Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Virtually anything can be proven with statistics. Yet some figures do send an unequivocal message. In 1977, for example, the first year of the Carter presidency in the United States, the federal government took in $356 billion and spent $401 billion. Four years later, at the start of the Reagan presidency, revenues had reached $602 billion and spending was more than $660. In less than half a decade, the cost of government had increased by more than 50 percent.
Within the next ten years annual spending rose another 50 percent, reaching the trillion dollar level.
Even before Carter and Reagan, however, signals of alarm were sounding about the expansion of the government's size and, along with it, the power of the executive branch. During the Nixon administration, a series of abuses raised questions about whether presidential imperialism ought to be curtailed. But after the smoke of Watergate cleared, in spite of unauthorized bombing in Southeast Asia and a criminal conspiracy at the highest levels, the scope of presidential power continued to expand.
The size and complexity of Congress was also zooming out of control. Between 1954 and 1974 the machinery of the House and Senate expanded 15 times faster than the number of constituents. The budget for Congressional operations grew from $42 to $328 million a year. By 1985, the cost of the legislative branch had reached $1.6 billion.
Enormous and confusing, the US Congress has become a labyrinth of bureaus, dependent on technicians and permanently interlocked with countless special interest groups. Each new crisis gives birth to a new committee. As far back as 1946, the Congressional Reorganization Act attempted to anticipate the problem by limiting the number of standing committees. But that failed to stop the emergence of countless sub-committees and panels on every conceivable matter.
Like any bureaucracy, Congress reflects Parkinson's Law: work increases to fill the time and staff available to do it.
Along with the sheer scale of Congress, the role of elected representatives has also changed. Congressmen and women can no longer be legislative generalists, dabbling in a wide variety of issues and keeping tabs on many government agencies. Soon after taking office, they begin training as specialists, using a limited number of committees to make their marks.
Milton Gwirtzman, a former legislative assistant, aptly labeled Congress "the bloated branch," concluding in his study of legislative growth that congressmen have much in common with cabinet members: neither have much more than a casual connection with most of what’s done in their names. The agreeable Senator who offers to help a constituent is not only separated from most of the activities of his office, but also estranged from the general administration of government. No matter what they would like their constituents to think, members of Congress simply can't do much, since they must follow regulations that are rarely bent and rely on administrative technicians.
Since control of information is other hands, office-holders are often unable to make informed choices. Innovations such as the Office of Technological Assessment, designed in the 1970s to make data handling more efficient, actually removed the data further from the locus of decisions. Along with the babble of technical staffers has come the intensification of pressure from lobbying groups, which have grown even faster than Congress itself. Their influence slows down and skews the legislative process, locking interest-sensitive congressmen into inflexible positions. As a result of these developments, the decision-making process of most congressmen is a mixture of personal prejudices, traditional routines, conflict among officials and bureaus, and persistent pressure from outside groups.
Electoral politics has meanwhile become the study and control of public opinion. Techniques developed for market research identify the volatile preferences of "registered" consumers. Surveys and polls, as well as the pundits who interpret them, manipulate opinion as well as define it. Just as Harvard Business School studies showed how psychiatric counseling could neutralize worker complaints, polls have trivialized politics, narrowing the range of
Political parties, whose policy functions have been usurped by administrative bureaucracies, mainly handle the retail marketing the politicians deemed appropriate for public consumption. As Walter Dean Burnham once put it, politics has become just another item of luxury consumption.
The evolution of political bureaucracy in the US isn't unique. Bureaucratic growth and rigidification has overtaken most developed nations, among them France, historically a wellspring of rationalism, and today the epitome of the modern State, a complex of bureaus that not even the French can unravel. According to political philosopher Jacques Ellul, his country illustrates well the emergence of a new form of society, one characterized by largely impersonal rule.
Like most modern States, French government has two contradictory elements – politicians with their assemblies and committees, and administrative personnel in the bureaucratic complex. Illustrating facets of Hegelian and Marxian thought, administration serves as a relay between the State and society (an Hegelian concept) and is simultaneously a means of the State (the Marxist view). Within the bureaucratized State, however, politicians lose much of their influence. In The Political Illusion, Ellul noted:
“From the very moment that a general policy decision has been made by the minister, it escapes his control; the matter takes on independent life and circulates in the various services, and all depends eventually on what the bureaus decide to do with it. Possibly, orders will eventually emerge corresponding to the original decision. More frequently, nothing with emerge.”
