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Thursday, November 11, 2010

U.S. "equation" of social organization

By David Brooks, New York Times, November 9, 2010
Study after study suggests that America is one of those societies with high social trust. Americans build large, efficient organizations that are not bound by the circles of kinship and clan. Study after study finds that Americans are not hierarchical. American children are raised to challenge their parents. American underlings are relatively free to challenge their bosses. In this country you’re less likely to have to submit to authority.
Perhaps Mr. Brooks is correct in the national pride, and national productivity and the pursuit of national profit sense of his observation. High social trust, as defined above, generates organizations based on relationships of strangers not of family members. However, the real basis of these relationship is need and competency. It is the celebration of the pursuit of economic success, financial success, profit and production that is shared by both those seeking to establish organizations and those seeking work in them. Consequently, the issue of the sharing of power, and of bringing 'truth to power' is trumped by the issue of making the organization work. And if someone has a better idea for making more widgets, or of selling more widgets, then those in charge serve themselves, the organization and the shareholders by listening.
However, when it comes to criticizing "the boss" in his person, or his capacity to perform, or his attitude or his skills, those "under" his supervision would do much better to remain silent.
The American society is designed and greased by the notion that more widgets, and more sales and more profits is the holy grail. It is true in corporations; it is true in education where the highest marks and the more students achieve them denotes the "best" institutions; it is true in law where the highest awards by the courts generate the highest number of the richest clients; and sadly, it is true in the churches where the more money generated for the coffers and the more bums-in-the-pews...the more likely is the clergy to be considered a success.
Unfortunately, there are both pluses and minuses in the equation. On the positive side, the equation keeps most people on the same page, provided those pages are able to accommodate all workers with their income needs for their families. There is a generally acquired perception of the stages in a single life...through school, then college, then employment, the marriage, then some promotion and more money, then a house, and then a family and then...a successful retirement to observe the same process in the children and perhaps even the grandchildren.
Unfortunately, with this as the holy grail, when it cracks, or worse, shatters, as it did in 2008, all bets are off.
Now the blame game starts, and it emerges slowly from the lowest rungs on the social and politial ladder.
After all, these people were just doing what the "equation" expected. Only the equation was rubbed out by some excessive and uncontrolled greed, as all major players threw caution to the winds (along with the need for regulations of the human capacity for greed, selfishness and irresponsibility). Now, in the larger sense, it is the lower rungs of the social pyramid that are revolting...only they are unschooled in their presentations, unschooled in the causes of their angst, unschooled in the nature of their political allies, because they have lost one of the essential ingredients of the successful opertion of the "equation"...trust.
Now, in numbers so as to prevent individual reprisal, they protest on the street, at the voting booth, and on the social media.
And their's is a random and undisciplined protest...and it catches other random and undisciplined protests and anger...and they converge into something that the professional political leadership is having trouble deciphering. Is the protest for lower taxes, more jobs, more security, better health care, more secure social security....or does the protest even know, itself, what is the the primary goal?
You seem to paint with a rather broad brush, Mr. Brooks, and you paint with an eloquence that is rare in your Republican party. However, you may have to dig a little deeper into the shadows of your country, not just your city, to find some less palatable and therefore more useful truths than the promising one of "less authority" and "more freedom to critizise." In fact, you may have to examine the tenets of the "for-profit" equation at the heart of your country's consciousness.

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