We All Need to Immunize

Herd immunity is the protection of society from an infectious disease, which is realized from either a high percentage (> 70%) of people surviving the infection and/or being vaccinated against the disease.  The importance of realizing herd immunity is about protecting one’s self and fellow human beings from becoming infected with a disease. Because of our inherent interdependence, it is about doing what one can to support each other’s/everyone’s well-being.  As evidence of the benefit of societal immunization, we no longer experience smallpox, polio and rubella!  Unfortunately not everyone is intent on being vaccinated against COVID-19.

Because a not-so-insignificant portion of the US population is unwilling to be vaccinated, several states have decided to appeal to peoples’ material self-interest toward realizing herd immunity.  Although this portion of the US population is unwilling to be vaccinated—even if it means having a high probability of protecting themselves and others against COVID-19—it appears they can be moved (i.e. acted upon, bribed) to be vaccinated by offering them a (very low) probability of winning a lottery (for something of outer value such as cash or event tickets). Ah, the power of extrinsic reward in appealing to people’s what’s-in-it-for-me way of looking at things.

Connectedness Denied

Has capitalism’s dictums of material self-interest and unlimited growth been internalized?  What does this say about what this portion of the population cares about?  What does it say about the extent to which this portion is capable of exhibiting care and concern for others—an essential characteristic of a life sustaining safe society?

While we each are different individuals (that is, individual I’s), we are not (inherently) separate Me’s whose sole concern is what’s-in-it-for-me!

Just because we each are different individuals doesn’t mean we are independent of each other—in fact, we are deeply interdependent, deeply connected. Society, at least a healthy viable society, cannot be a collection of separate independent individuals—that would be a large heap not a society. A caring society—a collective ‘We’—is as essential to each individual ‘I’ as are clean air and water.  

We are social beings as much as we are individual beings!  Our individuality doesn’t imply we must oppose our communality.  We are simultaneously individuals and members of a collective: each ‘I’ needs ‘We’ as much as we need a non-toxic and life supporting natural environment within which to live. We can’t remain viable (as a species) otherwise!

It is essential that we must not allow capitalism with its dictums of material self-interest and unlimited growth, to be the contagion that destroys society.  Contrary to the belief underlying capitalism, we are not at base material self-interest maximizing beings—we are so much more than this. As such our responsibility reaches far beyond what’s-in-it-for-me.  The individualistic approach of I take care of me and you take care of you, won’t cut it.

Immunize or We Perish

We must transcend self-interest to develop immunity from this contagion, by rejecting the notion that society is merely a collection of individuals whose life’s purpose involves the pursuit of maximal material gain. Believing in and acting as if this world is a dog-eat-dog world and that we are separate and independent individuals who must seek to get as much as we can for ourselves by exploiting and extracting whatever we can from each other and Nature runs counter to our nature and thus our continued existence. This view, which gives primacy to things of outer value, clearly serves capitalism, but it doesn’t serve the development of humanness (i.e. our better qualities).  The more this pervades society, the more we forsake our responsibility—as deeply interdependent people—the more we inhibit the emergence of a caring collective We (which we sorely need), the more unsafe society becomes, the hotter and more toxic the environment becomes, the less viable we (as a species) become, and thus the closer we move toward self-destruction (a.k.a. suicide).  

As Gregory Bateson asserted, evolution follows the path of viability.  If we, as a society, are to evolve toward a higher level of human existence—become more of what we potentially are—then we must ensure our viability.  To this end, we must immunize ourselves from this contagion.

Not Willing To Dance to a Different Tune

With more frequent and more devastating events (e.g. increasingly hotter climate, more variable seasonal weather, stronger and deadlier storms, longer droughts, zoonotic disease, etc.) affecting an increasing proportion of people world-wide, (quite logically) it is appropriate to ask, why are these things happening and when will they stop?

In a recently released UN report Secretary Antonio Guterres said, “it’s time to reevaluate and reset our relationship with nature…humanity is waging war with nature” and the need for “making peace with nature, securing its health and building on the critical and undervalued benefits that it provides are key to a prosperous and sustainable future for all.” 

