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a. An Introduction to Organisations

An Introduction to Organisations

To carry out communal activities at any scale, we form what I will describe, generically, as “organisations”. These are formal or informal groups of individuals that have their own culture and purpose. They can be religious, political, economic, or have some other function.

All human organisations are self-maintaining systems. As an organisation comes into existence and develops, so too does a hierarchy within it. For the organisation to function efficiently and effectively, its members must specialise. This, in turn, requires the co-ordination of their activities. For example, a typical commercial enterprise comprises a managing director followed by directors, senior managers, middle managers, junior managers, and ordinary employees. A typical religion might be organised with a god at the top, followed by “his representative on earth”, and so on down to the lay population. Such hierarchies exist everywhere in society, albeit with different names for the various strata, and we take this for granted.

However, the type of hierarchy in an organisation depends on the extent to which it relies on leadership or power for control. A person with leadership attributes gains high status by virtue of skills in directing a group of individuals to an agreed common goal. Generally, these skills are recognised by the subordinates, and the leader’s status is held with their consent. On the other hand, a person with power attributes has skills in directing a group of individuals to a goal set by him, her or those above. He or she does not necessarily hold their status with their subordinates’ consent. Individuals in a hierarchy generally hold a combination of both attributes, each manifesting to a greater or lesser degree. Unfortunately, there has been a history of power masquerading as leadership, and the term “leader” is used to describe both those who exercise power and those who exercise genuine leadership. In this series of articles, I will, therefore, use the terms “highest status”, “high status”, “low status”, “lowest status”, “senior” and “junior” when referring to the members of a hierarchy.

Control and adaptation mechanisms in an organisation or sub-organisation depend on the highest status individuals receiving information from those of lower status and issuing instructions to them. The balance of leadership and power attributes can vary from organisation to organisation and from sub-organisation to sub-organisation. It is normally a reflection of the attributes of its highest status members and can become entrenched as a culture.

In the same way as systems, all organisations contain sub-organisations and are part of yet larger ones. A commercial organisation, for example, may comprise departments and teams. It may also belong to a sector, i.e., a group of commercial organisations with similar purpose. Thus, organisations are themselves structured hierarchically. An outline of this hierarchy from the top down is:

  • Earth’s Ecology
  • Global Human Organisation
  • Cultural Alliances of Nations
  • Individual Nations
  • National Elites
  • Sectors (both formal and informal)
  • Named Organisations
  • Departments
  • Teams
  • Individuals

The term “organisation” is used generically to describe any one of these.

Organisations exist to facilitate the co-operation of individuals for a common purpose. Usually, they are a means of satisfying the needs and avoiding the contra-needs of a group of individuals. However, their purpose can also be to satisfy the needs and avoid the contra-needs of one or more other organisations. It is also possible for organisations to come into being with the specific purpose of creating contra-satisfiers for others, or to obstruct their satisfiers. So, in the way that it impacts on others, an organisation can be a satisfier or contra-satisfier of a type described by Max Neef.

All organisations are open systems with inputs, processes, and outputs. They have needs and contra-needs. Their needs are to carry out their function and grow, and their contra-needs are an inability to do so. Satisfiers are the inputs and internal organisation necessary for them to carry out their processes. Contra-satisfiers are anything that prevents this.

Organisations interact with one another to provide inputs and outputs. When one organisation provides the outputs needed by another, it is a satisfier of the latter’s needs. However, it can also act as a contra-satisfier, either deliberately or unintentionally. Organisations will also compete with one another for the inputs or resources required to satisfy their needs. These interactions are not necessarily at the same level in the hierarchy of organisations. For example, an individual interacts with a commercial organisation for payment or other benefits in return for his labour. He also interacts with many organisations for products and services in return for money. In general, individuals and organisations will be attracted to organisations they believe will satisfy their needs. A form of risk-benefit-cost analysis is carried out and equitable reciprocation is expected.

Finally, all organisations come into existence, carry out their function for a time, and then either expire or alter their purpose. As I discuss organisations and hierarchies in more detail, I will follow this order.

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e. Schemata, Memes and Paradigms (2)

Schemata, Memes and Paradigms (2)

The words “schemata”, “memeplexes”, and “paradigms” describe clusters of mental information in different contexts. Schemata are held by an individual, memeplexes held by a society and paradigms held by a group of scientists.  Unsurprisingly, therefore, the processes associated with them have many features in common. They evolve with time but are resistant to change until a crisis occurs and they must be revised. They generally evolve in a direction which leads to greater success for the individual or community.

Factors which govern the success of a schema, memeplex, or paradigm are as follows:

  1. It must satisfy our biological, social, and psychological needs.
  2. It must satisfactorily reflect the real world, thereby enabling us to take decisions which are in our best interests.
  3. The information it contains must be consistent. For example, “The cheese on the floor is always eaten” is consistent with “There is a mouse in the house”. However, “The cheese on the floor is never eaten” is not. A degree of inconsistency can be acceptable because the benefits of the schema, memeplex or paradigm outweigh the effort of revising it. We have developed social and psychological mechanisms for dealing with such inconsistencies. For example, in the case of paradigms and memeplexes, the silencing or discrediting of dissenters. In the case of schemata, rationalisation, and denial. However, if sufficient inconsistencies accumulate, then the cluster of information will collapse.

Beliefs can also act as satisfiers. They may, for example, enable us to form better relationships with members of our community. To cite another example, a belief in a god can provide a feeling of safety in an unsafe world. However, our beliefs are often a result of socialisation and, as such, we may not be consciously aware of them. They also lie on Manfred MaxNeef’s scale. They can be: synergistic satisfiers which satisfy several needs; singular satisfiers which satisfy just one need; inhibiting satisfiers which prevent the satisfaction of other needs; pseudo-satisfiers which merely claim to satisfy a need; or violators which, in practice, hinder the satisfaction of a need.

An example of a belief which acts as a violator is “false consciousness”. This term was coined by Friedrich Engels (1820 – 1895) to describe the way in which a subordinate social group can willingly adopt, to their detriment, the ideology of a dominant group.

Thus, it is not necessarily the truth of information which is of sole importance to people, but rather a consistent combination of information some of which is true and some of which may not be but which, nevertheless, satisfies our social and psychological needs. The implication is, of course, that we should not be surprised if others disagree with us even if this disagreement seems to be irrational, counter-factual, or unreasonable.