(I’ve been working on this for several days, and I think it’s finally finished. It just kept growing longer and longer, so I’m dividing it up into sections to make reading and referencing a bit easier. Also, I have some visitors in town, so I’m going to be already breaking my newly minted rule of one-post-per-day to leave this up for a while. Hopefully that give you all a chance to read it…)
2) Organization and the death drive
3) Positive growth and the drive to organization
4) Organization and the control of chaos
5) Some real life examples
6) Conclusion (the reason it exists in the first place)
In response to a question asked in this lengthy discussion thread, I’d like to expand on a comment I made there:
“I think that evilness of the will of the organizer is dependent on the desire behind that will-to-organize. If the organization is for the betterment of everybody, an attempt to create improvements all around, then that will lead to good result.
But the will to organize so that the organization can then be forgotten about, is evil. I think that’s the “implosion” that Topper’s talking about, something similar to Freud’s Death-Drive, the desire for the ending of all stimulation of the senses (in the context of this discussion, this is accomplished by putting everything “in it’s place”)”
Despite the occasional missteps in grammar and spelling there, I definitely still stand by that statement. I don’t think there is anything unavoidably evil about the drive for organization, not even a top-down, centrally-controlled organization like a corporation or nation-state. (Kevin Kelly has something to say on that here) Yet on the other hand, I also think (to paraphrase Speedbird from the same conversation) that the ‘use’ of a thing for good or for evil, isn’t a simple decision; the way a thing is used is something inherent in the thing itself. In order to make better use for any thing, we have to attempt to see clearly what the thing is and how it might be tweaked in order to make it useful in a different (and better) way. What it comes down to is the intent behind that organization, the desires which drive it to higher and higher levels of organization.
ORGANIZATION AND THE DEATH DRIVE:
The actual problem that I see arising in an organization with a top-down, centrally-located power structure is that the organization itself will begin to act as a kind of “media”, coming between the control center and reality. In this way, it is similar to a body (a corporation?), with the director-at-the-top acting out the part of the brain.
Again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this. Natural selection has shown us that a more-or-less centrally located control center is, at this point of evolutionary development, the most efficient way to organize a large group of intelligences (ie: our various organs and body parts). Is this a perfect scenario? No. But then, as Buddha said, “All life is dukkha“. Being unhappy that all life’s problems haven’t already been solved is to kind of miss the whole point of being alive…
The problem arises because this “organization”, like any other media, exerts a subtle influence on the person using it. It re-adjusts their consciousness and understanding of reality to better align with the way the media functions. And the function of the top-down-power-dynamic media is one where awareness (and therefore power) is directly related to the level of removal from active reality. The higher the bird is lifted, the more it can see; the more it can see, the more accurately it can direct the organization. But go high enough and “the falcon cannot hear the falconer”…
This ends up creating a psychological state where “More Removed” = “More Aware”. The logical endpoint of such a state, especially when these effects are not made conscious and corrected for, is to equate complete awareness with complete removal from reality; that is, to equate knowledge and power with death. Or at least an eternal return to the womb.
Ted mentioned in the earlier comments that “evil” might be thought of as the desire for safety triumphing over the desire for adventure, and I am thinking along those same lines here. However, I want to add that it is not necessarily healthy to consider the desire for safety an inherently evil thing. Depending on what kind of personal growth you’re going through, it can be either a big help or a big hindrance. Therefore, I think we have to dig a bit deeper than that to find the actual root of evil, particularly as it pertains to the media of the top-down-power dynamic.
At its extreme endpoint, the desire for safety becomes the desire for everything to stop happening. This is where caution gives over to the full-blown denial of reality, where the “evil” stuff begins. It is not so much that the evil “child” wants “mother” to never leave it, but more that the child desires to have stayed in the womb forever, to have never been exposed to life in the first place.
