Sunday, January 2, 2011

Institutions Don't Bleed

I was recently listening to an administrator discuss the financial state of his institution.  It could have been any administrator in any institution—the fact that it was the chief financial officer of a small liberal arts college is only of minor relevance.  An unspoken and unquestioned premise behind his message was that the good of the institution outweighs the needs of the individuals whose accumulative time, labor, and assent are responsible for the institution’s continued existence.   Individuals are expected to sacrifice—or be sacrificed, if necessary—whenever the “needs” of the institution are in conflict with the needs of the individuals themselves.  This premise is so fundamental that no institution could persist without its tacit and unwavering acceptance.

But the premise is clearly indefensible.  Human beings have needs.  Institutions are abstractions, organizational tools designed to facilitate the ends of individuals.  It is always an open question as to whether the continued existence of the institution is in anybody’s best interest.  And that applies to governments, multinational corporations, and small liberal arts colleges in equal measure.

The inertia of the status quo appears to defy Newton’s laws, unassailable by any external force.  The persistence of institutions, governments, entire civilizations, rapidly becomes an end in itself, and the natural order of things is reversed: a useful tool in the service of human ends becomes human ends entrained to service the “goals” of the tool. 

To dismantle an institution that has ceased to serve human needs, to destroy—by violent means if need be—any tool that threatens our humanity is a moral imperative.

No comments:

Post a Comment