Next: Rational Collectives
To read other chapters, go to Prisoners of the Real: An Odyssey
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Archetypes are ideal patterns. Stereotypes are their negative images. The latter can be useful, however, when looking at extreme tendencies. Among the archetypes described by Carl Jung were the extroverts and introverts, with aspects that often overlapped. Of Jung's extroverts, two were rational types – the thinking and feeling rational extroverts. The tool users and time keepers of our rationally-managed world illustrate both qualities. The technician and the rhinoceros, meanwhile, lay at two poles of rationalism – the extremes of the Individualist and the Organization Man.
The Organization Man is a collective rationalist, agreeing with Plato on the need for a unity of social and political goals. The Individualist, in contrast, is a libertarian rationalist, favoring a popular sovereignty that celebrates diversity and protects humanity's natural right of independent enterprise. The Organization Man tends toward the absolute; he wants order in a complex world. The Individualist tends toward the democratic, seeking complexity though it may ultimately lead to chaos.
The "satisficing" leader is the model of the Organization Man, one who makes all questions political matters and hopes that the ends will justify the means. The "pure" researcher personifies the Individualist. For the researcher all questions are "technical," as knowledge is refined in pieces and technical means become ends. The "satisficer" looks for workability and practicality within a bureaucratically-managed system. The "pure" researcher hopes to optimize and predict by considering every alternative.
Organization Men (and women) are drawn to conflict suppression through an often participatory program of inductive analysis. Individualists are attracted to conflict resolution through an often compartmentalized program of deductive verification. Fused with the whole, Organization Men follow the other-directed road to products. Concerned with the parts, Individualists take the same road to endless process.
In the I Ching, the Organization Man is the eldest son in the hexagram "The Arousing (Shock, Thunder)." He has "learned within his heart what fear and trembling mean." But rather than attaining a "profound inner seriousness," he may be robbed "of reflection and clarity of vision...helplessly tossed hither and thither." If his resistance and ability to yield are absent, his movement may be seriously crippled.
The Individualist is the youngest son in the hexagram "Keeping Still (Mountain)." He "turns upon the problem of achieving a quiet heart." Yet rather than reaching "peace of mind," his constant thinking may make "the heart sore," causing him to drift irresolutely. He may try to "induce calmness by means of artificial rigidity," producing "unwholesome results. Tied to ego, he isn't "free from all the dangers of doubt and unrest."
Nevertheless, these two very different sons have some common concerns and attributes: reliance on routines, concern with adjustment, and belief in the world of objective facts are among the tendencies that unite these two rational types. Reason and judging functions are supreme, noted Jung, which subordinates their intuitive lives to rational judgment alone. The accidental and irrational are excluded, and untidiness is forced into a definite pattern.
But there are dangers. Such people are sucked into objects and lose themselves. They are forced into involuntary self-restraint. At the extreme lies hysteria, an exaggerated rapport with those in the immediate environment and an adaptation to surrounding conditions that may become mere imitation. The basic feature of the hysteric is a tendency to make him or herself interesting, to make an impression. Related to this is suggestibility, vulnerability to the influence of another.
These types and their relationships can be placed in visual perspective. Imagine a vertical line, for example, symbolizing the active element often identified as male. At the bottom of the line is chaos. At the opposite pole lies the extreme of the material world, order, which is idealized in the spiritual world. Next, imagine a second line, dividing the first at its center: this horizontal line symbolizes the passive element, often characterized as female. It moves from the intuitive realm of spirit to the rational world of matter. Viewed as a whole, the two lines create four quadrants.
By imposing an inverted pyramid on this cross, we create a symbol indicating the thesis of rationalism and antithesis of intuition. Moving along the horizontal axis to the right, we venture from the mid-point between order and chaos, intuition and rationality, into the world of the real. At the extreme, in this visual representation, are the tool users and time keepers who accept the world of objects as they see it.
The line pointing diagonally southeast, in the direction of chaos and rationality, leads us to the libertarian rationalist, the Individualist bound solidly to matter in total rejection of spirit, whose extreme example is the technician. To the southwest, toward chaos and intuition, is the intuitional libertarian, the radical who may ultimately embrace anarchy and become an outsider. And to the northeast, the direction of order and rationality, we find the collective rationalist, the Organization Man. He may sometimes seek spirit within matter, but often he becomes the extreme known as the rhinoceros.
