It was past one o’clock into Friday. I had three pages, written in English, based on two youtube videos where Mintzberg
discussed his ideas of Plural Sector and Balanced Society. Part of it turned into my ten minutes question/intervention during Mintzberg talk on Monday (I know, ridiculously long – but I was freaked that no one was making a question and I was ashamed by the suspicion that no one else had read the book). After reading the book later on the same Friday, I decided that these notes could turn into something my friends could enjoy. Not an essay or an op-ed: a speech (with footnotes!). And here we are.
The Plural of Balance
There is an imbalance, a disturbance of the Force. We – left behind centrists, business thinkers, economists, innovation devotees – we all feel it. Out of the blue, Neo has left the nice civil(ized) society for some rabbit hole. Monsters raise from the deep of the unconscious electorates. The Trumps, Salvinis and Fords, the Le Pens and Bolsonaros, all blessed by brexiting deplorables. We can feel it: the fall from grace, the maddening murmur of the Multitude.
Unmasked Smiths can be seen everywhere now – if you have the proper eyes. The Monsters can feel it – but as Polyphemus they just say “nobody”.
So picture instead a balanced society as sitting on a stool with three sturdy legs: a public sector of respected governments, to provide many of our protections (such as policing and regulating); a private sector of responsible businesses, to supply many of our goods and services; and a plural sector of robust communities, wherein we find many of our social affiliations.
To put this in another way, a democratic society balances individual, collective, and communal needs, attending to each adequately but none excessively.
Strange, I’ve seem that stool before. It is a trinity. I know a few.
(Personally, I) Like this one from Graeber:
I wish to propose three fundamentally different moral logics lying behind phenomena that we class together as “the gift”. These exist everywhere in different forms and articulations, so that in any given situation there are several kinds of moral reasoning actors could apply. Unlike Levi-Strauss (1950), I claim that only one of these is based on the principle of reciprocity. I will call these logics communism, exchange, and hierarchy.
As a reviewer of Debt explains:
Graeber’s alternative is to recognize the diversity of motives that guide people’s economic interactions. He proposes that there are three “main moral principles” at work in economic life: communism, exchange, and hierarchy. “Communism” describes sharing relationships based on the principle of “to each according to their needs, from each according to their abilities.” “Exchange” relationships are based on reciprocity and formal equality, while “hierarchical” relationships are unequal and tend to work by a logic of social precedent rather than reciprocity.
These are not different kinds of economies, but principles of interaction present in all societies in different proportions: for example, capitalist firms are islands of communism and hierarchy within a sea of exchange.
Communism, Exchange, Hierarchy. Economic/Social relations are built around those three models of interaction, of those kinds of movement of goods and affections. Even outside Capitalism. That‘s one hell of a trinity. Whatever the society, those three elements are always present. But that trinity operates at quarks level. It can explain a lot of the quotidian details, a bit of the chemistry, but we are dealing with larger bodies. Plural, Private and Public Sectors have each of them building it.
Let’s try another thing: change from sector to property. There is private property; there is public property. Hum, in the unbalanced regime of Eastern Europe most organizations that provided goods and services where owned by the State. Owned, not regulated. “It was balance that triumphed in 1989. While those communist regimes were severely out of balance, with so much power concentrated in their public sectors, the successful countries of the West maintained sufficient balance across their public, private, and what can be called plural sectors.” That makes much more sense when we also use Property.
But what kind of Property is Plural? Commons. Commons: something that is not constituted as a property (but belongs to). The Commons have some interesting devotees: Rifkin, with his understanding of the disappearance of the marginal cost as the ruler and Ruler of productive economy:
“We are just beginning to glimpse the bare outlines of an emerging new economic system--the collaborative commons,” explains economist Jeremy Rifkin, the New York Times bestselling author of The Zero Marginal Cost Society. In our new series on disruption, Rifkin discusses the forces shaping our economy and what we can expect in the years to come. “This is the first new economic paradigm to emerge on the world scene since the advent of capitalism and socialism in the early 19th century. So it's a remarkable historical event.
or Hardt & Negri, who see it in the context of the fighting Multitude repossessing entrepreneurship:
The social production of the commons that are exploited by capital is a key feature of the contemporary economy and society. “Today production is increasingly social in a double sense: on one hand, people produce ever more socially, in networks of cooperation and interaction; and, on the other, the result of production is not just commodities but social relations and ultimately society itself” (xv, see also 78).
The common consists for Hardt and Negri of two main forms, the natural and the social commons (166), that are divided into five types: the earth and its ecosystems; the “immaterial” common of ideas, codes, images and cultural products; “material” goods produced by co-operative work; metropolitan and rural spaces that are realms of communication, cultural interaction and co-operation; and social institutions and services that organise housing, welfare, health, and education (166). Contemporary capitalism’s class structure is for Hardt and Negri based on the extraction of the commons, which includes the extraction of natural resources; data mining/data extraction; the extraction of the social from the urban spaces on real estate markets; and finance as extractive industry (166-171).
