Among the casualties of the counterculture is the Organization Man.
So explains David Brooks, and his point is well worth considering.
The term Organization Man comes to us from a 1956 book by William H. Whyte. At a time when America was the dominant world power, when American soldiers were using the martial habits they had learned in warfare to rebuild a great nation, Whyte, among others, denounced the American Organization Man as a mindless automaton who lacked creativity and individuality.
He recommended that companies, and presumably armies would function better if everyone dispensed with archaic notions like loyalty and commitment. Thus, even before the Vietnam counterculture, the Me First attitude was promoted.
Whyte’s vision notwithstanding, his utopian idea produced the dystopian Disorganization Person.
It took the Vietnam War to bring Whyte’s attitude to the masses, largely, it is fair to say, because the greatest of American institutions, the government and the military was anything but successful in Vietnam.
Or so everyone thought.
Of course, the difference between Dwight Eisenhower, successful military leader and successful, fatherly president and John F. Kennedy, elected because of his charisma and celebrity, not his experience or demonstrated competence foretold the replacement of the Organization Man by the cult to celebrity.
Eisenhower was a man’s man. Kennedy was a ladies’ man.
Today, Eisenhower is largely ignored, while Kennedy, the architect of the Vietnam War, war that was largely conducted by people he had put into office, is lionized and idolized.
Anyway, the Organization Man is over and done with. In fact, you would not even be allowed to use the term any more. You would have to say Organization Person.
In any event, many people have found Whyte’s idea enormously seductive. Not one seemed to notice that the assault on civic virtues could not end very well. Ask yourself what happens when you dispense with loyalty toward your spouse, your friends, your community or your nation?
What happens when institutions are no longer run in the most efficient and effective manner, but aim at producing creative individuality and self-actualization?
More often than not creative, individualistic solutions are not solutions at all. They are ways to cover up the fact that the person has failed. It’s like what happens in public schools when children cannot write proper English and are still given good grades because their teachers believe that their incoherent ramblings are in fact poetry.
Brooks describes what we have lost:
A few generations ago, people grew up in and were comfortable with big organizations - the army, corporations and agencies.
They organized huge construction projects in the 1930s, gigantic industrial mobilization during World War II, highway construction and corporate growth during the 1950s. Institutional stewardship, the care and reform of big organizations, was more prestigious.
Now nobody wants to be an Organization Man. We like startups, disrupters and rebels. Creativity is honored more than the administrative execution.
Post-Internet, many people assume that big problems can be solved by swarms of small, loosely networked nonprofits and social entrepreneurs. Big hierarchical organizations are dinosaurs.
Among the large organizations that no longer function very well, if at all, are government agencies. Witness the Secret Service. A demoralized workforce, incompetent management… and you get the scandals that have caused its director to resign.
Julia Pierson was elevated to her leadership role because the political powers had come to believe that the biggest problem in the agency was the tendency of agents to whore around. They decided that putting a woman in charge would solve the whoring around problem and would therefore lead to more efficient functioning.
Ann Althouse wrote:
It's as if they thought having a female director would fix — image-fix — their women-related problems. There's more to the Secret Service than just making it seem as if someone is stopping them from whoring. Did she even succeed at that? Or were we just supposed to feel better about it?
Political correctness, is based on the notion that institutions will best succeed when they allow each individual the maximum in creative self-fulfillment. But this also entails ridding the institutions of all the sins that are supposedly inhibiting that aim: those being racism, sexism and homophobia.
How is it working out?
Navy sailors distrust commanders, fear crippling political correctness
Complain of zero-tolerance disciplinary environment, excessive political correctness
Should great institutions, like government agencies, the military and corporations be judged by how well they do their job or should they be dedicated to offering individuals the maximum in self-actualization?
When Marissa Mayer famously outlawed telecommuting at Yahoo! many people were outraged at the corporate interference in different individuals’ pursuit of happiness. Naturally, they all argued that people function better when they telecommute, but they failed to notice that a Yahoo! filled with telecommuters was dysfunctional and chaotic.
When ideologues look at these organizations and declare that there are not enough women and minorities are they saying that the organizations would better function with a more diverse staff or are they saying that they do not care whether the organizations function well… as long as they “look like America?”
Just as Whyte suggested that more creativity and individuality would enhance corporate functioning, today’s proponents of social justice declare that having a more diverse workforce will do wonders for Silicon Valley. It remains to be seen.