Welcome to Stretching Biology.
Climate change is threatening our civilization. I mean, really threatening our civilization, perhaps even our continued existence on this, our only planet.
*And a note for my friends who don’t believe in global warming, the main theme of this blog will focus on the problem that locks our planetary web of human activity in its present pattern no matter what problem we face. That problem is bureaucratic inflexibility.
Bureaucracy – this system of organizing our human activities that has proven so useful in providing reliable, predictable services and obligations for the last 400 years or so – has now reached a point where it could also engulf us all in its constrictions, paralyzing our ability to survive as a species in a rapidly changing environment – an environment that we ourselves are responsible for changing ever-more rapidly and profoundly. So I hope you can hold your nose and read on anyway to get at the underlying discussion of a problem we share, regardless of our varying faith in climate scientists.*
I chose the term ‘Stretching Biology’ to indicate that these multinational corporations and government leviathans that we humans have formed to exploit the earth and bring comfort to our dwellings may be a form of life in their own right. And this form of life is worth observing and analyzing the way a biologist learns about the forms of life that we already recognize.
I think sociologists have neglected to ask what really enables them to survive and maintain themselves continuously over decades. Furthermore how are their metabolisms different from individual humans and other individual organisms?
So although this inquiry is starting from a point of view that the large, bureaucratic organizations around us may contribute to the climate threat, and certainly they have been sources of other intractable problems such as war, famine, unhappiness, and frustration over the last 3 centuries and counting, it will do no good merely to whine about them. Humans have complained about bureaucracies for hundreds of years now. Complaining hasn’t solved the problem.
For at the same time we notice rising sea levels, warmer temperatures, and disappearing top soils, and as we also complain about corporate greed, bureaucratic paralysis and the uninterrupted growth of government, we also overlook some positive aspects of bureaucracies that are equally important.
One is, of course, that, while we normally link government agencies with the term ‘bureaucracies,’ corporate bureaucracies have also grown steadily over the decades. But since we don’t call them bureaucratic when they grow, we tend to overlook the paralysis that accompanies that development in the private sector. You have only to remember Kodak and DEC in the past or think of Sears-K-Mart’s slow death in the present to understand what I mean.
The other aspect is that government bureaucracies, to turn the coin over and look at its other, positive side, also provide stability – giving us reliable laws, contracts, regulation of our economies, education, statistics, and confidence in all the standards of safety, quality, sanitation, clean food, etc., that make our lives safe and predictable.
Because of government bureaucracies, you can count on a contract remaining useful 30 years from now. By the same token bureaucratic, corporate organizations give us reliable, predictable, safe (more or less) products, services, and jobs at prices and wages that are more or less affordable to many people.
What will do some good in these pages, I hope, is to examine these corporate and government entities and their worldwide ecosystem scientifically, as if they were living systems. Which indeed they may be, as independent of us individual humans as is my body from the cells in my liver or a maple tree from its leaves.
Important? Our ability, we humans, to understand and eventually to control our own organizations will determine whether we can turn the ship away from its present course without throwing the passengers over the side. Given the power of bureaucracies – in both the guises of multinational corporations and of governments awash in armaments – to determine our fate, nothing could be more important – to us humans, at least.
If I can compose the bits accurately and write them so they interest you, I will engage you in this experiment to see if we can gradually expand biology to include sociology – or at least some of its sub-fields such as politics, public administration, and economics – having to do with large, living organizations and the management of bureaucracies.
I believe it can be done. I believe that sociology – even political science and organizational systems, in which I was trained – must accord with physics and biology. It can be no other way. The real issue is discovering the right questions and the approaches that yield the right answers, answers that fit into the framework established by the harder sciences.
So – let’s see if I can do that. I invite you to read on and make your own conclusions.
And subscribe because you might be surprised to see what comes next.