Justice

The interconnectedness among waves and particles throughout the universe makes them agents in a massively complex adaptive system. Any changes in form, function and relationship as thoughts or actions made by one agent impact all others. To acknowledge cause and effect amid such complexity demands that one take responsibility for choosing what one thinks, says, and does and accept accountability for what happens as a result. Justice, then, is a reckoning for consequences of choices made.

Declaring Independence

Last week when I was visiting friends in a small, rural German village, my host’s eighteen year-old daughter, Lara, asked if I knew the “Declaration of Independence.” “Of course,” I quickly stated while punctuating that harrumph with the added self-assuring thought to myself, “What American doesn’t know the Declaration of Independence.” “We’re studying it in school,” she added. “Our teacher is making us memorize the introduction. Why do we have to do that? It’s two-hundred thirty years old. This is stupid!” Silence. Hmmm. She asked me if I REALLY know it, not if I knew about it! “Do you know it from heart – can you say it right now?” I inquired incredulously. Without a moment’s hesitation she blurted out the nearly 300 words in perfectly elocuted, well-delivered English. As she is reciting I am wondering, how many American kids her age can do this? My two at home are fourteen and fifteen and they don’t have a clue! I want to think they are typical middle school / high school kids, so – hypothesizing from and “n” of two – American kids get a big “F” for failure on this one. But what about the larger question she asked, “Why do we have to do that?” that is the real bugaboo. Why, indeed.

The trite answer is, “use it or lose it.” Urban legend has it that many of the signers of the “Declaration of Independence” came to a bad end due to their association with that act. While Snopes argues that many of these legends are exactly that, fabrications, checking world history, liberty does come at a price and freedom when taken for granted is lost. The common thread through the rise and fall of liberty and freedom is the ascent or descent of political and economic systems within a governmental jurisdiction. Clearly, the trajectory is an arc and what goes up must come down. Nothing stays the same; the only constant is change; and as an old “bull of the woods” boss of mine used to say, “The only thing that runs itself, runs downhill.”

In The New York Times, June 27, 2006 edition, Op-Ed Columnist, Nicholas D. Kristof wrote an editorial entitled, Chinese Medicine for American Schools. Dateline: Shanghai, Kristof writes:

But the investments in China’s modernization that are most impressive of all are in human capital. The blunt fact is that many young Chinese in cities like Shanghai or Beijing get a better elementary and high school education than Americans do. That’s a reality that should embarrass us and stir us to seek lessons from China.

And he concludes with the following:

During the Qing Dynasty that ended in 1912, China was slow to learn lessons from abroad and adjust its curriculum, and it paid the price in its inability to compete with Western powers. These days, the tables are turned, and now we Americans need to learn from China.

China, on the ascent, is blocking the Internet from its citizens…

…and the citizens are fighting it.

The U.S., on the descent, is spying on its citizens

…and we do what?

When the Declaration of Independence was enacted in 1776 Great Britain was drawing closer to the apogee of its strength as the greatest political and economic power on earth. While the hard-fought independence of the American colonies did not compromise Great Britain’s destiny as a world super power, it did send a signal that despite such greatness nothing lasts forever. Others will challenge what is taken for granted. And as was the case with the former American colonies, the United States eventually supplanted Britain as a stronger powerhouse on the world stage.

Below are the “charges” brought against King George II – deemed by the colonists who revolted, “A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free People.”

The United States Declaration of Independence, continued:

The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws of Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our People, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from Punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with Power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy of the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

So, who’s going up and who’s coming down make all the difference. Based on who is affronted by such conditions and the context in which they live their lives, people choose to either accept those conditions or challenge them. It is in making this choice that the principles defining the space where liberty and freedom prevail are brought to the forefront, given true meaning, and set the stage for a just civilization to progress. The very conditions imposed by an unjust government from which the colonists declared their independence now perpetrates those same conditions on its citizens and others. What some 230 years ago was unacceptable is now relegated to the ranks of the routine. We are quickly forgetting why our forefathers took the stand they did. But it won’t take others elsewhere to pick up the banner from us. Liberty, freedom, and justice that underpin them, live on forever! And that, my friends, is why we read and memorize the Declaration of Independence!

