This is very Big Picture. You have to like that kind of thing to like this piece. If you do, then I think you will find this a very good read.
“How many social workers does it take to change a light bulb?”
“Just one; but the light bulb has to want to change.”
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
“How many executives does it take to change a light bulb?”
“Just one; but the executive has to want to change it.”
CORPORATE CONSCIENCE AND THE FEMININE CRITIQUE
There is a story told about Bertrand Russell. When he set out to compose the Principia Mathematica, he was in pursuit of “absolute certainty”. Twenty years later, when the work was finished with the help of A.N. Whitehead, Russell had not found that certainty. And, “his mind was never as sharp as it had been before.” Perhaps the story is true, but perhaps it misinterprets Russell’s behavior. Perhaps he just finally recognized that he was in a cul de sac, and discovered some other kind of certainty. Maybe he just got interested in another part of reality than the purely abstract quantitative world of mathematics. It wasn’t that he was not “as sharp”; it was that he was not as interested in such sharpness. He had found something more satisfying.
In any case, a while later Gödel came along and proved mathematically that Russell’s objective in the Principia cannot be achieved. “Uncertainty” is inherent in the mathematical order of reality. It all depends on your assumptions.
And, where do assumptions come from? These foundations of human behavior come from myriad nooks and crannies of human experience. The stream of information flooding into the human organism is composed of millions, billions of bits invading the cerebral system from everywhere: all parts of the human body, external stimuli, internal stimuli, and complex processes of information mixing that are collectively referred to as “consciousness”. Generic consciousness is generally recognized to be composed of two main parts. One is called consciousness (specific) and the other by various names (the unconscious, the pre-conscious, the sub-conscious, etc.). All these terms indicate information not directly accessible to articulate, reflective awareness.
Thus every human adult is playing with a very large deck of information bits: trillions, quadrillions? For purposes of survival, each one selects items from that information pool and constructs a basic operating system. There is room for a lot of variety here. But this is a social organism. It moves in groups, and groups make up collective operating systems. For the moment, let’s call these collective operating systems “cultures”. Cultures are divided into sub-cultures. Every town, neighborhood, ethnic group, economic stratum forms an idiosyncratic version of the
larger system. Thus we get a mosaic of connected operating systems — what I call operating world views — that control the interacting matrix of individuals and groups that is society.
The term “sub-culture” is a scientist’s term, perhaps implying a static set of propositions. It is valid as far as it goes. But when viewed as the basis of behavior, sub-culture becomes an operating system, a guidance system. In this respect it is an “operating world view”. As each human being moves through daily life, from getting up in the morning to going to sleep at night, or vice versa, he or she selects behaviors designed to somehow enhance the life of the organism. Selecting requires interpretive schemes that permit the organism to avoid danger, obtain nurture, satisfy its needs.
Thus the basic operating system of the human organism is not designed to provide “certainty”. That may or may not be the function of one its many sub-systems. The basic operating system is designed to achieve both much more and much less. “All” it wants to do is satisfy the organism’s “needs”, which may or may not include intellectual certitude, but certainly do include things like food, clothing, shelter, companionship, sleep and the like.
Most of the elements of this basic operating system are tucked away in the non-conscious part of the human psyche. There they can operate very rapidly and automatically, without “thinking”. Thinking is much too slow for the basic operations of human survival. The program has to run much faster than thinking could possibly achieve. So, human beings run their lives on these sets of “assumptions”. When assumptions are brought up from the unconscious, and expressed in words, they appear as axioms, fundamental propositions that are not subject to “proof”.
At some points in life (for individuals) and some periods of history (for societies), the assumptions that form the foundation of an operating world view must be changed. This is to respond to alterations of the human environment. This happens only occasionally, and it involves probing the unconscious. Therefore the process of changing assumptions usually arouses anxiety and feels difficult.
We appear to be in such a period in America.
SOME AXIOMS FOR A SOCIAL SYSTEM CHANGING ITS ASSUMPTIONS
1. The corporation is the focal institution of western society. The Athenians had their agora, the Romans had their army and their roads, the socialist world has its government bureaucracies. We have the corporation. As it goes, so goes the free enterprise system.
2. The “legal person” of modern law and society has a dual character. Economically it is extremely powerful. This is its fundamental appeal. But morally, it is ambiguous. Economic achievement is a highly cultivated art in the corporation. But moral achievement is a more illusive objective, as it is for natural persons: “The things I would do I do not do, and the things I would not do, those are the things that I do.”
3. Both economic achievement and moral achievement are required for human progress.
4. Historically, over long periods of time, moral progress does occur. But it does not always go hand in hand with material progress. Furthermore, material progress without moral progress carries with it the seeds of its own destruction: the spiritual destitution of its possessors, who, losing their simplicity, their vitality, their sense of transcendent destiny, fall victim to manifold illnesses. The challenge of poverty is to create wealth, but the challenge of wealth is to truly transcend it. So, historically, the era in which a society achieves great wealth is a peculiarly challenging time. To avoid the trap of turning wealth into cataclysmic success, society has to achieve moral progress.
5. Moral progress is a process of change in the organization of the human psyche. A generic term for such change could be integration: the inclusion of more and more sub-systems of the psyche in a single, harmonious behavioral system. This process of change has stages, levels, degrees. Participation in the process involves the use of self-examination, a notoriously tricky exercise.
6. The morality of a corporation is a function of, among other things, the psychic make-up of the men who run it. We might be tempted to say “men and women”, but the fact is that corporate executives are overwhelmingly of the male syndrome. Moral progress for a corporation is a performance that satisfies more of the “social” and “personal” objectives of human striving while at the same time achieving economic success.
7. We will call such performance corporate satyagraha. The term comes from the word Gandhi coined to identify his principles of spiritually advanced political action. For Gandhi the improbable field for the exercise of spiritual practice was politics. For us, it is, chiefly, economics. (But, where economics goes, politics will not be far behind.) Literally, the term satyagraha means to “grab truth”. So corporate satyagraha will mean the set of management principles that seek out and cling to spiritual truth. The actual content of corporate satyagraha must emerge historically. The concept simply points in a broad direction.
8. Corporate satyagraha is the key to continued progress for the free enterprise system. We agree therefore with an underlying perception of Karl Marx: the moral standards of the ruling class must change. But we turn its social meaning completely inside out. Instead of looking for that change to occur in the form of an elite that manages “the dictatorship of the proletariate”, we look for it to occur as a process within the institutions of an essentially non-dictatorial society.
9. One extraordinarily gifted mystic was the critical starting point for the satyagraha of the Indian independence movement, but the starting point for corporate satyagraha is rooted in a entirely different phenomenon: not an individual, not even an organized group, but a whole class of human beings. We find in modern Western society the emergence of an increasingly consistent and coherent feminine critique of the male world-view. We think this critique springs from the inherent genius of feminine consciousness. As such, it moves slowly and with much short-term oscillation in its trajectory, but it also moves more powerfully than mere institutional forces.
* * * * * * *
So, we say that corporate satyagraha will emerge from the confrontation between the feminine critique and the traditional, male world-view. That process of emergence can move more rapidly or slowly. Unlike the ecological processes of lower orders of life, there is a conscious, voluntary component to human change. The present research is, hopefully, part of that component.
PART ONE: A CASE STUDY
Utility Diversification and the Social Contract of the Free Enterprise System
In the open society we cherish freedom not just as a spiritual birthright, but also as an economic tool. We give autonomy to the private sector because we believe that such autonomy works economically better than any other device. However the degree of autonomy is constantly at issue. We are always faced with the moral ambiguity of the individual human being. We know we need social control but the question always is, how much. To solve this problem we have a set of institutions for negotiation. We consider the avoidance of violence to be a hallmark of our success as a civilization.
The utilities want to form holding companies, again. The popular media tend to treat the issue as a “power struggle”. They think it is Monday Night Football. That is, after all, what sells the copy. But there is also another dimension to the case, less easy to describe, not at all reported on. Underneath the surface game, the players are a re-negotiating the social contract of the free enterprise system.
