LOCATING THE ORGANIZATION:
THEMES OF ORDER, MEMBERSHIP, AND MEANING
(with Joseph C. Bentley)
It would be difficult to ignore the amount of attention recently directed toward the culture of organizations. The increased discussion in both the popular press and professional literature over the past few years suggests that the idea of organizational cultures is one whose time not only has finally arrived, but is somewhat past due.
What has made the idea of organizational cultures suddenly so relevant and compelling? One answer lies in the ubiquitous phrase, "Japan, Inc.", which reflects the widespread belief that Japanese organizations are so extremely successful because of the degree to which Japanese culture is embodied in their policies and practices. But there are other explanations as well. All organizations, as they grow in size and complexity, begin to take on more of the cultural characteristics of complete social systems. And as organizations in general play an ever-larger role in society, their values, beliefs, and behaviors increasingly excite and influence the larger society.
Underlying these topical explanations is one less obvious, but even more fundamental. This explanation lies in the primary role that modern organizations have come to play in transmitting culture to individual members of modern societies. This occurs not so much through their manifest output --their end products or services--as through the values, beliefs, and behaviors espoused by and practiced within the organizations and exuded into the larger society.
This last explanation provides a significant new rationale for the study of organizational cultures. In the discussion that follows, we offer a paradigm to facilitate the understanding of organizational cultures through their primary underlying dimensions of order, membership, and meaning.
THE IMPACT OF MODERN ORGANIZATIONS
It is a truism of the social sciences that, however varied they may appear, the cultures of all human societies are rooted in human nature, reflecting both individual and collective human needs. In contrast, organizations are understood to bring people together almost exclusively to serve the limited and specific instrumental ends of the organizations themselves.
When organizations first began to emerge as the dominant structures of modern industrial society, little conscientious attention was paid to the human needs of those who were employed in them. Remaining unmet within such structures, these needs readily could be satisfied outside the limited social area which organizations claimed for their own. The individual could readily escape to the communitas or gemutlicheit of the larger culture, to what sociologists fondly think of as a social life characterized by shared feelings of care and regard, in which individuals and their personal needs were salient. In this more humane environment, people could mutually celebrate their joys, tend their sorrows, and exchange succor enough to sustain each other through the morrow's travail.
In the last half century, however, organizations have vastly increased in size and number; directly and indirectly, their influence now permeates almost every sphere of social life. This has had two major results. The area of the larger society unaffected by such organizations has become ever smaller, and an "organizational ethos" has come to dominate Western, and especially American culture. Thus it has become increasingly difficult to restore oneself in some larger, sustaining culture that has not been seriously altered by organizational influences.1
More and more all encompassing, organizations and their cultures have tended to supplement and to supplant American society and culture as the primary experiential context of individual lives. Organizations have forcefully inserted themselves into the personal lives of their members, clients, and customers, pushing aside other values and beliefs. One has only to think of the advertising jingles that we continually and unconsciously sing to ourselves to realize this pervasiveness. Perhaps accidentally, certainly clumsily, organizations have thus fallen heir to the central function of culture itself: the satisfying of fundamental human needs.
BASIC HUMAN NEEDS: ORDER, MEMBERSHIP, AND MEANING2
Our research suggests that the combined dimensions of order, membership, and meaning comprise an especially effective paradigm for analyzing and understanding human behavior. We have found these three themes repeatedly alluded to and remarked upon in a body of literature that would otherwise seem highly disparate, ranging from the fiction of Fydor Dostoyevski, to the theology of Paul Tillich, to an accidental classroom simulation of Nazism conducted by a high school teacher in California.
From our reading of this extensive commentary on the human condition, it seems apparent that as human beings negotiate life, they struggle with three fundamental needs, each with its attendant anxiety: the need for order in the face of chaos, the need for membership to counter isolation, and the need for meaning against the threat of meaninglessness.3 The outcome of these struggles provide the overall essential shape of human life. Every society encounters these needs and helps its members manage these struggles by providing them with a stable frame of reference (order), a feeling of belonging (membership), and a sense of purpose (meaning). Therefore order, membership, and meaning are the dimensions along which individuals both experience and assuage the anxieties inherent in being human. Although we have separated them analytically, they remain inherently entwined.
