Thursday, September 09, 2004

Death as POSIWID

Aidan asks whether death can be a POSIWID.

There is a nice ambiguity about the word "end", which can mean either purpose or death/ending. Thus Hegelians (from Marx to Fukuyama) discuss the "end" of capitalism or the "end" of history, and Freudians (including Lacan) talk about the "end" of psychoanalysis.

There are many entities whose ending is in exhaustion and/or structural collapse. A car runs out of fuel and into a tree, and a tree falls down in a high wind. What (if anything) does that tell us about the purpose of the car or the tree?

We can understand the car within a fuel consumption system: the purpose of the car is to consume fuel (with a obvious effect on Middle Eastern politics). We can understand the tree within the political economy of forestry: the purpose of the tree is to create wood for furniture. Obviously there are many other ways of understanding both cars and trees.

Many public figures end their careers in failure and disgrace (because they have no other way to quit), and this makes space for the next generation of public figures. In biology, we can understand death as a purpose only when we pay attention to the genotype rather than the phenotype. This involves shifting the system frame.

Some public figures even seem to hasten towards failure and disgrace, by getting caught behaving in ways that are grossly incompatible with their public persona.

In order to use POSIWID as an explanation for apparently death-seeking behaviour, we are forced to find a system frame in which this makes sense. If large organizations have a death-wish, perhaps this helps to create space and energy for the generation/emergence of small organizations, or different kinds of organization. The widespread existence of the dreadful organizations Aidan describes is a strong motivator for decent managers and consultants, urgently trying to create something better.

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