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Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Reflections on transactionalism...in public affairs

 The transaction theory signifies that both the reader and the text play important roles in the formation of meaning. Meaning is produced by continuous transaction between the reader and the text, employing the meaning potential of the text and the reader’s experiential reservoir. While the reader is active in selecting and synthesizing the potential in his reservoir, the text contributes to the shaping of his selection and hypotheses, resulting in an interplay between them. Reading and writing are interrelated skills in which the transactional theory is applicable. (researchgate.net)

From the Australian Journal of International Affairs, (abstracted on tandfonline.com) in a piece published November 28, 2019, by Galid Bashirov, we read:

We define transactionalism as a foreign policy approach that favours bilateral to multilateral relations, focuses on short-term wins rather than longer term strategic foresight, adheres to a zero-sum worldview where all gains area relative and reciprocity is absent, rejects value-based policymaking, and does not follow a grand strategy.

Writing in anthropological-theory.fandom.com, in a piece entitled Transactionalism,  Lamonica Stackhouse writes:

Transactionalism is a psychology idea that humans are social, multifaceted that change when in contact with another person in their world. There were some criticisms about this theory. Some were that the transactionalism theory ignores long term historical processes; while some have criticized it for paying ‘insufficient attention to the structure of class and property relations in society…(I)t is also important to acknowledge the symbolic cultural and religious ideas that might govern peoples’ choices and decisions in their social interactions. Transactionalism was criticized because of it being of social exchange but stressed self-interested actions.

From btd.consulting, in a piece entitled Move beyond the Transactional Mindset, we read:

The Transactional mindset is a way of thinking and behaving that looks as M(ergers) and A(quisitions) as cutting deals, buying and selling companies, hiring and laying off people-make a deal, get it closed, hire & fire. It’s a management paradigm that seeks efficiency, standardisation and continuity….It has a way of diminishing understanding, eliminating complexity and reducing the quality of decisions….The Transformational Mindset, on the other hand, represents a more expansive view (of M &A). It’s like widening the aperture of a camera. When we widen the aperture more light comes in. This provides a greater awareness fo the surroundings, enhancing the ability to see new perspectives and different shades. More light allows you and others to see opportunities that would otherwise be shrouded in darkness. By widening the aperture, the mind is illuminated by new possibilities.

Action, efficiency, productivity, ‘best and most productive use of time,’ because time is money…these are the phrases that rule in business, and increasingly in government perceptions and language, and also in public service organizations funded by public funds where budgets have become both the judge and the sword to construct personal resumes, indicating the successful capacity to reduce spending, while increasing service numbers.

The individual in any conversation about an idea, a public issue, or a treatment plan, for example, is seen from the perspective of his or her agency, his power to comply or conflict, and the perceptions that form the arguments and the presentation of issues, are based on the ‘reductionistic perception that this person is either an ally or an opponent, or possibly a neutral. It reminds one of the old adage that there are three kinds of people in the world: some symbolized by ‘red’ light, for STOP, and these will disagree no matter the argument. A second group, represented by “green light” are more likely to be open and thereby more susceptible to becoming an ally. A third group, “orange lights” are those categorized as neutral, who could fall into the “red” or the “green” light categories.

From the perspective of red-orange-green, (child, adult, parent from Eric Berne’s Transactional Analysis), people are then no longer seen as whole persons, capable of discerning the merits of an idea, without being manipulated by some “extrinsic” and empirical “offer” in order to induce (read seduce) them into agreement. Ally, agent, vote, supporter, or opponent, source of conflict, defamer….these are are “roles” into which people are then cast, on the basis of the power broker.

Just today, Axios.com has published a new book entitled, Smart Brevity, in order to tutor and mentor leaders, teachers, public officials in how to get the attention of readers, by summing succinctly, authentically, and simply the core of any piece of information. Analogous to the headline of a newspaper article, when constructed with creativity, sensitivity and authenticity, or the “sell line” in an advertising campaign which trumpets the primary benefit of any product or service, all in the name of magnetizing the cognitive and emotive and psycho-social gestalt of the viewer/reader/consumer/student/client.

Efficiency, once again, lies at the heart of their prescriptive menu for communicators: that is the efficient use of the time of the reader etc.? Busy people, they argue, being bombarded with cataracts of information, are unable and unwilling to take the time to digest each issue fully, and thereby have to choose from a menu of bullets, designed to “grab” their attention, and then for the reader to pursue additional information related to their interest from pieces like those in The Atlantic, or The New Yorker, where substantive pieces are the norm.