The report brings to light that this war against Nature is causing the climate crisis, wildlife and habitat destruction and deadly pollution. To date, “Society is not on course to fulfil the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to further limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C. At the current rate, warming will reach 1.5°C by around 2040 and possibly earlier” and thus there is a need for “a fundamental change in the technological, economic and social organization of society, including world views, norms, values and governance.” 

Freedom (and Responsibility) Mis-Understood

Now wait! This can’t be!  As free individuals, we are each individually striving to become what we want to be. Hey, I am  just living my life as I desire to live it, exercising my freedom as an independent individual!  So it can’t be me, it must be them (those not like me) over there!  They need to be stopped, because those others are impinging upon my freedom!

Freedom!  What freedom?  At least in the countries considered developed or economically industrialized (a.k.a. advanced), freedom for the vast majority—particularly among the American business-minded—is freedom from constraints in pursuit of material gain to maximally accumulate wealth (as measured corporately by profit and nationally by GDP). 

That is to say, we each are guided by the precepts of capitalism to structure our life—as we see fit—in pursuit of things of outer value. 

In this system, we seek education to develop a career, to become more saleable in the labor market, not to develop our personhood/humanness. Focused largely on our career, we spend our time striving for a position worthy of the respect of others; one that would afford us accumulating as much wealth as possible and acquiring more things. In capitalist society, we are employees/consumers in service to another’s profit: It is a life consumed by getting and spending.  

Of course we all need to earn a living to meet the basic (living) needs for food, shelter, security and esteem—Maslow categorized these as deficiency needs—but these do not fulfill us and address our growth/development as persons. Moreover, we need to be freed from fear that these basic needs won’t be satisfied. Sadly however, in order to get us to do what they want us to do, those in management leverage this fear by establishing policies and procedures so that the satisfaction of these needs is made conditional and thus always in question.  

These fear-based procedures keep us focused on basic/deficiency needs satisfaction.  As a result, we haven’t the freedom to realize our uniquely human potential.  That is to say, fear is leveraged to guide (if not control) behavior.  Paradoxically, simultaneously people are led to believe they are acting as free independent individuals even as they are all doing and seeking the very same thing, as required by capitalism.  Talk about being flimflammed out of our (real) freedom!

The capitalistic system wouldn’t have it any other way. It is a self-serving objectifying, exploitive and extractive system. Having people believe that material self-interest is a primary defining human characteristic of humankind is absolutely necessary. Moreover, believing that we each (especially Americans) are rugged self-reliant individuals in pursuit of material self-interest serves the system of capitalism as well—think Hunger Games. We are led to believe it is all about ‘me’ and to hell with ‘we’—in fact there is no ‘we’. This being the destructive original big lie that is feeding inadequate action today!

Though we are born as human beings we aren’t born (fully) developed in our personhood/humanness. This development toward self-actualization should be the focus and attention in life, not material self-interest. Being consumed by the latter actually inhibits focused attention to the former. Quite nonsensically, we’ve been led to believe that freedom means freedom from the constraint of living in a deeply interconnected world. It is not a great stretch from this to seeing responsible climate change action as an affront to freedom.

Recalling Similar Inaction by Those in Authority

The UN report, while comprehensive and very informative, does not go deep enough into the system of causes.  I’ll explain by relating my experience with corporate managers when consulting on W. Edwards Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge for quality.  

First a little background.  Deming called for (first) adopting a new philosophy, which meant having an entirely different business intent.  Deming spoke of this required change as a drastic change, not a tweaking or revision of current business practice. It required putting aside one’s system of orientation in order to understand (unfiltered) the new system.

