Taking It to Extremes – Part 1 of 5

A number of years ago, I wrote an article about the famous “Golden Mean” of Greek philosophy.  The mean was basically a rule that said the best way of living is to balance extremes.  Another way of looking at what this rule implies is that evil or bad things happen when we over do something.  We need to take all things in moderation.  Thus, drugs, smoking, guns, watching TV etc., are not evil or bad in themselves but when we take them to extremes they became dangerous and counterproductive.

I sincerely and whole-heartedly believe in this rule.  However, recently I was thinking about it from another perspective.  I was reflecting on the problems of government today and the extreme polarization that now exists in American politics.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the Greek rule was not quite strong enough.  It needs something more.  Perhaps, an extension or a corollary to make the rule stronger.  There are too many instances, where the rule taken at face value does not do enough justice for the circumstances. 

For instance, when I was teaching business I always told my students that organizations needed to balance efficiency with effectiveness.  Efficiency is doing things right, while effectiveness is doing the right things.  Organizations do not need to balance these two concepts as you would a seesaw, but they need to be constantly aware of the tension and perhaps conflict that can exist between the two.  It is an ongoing struggle but never a question of equal balance because the proper balance will never be static.  There are many other polarities in life where it is not really a matter of moderation or balance but actually more a matter of dynamically blending and using synergy to impose a sort of order between the two extremes.  The concept of Hegelian Dialectics comes to my mind. 

Dialectical thinking can be described as: “The ability to view issues from multiple perspectives and to arrive at the most economical and reasonable reconciliation of seemingly contradictory information and postures.”  This is a much more complex process than simply balancing extremes.  The more I thought about it the more I decided to add a corollary to the Greek Rule.  Since I think time has easily proved the value of the Golden Mean, a corollary by definition is a proposition that follows from and is appended to one already proved.  My corollary is as follows:

John’s Corollary:

Anytime, one concept in a set of opposing concepts is allowed to dominate the opposing concept, extreme dysfunction will result 

I want to discuss this more by using five pairs of concepts that I think are critical to our world today.  I want to show you how the distortion created by proponents of each concept are dangerous to life as we know it.  I do not use the word dangerous loosely or frivolously or for effect.  The battle between these ideas is destroying life as we know it on this planet.   The proponents of each side of these polarities seek to destroy the proponents on the other side.  Rather than looking at things from a systems perspective and trying to dynamically adjust the system, opponents are bent on allowing one idea to dominate to the exclusion of the other idea.  Witness the name calling between conservatives and liberals today.  Each side demonizes the other side and assumes God is on their side and Satan is on the other side.  Here are the five pairs of concepts we will look at in the next few weeks.  We will start by looking at number one in my list and following the order given. 

  1. Efficiency versus Effectiveness
  2. Growth versus Development
  3. Society versus the Economy
  4. Conservative versus Liberal
  5. Rights of the Individual versus Rights of the Group
  1.  Efficiency versus Effectiveness:

I noted that I used to teach these concepts to my business students to emphasize the role and responsibilities of a corporation or business.  Taken from a macro perspective, these two ideas might seem unimportant.  However, when you realize that our entire government and system of capitalism runs on both of these concepts, their importance cannot be understated. 

Business seems to sheer towards efficiency with less concern for doing the right things.  If they were more concerned with doing the right things, there would be less of what economists’ call “externalities.”  An externality is a side effect or consequence of an industrial or commercial activity that affects other parties without this being reflected in the cost of the goods or services involved.   Externalities can be either positive or negative in terms of their consequences for society.   Negative externalities include such issues as:  water pollution, air pollution, soil contamination, fumes, dangerous side effects from drugs and many others.  Businesses will invariably try to ignore the costs of these side effects and thus they get passed on to the society.  It is society and environment that suffers from the effects since the consumer or customer generally benefits from the lower costs of production guaranteed by the business passing the costs of the negative externalities on to the world. 

The opposite extreme is seen in government and this is the extreme reflected in how the government tends to manage its costs.  The government focuses on effectiveness.  That is trying to do the right things.  This is actually why we have a government.  The government exists to ensure that things needed by society are provided without regard to costs.  The “without regard to costs” becomes a problem because too often government agencies seem to provide services with little or no emphasis on cost management.  Senator William Proxmire was well known for his “Golden Fleece” award in which a government agency would be bestowed an award for its gross mismanagement of costs.  Over the past decades, conservatives have increasingly tried to take the management of many government functions away from various government agencies due to their gross negligence and ineptness when it comes to management of budgets and costs.  Unfortunately, when put into the hands of a business that is singularly bent on efficiency the quality of the service in terms of its effectiveness may suffer.  One example of this is with our education system. 