As noted historian Barbara Tuchman remarks in The March of Folly, "disorder is the least tolerable of social conditions. "Order", observed Alexander Pope, "is Heav'n's first law." That law is well dramatized in Genesis, where God's initial act is to create order out of chaos by dividing things into categories counterpoised to one another--night and day, the firmament and the heavens, the land and the waters. Such ordering turns out to be, in fact, how we as humans come to know things--by contrast and comparison. And knowledge--knowing both what things are and what to do or how to behave in regard to them--is by definition and necessity a group affair. Thus our suggested sequence in which all three elements occur together: order first, enabling membership, both in turn sustaining meaning. In concert, they effectively guarantee that there is some arrangement to the world and that together we shall make sense of it. Although the three elements always occur together, order seems both primary and prerequisite. Order is thus the "primordial" dimension. As historian Eric Voegelin has remarked, "Every society is burdened with the task, under its concrete conditions, of creating an order...."
One way in which order suggests its primacy is in being so difficult to define. Sociologist Peter Berger, noting that the propensity for order is a "fundamental human trait," provides a description worth quoting at length:
Any historical society is an order, a protective structure of meaning, erected in the face of chaos. Within this order the life of the group as well as the life of the individual makes sense. Deprived of such order, both group and individual are threatened with the most fundamental terror, the terror of chaos that Emile Durkheim called anomie (literally, a state of being "order-less").
Noting that men have believed in a created order of society "throughout most of human history," Berger identifies an even more basic element: This is the human faith in order as such, a faith closely related to man's fundamental trust in reality. This faith is experienced not only in the history of societies and civilizations, but in the life of each individual--indeed, child psychologists tell us there can be no maturation without the presence of this faith at the outset of the socialization process. Man's propensity for order is grounded in a faith or trust that, ultimately, reality is "in order," "all right," "as it should be".... This is an experience that is absolutely essential to the process of becoming a human person. Put differently, at the very center of the process of becoming fully human, at the core of humanitas, we find an experience of trust in the order of reality."
In comparison with order, the element of membership may seem far easier to explain: A person simply is a member of a group. That is, there are others like oneself in certain ways and everyone who is one of these people knows and feels that they all belong together. Anthropologists, psychologists, and sociologists deal with group membership all the time, although seldom at this elemental level. But there are membership categories to which one belongs in an almost ontological sense. To be an adult, for example, means to occupy a category beyond which it is almost impossible to go without becoming reductionist, i.e., without ending up with something that is not fully human. Another such category is sex; whatever cultural variations there may be, ultimately one is either male or female.4
In actuality, such categories are socially created and maintained; their ontological status is a reflection of their social efficacy. That is, they exist because they work. Social realities (including the reality of membership itself) are defined for members by the very fact of social membership. It is in this way that membership precedes meaning and might even be considered as precedent to order.
A powerful argument for the primacy of membership is found in the work of French sociologist Emile Durkheim. Durkheim's perspective reverses what is often seen as the usual--and therefore the natural--order (!) of relationship between individual and group. Given the centrality of individualism to U.S. history, resistance to such a perspective is understandable. The American predilection, eloquently sacralized in the Declaration of Independence, is to see a social group as an assemblage of individuals who have chosen to give up some of their individual "inalienable rights" in order to create and become members of that group. Individuals are assumed to have an existential priority, while groups are believed to be derivative, coming into being only if a majority of individuals agree to make one.
Throughout his work, Durkheim argues the opposite view: the group exists first; members are then allowed whatever degree of individualism a particular group believes is appropriate. Durkheim would explain the American emphasis on individualism as an outcome of social dynamics rather than individual choice.
THE NATURE OF HUMAN NATURE
Durkheim's conclusions rest on a philosophy of human nature resonant with Dostoyevsky's famous parable, "The Grand Inquisitor." This view of human nature lies at the crux of our argument, so it would be well to summarize it here.