What is the quality of our process here? Is this warfare? Is this a zero-sum game? How much do we rely on suspicion, distrust and hostility as motives in the process, and how much on respect for the good intentions of the other, and faith in our own powers
of negotiation? In other words, how advanced, or primitive, are our problem-solving methods? Are we state-of-the-art or not? Let us see.
2. 1907 – PSC.
Wisconsin passed the first Public Service Commission law in 1907. (New York followed shortly after, in the same year.) That law made electric and gas distribution companies into monopolies, but put them under much stricter regulation than any other sector of the business world. These companies have to have their books open for government scrutiny. In fact, they need permission to implement most key management decisions. As a result, although their funding is private, the controls on them are quasi-socialistic. They are an anomalous hybrid in the American economy. This exceptional position affects their top managers. They think of themselves as part of the private sector, like their peers in oil, paper, automobiles, or hamburgers. But they do not have the autonomy those others have. It’s a kind of identity problem. It adds a dimension of insecurity to the normal load they have to carry. Sometimes it’s a source of creativity, and sometimes a source of extra fear and anger.
INSULL. But in 1907 this peculiar arrangement was supported by the industry. Samuel Insull of Chicago pushed it through. The technical preparatory work was done by a Madison professor, John R. Commons, and Wisconsin had the populist political tradition needed to push the instrument through the legislature. Once this state showed that the thing could work, it spread across the whole country. But, when Sam Insull supported the public regulation system, he also knew how to get around it. After World War I, he started to build an immense empire of utilities linked to other business ventures through this device called the holding company. Finally his empire got too big to hide or to control, and it was dismantled. When he was pressured to retire in 1927, Insull resigned from the directorship of no fewer than 92 corporations.
3. l935 – PUHCA
Insull was not a thief or any other kind of criminal. In substance what the record seems to show is that he was a lonely old man, and a genius, who assuaged the pain of life by the acquisition of power, and who rationalized the building of an empire by the argument that he was the only one smart enough and honest enough to be trusted with so much responsibility. But the empire he created had little accountability built into it. A lot of small men were able to take advantage of this. By the time Insull got out of the business, his and others’ holding company empires had become a public scandal. During the Great Depression, when Roosevelt and the Democrats took over, the federal government set about correcting the situation. In 1935 Congress passed the Public Utility Holding Company Act. The industry challenged its constitutionality and it took eleven years to get the Supreme Court decision that supported it. In the early thirties Insull was tried three times
for fraud and so forth, but never convicted. He died on a subway platform in Paris, poor and lonely. It was very sad. He had never been a gracious person, but he had made a significant contribution to industrial development in the country, and his excesses of later years were not malicious. But they were out of spiritual balance, no doubt about that.
4. 1946 – North American Co. v S.E.C.,327 U.S. 686.
The reforms of the New Deal were a fundamental re-interpretation of the social contract of the free enterprise system. The economic collapse of 1929 was a painful instruction to exercise tighter de facto controls over the private sector. Corporate managers challenged the new controls in court. For PUHCA, this took eleven years, and was finally decided in 1946. The Court ruled that ownership, in any form including holding companies, is control, and that therefore the Commercial clause of the constitution applies:
In 1973 the energy marketplace changed forever once again. That was the year the Arabs muscled their way into a peer relationship with the Seven sisters. The oil companies play very serious hard ball, and so the Arabs had to use a huge two-by-four to get their complete attention. That’s why we had the embargo of 1973. The first result of the Arab action was to raise the price of oil. Then, since all sources of primary energy are partly interchangeable, the price of all energy went up. These price increases encountered the widespread inefficiencies of our end-use technology, in everything from buildings to automobiles. The cost accounting of cheap fuel had recommended low efficiency.
This whole ball of wax caught up with the utilities in about 1977. Annual growth rates for electricity consumption dropped off sharply, from about seven percent to about two percent. But the utilities were at the time smack dab in the middle of a construction program geared for continued seven percent annual growth, and a big chunk of this construction was in nuclear. By the end of the decade there was a mad scramble going on to decrease construction programs, and the process was causing strains throughout the utility industry and its support systems. A lot of people on all sides of the process were very angry, very nervous, very anxious.
Now, in l986, the situation has returned to normal, but a new normalcy. As the dust settled, utility executives found themselves in a changed world. There has been a seismic shift in marketplace relationships. The difference between the old and the new is fundamental. The utility business used to be a comfortable, stable low-risk-low-yield proposition. Now the risk factor has become a variable of unknown range. For managers, this is a personally profound change.
In the late seventies, as executives looked around for ways to maintain company growth in the new marketplace, the word “diversification” started to loom large. And as they contemplated their options for diversification, the old holding company format started to look good again. The holding company in and of itself will not save fossil fuel fired, centrally generated electricity from obsolescence. The fate of that technology is in the hands of larger laws of history. But the holding company gives them options. In a new situation, they instinctively move to maximize their options. It is quite natural. But on the other hand, the holding company has a checkered history and an extremely bad reputation in the minds of many people. The situation contains the ingredients of full-scale social conflict.
B. REVISING THE SOCIAL CONTRACT
1. Let the games begin
Negotiation sounds like a thoroughly reasonable process. But a social contract is only implicit in the law. It lies “underneath” the law in a manner similar to how the unconscious lies “underneath” consciousness in the human psyche. Thus, the underlying social contract is not clearly in focus. So, the process of disagreement over codicils can get highly charged.
In 1982 Wisconsin elected a new governor. He is a populist leaning Democrat. Since there is no really viable political territory to his left, electorally, he has a tendency to move to his right under pressure. Electoral survival requires occupation of the center. By 1983, the holding company option had reached political maturity. In January the populists made the first move. Sen. Joseph Strohl offered SB 33, which would have permitted holding companies on the condition that hell freezes over. SB 33 failed. In September the governor’s office asked the Public Service Commission to draft a bill permitting the formation of holding companies. They had SB 5 ready for a special session of the legislature in October. When SB 5 got to its appropriate committee, utility lobbyists were all over it, intent and nervous. Time was very short, and the place became quite a zoo. SB 5 was re-drafted several times, and when it came to the floor, it lost by a single vote. It was too big an issue with too many bugs. Common sense prevailed.
Then in January 1984 Peter Anderson (Wisconsin Environmental Decade) came up with one of his analytical gems. He sent out a paper entitled, “Financing Utility Holding Companies: Ratepayer Ripoff or Stockholder Sop?” (Peter always covers all the options.) Sandwiched in with the vitriolic rhetoric — designed to
capture media attention and to indulge the traditional hostilities of his populist constituency towards the corporate elite — Anderson noted a simple fact: suddenly the utilities are experiencing big increases in retained earnings, about 30 million a year for each major company. So, what is going on here, you may ask, said he. Well, as cause, he claimed the effects of four novel accounting procedures instituted in the 1970’s to save the ratepayers some of the costs of the huge construction projects (rate of return, deferred federal taxes, construction work in progress funds, decommissioning funds). He pointed out that although they helped the captive customer then, they are not doing that any more. Therefore, he sweetly argued, they should be rescinded. The amount of money in question is between twenty and thirty million dollars a year for each major utility. That is only about one percent of gross revenues, but a pretty big piece of change in absolute terms.
Then in August 1984 the Public Service Commission ruled on a 23 million dollar rate increase request by Wisconsin Power and Light Company, and disallowed the use of one of the four accounting procedures cited by Anderson. This was Construction Work in Progress funds, and it cost the company, oddly enough, about twenty million dollars.
So, if you were a utility executive then, you might have felt some stress. Your options are not clear. Under such conditions you might get a bit tight-lipped and combative.
a. Two roads in a yellow woods.
The situation seemed poised for conflict. Many participants were convinced that it was a standard zero-sum game. For one side to win, the other had to lose. The proverbial law of the jungle was in force. This belief is part of a world-view, an assumption. It is just the way life works. This is the view held by many top utility executives, and by the populist organizations and politicians.