Mintzberg brings in his Plural the question of property:
What can such a variety of activities have in common, to distinguish them from what goes on in the public and private sectors? The answer is ownership: the plural sector comprises all associations of people that are owned neither by the state nor by private investors. Some are owned by their members; others are owned by no one.
And a few pages later, the Commons itself (bold on the original):
So the commons is making a comeback. Good thing, because it can allow common knowledge to replace the patent nonsense associated with much of that “intellectual property.” Believe in common property—replace the market lens of economics with the community lens of anthropology—and you will see it all over the place.
Property is an important relation in our society. But the Plural seems to include things that happen outside of the sphere of property/production of tradable goods and measurable services.
Let’s try another trinity.
Without entering explicit fields of faith or psychology, I can bring another trinity that is more obscure, one hidden balance of a capitalist society. That trinity is the Borromean Ring described by Karatani, the one contained in Le Tricolore. Liberty (Capital), Equality (State) and Fraternity (Nation) are the quintessence of the bourgeois society:
Today’s advanced capitalist nations are characterized by a triplex system, the Capital-Nation-State trinity. In its structure, there is first of all a capitalist market economy. If left to its own devices, however, this will inevitably result in economic disparities and class conflict. To counter this, the nation, which is characterized by an intention toward communality and equality, seeks to resolve the various contradictions brought about by the capitalist economy. The state then fulfills this task through such measures as taxation and redistribution or regulations. Capital, nation, and state all differ from one another, with each being grounded in its own distinct set of principles, but here they are joined together in a mutually supplementary manner. They are linked in the manner of a Borromean knot, in which the whole system will fail if one of the three is missing.
There is no capitalism as we know without those three components, without the Nation-States built from those institutions. That does not deal entirely with property. In a deeper level, the order of things without which the illusion Neo has left would cease to exist is built on those celebrated and unseen rings. On Mintzber words (bold as in the original):
To put this in another way, a democratic society balances individual, collective, and communal needs, attending to each adequately but none excessively. As individuals in our economies, we require responsible businesses for much of our employment and most of our consumption of goods and services. As citizens of our nations and the world, we require respected governments for many of our protections, physical and institutional (such as policing and regulating). And as members of our groups, we require robust communities for many of our social affiliations, whether practicing a religion or engaging in a community cooperative.
Here lies the problem with concept of Plural Sector: in a certain way, the Plural is blend between the Commons and the Nation. Civil society by other means merged with not-by-the-capital. It is not a mistake; just a mix-up. The corpus of knowledge in which Mintzberg is immersed don’t deal with the minutiae of the society as whole (like economics pretend to do), but with the solution of problems that seem solvable by action inside/through organizations. As a concept, Plural Sector is something that people who can’t see beyond the limits of the organizations, of the managing rail, could use as a mirror - and the Balanced Society in which it is part, as a rallying cry:
This book challenges the dogma that sees all of us driven to compete, collect, and consume our way to neurotic oblivion. That some of us choose to do so is indisputable. That many of us doing so poses a threat to our collective survival has likewise become indisputable. In place of this dogma, this book offers an integrating framework, built on our social, political, and economic predispositions, to consider how to restore balance in society.
Like Finn, the human, a color blind mixing emeralds for rubies in search of restoring some lost balance.
You can stop here if you want. Here be dragons on the next pages.
Into the Black / Thanks for all the fish
Balance is a useful concept if you’re dealing within the limits of the public-private political discussion that happens around some kind of “centrist” discourse. Like this:
Capitalism is not good because communism proved bad. Carried to their dogmatic limits, both are fatally flawed. “So long as the only choice is between a voracious market and a regulatory state, we will be stuck in a demoralizing downward spiral” (Bollier and Rowe 2011: 3). To put it in terms of contemporary politics, too many countries now swing fruitlessly between left and right, while others sit paralyzed in the political center.
Just add communityship:
For this to happen, we shall have to rethink democracy, to reclaim it from private individualism at the expense of collective citizenship and cultural communityship. We shall also have to stop that swinging between left and right as well as that paralysis in the political center.
… the conscious individual:
I can, however, suggest some guidelines. The place to start confronting the exploiters of this world is in front of our own mirrors. Now! We shall have to rebalance ourselves if we are to rebalance our societies. Doing this should make confronting the bigger exploiters easy! They function in all the sectors, and so do we—as consumers, voters, and members, as well as workers. We have a direct line to each and every one of them: we need to use it.
… responsible nations:
We do not need such a council but one that can lead a determined global government to promote the needs of this globe while standing up to the entitlements of economic globalization. Imagine, for example, a Peace Council comprising those democratic nations that have engaged in no war for some decades and have no significant arms exports. Such a grouping of mostly small, nonbelligerent nations could well have greater legitimacy and so be better able to promote international cooperation.
… and voilà!
In some ways, Mintzberg can be described as a decent, intelligent, sensible intellectual that wants to restore a nice world he lived in – the 60s and its surroundings on the developed world – and give it back fixed to the next generations. It is generous and sincere. He is not alone: I saw a similar aim in Peter Evans, for example. I praise their efforts, their dreams. In a certain way, I could say that we should all envy their optimism.
