Monday, April 18, 2016

The Man From the Radiant Dystopian Utopian Future Past

What would Honest Weight Food Corporation be without controversy? Recently, the Board of Honest Weight, which is down to five members after four members resigned earlier this year due to issues surrounding the previous Board’s attempt to end the membership worker programme that has long been at the heart of the coop part of Honest Weight, appointed one S.R., one Better Call, to one of the empty seats of the Board. The Board can do this according to the by-laws, the constitution of Honest Weight.

R, who finished behind two others who finished just beyond the threshold for being elected to the Board, was appointed because he was a lawyer and this meant that the Board didn’t have to fill out the forms that are required for the New York State Liquor Authority each time a new member joins the Board. The Board, by the way, is the legislative and executive body of Honest Weight while the GRC, the Governance Review Council, has become the corporation’s Supreme Court, if unofficially and with no real power to enforce its rulings, something Andrew Jackson would, I think, have admired. But back to our main story: The Board had just spent an undisclosed amount of time doing the forms that hadn’t been filed for three and one half years. Fortunately for Honest Weight this lack of bureaucratic efficiency didn’t result in the loss of Honest Weight’s liquor license, since beer sales make up a significant portion of the total sales at the grocery.

A few people raised questions about whether it is proper for an institution that proclaims democracy as one of its defining missions should appoint someone to the Board who finished below two others. Others, like G.T, argued that “[w]e've [Honest Weight] been out of compliance with our liquor license for 2 years in a row, thanks to the LT's [Leadership Team’s] oversight. But somehow that's not what you want to talk about. You'd rather criticize the board for appointing a lawyer to help resolve a problem that the board didn't make. They had to fight to get the license situation under control, and were able to do that more quickly since S.R. did not need to go through the same kinds of background checks and fingerprinting that N would have had to if he had been seated. The license could have been taken away, at which point it would have been much harder to get back. We sell quite a bit of beer, which I'm sure you know, since I've seen you with an entire cart full of Sam Smith before. Thank your lucky stars next time you're drunkenly trolling this forum looking to stir up some conspiracy bullshit.”

I want to analyze G.T.’s statement because I think it reflects several not particularly positive trends in contemporary “intellectual” thought and analysis in the era of Twitter, twitterese, the new digital communications media, and the decline of the liberal arts college and its devolution into a type of vocational school. Let me note quickly that the ad hominem slurs inherent in G.T.’s accusations of drunkenness were made about someone Mr. G.T. doesn’t really know and that they reflect an unfortunate tendency in many of today's youth, particularly the male "kid" of the species, who seem to be unable to outgrow the schoolyard bullying or the rather childish and arrogant anti-intellectualism of their youth. Second, G.T.’s accusations that someone is trolling Honest Weight forums stirring up controversy are leveled far too often at those trying to uphold intellectual standards of argumentation and discourse, two things that seem to be lost in a generation brought up on the media, including Twitter, and educated in institutions that no longer maintain critical intellectual standards, and he provides no empirical justification for this accusation.

I want to explore Mr. G.T.’s level of intellectual discourse in the rest of this blog by focusing on his argument that Better Call had to be appointed to save Honest Weight’s Liquor license. There is a fundamental problem with G.T.’s argument. It is ambiguous. What does G.T. mean when he argues that R had to be appointed? Does he mean that only lawyers should be appointed to the Board now that Honest Weight has a liquor license and since it requires a Herculean effort on the part of the Board to make sure that the paperwork for the New York State Liquor Authority is kept up to snuff? Is he asserting that only lawyers should run for the Board since the paperwork to maintain the liquor license has become a labour of Hercules that only a lawyer could do this? Doesn’t that ignore the fact that only two of the members of the Board before S.R. was called were lawyers and that they managed to do what was required of them to get Honest Weight in compliance with the regulations of the State Liquor Authority? Is he arguing that this is a special situation and requires the labours of one Better Call. Isn’t this argument precluded by G.T.’s absolute statement about the need to have lawyers on the Board to protect the sale of liquor at Honest Weight? It is hard to tell what G.T. means since his assertions are not backed up with anything more than empty generalisations. At the very least he seems to be arguing that only lawyers should be appointed to the Board because only they can allow the Board and Honest Weight to avoid the slings and arrows of bureaucratic desire. He also may be implying that only lawyers should be elected to the Board since only they allow the Board to escape the herculean labours that have to be taken in order to meet the requirements of the New York State Liquor Authority, requirements that demand that each time a new member joins the Board the SLA must be informed and that the new member be vetted for possible violations of laws associated with selling liquor in retail stores. Whatever G.T. is trying to say one thing can be said about his “arguments”, they lack intellectual rigour, they are intellectually lazy, and they are intellectually sloppy. They are also all too human.

