The following essay, which was originally written I believe in 1995, concerns a subject area that has always intrigued me: the distinguishing of principles that underlie a context. In this case, the context is “employment.”
Whether what I say is correct or not, I’d still like to explore these matters. It isn’t until ideas are set down on paper and released that improvement can take place. I have no resistance to these ideas being improved upon – or refuted for that matter.
I believe that the following principles can be adapted to the work of creating largescale employment projects. At a time when the bottom is falling out of the economy, when we have automated people out of work and shipped the remaining jobs overseas, I think we need to seriously look at how we might put our population back to work.
Readers of this site know that an abundance program is being worked upon and may render this whole discussion unnecessary, but I still wish to have it for whatever benefit it produces.
(1) Work is a Function of Unworkability
The first principle underlying the creation of largescale employment projects is that work is a function of unworkability.
If we think about it, workability is invisible and only unworkability is visible.
Any tool or machine that works usually does not attract our attention. But the squeaky wheel does and it gets the grease. My computer, so long as it works, receives little or no attention from me. However, the minute it ceases working, I swing into action, attempting to fix it myself or having it repaired or replacing it.
I perform work on this machine only when it ceases to work. With the exception of preventive-maintenance programs, we usually do no other work on anything until it ceases to work; that is, until the situation becomes unworkable.
Therefore all largescale employment projects will in the first instance arise as the result of identifying a largescale instance of unworkability and then turning that unworkability to workability. We “do” work in order to turn an unworkable situation into a workable one. Put another way, there is no lack of unworkability, or what we call “problems,” and work addresses problems.
Examples of largescale instances of unworkability include global famine, disease, pollution, illiteracy, homelessness, etc. Unemployment is not a function of a lack of work. There is certainly no lack of work to be done.
(2) Value is a Function of Agreement
The second principle that underlies the creation of largescale employment projects I believe to be the notion that a change, solution, or opportunity has value only because we say it has.
Take for example the case of nuclear missiles. To the best of my knowledge, every intercontinental ballistic missile that I am aware of has only either sat in a silo or been launched up into the air to fall into the ocean. In fact ICBMs have value only because people regard them as valuable. They serve no direct useful function as, say, a car serves a function by transporting its passengers.
Some might say they serve the function of ensuring national security. I would argue to the contrary that they simply produce a condition of national insecurity. ICBMs have value because we say they do.
Moreover, though they serve no direct useful function in the same way that a car does, they are still massively funded.
What this principle demonstrates to me is that a new solution or opportunity shouldn’t be measured in terms of fictitious ‘inherent’ value, but in terms of the value that a reference-group attaches to it. If a country deems the ending of hunger and poverty within its boundaries as valuable, then money will be found to pursue those aims.
This principle gives us permission to allow ourselves to explore unheard-of or unthinkable opportunities and to focus our attention on how to create agreement around value rather than looking for non-existent inherent value. I believe that value is not inherent in a thing or event. Like beauty, value is in the eye of the beholder.
A third principle is that the social alignment needed to create a largescale employment project requires targetable, society-wide deadlines. If we want alignment on a planetary scale, we cannot agree to accomplish our project “some day.” We must have a specific deadline to orchestrate the coordination involved.
Putting a man on the moon succeeded, all other things being equal, because President John F. Kennedy attached a deadline to it – the end of the decade of the Sixties. Had President Kennedy left the matter without a deadline, the necessary social coordination of efforts might never have taken place and the goal might never have been achieved.
A fourth principle in the creation of largescale employment projects is that win/lose solutions do not create alignment. Alignment is created with win/win solutions that leave no one out. Win/win solutions are global, contextual. They create no “us against them” divisions. They leave no residue.
Many society-wide solutions don’t invite society-wide alignment because they create as many new problems as they solve. Their formulation creates new conflict. Their accomplishment transfers a burden from one shoulder to another. Their completion leaves a festering wound.
Social programs to fight crime, help minorities, or combat disease go on within a fragmented context, with some people left out of their scope, some people winning at other’s expense, and some people, identified as the cause of the problem, being penalized.
At the moment our global scene is riven with divisions. Blocs of nations, rich and poor, varying religions all oppose one another. Typically alignment is sought by justifying one’s own side and seeking to win against the other.
Righting one imbalance or injustice at the cost of creating another will not win social alignment. Only global, win/win solutions to unworkability will win the degree of social alignment that will invite success.
In the course of creating a largescale employment project, dissonance will often arise. Disagreement ensues. A scheme may be abandoned. But history shows numerous examples where dissonance has been the occasion, not for abandoning a scheme, but for creating a paradigmatic breakthrough.
