THE FUTURE: FROM WHERE WILL COME LEADERSHIP?
The human project faces a fundamental choice over the direction and nature of human development on the planet. This choice has always been with humans but somehow has become dire. since the 1970s. Two areas of technological growth now magnify normally acceptable mistakes in thinking. We like to believe that rare individuals will rise up from the everyday, out of their normal life, to take charge of social groups, and lead others to a “better state of existence”, or solve the dire problems confronting the group. Evidence counter to this suggest leadership akin to Japanese cartoon characters, offering two dimensional leaders with one dimensional aspirations, glorification of self.
For those thinking deeply about contemporary leadership the second option seems more normal. Members of the second option, where there are many aspirants, wills to be a leader in the Faustian Tragedy manner, i.e., they are very eager to act to build up long term costs for short term gains, with most of the gain intended for themselves. Most governments are now filled with such leaders. This “leader,” usually a he, is most eager to say anything about anything to show command of all things he does not know about. In the US its like a Donald Trump. In other countries it is mostly those who have amassed great wealth via corruption and privatizing the work of others.
A true leader in history is often seen to not even notice if anyone is following. They simply feel strong about what is the right thing and that it must be pursued regardless of personal cost. The more Faustian leader, like a Trump, is more negotiable. He constantly counts those following him and seems willing to say anything about anything to gain temporary support. All is short term, consistent with the thinking of those who follow the leader. This person is on the wrong side of dilemmas where he gains a political following via a base form of political correctness by shaming political correctness. Truth is a casualty. The longer term vision is absent via continual Faustian bargaining, i.e., the long term is sold off for very short term very private gains. Those that close the Faustian deals are seen as societal leaders. Well being of the context, or more poetically the commons, is lost. Quite simply, leadership via the Faustian Bargainers can be seen to be “leadershit,” not leadership.
The end state of this approach to leadership is troublesome to the human project. The results achieved bring about fateful consequences. The results lower the prospects of the human future, and pose an unfortunate aroma. Most people can smell leadershit but they also think it is acceptable in their short term, thereby also being part of the Faustian Tragedy.
Leadershit is frequently associated with trading in and making much use of a related phenomenon, widely known as bullshit. Important here is can we frame a theory of leadershit or articulate a theory of bullshit? This has not been done in that these two terms are seen as too base to bring up, let alone considering their role in society. Herein we take the stance that there are no bad words, only bad phenomena that are titled. Those that will to leadershit and make much use of bullshit are too important in contemporary society to pretend away, or hide in the back room with the dirty words that should be kept from children. Via this approach our children will not have much of a future. For their sake we need to better understand the dark side of human nature.
Via advancing technology the costs of leadershit trading in bullshit is too high. There is less insulation via time for the mistakes of these anti-leaders. Consequences of achieving the wrong results arrive almost as quickly as the results. Nuclear bombs in urban area are a high probability, the destabilizing of the necessary human context via climate change is a certainty.
I have often come to recommend a small black 3″ by 5″ black book over the past decade to friends, students, companies and politicians. The contents help understand the normal by accessing that which is outside the normal. The subject matter is the troubling societal sounds around widespread calls for coherent leadership. The little black book is titled “On Bullshit,” (Frankfurt, Harry, Princeton University Press, 2005) It builds on the prior work seen in a prior book: “The Prevalence of Humbug.” (Black, Max, Cornell University Press, 1985)
In the 2005 book the 1985 concern with growing “humbug” shifts to a term many have come to replace humbug with, more simply “bullshit.” The concern for finding truth in 2005 is spelled in this little black book titled “On Bullshit.” (Frankfurt, Harry, Princeton University Press, 2005). Bullshit is presented as something that precedes a lie and sets the aroma for that which fills the air after a lie. Some call it the smoke and mirrors that makes it difficult to locate and address the lies and lairs in society. This is the world that most citizens have come to expect as the law-making aspect of federal and state legislators. The bullshit implicit in legalese acquired in law school is unfortuante. In the short term is serves to mask meaning, or lack to public service meaning. In this way it mask for whom the law is intended to benefit. In this way the long term is constantly diminished. Democracy is not present therefore change is not possible. Leonard Cohen addresses this in his dream of democracy finally coming to the USA.
Lies are usual to societal communication, especially where the subject is the meaning of life where meaning is sent off to an afterlife domain, i.e., religious beliefs. Religion is used as a basis for control over others or a hope in an afterlife from seeing no sign of hope in real time. While religions still serve to provide the air of bullshit this is not the concern herein. Somehow the contemporary context for lying is outside constructed beliefs for an afterlife since this life is so disappointing. Lies are simply more prevalent and fateful to the future of humans. The bullshit is so thick that we now treat lies and lying as a as a so what phenomenon. We political leaders are not expected to be truthful, in fact we seem to search for and vote for ones we hope will like more than those from other jurisdictions.
