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December 12, 2006

Working Styles

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Jonathan Alter wrote in Newsweek:

In government, the tone set at the top can be as powerful as the mightiest army. It reverberates through everything. The history of the American presidency is the story of the character and temperament of the man in the Oval Office coursing through thousands of smaller decisions, often thousands of miles away......

He gives examples:

Fortuitously, presidential personality traits have often led to major accomplishment. FDR was a great believer in experimentation, so the legions below him launched hundreds of experimental programs to fight the Depression. Ike was a champion of logistics during World War II, so it figured that the Interstate Highway System got built on his watch. LBJ was a master legislator, so it was no coincidence that his presidency featured scads of legislation. (His insecurities, in turn, contributed to the Vietnam debacle.) In recent years, George H.W. Bush's habit of writing endless thank-you notes bore indirect fruit in the gracious and face-saving way he managed the demise of the Soviet Union. Bill Clinton's messy but thorough policy analysis led to dozens of small, well-built initiatives that worked with surprising consistency....

Although there's lots worth reading in between, Alter concludes:

This is what happens when you have a president who is incurious and impatient with inconvenient facts he doesn't "need to know": hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis, nearly 3,000 dead Americans and what the Baker-Hamilton Commission estimates as a $2 trillion tab for our children.

Alter's article, my indifferent scholarship, compromised memory and loose associations got me to thinking about General Systems Theory, and, while refreshing all three on Wikipedia, I stumbled upon Bela Benathy's pricey but important text, "The Guided Evolution of Society: a Systems View"

A snippet from the Amazon review by Doug Walton:

The unique and intriguing aspect of Dr. Banathy's work in general, and this work in particular, is the emphasis on the process of social systems design. No prescribed future is proposed; rather, Dr. Banathy seeks to provide the methodological tools for humanity to create a better future. In this sense, the work does not try to advocate any other values than that people must take charge of their future and that everyone should be involved in the design of the social systems in which they will inhabit. It is thus, in a sense, a work about how to be a responsible citizen in the modern age.

It is a book about democracy, but not about government. Rather it is a book about focused, meaningful, and productive public dialogue, both generative and strategic. As a metaphor, Dr. Banathy reminds us of the citizen democracies of ancient Greece, where public issues could be debated in full view.

Not to mention our very own FDR.

Sustainability, previously unbeknownst to me, is a subject of import in General Systems Theory and we would do well to take a peek at John Raven's requirements for societal sustainability. They cluster in five areas: the nature of competence, the nature and development of the ability to perceive and form orderly judgments, the effective management of the educational system. and the societal learning and management arrangements required for sustainability. You are left on your own to read the details in the clickie --it's short. Integrating this information could contribute to your project of becoming a responsible citizen-- or is that my project?.

Feeling resistant? Turns out, of course, there is something that's known as resistance to sustainability.

Unruh (2000, 2002) has argued that numerous barriers to sustainability arise because today's technological systems and governing institutions were designed and built for permanence and reliability, not change. In the case of fossil fuel-based systems this is termed "carbon lock-in" and inhibits many change efforts.

Thwink.org argues that if enough members of the environmental movement adopted a problem solving process that fit the problem, the movement would make the astonishing discovery that the crux of the problem is not what it thought it was. It is not the proper practices or technical side of the problem after all. Any number of these practices would be adequate. Instead the real issue is why is it so difficult to persuade social agents (such as people, corporations, and nations) to adopt the proper practices needed to live sustainably? Thus the heart of the matter is the change resistance or social side of the problem.

Enough! You are excused to admire the picture.

Photo note: Metaphorophoto perhaps? Somebody hung up their work gloves -- had a ranchy feeling. I had to ride my bike twice around the block and ignore impatience and distain to shoot this.

Posted by Dakota at December 12, 2006 06:45 AM