Given the dissonance that can be expected in our future, as readers of this site are well aware, the need for mechanisms to bridge dissonance should be clear to us. If we are looking for new paradigmatic breakthroughs, we must find new ways of addressing existing cognitive dissonance.
I cannot think of a field of social endeavor to illustrate this principle. In the course of my studies, I’ve only come across the principle in the resolution of personal dissonance but I wager that the same principle can be applied to largescale projects as well.
Most paradigmatic breakthroughs I’m aware of have occurred as a result of the personal resolution of dissonance. For instance, Max Weber created a distinction considered fundamental to the field of sociology out of resolving an ongoing family dispute. His father, a rabbi, disputed Weber’s sociological arguments with “unprovable” religious arguments. These Weber labelled ‘values.’ His own “provable” assertions he considered ‘facts’. By bridging the two, and contextualizing them within sociology, he created a division between values and facts that remains a basic distinction in the sociologist’s toolbox.
Another example: Martin Heidegger discovered always-already-available ways of being out of not being able to find answers to his ontological questions from any of the accepted authorities of his day (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle). Failing in his search for answers, he turned to observing the workings of his own mind and discovered his prior assumptions and predilections. As well as finding the answers he wanted, he discovered an important inherent patterning mechanism in thought.
A third example: Benjamin Lee Whorf, before becoming an anthropologist, was a fire insurance investigator. He found that fires occurred because linguistic labels led people to misunderstand a situation and take dangerous actions.
A worker would see an “empty” oil drum and drop a lit match into it, overlooking that it was “full” of flammable vapors. An office worker would throw a coat over a cone heater and turn on the “light” switch, not knowing that the switch activated the cone heater. When the light didn’t go on, after the worker toggled it several times, he would assume that the “light” didn’t work, leaving the cone heater blazing underneath his coat. In the course of resolving these linguistic miscomprehensions, Whorf stumbled upon what has become known as the principle of linguistic relativity – that things will be for us as we see and describe them.
Finally, Thomas Kuhn, working as a historian of science at a junior college, found the writers of outdated history texts touting their own age as the pinnacle of science, even though the age that succeeded it often thoroughly discredited it. Puzzled at how all eras could regard themselves as the height of attainment, though the science of some eras went nowhere, he arrived at the notion of temporocentrism – that people self-servingly tend to represent their own as the best of all possible eras.
I realize that these examples don’t shed light on largescale enterprises, but wish only the principle beneath them to be considered.
By offering solutions that bridge cognitive dissonance, instead of abandoning fruitful schemes, we can create paradigmatic breakthroughs. Therefore, dissonance in our personal lives (or in our social projects) should be seen not as a stumbling block, not as an occasion for choosing one side of the dissonance against the other, but as an occasion to recontextualize and bridge the dissonance. We might therefore welcome paradox, confusion, double binds, dualisms, and the clash of opposites when they arise in the course of our social alignments and common endeavors.
(6) Critics Identify Their Own Expertise
Any genuinely new activity cannot be fully planned in advance. The answers to many of its problems are found in the course of accomplishing the project itself.
In this discussion, I am barring the pusillanimous and anticipating sincerity. Some project planners see even their sincere critics as detractors and exclude them or try to answer them. A more constructive response would be to see them as potential contributors, speaking from their own areas of expertise and sometimes identifying important actions that need to be taken. The former group excludes critics. The latter group enlists them and reassigns them to bring their expertise to bear towards the solution of the problems they point to.
In the example of sending people to the moon, those who say that such-and-such a material won’t work probably are indicating knowledge of materials that will.
This principle reminds us to turn the negative to our advantage and harness the energy of those who can foresee the problems that stand in our way.
These are just some initial thoughts on the construction of largescale employment projects that might put our people back to work, create new society-wide projects that all can participate in, or address areas of the world’s unworkability.
I have in mind not some pharaoh’s use of slaves to build a monument and not some manipulation of the masses to serve a reigning social class. I have in mind ennobling cooperative endeavors in which all people of the world participate for the benefit of the whole of the planet.
Whether or not need and want continue, we shall have occasion in the future to address society-wide projects. I mean this discussion to begin our common discussion.
The most obvious areas of the world’s unworkability are those of famine, drought, poverty, homelessness, inequity, disease, and old age. Before anything else happens for our planetary society, I believe that we’ll need to apply ourselves to end these unworkable planetary conditions.
We can do this by creating global value alignments to mobilize the population, win/win approaches that leave no one out of the solution, targettable deadlines that allow a project-wide coordination of efforts, bridging any stumbling blocks that arise, and enlisting our critics in the overall success of the operation.
I very well may have left many things out of consideration. If you see any, I welcome your contribution. This essay was not intended to end discussion, but to begin it.