Originally posted to New Media Explorer by Steve Bosserman on Tuesday, July 4, 2006

The Problem of Power

Since humanity began its odyssey out of Central Africa millennia ago, hierarchy is the only consistently adopted structure for distributing power within a social system. This structure holds intact the social system in which it exists. To do so, it exercises three roles:

  1. Define “boundaries” – territorial, birthright, and behavioral – that determine who’s in and who’s out
  2. Provide security that protects the boundaries, preserves the lineage, and maintains the behavioral guidelines
  3. Respond to changing circumstances so that the primary social system persists

Hierarchy is easy to install since it begins when one person assumes a dominate position relative to another. It is efficient. The dominant one sets the boundary conditions and subordinates operate within them. When coupled with fear of consequence if one does not stay within the boundaries and the promise of reward if one meets or exceeds expectations the vast majority of members comply with the dictates of the hierarchical social system.

Members of hierarchical social systems participate in governance, free enterprise, and non-governmental affiliations. The rulers set the parameters in which members operate so that government has the resources to assure security, enact rules of conduct, ownership, and commerce, and provide a system of jurisprudence in the event that members do not follow the rules or violate the rights of members. Property owners, business owners, and those who contribute their skills, time, and energy are compensated, pay some percentage of their profit and income to government so that it can function, and voluntarily give to community-based organizations that benefit the commonweal and care for those who cannot contribute. It is a system of cooperation, choice, and commitment that is simple and elegant.

Hierarchy is a structural “tool” for managing social systems. It is the integral framework upon which all institutions – governmental, business, or non-governmental / not-for-profit – are built. As such, it becomes a common denominator that cuts across society in all its endeavors. Like any tool, it is neither good nor evil. How people use hierarchical structure within their institutions and throughout their social system is what imbues it with certain characteristics of morality, ethics, and fairness and places it on a continuum of social justice ranging from barely evident on one end to being a matter of course on the other.

The driving force that shifts a social system along the scale of social justice is the use, or abuse, of power. Hierarchical social systems concentrate power in the hands of a minority number among the overall population. As Lord Acton stated, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” In other words, when holding a dominant position, some are seduced by the power they have over others. This prompts them to do the following:

  1. Stay in their positions of power
  2. Keep the hierarchical social system intact so that the positions of power they hold are preserved
  3. Curtail affiliation among those who are disenfranchised by the system so that the threat of insurrection is quelled.

Basically, people who are so affected are drawn by the possibility of extracting even more profit or garnering more control. They limit choices for subordinates and force compliance to rules and conditions that are not beneficial to members. In addition, they attempt to keep the system as it is so that their gain is consolidated and ideally, continues to grow.

As an example, approximately 50% of the world’s population earns less than $2 / day per capita through subsistence agriculture. The hope of a higher quality of life is dashed each day eking out an existence under the harshest of circumstances. Leadership in these countries is averse to mechanize and modernize agriculture because those displaced would venture to cities in an effort to find work. This would overburden the already congested and over-stressed infrastructures in these urban areas elevating discontent and unrest. Better to keep people where they are so they are contained having to care for themselves. Meanwhile, the economies grow and the top echelons gain wealth.

Another example: according to an article in The Open AIDS Journal entitled, “HIV Infection and AIDS in Sub-Saharan AfricaUNAIDS report,” Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 70% of all people afflicted with HIV in the world. This area holds some of the world’s richest natural resources, yet the population is in grave peril, health-wise, including leaders. In fact, that is the point. The world has known about AIDS / HIV in Africa for nearly 30 years and has only in the last five mobilized efforts to do something. All indications suggest it is too little, too late. Millions have died from AIDS already and millions more will do so over the next two generations as the endemic unfolds. Sub-Saharan governments are rendered ineffective due to a lack of competent, experienced leadership, citizens are not able to care or fend for themselves, economies slow their growth, and property ownership and control shifts to foreigners. Colonies once lost due to revolution are reclaimed – without firing a shot.