Like all animals, human beings have to act in the world in order to survive. But unlike all the others, human animals lack the genetic instructions for specific behaviors provided by instinct. The dilemma of having to behave and not knowing what to do5 is resolved through the introduction of the most basic of all social inventions--rules. And not just rules, but rules that are credible and binding enough to guarantee coordinated activity among organism which are the most interdependent of all.6
It is not enough that such rules are physically enforced and warrant compliance through fear; it is much more important that the rules are emotionally embraced and accomplish conformity through the desire of individuals to conform.
What leads people to follow the rules so passionately? One answer lies in the vague sense that humans have of their own "open-endedness," a constant but seldom conscious awareness of the prospect of becoming lost, of drifting on the vast sea of human possibilities with no means of charting a proper course or choosing an appropriate destination. But a more immediate answer lies in the concrete realization that these rules--the right here and now rules of everyday life--are believed in and are being followed by people who are very much like themselves.7
It is this emotional, almost visceral commitment to internalized rules that conquers the dilemma of the human situation. As Sartre painfully observed, humans are "condemned to freedom." And yet Otto Rank noted that people inevitably create "out of freedom a prison." Thus Rousseau's disturbing conclusion still holds: "while man is born free he is everywhere in chains."
Yet these chains are the very rules which ally us together. The tension between the individual self and the social self--the desire for individual autonomy and the need for group participation--remains a human dilemma for which there is no simple or final resolution.
As necessity is the mother of invention, order, membership and meaning are the invention--and the inventions--of necessity. Human beings have no choice but to invent the things they then necessarily have to do. Order, membership, and meaning--whatever the sequence--are the dimensions of the socially invented world required to constrain and in this way to enable human action.
Meaning appears to be the last and most derivative dimension of these three elements. Clearly, membership makes meaning both possible and available. Meaning is, by definition (that is, by common consent!) something which is shared. But meaning is not as simple as that.
Meaning occurs when something is tied to previous human experience and carries some implication for future behavior. Both philosophers and social scientists have amply demonstrated that meaning does not reside in things themselves but comes into being through convention. Thus the making of meaning is a group process; while invention is often individual, "convention" is always social. As a result of this distinctly human capacity there comes into being a fantastic array of "things," ranging from the square root of minus-1 to the symbolism of a rainbow--things that exist only at the level of social convention.
Of all the embodiments of convention, language is both the most elaborate and the most instructive. Many observers consider language to be the sine qua non of humanness. There being no such thing as a language understood by only one person, language clearly exists only at the social level. But more significant is the fact that only through language can individuals transcend their ultimate isolation from one another. It is through language, especially the ordinary language of everyday conversation, that humans create and maintain their mutually shared conventions. This jointly shared reality offers the only prospect of social life.
Meaning is the most derivative of these three dimensions, the one arrived at last. Thus order and membership seem required for meaning to emerge. But it would be more accurate to recognize meaning as the medium within which humans operate, the dimension in which they are most situated. Where order and membership stand respectively as the parameters and context of the human gestalt, meaning looms actively in the foreground. Meaning is, in fact, the medium of consciousness itself. Humans think in terms of meanings; they act in terms of meanings; shared meanings define membership; established meanings comprise order.
So it is well to repeat our earlier caveat: order, membership, and meaning are reciprocally contingent and interdependent, ultimately inseparable from one another.
SUPPORT FOR THE PARADIGM
Once pointed out, this centrality of order, membership, and meaning seems readily apparent, almost intuitively obvious. The frequency with which a description of the paradigm prompts reactions of immediate recognition in itself seems to lend credence to our model.8 But our identification of these three particular elements as the basic dimensions of human existence has been moved by other considerations as well.
In fact, the paradigm draws its principle support from the large number of scholars, scientists, and writers who, although often in strikingly different ways, have identified, alluded to, or implied the existence of three similar features as characteristic of the human situation. That so many students of human behavior would reference three similar dimensions strongly supports the veracity and pertinence of the paradigm. Taken together, we are convinced that this congruence among such a divergent group of observers constitutes not merely an argument ad homonym, but a demonstration if not a proof of the paradigm. (For examples of this support see Appendix A; for a more complete list of those who have contributed to this conclusion, see Appendix B.)
