June 20, 2011

Can Corporations be Good Citizens?

One way to epitomize the 20th century is to describe the emergence of corporations as a dominant form of social organization. The corporation turned out to be an efficient way to organize, administer and build industrial capability. As corporations enlarged and became wealthy, countries became wealthy and were transformed. The emergent legal definitions of incorporation submerged the rights and duties of individuals and advanced the protection and privileges of small groups who were legally incorporated.

In the best case, a corporation values its workers and its customers and develops win-win strategies so that everyone benefits – the corporation posts profits, the workers enjoy stable employment and the customers are satisfied with the goods and services they receive. If best cases exist, they tend to be temporary.

Corporations depend on rules to regulate their employees and more rules to govern their interaction with customers. While there is an ethos of customer service in retail organizations, enlarging corporations become less friendly, less personal and less civil, leaving customers with problems they cannot solve, complaints that will not be addressed, and helpful suggestions that will not be heard.

The internal dynamics of corporations reveal all the tendencies of human nature, somewhat tamed by the discipline required to remain more or less efficient and legal. The alpha members of corporate society would tend to be ruthless dictators if they were not constrained from many directions. The growth of rules and regulations has paralleled corporate growth. You could argue that some balance had been achieved but events at the beginning of the 21st century are relentlessly adverse and quite different from the conditions in the 20th century when corporations grew larger and wealthier as a matter of course.

You could also argue that governments are not always competent nor constructively motivated. Civil service organizations grow to resemble corporations. You cannot rely on morality or government regulation alone to achieve benevolent corporations. Changes in legislation that make corporate executives more accountable are desirable along with more honest and competent internal self-regulation. An ideal solution is to transform people who manage and work for corporations into good citizens who have a strong sense of fair play and will do no harm to others.

Knowing that humans routinely lose their sense of responsibility and morality when they sign up as members of a large group, you are not surprised when you learn of the depredations of corporations. The current question is can large corporations evolve into more responsible and ethically motivated organizations?

Balkan and others have argued that corporations are sociopathic since their prime interest is making money and the end justifies the means: “A corporation is inherently amoral, callous and deceitful; it breaches social and legal standards to get its way; it does not suffer from guilt, yet it can mimic the human qualities of empathy, caring and altruism.”

A new legal definition of corporations would seek to balance the profit motive with social responsibility. Corporate executives need to be accountable to their shareholders, customers, workers and neighbors and less preoccupied with their own greed. Government and corporations provide similar opportunities for executives to divert wealth into their own bank accounts and to favor family, friends and allies with monetary and other rewards.

Competition is the force of natural selection. Many have argued that competition in the market place keeps bad corporations from surviving. Competition has been a driving force for technological innovation and corporate efficiency. In the best case, bad products tend to disappear since consumers search for better and cheaper products. Confusion arises when cheaper is not better. The drive to win over competitors by marketing cheaper products has produced profound dislocations of people, money and corporate activities.

Corporations do not remain loyal to their workers or the communities that supported them. They move manufacturing to developing countries. Corporations use every means to keep labor costs low. They exploit poor and uneducated workers in countries that do not protect their workers.

Mass migrations of unskilled workers are another feature of the 21st century that will grow beyond any definition of national boundaries. Some of the poor worker migration is legally organized. Most the migration is illegal, spontaneous and disorganized. Humans have always migrated. They deplete the resources in one area and then move to the next.

From Human Nature by Stephen Gislason

June 13, 2011

The Problem with Self Evaluation

One of the key issues of human existence is the discrepancy between evaluating others and evaluating oneself. Humans evaluate and compete with each other in a continuous negotiation that involves strategy, criticism, conflict, and overt battles. The brain systems that evaluate others are not used in self-evaluation.

Humans tune into other humans and copy desirable statements and behaviors. The term “appropriate” suggests that language and behavior can be matched to suit the needs and standards of a specific group. Skilful humans learn to be appropriate in different social settings. Humans self regulate in social settings by observing others and adjusting their own behavior to be more congruent with the behavior of others.

A constructive response to rejection is to change appearance with more care in grooming and costume selection; to learn behaviors and stories that are more acceptable to the group.

Since most humans cannot observe themselves in action, they cannot evaluate their own appearance, facial expression and behavior. It is easy to argue that humans, like other primates, are mostly interactive creatures, pre-occupied with what others are doing. Humans have little or no native cognitive ability for self-evaluation and limited ability for self-regulation.

The result is constant negation and conflict among humans who judge the others harshly and have little or no insight into the effect of their own behavior on others. In the simplest analysis, humans tend to judge others with more skill, more detail and more critically than they judge themselves.

Each human peers out from a central illusion of a perfect self that must survive at all costs. This feature of the human mind is “innate narcissism” and is neither optional nor negotiable. The admission of error is difficult for most humans. The basis of this reluctance is practical; humans who make errors are criticized aggressively and may be demoted or dismissed from the group. The denial of errors is an innate defensive reflex. Denial of errors also manifests a real and important inability to accurately evaluate oneself.

