Peter Ho was the head of the civil service in Singapore. He invented the concept of the Black Elephant, which he described like this:
“The black elephant is the evil spawn of our cognitive biases. It is a cross between a black swan and the proverbial elephant in the room. The black elephant is a problem that is actually visible to everyone, but no one wants to deal with it, and so they pretend it is not there. When it blows up as a problem, we all feign surprise and shock, behaving as if it were a black swan.”
(Black swans refers to Nicholas Taleb’s term for unknown unknowns)
The reality is that we are surrounded by black elephants. It seems that this is the one species that is not due for extinction any time soon.
Here is a list of black elephants that spring to mind immediately:
– a no deal Brexit
– major split of the UK Labour Party
– climate change and life-threatening environmental degradation
– a political system that is no longer fit for purpose
– an economic system that, by design, keeps driving increasing concentration of wealth
– a financial system always teetering on the edge of collapse
– an unsustainable, and growing, level of public and private debt
– a world trading system that cannot cope with the rise of a state controlled Chinese economy
– culture and identity wars
At Radix, we hope to raise awareness of Black Elephants and try to energise action to tackle at least some of them. Of course the first step in such action is to make people face the fact that they actually exist.
I invite our readers to contribute to generating as long a list of black elephants as they can think of and to put them in order of which they think should are the more important ones.
This is not meant to be an exercise in generating mass depression. But, as Ho says, accepting that these beasts exist is the first step towards tackling them.
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Stephen Gwynne says
Anthropocentism vis a vis ecocentrism.
Human-centred justice vis a vis ecology-centred justice.
The inability of (cosmopolitan) universal moral frameworks predicated on the right to life to be reconciled with the life death balance between all species. In other words, the universal right to life cannot be extended across all species and across all biological organisms without disrupting the life death cycle that underpins biological life.
Anthropocentic forms of cosmopolitanism/globalism tend to be based on utopian utilitarianism whereby Nature is transformed in order to maximise global human wellbeing.
nigel hunter says
Climate Change. If we do not get to grips with it their will be nobody left to solve the problems.From insects up the food chain is under threat .We humans are at the top of that change. Why is it children have more foresight than the adults. An ignorance of the future came on this subject when the BBC put up a Tory Councillor as a n ‘educational expert’ when he said they should be in school, completely missing the point of the demonstrations. You can start with that elephant in the room
Punit Shah says
“– a world trading system that cannot cope with the rise of a state controlled Chinese economy”
I’m intrigued by the reasoning of this. Is this a real threat? Or something similar to the fear of Japan in the 1980s?
Are they more a threat than unaccountable and untaxable global corporations, such as the Faangs?
Joe Zammit-Lucia says
Thanks for your question. I believe that China is a fundamentally different issue from Japan. Japan was building a market economy and integrating into the Western led global trading system – which it has done. China has chosen a state directed economy for which the WTO system was never designed. You can see more in our latest Globalisation Outlook here:
Also, Japan has a pacifist constitution that prohibits military adventures. China has ambitions of being a military super-power and has been occupying islands in the S China Sea, etc, etc
There is no doubt that the ‘unaccountable’ large corporations are also problematic and may well qualify as a Black Elephant. But the nature of the issues surrounding those is quite different from the China issue and it may not be appropriate to ask which is more or less of a Black Elephant. They are different.