TOWARD A COMPLETE THEORY
Order, membership, and meaning find expression at both social and psychological levels. These represent the group and individual levels of human experience. The following table presents the paradigm with both dimensions:
LEVELS OF ANALYSIS
At the social/group level are order, membership, and meaning. So far, these dimensions have been presented as primarily sociological. But they are actually encountered at psychological/individual level in ways that provide people with a sense of structure, a feeling of belonging, and a realization of purpose. And it is in these more immediate psychological terms that people live their lives.
Coming from the different but complimentary traditions of sociology and psychology, we believe that a critical site for investigating and comprehending human behavior lies where social and psychological dimensions intersect with those of order, membership, and meaning.
At earlier periods in history a study of such junctures would have meant looking at families, tribes, villages, or religious groupings. But in the modern societies of today it means the study of formal organizations. This is so for several reasons:
First, and most obviously, formal organizations dominate and largely determine the world we live in, from the kinds of cars we drive to the vows we speak in marriage ceremonies, from the foods we select at our local grocery stores to the fairy tales we read our children.
Second, and equally important, most of us spend the largest portion of our lives either immediately within or linked to such organizations.
And finally, many of our most salient individual identities are rooted in or tied to our organizational memberships. Thus organizations not only shape our society and our lives, they also shape our social and individual selves.
While the dimensions of order, membership, and meaning are to some basic extent still satisfied within families, and by the gender, age, and kinship roles that families provide, it is obvious that even the influence of families has been diminished by the powerful, countervailing omnipresence of organizations. As the history of Western society testifies, human life has been acted out increasingly at the level of ever-larger social entities. More and more, the links connecting the individual to social activities are forged by larger, more impersonal, inclusive organizations.9
In the modern world, individual lives are increasingly dominated by organizations, contained within organizations, and connected to other individual lives through organizations. Organizations provide our birthplaces and our final resting places, as well as the pathways for getting from the one to the other. Chains of organizations supply us with both basic necessities and superfluous luxuries. Within the context of organizations we fight our wars and govern our lives, pray to our gods and pursue our health, educate our children and resolve our differences. It is no exaggeration to state that organizations today surround us with structure, provide our belonging, and give our lives purpose.10
How do organizations accomplish this? How do they adequately supply the order, membership, and meaning which humans so earnestly crave?
One answer is found in the wealth of recent studies of organizational cultures. As organizations have grown larger, more inclusive, and increasingly central to our lives, they have taken on a set of full-blown cultural and societal characteristics. Thus it becomes instructive to understand organizations through the application of concepts originally associated with the study of culture and society.
As the literature of organizational cultures has revealed, organizations develop myths, norms, heroes, traditions, rites, rituals, ceremonies, ideologies, languages, customs, stories, and values. These qualities come distinctively to characterize each organization, to become part of its "folklore" and to be passed on to subsequent generations of organizational members. As in all cultures, innovations, internal dislocations and lags occur; organizational cultures rise and fall (as do the organizations themselves), and some organizational cultures expand, while others decline or disappear.
RITES, RITUALS, AND CEREMONIES
Much as the social sciences that engendered them, studies of organizational culture abound with a bewildering argosy of terms and concepts. We have selected three--rites, rituals, and ceremonies--with which to extend our paradigm into the study of organizational cultures.
Several reasons lie behind this selection: One is the current popularity of the terms themselves. More substantial is the long-established centrality of these concepts to the whole tradition of the social sciences. But most important is that each of these concepts embodies all three of our paradigmatic elements.
Rites, rituals, and ceremonies identify and locate three types of organizational activity along the continua of order, membership, and meaning (OMM). At one end of these continua, "rites" refer to simple, brief, informal OMM occurrences, while at the opposite end, "ceremonies" refer to complete OMM events which are elaborate, lengthy, and formal; "rituals" fall midway in between. Each of these types of organizational activity shares (in varying degree) these following characteristics:
(1) a cognitive frame of reference or map in terms of which the activity can be considered to "make sense;"
(2) a sequence of appropriate behaviors enacted by appropriate persons (legitimated either formally or informally) and occurring within appropriate spatial and temporal conditions;
(3) a system of values and proprieties used to judge the activity and its constituent elements, including some "ultimate" value or function by which the activity's overall effectiveness (as so defined) can be ascertained;
(4) a sub-set of criteria and patterned activities through which admission to and exit from the group conducting or sharing in the activity are established and maintained.
