“Hostile Cooperation”

“It is easy for him who keeps his foot free from harm to counsel and admonish him who is in misery” (Aeschylus, “Prometheus Bound”)

If there is any succinct way of expressing the reality of corporate life is that is is a permanent, pervasive state of hostile cooperation. This state is present -with very rare exceptions–  in every type of organisation, be it public or private, market-orientated or institutional. It is a state of minimal, sufficient cooperation required to maintain the corporate-organisational machinery going, very frequently at a low level of creativity, expression, sanity and meaning. These conditions have been described as “organisational miasma” by Y. Gabriel in “Organizations in a State of Darkness: Towards a Theory of Organizational Miasma” – Organization Studies September 2012.

A veil of consensual subordination, of accepted manipulation and stifling control, hides everything and protects itself from the horror of its own reality. Some sort of “discipline” and “self-discipline” are imposed, not dissimilar to tyranny, but guarded by the envelope of rational contracts. For example, in the Security Professions it is unpardonable to reveal how fruitless our efforts are in terms of data protection and information security even after (or perhaps because) 30 years of “business process” and “risk-based” orientation.

In economic theory the term “hostile cooperation” is sometimes used to describe the entanglement and conflict of “representatives of capital,” but I do not mean here either market competition or equalisation, but the tragic loss of humanity in corporate life, that is, the de-personalistion of cooperation; the eradication of meaning, the policing of behaviour and the falsification of friendship. And —even more critically—, the minimisation of effort and thought that happens when corporate culture destroys itself in a vortex of nihilism. Not by accident the pursuit of “individual success” results in the reduction of wealth, life, freedom and satisfaction for everybody (including those deemed “successful”).

It is in this context where we see again and again examples of “stalled thinking,” following the terminology of Donald Mitchell (“The 2,000 Percent Solution” –  2003). Management becomes a rule-following exercise, instead of leadership; and innovation is bastardised so to preserve what is “proven.”

This would not be alarming if it did not run contrary to even a remote description of what business and capitalism are supposed to be about. Because instead of breakthroughs and rapid growth we see just rent-exploitation, and instead of business leadership we see market-following, i.e. second-rate business results. In other words: it is capitalism against itself: it is capitalism against capital. It is the death of ethics, of the duty to serve anything but your own “career.” In the Security Disciplines, imaginary “cyber-war” ideologies aim at hiding daily, persistent security breaches which the technologist prefers not to speak about.

I consider myself fortunate in that I can still think and speak freely; in the company of other professionals who think and act the same as me for the common good, seeking excellence. And I am fortunate too because of the enormous amount of work that can be done to help organisations exit the vicious circle they are in. The areas of Security Management and Enterprise Architecture would simply not exist if everything I wrote above were not the case; so this work, this activity is a permanent struggle against stagnation, despair and loss, almost like the work of the medicine-man, the counsellor or the Desert Fathers. Almost like Prometheus.

“Thus I helped the tyrant of the gods and with this foul payment he has responded; for it is a disease that is somehow inherent in tyranny to have no faith in friends.”(Aeschylus, “Prometheus Bound”)