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Putting a Check on "Exclusive Club Mentality" with Conscription

by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright August 2012


One difficult challenge facing many modern organizations is getting good feedback on whether or not they are doing a good job. This problem of good feedback gets compounded when the members of the organization feel they are part of an exclusive club -- part of an organization that is so "professional" that outsiders can't figure it out or deal with the challenges of its craft. This exclusivist attitude leads to delusion, so it is a main ingredient in a recipe for endemic abuse in the organization's operations.

One way of controlling this exclusivist abuse potential is to insure that a steady stream of "outsiders" are also included in the organization's day-to-day operations. This new blood helps the organization's operations stay transparent, which helps with "reality checking".

One way of implementing a steady stream of outsiders is to make participation in the organization a mandatory community service function -- some community members from outside the organization are selected to serve as part of it for a time. One classic example of this is conscription in the military services, another is when a religious organization sends its members far away to do missionary work, as the Mormons do.

The stream of outsiders helps in two ways: First, they bring an outsider point of view into the system. Second, the outsiders will gain personal experience with what goes on "inside", and they will take this with them as they move on in life. If in later years someone else on the inside reports abuses, they are familiar with what the whistle blower is talking about and can respond to it based on extensive personal experience, rather than just saying, "Huh? I don't know a thing about that."

In this essay I will be proposing that conscription-style community service obligation be extended to many other styles of organization beyond just the military. Basically, any organization, industry, or craft that desires to erect barriers to entry in practicing its business -- such as with a state-sanctioned licensing procedure -- will also have to accept community service interns as a condition to letting that barrier be erected.

Putting this another way, if a group of practitioners says, "You have to get a licence to practice this craft," and gets a law to enforce that licensing, then those practitioners are also going to have to accommodate community service interns as part of the practice.

Citizen Levy Basics

The concept of the citizen levy dates back to the beginning of history, but not pre-history. Agricultural Age irrigation projects around the world have been constructed with levy labor. The earliest Egyptian pyramids were likely constructed with levy labor. In the military environment the earliest form of military organization was militia -- citizen soldiers -- and the concept of the citizen-soldier being a bulwark of liberty was strongly held at the time of the American Revolution.

The popularity of that particular concept has diminished in recent decades and suffered a big decline with the abolition of the draft during the Vietnam War. It is not completely dead in America -- we still have the National Guard and Reserves -- but it is diminished.

I argue that this concept of citizen participation should not be diminished. It should, in fact, be expanded. It is a powerful way to build community enfranchisement and a powerful way to reveal, and thus put a check on, abuses in many of our vital but non-commercial functions in the community.

It can become a valuable bulwark against "Guild Mentality Delusion" in our communities.

The Instinctive Thinking in Closed Environments

Many environments that are closed off from the outside in modern lifestyles are closed because instinctive thinking supports it. This is something I call Guild Mentality Thinking because environment is reminiscent of that in the guilds of medieval times -- "If you want to practice our craft, you have to jump through some initiation hoops and join our guild." Two modern examples of this Guild Mentality in action in the US are lawyers and doctors -- compare the licensing and mandatory training it takes to become a lawyer to that required to offer software developing services.

As a specific example of setting up an over-the-top barrier: This 15 Sep 12 Reason article, Forget the Happy Ending, Mr. Ed: Woman Would Face 20 Years in Jail for Unlicensed Horse Massages by Nick Gillespie, describes a Nebraska state statute that prevents a woman from giving horses massages -- it seems the force is strong in the Nebraska veterinary special interest group. My proposal is that if the Nebraskan veterinarians want a state regulation that offers this kind of exclusiveness in the practice of their craft, then they need to also support citizen levy "conscripts" who spend, say, a couple of years as veterinary assistants, and then move on. The result over time will be a large number of ex-vet assistants who can help the community decide if such exclusiveness is really justified.

Environments where conscripting may not make things better

There are some kinds of jobs and environments where instinctive thinking meshes with a job in a bad way and it leads to abuse. An example of this was revealed in the Stanford Prison Experiment conducted in 1971. In a nutshell, it was a psychology experiment in which students simulated being prisoners and prison guards. The experiment was terminated after only six days because the participants were getting too freaky in hostile and abusive ways -- the guards were getting ready to torture and the prisoners were rioting.

What this spooky result indicates is that the prison environment is fertile ground for instinctive thinking, and that "gut feel thinking" in novice participants will push aside rational thinking with its checks and balances. In this kind of environment simply adding ordinary outsiders to the mix won't help bring transparency or rationality to the environment. The outsiders will simply "go with the flow" and not bring "harsh reality" to the situation.

So this concept is not a simple cure-all, but there are many circumstances in which it will help.

Examples of environments with an "exclusive club mentality"

Here are some example organizations that seem to have a lot of exclusiveness built into their day-to-day activities and that exclusiveness has lead to strange ways of doing things. Strange, that is, when looked at from the outside. From the inside these choices look quite logical and well thought out, but that is the nature of delusion.

o Various elements of criminal legal practice and prison systems

o The Doctor/Nurse/Resident/Hospital environment

o National Security

o Regulators in regulatory agencies

o Firefighters

o School teachers


Why Business is not on my list

Business, per se, is not on my list of activities that need conscripts. While many people disparage big business owners and managers for their corporate greed, and bankers and financiers for their shortsightedness, members of these occupations have the harsh reality of the "bottom line" that tells them forcibly if they are doing a good job or not. This is a decisive measuring stick, and as a result "harsh reality" stays close -- unless these companies are operating behind large barriers to entry put up by government regulations. If the business is protected by government-sanctioned barriers to entry, such as being a state-supported monopoly or a state-owned enterprise, then this becomes another situation where adding community service interns makes sense.

Guild Mentality Delusion

Guild Mentality Delusion is rooted in Us versus Them Neolithic Village instinctive thinking. Basically, a guild is a collection of people who share a doing common activity for a long time, and as they do so they start to think of themselves as being special for doing so. They become an "Us" and those who don't engage in their activity become "Them". This becomes a problem when those doing the activity start putting up barriers to entry in pursuing their activity. These barriers can be justified using many kinds of reasoning, and the barriers to entry can take many forms. Hazing rituals as part of joining are one example and licensing regulations are another.

The damage to the community happens when these barriers to entry promote prescription in how the activity is conducted and stifle competition. The delusion is that the guild members don't see the expense to the community. They see these actions as protecting the community. The Nebraska example above is classic in that sense.

Blind Spots and Abuses

Another problem that comes with Guild Mentality Delusion is unaccountability. An example of just how deep and huge this unaccountability can become is described in this 9 Aug 12 Reason article, What Rand Paul Learned From Secret Security Hearings by Andrew Napolitano, in which Rand Paul explains that one of the stipulations of getting a classified briefing from a government agency was that he couldn't reveal what he'd been told. As the article points out: If no one can oversee what you're doing, there is no way to discover and deal with abuse.

As strange as it may sound, yes, intelligence and counter-terror agencies also need transparency. They can even more easily suffer from Guild Mentality Delusion than criminal lawyers and doctors can. They need some method of keeping transparency high as badly as every other organization with high barriers to entry does.


--The End--


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