The Deep Capture Hypothesis of Individuals and Institutions

1 01 2008

We talk a bunch here about Big School and Big Church, but there’s Big Business everywhere now too, which when powerful enough, can be the defining power for the culture, including “learning” and “beliefs” not apparently within its purview. So powerful institutions of all kinds do influence our hearts, heads and spirits, whether we as individuals see it or like it, or not?

As blogged here, authors Jon Hanson and David Yosifon describe a theory (whoops, no, it’s technically a hypothesis) that they call “Deep Capture”:

The most basic prediction of the “deep capture” hypothesis is that there will be a competition over the situation (including the way we think) to influence the behavior of individuals and institutions, and that those individuals, groups, entities, or institutions that are most powerful will win that competition.

All the posts in this series are drawn from the 2003 article, “The Situation” (downloadable here).

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1 01 2008
JJ

You may recall me blogging that my cognitive science hero, Howard Gardner, had Harvard Business Review’s Number One Breakthrough Idea for 2006.

Guess what made the 2007 list? (at #20 I think) —

Because accountability suggests that there is a right and a wrong answer to every question, it flourishes where authorities can measure results exactly.. . .corporate accountability is morphing into a bizarre form now being called “accountabalism”.

This accountabalism whispers two seductive lies to society:
1) Systems go wrong because of individuals; and
2) the right set of controls will enable society to prevent individuals from creating disasters.

Accountabalism is a type of superstitious thinking that allows society to live in a state of denial about just how little control individuals have over their environment and actions.

Accountabalism assumes perfection–if anything goes wrong, it’s a sign that the system is broken.

Accountabalism is blind to human nature. For example, it assumes that society knows that corporations are being watched, they will not do wrong–which seriously underestimates multi-faceted human minds and motivations. Big Brother is not the answer.

Accountabalism bureaucratizes and atomizes responsibility. While claiming to increase individual responsibility, it drives out human judgment.
[shades of Philip K. Howard!]

When a sign-off is required for every step in the workflow, those closest to a process lack the freedom to optimize or rectify it. Similarly, by assuming that an individual’s laxness caused a given problem–if somebody hadn’t been asleep at the switch or hadn’t gotten greedy or hadn’t assumed that somebody else would clean up the mess, none of this would have happened —

Accountabalism tries to squeeze centuries of thought about how to entice people toward good behaviour and dissuade them from bad into simple rules by which individuals can be measured and disciplined. It would react to a car crash by putting stop signs at every corner and policemen at every corner.

Bureaucratizing morality or mechanizing a complex organization gives society the sense that society can exert close control. But grown-ups prefer clarity and realism to happy superstition.

Indeed, what society hopes for may become a nasty nightmare.

By: Mark Borkowski

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