One quadrant remains – the region of pure spirit. I'll leave for later a full examination of this tendency toward intuitive order. But this direction leads to devotion, a form of collective intuition. The devoted being, an intuitive or spiritual guide, also has an important role to play in the world of leadership, one largely unexplored by management theorists. This type is an arrogant dragon who has begun to repent. Potentially, he is a spiritual adept, or an organizational shaman. At the extreme, however, the devoted being may become a blind disciple.
The dialectic of rationality and intuition which began with Copernicus and was concretized by Descartes, Hobbes, the rationalists and skeptics of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, the neo-Hegelians, and followers of Marx has led to the dominance of rationality in the conditional world of technology, bureaucracy, and behaviorism. The inverted pyramid directs us to the Organization Man, the collective rationalist who accepts a world of increasing order and predictability.
At the opening of the 21st century, the rhinoceros herd encompasses most of society. The values of collective rationality have been diffused to the masses who, to a significant extent, embrace the ethic of self-control and mechanical system. We've moved deep into the age of the bureaucratic institution, dominated by technological and industrial culture.
Among the implicit beliefs of collective rationality illustrated thus far are:
* The appropriate attitude toward the past is rejection, hostility or casual amusement.
* Humanity is inherently estranged from nature.
* Natural striving is upward and outward, exemplified by improvement and increases of production.
* Our orientation must be toward mastery, control and order.
* Our knowledge can be expanded indefinitely.
* The cosmos is a mechanical system.
* The road to improvement is accelerated movement.
Systems are viewed with a mixture of reverence and fear. Anxious Organization Men are relieved when they can be reassured that "the system still works." Even the Watergate crisis of the 70s and the Iran-Contra affair of the 80s provided such consolation for most rational leaders and their conditioned flocks.
But in order to completely understand how the dragon has been transformed into a rhinoceros, we need to look more deeply into the system in which he operates.
Consider it a whale of frightful size. A whale was said to have swallowed Jonah, its belly so large that people mistook it for hell. The whale lifts its back out of the open sea, then anchors itself in one place. Resting on its back, a level lawn is created, and bushes begin to grow. According to legend, sailing ships often mistook whales for islands and landed on them. Crews then built fires, and their heat awoke the beast. Suddenly, the huge beast plunged into the sea, pulling the ship and crew down with it.
This is a dire vision of the system at work. But there are more practical reasons to fear the whale, this organizational machine made of human beings.
Next: The Price of Order
To read other chapters, go to Prisoners of the Real: An Odyssey
Monday, December 14, 2009
In the 1920s, the artistic movement called dadaism emerged as the extreme of individualism, combining an open rejection of the audience with the belief that real communication was impossible. The godfather of surrealism, Andre Breton, claimed that in the future the two fundamental states of mind – dream and reality – would be merged into a super-reality.
For the outsiders of the "Great Society" 40 years later, drugs offered another glimpse of this fusion, while novels and films celebrated it.
Breton argued that by abolishing reason and logic, and along with them the sexual taboos of bourgeois society, human beings could liberate themselves from the problems of the material world. They could transcend the duties and mores of the "real." Creation of a new system of values would eventually return them to a state of true innocence. Both the "lost" and "now generations" embraced this belief and found, for a time, that through a defiance of rationality they could glimpse the outsider's Truth.
The religion of art provided the "lost generation" with a sense of mission. Forbidden themes were opened for discussion, and the literature of the period soared. At the same time, however, the fates of many artists and their followers turned bleak. The new gods of liquor, sex, violence, and art led them into a decline, since they were trying to draw upon resources which, in many instances, they didn't possess. Beginning with the protest of the Sacco-Vanzetti trial and escalating into a series of suicides, the elastic band of separation from the "serious world" was stretched to the snapping point.
At the end of the 60s a similar crash occurred. Violence, repression and death blanketed the US: the killing of students at Kent and Jackson State, the murder of Black Panthers, bombings by the Weather Underground, and the suicides of cultural icons such as Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.
How limited the options looked: individual consciousness leading to a destructive social revolution, or conditioned rationalism that produced a society of robots. Deadly times had led to extreme, dichotomous responses. Of course, the same division can exist within the individual. Another play by John Osborne revealed both poles within the character of Martin Luther. Stubborn and iconoclastic, resentful of authority and blind to compromise, Osborne's Luther is a divided man who believes in individual conscience and yet can't dispel his own guilt. He hates himself and can love only others.
After posting the 95 Theses, Luther speaks against indulgences. Both the self-lacerating monk and the revolutionary are evident as he baits his congregation. "Your emptiness will be frothing over," he says, "at the sight of a strand of Jesus' beard, at one of the nails driven into his hands, and at the remains of the loaf at the Last Supper. Shells for shells, empty things for empty men."
