Friday, June 26, 2020

#99 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (embracing polarities and unity with complex nature)


Writing in “The Conversation,” June 24, 2020, in a piece entitled “Why good people manage badly,” Ottawa University’s Ken Eakin cites Bob Emiliani a professor in the school of engineering, science and technology at Central Connecticut State University, a PhD in chemical engineering.
Quoting from the Eakin piece:

He (Emiliani) weaves together incisive and inter-disciplinary analysis of why contemporary executives behave and think the way they do. Emiliani uses the metaphors of war (aggression and conflict), hunting (predation), sport (competition) and devout observances (rituals and decorum) to describe and explain contemporary management culture. What emerges is a view of a powerful trinity of sociological forces that act upon mostly well-intentioned executives, keeping them firmly attached to the status quo: Firstly, a culture that requires them to maintain their honour and status in the eyes of their peers; secondly, politics and economics, which privileges power-seeking and territorial dominance above egalitarianism and co-operation; and thirdly, metaphysical habits of thought, which give licence to executives to forgo the need  to use scientific rigour or rational logic in their thinking, and instead allows them to indulge in more mystical and supernatural explanations of cause and effect.
For nigh onto one hundred pieces, in this space, this scribe has been attempting to peel the onion of how (western) men are entrapped in a culture, of their own making historically, perpetuated by their need to hold onto power, enhanced by both personal (ambition) and cultural/sociological support, and undergirded by a metaphysic that includes a theology of embedded ethics, and the almost supernatural power to sustain that theology. (Ok, that sounds very much like an “I told you so!” kind of self-applause!)

Nevertheless, men in power, while risking the downside of stereotyping all men, is a phenomenon indelibly inscribed in our history books, as well as our metaphysical, medical, legal, political, philosophic and theological archives. The achievement of power/status/honour/title is like the brass ring of masculinity, and the Siamese twin of holding onto that “power” (in whatever form, shape, influence, compensation, reward, legacy it takes, even in shifting forms). Emiliani’s focus on “honour” requiring them to maintain their status among peers tops his list of motivators. Given that the pragmatic, empirical universe of how the world works, it is not surprising that politics and economics, (both designed, theorized and executed primarily by men) would rank second, especially since, as Emiliani/Eakin put it, “politics and economics privileges power-seeking and territorial dominance above egalitarianism and co-operation.”
Clearly established by Emiliani, and endorsed by Eakin, masculine images, definitions and executions of “management” (by other names, leadership, captainship, kindship, generalship, president-ship, CEO-ship, judge-ship, premier-ship, principal-ship), lie at the root of many of the social, cultural, political and even spiritual questions facing the west in particular and also the whole world.

Let’s pause to parse the metaphysical aspect of Emiliani’s thesis. Permitting executives (mostly men) “to forgo the need to use scientific rigour or rational logic in their thinking and instead allows them to indulge in more mystical and supernatural explanations of cause and effect” this insight verges on tentacled roots from primarily Christian thought.

Wrapping one’s sense of identity around a deeply held and protractedly taught and proseltyzed, a distorted vision/version/interpretation/exegesis of the notion of man being created in the image of god, and separate from, distinct from and superior to nature.

Metaphysics, defined as  the branch of philosophy that deals with the first  principles of things, including abstract concepts such as being,, knowing, substance, cause, identity, time and space is one concept in this “shawl” wrapped around the shoulders, mind and heart of many, both men and women.

Mythology, on the other hand, (from the Greek mythos for story-of-the people and logos for word or speech, so the spoken story of a people) is the study and interpretation of often  sacred tales or fables of a culture known as myths of the collection of such stories which deal with various aspects of the human condition; good and evil; the meaning of suffering; human origins; the origin of place names. Animals, cultural values and traditions; the meaning of life and death; the afterlife; and the gods or a god. Myths express the beliefs and values about these subjects held by a certain culture (by Joshua Mark in Ancient History encyclopedia, ancient.eu/mythology)

Superficially, the former is more intellectual, explanatory, and abstract while the latter is more experiential, narrative, poetic, imaginative and oral. The three branches of metaphysics are ontology, natural theology and universal science. Mythology is generally categorized based on the geographic, ethnic, linguistic, ritualistic practices, beliefs and traditions of a specific culture.

