Monday, August 10, 2009

The Corporate Way of Life

Part 5 of Prisoners of the Real

The use of negative power by both leaders and followers helps to perpetuate the centralization of control in manipulative tools. Professional imperialism – that is, rule by kings called doctors, lawyers, scientists, psychologists, and so on – tends to create a society of clients and a climate in which conditioning extends the dominant values to the mass level. In the end, everyone falls into the hands of inhuman mechanisms, tools called bureaucracies and technical systems.

Through its professional elite, for example, the American Psychological Association helped to expand the power of industrial capitalism, using everything from "morale" improvement techniques to counter-insurgency work and military psychology. Its liberal wing, the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, founded in 1945, “solved” social problems by making schools, factories and wars more efficient. Its central approach was rational psychology, a powerful social science tool that served well the needs of ruling elites, with methods such as separation of subject and object, attention to external and measurable behavior, and reliance on form. All of these are related to the need to manipulate, control and predict behavior.

The paraprofessional movement, lauded as a way to provide access for the non-traditionally educated, ironically marked the democratization of professional values. After all, these "new" professionals also had to embrace achievement, analysis and isolation as major rationales for action. In the struggle for their own piece of negative power, these offshoots of various professional elites gradually changed their attitudes toward their clients.

Before long paraprofessionals, having internalized values such as individualism, deferment of gratification and rationality, began to view dealings with the lower classes as an obstacle to their professional advancement. As striving professionals, actively engaged in efforts to improve their status, they often became more negative in their orientation toward lower class or impoverished clients than their more traditional colleagues.

The impact of education, another institutional tool that became manipulative upon passing its second watershed, was far more pervasive that its ability to regiment youth and propagate the ethic of achievement. Schools habituate young people to bureaucratic discipline, sorting them through standardized exams, selecting some for careers in the leadership elite and channeling the rest into the labor pool. As historian William Irwin Thompson defines it, the socializing effect of schools, on both faculty and students, is "to teach people how to live in a large public corporation."

Universities meanwhile became expansive educational bureaucracies, exploding into the communities that surrounded them and becoming dominant social, economic and political factors. These centers were linked by a common culture, advanced technical hardware, and a shared affection for information management. In “knowledge societies,” the computer has gradually replaced the museum. After leaving the university archipelago, Thompson noted that what he described as socialized education was indicative of humanity's increasing acquiescence to corporate routines. Big business, big government and big schools, he concluded, are all the same:

"The role of an educational bureaucracy is to educate people to bureaucracy, and this can be done as well in a course in humanities as in one in business administration. If one controls the structure, he can afford to allow a liberal amount of play in the content. The more alien subjects like mysticism, revolution, or sexuality can be brought into the structures of curricular behavior determined by educational management, the more these structures prove their power over just those areas of experience that might subvert them."

Thus, teachers serve as "managers of learning systems" who run committees called classes and prepare students for institutional life. Public schools become wards for the distribution of tranquilizers and behavior modification, or agencies of "manpower selection," part of the control apparatus that includes social welfare offices, mental health centers, and juvenile courts. Before we know it, the muscles of democracy become the closing fingers of the long arm of the state.

Eventually, Thompson walked away from the university world. I say he "walked" to stress that the relationship between teachers and the corporate school is similar to the connection between cars and the corporate tool of highway transportation. While education spreads the ethics of bureaucratic life, transportation systems foster addiction to speed. By now we are well aware of the environmental costs of this addiction. But as the evolution of modern transportation in many less developed countries indicates, speed addiction is also a powerful form of social control.

Before the building of highways, rough trucks in underdeveloped countries traveled dirt roads, carrying people and their animals to market together. After high-speed transport commenced, however, the old ramp trucks that had connected the major centers were exiled to mountains and swamps. No longer could people and animals make the same trip. Meanwhile, the taxes paid by peasants to finance such development flowed into the coffers of specialized monopolies. The average person paid for a loss of mobility without gaining new freedom.

Mass transportation is the popular technological solution to this problem: public ownership of high-speed machines. Yet mass transit cannot re-unite the traveling peasant with his pigs, nor reduce the stratification of society on the basis of speed. Pushcarts and bicycles would be far more effective in this regard. But tools like transportation systems are designed to deliver energy in certain minimum quantities. Less than the minimum cannot be managed, whether the issue is speed of transport, schooling, or medical care. In almost every case, the tools are out of the reach of most people.

According to Ivan Illich, important positions in government and industry are reserved for "certified consumers of high quanta of schooling." And to run the show, they need cars in order to rush to meetings. "Productivity," he concludes, "demands the output of packaged quanta of institutionally defined values, and productive management demands the access of an individual to all these packages at once."

Clearly, productivity today demands both speed and efficiency, which commit managers to quantitative measurement and condemn workers to mechanical regularity. With the introduction of machine tools standardization and interchangability became possible. These led in turn to mass production and the assembly line – the devotion to repetitive order. The modern employee is thus no longer a creative worker; he operates one or more machines. Meanwhile, scientific researchers seek more fully refined routines in the name of public service.

This "rational" approach promotes continued division of operations and tools themselves, as well as increased efficiency in support of the industrial mode of work. Independent art and expressive craft have clearly been among the casualties. Rather than sheltering these vital fields of activity, corporate and government subsidies have professionalized them, resulting in craft elites and art bureaucracies in which administrative rules eclipse aesthetic reflection. More damaging still, art has edged toward conformity, while its purpose has shifted from expression to utility. In the 1960s many craftspeople asked for recognition as bona fide members of the artistic community. Rather than enhancing craft, however, this movement helped to promote a functional ethic among artists.

Government funds in support of "community arts" increasingly had economic and social control motives. The artisans invited to "coordinate" the activities of students, prison inmates and mental patients were also instructed to speed their adjustment to social norms. Although the rebirth of cottage industries had positive environmental consequences, it also spread the values the efficiency and utility. Individual expression began to look somewhat superfluous.

The community artist uses his work to increase the involvement of people in productive activities. However, these activities are defined and regulated by impersonal state and federal structures that too often focus attention on ephemeral issues, meanwhile turning artists into the diffusers of rational values. As a result, art too has become a manipulative tool, simultaneously placing the power of expression into people's hands and turning artists into bureaucrats. Administering creativity in committee-style groups, they allow it to be used as another technique of institutional control. In the end, instead of artists, most of their students become adjusted technicians of paint, fiber, stone and wood, and a potential model of conviviality serves as another mechanism of dependence and exploitation, an opiate that extends the reach of rationalism.

Next: Dictatorship of Time


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The Creative Also Destroys

Deconstructing Leadership

Anatomy of Insecurity

Managers and Their Tools

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