VISTA Enterprise Network - Successful Implementation, World Class Support

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Interlude: Why Some People Just Don't See It

Dear Reader,

In response to my post on 30 August 2009, "Principle 1: Organic Order, part 1: The Three Kinds of Order", on August 31, 2009 at 6:58 AM Die Anyway wrote:

're:"'s precisely because VA turned away from those processes toward more totalitarian ones that it lost the ability to effectively manage or develop VISTA."

'I see it and you see it so why don't the ivory-tower, pointy-hairs see it? Or do they see it and ignore it because they have an entirely different agenda?

'In any case, as a biologist and programmer I like the idea of organic design even if it did originate in those pre-historic times of the mid '70s.

'Eat well, stay fit, die anyway!'

My answer doesn't fit within a blogger comment, so I'll reply here, as this post:

Dear Die Anyway,

The VISTA managers in VA who try to overly centralize and control VISTA, i.e., who try to impose totalitarian rather than organic order, (1) are not necessarily the majority, just the most powerful or in-favor managers (I know some good VISTA supervisors and managers in the VA and elsewhere), and (2) they do not see what we see because they lack the proper understanding of their context.

They think they're facing an entirely different kind of problem than they actually are. If you interpret their actions from the standpoint of their worldview, their approach makes sense for a while. As we'll explore later in this weblog, their approach leads to a gradually increasing breakdown that eventually becomes so dire that even they can see things aren't working. By then they're usually too burned out and despondent to be capable of taking responsibility for their actions by steering the organization in a healthier direction. There's a certain amount of morale a manager has to have to be effective, and unfortunately when one is committed to a false idea one tends to use up one's effective energies on the dead ends.

The problem with the actual cosmos is that its forces and principles are subtle, easily overlooked. Any reductionist intellectual can mentally reduce an intricate organic system to a trivial mechanical one. When one is tasked with something impossible, like managing VISTA while pleasing Congress, one's mind finds otherwise implausible oversimplifications oddly irresistible, because they offer a desperately needed false hope.

Once people decide on an interpretation of reality, they have an astonishing ability to see every "fact" that confirms that interpretation, and an equally astonishing ability not to see everything else that disproves that interpretation. To the outside observer this seems to result in irrational behavior, but from within the interpreter's reality bubble, within the framework of interpretations, the behavior may be completely rational, even inevitable.

It is a great disappointment to discover that rationality has been overhyped. Reason can be used to reach the falsest or vilest conclusions through irresistible logic drawn from false premises.

Rationality is worthless, even dangerous, unless it is harnessed to two things grossly undervalued - even invisible - in our culture:

(1) profound insight into the essential principles at work in creating each situation, and

(2) mature, discriminating taste capable of balancing priorities among competing values to figure out which good must give way for which other good.

Insight is vital because the truth of hardly any situation is visible on the surface, but instead must be sought in the nuanced and subtle but powerful forces that create that surface.

Taste is vital because contrary to just about everything we teach through schools, the arts, and common sense, the bad things in the world do not result from a great conflict between good and evil, but from conflicts between various goods.

Values conflict, which the classical Greeks knew but which we do not, and which good deserves priority over the others shifts and flows from situation to situation depending on the hidden forces at work.

Neither the truth about the source of problems nor the two vital qualities needed to deal with that truth end up in position descriptions, evaluation criteria, or the law. Instead, managers inside the government and out are held to simple-minded, mechanical criteria, and if they do not bend themselves to fit those laws, criteria, and requirements then they cannot thrive in their careers. They have to believe what they're doing is right, so they do.

In short, I think the answer to your important question is answered best by Upton Sinclair:

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it."

Part of why I love biology is that it is difficult to explain in simplistic mechanistic terms, so its study tends to compel you to develop an appreciation of deeper, essential principles.

Thank you for your comments.

Yours truly,

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