This is a fearful kind laziness, yet it is more than laziness. It is the rejection of life, while still within the realm of the life/death experience. This is not only evil, but seriously flawed logically as well. Well, there may be another side to it, but we’ll get into that later…
To tie it back in with our discussion of the top-down power dynamic, this illogical drive to end all stimulation is something that must be especially watched out while in a position of power in a top-down centrally controlled kind of organization. If it not made conscious and corrected for, this drive can easily and unknowingly become tied into the very development of the organization itself, in a deadly parasitic relationship.
Because if you are stimulated by reality, it obviously means that you are in contact with it. And if you are in contact with reality, than there it must still be possible to be further removed from it.
Remember, as the person using this kind of corporated power media, you are operating under the less-than-conscious assumption that “More Removed” = “More Aware”, and so neither you nor the organization are doing your best until you are completely removed from any contact with reality.
And so we can see that if the will-to-power of the centrally located command center is followed (and the the rest of the organization is ignored), the entire system is designed to self destruct. Thus does our falcon becomes Icarus, plunging into the cold sea below and taking the entire organization with it.
In the end, an insistence on a purely top-down power dynamic creates a feeling of “none of this should have ever happened in the first place!”, rather than one of “what more needs to be done here?“.
Life is always forcing us to choose between these two stances, and throughout the ages, mystics and scientists alike have found that it is always better to get try to get more in touch with reality. And it is always worse to try to run away from it. Perhaps such an over-emphasis on the “top down” flow of information through our awareness is to blame for the current troubled state of things…
POSITIVE GROWTH AND THE DRIVE TO ORGANIZE:
So, that, in my opinion, is the problem. In a structure where each level is built to make use of the activity of the lower levels through the vision of the upper levels, the upper levels develop an increasing desire for death the more powerful they get. But any good doctor, giving a diagnosis, must also suggest a cure.
It is necessary that the person at the top is aware that although their will directs the rest of the organization, it does not necessarily follow that their will controls the rest of the organization. Another link from Kevin Kelly’s website: “Loren Carpenter’s voice was the voice of leadership. His short message carried only a few bits of information, but that tiniest speck of top-down control was enough to unleash the swarm below. He didn’t steer the sub. The audience of 5,000 novice cocaptains did that very complicated maneuvering, magically and mysteriously.”
The metaphor of the bird and the snake is relevant here, because the snake knows what it’s like on the ground, but cannot see the overall terrain. The bird can see the overall terrain, but has no way of directly interacting with it except to swoop down to the level of the snake.
In any organization, the “bird” that forgets this will cause harm to the “snake. But this is not inherently bad, just as long as:
1) The snake is able and willing to complain
2) The bird is able and willing to listen
When these functions are working properly, then everything runs smoothly. If either of these fails to happen, “things fall apart; the center cannot hold” (to mix my bird metaphors a bit). So what kind of paradigm can be used to make these upper level birds listen to these lower level snakes?
As we’ve established, the centrally-controlled top-down organization is something that exists naturally, and human beings might be thought of as the supreme example of this. After all a human being and a large group of hydrogen atoms are, at the root of things, pretty much the same (all protons, neutrons, and electrons). The human being is better organized than the large group of simple atoms, and yet, even those atoms can be thought of as centrally controlled.
My thoughts are that creating an organization should be considered similar to taming a wild creature. All organizations, corporations, business models, etc., are ways of optimizing an already naturally existing relationship. You are seeing the way things work, and trying to create a way to make them work better.
People will always look for ways to profit from providing food to the hungry (not many people try to do the same thing for people who are starving, but that’s more a question of the difficulty level than anything else).
However, no one ever tries to profit from providing aluminum foil to hippopotamuses.
There’s no need there to be optimized. Any attempt at creating an organization is an attempt to do a better job of bringing together needs and resources, and to profit from that attempt. (and although the search for profit can lead to some pretty bad stuff, it is really just an attempt at guaranteeing that your own needs will be taken care of, if you expend your resources on optimizing some certain flow of resources.)