Grounded in the common understanding that organizational effectiveness is directly dependent upon combined individual performances and group morale, and upon the theoretical model we have presented thus far, our analysis of the relationship between individuals and organizations leads us to the following general proposition:
Individual performance and morale within an organization is in direct relationship to the degree to which that organization provides and/or allows individuals the opportunities to create and participate in rites, rituals, and ceremonies which, embodying and expressing the dimensions of order, membership, and meaning, satisfy individual needs for structure, belonging, and purpose.
This proposition provides the critical starting point from which to more thoroughly explore the complex interrelationship between individual needs and organizational cultures and the increasing challenge that organizations face in attempting to adequately satisfy those personal needs.
APPENDIX A: SUPPORTING REFERENCES FOR THE OMM PARADIGM
Peter Berger identifies the three dimensions of order, meaning, and membership in both sacred and secular contexts: "Men are congenitally compelled to impose a meaningful order upon reality. This order, however, pre-supposes the social enterprise of ordering world construction." The quote is from The Sacred Canopy (1969), p.23. Such activities effectively counter the extreme terrors of chaos, separation, and anomie (i.e., disorder, isolation, and meaninglessness). Elsewhere, Berger argues that the precariousness of society requires the emergence of three imperatives: those of order, social continuity, and triviality. Again, Berger is worth quoting at length: "To be separated from society exposes the individual to a multiplicity of dangers with which he is unable to cope by himself, in the extreme case to the danger of imminent extinction. Separation from society also inflicts unbearable psychological tensions upon the individual, tensions that are grounded in the root anthropological fact of sociality. The ultimate danger of such separation, however, is the danger of meaningless. This danger is the nightmare par excellence, in which the individual is submerged in a world of disorder, senselessness, and madness." (p.22) This second quotation is from Berger's article, "Sociology and Freedom," in The American Sociologist (February, 1971), Vol.6, pp.3-4.
Viewing religion as "man's ultimate concern", Andrew Greeley, the noted Catholic sociologist, observes that religion "simultaneously provides belonging, meaning, and comfort." In Greeley's terms comfort refers to the ways in which religion provides a sense of order: "religion does enable man to respond to deprivations, sometimes by piously accepting them and sometimes by attempting to create a new order...." Greeley's discussion occupies the first two chapters (pp.1-70) of his The Denominational Society (1972).
Thomas F. O'Dea, a Catholic sociologist with a strong humanistic orientation, sees religion confronting the "three fundamental characteristics of human existence:" the conditions of uncertainty, powerlessness, and inequity. In response to these conditions, "religion answers the problem of meaning. It sanctifies the norms of the established social order.... Moreover, men not only require answers to the problem of meaning in terms of their cognitive orientation to their world, they also act out needs and enter into relationships." The quotations from O'Dea are found on pp.5-6 of his The Sociology of Religion (1966).
The Protestant theologian Paul Tillich identifies three types of existential anxiety that threaten human self-affirmation--the ontological, the moral and the spiritual. These anxieties become general "if the accustomed structures of meaning, power, belief, and order disintegrate. These structures, as long as they are in force, keep anxiety bound within a protective system of courage by participation." The quotation is from p.62, but all of chapter 2 in The Courage to Be (1952) is worth reading. Tillich goes on to argue that "the distinction of the three types of anxiety is supported by the history of Western civilization. We find that at the end of ancient civilization ontic anxiety is predominant, at the end of the Middle Ages moral anxiety, and at the end of the modern period spiritual anxiety." This sequence strongly supports the view that human society has indeed progressed from problems of order through problems of membership to problems of meaning, although as Tillich is also clear to say, "The anxiety of the one type is immanent in the anxieties of the other types." (See footnote #4.)
S. N. Eisenstadt, in an extensive introduction to a collection of papers by Max Weber, makes the specific point that "among the `egotistical' wishes of human beings a very important part is comprised by their quest for and conception of the symbolic order, of the `good society', and of the quest for participation in such an order." See Eisenstadt's "Introduction, Charisma and Institution Building: Max Weber and Modern Sociology" in Weber: On Charisma and Institution Building, Selected Papers (1968), ed. by S.N. Eisenstadt. The quotation is from p.xli.
