Bemeficent Society, Chpt 14

GENERAL MEETING OF THE SOCIETY

THE ADMINENT

8 June 2016

 

Martin opened the Society’ s meeting on a guarded note.  “At our last meeting, I promised to describe the committee’s substitutes for the government branches that we abruptly truncated—that is to say, the executive and legislative branches of traditional democracies.  The political committee is now pleased to present these substitutions to you.

“To prevent any misunderstanding, let me precede these descriptions with a caveat.  Our substitutions have not been designed to fully replicate the functions of the original branches.  For example, our version of the executive branch decapitates what had been its chief of state and leaves his office empty.  Newcapians, for better or worse, will have to forge ahead with no one at the helm—no president, no premier, no king.  Likewise, our version of the legislative branch bears little resemblance to the traditional model it replaces.  Nevertheless, it is our hope, you will agree that, all things considered, the tradeoffs weigh heavily in our favor.  That our version of what a truly limited, smoothly-functioning government has validity.

“Henry, will introduce you to the first of our innovations.”

“As I’m sure you are all aware by  now,” Henry began, “our committee is committed to something akin to a religious-like devotion to what we perceive as nature’s methodology.  Essentially, we are convinced that, one, nature is smarter than we are; two, paradoxically, her practices are more humane than those we habitually inflict upon ourselves; and, three, it is immaterial whether we are right or wrong about ‘one’ and ‘two,’ the determination of our fate as a species is in her hands and, that being the case, we might as well acquiesce to her demands with a minimum of kicking an d screaming.

“As a first step in finding a substitute for the evicted executive branch of government, the political committee decided to state exactly what it was we were trying to achieve—that is to say, a mission statement as per the following:

  • To combat crime, civil disorder, truancy, gang violence, street vandalism and any other threat to the stability of the state
  • To raise the living standard of the populace through incremental, localized improvements in areas such as upgrading sanitation facilities, opening up educational opportunities, provision of health and social services.
  • To help restore utilities, communications, and transportation facilities in the event of natural disasters such as floods, outbreaks of disease, droughts and other weather-related events.
  • To ameliorate the all too common deprivation of essentials—housing, food, potable water, cooking oil, etc.—to which millions of the poor are subjected.

“In that the above aspirations are already being addressed, to one degree or another, by the executive branch, logic suggests that dismembering it would be ill advised.  But further study indicated otherwise.  Over  the years, the executive branch’s stiff-necked, top-down structure adopted an ideology that dominated its governance.  Blissfully ignorant of reality, it attempted to impose a series of one-size-fits-all solutions onto the problems of its distant, heterogeneous subjects.  An accumulation of these offenses has left the branch dysfunctional.

‘The political committee was then faced with a situation comparable to that of a surgeon presented with a patient whose leg was gangrenous.  Clearly, the surgeon would have no choice but to sever the diseased limb and substitute an artificial replacement.  In like manner, the committee felt it, too, had no recourse but take drastic measures.

“Whereas we had habitually looked to the brain for guidance in designing our proposed government, in this case, we found no evidence that it housed anything resembling an executive branch.  No top dog.  No single command and control center.

“However, we soon realized that evolution had not left humanity bereft of some form of administration.  Rather, it provided us with a system in which the brain operated only in conjunction with a nervous network that stretched to embody all our working parts.  In its infallible good judgement, nature had rejected a purely dictatorial center in favor of a responsive network that gathered bottom-up information and, for the most part, fed it—not to the brain—but to widely distributed, specialized, decision centers located as close as possible to the organs they administered.

“True, some input, pertaining to the body as a whole, is fed directly to the brain for its essential coordinating and rule-making functions.  However, even in such exceptional cases, final resolution of the brain’s paper-shuffling recommendations is enacted by the local centers themselves—where, so to speak, the rubber met the road.

“Gretchen, please tell these good people about the Adminent communities.”

 

“Based on nature’s nervous-system model, the political committee came up with a version applicable to human society we call the Adminent,” said Gretchen.  The Adminent is made up of a series of self-contained encampments, each located near the hub of a district—a district defined as one of a series of contiguous territories drawn more or less equidistantly across the land and containing roughly the same-sized population of two million.

“As far as the physical makeup of these encampments is concerned, a comparison to army camps would not be too far amiss.  Unlike army posts, however, these communities are open to local traffic and offer a varied and attractive aspect.  Each of these self-contained and self-governed centers is composed of pleasant, well-equipped housing units, abundant greenery, good schools, ample open spaces, shopping centers, and other amenities consistent with a comfortable, middle-class lifestyle.