But there is another view also. It sees the situation as negotiable in its present form. It believes in an all-win solution. It holds that the power-play approach is not in the best interest either of the utilities or the rate payers. This view is held by some utility executives, many second-rank utility personnel, the Public Service Commission, some legislators, and some citizen activists.
This view is discounted by hard-line executives and the populists as dangerous naivet just begging to be co-opted.
What elements in the polarized system need to change for it to shift from power tactics to negotiation? One element of course is time. There’s nothing like failure, frustration and pain to bring about a change of heart. And secondly, from somewhere in the situation there has to emerge vision.
In this case, time is pain: continued stalemate in the legislature. If the power game gets us what we want, we usually play it. This is called fun. I don’t see any pictures of Francis of Assissi in Board rooms. But, not getting what you want can motivate a change of tactics for anybody. As for the populists, they get their money and their votes from anger. It is just as hard for them to give up their polarized world-view as it is for the hard-line executives.
Secondly, some one has to intervene with vision. Such an intervention is called by various names, e.g., an appeal to “reason”, the big picture, the long view, to common sense.
I’d like to recover the word “prophecy” to name this kind of intervention, because that use of language would help correct a widespread disability we have of believing in ourselves. Something very weird has happened in institutionalized religion in the West. God, or whatever you want to call the ground of the meaning of our existence, has gotten very far away, extraordinarily mystified, and for some people, on the other side of an immense bureaucracy: offices all over town, make an appointment, see the receptionist. Weird stuff! In fact, most “atheism” I have run across does not deny the existence of God at all, but only of somebody else’s “God”, in particular, people who want to run your life and who collect taxes.
The Greek word is prophemi. It means: to speak out. It does not mean, directly, to foretell, as, the future. But, if some one does speak out from a whole and healthy perception of the world, then one does, sometimes, uncannily, predict the future correctly. So there is an interesting semantic basis for the mystification of prophecy. But it is mystified. When prophecy becomes mere foretelling of the future, then it joins tea leaves, crystal balls and gypsies in the realm of the occult. But it is actually quite the opposite. It is speaking out from a whole and healthy grounded realism. That is what Biblical prophecy was. It is true that some recorded instance of prophetic utterance in the bible are very dramatic. Poetry does help get attention, and so the records favor the gifted. But if you read the text attentively, you find that prophecy is treated on the whole without much fanfare. It is very much a matter of course, and it comes from the people. The dialectic of prophecy always seems to be between the people and those who have great power. Prophecy is merely uncommon common sense. It happens, moreover, all the time in any society that has any spiritual vitality at all. It is no big deal. It is just the ultimate big deal. Any one can do it.
A third input is to call off the dogs of the populist and corporate fundamentalists. The rhetoric around polarized situations gets quite crazed. That’s not a bad thing entirely. As long as it is only words, it calls attention to pain.
Political conflict resolution is normally a power game, the work of ego. Normally, for example, you can count on utility executives to cut corners just a little, all the time. Not necessarily anything illegal, mind you, but cleverness in the service of the self. After all, they’re human. Since they do that, since they have great power, and since they can get quite isolated from the impact of their decisions, then in an open society, you have to have some one at the other end, organized, articulate, intense, who will scream and holler. So the populists have to be impolite. If they get a little self-indulgent and carried away with their role, they should be called on it. But the fact that this arouses secret currents of self-pity in the psyches of executives is one of the trade-offs of the system. If you want to avoid this pitfall, try totalitarianism. It doesn’t have any screamers or hollerers. But, in the open society, when the normal conflict process over-heats, we have to Rise To The Occasion.
The key to progress here is a change of perspective: from fighting to talking, from egotism to compassion, from Confucian control to the spontaneity of the Tao. This means the transformation of the assumptions of action. This in turn means changing the organization of the psyche. This means the relationship between consciousness and the unconscious and in the unconscious itself.
i. the past.
The boundary between conscious and unconscious has always been a fateful one. It’s true that in the past there was no systematic hope of helpful crossing over, and re-organizing your assumptions. Sometimes it happens spontaneously, as in 1907. Sometimes it takes conscious effort. For saints it is supposed to be easy, but for ordinary folks, no way. Freud for all his genius put most of the unconscious in one dark lump called the ID: a fearful cauldron of destructive passions.
ii. the present.
But now we know much more. We have come a long way since Freud. We are still far from mastering systematic and purposeful change of the organization of the human psyche. But we are in the era when the technology to accomplish that can be developed. The theory is in place and some of the tools already exist. They are just not fully developed. Many people are still afraid of letting their unconscious go free. Some sub-cultures even have a taboo
against talking about it. It will be a while before we institutionalize access to it. But at the cutting edge, there are resources. They may not be able to use them in Tehran or Johannesburg, but in some places in America we might be ready.
In the nick of time, we might say. We are in a world situation where the whole thing could go, if the right people freak out. The next stage of history appears to require a quantum leap in emotional integration. Material progress has plateaued. We ourselves are now the challenge. Some hold to the Big Bang theory of change and revolution: the general strike, armed struggle, Armageddon, you name it. But that kind of thinking is based on an image of compulsive, sudden, dramatic change. Fifty years ago there might have been good reason to see change that way. But now we know more. Progress in emotional integration can proceed in small steps. Negotiation is one vehicle for this process. Each real problem that we solve by negotiation rather than violence is a healing act.
It would be easy to get moralistic about all this, to talk about what people should or should not do. But changes of perspective usually happen as technical solutions to technical problems. When productivity is down, when conflict gets too expensive or just too scary, negotiation, “problem-solving” begins. Personal insecurities sometimes make “progress” appear to require cruel trade-offs. Sometimes circumstances drive a fairly healthy human being into a corner where old egotisms do not pay off. Then, if the person lets go, opens up his psychic system and obtains material success, this is what we call a discovery.
Such experience harmonizes well with durable theories of spiritual development. The Buddhists, for example, have been aware of the two-sided nature of the unconscious for literally thousands of years. Their insights and techniques are becoming more and more accessible in the West. Such techniques get transformed when they cross cultural boundaries. Mystical enlightenment becomes simply good interpersonal dynamics. Psychology, psychotherapy, brain research, Buddhism — all are moving in the same direction: giving us more detailed knowledge about and more effective access to the unconscious part of our knowing and feeling. The zen in itself is not a “pay-off” in a material sense, but it does improve the dynamics of material systems. Authentic spirituality is the opposite of alienation. It is full possession of the self and all its powers. Everybody wants this. The time in history seems to have arrived when we can realistically work on getting it.
The utility executives hold the leverage in the decision-making system around the holding company. If they make the transformation from fighting to negotiation, they maximize the options of all participants. It is a tricky process, no doubt. The unconscious contains ghosts and goblins as well as untold riches of inventive ingenuity. But success is, as in the case of moon travel, merely a question of method.
The prosaic holding company issue thus becomes a case in the progress of human evolution. The larger social process in force around the holding company issue has the same fundamental elements as labor-management conflict, conflicts among nations. Mao Tse Tung, as chief ideologist of a struggling revolution, distinguished between “contradictions between the classes” and “contradictions among the people”, but even those, for all the rhetoric, only differed in degree. Important elements of content differ in different conflicts, but wherever human beings are involved, there is an underlying similarity of process. Does it sound grandiose? It shouldn’t. Fight or talk, fight or talk — isn’t that pretty much the issue everywhere today?
PART TWO: PROCESS
Conflict, Polarization, and Change
A. Basic Issues
1. How to think
The path to reality and truth seems to require splitting every position in a polarized situation into two parts, one true the other false, one valid and one invalid, one grounded in authentic spirituality and one rooted in the illusions of egotism. I learned this from Thomas Aquinas and Mao Tse Tung. It makes me kind of a Thomist Daoist. Thus every position in a social conflict has “a dual character”. To get to the bottom of things, you have to split apparent unities into their two parts, and also, conversely, join apparent opposites or poles into their underlying unity. Some people call this method dialectics. It is the process that nature goes through when it heals or grows.