But I don’t think that Restoring Balance is a good concept for dealing with our times. Remember: there are people seeing Smiths now, people noticing that the Agents took over; there are Monsters.
What is the missing elephant, the one that perhaps explain why a short-fingered orange madman from Vulgary took the reins of the Elephant, crushed the Donkey on a major surprise, and now rules over le empire americaine? Larger than the once devoted elephants, Globalization proclaims: “We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile. T.I.N.A.”. Nation-states are dissolved into its smorgasbord, its quirks “smithed” away by economists, lawyers, Schumpeterian raisers of unicorns.
Another trinity: transcribing Ganesha from Peter Brook’s film, “Three gods rule the universe, three who are also one. Brahma, the creator, Shiva, the destroyer, always present when history ends. The third is Vishnu, who is quite the reverse. It is he who maintains the worlds, is he who makes them endure. When chaos threaten, as it does now…” At the End of History, in a Schumpeterian order of destruction/creation, where time obsolete all things and create new ones, where a scientist once could reclaim the powers of Vishnu in its Universal Form, no blue-skinned Avatar walks among us. Fraternity cannot play that third part anymore.
So let’s return to the cursed one, a Francis who is not the pope. Or perhaps to a German riddle hidden in the bottom of the Pacific between the guy that actually don’t speak Japanese who, influenced by Hegel, said history is no more, to the Kantian Marxist who is actually Japanese that wrote The Structure of World History. When Francis celebrated the triumph of the Liberal Order maybe he was auscultating that elder being Globalization, backgrounded since the Great War, feeling that the Liberal Order could be the Fraternity heart transplanted to the (re)born again globalized capitalist order. To the infinite and beyond the horizon of the national borders, into the all-embracing unity of the globalization, “there's a chance we're taking, we're taking our own lives, It's true we'll make a brighter day, just you and me”. The self and the selfish, the all-empowered individual and the consumer, some kind of möbius-shaped coin.
Under the Empire, the New World Order under institutions like the WTO and the BIS, the Equality interacting with the Capital by means of the Agents Smith of code, Code and economics, some kind of Fraternity was missing, some coalescing illusion. And that, folks, that was the left-wing celebration of the Liberal Order, the Liberal Order freed from the conservative moral apparatus that right wing old elephants can’t get rid of. That was the Pride Parades as the new Marcha da Família com Deus pela Liberdade, the once vanguard values at the center of the empire affirmed as spectacle, the rebellion no more in need to be smashed but just cooked into the smorgasbord without the frames and borders of once. That was the rhyzomathic explosion of Occupies, the global turning into extremes of local in search of a vanished humanity of demos as touching arms in the Multitude, metastasis on the body of the Global Village. Metastasis, because it seems worker movements are no longer strong enough to cause mutations in the body of capitalism.
Locally, people vote. People revert to the part that is still there, that they can still touch, the part that was not hijacked by a higher sphere. And that is the Nation. And some of the monsters hidden in its ever-evolving, rewritten past. The elder hyperobject called Globalization seems to be in one of its moments of anguish, of depression, a moment where it is devoid of prayers to feed it, like a god foot stamped by a rebellion – the Global Trumpism as stated by Mark Blyth.
But Globalization won’t cease: just cycle beyond the visible horizon, its noise and existence still felt. For the people invested in it, the ones that surrendered their souls and future to the Future, their inner ears won’t work on that shifted ground of its absence. Fallen in despair they will pray for some lost divinities. Like civil society. Like the Plural – a name which in itself contain the possibilities of a rainbow. But The Plural cannot deal with it. It cannot understand the malaise itself.
Without an Ummah, without the gracious blessings of an Agape filling our hearts with moral obligation to the unknown right by our side in the trenches, no happy globalization can happen. Fukuyama seemed to have found one in the liberal order. Lovely, brilliant – but he did not. You can’t build a common language from a thousand humpty-dumpties blossoming, daydreamers telling they’re woke. Transcendence is over and the gods that operate under the technosphere won’t allow any bonds of happiness, of non-exploitative existence. Before Global Warming wipes us from the face of History and Gaia, some will chant fhtagn trying to raise this postponed Utopia sleeping bellow the Pacific Century, the one of a nice and clean civil society, the iron-y free sustainable low-fat soy world in which Neo should be living his old age had he taken the Blue way, a post-social-democratic Globalization. As the Matrix degenerated into the kumbaya of Sense8, a desperate preaching for a purple which can’t be seen is heard, because even the bees are gone.
Anthropocene hangs obscenely outside.
Maybe Plural Sector and Balance are world-is-useful-as-it-is concepts. My belief is that they won’t fix even the present – surely not Global Warming, the burning Shiva always present when history ends. A real storm is approaching and it is not Trump, fascism, unbounded capitalism, undead Chinese socialism, whatever fear you want to rise against and resist. Maybe the cruelty of the Jackpot, before a place where people will play with possible warbling pasts because the present is out of their scope; certainly not some Manhattan Project painted in savior blue or rainbow unicorn.
It is dark outside. It is red.
We need to evolve a new set of eyes.