The management of the companies I consulted with were not interested in adopting a new philosophy, just in symptomatic relief of problems arising due to their lack of quality throughout the organization. Their interest was in merely creating the appearance of caring about quality—they knew the steps and wanted to continue dancing to the same tune. Thus, corporate managers chose to remain (willfully) ignorant of what was needed.  Hence instead of committing to learning and understanding Deming’s philosophy at a very personal level, they co-opted pieces or methods to fit what they were currently doing.  For example, instead of understanding the theory of variation in relation to the organization and its management, they only wanted to use tactics (more accurately mis-use tactics) associated with the theory so that they could better surveil and control workers by ranking and yanking (a.k.a. firing) those workers in the lower 10% of the performance distribution.  

Had corporate executives committed to learning and understanding—stopped playing the tune in their mind to which they were dancing in order to listen—this different way-of-business some 40-plus years ago, it is very likely income inequality would have been reduced, the financialization of the economy would not have emerged, the externalities of business would have been dealt with and mitigated and correspondingly the events we’re experiencing today would be significantly less disastrous. Industry and government leaders would have been all-in for understanding the system of causes and thus taking appropriate action.

Humankind, Nature & Capitalism

Additionally In the report, Guterres states, “By transforming how we view nature, we can recognize its true value. By reflecting this value in policies, plans and economic systems, we can channel investments into activities that restore nature and are rewarded for it. By recognizing nature as an indispensable ally, we can unleash human ingenuity in the service of sustainability and secure our own health and well-being alongside that of the planet.” Nature surely is indispensable not because it can be used by humankind for economic purposes, but because we are in Nature and Nature is in us.  The relationship is a deeply nested holarchical interconnectedness.  Further, stating that Nature is an ally, implies it is just (something) out there separate from humankind—like another business entity—with which we cooperate.  Yes being in cooperation with Nature and not in competition (war being the ultimate competition) is needed but this doesn’t quite capture our holarchic interconnectedness.

Missing is the acknowledged need for the transformation of our very way-of being-in-the-world. Yes, we have to change how we view Nature, but it must also be explicitly acknowledged that we have to change the way we view ourselves and our relationships in and with the world.  That is, we each need to better understand our very nature, understand our shared humanity and our deep interconnectedness with Nature.  In so doing, we will understand that what we do to each other we do to ourselves and, similarly, what we do to Nature we do to ourselves—this is inescapable. We must understand, continuing as we are, we are committing suicide; that capitalism has put us on a path of self-destruction; that capitalism is incompatible with life itself.

The UN report is extremely informative for what it reveals and for what is not explicitly stated. It is worth noting, capitalism is not at all mentioned. Though Inger Anderson (UNEP) identified “decades of relentless and unsustainable consumption and production” as driving the crisis, capitalism was not specifically named.  How can this be when the system of capitalism requires humankind’s domination/mastery over Nature in pursuit of unlimited material growth? The war humanity is waging against Nature is a capitalist necessity—Capitalism vs Nature.  Given our deep connectedness with Nature, in effect, this war is a war against ourselves.  If only we’d learn anew and gain the understanding to realize this!

This understanding will lay at our feet and make crystal clear the fact that capitalism—with its intent of unlimited material growth and objectification/commodification of everything—is incompatible with each developing their personhood/humanness, with understanding the deep interconnectedness with Nature and correspondingly with our viability of as a species. Inserting notes/lyrics from a different tune into the current tune— such as, “include natural capital in decision-making”—will lead to something people won’t/can’t dance to. Mere economic policy change won’t cut it!  What is needed is a change of the system not changes in the system!

Thus, the structuring our life and correspondingly our behavior commensurate with capitalism is at the root of the more frequent and more devastating events we are experiencing.  The longer we continue to adhere to capitalism as our economic/societal system of orientation informing decisions/behavior—continuing to dance to the capitalist tune—our viability will be increasingly (and likely forever) diminished.  

Ending this suicidal behavior—changing our worldview, our system of orientation—is where very few, especially those in authority, are willing to go. Why?  They’ve either internalized capitalism’s intent—believing that is just our nature to pursue material gain, so it’s against our nature to stop doing so—or they’ve become addicted to capitalism’s material gain dictate, so they can’t stop.  