Conservatives and Republicans and even some Democrats have decided that public education is inefficient, and that business can do a better job of providing education to American students.  A business exists on a profit and loss model.  However, the idea of providing a quality education to all Americans on such a basis is flawed.  Schools that are democratic institutions cannot cherry pick their students.  In a typical public school, you have a bell-shaped curve of students in terms of both aptitude and attitude.  A private school or charter school will select students with higher aptitudes and attitudes.  This of course, begs the question of how and where the students with lower aptitudes and attitudes will get educated? 

The education of Americans youth becomes an either-or proposition with losers and winners.  No other solutions are looked at as groups coalesce around extremes.  Either we have public education, or we have for-profit education.  There are other solutions, but they involve a radical restructuring of our entire educational system which neither side wants to contemplate.  I do not see public education as the answer to education nor do I see private and for-profit charter schools as the answer.  See my blog on the subject titled:  “Creating a Twenty First Century Education System.”

I could point to dozens of examples of the stupidity of businesses that focus more on costs than effectiveness.  In my twenty some odd years as a management consultant, I worked with many businesses to help create a synergy between efficiency and effectiveness.  The Deming Philosophy exhorted organizations to use systemic thinking to create this synergy.  Much of my focus in consulting was with helping organizations do the right thing and to do things right. 

Conversely, when I was working with a government organization, I would help the organization learn to do things more efficiently.  I was often so frustrated with the inefficiency and economic stupidity of some government agencies that I thought they should simply be abolished.  When Governor Perry was asked which government agencies he would eliminate, he could not name three.  I could immediately think of six that I would abolish. 

I am no friend of inefficiency.  Inefficiency is a crime upon humanity.  It robs people of valuable time and resources and money.  It makes life more difficult by waste and rework and a callous disregard for the abilities of employees.  I am also no friend of ineffectiveness.  What good are products and services if they cannot do what they were designed to do or if in providing their intended functions, the unintended side effects are a disaster for our society or environment.  Corporations need to provide a quality product that is wanted or needed by a customer “but not just at a price they can afford” but at a price that allows the negative externalities to either be avoided or addressed.  In other words, costs of pollution and environmental degradation must be paid for by the organization and its customers. 

I think you should now understand from much of my conversation above, the inherent dangers of not addressing both efficiency and effectiveness in the operations of any business or organization.  As I have argued, ignoring either concept or taking either one to an extreme will create a dangerous situation that will become dysfunctional to life.

My next blog will look at the battle in our world between growth and development.  This is a battle that is destroying our environment and lives throughout the world.  The following has been noted by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions:

  • Communities, builders, homeowners, and forest managers can reduce the likelihood and impacts of wildfires by:
  • Discouraging developments (especially residential) near fire-prone forests through smart zoning rules.
  • Increasing the space between structures and nearby trees and brush and clearing space between neighboring houses.

Thanks for reading.  Please leave any comments or thoughts you might have on my blog site.  Or email me at persico.john@gmail.com

Reconstructing the Great Speeches – Danton:  “Dare, Dare Again, Always Dare”

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George Jacques Danton born October 26, 1759 wanted to dare and dare he did.  He dared so much; he lost his head to a guillotine on the 5th of April 1794.  Danton was one of the prime movers during the French Revolution of 1789.  For those of you whose history is limited, the French Revolution was quite a remarkable event.  Here is some background before we look at Danton’s famous speech.  For more detailed history, go to Wikipedia or the library.

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The French Revolution (1789-1799)

What makes the French Revolution confusing is that there was actually two of them.  We are discussing the background of the first one.  The second one was in 1830.  The first one is noteworthy for two major reasons.  1)  It set a precedent for overthrowing the rule of divine right by kings.  You have to keep in mind, that with the major exception of the United States of America, the world was ruled by Kings and Queens.  Many of these rulers professed a “divine right” to rule.  In other words, they believed that they were ordained by God him/herself to rule over the lesser beings on the planet whom they regarded as subjects.  As “subjects” the people under the rulers were “subject” to all forms of abuse and intimidation.  In many countries, people had little or no rights except by the grace of their rulers.