A social group provides external regulation in the form of values, beliefs, approval, disapproval, criticism, and by insisting on standards of conduct. Self-evaluation largely consists of monitoring the effects of your own actions on others. Some humans are socially gifted and spontaneously adjust their behavior to receive desirable responses from others. Females tend to be more socially aware and skillful than males. Some humans are socially disabled and do not adjust their behavior even when they are repeatedly censured and punished.

The potential ability to self-evaluate with any accuracy and skill must be learned and practiced in a sustained and intelligent manner. There are terms that refer to narcissism such as “self esteem” or “self-image.”

The proud person manifests narcissism in a more or less acceptable manner. The arrogant person is aggressively narcissistic. The empathic person recognizes the narcissism in others. The selfish person fails to recognize the narcissism in others. The shy person hides his or her narcissism.

The idea of “low self-esteem” is flawed since it assumes that narcissism is optional and some people lack this feature, but this is rare.
Humans who fail to achieve the approval of the local group feel sad or angry, often both. Their narcissism is intact and their distress arises from the inability or reluctance of the local group to acknowledge their wonderful characteristics.

The rejected ones will complain and may appear to value themselves less, but their distress emerges from a deep and narcissistic conviction that they should receive better treatment from the group. Humans who are rejected repeatedly develop aversions to hostile individuals or groups and places where rejection occurs. Their withdrawal and aversive behavior is often described as “low self-esteem.”

There are many strategies available to achieve more approval, ranging from supplication, to self-improvement, to destructive aggression. If the group rejection is sustained, the oppressed member becomes “depressed” and expresses self-doubt; his or her withdrawal maintains the social peace. If, on the other hand, the oppressed member becomes angry, he or she will leave the group, seek allies and may return, seeking revenge, sometimes after many years.

From the book The Good Person, Ethics and Morality by Stephen Gislason. .

June 7, 2011

Wired, Wireless and Alienated?

All human affairs proceed in a dialectical fashion with progression and regression in constant play. Good and bad results emerge from every innovation. As the media world becomes more complex and more demanding, a high tech citizen runs the risk of becoming unhappy and confused. We know that better access to procedures and information is a decisive advantage for people who can use the information. In the early days of the www, there was discussion of the "emergence of a global brain paradigm for modeling the world."

However, humans have a limited ability to embrace other humans and are quickly over-loaded by information that is not immediately relevant. Some smart people are happy to leave their cell phones in a drawer and leave their hectic lives for a nature retreat. They value the natural world and celebrate opportunities to reconnect with their “inner self” and nature. Carl Jung suggested: “Too much man makes a sick animal. Too much animal makes a sick man.”

Humans have long lived in small groups and travelled to join assemblies of other groups. These gatherings have become highly organized affairs with formal presentations and social interactions. Real meetings have important features that virtual interactions such as email, text messages, chat rooms and social networks lack. Humans rely on seeing facial expressions, body language and observing the coordination of speech with gestures. Without access to a real person, the information is always incomplete.

The frequency of rude and angry emails and comments posted are problems with virtual communications. Internet etiquette has emerged to reduce angry responses. A smart communicator will delay a response to an irritating message and will consider how to reply in a diplomatic manner. Internet users worry about loss of privacy, but the real danger is that a sicker animal may emerge who is comfortable in virtual reality but disoriented and destructive in the real world.

The business leaders of the information age are highly competitive and believe that they are in a race. The race has only to do with business competition and profits. The world would be a better place if everyone slowed down and made more gradual transitions from one state to another. There is no race. There is nowhere to go. We are already here.

Who is fooling whom?

There are potential benefits. There are some hazards. Most internet users will have limited ability to understand how to find the best information and will default to slogans and seek free entertainment. Social networking sites are popular because they are free and entertaining. The FaceBook idea is that you can advertise yourself, acquire friends and become a friend of many others. The real effect is that the meaning of friend is deflated.

Real friends are rare and need to be cherished. Virtual friend are not friends at all. There is a possibility that meaningful relationships can develop after online contact, but this is not probable. There is a risk that your personal information may be used against you.

People worry about loss of privacy but another danger is that a sicker human animal may emerge who is comfortable in virtual reality but disoriented and destructive in the real world. Nice people watching TV in their living room are already more comfortable in the virtual world of television programming and are often confused about what is really going on.

Dependence on Machines

In the unrealistic fantasies about computers becoming intelligent, willful and taking over the world, there is an imbedded and legitimate concern about human dependence on machines. There is an associated concern about human limitations. As computer networks expand, humans become dependent on them and have more difficulty understanding how the whole system works. Another concern is that humans are selfish and chaotic in their pursuit of wealth.

The proliferation of perverse machines makes some people wealthy but with little benefit to the individual user and to society a whole. You could argue that cars and airplanes are perverse machines because they encourage humans to be restless wanders in pursuit of ephemeral pleasures.

Electronic games are perverse machines since they occupy time and attention in a virtual reality that might be better spent enjoying and cultivating the real world. Television has been declared a perverse machine for the same reason – a virtual reality replaces the real world and sedentary viewers become fat, sick and confused.

