Wednesday, July 24, 2019


"But organizations exist within systems. And our organizations operate within the context — the confines — of broken systems. Systems that are more broken by the day. Those organizations, as well-meaning as they are, are trapped by the system. Their managers and leaders and just the average person within them might well want to do more positive things — but how can they? . . .

"We need institutions that are capable of transforming the systems in which they operate. I want you to really think about that. Because so far in human history, we have never had anything of the sort. We have had institutions which are beholden to the systems in which they operate. But not ones capable of genuine transformative change to those systems."

Umairh (link above) has been writing for a long time about the symptoms of disaster in our world, listing them powerfully and terrifyingly.  This post is more positive.  He introduces a new term, "the system", which is how the economics and power connections are arranged, the broken and paralyzing forces in our countries, mostly through who pays and who "does."  This means he is free to speak of the rottenness of the "system" but release the institutions to find new ways to operate.  He -- and we -- can think of new ways to free up the people we know are doing what is good and valid, because there ARE people who are doing this, much as the system tries to control and oppress them.  

I can think of three "systems" that are ripe to be reformed.  They are cross-state or within-state, and based on practical necessity, even ecological demand, like irrigation.  One is infrastructure organizations, like systems of communication, irrigation, highway maintenance, and so on.  They are already overlapping and exceeding state boundaries, which are arbitrary parts of the dysfunctional system.  These institutions must do what works, what is expected, and what is possible.  Some, like my phone company, are even co-ops, at least pretending to be run by the people. 
These are regional.  Institutions and systems often translate to regions, which is a start on eliminating the false and corruption-producing fiefdoms of states with historical happenstance borders, particularly the in the states where simple daily life is so time-consuming that self-governance is pushed to the side. Cities contribute to that.  A problem is the individualist belief that cars are not beholden to highways or electricity is not dependent on transmission grids.

Another arrangement is the basic goods distribution system, like grocery stores or hardware stores.  At the bottom level they are often locally owned, so they know their customers.  If there is something no one wants, it falls out of the system, and vice versa.  Our wealth and power has addled this, so that many people have cell phones, big laundry machines, and powerful cars that can easily travel long distances.  Therefore, we lose the communal pay phones, laundromats, bus systems -- we drive to the Big Box stores.

I was intrigued to learn that where I am, on the east slope of the Rockies nearly in Canada, that I'm served by three distribution systems: one from Seattle, one from Minneapolis, and one from Salt Lake City.  None can come down from Canada, though that would be geologically sensible.  The three sources guess that "we" here want different things, but they also duplicate.  The contrast was in Saskatoon where the stores shelve only a few options of toothpaste, detergent and so on.  In the equivalent US supermarkets, there are dozens of options, with hardly any difference among them.

The third is not just national, because it is about religion.  We have gotten locked into old denominations and assumptions that date back centuries to the Euro Christian binary of Catholic v. Protestant and all its spin-offs.  In the US, definition by education/economic/racial likeness and difference has created enclaves of people who think they are making themselves safe.  The truth is that our knowledge of the world has grown and transformed so much since the industrial revolution that powered this state of affairs, it is no longer relevant, particularly for Christians, which makes them a bit crazy.  

Seminaries are not helping clergy show how to work through from a three-layered world dependent on a big king in the sky to a near-Buddhist grasp of a world full of wonder but not entirely controllable.  Ministers soon find that congregations want the story to stay the same and will dismiss anyone who has a new angle.  Christian and Jewish congregations (probably also Muslim) are reservoirs of immense wealth, but there are suggestions that their leadership takes this to mean entitlement to relationships of power.  Whether or not this is true, they have no intention of giving it up, or even to pay taxes.

The system that privileges some religious positions because they were once sources of morality, dependability, and plans for a good life is now broken.  Money, as it often is, was the source of breaking it.  When I sat in on committee meetings planning pledge drives, it became clear that as we set goals for each pledging person, we were taking license with what we knew of their lives.  We were humane -- taking into consideration expensive health issues, children in college, businesses challenged to grow -- but we wanted the church to have money, to maintain the building, to afford programs.

Some will say that social media and the enabling internet are systems that are crucial for immediate attention.  They think in terms of their own private use, but overlook how much the country's infrastructure is at risk, from huge dams and electrical systems to local village water systems and direct electing.  The assumptions of the industrial revolution -- grids, power, control -- need to be challenged.  Such high technology creates a double society as much as wealth does.  Not even the president can use his telephone without tech help.  Many managers refuse to touch a computer.

Someone remarked on popular talk about Artificial Intelligence a day or so ago, and I had to flatly oppose them.  The dependence on data and algorithms has gutted what we are just beginning to recover, which is total body involvement in thoughtful life.  The idea that a brain is all that is necessary to constitute a person -- what I call the "brain in a bucket" syndrome -- is part of the reason our lives are so mechanical, so flat, so at the mercy of corrupt, uncaring systems that enforce institutional meanness.  We need new ways of thinking, new terminology.

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