Is it true, for example, that business executives are intransigent and unaccountable? Partly. Do executives have valid reasons for being tight-lipped and combative? Partly. Is the holding company question negotiable? Partly. Are there valid grounds for populist suspicion and hostility towards corporate elites? Partly. Do these people have grounds for being enemies? Only in their egos, not in their ultimate self-interest. But are egos real? Ah, partly.
2. The nature of human progress
A few years ago I met a man who was a district sales manager for a large utility. In the bar after the debate we were talking about the world, and he came up with his definition of progress. It was measured in square feet of living room space for his children as compared to his grandmother. He was passionately invested in his index. I was secretly shocked, but I did not have any words for an alternative. It has taken me a few years to find them.
I would measure progress in any human system by the amount of violence it generates, within and outside itself. In detecting violence I would use its emotional forms as well as its overtly physical forms. They are a continuum whose various degrees feed on one another. The underlying factor that such an index measures is a thing I’d have to call “emotional integration”. This term refers to how the various capacities, needs, parts of the human individual (and by extension, of human society) fit together. Such a view of progress leads to the conclusion that the material problems of societies are only half the picture. With the levels of technology we now have, the main limits to the satisfaction of material needs are no longer material. They are the limits we impose upon ourselves by our inability to get along with one another. These limits are not fixed.
Whenever I hear myself saying something like this, I get a little nervous. In 1969 I started studying the art of organizing. When I explained my perspective on the process to my first teacher, she sternly warned me that I was “an idealist”. By this she referred to a particular heresy in the Marxist lexicon. I admired that teacher very much, and still do to this day. Like most of the Marxists I have known, she had sterling human qualities: intelligence, dedication, honesty, compassion. But I also liked myself, and I knew that my perspective came from the center of my being. I knew it had validity. I held on to that contradiction for years. It was finally resolved for me in the works of Mao Tse Tung. There’s a place in “On Contradiction” where he talks about two kinds of materialism:
Human progress has two parts: one material, one spiritual. Imagine any material problem, major or minor, faced by any group of people. Imagine any political, social or economic problem that you read about in the papers or see reported on TV. Then imagine that all the major decision-makers with an impact on the problem are grown-up, emotionally healthy, personally secure and balanced human beings. There are no crazies, no neurotic bigots, no rigid egos locked into old hostilities. How long would it take those principals to work out an all-win solution?
It’s only a fantasy, of course, but then, rockets to the moon were once only a fantasy. Human progress is only partly material. Square feet is just a footnote. Human behavior is the text. When material progress reaches a certain point, further progress requires psychic, emotional, spiritual progress. But, if this is so, then in a crisis, the desire for progress should push us hard to demand the best of the personalities in question, and to have very high standards. (Especially of course for the other guy.) But everybody wants progress, don’t they? Why, even communists want progress!
This thing we call “spiritual progress” is no more and no less than a change in the basic organization of the human psyche. But, does it happen? There should be some empirical evidence. To select such evidence, let’s make an hypothesis. Let’s say that the indicator of material success is profit, and that of spiritual advancement is compassion. If this kind of progress is occurring in the world, then one of its signs should be a decrease in the degree of conflict between profit and compassion. We will discuss the evidence for/against such a proposition below (p. 21)
3. Degrees of polarization
a. Different cases, different tactics.
Theories of revolution tend to say that you have to replace the bad guys with the good guys. There is also a belief that if you own and if you rule, you have to be a bad guy, but if you are exploited and oppressed, then you must be a good guy. So, you envision a violent, military struggle that replaces leaderships. Such theory sometimes does seem confirmed by actual experience. If the main leader is a Battista or a Somoza, and if one morning on your way to work you find your brother’s body in a ditch minus its ears and its genitals, then wisdom might well recommend the hills and a sub-machine gun. But, every case is different. Pol Pot and The Gulag serve to warn us.
A valid theory of change (of revolution) must recognize degrees of polarity between opposing elements. Here in Wisconsin we are not talking about an extreme of polarity. Some times the rhetoric gives the impression that some people are not clear on that fact. But in their better moments, the preponderance of the participants in the present case are clear.
O.k., no one likes to admit that they have been wrong. We are all insecure. You don’t have to be a corporate executive to experience that condition. Furthermore, it is the real mistakes and the big mistakes that cause the problems. People with reasonably accomplished social skills have a lot of mistakes they admit to. Such a repertoire permits them to show everyone how reasonable and humble they are. But then we all have great swatches of ourselves that we protect by the strictest of taboos. Get into one of those areas, then the blood comes to the face, muscles tense, and the mind trots out its artful and frequently ingenious rationalizations. These defense mechanisms have such swiftness, subtlety and power that it often takes a genius with an instant replay tape to detect them, let alone dismantle. This is a common human practice. Even I do it sometimes. I don’t do it often, of course, because I am more advanced than most people. But it’s a funny thing. Just about every one I talk to is also more advanced than most people. Hmmmm.
b. This case.
How prone would we expect business executives to be to have this common syndrome: unreasonable defensiveness? Well, there seem to be factors that would make them less defensive, and factors that might make them more so. On the one hand, corporate executives in general are smarter than the average. You just don’t run big companies without being able to retain and process unusually large and complex bodies of information. Furthermore, executives have to be pretty pragmatic and realistic. If they neglect mistakes until they become numbers on the bottom line, it is often curtains for them. So, the good ones are often quick and candid about errors.
But then, on the other hand, there is the phenomenon of functional neurosis. Maccoby’s jungle fighter, who we will discuss in more detail shortly, deep down fiercely fears his own extinction. He is the first to strike, a chameleon of concealment and has an instinct for the weaknesses of others. Andrew Carnegie was talented and complex, but no model of mental health. The same goes for Sam Insull. The gamesman too has problematic qualities. Maccoby talks about the gap between head and heart, one highly developed, the other somewhat stunted. He talks about the fear they live with, the fear of making the wrong play, of losing. He says: “They appear spontaneous, friendly, even intimate from the start, particularly if you are playful with them. But you seldom go deeper. When emotions are called for that he cannot measure out, the gamesman becomes evasive.” (208)
Secondly, there is intelligence, yes, but often focussed narrowly on the skills of the job. There can be a kind of dogged rigidity in high places, a function of a certain kind of intelligence: Mandarin-like proficiency in the techniques of control.
Thirdly, there is the Perfection Syndrome. This is found in all bureaucratic systems, of the private of the public sector, in the free enterprise system as well as state socialism. Franz Kafka, Max Weber and Mao Tse Tung are only a few of a host of folks who have warned us of its dangers. This is the “we make no mistakes” public relations stance. It comes from the investment in control. The necessity of control has deep roots in the human condition. The Confucian Mandarin stands in deep dialectical tension with the need for the spontaneity of the Tao. For the bureaucrat, the administrator, the executive, “letting go”, in and of itself, no matter what it is about or who is asking for it, can be the hardest thing in life to do. And so some women joke, “Yeah, I married Mr. Right…Mr. Always Right.” The tension is deepened by the fact that control is not in itself a bad thing. It is often imperative for personal and social survival, and for growth. So we are not talking here about a psychic conflict between good and evil; we are talking about a conflict between the good and the good. How much more difficult. How much more interesting!
Fourthly, there is the common human legacy of self-pity. Some buddhists call it “negative negativity”, and it has a subtle role in the psyches of the powerful. Almost none of us got enough nurture, nipple, strokes, love in our earliest infancy, and we are still ticked off about it. Power fills the void. Self-pity can excuse most anything, and it is devious in its methods.
In this system poised for conflict, the utility executive is a crucial actor. He can play power games, or be open to negotiation. He is both more secure and less secure than others in the system. There is reason to believe that as regards the present case, he is in a period of stress. It is not an easy time. (But then, who said life was fair?)
It’s like watching the guy on the fourteenth storey ledge. Will he jump or not? Will the major decision-makers around the holding company talk, or will they fight? What input, if any, can influence the choice of tactics?