256px-TroisordresThe Catholic Church in France was a major power.  The Catholic hierarchy managed to continue to exert influence in France long after it lost power in other countries.  The Catholic Church kept its power by a political collusion with the French monarchy which helped the Church fight off the Protestant religion that had swept so much of Europe.  From the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, the Church in France along with the Monarchy had persecuted, exiled, and killed thousands of Protestants.  Thus, there were many in France who hated the Catholic leaders as much as they hated their King and Queen, who by the way also lost their heads during the French Revolution.

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Needless to say, the rest of Europe was not too happy at seeing the servants and peasants overthrow the royalty in France.  This idea that the royalty was not so special might just infiltrate the minds of subjects in other countries.  Which of course is just what happened.  Over time, most of Europe eventually marginalized the role of their monarchies and established a variety of democratic institutions.  These later institutions would rule by laws set by the people and not by “divine right.”

Three of the most important democratic concepts to come out of the first French Revolution is epitomized by the motto “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” which became the national motto of France.  Liberty is the right to express one’s ideas without fear of repercussions.  Equality expressed the idea that all social classes were citizens of France and would have equal rights.  The monarchy and the Catholic Church would no longer be privileged.  Fraternity meant that we are all brothers and would share in a common unity of humanity and respect.  In 1789, The leaders of the Revolution drafted a document called the “Declaration of the Rights of Man” which outlined a set of enlightened principles about governing and government which bore some resemblance to the Bill of Rights in the USA.  Of course, women were still among the unprivileged.  Which leads us to the second major reason that the first French Revolution is noteworthy.

This second reason is the devolution into chaos and anarchy that happened.  Faced with a great deal of opposition both in and outside France to these new enlightened ideas, the leaders of the revolution became increasingly paranoid.  They were beyond cautious about who their enemies might be and what they needed to do to protect the emerging values of the French Revolution.  This led them to adopt a rather expedient method of protecting the Revolution.  The guillotine was developed as a very effective instrument for cutting off the heads of anyone whom they suspected might be either an enemy of the Revolution or even those who did not fully support the Revolution.  During, what has become known as “The Reign of Terror” (June 1793 to July 1794) about 17,000 people were guillotined.  Many more people were shot or otherwise murdered during the French Revolution.

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Looking back, it seems bizarre to think that a revolution founded on the democratic ideas of the American Revolution and such theorists as Voltaire, Rousseau and Montesquieu could have led to the slaughter of so many people.  A slaughter that sadly is now one of the major things we remember about the First French Revolution.  Furthermore, the Revolution eventually led into an outright dictatorship by Napoleon Bonaparte.  Human nature was no more consistent or predictable in the 18th Century than it is today.  We wonder today how so many people in the USA would seem to reject the principles that it was founded upon.  Everywhere you look, we find those who reject the concepts of democracy and the rule of law.

Danton (1759 – 1794)

Some say Danton was the prime mover behind the French Revolution (1789 – 1799).  Before the Revolution, Danton was a lawyer of no particular noteworthiness.  He came into his own as one of the major leaders of the French Revolution.  He held a number of significant offices as the leaders struggled to form a government that would uphold the new values driving the Revolution.  Danton was perhaps as bloodthirsty or paranoid as some other leaders, notably Robespierre and Saint-Just.  Danton’s trial before his execution tended to be highly political and he was found guilty of a number of charges including bribery, financial corruption, and leniency towards the enemies of the Revolution   These charges were founded more on the fears of his political opponents than any real evidence.

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Dare, Dare Again, Always Dare (1792)

Danton’s most famous speech was not given at his trial.  Due to his noted oratory, the leaders at his trial decided not to allow him to speak.  They were afraid that if anyone listened to him, he would convince them of his innocence and perhaps even regain power over his accusers.  This speech was given in the face of threats by enemies attacking France from within the country and outside the country.  Danton as a key leader of the Revolution would have been marked for death should the Revolution be overthrown.  Ironically, he was executed by his former comrades.

“It is gratifying to the ministers of a free people to have to announce to them that their country will be saved.  All are stirred, all are excited, all burn to fight.  You know that Verdun is not yet in the power of our enemies. You know that its garrison swears to immolate the first who breathes a proposition of surrender.”             