Lies and the bullshit they are packaged within used to concentrate on giving humans current meaning via images of an afterlife that promised to be meaningful. The same routine is used in Islamic and Christian religions. For the extremes in each religion the occupied life is meaningless except for deeds that get them access to the afterlife as soon as possible. This seems to continue in places like Iraq, Syria, South Carolina and Texas but but due to new technology of IT and nuclear destruction it is easier to talk about this and achieve an Armageddon ideal sooner. Overriding this is of course the certainties of longer term climate change as a consequences of shorter term economic results. The bullshit obscures discussion of how to respond.
There are two dimensions to bullshit. One is the intent to deceive about a subject at hand. The second is to deceive at a higher level, to keep the one deceiving from being seen to be involved in deception. The second aspect may present the more serious problems for society in that it often stimulates wider deception and lies. To engage in bullshitting thus implies that there is a context for a stream of lies each intended for some reason to deceive. It is the context for lies not necessarily the lies that are of interest in Frankfurt’s book and herein.
Herein this is interesting in that not only the US political system but its offshoot, the US judicial system, may well be based on and in bullshit. This may explain why the US has more people in prison than and other nation. Bullshit is a smoke screen over the normal process of seeking justice. This explains why those with small drug use offenses are in prison but no Wall Street Banker is even charged for his anti societal acts.
Assume there is a disagreement about something, where there are two or more interpretations of what is truth. The law sets the rules for how truth may be determined and by whom under what conditions but here too there can be an allowance for bullshit, or even an invitation to bullshit. Lawyers on both sides of an issue are assumed to, even expected to, provide bullshit about what happened so their vision of truth will prevail. That lawyers are expected to lie is a given, in that they are excused from what they say during a trial. Via the New Jersey ethics law of 1994 lawyers were held to the same non deception standard as other professionals. This proved to be unworkable and thus they were excused from the ethics law in 2007. This takes us to the question of does the end of finding the truth justify the means of lying and deceit? I will not go into this now.
My concern is that in business transactions, especially with customers that provide one time transactions, there is opportunity for deceit. In legal transactions it seems to go well beyond this, to essentially assume, even expect, deceit is important to the process. Certainly prisoner interview processes, from questioning to torture, require bullshit, deceit and lies. Studies show that those who have done it a long time even come to forget what they do and thus deceive themselves in the doing. It would seem that the search for truth in the legal process is more laden with deceit then is the business process. Perhaps because the customers of the first can walk away. Customers of the second must endure and depending on the amount they can afford to pay a legal representative they can fill the process with their own bullshit. Once a law school course teaches that students must keep a distance between the law and ethics, and follow the first while avoiding the ambiguity of the second, the die is cast.
Add to this the steady creeping in of strategic thinking. Strategy began in military operations where it was a level above tactical thinking. One deal with mental map, the other was management of the tangible operations. First articulated in 1866 by General Causwitz in Prussian in “On Warfare” strategy is clearly deceit. He defined it as where if deceit is not involved, then it is not strategy. It is on lying to the enemy about intentions, and perhaps even lying to those working with the soldier in charge. It can involve losing a battle,or pretending to, in order to win the war. During the 1950s it made it into business thinking, especially at the Harvard Business School that was formulating an idea to make business more like law by bringing case method to learning about business. By the 1970s strategy was an integral part of all MBA programs. This is the stuff of why CEOs are expected to prepare different numbers for employees, customers, boards of directors and shareholders. Deception was crucial to success. It is interesting for purposes herein that such strategic thinking then entered the public sector, including judicial process. Yes, the means were deceit, but the end of truth was thought to be served. Where deceit got too far out of hand there was always a more supreme court to oversee the deceitful process of finding truth. This maybe how bullshit became ever more prominent to the judicial process. The non speaking of Associate Justice Clarance Thomas illustrates one dimension of bullshit. The bad writing and speaking logic of Associate Justice Antony Scalia illustrates the other dimension of strategic bullshit.
Is bullshit endemic to the human process? What causes it to grow louder and more pervasive during certain periods in history? What allows it to be embarrassing during other periods?
Here is a small story from a 2012 judicial hearing held in Bridgewater, New Jersey. Much finer grain analysis will be provided elsewhere on this hearing and the bullshit surrounding it as well as the leadershit behind it.
