Saturday, October 31, 2009

The problem of governance

Comrade PhysioProf approves of Tenured Radical's review of Stanley Fish's book, Save The World On Your Own Time.

Tenured Radical writes:
I particularly like the idea of administrators doing their job well so that I can pay close attention to what I was educated for: teaching, scholarship and providing sane advice on who we ought to hire, not shadowing and carping at administrators. Like Fish, the older I get the less attached I am to shared governance. In part this is because I don’t think there are many examples of faculties who have exercised it effectively and usefully, and in part, I don’t think it exists except as something we gesture towards. I prefer a clear set of regulations that are effectively and fairly enforced by objective parties who are truly interested in what is going on at the level of the department and willing to intervene when people are being screwed. I would prefer pay equity. I would prefer a union. I would also prefer, as Fish suggests, to get all the information possible, to make the preferences and reasons for those preferences known, and then to forget about it while a set of competent administrators settles the issue in a way that is fair.
and Comrade PhysioProf cheers her on:
A-FUCKING-MEN!!!11!1!ELEVENTY!11!

If I had a dollar for every minute I have sat in faculty meetings listening to washed-up tenured deadwood fuckwads who can’t even successfully manage a research laboratory containing half a dozen scientists blither on and on and on about all the bad decisions the dean of our medical school is making and how if they were the dean everything would be totally unicorns and rainbows flying out of all of our asses, I’d be a motherfucking bajillionaire!


This issue is, in a microcosm, an instance of the problem of governance that socialists and communists have been struggling with for three generations.

On the one hand, a lot of smart, competent, good people are not particularly interested in the day-to-day issues of governance. And, as Comrade PhysioProf colorfully notes, a lot of people who are interested are not smart, not competent and/or not good.

The idea of an “objective” administration or government is defective (see The State and Revolution). Those in a group or class openly and transparently subject to social pressures (including political, economic and legal pressures) are not “objective parties” in the sense I think Tenured Radical intends, but any group that attempts to insulate itself from these pressures does so to privilege its own interests, often to the detriment to the interests of other groups.

In one way or another, administrators — academic and civil — are subject to broader social pressures. The question is not whether, but which pressures and how administrators are subject to these pressures.

Orwell said that (to paraphrase from memory) we can’t have socialism without better people, but we can’t have better people without socialism. I understand and share TR’s dislike of shared governance. It’s not only a pain in one’s own ass, but one has to share governance with a lot of fucktards. On the other hand, it is precisely this “I just want to do my own job and let the administrators do theirs” attitude that leads to privileged classes; administrators (and ruling classes in general) are no more inclined than anyone else to sacrifice their immediate self-interest out of the goodness of their hearts.

The notion that any person will “do the right thing” only because it’s “the right thing to do” is fundamentally irrational. There is no matter of objective truth about what the “right thing to do” actually is, and people are not fundamentally motivated by moral beliefs. People “do the right thing” because social pressures make the “the right thing to do” in their more-or-less immediate self-interest (to avoid censure or criticism) or because powerful material pressures have over generations indoctrinated the principle into their minds.

Fundamentally, true democratization of our social and political culture requires more than simply occasionally choosing which faction of a ruling class has titular administrative authority. It’s going to require that everyone exercise some sort of administrative authority every day, with all the inconvenience, bullshit, problems and putting up with fucktards that democratization entails.

That’s definitely a lot to ask, but, like TR, I don’t think it’s too much to ask.

6 comments:

  1. Indeed, I think the best way to exercise such political power without grinding life to a halt is to decentralize it and put the management power of any particular activity to those most affected by it. So what lunch I'm going to have to me is my and only my decision. How the factory is going to work (what rhythm, how much to reinvest etc) is the decision of those working in it collectively. The decision of how much raw resources the factory is going to use is going to fall on the whole commune who's resources the factory is using etc.

    This way, the more people that are affected by a decision, the more people must take part, but such decisions will be so rare and adbstact that it will not affect the lives of people, so say a national council's decisions will probably have to do with at best some environmental policies. This way, people take part in management naturally as part of their daily lives.

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  2. To an extent, I agree. But you're talking as much about a goal as a methodology. How do we deal with doofuses, idiots, assholes, spoiled brats, trolls and utter incompetents? Also, power shared is often responsibility diluted; the authoritarian executive has persisted because material factors have to some extent selected for this form of organization.

    Socialists tend to accuse me of "eclecticism" because I don't believe anyone — from the anarchists to the Maoists — has a good theoretical answer to the problem of governance.

    Of course, I don't think the capitalists have a good theoretical answer either; I think conservatives (and many of the liberal bourgeoisie) are in fear of altering something neither they nor anyone else actually understands.

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  3. The notion that any person will “do the right thing” only because it’s “the right thing to do” is fundamentally irrational. There is no matter of objective truth about what the “right thing to do” actually is, and people are not fundamentally motivated by moral beliefs. People “do the right thing” because social pressures make the “the right thing to do” in their more-or-less immediate self-interest (to avoid censure or criticism) or because powerful material pressures have over generations indoctrinated the principle into their minds.

    A-fucking-men to that, too!! An important corollary to this--one that I have pointed out many times on my blog--is the fact that telling people what to do by exhorting them that it is the right thing to do is without doubt the single worst possible way to actually get the, to do that thing. Any person in a managerial position who responds to a failure of those who are managed to do something with "But I told them to do it" is a rank incompetent.

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  4. I think the way to deal with idiots etc is to make sure they're not the ones in power. I mean, while an idiot may be disruptive in a collective workshop, he will rarely be able to do damage as his actions will be the in the minority, so when others are set to be affected by them, they will reject them as obviously idiotic.

    On the other hand, we already know that it's not difficult for idiots to go in a position of authority and from there, unchallenged, to do the most damage.

    In any case, I don't think the question is to find the perfect answer as there is no such thing, but to find the best answer for an imprerfect reality. It will probably be a question of juding the pros and the cons and finding what works best overall. Not just in a particular situation but also overall.

    For example to have an autoritarian workplace would certainly make people used to hierarchy and to simply following orders, something which can then "spill over" the greater society.

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  5. I mean, while an idiot may be disruptive in a collective workshop, he will rarely be able to do damage as his actions will be the in the minority

    You have a very optimistic view of humanity, vastly more optimistic than my own.

    ReplyDelete
  6. True. I am an optimist. But not a baseless one.

    ReplyDelete

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