In either case, what is keeping us from understanding is not a deficiency in intellect but rather willful ignorance—an unwillingness to think critically, systemically and deeply to address the root cause. Simply, seemingly those in authority are not willing to learn to dance to a different tune and to lead us in a different dance in life. 

We can’t dissolve the climate crisis—or any of the other devastating and related events—using the same level of thinking and system of orientation that created it!

Should Technology Replace People

When calling a company’s customer service, I am very frequently greeted by a virtual receptionist, which more often than not is a huge waste of time and an exceedingly frustrating experience. Yup, I am forced to fit my unique issue with a programed series of questions, which rarely ever represents my need.  In addition, turning frustration into annoyance, the programmed voice tells me that I (as a customer) am very important to the business enterprise. 

So the answer to the question, does technology employed by business meet our needs, I suspect—if my experience is not unique–most would offer a resounding No, Not Usually!

Such use of (labor saving) technology serves the company’s bottom line, not the customers’ needs. The use of technology here, even given the company’s warning ‘our options have changed so please listen carefully’demonstrates that it hasn’t even dawned upon management in authority that customers are not monolithic.  There is a difference between attending to each individual customer and attending to each customer as an individual (i.e. as a person).  Doing the latter can’t be attended to by a virtual receptionist, but clearly this isn’t stopping the management of business enterprises from cutting labor costs by any and all means.

Could Implies Should

As reported in The Guardian, robots will be increasingly employed by corporations to replace actual people.   Why is this happening?  Simple, it is better for the bottom line: Robot labor is far less costly than people labor!  After all, the company’s profit matters most—profit wins out over individual personal service every time.  The business of business is profit.

What jobs might be considered or included in this increased use?  The business minded answering this question will likely say, those positions with tasks that are formulaic thus lending to automation.  Greater insight into where the likely focus for job displacement lies can be realized by looking at the business organization from the perspective of its hierarchical structure.

Using the hierarchy as a framework, we can readily see the bifurcation of jobs into thinking versus doing.  With management driving the organization to its goals, the thinking jobs are at the top and the doing jobs are those on the lower rungs. Ultimately, as technology advances, those jobs not performed by those occupying the upper rungs in the organization’s hierarchy would be on the table for consideration. Clearly in a similar fashion to the decision regarding which jobs should be off-shored.  

It appears as though the burden in peoples’ lives caused by job displacement is thought of as an externality and thus not a criterion concern of management in the decision to employ labor saving technology.

Critically Thinking The Decision

First note, automatable implies programable. That is to say, jobs that are formulaic and executed via algorithms are programable and thus automatable. However, rather than keeping with the thinking versus doing dichotomy, we need to understand that not all the thinking going on in the organization is either creative thinking or critical thinking.  There is a considerable amount of routine (previously established) thought being applied, even in the upper levels of management. So let’s include for consideration what management attends to as well.  

It is instructive to understand the work in the organization in its context, the capitalist economic system, which is particularly relevant to upper level management tasks.  As discussed in a previous post, capitalism encourages, if not requires, business enterprises operating within it to align with its material growth maximization maxim. To this end, management is tasked to monetize all aspects of the company in the process of driving for profit maximization.  

As previously explained here, management is thus laser-focused on driving for ever increasing profit by any means. Results are what matters!  Consequently, management doesn’t just manage for results they manage by results. Management sets higher goals, applying the thought that raising standards will lead to better results.  Using results to get better results is clearly not reflective of sound logic, yet it is a popular practice. Furthermore, people are held accountable for results. Though unintended, results by any means can cause harm to others in the pursuit of results.  

Further as discussed here, not only is most everything translated into monetary terms, it is accepted management practice to reduce the evaluation of both individual and organizational performance—very dynamically complex phenomena—to a simple either/or dichotomy.  That is, performance evaluation is reduced to a good versus bad judgment relative to what is desired. The common practice is to assess and evaluate performance with the aid of a variance report, this management practice is akin to painting-by-the-numbers: Making it simple and formulaic with no need for understanding and critical thinking.