One more point before I go. I think the evidence strongly suggests that G.T. is arguing for the appointment of Better Call to the Board because he likes him and likes what he thinks Better Call stands for. G.T. likes Better Call because Better Call is, according to G.T., favourably disposed to labour and labour unions. G.T., you see, is one of the proponents of unionisation and is a member of a minority IWW union at Honest Weight. His goal seems to be to get the Board to recognise his minority union and he presumably thinks that the Rutgers educated S.R., a point G.T. makes a big deal of, is a means to this end. This, of course, is patented ideological construction of reality stuff and shows that the Wobbly commitment to what they call “direct democracy”, at least in the case of Honest Weight's direct Board elections, is secondary to their means, getting a lawyer sympathetic to unions on the Board, to their radiant ends, achieving Wobbly recognition at Honest Weight. It also shows that G.T. is a typical human who, like others, including members of the Westboro Baptist Church, construct a “reality” that fits their ideological needs.

And oh, as for Better Call he was elected to the Board last week. His comments prior to the election suggest that he may have a messianic complex which would seem to mesh well with G.T.'s uncritical defence of his appointment to the Board. Charismatic leaders, as Max Weber recognised, do have their acolytes. The appointment of R. to the Board, which was, in my opinion, a violation of the spirit of democracy at Honest Weight, doesn't seem to have raised much in the way of batted eyebrow amongst many of the voting members of the "coop". Oh well, I guess now would be a good time to note the conclusions of the Asch and Milgram studies.

Friday, April 8, 2016

No Voting For Me...

It is voting for the Board time again at Honest Weight. I definitely won't be voting for one person who is running for the Board, Better Call R. Saul. I know he is Honest Weight's Wobblies' Miss Honest Weight of 2016 because he wears the union label. I know he is the Miss Congeniality of 2016 of Honest Weight Board member Ned Depew because he found it expedient to appoint yet another lawyer to one of the Board's four empty seats because it meant the Board didn't have to send a form to the New York State Liquor Authority. I don't know why the other four members of the Board supported appointing Better Call Saul despite the fact that he finished below two others who had garnered more votes in the Special Membership Meeting election of last year. Was it because the Orange Brigade that controls the Board wanted to appoint one of their own? Was it because the Orange Brigade wanted to give Better Call Saul an advantage in the upcoming election? Was it because the Board was advised by lawyers that it was simply easier to appoint a lawyer rather than to follow the messier democratic process? Regardless of the reason this Board's action shows to me that the recent Board is as little committed to the direct democracy Honest Weight loudly proclaims that it is on its wall as the previous Board was when it appointed John Serio, who also finished behind another candidate, ironically the same one, who had more votes than Serio did.