4. PSYCHO-MECHANICS, OR, HOW WE REALLY WORK
(This is a classified section. Our research must be protected. We are probing into the nerve center of western society, of our society, of ourselves. This is risky business. What dark secrets will we unmask? The free enterprise system is paradoxical! It has produced on the one hand such great wealth, science and art, and a lot of other undeniably superb things. And yet, it also seems to produce — as a “side-effect” — so much anxiety, violence and pain. Intuitively we say, “This does not have to be. The good things should not have to be bought at the price of those bad things.” So we look around. Slowly our attention begins to focus on the steering mechanism. The problem appears to be in the wheelhouse. There is something about the consciousness that directs the activity that is defective.
It is obviously a very subtle and “interesting” defect. It is definitely not some glaringly obvious pathology, or else we would have been long gone long ago. Then, as we examine the situation more closely still, we experience a startling perception: it has something to do with sex! More particularly, with sex roles. Violence in particular is a male problem, not a “human” problem. Holy Toledo! There are a lot of people in this world who do not like any one messing around with their sex roles. We better keep a lid on this thing until we know we’ve got some cogent answers, because a lot of people are going to freak out and try to shut us down.
So, this is a classified section. Under no circumstances should it come before the eyes of any persons resistant to self-examination.)
* * * * * * * * *
Personal experience is the foundation of culture. Everybody forms their world-view out of their experience of themselves-in-the-world. I form my world-view out of my experience of myself-in-the-world. If you have never been really poor, there’s a sense in which you will never really understand poverty. Some people’s world-view never really changes. They start out life having power, continue to have it through youth, and go on having power, at least over their own destiny, all of their lives, until near the very end. But by that time, they are usually not making important social decisions any more.
Then, there are some people whose world-view really changes. They grow up with one world-view taught to them. Then, as they
begin to act autonomously in the world, they find discrepancies in the views taught to them. They experience contradictions between the taught and the perceived. In seeking to resolve these contradictions, they change their cultural system.
The latter has been my experience. I keep on surprising myself. When I was 18, I remember being quite sure that I knew who I was and what was the purpose of life. Then, at the age of 33, that all came completely unraveled. Evidence contradictory to crucial elements of my world-view had been accumulating for a long time. At a certain moment this data-file acquired critical mass. First, it immobilized the previously dominant system. I found myself operating without a high-level guidance system. All I had were basic instincts: nurture, comfort, social belonging, and the compelling need to develop a new, valid high-level system.
Then, a period of negotiation and merger occurred between my old operating system and its critic. There was behavioral testing of new sub-systems. Trial and error led to refinements of early propositions. Then, in phase three (in this case after about three years), I had a new operating system in place. It produced considerably more pleasure than pain, and appeared to answer all questions life could put to it.
That system worked for about seven years. Then it too broke down. There was a new set of data that could not be integrated. For the second time, my psyche worked on re-integration. This time the process took longer, because I knew that mistakes are costly. I said to myself, “As long as you’re going to go to all the trouble to re-integrate, this time do it right.” As I got better at it, the process took longer.
For one thing, I had learned about the differences between closed systems and open systems. Closed systems tend to be comfortable, but confining. Open systems are more interesting, but also more painful. Unconventionality is a demanding experience in itself. Socially successful unconventionality is a still higher art form. Originally I had had a closed system. From it I switched to a completely open system: nothing is certain, all rules are suspended, learning will be totally by basic organic feed-back loops. This is guidance by instinctive systems only, not by learned conventions. Of course, one instinctive guidance system provides for social survival. But the imperative to innovate makes one take chances. In this situation social conformity suffers.
I found that I really wanted an operating system that is both closed and open. Now, that is tricky. You have to be absolutely sure, on the one hand, that you exist, but you have to be ready to change how you exist at a moment’s notice, because you are not the master of all the circumstances of your life. No matter how much power you obtain, there will always be things beyond your power. You will never be completely in charge, and it is when you appear to be “completely in charge” that this becomes terribly clear. Unless, of course, you selectively blind yourself.
Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. What has happened to me has happened because I live in this society at this time. Those changes were somehow “out there” for me to experience.
Nobody really likes to feel weak. But everyone experiences conditions that make them feel weak. Therefore, most operating world-views selectively blind themselves. They effectively deny the reality of certain phenomena, and support the denial by forming safe emotional channels through which to dump the anxiety those phenomena produce. This helps stability: a world in which as many people as possible can feel powerful, competent, real. But, those realities that are left out have a way of intruding. Whether they are social inequality, foreign tribes, new knowledge or official madness, they keep on breaking in, disrupting old arrangements. Socrates, Jesus, Galileo, Einstein; Attila, Caligula, Hitler, Idi Amin; gunpowder, printing, penicillin, the micro-chip — these are some examples of pattern-breakers.
Historically, the human bias has always been for stability. Only recently has our capacity for innovation made significant progress. Learning has always come naturally to the human organism but only recently have we discovered learning how to learn (Bateson’s “deutero-learning”).
Cultural lag is still real, but our systems of thought have “advanced”. For example, we do not cut open chickens any more to predict the weather. Nor do we burn witches and heretics, or put the heads of our enemies on pikestaffs in front of city hall. Priests do not have as much power over us as they once had. We know more about ourselves. We are more sure of ourselves. We cannot only “handle” more variety, we can even welcome it. Society is getting more open.
And, materially, we are basically satisfied with the results. In ways we cannot exactly verify, our openness appears to been much more “productive” than any other system humans have devised.
However, there are problems. There is a lot of instability around. It shows up in things like overcrowded prisons, clogged court systems, large numbers of abortions, domestic violence, child abuse, illiteracy, drug consumption, and the like. It hasn’t crippled productivity, yet, but it is troublesome. There are some productivity problems. In addition, all this instability does not fit our basic notion of success, which includes all human beings.
There is also personal instability. Each of us experiences anxiety that we can either account for or not account for. Unaccounted anxiety makes imperious demands. These demands produce theories and technologies. In the latter part of the twentieth century we suddenly (in historical terms) have a flowering of theories and technologies related to human anxiety. A hundred years ago, there was, basically, only the Church. Religion promulgated the dominant theory of human happiness. Now we have many legitimate and economically healthy theories of happiness. Some of them are called schools of psychotherapy. If we arrange these by the date of their first public appearance, we find an underlying linear progression in their teachings. The later build on the earlier. Psychology has progressed in a manner similar to modern theoretical physics. It has grown more and more refined in its understanding of the composition of and relationship among the fundamental “parts” of the human psyche.
The flowering of psychotherapies has contributed to a new social arrangement for meaning-systems. There are no longer just a few established variants of “judaeo-christian” themes. The marketplace of meaning is turbulent. Imports from Asia and Africa, hybrids and original inventions have obtained legitimacy and been added to the traditional forms of Christianity and Judaism. Their legitimation has changed the place of the traditional systems in society as a whole. These developments are similar to the multiplication of such systems in late Imperial Rome, at the time that Christianity was beginning. Like psychotherapies, religious systems are vehicles of psychic organization. That is, they direct and prioritize human behavior by providing an operating world-view. Thus they are applied theories of psychic “parts”. Their theory of how the human psyche works can be inferred from their standards of behavior.
Religious systems of course do not use the terminology of science. Therefore we must look to the psychotherapies for the formal theories of psychic parts. If these theories are valid, that is, if they obtain survival/enhancement outcomes for the human organism, then religious systems can be described in terms of them. The religious systems usually cannot integrate the psychotherapies into their interpretive schemes, but the psychotherapies can include the religious systems. Thus, it would appear that the psychotherapies are the more complete systems.
In the period of time between Tiberius Ceasar and the death of Constantine (about 300 years) Christianity gained hegemony over the thought of European society. Christians proceeded to sustain and extend this hegemony by all social mechanisms at their disposal, including physical force. Supposedly, the thirteenth century was the high-water mark of this homogeneity. Since then, nationalism, science and technology have eroded the influence of Judaeo-christian orthodoxies in the West.