Sounds pretty algorithmic, and quite automatable, don’t you think? 

When An Externality Is No Longer That External

Replacing higher priced (management) labor with lower cost robots would surely drive results!  But, in this case, the use of robots would not be considered, even though it would result in far fewer people becoming unemployed.  This option is likely not on the table. 

When what was previously an externality (i.e. the very personal impact on some ‘others’ becoming unemployed) turns to being quite personal—me losing my job–then it changes everything. In this scenario, the externality becomes an internality; something that is very much personally felt. That is to say, the decision to automate one’s own job no longer fits the often-heard expression, nothing personal, it’s just business, which is often offered to absolve the decision-maker from responsibility of the very (personal) human cost of the decision.

Technology Alone Is Neither Bad Nor Good

The argument above is not to say that (labor saving) technology must never be brought into the work of the organization.  Those making this decision must not view—with one eye open–the organization as an independent entity.  Rather what must be understood is that it is deeply interdependent within the larger system of people in society; that is, there are no externalities to dismiss.  In short, the decision regarding the why, what and how of employing (labor saving) technology should not be made with one eye open and focused solely on the organization as an independent entity. Accordingly, some of the questions that need to be asked and fully explored include what is the intent, who is to benefit, who might be harmed as a result of employing the technology?  Are the benefits and burdens to each and all stakeholders just and equitable? What are the consequences—both intended and unintended as well as short and long term—of employing the particular technology? In short, having a systemic perspective and understanding must inform the decision whether and how to employ a (labor saving) technology. 

Dissolve the Climate Crisis

Carbon offset programs are failing as climate solutions.  Of course they are!  Paraphrasing Einstein, problems can’t be solved with the same system of thinking that created them.  In other words, one can’t solve a systemic problem by applying the same system of orientation that was followed in creating the system and thus the problem.
Carbon offsets or carbon allowances, are market-driven solutions to the climate crisis that cannot possibly work, since they are devised by the very same system of thought whose consequence is the climate crisis; it’s a capitalist resolution to a capitalism caused problem! Continue reading

Who’s for Business?

It seems opposition to proposals intended to help the greater mass of people, such as providing a livable wage or ensuring healthcare for all or having regulations that ensure a healthy and safe environment, quite often is that they would not be good for business. It does seem that business is opposed to being helpful to people in society, which is consistent with Milton Friedman’s (neoliberal) contention that a business enterprise has no responsibility apart from maximizing profit and shareholder value (over the next quarter).

 

So, who’s for business? Continue reading

Results Obsessed

We appear to be obsessed with results (further explained here)—the outcome of our activities—while we generally give little attention to the activity itself. Why? Continue reading

Avoid Change in the Extreme

The only thing constant in life is change—Heraclitus. With change being constant in life, change is not avoidable through life.

 

With this in mind, denying (the need for) change, is denying life. Refusing to deal with it in the present is refusing to be life affirming in the present. This way of being doesn’t stop change from arising—given its constancy—it only ensures having to deal with it in its extreme later. Continue reading

Potential Psychopaths Us All

In the article Three Things to Know to Hold Wells Fargo Accountable the author Lynn Parramore (Senior Research Analyst at Institute of New Economic Thinking) relays what William Lazonick (Professor of Economics, University of Massachusetts Lowell) identified as the three things we need to know: 1) American businesses have become stock manipulation machines; 2) focusing on short-term stock prices leads to corruption; and 3) punishment means little until executive pay is understood. The first essentially speaks to the profit maximizing intent of business and its executives and the second to the importance of it happening now if not sooner while the third is that the entire scheme is ultimately profitable because of the enormous size of the gains. So now that we know these things, what are we to do about it? Continue reading

A Drowning Class and the Invisible Hand

Whether as a symptom of or as a commentary about the state of affairs of the U.S. economy we hear many (pundits especially) say the middle class is declining… if not disappearing. A growing number of people the state of affairs is quite stormy as they are finding it harder and harder to stay above water, yet for a select few who are smoothly sailing along it has never been better. Continue reading