"The greatness and the genuine trait of your thought and writings lie on the fact that you positively and interestingly make use of philosophical thoughts and thoughtfulness in order to deeply and concretely cogitate about America's social issues. . . . This does not mean that your thought is reducible to your era: your thought, being inspired by issues characterizing your era . . . , overcomes your era and will still likely be up to date even after your era, for future generations." Bruno Valentin

Saturday, August 5, 2017

A Managerial Society of Carrots and Sticks

In a society of managerialism, a particular value-set is salient; it can be characterized overtly or tacitly by technique as a functional means of manipulating resources (human or material). This orientation issues in an instrumentalism wherein even other human beings are viewed as means rather than as ends in themselves. Furthermore, an assumption of incrementalism rather than real change tends to accompany the orientation because the status quo is the default where the focus is on instruments. The managerial orientation can be so ingrained in generally accepted “organization speak” that the modern herd hardly recognizes the penetration in modern society itself.

In the film, The Matrix, Neo is eventually able to see the matrix for what it is: series of green ones and zeros scrolling up or down.  It is only then that he has power to punch through it with complete impunity.  Likewise, it is only when a person sees the allurements and arrows in a company’s customer service that a customer can transcend the vacuous business-speak and thus be able to resist the attempted manipulation.  Rational nature, according to Kant, views itself as an end in itself. Therefore, a natural tension exists between a manipulator and the object, which views itself as an end rather than a means to another’s end. Coming to perceive the attempted manipulation naturally triggers resentment, for it is presumptuous to use another person without any recognition of the other’s inherent nature that intrinsically resists being used. 

For example, an employee representing an organization typically presumes that the potential customer is already under the organization’s policies and procedures.  It is hardly imaginable that a potential customer would use phrases such as “you have to” before any transaction has been agreed to. Furthermore, employees who refuse to deign themselves to negotiate with potential customers presume that the default lies on their side; organizational “policy” or rigidity is merely back up to the operative point that negotiating would be humiliating in that the being of the potential customer would have to be recognized at least in part as an end in itself of equal value to the employee’s company of rational natures.

In other words, modern society, at least in the West, has come to accept the presumptuousness that has come to characterize the attitude of employees who view their role as holding policy up to customers who must either accept it or go away. Policy serves here as a technique by which to dominate. It is used because the organizational herd animal wants to dominate but knows that it is too weak to do so without the aid of policy taken as law. Rather than negotiating with customers, they are told “you must” or “you can’t” even before they agree to a transaction.

Policy is used as a stick instrument. Managerialism also makes use of carrots, or inducements. “You don’t like the product you have purchased?  You can’t return it (policy as domination) but here is a coupon for 10% off your next purchase.” For the other end of a conversation to consist of only carrots and sticks is naturally to be disconcerting, even maddening because the subtext is a refusal to recognize the other as an end in itself. In fact, there is evidence that the carrots and sticks of managerialism have a rather narrow application with human beings. Therefore, much of the effort by people in organizations to induce or threaten may be in vain. 

According to CNN, “In laboratory experiments and field studies, a band of psychologists, sociologists and economists have found that many carrot-and-stick motivators — the elements around which we build most of our businesses and many of our schools — can be effective, but that they work in only a surprisingly narrow band of circumstances. For enduring motivation, the science shows, a different approach is more effective. This approach draws not on our biological drive or our reward-and-punishment drive, but on what we might think of as our third drive: Our innate need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world. In particular, high performance — especially for the complex, conceptual tasks we’re increasingly doing on the job— depends far more on intrinsic motivators than on extrinsic ones.” This third drive is that which stems from our rational nature viewing itself as an end in itself (i.e., having absolute value, because rational nature assigns value to things).

So organizational employees and their task-masters may well be selling their fellow human beings short in presuming that they must be buffeted with inducements and threats from the get-go.  Perhaps these organizational creatures are of the lower sort that function only by being manipulated and threatened.  Perhaps they project their own self-centeredness out onto ordinary, free, human beings.

The third drive can lead a potential or actual customer to say, “I am not in your organization so I am not subject to it as you are,” or even more directly, “I do not appreciate being manipulated” or “I feel insulted by being pressured to buy something else as I’m leaving your store after buying one of your products.”  Typically, the employee will feign ignorance of what he or she has been doing, or simply ignore the demurs of the dissatisfied customer. We moderns are bombarded every day with organizational passive-aggression via “organization-speak” consisting of carrots and sticks. We are so used to it in our organizational society that we absorb it without realizing what it is and how it affects us as human beings.


Daniel H. Pink, “Big Bonuses Don’t Mean Big Results,” CNN, March 2, 2010.

See a related book, available at Amazon: On the Arrogance of False Entitlement