Friday, April 20, 2018

Can we recognize and escape the rim of suction on our whirpool of self-sabotage?


It is time to rethink and to transform how we make decisions about public policy. The institutions designed in the Middle Ages, or earlier, are simply incapable of adjusting to the pace of the discovery and the flow of new information.

Not only are we all drowning in torrents of new and often conflicting data, as well as the new tech devices that transform our capacity to integrate, access, collate and even to curate new information, but we are also, at least in the west, falling behind in our shared, collective capacity to “read” the many new linguistic expressions, some of them digital, (like emoji’s) and some of them encyclopaedic like the access to great thoughts from the whole of human history. Whether or not the flood of megabytes is a significant cause of the obstructionism that blocks much of our politics, as well as the trend to the extremes (especially to the right), seems a little “inside the beltway” from this vantage point.

Not only can we no longer tolerate the “do nothing” (or as little as possible, and protect our careers as the prime purpose of our existence) attitudes of our politicians. It is no longer satisfactory to speak of differences between the right and the left as a way into a public comprehension of the needs and the aspirations of the body politic. We have to being to speak of how to tilt the playing field in all of our public decisions, away from favouring the corporations and their insatiable appetite for profit, through greed, narcissism and, not merely an attitude but a belief that “our interests are and must remain paramount.”

Our political aspirants have to study at the school of survival, not their own political survival, but how the planet is going to survive, if it truly is. We have to support candidates whose careers, world views and activism demonstrate a commitment to the long-term health and healing of the planet, including all of the species living on it, including the human species.

It is no longer acceptable:
·        to put gun production, sale and distribution ahead of public safety
·        to put corporate production, sale and distribution of toxic plastics ahead of the health of streams, rivers, lakes and oceans
·        to put private insurance companies’ pursuit of profit ahead of universal public access to quality health care
·        to put corporate pursuit of profit ahead of responsible worker protections, safety, security, pensions and health care, as well as life-long education
·        to put access to higher education under the sword of Damocles of student loans and debt
·        to make social engineering trump unique human individuality in the acceptance, retention and graduation of professional school candidates in business, law, education, social work
·        to reduce our institutions of higher learning to skill and trade schools, dependent on the mastery of technology as the primary condition of graduation
·        to eliminate from universities the programs and departments that focus on the ancient, nuanced, complex and even ambiguous wisdom of history, even if the methods of delivery remain digital and contemporary
·        to spend the preponderance of national budgets on the military, including cyber security, at the expense of needed programs to educate citizens about their responsibilities in their communities, states/provinces, nations and world.
·        to “gate” the public figures behind a wall of secrecy, subterfuge, media spinning and dereliction of duty, while permitting them to manipulate their constituents with partial, distorted and misleading press releases from their spin-doctors
·        to emasculate organizations like the United Nations, and other international agencies supervising and monitoring such important files as health, water, literacy, poverty, disease, the environment, and hopefully the deep internet, human rights in all countries, and public access to reliable and verifiable information in all countries.
·        to starve and leave homeless, millions of people, in all countries, when the world’s wealth and capacity to feed includes the option of eliminating those blights on us all
·        to carpet bomb, maim and kill with various weapons of mass destruction including nuclear, biological, and conventional in pursuit of dictatorial, terrorist or criminal purposes
·        to permit the denial of such inhuman atrocities through various tactics of obfuscation, distraction, and outright defiance sustained by inordinate tyrannical power
·        for banks and financial institutions to charge a usury fee of 19+% on credit cards
·        for corporations to poison, maim, disable or injure their clients/customers  through willful, deliberate, conscious deviance in inferior construction quality
·        for pharmaceutical behemoths to produce drugs and other substances that have not been rigorously put through clinical trials,
·        for auto manufacturers to produce emission systems that have been “rigged” to avoid environmental testing regulations,
·        for fossil fuel companies to so dominate the transportation industry through their monopolies and oligopolies of alternative and renewable energies
·        for tech giants to operate under a business model that serves only and exclusively their corporate profit and dividend interests, while simultaneously permitting, aiding and abetting the abuse of their clients’ private information
·        for trade agreements to be signed without rigorous provisions on human rights, worker protections and wages, and environmental protections

It is not a matter of whether or not any one or all of the above noted “unacceptables” is considered part of a conservative or a liberal agenda. It is not a matter of whether or not these minimal requirements are specifically directed and designed to address primarily the needs of men or women, or members of the LGBT communities, or whether they are designed to help, support and lift up blacks, indigenous and aboriginal peoples, people scraping by in city ghettos in major cities of the so-called developed world, or refugees and migrants fleeing the oppression of military conflicts, terror threats, human rights abuses, tribal cults or ideological/theological dogma restricting access to health care and education to specifically targeted demographics like young girls.

