campaign launched on Independence Day, suggesting that feminists ought to force men to share the privilege of smoking tobacco. So cigarettes were turned into “freedom torches” and lung cancer finally overtook breast cancer as the main cause of female death, killing millions of women. Individual-oriented production The Ford model, that many people still try to promote, has turned out to be counterproductive and dangerous, causing all the repeated crisis periods we keep on experiencing. The old system no longer works, mainly because people reject it and increasingly have the means to do so. They are no longer interested in standardized goods designed for the average consumer, who does not really exist. The general standard of living, worldwide competition due to the development of transport and communication techniques allow better educated and informed consumers to choose and criticize governments, institutions and businesses. This favors the kind of individualism and desire for free will that characterize all developed countries and plenty of others4. The market needs more quality and personalization. People want to choose their life style in relation to their own peculiar qualities, cultures and values. Thanks partly to the computerization of production, goods “for the masses” are now possible. In a scenario of widespread competition, meeting these needs means that design, production and distribution
must be carried out better, not just well. Innovation is the magic word. Creativity is now a fundamental resource for economic progress. People have never had so much information to put at disposal of innovation. Starting with a resource that never runs out - human creativity new markets are created for an unlimited length of time. A situation in which there is certainly no lack of drive, provided the right kind of creativity is brought into play. And this is where there is a sort of historical rupture: physical effort might be an intrinsic part of violence but not of creativity, which feeds off the whole of human experience, imagination and personality. It is a gift that comes from deep inside and cannot be detached from the individual and can only be destroyed when it is violated by restrictions and constraints. In a society that is constantly changing, freedom and respect for human dignity are essential for efficiency, forcing everything to be called into question and reinvented to adapt to this new context. But whose freedom are we talking about? Some “symbol manipulator” as Robert Reich puts it5? Non, it is an entirely personal matter. The situations that need handling in an organization are so complicated and unexpected that, unless everybody is constantly ready to deal with any dysfunctions there might be or grasp progress opportunities as they arise, then in no time the organization will be overwhelmed by competition. Various studies carried out recently in North America, Europe and Asia confirm that
the quality of personnel management has a decisive impact on economic performance, providing a reliable indicator of financial results over a two-year period. The challenge facing firms is to succeed in moving on from an aggressive line of thinking to a more persuasive approach based on partnership with customers and staff. This applies to people, teams, organizations and countries. We have never had so much information at our disposal, but the problems to solve, the structures to run are so complex that people must not presume to be able to do everything alone. We need to persuade people with complementary competences to co-operate with us. Nowadays, the kind of work that creates wealth is not fundamentally physical and is confined to two basic components, one intellectual and the other emotional: the devising of solutions and the construction of human relations. Relations based on trust between a company and its suppliers, customers, the local community etc. This means, contrary to popular belief, our society is not based on knowledge but rather human identity. Only human beings have these two talents, creative, disposed to human relations and critical in the generation of value. All this places free human beings at the center or heart of society. People become an end; the engine driving our system. Then there is the numerical revolution which, while leaving the odd deceptive window of opportunity open to those who miss the violence, merely helps along this trend. Compute technology