Another student of Weber, Edward Shils, remarks in a several places on the human need for order: "the condition of man in the universe and the exigencies of social life" demand solution. That solution "lies in the construction or discovery of order." Such an order "gives meaning to discrete and otherwise meaningless events." "Men need an order within which they can locate themselves, an order providing coherence, continuity and justice." Shils remarks appear in his article, "Charisma, Order, and Status" in the American Sociological Review (April, 1965), Vol. 30, p.203. In a number of his writings, Shils is especially concerned with the issues of societal order and meaning. For example, see his article, "Centre and Periphery" in The Logic of Personal Knowledge: Essays Presented to Michael Polanyi (1961), pp.117-131.
Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman, Jr., in their popular In Search of Excellence (1982), point out that the work of anthropologist/psychologist Ernest Becker bears the repeated conclusion that the basic creatureliness of the human animal leads us "urgently to `seek transcendence,' `avoid isolation,' and `above all fear helplessness'." In addition, Peters and Waterman identify for themselves three basic human needs which parallel Becker's (and which closely resemble ours): "(1) people's need for meaning; (2) people's need for a modicum of control; (3) people's need for positive reinforcement, to think of themselves as winners [members of a winning team] in some sense." Peters and Waterman refer to Ernest Becker in several places. This quotation is taken from p.59 and references Becker's The Denial of Death (1974).
The renowned psychologist Erik Erikson is quoted by political scientist Robert C. Tucker as suggesting that there are "three forms of distress to which a charismatic leader may minister": fear of destruction, anxiety over identity, and existential dread regarding the breakdown of social forms. "Correspondingly, a charismatic leader is one who offers people salvation in the form of safety, or identity, or rituals." Tucker references Erikson's remarks, made at a conference discussion, in his article, "The Theory of Charismatic Leadership" in Daedalus (Summer, 1968), p.745.
William Schutz, an interpersonal psychologist, posits a three-dimensional theory of behavior based on inclusion, control, and affection. Inclusion refers to what we mean by membership, control to order, and affection to emotionally experienced meaningfulness. Schutz's discussion appears in his book, Joy (1967), pp.15-23.
Even closer to our paradigm is the widely accepted theory of the hierarchy of human needs developed by the eminent humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow. Omitting the first level of need (the physiological) as being tied to the organism itself, the four human needs--safety, love, self-esteem, and self-actualization (sometimes identified as security, acceptance, and significance)--clearly parallel our three dimensions of order, membership, and meaning. Maslow discusses his "hierarchy of needs" paradigm in a number of places. We have used his article, "A Theory of Human Motivation," first published in 1943, from re-publication in Classics of Organizational Behavior (1978), ed. by Walter E. Natemeyer, pp.42-57.
Psychiatrist Irvin Yalom, in a highly personal yet theoretically astute work, deals with three major anxieties, all undergirded by the fear of death. These anxieties have to do with freedom and responsibility, isolation, and meaninglessness. In discussing freedom and responsibility, Yalom makes it clear that he is focusing on how people establish, acknowledge, and accept the ways in which they "constitute" the world, thus giving it form and structure. Yalom discusses these issues throughout his Existential Psychotherapy (1980), especially in chapters 6-11. A set of remarks crucial to our analysis can be found on pp.218-222.
Ron Jones, a one-time California high school teacher, briefly regained public awareness when the classroom experiences for which he was fired were dramatized on television. Developing an ad hoc simulation of the social climate of pre-World War II Germany in order to give his students some understanding of the rise of Nazism, Jones spontaneously came up with three slogans--"strength through discipline", "strength through community", and "strength through action". The implementation of these three ideas (similar to our three dimensions of order, membership, and meaning) precipitated a student reaction far out of proportion to what Jones anticipated and acceptable to school authorities. A substantially accurate representation of Jones' experiences were portrayed in the ABC TV docu-drama "The Wave", broadcast in October, 1981. He was subsequently interviewed on the "Phil Donahue Show"; his remarks are available in Donahue Transcript #11231 (1981).