The popularity of traditionalist revivals is a sign rather of the decline of these belief systems rather than their advance. Traditionalism is a defensive posture. Any belief system that has to fight for its survival is obsolescent. Those belief systems that arise “naturally”, from the normal experience of every day life of normal people — they are the ones that carry the energy of human evolution. Traditional systems never get entirely abandoned. They split up. One part gets purified and transformed. Its kernel of truth gets re-worked to adapt to new discoveries. The new wine finds new wine-skins. The other part fossilizes. Unchanged, it endures in isolated social pockets.
The schools of psychotherapy are one set of vehicles for new knowledge. Here is a list of some important ones that have developed in the twentieth century.
2. Jungian analysis (1914)
3. Behaviorism (1945)
4. Rogerian psychotherapy (1955)
5. Transactional Analysis (1960)
6. Gestalt (1960)
7. Sensitivity Training, National Training Labs (1960)
8. Primal therapy (1965)
9. Co-counselling (1965)
10. Neuro-linguistic Programming (1975)
We start with Freud’s Id, Ego, and Superego. It’s a crude system with “large”, unchanging parts. Then we move on to Jung’s complexes: a much more flexible system but still rooted in unchanging, archetypal sources. Then come the ego-psychologists, who stick to the Freudian parts, but give the ego much more flexibility than it had in Sigmund’s original formulation. Change in psychic organization is possible, but still not easy, and still not very well understood at all.
In the thirties Behaviorism starts to reveal a whole different dimension of causality. The animal/material aspect of the human organism is established and explored. In the mid-forties it becomes mature social technology. For a while, behaviorism and psychotherapy appear to be antagonistic technologies.
Then Carl Rogers takes psychotherapeutic change out of the hands of the therapist, and puts it in the “hands” of self. The therapist is no longer sole agent of change, but merely a helper, a catalyst. Once Rogers legitimizes listening, the “middle theorists” arise. These are the people who talk about lots of parts. It’s no longer just ego, id and superego, or even complexes and archetypes. It is ego-states, games, scripts, traumata, relationships, etc. etc. We have a host of deeply significant processes and parts that make up the human psyche.
But change in psychic organization is still viewed as a very complicated, difficult, mysterious event. Understanding pain and conflict has made much progress. Resolving them has made less. The problem is in the “unconscious”. As psychotherapy has progressed, we seem to “see” the unconscious more and more clearly, but still cannot effectively and systematically “touch” it. Early on, consciousness is perceived of as relatively impermeable and helpless in relationship to a powerful and unchangeable unconscious.
Then, in the seventies, behaviorism’s observational acuity and the insights of the psychotherapies join forces. In the practice of persons such as Virginia Satir and Milton Erickson we apparently find direct and replicable access to elements of unconscious structure. Bandler and Grinder build off the practice of Satir and Erickson and off the linguistic theories of Noam Chomsky, and find predictable channels of access to at least some elements of the unconscious. Thus, consciousness is no longer perceived as a relatively impermeable wall between the “outside world” and the unconscious, but more as an extremely porous membrane, through whose numerous “holes” the unconscious both manifests itself and lies open for access.
In this imagery, now all the parts of human psyche are accessible, and therefore subject to change by conscious, designed behavioral strategies with specific behavioral objectives. Some of these strategies are perceived as perniciously effective, and so are outlawed by various identifiable legal and quasi-legal norms, such as rules against “subliminal advertising”. Others could be “wonder drugs”, i.e., social technologies that remove psychic pain, turn meaningless experiences into meaningful ones, eradicate behavior previously considered unchangeable.
The underlying metaphor for how the parts of the psyche “fit together” changes dramatically. Freud’s id and superego are simply blind forces, essentially overwhelming the ego. Jung and the ego psychologists see the ego still in contest with impersonal forces, but it is a contest that the ego can win. The hypnotists, neuro-linguistic programmers and those who hold with them see the unconscious made up not of blind forces, but of enlightened forces. Their “blindness” is simply unintegrated specialization. The problem of pain is therefore not to overcome them, but to integrate them. The disposition of pain is not a question of power but of communication.
And that is where we are now: exploring the strategies and tactics of communication between human beings that promote psycho-emotional integration. These social technologies appear to offer opportunities for the change of human behavior never before possible.
B. Current Events
l. History of Management styles
a. The need to probe.
When I was first ruminating on these matters, I wrote a little working paper called “Integrated Management and the Energy Marketplace”. The piece had a lot of defects, but it was something, and I resolved to try it out on an industry audience. I sent it to Public Utilities Fortnightly. I was curious as to which of its defects the editors would focus on in their letter of rejection. They gave my paper generous and careful consideration, as I thought they would. but their answer surprised me. The operative response was a single sentence:
The principal theme of the article, we have found, is that behavioral therapy is called for, so far as most utility managements are concerned, and we do not concur in this message.
But, that wasn’t a defect of the paper, it was a virtue! Ah, so. These people do not approve of self-examination. Their culture has a taboo against it. Interesting.
SCALPEL, PLEASE. And so with apologies to the folks at PUF I embark on the present line of thought. We have to probe the psyche of the utility executive because as Sir Edmund Hilary said of Everest, “It is there.” Utility executives are the crucial factor in this piece, and the last I heard, are human beings. They have human histories, human problems, and human personalities. Therefore they have psyches. I remember an attorney friend of mine once telling me that he quit the municipal bond firm because every time the senior partner got upset, his left eye twitched. I’m sorry, folks, but if you have power, and there is a question of how to use that power, then the workings of your psyche are an issue. You may not think about it, but those around you do.
We all know this is delicate material. We all know it is tricky. We all know that each of us has imperfections. We all know we have to be judicious and calm. But where power is concerned, we have to probe motives. It’s usually not even personal. It is cultural. There are group standards, to protect survival. These only need to change when fundamental circumstances change. Commonly, there are serious taboos about probing the psyches of people with power. It can be dangerous. Any one who has been around power knows that it not only can intoxicate, it can burn the soul like a hot coal in the palm of the hand. When associates or underlings must discuss the performance or the mental state of the boss, it is usually in secret.
I saw a play on television a few years ago called The Man in the Glass Box. It was about an Israeli search team sent out to bring in a nazi war criminal. They thought they found him in New York, but the story line gave you to believe that although everything looked straightforward, there was something deeply wrong about the case. The man was put on trial. He insisted on wearing his nazi uniform. He was kept in a glass box in the courtroom to prevent his assassination. In his cell he had several conversations with an Israeli psychiatrist, a woman. She told him once he was psychotic. He turned on her and said triumphantly, “Ah, but when it is the decision of the head of state supported by fifty-one percent of the population, it is not psychosis, it is state policy.” What a brilliant line! It nails down the worst extremity of what we are concerned with here. (If there is a worst, there is also a best. We know the worst. Do we know the best? Have we reached it? Are we it? Is our evolution over?) Personalities and institutions intertwine. We cannot examine the one without examining the other.
(The end of the story, by the way, contains a marvelous and provoking shift. At the end of the trial, a dentist testifies, to verify that the man in the glass box is indeed the same person who commanded the concentration camp twenty years earlier. The dentist falters. He admits that the man in the glass box bribed him to falsify the records. He is in fact not that commandant. He is, rather, a former inmate of the camp, who in his desperate effort to escape the pain and degradation of his experience, has identified with his tormentor to the extent of an elaborate and nearly successful hoax. On hearing the testimony of the dentist, the man in the glass box goes catatonic, and the play ends.)
It is true that in some circles the term “behavioral therapy” has a bad connotation. To get involved in that means you are “sick”. But c’mon. This is 1985, not 1885. You don’t have to be a genius to know that every form of excellence or creativity makes heavy demands on the human psyche. Achievers are frequently fragile. They often need help. There is no legitimate stigma attached to self-examination. Rather the opposite is true: if you want quality, you have to have it.
In the late seventies, the Harvard anthropologist and psychiatrist Michael Maccoby wrote a bestselling book on the personalities of corporate executives. He called it The Gamesman after the type of personality that seems to predominate in the leadership of the most innovative high-technology corporations. He also describes other personality types that show up in top corporate management: the craftsman, the company man, and the jungle fighter. The craftsman and the company man do not make it to the very top as often as the gamesman and the jungle fighter. The jungle fighter is an older style of leadership, Maccoby says, that in the present era is giving way to the gamesman.