As yet another example, consider genocide. In his 1994 book, Death by Government: Genocide and Mass Murder since 1900, author R.J. Rummel defined and documented “democide,” e.g., atrocities committed by governments on their citizens. Of the nearly 170 million who died at the hand of their governments during the 20th Century, 130 million, over 75%, were victims of four regimes: Soviet, Communist Chinese, German, and Nationalist Chinese. This does not include Rwanda in 1994. And genocide continues as the people from Darfur have borne witness every day this year. A weakened population becomes weaker. Those who hold the most power in the world act as though they are powerless as these horrific injustices go unchecked. The reality is there is nothing to be gained by intervening and much that could be lost if circumstances go awry. The people of Darfur, like the millions before them, are collateral damage in an economic power struggle of global proportions.

In his unsettling essay, “Waiting for the Lights to Go Out ,” published in the October 16, 2005 edition of The London Times, Bryan Appleyard posits a rather grim future wherein civilization is doomed to return once again to the Dark Ages. The central theme of his essay is the meltdown of society as we know it due to our insatiable addiction to oil, the inevitable depletion of oil reserves, and our woefully inadequate and untimely response to that eventuality. At the heart of his thesis is that human nature has not progressed very far since we began our migrations throughout the world from our African origins. Appleyard states, “Our aggressive, tribal nature is hard-wired, unreformed and unreformable. Individually we are animals and, as animals, incapable of progress. The trick is to cage these animal natures in effective institutions: education, the law, government. But these can go wrong.” Not particularly encouraging!

Rulers enact laws that are increasingly restrictive, militaristic, and draconian or become arbitrary in their decisions. Owners pull more profit, become more risk averse, and offer fewer benefits. Having less voice and impact, non-governmental organizations become more fanatical and close-minded; their ratios of administrative overhead to pay-out increase, and beneficiaries receive less real assistance.

In summary, the thirst for power and the specter of losing it becomes a corruptive force that undermines the fundamental tenets of a system that is given to efficiency and effectiveness if used honorably. People suffer for lack of true justice. Is there any way institutions, no matter how well-intended, can escape the slippery slope into corruption and injustice? Or is this simply the dark underbelly of hierarchy which must be accepted until people have more distance in time from their early violent struggle for survival as Homo sapiens? What is your opinion?

Originally posted to New Media Explorer by Steve Bosserman on Monday, December 12, 2005

Integrity Expanded

As a knowledge broker, one of our main goals is to stay “in integrity,” in other words, to remain true to our purpose, principles, and intentions. Because these characteristics have personal significance rather than public they are considered “informal.” The graphic below, a variation of the diagram posted in an earlier blog, associates these three integrity elements with sides of a triangle.

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The use of a triangle sends a mixed message. Its structure is symbolic of a rigid, top-down hierarchy. However, it is the most stabile of all geometric forms requiring changes to the lengths of the sides and sizes of the angles in order to alter its overall dimensionality. In other words, the original must be destroyed to take another shape. Because of this duality between rigidity and stability, both the sides AND the angles have meaning in the metaphor.

In the diagram below, the angles are labeled “authority,” fiduciary,” and “legal.” These three characteristics are more public than personal in their significance and are considered “formal” integrity elements. In dealing with other people as part of a larger social system, we are expected to be wise stewards of resources be they investments / use of time, talent, money, creativity, etc. We are also expected to comply with the laws enacted by the government having local jurisdiction. Finally, we are accountable for our responsibilities commensurate with the authority we have to act. This is the foundation of justice.

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The combination of both informal and formal components represented by the sides and angles of the triangle provides us with integrated personal and public dimensions of integrity. This is represented graphically below.

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This same sense of informal and formal can be applied to organizations as well as individuals. In addition, any organization has an integrity as does each person who is a member of it. Because of the correlation in integrity between formal and informal, and individual and organization, integrity is the foundation of organization design approaches.

Originally posted to New Media Explorer by Steve Bosserman on Thursday, September 1, 2005 and updated on Saturday, September 24, 2005