Theodore H. White, in the capstone of his "making of the president" series, America in Search of Itself (1982), identifies three "fundamental ideas" which characterize America's past and help explain the changes affecting the country in the years 1956-80. These ideas were equality, limitless abundance, and the federal Union as a "climate of opinion." In the last several decades, White argues, they have taken form as "The Great Society," "The Great Inflation," and "The Reign of Television." Under these three chapter headings, White addresses the issues of membership (the minorities' demand for full inclusion as citizens), order ("when money goes, order goes with it...and faith is lost."), and meaning ("Television, especially in America, explains the world to those who, if they will not read, can look."). White's analysis appears in America in Search of Itself (1982), especially pp.99-195.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, in his justly famous parable, "The Grand Inquisitor" in The Brothers Karamazov, uses the Grand Inquisitor's rhetorical interrogation of the unspeaking figure of Christ as a literary device to articulate his own view of human nature. Referring to the "three temptations of Christ," Dostoyevsky writes that "in those three questions the whole future history of mankind is, as it were, anticipated and combined in one whole, and three images are presented in which all the insoluble historical contradictions of human nature all over the world will meet." Had Jesus accepted those temptations, Dostoyevsky speculates, he "would have accomplished all that man seeks on earth, that is to say, whom to worship, to whom to entrust his conscience and how at last to unite all in a common, harmonious, and incontestable ant-hill." "The Grand Inquisitor" appears as Chapter 5 of Book Five. We have used the David Magarshack translation, published in 1958.
We can end this partial summary of supporting references with a cryptic quote from Joseph Conrad's novel, The Nigger of the `Narcissus': "Haven't we together and upon the immortal sea, wrung out a meaning for our sinful lives?" (This excerpt from a soliloquy to departed shipmates is quoted in Christopher Buckley's Steaming to Bamboola (1982), p.xi.)
We could as easily end with the following quote from Franklin Delano Roosevelt's first inaugural address: "I assume unhesitatingly the leadership of this great army of our people dedicated to the disciplined attack upon our common problem....We do not distrust the future of essential democracy. The people of the United States have not failed. In their need they have registered a mandate that they want direct, vigorous action. They have asked for discipline and direction under my leadership."
1 A "human ecology" metaphor is especially apt here: The individual could much more easily be "recycled"-- restored to "holistic human health"--in a time when the ratio of organizational "spread" to the larger society was smaller than it is now. A person could easily remove him or herself to a non-organizational environment to be purged of the organization's ill effects--stress, subordination, withheld emotions, physical debilitation, etc. But we now live in a time when such non-organizational, "re-creational" environments are seriously depleted and, like the national parks and wilderness areas which symbolize them, are fast becoming a kind of cultural "endangered species".
2 Although membership is also a candidate for primacy, we tend to feel most comfortable with placing order first. One reason for this is that both emotionally (viz. Erikson's "basic trust") and cognitively (viz. Piaget's "categories"), individual development seems to present a pattern in which needs for order emerge first and are utilized in later stages of development. A second reason is that human groups go to great lengths to root their social order in the extra-human realms of absoluteness or ultimacy; as Peter Berger says in The Sacred Canopy, societies ground their nomos in a cosmos, e.g., "the city of man" is a reflection of "the City of God". This is especially obvious for religion, but it is equally true for other ideologies as well. A final reason resides more in the field of philosophy: order seems to be intimately related to ontology and the ground of being itself. Sartre, for example, speaks of "being and nothingness", in which to be is, at base, to take on some shape, some configuration. The Old Testament speaks of the world being created out of the void, a void in which the antithesis of order, chaos, held sway. A state of orderliness thus seems to be the condition which makes all other conditions and categories possible. This philosophical argument reinforces the psychological and sociological arguments; taken together, they seem to outweigh the argument for membership we present later in the article.
3 Almost every child experiences these anxieties intensely. They demand to know, Where did I come from?, Where am I going?, Why am I here? Such universal human concerns found philosophical expression in the words of Immanuel Kant, who identified these four essential questions regarding human existence: What should I believe? What may I hope for? Why am I here? What ought I to do? The very asking of these questions implies meaning; that they are directed to others implies membership; and that they can be answered at all implies order. If a viable culture is one which provides workable answers to these questions, then a truly successful culture would be one in which the answers are so immediate, complete, and reassuring that the questions themselves never intrude upon awareness. From this perspective, the history of Western civilization is characterized by an increasing clarity of the questions accompanied by an increasing haziness of the answers.