On January 16, 2012 a hearing began that was scheduled for two weeks. It involved a university, defined as a state agency, against one of its former employees who had been fired for ethical violations of New Jersey ethics. The NJ ethics law allowed the agency to do the firing but if contested it needed to hold a hearing to get to the objective basis of the ethical charges, to see their merit before the Agency was allowed to certify that the firing was legitimate. The Agency could use an administrative judge or hire its own, with its own money. The agency, the university, decided to hire its own version of a judge. Prior to that the university hired two lawyers as prosecutors during the search for objective truth. One of them had been fired by the person charged with ethics violations of NJ law. This brought noticeable passion to the objective hearing. It is not known if these two lawyers selected the sort of judge to determine the truth in the hearing but they may have played a role in recommending “the best” person to judge the merits of two sides. The Hearing commenced with the judge beginning by welcoming the second prosecutor with a large smile and a first name salutation. No one else was ever called by the first name during the hearing, as it was an objective process, set up for truth finding.
The Role of Optimism in Leadershit via Bullshit
Lewis Armstrong is helpful to seeing the dilemma in human optimism. He sings he very optimistic song in a very sad manner, thus helping use understand the implicit dilemma. Its easy to note how leadership attempts at power by trying to inspire, to describe and picture a pathway of how to get to the good life. all as so mournfully presented by the power of Lewis.
Armstrong’s sadness in outlining human happiness seems very insightful. It is as if optimism is not warranted. When outlined by those who would be leaders optimism seems to never be honest. More often than not leadership outlined by would be leaders sets the stage for ruin. This can be see in leaders emerging from the ruins of WW I. Therein Germans choose a risky leader, one who promised to make Germany great again, and allow Germans to rise above hopelessness. I gave a lecture in 2007 in Germany on this subject. It was to the Liebnitz Society of Sciences, where most of Germany’s leader scientist gather. The subject was tolerance. My point was should we be tolerant about intolerance? Should we have accepted Hitler’s presentation of intolerance towards some, as we seem to accept Donald Trumps current intolerance of others?
The basis for WWI was clearly unwarranted, but the consequences from WW II are seldom connected to the results of that war. It is as if leaders are presupposed to lead to war against something bad from others, not lead for something good for all. Just now the stakes of leadership are much higher then at the end of WW I. The proposed war is not against another societal group but against the ravages caused by nature, ravages that are mostly a consequence of decades of human results.
As such a major concern at the beginning of the 21st Century is consequences of the results of winning the war with nature. Who should lead us from this consequential mess? Where are the leaders? What is their location, degree of intelligence and necessary wisdom? Should leadership be in the UN, Washington, D.C., IBM or at the individual level? In history, should leadership have been in the chambers of British royalty or in the ideas of Mahatma Gandhi? Should it be in what sits in the US White-house, or in those walking alongside Martin Luther King? Should it be in the violent words of Lenin or in the ideas of Kropotkin, who was the non-violent mentor of Gandhi and King?
Prior to action, how do you detect good qualities in a leader while lacking good evidence. After evidence of bad leadership has surfaced, herein placed in the category called leadershit, how does a social group reorganize for damage control? Of current concern to the human condition is where do we find new leaders to help us survive climate change after the work of old leaders that brought it about, or preached its non existence? i.e., How do we get to the promised land of Lewis Armstrong?
A Proposal: Good leadership elevates the qualities of the context at the price of the leader. Leadershit elevates the hierarchical prominence of the leader at the cost of context. Jesus would appreciate the first, Adam Smith would argue for the second. Except in the mind of the world’s 1% the actions of the two are incompatible. In conclusion, the good is seen to inspire human improvement while the bad quickly smells like something to fertilizer. Let us use this as a working thesis to better understand what is going on, and what is our best role in goings on.
Assumption One: The Pessimism from Optimism We like to be optimistic, to assume the best in others, of ourselves and from the human condition. We like the words of Lewis Armstrong, always sung with the realism of such deep sadness. We appreciate the optimism of normal leaders, yet….well you know the rest.
The evidence grows that our optimistic trust in leadership in society is unwarranted, even becoming dangerous. Evidence that contemporary ideas of leadership need questioning seems to grow, especially relative to political leadership and leaders. It is being accepted that very few politicians aspire to be leaders in any myopic sense, but simply out to use political power to collect wealth for themselves and their loved ones. this is a problem in all countries and cultures. In fact we do not seem to expect those we vote for or support to be leaders in any myopic sense when we vote for them. We send them to government so we can blame them for what happens, while avoiding our responsibility for what we in fact do. Representatives allow us to feel good about the bad we support. We also argue how its important to find and elect representatives to government that are even more corrupt and problematic then those sent by our adversaries. Thus we might say that we get the leaders we deserve.