Luther has had a revelation: "The just shall live by faith... Reason is the devil's whore, born of one stinking goat called Aristotle, which believes that good works make a good man. But the truth is that the just shall live by faith alone." But this revelation, as powerful as it is, can't save him once the political implications of his words are seized by discontented masses. In the face of an armed revolt by the peasants of Swabia, who demand the abolition of serfdom and the preaching of the pure gospel, Luther sides with the rulers and calls for extermination of the protestors. Reform, he has decided, must occur within the system.
The uprising is violently squelched. Afterward a battle-tired knight tells Luther, "You could even have brought freedom and order in at one and the same time." But instead he smothered the spirit and brought on Protestant "angst," which proceeded to haunt us for centuries. Luther became a rational manager, and his choice brought death.
In 1522, Martin Luther decided not to leave the system, and instead acted on its behalf. His choice was another victory for the Robot, the automatic pilot that substitutes routine responses for self-consciousness. The Robot can of course also work in conjunction with consciousness; in fact, such collaboration can enhance our creative activities. But more often it replaces the "will to meaning" with unexamined responses. When this happens, beliefs are often assumed rather than affirmed.
Set loose, the Robot is fully capable of suppressing meaning and supporting a false sense of ethical neutrality that finds its ultimate expression in technicians of death. Pentagon planners, for instance, could coolly plan the bombardment of Vietnam and Iraq by defining the problems as "technical" and ignoring the assumptions of these conflicts. They became observers, standing outside their own designs.
Speaking of Vietnam, Noam Chomsky noted that for the planners all dilemmas were practical, as ethically neutral as the laws of physics:
"If the children in a burn ward in the Quang Ngai hospital disagree, well, they probably don't understand the laws of physics either. By defining problems as technical, one appears hardheaded and realistic, any moral considerations are displaced, and the public is effectively excluded, since clearly technical problems are to be left to experts."
Ethics and history are left behind. The origins of ideas, whether correct or mistaken, are someone else's department. The terms of the technical problem are assumed, so that "counter-insurgency theorists" and experts in "low intensity war" can remain free to address difficulties without bothering to understand them. In a value-free institution, life and death cease to have intrinsic meaning. Negative power becomes an efficient and satisfactory choice, and production can be measured by the number of deaths.
At least the outsider seeks life, hoping to expand the pleasure principle in order to build a new culture. The technician or mechanic, on the other hand, may seek no more than death. As Rollo May has described it, Eros stands across from Thanatos, love in polarity with hate. Regardless of its guise, Joseph Campbell once noted, Eros is always the progenitor, the original creator from which life comes. And Freud, who believed that the elimination of sexual tension through full satisfaction of the libido was self-defeating, since the aim of all life is death, saw Eros as the only possible rescuer. Yet Eros is normally denied in a rational society. Even physical passion is replaced by sexual technique.
In popular fiction, the professional killer often symbolizes the technician as figure of death, a disinterested mercenary working for unknown or irrelevant causes. For such technicians it's best not to know the ends toward which they work, focusing only on their part and giving no thought to the whole. Work goes best when attention is narrowly focused. If understanding expands, on the other hand, the death figure often destroys itself.
Clearly, life in the "serious world" can be just as dangerous as moving outside it. Neither assimilation nor isolation will lead an "arrogant dragon" to personal peace.
Next: Deconstructing Archetypes
To read other chapters, go to Prisoners of the Real: An Odyssey
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
According to the theory of organizational equilibrium, most employees have two basic decisions to make on the job: to participate and to produce. Of course, they can also opt to leave – that is, decide not to participate – or decline to produce at the expected rate. But rational management turns either choice into a potentially existential crisis. Too often people must either conform to the so-called "serious world" or reject it. It's a choice between bad faith and compulsory engagement.
Consciousness is the essence of freedom. But refusal to reflect on motives, or to lie about them, is consciousness in bad faith, uncritical acceptance of the "serious world." Terrified by the thought of justifying their lives without the clear boundaries established by "objective" reality, many people choose to join the "rhinoceros herd", accepting a standard that appears to guarantee certain absolute rights and wrongs. However, a few do choose to reject it. They opt to leave or refuse to produce. We tend to call such people "outsiders."
