Birth of the Chaordic Age

By Dee Hock

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The essence of community, its very heart and soul, is the nonmonetary exchange of value; things we do and share because we care for others, and for the good of the place. Community is composed of that we don’t attempt to measure, for which we keep no record and ask no recompense. Most are things we cannot measure no matter how hard we try – such things as respect, tolerance, love, trust, beauty – the supply of which is unlimited. The nonmonetary exchange of valuedoes not arise solely from altruistic motives. It arises from deep, intuitive, often subconscious understanding that self-interest is inseparably connected with community interest; that individual good is inseparable from the good of the whole; that in some way, often beyond our understanding, all things are, at one and the same time, independent, interdependent, and intradependent…

Without an abundance of nonmaterial values, and an equal abundance of nonmonetary exchange of material value, no true community ever existed and never will. Community is not about profit. It is about benefit. We confuse them at our peril. When we attempt to monetise all value, we methodically disconnect people and destroy community.

Nonmonetary exchange of value frustrates our craving for perfect predictability and the control that it always promises but can never deliver.

The nonmonetary exchange of value is the most effective, constructive system ever devised. Evolution and nature have been perfecting it for thousands of millennia. It requires no currency, contracts, government, laws, courts, police, economists, lawyers, accountants. It does not require anointed or certified experts at all. It requires only ordinary, caring people.

There can be no society without community. In fact there can be no life without it. All of life, all of nature, all earthly systems, are based on closed cycles of receiving and giving, save only that gift on energy that come from the sun. There can be no life whatsoever without balanced cycles of giving and receiving.

Why are organisations, everywhere, whether political, commercial, or social, increasingly unable to manage their affairs?

Why are individuals, everywhere, increasingly in conflict with and alienated from the organisations of which they are apart?

Why are society and the biosphere increasingly in disarray?

Today, it doesn’t take much thought to realise we’re in an accelerating, global epidemic of institutional failure. Not just failure in the sense of collapse, such as the Soviet Union, but more the common and pernicious form: organisations increasingly unable to achieve the purpose for which they were created, yet continuing to expand as they devour scarce resources, demean the human spirit, and destroy the environment.

Schools that can’t teach

Universities far from universal

Corporations that neither cooperate nor compete, only consolidate

Unhealthy health-care systems

Welfare systems in which no one fairs well

Farming systems that destroy the soil and poison food

Families far from familial

Police that can’t enforce the law

Judicial systems without justice

Governments that can’t govern

Economies that can’t economise

Such universal, ever accelerating institutional failure suggests there is some deep, pervasive question we have not asked, some fundamental flaw in the ordering of societal relationships of which we are unaware. It suggests that intractable problems can only get worse until we ask the right questions and discover the flaw.

Over the years I have asked diverse groups of people to reflect very carefully on their work within organisations and to make a simple balance sheet. How much time, energy, and ingenuity did they devote to obeying senseless rules and procedures that had little to do with the results they were expected to achieve; how much did they devote to circumnavigating those rules and procedures in order to do something productive with the remainder; how much was wasted interpreting such rules and procedures and enforcing them on others; how much did they simply withhold due to frustration and futility? It’s a rare person who arrives at a sum less than fifty percent. Eighty is not uncommon.

Without question, the most abundant, least expensive, most underutilised, and constantly abused resource in the world is human ingenuity. The source of that abuse is mechanistic Industrial Age, dominator concepts if organisation and the management practices they spawn.

No matter how much we shuffle control and responsibility back and fourth from one Industrial Age organisation to another – government or private enterprise, democracy of socialism, monarchy or republic, planned economy or free markets, national or municipal government, non-profit or for-profit – our social and environmental problems continue to escalate. Everywhere they go, our institutions they take their mechanistic Industrial Age concept with them.

No matter how many technological miracles we perform, no matter how sophisticated the virtual worlds we create, no matter how much genetic code we splice, no matter how many space probes we launch, things will get progressively until we discern and deal with that fundamental institutional problem.

At the bottom, it a wrong concept of organisation and leadership, based on a false metaphor with which we must deal. Until our consciousness of the relational aspect of the world and all life therein shall change, the problems that crush the young and make grown people cry will get progressively worse.

True governance is based on understanding that even simple societies are far too complex to expect that there can be agreement in the particular. Systems of self-government, in the individual and at every scale beyond, are based on understanding that ordinances, orders, and enforcement deal with the absence of true governance. They are an attempt to compel the kind of behaviour that organisations fail to induce.

Ordinances, orders and enforcement are simply different words for consol, command, and tyranny. The ultimate sanction of control is force. Force is the tool of tyranny. Those who rise in a tyrannical world are those least able of self-governance and inducement of it in others, else they would not engage in tyranny. And when they rise, it is axiomatic that self-governance will and government will gradually be for the few and not the many.