France was being attacked by Germany then known as Prussia.  Verdun actually surrendered the same day that Danton’s speech was given.  Danton is lauding the efforts of the French people to fight for the principles of the Revolution.  The monarchies in the surrounding countries want to put down the Revolution for fear it could lead to the people in their countries also revolting.  Thus, Prussia, Austria, Spain and Russia all fought to help overthrow the French Revolution.

“One portion of our people will proceed to the frontiers, another will throw up entrenchments, and the third with pikes will defend the hearts of our cities.  Paris will second these great efforts. The commissioners of the Commune will solemnly proclaim to the citizens the invitation to arm and march to the defense of the country.”

In this speech, you can see a resemblance to the famous French National Anthem, the Marseillaise.”  The song was written in 1792 by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle in Strasbourg after the declaration of war by France against Austria.  One of the refrains from the song is:

  • Grab your weapons, citizens!
  • Form your battalions!
  • Let us march! Let us march!
  • May impure blood
  • Water our fields!

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“We ask that anyone refusing to give personal service or to furnish arms shall be punished with death.  We ask that a set of instructions be drawn up for the citizens to direct their movements. We ask that couriers be sent to all the departments to notify them of the decrees that you proclaim here.  The tocsin we are about to ring is not an alarm signal; it sounds the charge on the enemies of our country.  To conquer them we must dare, dare again, always dare, and France is saved!”

Danton wanted to impose harsh punishments for anyone refusing service to France.  France initially suffered a series of defeats by other countries.  Eventually, by rallying together, France went on the offensive and achieved many victories.  By defeating their enemies, they solidified the gains of the Revolution.  However, these victories also allowed Napoleon to gain power and become Emperor.  Not much difference really between and an Emperor and a King.   France might have gone two steps forward but they also went two steps back.

Danton’s concluding line was an exhortation to boldness and audacity.  “Dare, Dare and Always Dare!”  I have always admired these words and have tried to use them in my own life.  Consider what it means, if you will, when you try to apply them.  What are areas of your life where you have fears?  What areas where you need to be braver or bolder?  Where do you think you need to speak out more?  Where do you need to stand up for yourself more?  If you find many areas where you lack bravery, think of Danton’s speech.

Remember the line from the play Julius Caesar “Cowards die many times before their death, heroes only once.”  The following is a short one minute video I found online that captures the spirit of Danton’s lines.

 

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December 31, 2014 – New Year’s Eve!

new-years-eve-2014Out with the old and in with the new! New Year’s Eve!  The end of our past and the beginning of our future!   All over the world, we count down the minutes and then seconds until a New Year begins.  New Year’s Eve represents a finish and a time to put failures and bad dreams behind us.  New Year’s Day represents a new beginning.  We pray and hope that each year will be better than the last.  Curiously, we celebrate this ending with a night of wild parties and much drinking.

new years eve partyDo you ever wonder why so many people get drunk on New Year’s Eve?  Is it simply to forget the past or is it to celebrate the past?  How many New Year’s days have been ruined before they even got started?  Tonight we drink, tomorrow we make promises about how different our lives will be and what changes we will make.  Each New Years is a time new-year-resolutions-300x304of magic.  We think it will mean great differences in our lives, but how long do these commitments usually last?  Go to the health clubs on New Year’s Day and the parking lots will be full.  By early March, the parking lots will be back to their normal contingent of cars.  The landscape will be littered with failed promises and failed New Year’s resolutions.  Some may think that they can escape this debacle by simply not making any resolutions.  Instead their failure to make any commitments remain with them day after day.

new-yearThankfully, we have 365 chances each year to start our life anew. You don’t have to wait until New Year’s Day to begin again.  Each day you fail, tomorrow can be a new start.  If each day your commitments can last a little longer than the last time, you are making progress.  You do not have to wait until next New Year to start over. The only failure in life is not trying and then trying again.  Each time you fall down and get up again you are a success.  Each day that you make a new commitment to try, you are a success.  Each time your commitment lasts a little bit longer than the last time you are a success.

Time for Questions:

What are you going to change in your life this New Year? What would you want to do differently?  What changes would help you to lead a happier and healthier life?  What are you going to do about it?  How long will your commitment last?  Can you fail and then keep trying?

Life is just beginning. 

Tonight is the first day of your new life.  Don’t wait to start.

thisyearwillbedifferent

 

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