I used to love Virgin when I was at university. I wasn’t much of a music shopper – but I did like the idea of a smallish company like Branson’s putting the frighteners up a conglomerate like EMI. And that, despite the fact that EMI published the music by my favourite band. Or, maybe, that was because of the fact.
The other day I posted on the subject of elites and how a complex society like our own would probably depend on their specialisms for a while. This generated quite a bit of online discussion on both Facebook and Twitter. One suggestion, marvellously ambiguous and therefore useful for brainstorming, was the idea that “centres” would replace “elites” as structures we could work with. Another was the wonderful observation that:
@eiohel They have confused their role. The elite should be there to mediate and not dictate. Empower and not provide.
(I might also add, as a by-the-by, that just as the shape of our government has been moulded by the industrial terminology we use – “levers of power”, “spin” and “machinery of government” – so the possibility of re-engineering how our elites serve or govern us will depend as much on how we learn to describe them as what they decide to do for themselves.)
What’s happened to good teachers across the Western world – learning to become facilitators and enablers instead of simple chalk-and-talk imparters of the wisdoms of yore – should surely begin to happen with people of other professional castes. That this is manifestly not happening is clear enough from daily events, as this government continues to demonstrate how it exemplifies the very worst of yah-boo-sucks politics. This, for example, fresh off the press:
A MILLIONAIRE Cabinet minister was threatened with arrest after an astonishing foul-mouthed rant at armed cops in Downing Street.
Which brings me back to Virgin. Mr Branson was for a long while a rather nonconformist hero of mine. The typical British underdog yapping productively away at the ankles of the leaden. This morning, however, I stumbled across this article from the Telegraph way back in April which paints an utterly different picture of our one-time favourite entrepreneur:
Richard Branson likes to be thought of as an affable, benign maverick, on his way to becoming a national treasure. He’s the cuddly face of corporate Britain. But just because he has a beard and looks like Noel Edmonds does not mean his multinational business is any less aggressive and expansionist than the next.
So what is this apparently unavoidable process where an NME-hero of counter-business-culture becomes a corporate fiend of the very worst kind? And are we right in our instincts to begin to hate these big companies and big people when all of a sudden they become so very encompassingly big?
I’m not sure I know the answer to those questions. But, certainly, there would appear to be enough evidence to hand in both business and politics that people and institutions change for the worse when they become too big for their boots. And yet our society is posited on infinite expansion: total world domination becomes the Nirvana of entrepreneurial spirits everywhere.
Is, then, efficiency – and even humanity – incompatible with Western civilisation?
And why can’t we have a steady-state theory of entrepreneurial activity? Why does this world-domination meme always have to rule over us? Wouldn’t it be so much better if we could generate people-sized organisations with people-sized leaders?
Isn’t this desire to be bigger – and the false equation that bigger means better – just a referred way of being a bully without the disapprobation of society?
Just as bullying between managers and workforces, between children and teachers and between people and people everywhere is, clearly, forbidden and looked down upon, why can’t we have a similarly strict and rigorous code to ban bullying as a tool in business and politics to progress and advance one’s easy ambitions? Perhaps a website which tracked bullies would help: simultaneously an education piece for the object of its gaze – as well as consistently bringing to the public’s attention how unacceptable all these behaviours really are.
Even when how undeniably prevalent they have become.