True self-governance requires freedom from physical necessity. If people lack the basic necessities for sustaining life – clean water, food, and air, adequate shelter and clothing – they are enslaved as surely as if their master was standing over them with a whip, ever though their masters may be multiple, separated from them by continents and countless government, corporate, and monetary veils.

If people lack either a physical environment or a society that allows them a basic measure of dignity, meaning, and security, behaviour is compelled. Physical violence is but the most visibly shocking end of a chain of violence. If we choose to engage is ecological violence, spiritual violence, and psychic violence, how can we expect to live free of physical violence?

People everywhere are growing desperate for renewed sense of community. Shared purpose and principals leading to new concepts self-governance at multiply scales from individual to the global have become essential.

The original concept of corporation was a collective entity intended to attract people and recourses needed to realise a desired social objective beyond the ability or recourses of a single individual. It was created through the power of government and authorised to exist as a pseudo-individual with limited, carefully prescribed rights and obligations. It was to be chartered for a limited time, function in a limited area and to realise a public purpose open to rigorous social and governmental surveillance. Its natural death in time was specified in the charter.

The proliferation of the corporate concept of organisation as a pseudo-person was given great impetus in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by the huge, imperialist expansion of Western nation-states through the subjugation of people from other continents. The increase in geographic scale, attendant risk, and capital that imperialist expansion required fuelled the desire for limited personal liability and responsibility for risk, and for unlimited opportunity for gain.

The corporate form became a useful instrument for government plunder. It is not to be wondered that is soon had a tendency to become an instrument for private plunder as well. Pursuit of limitations of personal liability and unrestrained opportunity for gain became a conflagration burning even hotter from the seventeenth century to the present day.

The statutes covering such entities have been liberalised, broadened, and made more detailed in their provision ever since, gradually moving away from the interests of governments and society to the interests of monetary shareholders and management.

In the beginning, no one dreamed that a small aggregation of wealth and power legalised in the form of a pseudo-person to achieve a social purpose would not only be used in pursuit of the purpose, but to persistently grind away social and legislative mandates that defined corporate purpose, restricted its territory, controlled its growth, and curbed its behaviour. But it did.

The for-profit, monetised shareholder form of corporation has demanded and received permanent life. It has demanded and received the right to define its own purpose and act solely for self-defined self-interest. It has demanded and received release from the revocation of its charter for inept or antisocial acts.

The roles of giant, transnational corporations and governments have slowly reversed. Government is now more an instrument of such corporations than the corporations are instruments of government. They are no longer, not even indirectly, and instrument of the populace they affect, but an instrument of the few who control the ever increasing power and wealth they command.

The monetised commercial form of corporation has steadily become an instrument of those with surplus money (capital) and those with surplus power (management) to reward themselves at the expense of the community, the biosphere, and the many without surplus wealth and power, commonly called ‘customers’ and ‘human recourses’.

Global corporations now have implicit sovereignty over people throughout the world, since they are beyond the reach of any nation-state. They hold government and its instrumentalities to ransom for the use of land, for reprieve from taxation, for access to natural recourses far below cost, for direct monetary subsidisation, for the use of land, air and water as a repository for refuse; all by the simply expedient of bargaining one government against another for the claimed economic benefit of their presence. They can move their money, their operations, their products, and their management at will world-wide. No government can do so.

Such corporations are gradually becoming superb instruments for the capitalisation of gain and the socialisation of cost. When a corporation ‘downsizes’ workers, abandons a community, or pays a less than a living wage; when it creates and disposed of waste in the process of manufacturing or marketing a product, or at the end of its useful life; when it receives a subsidy, guarantee, or relief from taxation by government; when it uses the military or other government instrumentality to protect its interests; when it diminished topsoil, depletes the water table, or pollutes and poisons any biological system on which life depends; when it engages in unsound lending or currency speculation and looks to government, the World Bank or the IMF to bail out its customers, public or private, in order that they may repay their debt; it has socialised cost and capitalised gain.

The possibilities for socialising debt and capitalising gain are endless, as those who hold power or wealth within monetised corporations have discovered to their endless benefit. Round and round the merry-go-round, as fewer and fewer get richer and richer and ever more powerful, while more and more people fall into poverty and despair, and generations unborn and placed deeper in bondage to the appetites of the moment.

If the purpose of each corporation is not primarily the health of the of Earth and the well-being of life thereon, if its principals are not based on equitable distribution of power and wealth, if it avoids responsibility for the sustenance of family, if it has no belief system, or one devoid of ethical and moral content, it is difficult to see why it should have the sanction and protection of society through government.

We know how monetised corporations were. We know how they are. We know what they are becoming, and it is not a happy prospect for the vast majority of people. It is far past time to examine how corporations ought to be.

