Thursday, September 15, 2011

Pressure Points, Joints, Fulcra

Many in the world today are technicians only in the most pedestrian sense. We master the motions and see in the motions the whole of understanding. We are behaviorists, perhaps great predictors but terrible psychologists, terrible poets. Are we not also terrible mechanics? We know the title, the rank, the job description, the story of purpose, the story of who listens to whom. I know and was taught many supposed Whys. How many among us know the Hows?

It is helpful to develop an understanding of political physics. It is not enough to say what an arm, or a man, does. We must know how the elbow bends. We must know the forearm's range of motion. We must know where its muscular power is concentrated and when it is broken. Knowing desires and wishes are important. It is very important to know that others seek to dominate or injure us. Much more important is to know along which paths this can occur.

One can observe the same principles in social organization. We are told what sub-groups or individual members are supposed to do, and we are often told what we need to do to get by. This is not enough. Let me put this more simply: we are always told who holds a superior office, but we must often judge for ourselves where decisions rest, and who controls which social levers.

Who makes decisions?
If there is a stated purpose, what forces correct error?
What forces encourage compliance?
What happens if things go "wrong"? If the consequences are voluntary or petty, then perhaps there is a disconnect between the stated purpose of the machine and its actual function.

Functionalism cannot be combined with a passive acceptance. "It is what it is" cannot satisfy us if we believe in empowering ourselves and, as appropriate, changing our environment. We must say "It is as it has been made" when we speak of human habit, fixture, and culture. This is part of another ramble, that of linguistic shift; "being" seems stronger than "doing," and yet it is in action that all States of operation are maintained. What can be made stands a better chance of being abandoned, of being remade!

Nor can we afford to be mired in the hypocri-phobia of the would-be reformer, the disgruntled libertarian, and the failed idealist. "Oh my goodness," we scream! "Things are not as described!" A group that lies to itself is not stronger for it, and while I am not so naive as to believe that all bureaucracies, offices, and business units will be reformed simply by having their inconsistencies exposed--even the most dysfunctional systems tend toward equilibrium, which tells you something about the value of balance--I do believe that observing inconsistency tells you more about a system than seeing it act in perfect accordance with its "guiding principles" or "mission statement" or shit.

Are we not always a little more familiar with a person when we discover them committing what they officially consider sinful? I am well educated when I discover that a Muslim is a tippler, or that a Baptist is addicted to Internet pornography, or when I see that the director shares smoke breaks with and hangs on the every word of a co-worker who, according to the organizational leadership flowchart, should be a peer. You cannot learn everything, and sometimes cannot learn anything, by talking about how things are supposed to work. We must develop a sense of how they truly function, and that requires direct observation and experience.

When this awareness is cultivated, it gives you a greater sense of social power just as, when you understand the function of the leg's joints, you know how to more greatly control its motion. The other person may be stronger, but control the thigh just above the knee, pressing it against a flat surface, and you're less likely to get kicked (obviously, the notion of total control is ridiculous). In such a situation, one may think "I get hit with the foot" and grab the ankle. It's a weak position, grabbing the end of a lever. One must go to the fulcrum. In this sense, the political mind is radical in the oldest sense, in that it goes to the root of things.


  1. Error is a label applied based on how an observer feels about an outcome or expectation. It is as meaningful and meaningless as that.