Because of the current Board's lack of respect for direct democracy I am going to abstain from the upcoming Board elections. I am glad that this Board has finally brought into the light what went on under the previous Board and under the reign of the Leadership Team. I am glad that we now know that $75,000 dollars in bonuses (some claim the amount was higher, others lower) were paid over three years to the LT (which three years they don't note), that $200,000 dollars was spent on rent on the old store location that members were told we would not be paying after January of 2013 (though it was known that we were still renting the old store), and that $500,000 dollars was spent enriching advisers pushing corporatisation in order to eliminate the member labour programme, one of the few things that continues to make Honest Weight a kind of "coop". The old Board and the LT did all of this despite the fact that the store was, according to the same Board and LT, having financial problems and was not meeting managements sales goals. Shades of vampire corporate capitalism. I am, in other words, glad that the current Board is apparently trying to clean up the mess the previous Board and the LT left them. Despite this, however, I cannot in good conscience vote for a group of people who fail to live up to the direct democracy claims displayed prominently in the store.

I have to say that not voting also has other perks. I won't miss going to a membership meeting in which questions asked of the candidates make the questions asked of American presidential candidates seem intellectually impressive and challenging by comparison. I won't miss the fact that questions taken from the audience on pieces of paper are not only dumbed down but, the difficult ones in particular, are censored. I won't miss voting in elections where incumbents have an unfair advantage and are generally re-elected. Shades of American oligarchy. I will be happy that I won't, to paraphrase George Carlin, be in any way responsible for what comes bureaucratically after at Honest Weight.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Man Who Knew Too Little About Bureaucracies

I don't remember precisely when it happened, probably in the 1960s and after, but bureaucracy has become, like cult, a dirty word for many in the United States. I am not sure those who use bureaucracy as a dirty word really know what a bureaucracy is, however. According to one introductory textbook on sociology “[b]ureaucracy is a type of organisation marked by a clear hierarchy of authority and the existence of written rules or procedures and staffed by full-time salaries officials.” Another introductory sociology text defines bureaucracy similarly as a “formal organisation in which power is allocated through a hierarchy of offices and goal statues. In a bureaucracy people engage in specialised tasks, there is a division of labour, and abide by rules and expectations that are clearly defined”.

Let’s apply these similar definitions to a case study, a case study of the Honest Weight Food "Coop". Does Honest Weight have a clear hierarchy? Yes, there is the Board of Directors, Honest Weight’s ruling legislative and executive body. Below them is the Leadership Team. Below these managers are a host of workers with specialised tasks such as benefits, payroll, and advertising. Below these mid level managers are the heads of departments including grocery, the deli, and the front end. Then there are the staff. As one goes up the hierarchy pay increases just as in any other bureaucracy. As one goes up the hierarchical pyramid does power and authority increase? It does just as it does in the American government and in the American military. Does Honest Weight have written rules? It does. Honest Weight has a book full of ever increasing by-laws and it has an employees manual full of ever increasing rules that employees are supposed to abide by. Needless, to say other bureaucracies from IBM to the federal government have similar written rules. Do Honest Weight’s employees engage in specialised tasks? They do. Honest Weight has cashiers, deli personnel, mid management personnel, and upper management personnel to name just a few. Management personnel, as is the case in GE, are subdivided by specialised tasks. Is Honest Weight a bureaucracy in the way that term has been defined for one hundred years or so? The answer to that question is a resounding well duh, yes it is.

Despite all of this, despite, in other words, of the clear fact that Honest Weight is a bureaucracy, there are still those who deny the obvious, namely, that Honest Weight is a bureaucracy. One can only wonder why an intelligent and thinking person fails to recognise that Honest Weight, given the weight of the evidence, is a typical bureaucracy. Is he or she unfamiliar with the scientific literature on bureaucracies? Does he or she not know that comparative history shows that as societies were transformed from hunter-gatherer societies to small scale agricultural societies to large agricultural societies and to modern industrial societies, populations grew and bureaucracies grew to deal with increasing numbers of people, the increasingly complex tasks that demographic growth and civilisational complexity brought, and to maximise economic and political efficiency? Does he or she not want to believe that Honest Weight is a bureaucracy because he or she can't face the truth? Is he or she trapped in an ideological iron cage and unable to admit the obvious because that would mean giving up a cherished ideological fiction? You do the ideological math.