4 Whenever these "ultimate categories" are breached a pervasive confusion results, a reaction most readily seen in the wake of persons who go through publicized "gender reassignment" (sex change operations). These instances are, in effect, the exceptions that give the rule. Relevant discussions can be found in Goffman's The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959), Matza's Becoming Deviant (1969), and Toth's "Person Construction: Society's Bottom Line" (1988).
5 Eric Fromm identifies this dilemma simply and eloquently in The Sane Society (1955), p.24: "Man is the only animal who finds his own existence a problem which he has to solve and from which he cannot escape." Ernest Becker points out that the anthropologist Hocart used the term "prosperity" to suggest that human survival is qualitatively different and more problematical than that of the other species. See Escape From Evil (1975), pp.1-5, and all of The Denial of Death (1973), but especially pp.1-30.
6 In The Birth and Death of Meaning, 2nd Edition (pp.83-84), Becker writes: "Action has to be dependable and predictable. And the area of least dependability in social life is, naturally, people. After all, each person is working out the peculiar scenario of his self-esteem needs, and we never really know what he is about. As Sartre so bitingly puts it: `Hell is other people'. The problem of `What will the next person be like' is at the core of human adaptation, because self-preservation may depend on it." Yet "person-objects"--"powerful and capricious", "massively unpredictable"--"are always beyond control."
7 William Manchester, in his memoirs, Goodbye, Darkness (1982), pp.450-451, provides a moving example of this universal behavior. A young Marine in the South Pacific during World War II, Manchester was wounded in action and transferred to a field hospital. He immediately sneaked out and rejoined his unit that was still fighting on Okinawa. Some 35 years later, standing on the mountain where he and his fellow Marines were dug in that day--when anyone then standing there "would have had a life expectancy of seven seconds" --Manchester understands at last, "in one of those great thundering jolts in which a man's real motives are revealed to him...why I jumped hospital thirty-five years ago and...returned to the front and almost certain death."
It was an act of love. Those men on the line were my family, my home. They were closer to me than I can say, closer than any friends had been or ever would be. They had never let me down, and I couldn't do it to them. I had to be with them, rather than let them die and me live with the knowledge that I might have saved them. Men, I now knew, do not fight for flag or country, for the Marine Corps or glory or any other abstraction. They fight for one another.
Especially in time of war men seem particularly cognizant of and compelled by their membership in groups. The literary tradition of war is replete with stories like Manchester's. Two of the most anti-war poets of WW I, Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, expressed similar feelings. Yet seen on a larger scale, such noble sentiments are not without their irony. As Arnold Toynbee somberly noted, "Nationalism is the Achilles heel of the 20th Century."8 It might even be said that these dimensions are so obvious as to be transparent--thus we ordinarily look right through them without notice. Therefore to name and define them is perhaps to make them opaque (one of the criticisms often leveled against the terminology of the social sciences). Strangely enough, however, it is this very opaqueness which renders them visible.
9 In our society, for instance, the fighting of war provides picturesque examples: the Revolutionary War (1776-81) was fought with units from villages and towns (the Lexington Minutemen, the Concord Militia); the Civil War (1861-65) with units from states (The Army of Tennessee, the Sixth Iowa Infantry, the First Kentucky Cavalry); World War II (1941-45) with national units that avoided any expression of regional identity (the Third Army, the Screaming Eagles, the 82nd Airborne).
10 Actually, organizations do even more than this. In modern societies especially, where they are so dominant and pervasive, they have a powerful "residual" effect. Giving shape and substance to the space they occupy in people's personal and social lives, organizations end up, at the very least, defining the parameters and possibilities of that which is left over, particularly in terms of such resources as time, emotional energy, and material wealth. One has only to think of how days, weeks, and even years are defined by work (usually in or connected to organizations) --weekends, vacations, the eight hour day, etc. From there it is easy to go on to such things as benefits, wages, salaries, and income, taxes, the impact of interest rates, and the complexities of two-career couples. Once started, the list can become endless.