Organisational Self(-ish)

The mystifying, proliferating inefficiencies of our vast and sprawling global bureaucracies illustrate clearly (yet perhaps also in some measure opaquely) the raison d’etre of administrative systems everywhere.  That purpose and identifiable essential reason is the proliferation of their own continued existence.  Whether or not it should be considered as though seen through some conspiratorial filter of sophisticated volitional impotence or, more likely, as an innate consequence of the emergent complexity and self-perpetuating patterns of cultural and technological activity which aggregate mass and gravitate towards their own virtual, disembodied focal points – the fundamental process at work in systems is their own dynamic internal self-reference.

The constellation of corporations and commercial interests on varying scales and at varying magnitudes is indicative of this dynamic patterning and aggregation of systems and complexity.  While we might not (for fairly obvious reasons) find any of these economic entities to be particularly intelligible beyond human agency or action, the reality is that the corporate body (for instance) is only under one vector of analysis anything representing or requiring human persons and participation.  It is readily apparent the ease with which economic wealth can be abstracted above, beyond and away from what should probably be its apotheosis in supporting the communities and societies (or environments) from which it extracts profit and value.  We can project upon this dynamic process some kind of virtual mechanism or dynamic process, a self-generating symmetry or complex efflorescence of interconnection and interdependence whose sole purpose is to continue to exist.

At this level of analysis we might question the value of such an esoteric or obscure characterisation of social, cultural, technological or organisational systems.  The value in this is that we can conceive and suspend various senses and ontologies of the concept of organisation and system, taking various diverse cross-sections through the complex manifold of entities and sub-systems which constitute (for instance) organisational reality.  In radically opening up and expanding the horizons of our conceptual vocabularies in this way, we might proactively and self-consciously approach or engage with that inertia and blossoming (problematic) complexity with which we find ourselves constantly wrestling and find alternate paths, axioms, algorithms and symmetries with which to engage with both that notional external system (i.e. environment) beyond our own organisation or – simultaneously – that internal organisational challenge and expanding problem that the internalisation and organic absorption of environment and “other” system becomes within our own organisation.  In compensation for the referential complexity of the previous statement, it seems to me that the general principles and models of a holistic systems theory are actually quite simple – it is the communication and multiplying semantic possibilities of engaging with this simplicity which creates complexity.

Returning to the overall organisational and administrative poverty of our various global bureaucracies and administrative systems, there seem to be a number of non-trivial and problematic processes at work.  In as much as we can generalise the self-perpetuating drive of organisations and bureaucracies as being their actual goal (above and beyond whatever nominative departmental or commercial purpose or function they serve), we can perceive that the tendency of those organisations and administrations is in fact to aggregate and accumulate persons and bureaucratic entities which validate and select for those activities and behaviours which indicate and preference organisational, systemic self-perpetuation.  This may be something of a biological (as much as a psychological) imperative in that those organisations and administrative entities are populated with human beings who seek and select for continued personal and symbolic, social or cultural existence.  This is likely (among other things) an explanation for the emergence of politics and political self-interest.

Vast sums of money and material resources are clearly tied up and wasted through the proliferating systemic inertia of our bureaucracies and administrative hierarchies.  While there may be no fast, painless or simple methods by which we might energise, renovate and optimise what systems and bureaucratic entities currently exist, there are probably numerous realisations and steps towards which we could direct ourselves if we were at all serious about improving the state of the world and of our floundering organisational systems.  There is a certain degree of intellectual honesty required to accept that the problem exists and there is also a significant amount of humility required to accept that wherever any of us may exist on that political spectrum we all share, that there exist some truths and values that we can all agree upon.

Our greatest errors at times derive from our inability to agree upon who or what we are and where we are going when, contra the readily explained or media-cycle palatable aphorism or sound-byte, there is not actually any one unchanging or necessary, independent thing which it is to be a human being.  We can perhaps (although not always) agree that beyond our many differences we share interests and destinies as much (or more) defined by what we are not than what we might be portrayed as.  The set of all things that we are not is certainly significantly smaller (under any useful, functional analysis) than that of all things that we are and as a shared position or interpretation of political reality, it is more simply agreed upon.

One of the greatest flaws of our administrative systems is that the end-states we seek, themselves inevitably shaded and coloured by those ideological positions we all occupy, infuse the various processes and logics of control that we use to attempt to attain those various aspirational end-states we value.  In an algorithmic sense – the steps we follow to attain any preferred state of affairs is a logical control process which can be to some degree extricated from the ideologically-influenced semantics of where we seek to arrive.  Of course, arrival or completion is always only ever already contingent and plans or strategies very rarely survive first contact with that adversary that an ideological, political opponent or the equally problematic internal systemic organisational complexity intrinsic to administrative hierarchies everywhere.  However, the fact that we can to some extent separate the logic and control processes of our organisational activity from the desirable, feasible or optimum (contingent and temporary) end-states – this implies that above and beyond the goals that any particular political party or self-interested administrative or organisational entity possesses, it should be possible to develop effective and efficient systemic processes which function at close to optimum levels without the semantic confusion and costs of current administrative bureaucracies.

The central concern or at least advice here is not to take the politics out of the process of bureaucracy, but rather – to realise that the political infusion of administrative organisational systems is an abstraction, a projection upon the logical control system that effective organisational systems could be.  The end-state may be unavoidably ideologically shaded but the process by which it is arrived at need not be.  Problematic issues of universally agreed-upon and non-contested end-states are endemic and likely inevitable given the diversity of opinion and viewpoints which exist.  Seeking unity through finding those things that, inversely, we can agree that we are not – this provides one place in which the valuable experiment of organisational metamorphosis through separation of algorithmic semantics (goals) from logic (control systems) can at least seek to find more optimum solutions to the proliferating complexities and challenges we face.



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