“The population of these centers is made up, typically, of 2400 professional federal workers and their families.  The workers are divided into some forty teams of sixty and these further subdivided into six squads of ten.  Care is taken to mix the backgrounds and educations of the team members so as to achieve groups that are competent, flexible, diverse yet cohesive.

“Young people whose ambition it is to join the Adminent fraternity enroll in universities that offer degrees in Social Dynamics—a four-year curriculum that prepares them to be practical, people-oriented generalists.  Just as there are specialists in every profession, students in SD can major in agriculture, engineering, financing, law, public health, or sociology.  And just as every profession seeks to broaden its members’ outlook, so SD students are exposed to a number of related topics outside their specialty.  Some students find a particular area especially interesting and go on to specialize in it to earn a master degree but the majority are happy to take their bachelors’ degree into the field.  In any case, well before gradua tion, they will have interned during the summer months in an Adminent community to satisfy themselves that they truly wish to commit themselves to the profession.

“I don’t want to leave this topic without a couple of general notes about the character of the Adminent’s membership.  To begin with, it is altruistic.  The people who volunteer to serve in the Adminent do so by virtue of their being driven, less by material ambition, than by the desire to lead a ‘good life’ in which helping others plays an important, if not dominant, role..  Fortunately, in any general population, there are more than enough of such thoroughly admirable, idealistic socially sensitive beings to fill the Adminent’s ranks.  Indeed, the committee feels it reasonable to assume that the pleasant, unhurried life style, the steady, if less than munificent–salaries, the association with like-minded people, and the opportunity to perform fulfilling work would make securing a position in the Adminent vigorously competitive.

“Second, the organization is designed to foster a collegiate spirit throughout.  Competition is deemphasized (aside from such good-natured rivalry that inevitably attaches to intermural sports) common sources of friction avoided and any evidence of the hierarchic structure muted.  Money matters are down-played by flattening pay scales, cash bonuses are prohibited, and all revenues from outside activities channeled directly to the head office.  Whenever possible, contentious policy issues are resolved through open debate and decisions reached informally.  In addition, attention is paid to holding administrative hassles and red tape to a minimum, records are kept open to all members, and trouble-makers shown the door.

“Well, that’s an abbreviated picture of the Adminent.  Timur will tell you how it works.”

“To begin with,” said Timur, “ each Adminent unit divides its district into forty sub-districts and assigns a team manager to each.  As much as possible, sub-districts are sized to encompass about 75,000 people but practical considerations cause them to vary greatly in size and composition.  Some are comprised of urban centers; some of suburban communities; others, of outlying, mid-sized towns; and in still others, of a collection of farming communities.

“Regardless of the sub-district’s makeup, the team’s basic approach is the same: one, evaluate the unmet needs of their sub-district’s residents; two, translate those needs into detailed proposed improvements; three, present its proposals to local authorities who are free to institute any they approve of and reject any they do not; and, four, to monitor the progress of the approved projects with an eye for expediting their execution.  Should the local authorities undertake any of the recommended projects, they assume full responsibility for their execution and bear all their costs—the Adminent team remaining in a purely advisory role.

“Let me expand on each of these steps.  To begin with, these are some of the strategies team managers employ to acquaint themselves with the problems of their particular jurisdictions.  No doubt they would question every level of government that was made available to them.  And, of course, they would conduct a survey of public opinion that might well be at odds with their leadership’s.  Finally, the manager would fan our his own staff of experts to ascertain their independent judgments.

“Next, from the wealth of information gathered by these means, the manager and his staff would winnow down a list of projects they believed to be the most urgent—each project accompanied by a cost/benefit analysis, estimate of time to complete, and possible ways the project might be funded including donations, volunteered labor, and nonprofit participation.  The ‘list,’ incidentally, might range in length from one project demanding immediate attention, in the opinion of the Adminent team, to twenty endeavors, which, while worthwhile, would be impractical to undertake simultaneously.

