Friday, October 24, 2003

Freedom, democracy, and working environments

I find it curious how people who passionately espouse the virtues of democracy (whatever that word means) and freedom of speech, are unquestioningly happy to spending more than half their waking hours in a rather authoritarian hierarchy -- their employer's company.

Though it is more illusion than reality, at least citizens *believe* that they are free in their private lives, and they draw a lot of strength from that delusion. In their work lives, there are no such delusions, yet there is no groundswell of discontent, no reform movement to protest the lack of freedom at work. Maybe it's because back in the 1960s that sort of thinking was considered Marxist and unamerican.

Or maybe it's because most people are more comfortable conforming, following someone else's lead, or taking orders than having to take on the responsibility of thinking for themselves and battling to get consensus every step of the way. As individuals, we are after all interested in making the most efficient, effective use of our personal time. That's probably how hierachical societies evolved in the first place.

I find it odd that we live in a political community that values above all else democracy and freedom of speech, yet in our corporate communities, hierarchical command-and-control management is accepted as the best way to make a business work.

If hierarchical command and control is the most efficient and effective way to run a business, why is it not also the best way to run a country? (Before democracy came to many of the European colonies, the average citizen was economically better off than today - - and certainly more secure, so long as they avoided insubordination). And if democracy IS the best way to run a country, why do we happily live most of our lives within a hierarchical work environment? We are "free" to sell our labor elsewhere, but in most cases we are moving from one semi-totalitarian environment to another, in search of a better dental plan.

Or perhaps corporations ARE democratic -- the Board is elected by shareholders, after all. The owners get to vote on big picture issues like strategy and alliances. Not a lot different from democratic government where the people with the money get to put politicians in power to represent their strategic agendas. The difference is that in democracy the average member of the population believes that he/she has a voice and is somehow important to the process, whereas in corporations the average worker feels no right to speak out on the big issues.

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