Similarly, local politicians, in their role as community leaders, often take the position that, rather than consider the whole person, and what a healthy relationship might entail, dumb down to “how is this person likely to be leveraged” on this issue. Individual persons, then, are reduced to “actors” operating with an script which is designed to simplify and to expedite and to “move” their agenda along, depending on the compliance of those people whom they may have assessed appropriately or not. Margaret Atwood, after achieving a high degree of public acclaim, noted that she had become a “thing” in the public mind.

The concept of short-term, leveraged, decisions, based on the perception of immediate “benefits” as a template for governance, the base definition and operative model of transactionalism, is not merely flawed; it is counter-intuitive to the public interest. First off, anyone who has an idea can be and is dismissed by some minimal superficial piece of information that suggests, infers and/or outright states that the idea has no merit, in the mind of the “other” (the listener). So the immediate response, reflexive and protective, is “No! that idea will not work because…!” “We have already tried something that looks like that, and it went over like a lead balloon!” ,…inferring that a similar idea, in a different context, with different people will consider it abhorrent just as history did.

Humans have evolved many highly sophisticated and highly seductive, and even smiling words, phrases and perceptions both of the issues and how they must be addressed and how the people who might have a different ‘take’ on an issue can and will be “administered too” in the most efficient manner.

This is not an argument for “hand-holding” by every public servant on each public issue, in which a person might have an interest or a complaint. Direct contact between elected officials and their constituents, however, warrant an organized and effective “intake” system, that includes a series of “format” answers to frequently asked questions, providing public information for those needing it, without consuming the time of the elected official, or the public staff, to explain. Also, with an ’intake’ system, following the education of the public on both how to access it, and how to formulate questions and inquiries, concerns and complaints, there could/should be a follow-up data-collection and curation of the input, both for the purpose of detecting and diagnosing the public perceptions, interests and concerns, as well as their aspirations. Should an issue require further investigation, there needs to be a formal process of research, public input, with a time-frame and a dollar-frame for both the investigation and the decision-making.

This kind of approach, call it a system if you like, uses the honouring of both the individuals and the ideas on a common basis, and to the degree possible, skates around the “crony” aspect of all politics, especially local politics.

In this moment, I am facing the difficult question of how to “educate” those men and women who are courageous enough to offer their names to the public for consideration on the ballot, to reframe their approach from a minimal form of transactionalism to something more akin to transformationalism.

Originally, transactionalism was designed as a template for addressing how individuals respond and react to each other, based on the child-parent-adult model detailed by Eric Berne, in The Games People Play. It was never  designed to be or become a template for political schmoozing by men and women intent on their career enhancement as their first priority, and only secondarily or even further down their priorities, the best interest of their community. 

The concept of trust between individuals, more likely to be thwarted by “making the deal” in the short term, by offering some “carrot” as motivation. Similarly, over a period of time, and not a long period, such a system quickly devolves into that “red-green-orange” devaluation, really another model of colonization, without the spectre of nationalism or religious conversion or even profit-loss statements.

I recently heard a local candidate refer to a colleague as one who “knows the inner workings of municipal government, including the financial and taxation and provincial government regulations, but who does not see the municipality as a “business” to be operated on business premises.

The conflation of the business model, into both the governance of the nation and its municipalities, risks many valued perceptions, attitudes and opportunities. First, public money, through taxes, is an established revenue, to be used to provide essential services, not to raise the profits and the dividends of those making the decisions or those providing the services. Needed services, especially in a period of economic stagnation, are still needed and their legitimate costs have to be included in the tax assessments and bills. What is too often missing, however, from the mind-set of elected officials is the courage and the creativity and the sensitivity to put themselves in the shoes of their voters, and consider why such services are needed, how to demonstrate that need, and how to educated the electorate on the complexities of the long-term tax bill, rather than to take the short-term, easy, uncomplicated and even “lazy” way out…by dodging the essential need.

In a northern Ontario town, back in the 1980’s, finally, after nearly a century, the sewer and water services on the main street needed to be replaced. So serious was the issue that, when engineers dug up the original “pipes” they discovered that there were no longer pipes, but merely “tunnels” where the pipes had been after they had completely rusted out. Of course, the story made news, but the decades of local councils that had avoided the issue were no long dead, and therefore had avoided, evaded and denied their legitimate responsibility.

This story, while true, is merely an example of similar stories in too many municipalities, especially after the provincial government, at least in Ontario, off-loaded many of its original responsibilities onto the towns and townships, as a slick, slimy and sleezy way to dodge their own responsibilities. If I recall, this despicable initiative came during the Harris administration in Queen’s Park, a government whose refuse continues to haunt towns across the province, regardless of how their approach might have served them in the short, transactional and ultimately cynical run.

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