In an exploration of the myths of polarity, Alan W. Watts, in “The Myths of Polarity” writes:

For some reason profound and sensitive people are never content with such clear and drastic solutions to the problem of duality as that which is proposed in popular Christian orthodoxy: that the final foal of existence is the everlasting reward and perpetuation of goodness to the total exclusion of evil, and the everlasting punishment of annihilation of it perpetrators. This solution arouses the same sort of intuitive disquiet as all other forms of metaphysical dualism in that it leaves us with a picture of the world which, because it contains an element which is not integrated, fails to make sense as a whole. On the other hand, there is as much disquiet with the idea of a simple monism. We cannot quite swallow the second Isaiah’s reaction to Zoroastrian dualism: ‘I am the Lord and there is none else. I form the light and create the darkness: I make peace and create evil. I, the Lord, do all these things.’ The thought is morally and practically confusion. It is just the kind of sophistry which the Devil himself would employ to blind the conscience of the witches’ spell, “Fair is foul and foul is fair.” ….the problem is not answerable in terms in which it is proposed, simply because they confuse the map with the territory. Good and evil are abstract categories like up and down, and categories od not perform their function unless they are kept distinct. It is thus perfectly proper that the concepts of good and evil be distinct, dualistic, and irreconcilable, that they be as firm and clear as any other measure. The ‘problem of duality’ arises only when the abstract is confused with the concrete, when it is thought that there are as clearly distinguishable entities in the nature universe. (As we have seen) factual language, is never more than a strictly limited symbolism for what is happening in nature. The image, poetic or mythic, is closer than linguistic categories to events themselves, or to what I would rather call natural patterning. We pay for the exactitude of factual language with the price of being able to speak from only one point of view at a time. But the image is many-sided and many-dimensioned, and yet at the same time imprecise; here again, it is like nature itself.
The same must be said of such other duality problems as those of freedom and determinism, randomness and order, multiplicity and unity. By changing the point of view, what is actually happening may be seen as having now one aspect and now the other, and though this may be contradictory for the categories of formal thought, it is not so in actual existence. It is thus that in Christina theology Christ and Satan are irreconcilable opposed; but the imagery of Christian mythology the Serpent does duty for both--“for as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so also shall the Son of Man be lifted up.’….(Alan W. Watts, The Myths of Polarity, New York, 1969, pps. 15-16-17)

Watts details the confluence of single-minded, literal and pragmatic speech with the multi-dimensional, imprecise imagery of the whole situation. It is highly likely that many executives have not spent a great amount of time reading and reflecting on the differences, and the implications of those differences for their own lives, nor for the organic life of their organizations and the people in their circle.
Logos, the Word of God, or principle of divine reason and creative order differs from mythos, a traditional or recurrent narrative theme of plot structure and the divide has existed from the beginning of recorded time. We live in the in-between, navigating, often unconsciously between the two without distinguishing in our minds and certainly not in our utterances.

Watts writes: 
To survey and control the earth we must reduce its formations to the formal abstractions of geometry, and translate it into the flat and dry symbolism of maps. But as Korzybski* so often repeated, the map is not the territory. (Watts, p. 13) Watts also writes: Knowledge, or better knowing is a relationship in which knower and known are like the poles in a magnetic field. Human beings are aware of a world because, and only because, it is the sort of world that breeds knowing organisms. Humanity is not one thing and the world another; it has always been difficult for us to se that any organism is so embedded in its environment that the evolution of so complex and intelligent a creature as man could never have come to pass without a reciprocal evolution of the environment. An intelligent man , argues, without any resort supernaturalism, an intelligent universe. (Watts, p. 4-5)

One with nature, swimming, paddling, wading, trudging and even marching in a universe of complexity and multidimensionality, this complex, multi-dimensional homo sapiens also struggles with anything that looks like, sounds like, smells like or resembles psychopathology. Executives are no different. And we have established some long-held diversions and denials, particularly at the executive level, if we are confronted with psychopathology. James Hillman details three such pathways of denial. It seems to this scribe that executives, while vulnerable to all three, just like the rest of us, may have a preference for the third.

