mean, or the very notion that a vision can help us change ourselves/our neighbourhood/our country/the world?
So, I'm all for visions - for pies and politicians.


As TS Eliot said "They constantly try to escape
From the darkness outside and within
By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.
But the man that is will shadow
The man that pretends to be."


Isn't Peter's pie philosophy the same argument used for Creationism - that such a complex thing as human life requires the notion of a vision, and thus a Visionary? It's a short step from the Visionary Piemaster to an Omnipotent Creator.

I'd rather stay out of the clouds down in the muck and propose that pies grew incrementally out of specific engineering requirements, like being able to take a ready-to-eat square meal with you without excessive packaging.
The only 'vision' is the very human recombination of existing ingredients, which is something we do all the time, everwhere (painting, music, Lego, computer programming, writing blog posts...).

Now dough, on the other hand, is a truly miraculous invention and I'd love to know how someone worked that out. I suspect accident rather than design.

Matt Munro

Vision, mission and values, all cobblers, all peddled by management consultants.

Experts start from the problem and work forward, managers start from the vision and "work" backwards. Einstein couldn't have theorised relativity by starting with a vision.

Matt Munro

a pie, on the other hand, is such an absurd confection of unconnected ingredients and processes, that some one at some point must have had a vision of something – even though they didn’t know the result would be a pie.

Or someone thought, "what can I do with that leftover meat and that mouldy bit of pastry" ?


Yes, you sometimes need a 'vision' to drive you forward, but you also need the ability to deliver it, either designing the solution yourself or motivating and encouraging others to do the same. Too many recent political visions have gone wrong in the execution, either because they were impossible to realise (the utopian stuff) or because execution failed. Brown has some good people riding along with him, but will they succeed?

Bob B

Presumably, one aspect of the "vision" thing is what sort of centralised controls over local decisions are envisaged, which doubtless helps to explain the battery of targets introduced by New Labour ministers into the NHS along with structures of incentives and sanctions intended to ensure compliance.

Sadly, if only the architects of all that had bothered to read up about the distortions created by central planning targets and incentives in the Soviet system they might have had more success.

The extraordinary insight is that according to Alec Nove's estimable: The Soviet Economy, the Soviets were evidently already well aware of the problems created by combinations of targets and bonuses back in the 1950s once Stalin's death in 1953 had reduced restrictions on publishing concerns about the planning system.

For comparison, try this profile in the Guardian a year ago on the appointment of a new chief executive for the NHS:

"Nicholson has been with the NHS for 29 years. He joined as a graduate trainee in the same year he joined the Communist party, which he then saw as the best vehicle to take forward his passionate support for the anti-apartheid struggle. He says he was not a Eurocommunist: he was among the Tankies who did not see an ideological need to distance themselves from Moscow. . . "

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