“The competitive urge,” says Maccoby, “is very different for each of these four character types.”
But when Maccoby notes that the predominant style of leadership in corporations is shifting from the jungle fighter to the gamesman, he is pointing to an encouraging if extremely slow trend of evolutionary process. Business management does not unequivocally foster sensitivity and compassion. Such traits often do seem to stand in the way of making the “hard decisions” of business promptly and firmly. Maccoby’s picture of the kind of person who makes it to the top is not flattering. These are in fact not necessarily at all “nice guys”. They may be spoken of as such as flattery or with the unstated referent, “for some one who has made it to the top.”
But the gamesman is a form of progress in emotional integration over the jungle fighter. The jungle fighter needs to crush his opponents; the gamesman only wants to win the game. The jungle fighter is paranoid and manipulative; the gamesman is only cautious and distant. But it is relative progress. Both character types are still insecure and so use power as personal compensation. How maturely they behave is variable. It would depend, for example, on the pressures of the situation.
Another recent bestseller about business gives a similar evolutionary perspective. In Search of Excellence by Thomas Peters and Robert Waterman reports on the eighty-year development of management theory in the twentieth century. The authors use the scheme of Richard Scott of Stanford, who notes that management theory has come a long way from the rationalistic mechanism of William F. Taylor. Taylorism was the theory of the great industrial robber barons, jungle fighters such as Andrew Carnegie. It sought to “remove all brain work from the shop floor,” to control production and workers as if human beings were machines. Taylorism held sway as conventional wisdom until the early thirties. Then Elton Mayo discovered that paying attention to people also has an effect on production, and the art of industrial psychology was born. After World War II, being nice to people and understanding others’ point of view swept through business schools and some management circles in the form of Douglas McGregor’s Theory Y. McGregor’s approach came to be called “the human relations school” of management theory, but it died out because it could not maintain the balance between interpersonal sensitivity and the need for control. About the same time that McGregor was becoming a fad in business schools, Chester Barnard and Phillip Selznick were producing works of greater subtlety that took longer to mature. Barnard and Selznick started to talk about the relation between values and productivity. Scott says that their work became recognized in the sixties. In the 1970’s a new generation of theorists gained ascendancy, people who are now articulating more and more sophisticated models of the relationship between business success and the authentic complexity of human wholeness. When financial success is studied, as measured by standard fiscal/economic indicators, no mystical garbage, the most successful companies include more and more of the ambiguity, paradox, complexity and dialectic of human wholeness in their standard management practice.
Peters and Waterman also are no fools. They know that management theory is not management practice. They know that the style of the best companies is not the style of all companies. The world is still a complicated place and Murphy’s Law is right up there with the ten commandments as a foundation of western civilization. Nonetheless, progress in the full sense does occur, and moreover, in the place where one might least expect it: the soil of business as usual. We’re not talking monasteries here, and we’re not talking counterculture collectives. We’re talking board rooms.
Karl Marx can be forgiven for being partly but importantly wrong about the course of class conflict. After all he wrote over a hundred years ago. It was in an age more intensely iron than what we know today. Marx comes even before Freud, and it was not until Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams in 1892 that our civilization had the beginnings of a language to talk about the unconscious. Since we got that language, we have been making progress in understanding and healing ourselves. We still have a long way to go, but we are not making the same mistakes over and over again. In 1919, for example, the Allied powers drafted a jungle fighters’ peace treaty that wrought revenge on a whole nation. That primitive punitiveness gave us a war and a holocaust that hopefully we will never forget. The treaties that ended World War II were better. It should be clear by now that the ruling class has a dual character; it is not all bad. As for the proletariate, it also has a dual character. It is not all good. The dialectic is within each social position, not only between them.
2. THE FEMININE CRITIQUE
As a major social phenomenon, it’s only about twenty years old. In the last hundred and fifty years or so there have always been a few exceptionally energetic and bright women who have spoken, complained, insightfully and powerfully about the way men run things. But in the last twenty years or so, the voice of women has become a massive torrent of human energy. As with any human, social phenomenon of a certain size, this torrent of voices has a lot of variety. A few of those voices seem to have a peculiarly luminous clarity in getting through to the center of things. We want to understand the essential pathology of the male leader in western society. We want to perform a delicate, neurosurgical operation on that psyche, to leave it with its positive abilities intact and shear away its destructive tendencies. To perform the operation successfully, we need a precise and steady, compassionate hand. We may have to use a two-by-four some times to get the requisite attention, but when it comes down to the point of change, of metanoia, then we need our most refined and balanced human energy. For each voice mentioned here, there is a chorus of similar voices not cited. The three mentioned here were chosen because together they seem to provide the fastest triangular fix on the heart of the problem.
a. Up from the Bottom (Dinnerstein on sex roles)
When she finally published The Mermaid and the Minotaur in l976, it was one of those quiet little revolutions marks a definite point of advance in the process of human change. Here is one woman’s lifetime of reflection on the absurdities of modern, western sex roles. It is a set of reflections honed first in the discipline of the university, studying psychology under Solomon Asch at Columbia in the thirties, then in the process of living well into middle age while at the same time engaging in countless hours of discussion in the classroom and outside it with women in college. The book is not particularly comforting for the linear-minded. It is steadfastly dialectical, seeing everything in its dual character, taking us inside our selves and to the bottom, posing the thesis that we are fundamentally ambivalent about womanhood. We — women as well as men — all have this ambivalence.
It would be healthy and therapeutic to spend a goodly amount of time in the constantly bifurcating corridors of Dinnerstein’s discussion, but one does not have to remember the details of the piece in order to derive its main benefit. In fact, it seems necessary to forget the details to get that benefit. For the main point of her work–what must stay with us as we go on to live our lives in corporate culture–is that she brings us into the actual presence of our own dividedness. Sex has a lot to do with it. Actually, sex roles. This may sound simple; it might even sound silly, but it is a kind of breakthrough. For if Dinnerstein is right, then the pain that lies at the bottom of the human soul and has for some time, very authoritatively, been said to be an artefact of “human nature”, and therefore unchangeable, is really only an artefact of human sex roles. Now, these institutions are durable, indeed, but certainly changeable. Furthermore, the logic of Dinnerstein’s discussion leads inescapably to the conclusion that what are often thought of as problems of the human condition are only problems of half the human condition, the male half. This re-casting of the definition of the problem from a human one to merely a male one is, again, a breakthrough. For, what is human is very easily thought to be universal and permanent, and then by extension, ordained by God. And that of course is destiny, unchangeable. But what is only a male condition can be changed.
There is a view among spiritual teachers outside the West that for a human life fully lived, death is simply not a problem. It is in fact a completely welcome event that fulfills a marvelous human longing that can be fulfilled in no other way. The problem with death, then, is simply with the incompleteness of the human experience in this-bodily life. But the problem with the experience in this body is, don’t you see, deeply enmeshed in sex roles. Ah, so. But they can be changed. And if that is so, then anything can be changed. That makes history a breathtakingly new ball game.
Dinnerstein demonstrates that dividedness is everywhere: between the sexes, internal to the psyches of both sexes, in the social/political/ economic world created by the divided men who run it. The precise ambivalence experienced by each individual human being is completely unique, undiagnosable in any satisfactory way. But as an experience common to all, it is a key touchstone of wholeness. Fled, it makes permanent a one-sided development: a polarization of self, within self, that continues to create dichotomies and polarizations in every aspect of conscious activity. Ambivalence fled is ambivalence institutionalized. Encountered, it opens up a path to wholeness. This path is easily traveled once entered upon. The threshold, however, appears to be very high.
Dinnerstein presents us with the need to be quiet in the face of a certain kind of internal noise. Be still, o my heart, to listen to the voice of the Beloved. In that stillness next to, intimate with, the pain of our central ambivalence about our
nurture and the woman — is the key to the difference between what cannot be changed and what can be changed in the arrangement of human institutions. Getting to that stillness, ah, there’s another issue.