Many years ago, while writing about leadership in organizations, the tension between the task and the human side of the enterprise was the focus. Beginning with scientific management and moving toward the “human side” leaders learned that engagement of and respect for the people in the workplace was essential for leadership to function effectively. Names like Weber, MacGregor, played prominent roles, as did writer/thinkers like Barnard. Over the last century, there have been some waves of hope followed by waves of depression among those who advocate, not merely in token terms, but in real transformative terms, for the dignity, respect, honour and creative imaginations of those people on whom the enterprise ultimately depends. And they are not the investors, although they are certainly relevant. And they are not the chief executives, nor the board members, nor the middle managers, most of whom have been summarily vacuumed out of the organization chart. They are the people who comprise the nuts and bolts of the organization, the people who conduct the business, who interact with the public, who generate the new ideas and the new methods, who extend their work day when special circumstances demand, and who, at the end of the day are proud to represent the organization, not begrudgingly cynical and bitter about the over-riding tide of increased demands for production with little or no thought to the human implications of the latest “ask”.

Similarly, in our government bureaucracies, we have grown, simultaneously, and paradoxically, complacent and fat at the top, and cynical, sinister and lean to the point of political and even literal starvation at the bottom of the ladder. And the politicians listen only to those in the fat “inner circle” on whose loyalty they depend to continue in their “power positions”. Increasingly, both inside government, and outside the halls of governmental power, the same cynical, sinister, detached and insouciant attitudes prevail at the top, fearful both of losing the battle to keep the stock price rising, the investors mesmerized, the board members flattered and the profit train rolling…and in government the voters so seduced that they return well over 90% of incumbents to  elected office.

Ordinary people, that vast 99% are barely noticed except for the demographic statics on unemployment, social welfare cases, rising house prices, wait times for health care access, and occasionally a bruising headline that indicates our lakes and oceans are dying, our indigenous people area committing suicide at alarming rates, our children are being slaughtered in their schools, our returning veterans who do not take their own lives are struggling under the weight of paralyzing PTSD, or our young adults are overdosing on illicit drugs.

All of these “problem” headlines are neither accidents, nor mere numbers. They are real sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, neighbours, co-workers and potential neighbours and co-workers. And their “classifications” as problems are universally the direct or indirect consequence of specific governmental or corporate policies and decisions either to choose to or not to choose to do “the right thing”. There is no scarcity of awareness among the vast population as to what constitutes the “right thing”….in the sense of how would I want to be judged if I were taking the decision for the whole common good? Hiding behind the political shenanigans of party pressure cookers, of rumours and innuendos, of character assassinations and back-stabbing betrayals (oh, you say, “just the ordinary stuff of office politics”!)….is and can no longer be the camouflage that hides our elected, and our appointed “leaders” in both government and the large corporations. How an individual career path is unfolding is not on the agenda of the public good. It is not the stuff for which we are prepared to shovel out our tax dollars, nor are we prepared to continue to shovel out our taxes for misguided military adventures, nuclear weapons arsenal enhancements, nor the obvious and heinous abuse of the public treasury by wanton narcissists flying around the world in their private security bubbles.

It is not a change in policy that we seek: it is a fundamentally different paradigm of how power is operated, who gets a seat at the table in each organization, who votes at each level of the organization, what mechanisms of appeal exist at all levels for re-consideration and even for veto’s of misguided decisions. The single military general, the pope, the CEO, the Chairman of the Board, the titular leader has to “go”…and the team replacing both the power and the responsibility of that dictatorial monster has to rotate, evolve, undergo constant and profound learning, travel to other operations of a similar kind and size….and even have to undergo a recall as well as a re-election provision.