“The Cartesian/Newtonian worldview has influenced thought far beyond the physical sciences, and accounting is no exception. Double-entry bookkeeping and the systems of income and wealth are eminently Cartesian and Newtonian. They are predicated on the ideas such as the whole being equal to the sum of its parts and effects being the result of infinitely divisible, linear causes…Quantum physicists and evolutionary biologists, among others, now believe that it is best to describe reality as a web of interconnecting relationships that give rise to an ever-changing and evolving universe of objects that we perceive only partially with our limited senses.

In that ‘systemic’ view of the world, nothing is merely the sum of its parts; parts have meaning only in reference to a greater whole in which everything is related to everything else…Why should accountants continue to believe that human organisations behave like machines if the scientists from which they borrowed that mechanistic world view now see the universe from a very different perspective?” (H Thomas Johnson – former vice president of the Academy of Accounting Historians)

Concerning the capacity to receive, store, utilise, transform, and transmit information.

Noise…is any undifferentiated thing which assaults the senses. It is all pervasive and ubiquitous whether auditory, visual, or textural.

Noise becomes data when it transcends the purely sensual and has cognitive pattern; when it can be discerned and differentiated by the mind.

Data becomes information when it is assembled into a coherent whole, which can be related to other information in a way that adds meaning.

Information becomes knowledge when it is integrated with other information in a form useful for deciding, acting, or composing new knowledge.

Knowledge becomes understanding when related to other knowledge in a manner useful in conceiving, anticipating, evaluating and judging.

Understanding becomes wisdom when informed by purpose, ethics, principle, memory of the past, and projection into the future.

Data, on one end of the spectrum, is separable, objective, linear, mechanistic, and abundant. Wisdom, on the other end of the spectrum, is holistic, subjective, spiritual, conceptual, creative and scarce.

Science has traditionally operated in the provinces of data, information and knowledge, where measurement, particularity, specialisation, and rationality are particularly useful. It has largely ignored the provinces of understanding and wisdom.

Theology, philosophy, literature and art have traditionally operated in the provinces of understanding and wisdom. That is, when they have not succumbed to envy of the hard sciences and tried to emulate their hubris, particularity and certitude.

We are now at a point in time when the ability to receive, utilise, store, transform, and transmit data – the lowest cognitive form – has expanded literally beyond comprehension. Understanding and wisdom are largely forgotten as we struggle under the avalanche of data and information. In the ever-accelerating assault of data and information on the cognitive capacity, understanding and wisdom may be declining in absolute as well as relative terms.

The immensity of data and information that assaults our cognitive capacity is also conditioned by a very small ration of social, economic, and spiritual value. The result is vast technological power unleashed with inadequate understanding of its systemic propensity for destruction, or sufficient wisdom to guide its evolution in holistic, creative, constructive ways.

It leaves us locked within our separatist, linear, mechanistic institutions, confined within our ever more isolated specialities, constricted by ever narrowing perspectives, while in millions of rational, insular acts we pour billions of tons of seventy thousand man-made chemical into the biosphere that cannot be recycled – allow them to accumulate with little perception of how are systematically combining to affect all living things – punch holes in the ozone layer of the atmosphere – dissipate and alter genetic material and destroy species by the tens of thousands. It leave us denuding the land of millions of acres of trees and plants essential to maintenance of the chemical balance of the atmosphere – destroying topsoil at thousands of times the rate at which in can replaced – creating countless tons of virulent poisons, some with a half-life of twenty-four thousand years, and committing thousands of other isolated acts with little understanding or concern that they are cumulative atrocities and even less of how they are combining to affect the planet, our health, and the lives of future generations.

Each hour alone, we destroy forever 210 species, decimate 6,700 acres of virgin forest, destroy 3 million tons of topsoil, and starve 1,200 babies to death.

Who would have imagined that such an explosion of mechanistic, separatist sciences, education, governance, and rationality could have resulted in collective madness, but so it has.

There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things (Machiavelli).

Deep in most of us, below our awareness, indelibly implanted there by three centuries of the Industrial Age, is the mechanistic, separatist, cause and effect, command and control model of reality.

When our internal model of reality is in conflict with rapidly changing external realities, there are three fundamental ways to respond.

First: we can cling to our old internal model and attempt to impose it on external conditions in a futile attempt to make them conform with our expectations.

Second: we can engage in denial. We can refuse to accept the new external reality. We can pretend that external changes are not as profound as they really are, or deny that we and an internal model, or that it bears examination.

Third: we can attempt to understand and change our internal model of reality.

Dostoyevsky put it into perspective in the last century when he wrote: “Taking a new step, uttering a new word is what people fear most.”

The undeniable fact is that we have created the greatest explosion of capacity to receive, store, utilise, transform, and transmit information in history. There is no way back. Whether we recognise it or not, whether we will it or not, whether we welcome it or not, whether it is constructive or not, we are caught up together, all of us and the Earth as well, in the most sudden, the most profound, the most diverse and complex change in the history or civilisation.