So, Dorothy Dinnerstein brings us to the place where we have to be in order to do what we want to do. But once we are there, what do we do?
b. From the Outside In (Gilligan and moral behavior.)
Harvard professor Carol Gilligan (In A Different Voice, 1982.), comes at it from a different angle. She examines the differing standards of moral behavior in the development of men and women. Gilligan was a student of Lawrence Kohlberg. His work on stages of moral development was, until Gilligan came along, the unchallenged standard. He supported her work, so no personal criticism is implied, but the institutionalized oversight is remarkable. Funny thing, noted the student, all this work on moral development uses only men as data. It’s as if women either did not exist, or could be assumed to be identical to males. What would happen if we studied the moral development of women with the same methodical thoroughness previously applied only to men? Good question! Let’s do it. Lo and behold, we find another, subtly but profoundly different, process of moral development in persons of western industrial society. Again, the details are interesting. They deserve to be contemplated, but the bottom line is simple: (a) the sheer difference and (b) its ability to reject moral dichotomies: those either-or choices that seem so inescapable when presented by authoritative institutions, but which in fact, ain’t necessarily so. In the crisp prose of a nine-year old girl, responding to the choice of stealing or letting the loved one die:
* * * * * *
The feminine critique goes well beyond this, but the preceding citations can serve to mark its main outlines:
One, Dinnerstein shows that contemporary sex roles are, if complicated, still cruel and crazy. Therefore, they must not be taken for granted; they must be changed. (This is the basis of the necessary “radicalism” of this analysis. Therefore its marketing will require careful attention.) Two, Gilligan highlights an important behavioral outcome of the sex-role problem. Men and women have different moral perspectives. The male perspective is therefore defective, at least by being limited and incomplete, in ways that crucially influence the destructiveness of problem-solving techniques. Three, Ochs carries the theme of limitation and incompleteness of male perspective to the ultimate human system: religion and spirituality. The male view of the human condition in the great, over-arching meaning-system of Judaeo-Christian spirituality is one-sidedly male. It leaves out the substance of the feminine experience.
The bottom line is: There is something wrong here, and it is in the cultural system of the society. This means that everybody has to change — women as well as men — but more pointedly, it means that the process of change cannot complete itself unless and until it pervades the steering mechanism of society. In modern industrial society, this means mainly middle-aged men in positions of power.
3. The Male Response
Women are now such an important part of the labor force and the political system that men cannot simply write off their distinctiveness as an aberration. But that does not mean they won’t try. Attentive observation of contemporary events seems to show that there are two responses to the feminine critique. One is the basic defensive position, and the other is the gradual, adaptive response.
a. The Basic Defensive Position
Deep within the male psyche of modern society there is a response to the feminine critique that is essentially frozen in fear. That quintessential artist of the male Burden, Joseph Conrad, put it into classic form. It’s not even a point to be argued. It’s a taken-for-granted aspect of the world.
It would be tempting to probe, analyze, and express the real content of this position. (What exactly is that “confounded fact”?) But that might be compulsive, clumsy and premature intellectualism. To the initiate the answers are all too obvious; but to the afflicted they are all too painful. The feeling Conrad describes is very powerful and deeply lodged in the male psyche. If we have learned anything from Dorothy Dinnerstein and the tradition she represents, it is that direct verbal approaches to such feelings are of dubious value. If change is our objective, we would be wise to step back from this little nugget of human emotion, and examine its connections.
It seems important to adopt a biological and ecological perspective. The male psyche of modern industrial society is a successful life-form. The sub-type that occupies positions of power in society is not only successful, it is a dominant life-form. This means that it has adapted well to the requirements of its material environment. So, it is like ferns, crayfish, aardvarks, sharks and Bushmen: it has developed a set of specialist skills that enable it to meet its organic needs in the environment it inhabits.
A detailed inventory of those skills is certainly of interest, but let’s postpone that until we get something else in focus. Let’s see if we can mark out certain classes of skills that might, or might not, be crucial to the process of change. Male skills seem to be composed of sensitivities on the one hand and insensitivities on the other. On the one hand the male psyche can assemble and integrate large banks of extremely detailed information, e.g. accounts of various descriptions. On the other hand, it can prevent the assembly and integration of certain other kinds of information, as for example, about the emotions such as human pain that may result from its own actions.
A central question thus arises: are the insensitivities of the organism integral to its ecological success? That is, if it lost its ability to filter out certain kinds of information, would its ability to survive, or rule, be impaired? If corporate executives got more compassionate and sensitive, would their ability to manage successfully decrease? We have some data on that question, but it is not yet conclusive. The jury is still out.
b. Adaptive Response
There are not many studies of the psychic, spiritual development of executives. The life-form is harder to observe in its natural habitat than the loon, and the rich in general are well-known for their fear of formal social science. But the work of Maccoby and Peters-Waterman do indicate a trend in the psychic organization of business elites. The work of Wm. Edwards Deming is also instructive. Deming is credited in Japan with making a leading contribution to the productivity revolution that has taken place there in the last 25 years, and which has placed that country in such a favorable position in world trade. Deming and a small group of American followers, and other similarly-convinced practitioners are busy proving the success of cooperative versus combative approaches to labor-management relationships. But such practices are not an overwhelmingly dominant trend. The movement towards wholeness is one of those pervasive ecological processes that are hard to track. The life-form in question seems driven by opposing forces. One set of forces — the compulsive needs of an inadequately nurtured ego — is short-sighted, narrow -minded, prone to violence. The other set of forces — a drive to harmonious integration with all life-forms — produces generous, ingenious arrangements that defeat all tendencies to destruction.
But, on the factual, historical level, the feminine critique of the male world-view is a genuine social force, and it appears to be on a collision course with the traditional male consciousness that rules the institutional forces of the world. Where, if anywhere, might these two forces join?
C. CORPORATE SATYAGRAHA
“It is said in the tantric tradition that if you do not destroy when necessary, you are breaking the vow of compassion, which actually commits you to destroying frivolousness.” (Chogyam Trungpa, The Myth of Freedom, Berkeley l976.)
There is a kind of caring, nurturing toughness that goes on in the world all the time. All the major religious traditions know about this virtue. If Trungpa calls it tantric compassion, Teresa of Avila called it paciencia and the early Christians called it agap . Sometimes it is just called wholeness. It is often practiced by good teachers, loving mothers, and good therapists. It is even modeled on prime time tv, as for example in some ads about drunk driving. So we don’t have to go to mountain-top monasteries to learn of its existence. Its occasional use is a natural, everyday experience. But, occasional use is one thing. Systematic, consistent and directed use is another matter. Corporate satyagraha is the latter.
This virtue is a bundle of paradoxes. It combines apparent opposites naturally and with ease. Descriptions of it abound in the literature of the major religious traditions. Our intention at the present moment is merely to point at it. At this point in the discussion, all we need to establish is that the virtue exists, and that it exists within the realm of normal human experience. Then, if we try to imagine a logical outcome of the encounter of feminine consciousness with the dominant male ethos of contemporary institutions, an increase in the incidence of this old, rare virtue emerges as one likely candidate.
Two questions then naturally arise: How do we pursue this inquiry further? and How, if at all, do we cultivate this virtue?
In an open society, we have made a bet on the autonomy of the private sector. That bet pays off best if there is such a thing as executive zen, corporate satyagraha, a spacious realism that guides management. Maccoby & co. suggest that such realism does exist. This means there is no inherent conflict between profit and compassion. Both are phenomena required by our nature. It’s just that putting them together takes a kind of excellence heretofore not widely distributed in the population. But we should be used to the kind of progress by which many people do in a later age what only heroes and virtuosos do in an earlier one. Columbus crossed the Atlantic. Big deal in 1492. In 1992, not a big deal. Today’s high school graduates often know more chemistry than the alchemists did. Esoteric spirituality can easily become standard business practice.
Ultimately, it is just a question of method. There are methods around. Among them, consider the following instruction for approaching a transformation of assumptions (Chogyam Trungpa, The Myth of Freedom, 76-77):
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