Stage managing a theatre of pandering to the powerful in organizations, those in positions of titles, seniority, bloated stipends and even legacy (from inheritances) only infantilizes both the panderer and the panderee. Patronizing, whether by the media, or the rookies, or the most aspiring to that vaulted climb up the career ladder sacrifices the full truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, the most essential chemical in any effective, (and that includes profit, in the private sector) organization. Repeating the patterns of the past, because they are what we are accustomed to doing, while comfortable, and a form of pandering to the establishment, has to be replaced by innovation, change models that incorporate the initial idea, a respected and funded team of evaluators from as many departments as is feasible and affordable in order to “do the due diligence” on the idea (both in comparable and in disparate cultures, near and far) an implementation strategy that invokes “buy-in” and enables a period of trial and error, including formal time for discussion, revision and re-implementation.

The idea that such a proposal simply costs too much has to be considered a non-starter, until, and only until the research team has done a full costing, including both increased costs and enhanced savings of any new idea. And the margin between increased costs and enhanced savings has to be lowered in order to infuse the organization with a mind-set, a culture and an attitude that the “that was then” and “this is now”…..

We are far too dependent, as a culture, on the patterns and the comforts and the spread sheets and the software of the old systems, and the old modus operandi. We are conditioning our new graduates to comply and to conform to what we consider “proper” simply because it is “our’s”…..and such an attitude in an incubator for arrogance, as well as obsolescence. Our access to global information, the best practices, is no longer restricted to the stacks of the company’s archives. Our access to how people function has so outstripped our willingness to adopt new approaches as to leave us in the position of literally, metaphorically, culturally, economically and spiritually imprisoning us on our own self-sabotage.

And this self-sabotage, while perhaps permissible in a time when calm prevails in geopolitics, and safety and security prevail in the cyber-net, where terror is not a raging bull of violent hatred and murderous slaughter of innocents, and where dictators do not possess or have enabled access to nuclear and biological weapons of mass destruction, and when carbon emissions do not threaten our access to clean fresh, free water, fresh clean air and verdant lands for growing plants, and where the destruction of thousands of species every year is not occurring under our eyes, and where we are not struggling under the weight of demands and expectations of perfect performance at all levels of the work and professional arena….cannot no longer be tolerated.

The colour of our skin, the burr in our dialect, the size of our mcmansion, the number of degree diplomas hanging on our office walls, the altar at which we worship, the unique flavours of our various diets and the size of our investment portfolios…all of these no longer have any meaning, (as if they ever really did!)

What matters, and this is blatantly and proudly borrowed from the existentialists, is that we create the eminently knowable conditions for our children, grandchildren and their children to find legitimate paths to meaning for their own lives, without having to pander to ANYONE….their parents, teachers, priests, rabbis and imams, their doctors, their professors, their town and city councillors, and the real estate and industrial developers who build the sky scrapers and the factories and the new tech corporations….

And the opportunity, rather the challenge and the requirement to tell the truth is instilled from the very beginning of life and inculcated into all of the classrooms and the offices, banks, hospitals and universities, especially those funded by public dollars.
And the paradigm and the structures that evolve incorporate the values of equality, including equal rights to express the most difficult truths. We have to disavow ourselves and our institutions of  the dogma that conflict is to be avoided, tempered and twisted into such shams as to become little more than a mirage, clouding our pursuit of our shared, knowable, legitimate and simple needs.

Just as each human has primary needs for physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual support….so too does every social organization have similar needs, obviously instilled and sustained perhaps in different ways. Nevertheless the needs do not change….and our social programs, our health budgets and our justice systems have long since broken under the strain of the competitive, conflict-based, short-term designed, narcissism imbued personal isolated ambitions.

We have siloed ourselves into a mere ghost of our true identities, for the sake of complying with the corporate culture, the for-profit success, generated primarily by beating someone, some other team, town, province/state or nation or nation’s leader. In winning personally, we also lose collaboratively.

Unless and until we fully tell the truth of our contemporary dilemma, (it is not simply trump, kim jung un, putin or even General Motors. We are imprisoned in a life-defying, life-destroying, dream-suffocating, circular whirlpool to the bottom….and we do not even recognize that we are whirling around on the edge of that whirlpool…..and for the fortunate few who risk, they are transported out to the outer reaches of the estuary of hope, creativity, community and intellectual, emotional and professional well-being. (With thanks to Margaret Avison for her  poem, The Swimmer’s Moment!)

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