Creating an organization is a lot like turning a wild animal into a pet; it’s an entity you have to care for and train. Of course, it’s hard to know exactly how to keep an organization healthy, but the story of the Little Prince and The Fox is a good start:
“One only understands the things that one tames,” said the fox. “Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me . . .”
“What must I do, to tame you?” asked the little prince.
“You must be very patient,” replied the fox. “First you will sit down at a little distance from me–like that–in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings. But you will sit a little closer to me, every day . . .”
The next day the little prince came back.
There it is. You have to think of the organization as your friend. Love it, and it will love you back. As in any friendship, problems will only comes up if:
A: One person thinks they’re better than, or separate from, the other.
B: One person does not think himself to be capable of everything the friendship will require.
And since we’re talking about entities without any actual personality, the onus is solely on the person trying to tame the wild organization to fulfill those requirements.
ORGANIZATION AND THE CONTROL OF CHAOS
The desire for organization springs also springs from an attempt to control and minimize chaos. And again, there is nothing wrong with this desire, so long as it doesn’t get out of control and it keeps its priorities in order. Organization is better than chaos, but organization can also leads to stagnation. However, adding more chaos is not necessarily the solution to stagnation.
Because, really, there’s two kinds of chaos. If we can’t accept it or understand it, or if it completely overwhelms us, then it is chaos in the primordial sense. It was this chaos that Marduk slew as Tiamat (interestingly, this story might also be seen as a mythological example of a child overcoming the desire for a return to the womb). Nature red of tooth and claw, so to speak, the winds which jerk us roughly about, change that we can in no way integrate with our current self. Chaos without order; chaos and order as mutually exclusive.
But the other kind of chaos can be compared to Terrence McKenna’s idea of “novelty”. It’s a chaos that respects us, a chaos that we welcome and allow into our lives. It’s the newness that we recognize a need for, and that we make a place for at our hearth. It rejuvenates us, rebirths us. Makes us come alive again. This is the alchemical secret, the union of opposites out of which life springs. And the difference is made by attention, love, and the learning of skillful means.
SOME REAL LIFE EXAMPLES
Recent commenter Andrea Hill has a consulting blog where the she discusses recent trends in marketing (but correct me if I’m wrong there, Andrea!). She asked me about the portions of the Marshall McLuhan playboy interview that I have posted here, and since McLuhan’s involved, I was interested to read the post for which she was researching the interview. In it, she discusses how the future of marketing is to be relevant to your consumer and to relate to them in a meaningful way. This is exactly what I’m talking about with the idea of an organization as a taming and optimization of an already existing “wild” system of resources and needs. Her conclusion sums it up pretty nicely:
To raise. To lift up. To carry. To translate. To recognize the importance of community, and seek meaningful ways to organize customers – by which I mean meaningful to them. To use new media adroitly, as it befits your value proposition. These are the challenges – and opportunities - facing today’s marketer.”
I found this sort of randomly on tumblr, a post on the blog of the guy who started Dopplr.com. He references something he wrote for some catalogue (check his site for the info), where he also references Kevin Kelly: Kevin Kelly writes in an essay about Artificial Intelligence that problem-solving is not just an abstract process of the mind, but something that happens in the world, and brands those who don’t believe this as indulging in ‘thinkism’. The intelligence of the hand, and the eye, and the body, working with material things in the world, instead of abstract symbols in a computer you might call ‘Do-ism’.
If we consider the brain as an example of a “centrally-located top-down” type of power structure, than the intelligence of the hand, eye, and body is also what I’m trying to point to. A good reference, even if he is allied with the “fake” Speedbird… ;) (just a little humor here people, nothing personal!)