1)    Nominalism, the naming and classifying of psychic complaints, “this approach is the main attitude behind psychiatric nomenclatures. The technical terms—which are now also often popular insults—stress accurate clinical sketches of symptoms, their onset and course, and their statistically expected outcome. Nothing further about the nature of the person exhibiting the syndrome or about the nature of the syndrome itself is necessary for applying one of these pscyhopathological labels. Schizophrenic behavior can be precisely described and attributed to a person independent of whatever might be its underlying reasons: genetic, toxic, psychodynamic, biochemical, social, familial, semantic. The empirical nominalistic view calls for nothing more, nothing deeper that mastering a technical vocabulary. (Hillman, Revisioning Psychology, p. 58, 60)

2)    Nihilism:  The anarchic denial goes like this: classifications are linguistic conventions deriving their authority wholly from a consensus of experts, from tradition and textbooks. These words become power words, political words, words of a psychiatric priesthood. They are ways of wrapping prejudices in a white coat so that certain political medical, and cultural styles can be guiltlessly condemned. They help namers and hurt the named; their importance is only for those who win at the language game called psychopathology….Diagnoses must be done away with, for they merely draw a person into the doctor’s existential situation of sickness and his fantasy of the future called prognosis. There are no neuroses, only cases; no cases, only persons in situations, so throw it all out, start with nothing (nihil), simply be present in simple authenticity, communicating, encountering. (Hillman, op. cit. p 61-62)

3)    Transcendence: A third way to refuse psychopathology is to stand above it. This is the transcendental denial. It comes in several varieties, one of which is humanistic psychology…In attempting to restore his dignity to man, this psychology idealizes him, sweeping his pathologies under the carpet. By brushing pathologies aside or keeping them out of its sight, this kind of humanism promotes an ennobled one-sidedness, a sentimentalism which William James would have recognized as tender-mindedness. It shows immediately in the words favoured by contemporary psychological humanism. Unlike the terms of professional psychopathology, these resonate with appositive glow: health, hope, courage, love, maturity, warmth, wholeness; it speaks of the upward-growing forces of human nature which appear in tenderness and openness and sharing and which yield creativity, hoy, meaningful relationship, play and peaks. We find the same one-sidedness in its goals, such as freedom, faith, fairness, responsibility, commitment. Besides the fact that its notion of growth is simplistic, of nature romantic, and love, innocent—for it presents growth without decay, nature without catastrophes or inert stupidity, and love without possession,  besides all this, its idea of the psyche is naïve if not delusional. (Hillman,op. cit. p 64-65)

Eakin/Emiliani are fair and just in their caption that “good people” too often provide bad management. And while speculating about whether and how most executives will modulate, or evolve, or transform into a more collaborative, collegial, empathic and sensitive attitude toward both themselves (first) and then to their “others” there is hope. That hope depends on an initial urge, nudge, epiphany, aha-moment  that prompts a courageous, deep and reflective peering into the personal, psychic, intellectual and metaphysical mirror in search of the potential myth(s) that have been shining a light in the darkness of the forest in which each executive dwells.

And that will include a sensitive discernment of map from territory, metaphysic from myth and literal from poetic, as well as their universal unity.

Along with Red Green, “We’re all in this together, and we’re pullin for ya!

*Kortzybski, a Polish-American independent scholar who developed a field called general semantics, which he viewed as both distinct from and more encompassing than, the field of semantics.


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