Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Social Controls: Booby Traps from Corporate America

I’m extremely disturbed about the most recent events that have been happening at the office of a person I’m very close to, affecting him and his entire team.

I will use Mihaly Csikszentmihaly’s book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience as his writings provide a great backdrop for understanding how societal systems interact with ours, the human system.

Sigmund Freud states: “Civilization is built on the repression of individual desires”.

As per Mihaly, to establish and maintain social order members of a society are forced to learn the skills and habits that the culture requires. Sounds like we all became a yellow duck in a long row of other yellow ducks marching blind and mindless behind our fellow in front of us. In other words “shut up and get in row”. Mihaly continues that a socialized person is someone who successfully functions and operates within a particular social system. I guess it depends on how you define success. What if that social system is not based on integrity? I’m placing this question in the light of what my friend and his team is currently experiencing at his position with his current employer of the past 12 years. Perhaps originally the culture at the corporation was designed with authenticity and integrity in mind, but somewhere along the line its original constitution and essence got corrupted.

It’s hard to oppose the habits and values of an environment that’s corrupted. It takes a strong man to stay authentic, keep clarity and an objective perspective to carry on and execute in the interest of what’s most efficient and beneficial for the company versus its individual players. It takes someone deeply rooted to operate from a space of integrity in a corporate environment that values moral perversion. It takes a man of autonomy to not get sidetracked and blinded by the corporate rewards rooted in dishonesty. What’s a man to do when his corporate environment has deviated away from its original intention and essence? Patience and hard work won’t be rewarded into promotions and executive titles. So then what’s the point in continuing the hard work?

Mihaly says that the essence of socialization is to make people dependent on social controls, have them respond predictably to rewards and punishment. Well, in this case the corporate rewards and punishment have been redesigned to benefit upper management’s goals. If the players don’t respond and behave as expected by the new intentions and rules established, consequences will be put in place. They have. The rug has been pulled. What for? My friend and his team chose not to play the game of “sucking up to management”, but rather staying true to one’s integrity. I congratulate all of you. I am proud to know men of such characteristics.

Mihaly points out that in making us work for society’s goals, in this case for the corporation’s goals, social systems are exploiting us at the source of our biological needs and our genetic conditioning (I guess you could call that social conditioning). Social controls are based on a threat of survival instinct. Reflecting upon my friend’s employer, how is their current corporate system exploiting their employees to work for goals and strategies of upper management? In this case the consequences imposed caused a great sense of distress and demoralization, followed by a fear of potential:
Loss of job
Loss of Income
Loss of Insurance
Loss of House, Car, etc
Loss of identity, in other words sense of self (that is, if you identify yourself through such matters).

To understand the happenings of the current events we’d have to question beyond the context of consequences that have been put in place. We have to question the underlying intention and strategy behind these consequences. To go one level deeper, what’s the underlying system that gives rise and directions to such a strategy? What are the characteristics and motivation of the current corporate system influencing upper managements behavior and actions? Is it integrity? Authenticity? Transparency? Not so much. All we see is a motivation that seems to devise a plan that divides employees into two categories:
1) the ones who suck up to upper management
2) the ones who don’t sell out but rather operate from integrity and autonomy

This is a perfect example that exemplifies my belief that livelihood and meaning cannot be separated. If employment is purely sought for a “comfortable” life, for achieving wealth, power and status we will remain being a puppet of our environment and its social controls, as those values are stressed in the promise of the “good life”. We will continuously be plagued by unhappiness and discontent because we built the basis for our happiness outside of ourselves. As a result we try to make up for the void by finding relieve in other piecemeal solutions, driven by the same pleasure principles built into our genetic programming that we fell bribe to in the first place. Mihaly notes that we have to achieve a level of autonomy that provides the rewards from within so that we won’t fall victim of our biological reflex responses exploited by the social systems (corporate systems). Well, that takes understanding and awareness of how we function as a human system. For a broader context please see my last post from Friday, September 18, 2009 “The Pursuit of Happiness – Becoming Free and In Control of One’s Life.”

I think the current times of the economic downfall are providing us with an opportunity to re-evaluate what we really stand for. Initially, it may not appear as an opportunity but more so as a threat of our existence. First, we are tested within the current system. If we can understand and withstand the booby traps we’re probably more likely to make a change in the fundamental states of our mind, leading to a path of autonomy, and eventually happiness and fulfillment. It causes us to re-evaluate our values and recreate and reinvent new ways of our livelihoods. I find that a mission that makes a contribution to the greater good going beyond the benefit of oneself automatically brings about passion, energy and dynamic. It brings about meaning, it’s worthwhile the effort and dedication. It’s when you feel at one with life, completely involved and immersed in it. Call me na├»ve, but I still believe in the essence of goodness residing deep within the chore of each one of us. Having said that, how would you now answer the question of “what’s the point in continuing the hard work, dedication and commitment?”

I know, I didn’t provide much of a solution here, my blog today is merely driven by philosophical mutters. I will make it a point in my next blog to delve into Mohaly’s book, where he reflects his ideas on how to “reclaim your experience” or create “optimal experience”.

So long…..

Tatjana Luethi
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