The real question is what humans really want? A better real world is a good answer. A better real world would be more natural, cleaner, safer, and more stable. A better world might be achieved, but not by the people watching TV, text messaging and playing videogames.

The real world infrastructure that depends on computer networks to operate is based on human intelligence and demands the dedicated work of people who are tuned into the real world. The maintenance of enlarging complex systems is difficult and requires advanced education attached to dedication and constant learning. An enlarging population now depends on a small elite group to maintain banking, communication, energy, transportation, government and military networks. An increasing dependence on expanding, whole-planet electronic systems is a new development and the possibility(aka probability) of catastrophic failure concerns many observers.

Human experience is typically paradoxical. Human information and intelligence is being distributed more widely than ever before and this distribution depends on a technologically elite group. If you tend to be paranoid, you are afraid of the technology and fear that a sinister elite group will take over and control the world. Science fiction paranoia tends to emphasis machine autonomy and fears machine dominance. If you are paranoid, all sinister plots are plausible and you cannot differentiate a realistic fear from an imaginary and unrealistic fear.

If you are pronoid, you are grateful for the benefits of the technological society and even if you are not part of the technology elite, you assume (quite correctly) that the scientific and technical elites consist mostly of reasonable and nice people who have interests and goals similar to your own. If you are realistic and pronoid, you know that computers are dumb and that robots are machines that weld and paint cars. You are mostly interested in training enough smart people to keep our complex infrastructures operating. The need is for better solutions to basic problems such distributing information, educating children for the 21st century, controlling and reducing traffic in cities, distributing food and other goods and protecting airplanes from crashing.

The curious aspect of future technology fears and fantasies is that all the problems in the real world are discussed briefly and then ignored. Even the most advanced countries have aging infrastructures, ready to collapse at any moment. Electricity, telephone, cable communications and the internet are carried by wires on poles that fall down easily, pushed by a little wind or shaken by earth tremors. Even if TV networks keep broadcasting, viewers may not have clean water to drink or food to eat.

We can hope that communication of good ideas might reduce the extravagant devastation that humans inflict on their planet. What do humans really want? Do they want more distraction and entertainment in virtual reality or do they want a real life in a real, healthy world?

From Intelligence and Learning by Stephen Gislason.

June 1, 2011

Philosophy of Liberation

All idealists with a commitment to realize universal civil and free societies will need to pause and consider that progress in this direction is not possible without dramatic change in the way humans think and behave. If there is progress toward a sustainable and agreeable life for expanding populations of humans, then religions have to become what they are not -- expressions of unity and cooperation.

Real progress in human affairs requires a new approach to education that is universal, persuasive and complete. How can this be achieved? Not by philosophers employed by universities or even book writers that gain an audience. What is required is the sustained investment of wealth in new education in the sprit of cooperation and sustainable technologies. The wealth to support a new approach will come from enlightened individuals, corporations, governments and philanthropic organizations.

I want to make a clear distinction between religion and philosophy. Walter Kaufman described liberation philosophy that serves as a description of the best from the past efforts of philosophers and a prescription for 21st century advances in liberating thought:

“Philosophy, like poetry, deals with ancient themes: poetry with experiences, philosophy with problems known for centuries. Both must add a new precision born of passion. The intensity of great philosophy and poetry is abnormal and subversive: it is the enemy of habit, custom, and all stereotypes. The motto is always that what is well known is not known at all well… The poet's passion cracks convention: the chains of custom drop; the world of our everyday experience is exposed as superficial appearance; the person we had seemed to be and our daily contacts and routines appear as shadows on a screen, without depth; while the poet's myth reveals reality...

"News reports, and even scenes we have seen with our own eyes, are distorted images in muddy waters of reality. We live upon the surface; we are like ants engaged in frantic aimlessness pursuits until the artist comes, restoring vision, freeing us from living death. Philosophy, as Plato and Aristotle said, begins in wonder. This wonder means a dim awareness of the useless talent, some sense that ant-likeness is a betrayal. But what are the alternatives? Vary the metaphor.
"Men are so many larvae, crawling, wriggling, eating - living in two dimensions. Many die while in this state. Some are transformed and take flight before they settle down to live as ants. Few become butterflies and revel in their new-found talent, a delight to all. Philosophy means liberation from the two dimensions of routine, soaring above the well known, seeing it in new perspectives, arousing wonder and the wish to fly. Philosophy subverts man's satisfaction with himself, exposes custom as a questionable dream, and offers not so much solutions as a different life. A great deal of philosophy, including truly subtle and ingenious works, was not intended as an edifice for men to live in, safe from sun and wind, but as a challenge: don't sleep on! there are so many vantage points; they change in flight: what matters is to leave off crawling in the dust.”  

Religion for the 21st Century is available in print or download formats. The book is intended for a well-educated, smart reader who is interested in a world view of political and religious expressions past, present, and future. The main theme is that each group has its own claims and stories and will tend to reject others. A reader committed to one point of view may not accept the egalitarian review presented here. Stephen Gislason