Sunday, November 1, 2015

The triumph of objectification....

There is reason to  think that our broad ethical capacities were formed during a long phase of human evolution when family relations were paramount. In significant measure, right and wrong depended on the calculus of kinship.....The vivid evidence of the traumatized world is that ideology is not a good basis for ethical behavior. Too readily it yields over-certainty in times of ambiguity. It stimulates overarmament when human balance is fragile....
(O)ur principal society-wide means of judging students and other candidates focuses fiercely on people's ability to perform technical tasks- calculations, making technical projections, knowing the details of the physical process. Capacity for social judgement and making wide decisions need not accompany the technical requirement on the main route to entry--for example to medical careers Later in careers, those with technical skill may take command of their of their workplaces without having had or developing the capacity to make good ethical decisions. (Lionel Tiger, The Manufacture of Evil, Harper and Row, New York, 1987, pp. 324, 326-7)
Tiger's argument that we have so elevated the industrial process to the point where it not only delivers profits, careers, products and services, but it also embed a way of looking at the world, through such a detached, mechanical, industrial lens that we are in danger of losing our ethical capacity to relate to each other, and to see the world from a kinship, relationship, familial perspective, a view he equates to an ethical perspective.
Written nearly three decades ago, his thesis can now readily and feasibly be re-stated through the lens of an informational/digital-techno-consumed culture. If we overturned a familial, relational and connected culture with an industrial model, elevating the technocrats to positions of power and command, we have evolved that thesis to one in which the mere acquisition of wealth has replaced even our industrial model of social hierarchy.
The corporations, those behemoths of technology, including the arms production factories, along with the global technology that fosters enhanced trade of those weapons, and the other industrial/technical behemoth, the pharmaceutical industry, supported by its funding of its medical fraternity puppets, and the financial techno-systems and individuals whose doctoral grads manufacture and deliver equations like credit-default-swaps for their personal aggrandizement and the enhanced status of their superiors have increasingly grabbed our culture by the neck and refuse to let go.
It is not merely in the generation of products and profits that corporations dictate their modus operandi. It is through their hierarchical, pyramidal, abuse of power, based on their definition of responsibility, including their concept of ethical correctness, that they impose a conventional wisdom of what constitutes right and wrong. Just like their raw materials, gathered for their production purposes, their people are merely fodder for their processes:
  • processes of production,
  • process of efficiency,
  • processes of profit and investor confidence generation,
  • processes of ambush and take-over of their weaker competitors,
  •  processes of their personal acquisition of wealth, mega-mansions, luxury vehicles and vacations, early retirements, and
  • social processes that support their conception of success, the ultimate "good"....as opposed to the ultimate wrong, poverty, instability, disease, unemployment, illiteracy and enhanced millions of dependents on their "success"
  • language of "doing" in direct opposition to the language of "integrating" and "relating" and "including" and "considering" and "embracing" and "supporting" and "identifying"...
First there is the "task" that needs to be accomplished; then there is the gathering of the "means" necessary to accomplish the task; then there is the listing of those assets, mostly things, (including other human beings) needed to accomplish that task, then there is the plan and the monitoring and executing of the plan, easily substituting "weak" units of production, like damaged pieces of wood, steel, or plated metal parts, or subversive people who ask questions and question the authority both of their superiors and the ethical vision of those in charge, with "stronger" components, including more pliable, compliant and subservient serfs (workers).
Of course, because some jurisdictions require minimal "token" benefits for workers, the corporations trumpet those token benefits, as evidence of the lack of validity of their critics. Those corporations are also not above trashing the character of any of their critics, through subversive investigation of their private lives, (just as the FBI did with Dr. Martin Luther King) if their actual removal becomes political inconvenient or legally postponed.
And if there is ever a dispute between an individual and a system, a corporation, or a government, or a public institution like a school, university, hospital, then the mistakes of the individual (the ethical mis-steps) become the reason for the dispute, and the power of the "system" rolls over the resources of the individual and crushes his/her career, reputation, perhaps health and future prospects. Meanwhile, the "system" continues to knife the interminable "notches" in its belt of defeated subversives, corporate saboteurs, "judases" who were unwilling to march to their drum beat.
Much has been written about "neurotic organizations"....but clearly not enough!
The more untouchable and embedded in its sociopathic patterns the "system" is permitted to become, the more powerless will the individual be in the face of that convention and abusive power.
There is a highly valued "entry" passage into the inner sanctum of the "system". Anyone who has worked within those systems, is made painfully aware of the gate-keepers, and the gate-keeping rules that must be obeyed if one is to curry the favor of the "inner circle" of the "system".
And the system can be a church, even a single parish, or a diocese; it can be an individual school, or even a department of a university; it can be a hospital or a single department; it can be a for-profit or a not-for-profit organization in which the task trumps the way people are treated, on the way to performing the task.
People as "means" to the end, become merely expendable and even infantilized by a system so rigorously and too often imperceptibly imposed. Given the options of "complying" or leaving, whether by one's own decision or by the force of eviction, one is left in the position of being judged as to whether or not the future "contribution" of the individual is worth putting up with the degree of intensity of contravention of the system's expectations. And those expectations are almost without exception never fully explained, exposed or even acknowledged, leaving that process to the investigative imagination and persistent subservience of the rookie to ascertain.
There is an underlying "masculinity" about all of this. The muscle of conventional expectations of the "system" is compared to the masculinity of the wrestler in the ring who throws his opponent to the mat; it is so fragile that any push-back is so threatening that it simply cannot countenance. The arrogance and the intolerance of the "system's" fortress mindset is so threatened by change, and any of the many winds that attempt to implement change, that, for example the most recent Conservative government of Stephen Harper could only hear the most nuclear voice for change: electoral defeat.
The old IBM model of corporate "superiority" nearly relegated the corporation to the ash-heap of history, given its unwillingness to adapt to the massive changes in the computer sector from the behemoth model to the personal computer. The insensitivity of the General Motors to the evolving demands of the marketplace required a serious bale-out from government on both sides of the 49th parallel. The litany of disposable people relegated to the trash-hill of history, because of their unwillingness to bend to the dictates of the power of the "system" now includes the recently outed gay priest from the Roman Catholic church, embarrassed and abused by the defrocking of his personal reputation and identity by that same Vatican he served so sincerely for years.
It also includes people like Ted Lindsay who was abandoned by his fellow NHL players when he attempted to lead the movement for change in the manner in which the owners treated their slaves. It includes those writers, actors and poets who have "taken the road not taken" (Robert Frost) and that has made all the difference.
The "system" is not the arbiter, nor the visionary of the best and most ethical of social and cultural standards. The "system" is increasingly dependent on the voices it most rejects, those who can and will see through the façade of the hypocrisy and the pretense, and the phoniness and the deception and the addiction to perfection that infects all of its incarnations, rendering nearly all "systems" neurotic, and dependent on the voices of those who are willing to voice values, attitudes, perceptions and visions of a better way of seeing the world.
If all negativity, all expressions of moderation, all expressions of ethical values, including humility and reflection and scepticism are barred from the "systems" mental apparatus, and these features are replaced by idols like "making money" or completing the task, side-stepping all reasonable and legitimate checks on its power (witness the software injected into the diesel Volkswagens to avoid emissions pollution), and defining the parameters of the options available to its decision-makers, then the triumph of industrialism, technocracism, objectification, and reductionism even obliteration of kinship, relationship, and connectivity (read real family attributes) will be complete.
And we will all have the blood of our own alienation and objectification on our hands.

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