An old favorite site of mine, who was blogging before blogging ever existed, had this to say about the recent Facebook TOS debacle:
What’s sad here is that we think you guys (ie: Facebook) actually like your customers, and probably want to do good things for them, but you forgot to look out for them. Turned the whole uninteresting issue over to a group of lawyers and said “make it good.” But you forgot one thing: Lawyers never “make it good.” Nobody cares when you say “we would never do that” because your lawyers have given you the rights to do it anyway. And when you sell the company, the new owners may not be as altruistic as you claim to be… and so your customers would be screwed. So now you have that lawyer fail stink all over you and you’ll probably learn that you can’t trust them even if you hire them to look out for you.
And thus the falcon fails to hear the falconer, so to speak, and the company does something where they injure the snake (to mix my bird metaphors yet again…)
From Eliezer Yudkowsky, of Overcoming Bias:
Another example would be the principal who, faced with two children who were caught fighting on the playground, sternly says: “It doesn’t matter who started the fight, it only matters who ends it.” Of course it matters who started the fight. The principal may not have access to good information about this critical fact, but if so, he should say so, not dismiss the importance of who threw the first punch. Let a parent try punching the principal, and we’ll see how far “It doesn’t matter who started it” gets in front of a judge. But to adults it is just inconvenient that children fight, and it matters not at all to their convenience which child started it, it is only convenient that the fight end as rapidly as possible.
Listen to the kids, they know what’s important…
And lastly there this, which I hesitate to put up, because it might seem like I’m taking a stand against civil liberties. I am not. I am including this here as an example of how awareness of just what organizations you are creating and bringing into to being is important even when you’re not an evil money loving corporate overlord…
This is potentially a landmark case for all of our civil liberties. Despite there being no causal chain of culpability, it appears my friend is subject to having his house turned upside down, property taken, arrest and worse for mere association. And it is important to spell out exactly what association means here: He has never, I repeat never, attended any meetings, or had admin access or any involvement with the indymedia users and contributors, never mind the animal rights activists. His only association has been to rent out co-located hosting space to multiple users, one of whom happen to be indymedia.
This guy was arrested by the police in the UK, had all his computer equipment confiscated, and spent several hours in jail just because his server space was rented out to Indymedia, which some animal rights group had used to coordinate their attacks and protests.
I am completely on the side of the guy arrested. Just as a landlord is not guilty just because one of his renters sublets to some anarchists, this poor guy did absolutely nothing to deserve this kind of treatment. But in both cases, the root of any trouble is that the one in charge of the organization (the webserver or the apartment building) wasn’t aware of what was going on within that organization. It is always best to increase your awareness of things over which you have ownership, control, or power. To neglect to do so is to invite trouble, even if you are in no way guilty of anything bad yourself.
CONCLUSION (THE REASON IT EXISTS IN THE FIRST PLACE):
Although I am happy with my analysis of the problem here, I feel that I should place it within a slightly larger context: The Meaning of Life…
Why does this possibility for evil even exist? As we’ve discussed, a lot of the evil in a top-down system comes from the desire to end all stimulation, all interaction with reality. To say no to life while still within the realm of the life/death experience. If we were more able to deny this drive, to take responsibility for everything that happened around us and within our organization, there’d be a lot less mindless evil in world, and a lot less waste. Yet it exists, so there must be a reason for it (thanks Darwin!).
What I want us all to keep in mind is that a lot of similar things have been said about the state of enlightenment, gnosis, transcendence… That experience of the numinous that “takes us out of ourselves”, that puts an end to any identification with an ego. A state in which, as the Sufi’s say, we “die before we die”. It’s the “end of the self”, a state of “non-dual being” where “thou art that”. It is the state of nirvana, of being completely “blown out”…
This, I would say, is the reason that such evil exists. This desire for an end to suffering is the driving force behind life, but we must be willing to end even our self in order to achieve it. If we seek cessation of suffering while trying to maintain a sense of self, then all the world must be destroyed in order for our suffering to stop. But if we can destroy that sense of a separate “self”, then all the world can come alive.
Everything has a light and a dark side, and if this denial of life is the root of all evil, it’s lighter side may just be the root of all that is good. And we need as many people as possible to realize that as soon as possible, within this lifetime…