In 1888 Ambrose Bierce defined Optimism for the 19the Century. “optimism, n. The doctrine, or belief, that everything is beautiful, including what is ugly, everything good, especially the bad, and everything right that is wrong. It is held with greatest tenacity by those most accustomed to the mischance of falling into adversity, and is most acceptably expounded with disproof – an intellectual disorder, yielding to no treatment but death. It is heraditary, but fortunately not contagious” (Devils Dictionary, 1888)
Assumption Two: Crack-age Management We generally distinguish leadership from management. Leaders provide direction and inspiration to attain that which is promising, or promised. Management, on the other hand, is sent out to oversee and achieve the promise. Each blames the other for what follows from this. Business schools are especially good at retaining this hopeless process, while avoiding any questioning of it. They are widely known as training graduates to achieve the wrong ends ever more efficiently.
Lewis Armstrong’s poetic words are sweet rain for the soul but the voice carrying the message carries significant concern, almost a cry of hopelessness in his and the general human condition. I recall in 1961 being at a dance in Fairfield Iowa where Armstrong provided this song as a means to the one I loved. I was very drawn to the sadness in his soul, while my dance partner heard the happier theme. After the dance she was drawn to leave me as quickly as possible. I didn’t mind at that point. Truth seemed to discourage happiness. Our love had encountered one of Leonard Cohen’s “cracks in life’s systems”. You might recall his suggestion that “…there are cracks in everything, cracks are what lets the light in…..”
Humans can value differences very differently. From differences decisions are made. The major problem is that we often deal in differences that make no difference except they keep us from seeing what matters while such goes bad. From this weakness the human condition often becomes indirectly defined. This is known as the phenomenon of Roman Circuses, or TV Sports. Leadership, by others, of us, or of ourselves in the face up opposition from others, becomes the variable of success/failure. Can we turn off the TV?
Assumption Three: Some Raise Troublesome Questions My concern for who and what leads us through life was thereby sparked by the above Armstrong song. The concern grew via being at Iowa State University two years later where most teachers could not teach and were not expected to. The concern reached an irreversible cry in the darkness three years later with I was drafted and sent to war in Vietnam. All this concern came from questions about then questions of leadership. The leadership provided by Armstrong example was poetic, contradictory and reflective about the role of the soul. The leadership or lack of it in getting to and managing within Vietnam was discouraging. It served to kill the soul and killed many bodies.
Much reflection is aided by listening to the pessimistic tone of Lewis Armstrong. Much waste and destruction is generated by the optimism of the words, not the voice. It is fair, insightful or gross to title the second category as “Leadershit”? It is direct, overtly vulgar or terribly accurate? Certainly the leadership of taking the US to Vietnam and directing combat while there qualifies as leadershit on the larger scale. Since that time the leadershit at the small scale seems even more rampant and costly for society. One example follows.
When Hawk was asked to be interim dean of the School of Management at NJIT in 2005 he put together a while paper with the help of the most involved, most concerned and most intelligent aspect of the school – its students. A two day retreat was held in the school where faculty were excused from classes for two days to map out the future of the school. All came the first day, all stayed away the second day after more or less saying: “Whatever, you deal with it.” This led to what was posted on the NJIT website as the “dean’s welcome”, to give an idea to prospective students of what the School was concerned with and attempting to offer students via their course work in the School. Courses were changed, and programs were added to reflect this “mission statement.” Leadership in the 21st Century was key with knowledge of international business as the key to future leadership.
Two and a half years later Hawk was “excused” from duty and replaced by Robert English, who gave the impression of not being able to read while repeatedly stating, as he eliminated Hawk’s academic thrusts in his mission statement, via stating: “I have no idea of what this is so I’m dropping it.” International Business leadership was a center piece in Hawk’s work which was address after Hawk was banned from campus via a visit by two FBI agents in September, 2009 to give presentations on the bad of internationalization, somewhat like a Donald Trump lecture. They advised all faculty in the meeting to remove all management secrets from their computers prior to leaving the US as foreigners would steal them. The irony was that sixty percent of the faculty audience was composed of foreign nationals.
The bullshit factor was that even though all programs to meet the aspirations of the Dean’s Welcome were eliminated the School’s Dean’s all continued to use Hawk’s Statement until 2015. There are extensive email comments from students during this time about the irony. Here is the Dean’s Welcome as written by Hawk in 2005 and as still plagiarized by the position holder three dean’s later.