Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The problem is not the President. Seriously. The problem is us.

Don't go crazy on me here:  read.

I have spent a long time thinking about it, and I have realized that it is important to understand that the problem with President Obama telling Americans they could keep their insurance, President Bush (II) telling Americans that we had proof positive of WMDs in Iraq, President Clinton telling us he'd never worked harder (and failed) when trying to deliver a middle-class tax cut, President Bush (I) telling us to read his lips ... is not that any of these men were lying.

The problem is that too many of us believed them, each and every time.

Large organizations, whether they be the government, corporations, or entities like the Catholic Church, are NOT human beings, despite a myriad of Supreme Court opinions to the contrary.  Large organizations are, however, entities that have organization-specific agendas that are both greater than the sum of the agendas of the individuals comprising them, and which are completely amoral.

I first began to realize this when I noticed something inherent in one of my employer organizations.  Over the years there were certain self-defeating and morally improper behaviors that continued to occur.  That they continued to occur was surprising to me because they continued to occur EVEN when there was no continuity between the people in leadership positions, or even among the people in the immediate underling positions, and even no continuity in written records or procedures.  The organization itself kept returning to the same pattern of (for the organization) self-preserving behaviors no matter how immoral or long-term hurtful to actual human beings they might be.  (I cannot, unfortunately, give specific examples here without prompting that organization to engage in similar behaviors to the detriment of my free time.)

Meme theory suggests that ideas have agendas of their own, and I am beginning, after a long period of skepticism, to buy into that proposition.  Robert McNamara's critics called it "Groupthink," and engineers tend to characterize it as "operating solely on positive feedback," but the principle is the same.

(One meme theorist, the link to whose work I cannot now unfortunately find, not quite tongue in cheek published an academic article supporting the notion that the purpose of Christianity, expressed in meme theory, was not to save souls or modify human behavior, but to insure the continued physical existence of the Bible, and that by causing as many copies as possible to be printed and preserved over the centuries.  I will dutifully try to find that link because it is a great--and persuasive-article.)

Governments?  Corporations?  Churches?

Consider the US Government, which contracted with me when I joined the US Army way back in 1980 that if I did my hitch honorably and made my twenty, that certain benefits were guaranteed:  a pension, health care, commissary privileges, low-cost life insurance, Space-A travel.  As time goes by, however, the veterans discover the truth of ages:  despite the good intentions (road to hell type) of the people making those promises, they were inevitably lying ...

Times changed, the coffers got tighter, and new projects are inherently more important to political leaders and government officials than making good on old promises.  Virtually every one of the promises made to me (in writing!) by the US government when I entered the US Army has been unilaterally changed by the same government, and ALWAYS to its advantage and my detriment.

Whether you are a libertarian or a progressive, you need to confront this fact:  big organizations lie, because keeping their word is far too often contra-survival for the organization, and the organization (despite the intentions of the really good people inside it) DOES NOT GIVE A SHIT ABOUT YOU PERSONALLY.

The State of Delaware has, three times in the twenty-four years I have worked within the system, modified my retirement to be more acceptable to what they were willing to pay and less like what they promised me when I took the job.

Ever notice that you COMCAST or VERIZON bill seems to fluctuate up and down and then finally up if you don't watch it every month, and that you will eventually find yourself charged for services you never ordered?

Ever notice that the commonality between Wal-Mart, McDonald's, the State of Delaware, and the US Military is that all four organizations pay their lowest-paid full-time employees so badly that many of them qualify for food assistance and other forms of welfare.

Think about this seriously for a moment.  If this were purely a problem of capitalism, you could expect to find the problem in Wal-Mart and McDonald's, not the government; and vice versa with respect to socialism or managed capitalism.

The common link is not ideology or the distinction between private and public sectors.  The common link is that large organizations not only DO NOT but inherently CANNOT give a crap about the people on the bottom.  Again:  this is despite the fact that there will be many good people within those organizations (perhaps even atop those organizations) who do.

The Catholic Church protected priests (vested members of the organization) over little boys (the group that they are supposedly charged to nurture and protect), while the US government sterilized Native American women as recently as the 1970s (some Great White Father, huh?), and the Disney Corporation (as Buena Vista Films) knowingly allowed a convicted pedophile as director to film with child actors without informing their parents of the risk.  Coincidence?  Happenstance?  Cherry-picking?

You know better and so do I.

Large organizations do not love you, or cherish you, and they are always a threat to mutate into something that will victimize those they were meant to serve in the interests of self-preservation.

And yet, like power tools that (improperly or carelessly used) can rip your body apart, they appear to be a necessity of modern life.  Large projects require large capitalization, mobilization of resources, and ... (inevitably) significant amounts of coercion to get done.

Free market organizations, I would argue strenuously, are not inherently more moral or more trustworthy than governments, NGOs, religious organizations, large volunteer organizations, academia, etc., etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

Oh, by the way, the same obviously goes for the large media organizations (that are almost always wholly owned subsidiaries of something or someone else), which--despite the ethics of individual journalists or producers--have no inherent reason to tell you the truth, or at least the uncomfortable truths.

Ironically, smaller organizations may be much more prone to petty venalities, mistakes, or ideological bent, but because the agendas, ethics, and survival instincts of the people who compose them are a much larger factor (relatively speaking) than they would be at a Booz Allen or within the Department of the Interior, they are actually more likely I believe to be moral actors.

So here's the bottom line:  if you expect President Obama, or the salesman on TV, or the minister at church to invariably tell you the truth, you are foredoomed to disappointment, disillusionment, debt, and disaster.  The problem is not that President Obama is an habitual liar, or that the salesman on TV is immoral, or that your minister is at heart a cynic who doesn't believe in God.

The problem is that belonging to such large organizations is constant fight against their progressive (not in a political sense) dehumanization of their human components in service of the organization's real goals:  expansion and survival at all costs.

Unlovely truths, if I am correct.  And even more unlovely is what author Larry Niven once concluded in an essay on a similar subject:  "What you can do about it?  NOTHING."

Good night and good luck.


Anonymous said...

Welcome back

NCSDad said...

Damn, Steve. Way to make my morning. Oh, and "Welcome Back".

clive said...

Please check out my fun new libertarian blog from the UK here: http://smallgovernmentnow.wordpress.com/ it has lots of cats!! =]

Anonymous said...

Make sure to read Butler Shaffer's wonderful book "Calculated Chaos." He said this same thing years ago. Good post.

- Scott

Unknown said...

Wow. Most excellent. Thank-you for stimulating my brain.

Hank Foresman said...

It took you how long figure this out?

JHLee said...

This is right on. A few years ago a book came out called "The Wisdom of Crowds". I always wonder how it got published.

Concentrations of power attract bad leaders and worse decision-making.

But there are some other factors involved, too. Large organizations tend to be the slowest to respond to new technology and social trends. Here's my blog post on this...