In John Osborne's classic drama, Look Back in Anger, the central character is an outsider named Jimmy Porter, a British university drop-out living in an attic apartment. Porter is Hamlet as an "angry young man," mocking the phoniness of his world. He recognizes his antagonist, the rational man who mouths platitudes and yet, despite the facade, knows that "he and his pals have been plundering and fooling everybody for generations." For Porter the choice is clear, but the price of being an outsider is loneliness and anger. "I learned at an early age what it was to be angry," he shouts, "angry and helpless. And I can never forget it."
Before the curtain falls, he turns to his long-suffering wife and poses his existential question:
"Was I really wrong to believe that there's a – a kind of – burning virility of mind and spirit that looks for something as powerful as itself? The heaviest, strongest creatures in this world seem to be the loneliest. Like the old bear, following his own breath in the dark forest. There's no warm pack, no herd to comfort him. That voice that cries out doesn't have to be a weakling's, does it?"
Here is the outsider's problem, the same burden of choice explored by Sartre, Camus, Kierkegaard, and Dostoevsky. In The Outsider, Colin Wilson's groundbreaking study of modern alienation, he made the dilemma crystal clear. The outsider, Wilson explained, is someone "who cannot live in the comfortable, insulated world of the bourgeois, accepting what he sees and touches as reality. 'He sees too deep and too much,' and what he sees in essentially chaos."
For the outsider, the world isn't rational and orderly. He has awakened in himself a chaos which he is forced to face. Wilson also described the outsider's case against society:
"All men and women have these dangerous, unnamable impulses, yet they keep up a pretense, to themselves, to others; their respectability, their philosophy, their religion, are all attempts to gloss over, to make look civilized and rational something that is savage, unorganized, irrational. He is an Outsider because he stands for Truth."
Like his rational opposite, the outsider accepts the idea that human beings are brutes. But rather than suppressing instinct, he chooses to let it loose.
Outsiders are part of every generation, the few members of society who reject the organization, who leave on a search for some "separate peace." For as long as there have been organized societies, there also have been those who make this choice. In the US, some of our most famous outsiders emerged as part of the "lost generation" of the 1920s.
After World War I, the nation entered a period of post-war disillusionment. The American Dream had been shattered and the foundations of the country's optimism finally cracked. Another era of disillusionment and pessimism commenced at the end of the 1960s, when assassination destroyed hope and moral corruption bruised already strained ideals. The dream of a "Great Society" became a nightmare, and many Americans turned from altruism to cynicism.
The disillusionment of the 1920s soon gave way to another phase of "lostness." An expatriate clique made a pilgrimage to Montparnasse, a sub-culture of playboys, artists, intellectuals and might-have-beens. This avant garde group set out to revolutionize morals, calling for the elimination of obsolete values and ultimately reaping a harvest of emotional emptiness.
The term "lost generation" was actually a misnomer, a book-jacket acclamation by Gertrude Stein that was used out of context. Similarly, the label for the drop outs of the 60s, the "now generation," was a simplistic attempt by the media and critics of the sub-culture to categorize a group they couldn't understand. Like the earlier expatriates, the "now generation" claimed the mantle of freedom and alienation. Following the lead of Ernest Hemingway's alter-ego, Nick Adams, they were certainly "not patriots." So said Abbie Hoffman, Eldridge Cleaver, Stokely Carmichael, and other leaders of The Movement. Their "underground" revolt was a radical break with the "straight" world, which had proven itself neither joyous, principled, nor cultured enough to deserve their loyalty or respect.
In the 20s many artists and ascetics practiced a self-imposed emotional and physical isolation. Seeking to satisfy passions aroused by the face of death, they searched for life despite the regimentation of society, hoping to discover a new faith to replace the one that had failed them. Not only artists and mystics made this quest in the 60s; millions of middle-class men and women ventured into a world of hidden meanings and the occult. As in the 20s, they awoke from the shock of war and found themselves disoriented, adrift in the world of surrealism, dadaism, drugs, and sex.
Next: Life, Death and Lost Generations
To read other chapters, go to Prisoners of the Real: An Odyssey
My own research began many years ago in Vermont, as I looked for answers to the mystery surrounding a family of 19th Century mediums and the people who were attracted to their “ghost shop.” In the end, I wrote Spirits of Desire, a novel based on events surrounding the initial meeting of Helena Blavatsky and Henry Olcott, founders of the Theosophy movement. This four-part essay discusses various theories about ghosts and the afterlife, and offers several excerpts from the book.
To purchase a copy of the book or find out more, post a comment to this website.