Tuesday, December 27, 2005

System v. Chaos 

Late on Christmas Day after celebrations had ended and people were settling to talk, I had a wonderful conversation with a relative who is a scientist. He is/was of the opinion that issues which divide society can be handled by systems that allow parties to thrash out differences or at least, hold issues at bay. Being a PR person who lives on the edge of systems and relates to individuals outside of them, I disagreed.

I believe systems are never sufficient to comprehend all issues and events that impinge on them. There are disaster scenarios that are life-threatening to organizations and societies. I used two examples that seem to verify the point. The first is that no political system has yet sustained in the history of the world, and there is no guarantee that the US system will endure. Second, humans can carry contradictory notions in their brains without conflict. The primary example was the Constitutional convention in Philadelphia where the freedoms of individuals were ensured, except those of slaves. Present were abolitionists such as Franklin and Hamilton and slaveholders such as Jefferson and Washington. Everyone agreed on the need for freedom. Some didn't see any conflict with the continued existence of slavery. It took a war that nearly destroyed the US political system to settle the issue.

I believe there always will be life threatening issues. If I didn't, there wouldn't be much need for PR people. There wouldn't be much need for us to monitor and examine relationships between and among publics outside of an organization and those within.

You can accuse me of arguing out of self-interest, but I don't think that is the case. Neither law or process can handle many issues that society tangles over from immigration to abortion to euthanasia. There are groups unalterably opposed, and they will bend -- or even, break -- law and process to get their way. They come from belief sets that do not and cannot have a common ground. Further, there are those for whom morals, ethics and law are more relative than based on fixed principles. That is, for them ethics are what popular opinion at any moment perceive them to be: Others contend there are standards outside of public understanding and eternal -- e.g. killing of any kind is evil. These assumptions further endanger organizations and process.

I'm not sure my relative agreed with me. I think he as kind enough not to create a scene by too vigorous argument. I understand his belief in system, and I agree with it for the most part. In fact, law and process do work for 99 percent of issues that confront society, but there is always a 1% lurking out there somewhere.

Hi Jim

At the risk of prolonging your family discussion I have to admit that I’m not sure what you’re saying. But I am dense at times so forgive me if that’s the reason. More to the point of this commentary:

--Are you saying that PR doesn’t require systems? I don’t think so.

--Are you saying that PR can do more than systems to resolve life-threatening issues? I don’t think so.

--Are you saying PR isn’t a system in its own right? I don’t think so.

--Are you saying that PR works with or for a greater truth? I don’t think so.

But you imply these things in what you wrote or at least as I interpret what you wrote. Can you clarify your view? I ask because I have a strong feeling that there is a REALLY BIG IDEA in what you’ve written that needs to be teased out.

Thanks and Happy New Year. You make everyone in PR proud with your editorials and commentaries. They’re just the best. Thoughtful, provocative, engaging, educational, etc.

Don Bates

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