“There could be, in any particular district, the possibility that, on account of friction between the Adminent staff and local officials, every suggestion by the outsiders would be summarily rejected leading to a total breakdown of the Adminent’s undertaking.  However, the committee believes that such an eventuality would be rare for several reasons:

  • First, aware that the officials exercised veto power on the team’s efforts, the team would go out of their way to maintain cordial personal relations with their hosts and try to complement their ongoing efforts.  Indeed, a number of the Adminent projects might well coincide with those already initiated by public officials.
  • Second, by simultaneously publishing their proposed projects to the general public as well as to the officials, the team could generate a good deal of pressure in favor of at least some of the projects.  Additional influence could be brought to bear by citing how well such and such a policy has worked in other districts.
  • Third, the Adminent’s reputation for careful planning and conservative accounting would more likely interest potential financial backers than locally sponsored projects lacking that imprimatur.
  • Fourth, however cynical one might be of government in general, one can’t entirely discount the honorable intentions of most officials in improving the health and welfare of their citizenry—intentions that would encourage them to welcome outside help in achieving such goals.
  • Fifth, it may be that, from the local officials’ standpoint, the Adminent’s most valuable contribution to the district’s welfare is less its initiation of projects than monitoring of the accepted projects’ enactment.  By frequent visits to the jobsites, making sure projects are kept on tract, keeping vigil on the performance of the contractor’s involved—their adherence to contract terms, their workmanship, their cost accounting, etc.—the Adminent constantly strives to see that every project accomplishes its intended goal—i.e., that its benefits actually accrue to the general population.
  • If all else fails, rejected projects would, in a sense, have a life on their own in that they could be resurrected at some later date, even years hence, given changes in the public mood, in their financial situation, or in the political makeup of the district government.

“A harder to define advantage each Adminent team would have is their position as part of the overall Adminent movement that allows them to benefit from the experience of the entire organization.  Should a team manager, for example, find himself overwhelmed by local issues, his call for help would surely produce constructive ideas and offers for help from other managers who successfully surmounted similar situations

“As an example of how “As good ideas can proliferate among multiple districts, an Adminent team pioneered the idea of turning slum neighborhoods inside out—that is to say, facing tenements to the rear and away from the street.  Coupled with the greening of back yards, the installation of playground equipment, and the provision of picture windows overlooking these amenities, this simple idea not only transformed buildings in district after district, but dramatically changed lives.

“In so widespread a system as the Adminent, it is beyond the scope of this discussion to cover every facet of its full-blown operations.  However, a key component in its organization can’t be left uncovered: its administrative center, the Community Council.

“The Community Council is composed of the unit’s forty team managers who meet monthly to decide on its affairs.  The council has no single leader but once a year votes in a five-person steering committee that serves the purpose.  One of the committee members officiates the council’s monthly meetings on a rotating basis.  Decision-making is, more often than not, arrived at by consensus—the necessity for a majority show of hands only occasionally resorted to.  Issues raised at these meetings might include:

Consideration of unfinished business from their previous meeting as presented by their full-time clerical staff that transcribes and archives the minutes.

  • The status of ongoing projects with emphasis on resolving any problems that may have arisen with civil authorities.
  • Listening to the report of the Adminent’s accountant and meeting budgetary requirements
  • The conduct of temporary exchanges of specialized workers with other Adminent units
  • Personnel policies, training, social functions, etc.
  • The expulsion, by two-thirds vote, of malingerers, recalcitrant elements, and others who enjoy the Adminent life style but prefer to dodge its responsibilities
  • Improvements to their Operations Manual in the light of recent field experience.

“The community adjutant is another important component in the unit’s organization although he plays no role in its active day-to-day management.  His job entails a number of esssential ‘housekeeping’ chores such as:

  • Collaborating with “foreign” Adminent units on matters of common interest
  • Managing communications and other affairs with Adminent Central and the national government
  • Supervising the Adminent’s public relations with the general population
  • Presiding over special meetings

“In order to foster friendly relations and cross-pollinate good ideas and practices between Adminent communities, adjutants are required to move to a different district at the end of their two-year term of office.  Alternatively, they can remain in the same community by resigning their position and taking a lower-paid, less prestigious one.

“Martin, that’s about all I have to say about the Adminent.  The gavel is back in your hands.”

 

“Thanks, Timur,” said Martin.  “We’ve covered a lot of ground but we’re far from exhausting the committee’s design for Newcapia’s government.  In our next meeting we’ll discuss the ‘Volitionment,’ the political committee’s replacement for its legislative branch and, I can assure you that it too will present a radical change from the status quo.  We hope you’ll find it interesting.  If you have any questions regarding the Adminent, please hold them for a subsequent meeting that we plan to devote entirely to your comments regarding what we envision as a better form of democracy than we’re struggling with these days.  Thank you again, for your attention and good night.”

 

 

 

 

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