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THE ORGANIZATIONAL MIND July 8, 2011

Posted by wmmbb in Modern History.
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I am interested by the way in which institutions and organizations attempt and sometimes succeed in framing our understanding of the world, both as insiders and outsiders.

Media institutions have a particular role, especially those that are oligopolies.

I suspect that systems inevitably shape perceptions and there is often elements of conscious and unconscious factors at work. For example, around here it is normal to have single dwellings housing separate families on individual allotments of land. As we are doing at the moment it is interesting to reflect upon the assumptions involved in the agreement to arrange for a contractor to build a fence between our properties. Broadly, social-cultural norms are taken for granted, except when one of the parties has a different cultural background. In our part of the world these cultural norms have been historically implemented and entrenched though violence by removal of indigenous systems of land management and technology. Stating the obvious, cultural norms are part of a system of government. There are open questions around how democratic local government is, or might be.

Graham Larcombe has some thoughts on this subject, lecturing at Community Lecture Series at the University of Wollongong Summer School, 2009-2010:

Corporations are systems of government that are top-down, plutocratic, and at best meritocratic, with no pretense to democratic principle other than responsive to markets that reflect purchasing power. They are purposeful social technologies in action. Private media organizations are further subject to the interests of significant owners and other sources of social power, such as important advertisers. The nature of the forth estate has changed from its origins, and there is some doubt now whether newspapers can survive into the foreseeable future, although it is presumed that television broadcaster will. I would much prefer that a diversity of quality newspapers retained their vitality while most, if not all, television was cast into the basement of history.

At Truthdig, Chris Hedges, who worked there mostly as a foreign correspondent, reviews the documentary, Page One: Inside the New York Times. He says the film says nothing about the internal dynamics of the organization. For example, Chris Hedges notes:

The documentary touches on, although without much background information, Judith Miller, the reporter turned stenographer for the Bush White House in the buildup to the Iraq War, and Jason Blair, the habitual liar who falsified and plagiarized stories. Miller and Blair—and I was working for the paper when each of these scandals occurred—were not, as the film implies, rogue reporters who beguiled their way into a trusting newsroom. They embodied the most serious institutional failures. A more sophisticated filmmaker like Fred Wiseman, who had asked the Times management several times if he could film a documentary in the newsroom and was turned down, would have known what to do with this material. Miller and Blair were given free rein by senior management because they exhibited the amorality that is prized by the management. They served only their own careers and those editors who could make those careers advance. They were grotesque prototypes, to be sure, but they exemplified the subservience to authority and abject careerism that poisons the institution.

These reporters were sacked. They were, it is suggested scapegoats. You are supposed to understand the unwritten assumptions and not exercise an independent moral judgement. Chris Hedges says the film should have looked at the editor of the Times, Bill Keller. He writes:

Keller, whose on-camera comments are bland and vapid, represents the ascendancy of neocons inside as well as outside The New York Times. This process of ideological reconfiguration, first begun by the paper’s Editor Abe Rosenthal in the 1980s, was accomplished through a series of purges, persecutions, firings and dismissals as well as the appointments of those who, like Tanenhaus and Keller, have little allegiance to the tenets of traditional liberalism, tenets that made a free press possible. Senior editors such as Keller and Tanenhaus are products of the time. They do not question the utopian faith in globalization. They support preemptive war, at least before it goes horribly wrong. And they accept unfettered capitalism, despite what it has done to the nation, as a kind of natural law. The reigning corporate ideology has infected the Times as it has most other liberal institutions. Because this ideology does not challenge the status quo it is defended by these editors as evidence of the paper’s impartiality, balance and neutrality. ExxonMobil, Citibank and Goldman Sachs are treated with deference and respect. The inability to see that major centers of corporate power are criminal enterprises that are plundering the nation and destroying the ecosystem is evidence not of objectivity but moral bankruptcy.

Rare, is it not, to read a critical appraisal of corporations and the non-financial corporate elites, whose power of influence extends to the media, far beyond what any other individual citizen, even reporter, might exercise. Do we, by necessity, just accept the way things are? What are the costs of acceptance and non-acceptance? In this regard Chris Hedges writes:

When you allow an institution to provide you with your identity and sense of self-worth you become an obsequious pawn, no matter how much talent you possess. You live in perpetual fear of what those in authority think of you and might do to you. This mechanism of internalized control—for you always need them more than they need you—is effective. The rules of advancement at the paper are never clearly defined or written down. Careerists pay lip service to the stated ideals of the institution, which are couched in lofty rhetoric about balance, impartiality and neutrality, but astutely grasp the actual guiding principle of the paper, which is: Do not significantly alienate the corporate and political power elite on whom the institution depends for access and money. Those who master this duplicitous game do well. Those who cling tenaciously to a desire to tell the truth, even at a cost to themselves and the institution, become a management problem. This creates tremendous friction within the paper. I knew reporters with a conscience who would arrive at the paper and vomit in the restroom from nervous tension before starting work. If Rossi had examined the effects of this institutional hubris and the pathology of the paper’s self-infatuation, if he had looked at the paper’s large and small failures as well as its successes, he would have pushed past the myth of the Great Oz, peddled to him by the paper’s editors and minions like Carr, and uncovered its troubled core.

Still this is not as bad as that other institution, the military, where conceivably traumatic stress syndrome is pre-established before the live experience of active duty in a conflict area. So what should and might what provide our sense of identity and self worth, other than an institution endorsed by the nation state? Can we take pride in being human beings, and even possessing our “reptilian brain” as well as our distinctive human cortex, that somehow combine to express consciousness?

From the Politics and the Community series, Glenn Mitchell recounts a local story of a victory against corporate power by a local community:

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