is proceeding in leaps and bounds, empowering people and providing anybody individuals, associations and small businesses - with the chance to handle the kind of information that was previously only available to the privileged few. The spread of Internet has made it easier to obtain information, co-operate and work together. A new form of consumer power has emerged. Firms like Wal-Mart and Dell, which have set up business relations with suppliers, are eloquent proof6. Civil organizations like Amnesty International have found a wonderful means of exerting pressure. Whereas television, a centralized means of propaganda, is owned and run by the State or economic power, the Internet lets ordinary people work together. Suicidal Illusions So does this mean everything is perfect, the best it could ever be? Of course not. We have plenty of potential at our disposal and our future depends on how we make discerning use of it, making sure we are not too selfish, ethically perverse or taken in by misleading ideas. Organized crime and economic/political powers could take advantage of the latest technology to gain even greater control over society at all levels. Of course, this is the most natural way of operating for Mafia organizations. Economic powers and governments will have to give in to a dramatic illusion: the complexity of the situation could be dealt with by imposing even tighter state control in the name of law and order. This contradictory state of affairs is actually refuted by experience, as
Amartya Sen pointed out in relation to famines and birth control in China7. Initiatives like some of those already under way are bound to lead to expensive failures. But worse still: the potential we now have thanks to new technology is so vast that the world finds itself with various means of suicide at its disposal. The world is full of nuclear bases and is evolving without paying due heed to the environment; it is involved in reckless undertakings on a biological level and is even threatening our very own human identity. The only defense is freedom of speech. Where critical viewpoints, however marginal, are silenced, sooner or later we will end up with another
Chernobyl. This can be seen in China, where AIDS is spreading so fast that anyone daring to set the alarm bells ringing or pointing to the corruption at the roots of this dramatic state of affairs soon finds themselves behind bars. Finally, there is another danger of a conceptual nature. Over three centuries, science and technology have made spectacular progress based on binary-style Cartesian reasoning, reducing people, nature and the world in general to the status of fancy machines. We have now reached the point where the problems to be solved are so complicated that binary thinking is too reductive and dangerous. Even the program
for decoding the human genome has turned out to be a half-failure, because we are not computers whose hard disks are genes programming our virtues, faults and illnesses. These are scientological not scientific lines of thought, blinded by so-called artificial intelligence that treats man like an obstacle to progress: if a perfect world of intelligent machines is to work in an ideal way, it would be advisable to “perfect ourselves” through prostheses and mutations. Needless to say, this is a mechanistic fallacy, a re-emerging of the kind of eugenics-style heresies that eventually led to Nazism in our democracies. It means ignoring what people are8. Machines can solve some
of the problems afflicting us, but they cannot pose them in our stead. Consciousness is our distinctive feature. Consciousness is what emerges from the interaction of all our constituent molecules and cannot be reduced to any one organ in our bodies. Only an awareness of our humanity and a desire to construct a new form of humanism, for people and by people, will save us from an even greater potential catastrophe.
* André-Yves Portnoff is director of the Watchtower on the Revolution of Intelligence at Futuribles, Paris. For the last twenty years he has been researching into immaterial factors, the management of change and assessment of the global capital of organizations. Notes 1. “Pousser le raisonnement économique jusqu’au bout” (Pushing economic reasoning to its extreme), discussion with Gary Becker, a professor of the Chicago University. An Anthology of proposals drawn up by Philippe Simonnot. Le Monde, 7th June 2002. 2. The 2001 Nobel Prize for Economics was awarded to George A. Akerlof, Michael A. Spence and Joseph E. Stiglitz “pour leur travaux sur les marchés avec asymétrie d’information” (for research into markets with information asymmetries). 3. André Gorz, L’immatériel, pg. 65, Galilée, Paris, 2003. 4. The European results of the European Values Survey, a survey carried out in 1981, 1990 and 1999, were published in two special editions of Futuribles, n. 200, July-August 2000 and n. 277, JulyAugust 2002. 5. Robert Reich, The work of nations, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1991. L’économie mondialisée, pg. 104, Dunod, Paris 1997. 6. André-Yves Portnoff, “Innovation conceptuelle”, Futuribles, n. 282, January 2003. 7. Amartya Sen, Development as freedom, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. New York, 1999. Lo sviluppo è liberta. Perché non c’è crescita senza democrazia, Mondadori, Milan, 2000. Cf. also arcVision n. 8, 2002. 8. Jean-Claude Guillebaud, Le principe d’humanité, Seuil, 2001.
Published on Apr 30, 2003
Un approfondimento sul concetto di limite. Da un lato la propensione tutta umana a superare ogni confine attraverso uno sviluppo continuo de...