Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Gilbert Lenssen: the role of the modern manager

There spoke a former student of Prof. Baeck, Gilbert Lenssen, manager at BP Hamburg. He continued to develop Baeck's notion of economic thinking in cultural terms by stating specifically, how the role of the modern manager has to be thought anew and redefined, in order to come to terms with the world which we are facing presently and shall do so for the next twenty years or so. Many changes have to be anticipated, an entire rethinking is needed, if we want to be able to cope with what lies ahead, stated Lenssen emphatically. He meant obviously not only changes are needed in response to environmental constraints, but also managers had to take into account value orientations, as economies must heed 'cultural diversities'.

He went on to explain that according to his opinion, the mistake so far has been to think of values as ideologies; they are not lived. It was supposed that people working for a company must somehow relate to the corporate identity, uphold it, without asking them really what this means in terms of how one thinks to live. The problem is, however, not one of ideology like socialism or capitalism. Rather, it is a question on how to understand the fundamental fears and disappointments of people. The present regression back to nationalism and/or regionalism entails equally some political dangers for Europe as a whole. However, contrary to Picht, he believes that attempts to deal with the past must not necessarily lead into a regression, but it can be equally healthy reconsideration of everything.

For instance, he takes his managers to a former concentration camp, because that is part of European and in particular of German history. The place where he works, Hamburg, Germany is a difficult, but equally challenging place and when dealing with the past, then it is like going back to the 'roots'; whether now a regression or a reflection, that does not matter. More important is to learn to deal with these critical and equally disturbing aspects. People feel all the more insecure, if there is no framework offered to them in which they can learn how to respond more adequately to these issues, than just pushing them permanently aside or else just ignoring them. Thus, in terms of the past or not, the issue is one of subsidiary. It has to come not from the economic side; but out of the cultural dimension which people live and experience daily.

Gilbert Lenssen continued to say that he does not see as of yet any really established European identity, but that 'added value' has to be given to local cultural diversities, in order to overcome redundancies. That should not be seen as a limitation, but as a source of creativity, that is, when something is complete and yet asking for completion. He thinks there are the true chances of Europe, provided it does not succumb to mere 'images' of perfection. Everyone must be involved in the arts. As one of his favourite artists, namely Josef Beuys said: 'everyone is an artist' and therefore anyone can become creative. Creativity is there, where value is being created. That is the meaning of artistic work.

This idea has to be brought into a broader context and thus he has stopped pursuing the idea of sponsoring the arts, but rather tries to bring artists and business together in a different, more meaningful manner. Here he would like to disagree a bit with his former teacher, from whom he has learned a great deal, for it is no longer just a manner of thinking globally; one must also act locally at the same time, if one is to stay in business, at that a successful one. He has just started out of this reason pilot projects like one in Austria in which other values are added to the work being done, insofar the entire community is involved with emphasis upon pursuit of 'civic virtues'. This means at the level of local regions respect for the constraints, including those of the given natural resources and the locally existing identities of the people has to influence economic decision making. Dealing with questions about 'energy' becomes then more that just possible economic exploitation of locally found resources. For people must think culturally as well when doing this kind of work. In other words, they must ask themselves all the time the question, 'where does the energy come from'; rather than taking things for granted, they come to feel that they can shape reality in a responsible manner.

He added that people need protection and security, and they shall need that all the more in the next twenty years. Many changes will affect their lives and they must learn to adjust accordingly. That is only possible within a protective framework while facing these challenging problems of the future. He would see and define two issues in connection with that: first, there must take place a rethinking of the nature of private versus public organisations, for a social consciousness is needed on a much larger scale than what either of them can bring about at the moment; and second, there is a need for different organisations which are less hierarchically structured than in the past. These two issues can be brought to bear upon the question, what is the appropriate level and type of organisation we need, in order to face the future not only materially prepared, but also 'spiritually'?


The ideas of Mr. Lenssen sounded refreshing, considering the fact that they were spoken by a manager, yet despite their novel character they are equally in need of critical reflections. For instance, while it is good that management methods in terms of organisation start discarding hierarchical structures, nevertheless 'hierarchies' remain an unresolved problem (Ernst Bloch). Philosophically speaking, equality in human terms and inequality at the working place still dominates the cultural setting and has immediate impact upon social and therefore political recognition. Especially in periods of crisis (which are sometimes artificially produced to restore these structures privileging some while suppressing others), situations are determined by hierarchical structures since they supposed to ease the tension and indicate apparently more clearly where energy and information should go to, that is what kind of solution is preferred. Military discipline is perhaps the biggest illusion of clarity when human values are left to drift in murky waters like the corpses left behind once violent strives seek out civilians in their homes as presently the case in Yugoslavia. In Germany history many people justified Hitler due to the crisis that the situation of massive unemployment apparently created for everyone. They accepted him since he gave them work but under the condition that they then stop asking at what political price, even when work provided was for a military built-up. Even the philosopher Heidegger was a victim of such an illusion that progress needs leaders who take risks and thus should be given the right to make 'mistakes'. Many such doubtful moments are incurred when military leaders or outright dictators take over political affairs. Hence no real solution can be said to be true, if it does not resolve this question of hierarchy. That has many implications.

In normal life, administrative set-ups fulfil the norms of rigid hierarchical dispositions towards all questions and problems. Max Weber was the sociological father of such an organisational form. He, not Marx won the battle as to which path the social sciences should take in their studies of societies (Susan Buck-Morss). Part of that conflict was repeated in the Positivism-debate between Adorno and Popper; it was a matter of determining what role sociology ought to play, or what kind of theories were to be applied to society. These are extremely important epistemological questions and determine the quality of terms or concepts used in our understanding of modern life. As Adorno said to Walter Benjamin, even the application of a name like 'Golden Age' to a period of nineteenth century life in France implies a theory through which all the complex factors involved when using such a name becomes a part of the conscious perception of society. To leave out such a theory would be not only a distortion of truth, but equally contribute towards a crude form of materialism. 1 Yet Gilbert Lenssen seems to tend away from the Holistic explanations and concepts are used when the world becomes too fragmented and there is the fear that in the crisis no one has anymore the overview. Even European programmes dealing with the crisis within cities call for 'holistic' concepts. The implications of such tenders may be overseen, but it means falling back in the language to the unresolved disputes of the sixties and early seventies. If that is an indication of the direction in which the European Union is drifting in, then the expert advice given and accepted in the drafting of programmes needs to be criticised. Naturally 'holistic concepts' are intended to unify at a level where cultural adaptation to the whole seems again possible. Yet unlike these huge drift nets from 2.5 to 10 Kilometres long and which kill everything in their paths, concepts must remain sensitive to local differences while ensuring the 'unknown' is not excluded.

Alone this indicates that there are quite different perspectives, even controversies to be resolved, when it comes to dealing with economic crisis and especially the fears of people. In the latter case, there is always the danger to reduce conflicts to psychological levels i.e. he is only that because his father was such a person, rather than bringing the problem up to the political level in full recognition that the other can have a valid, even if contrary opinion. Furthermore, people in fear can be belittled by the 'fathering' method, repeating as an extension of the pastoral theme used to describe power relationships throughout European history, the same old mistakes of not educating people to be political, but just followers of instructions. Now Gilbert Lenssen spoke about perceiving local differences and every individual being an artist in reference to Josef Beuys. But the latter artist had difficulties explaining his concept precisely because sense perception and the level of concept cannot be easily merged, if at all by action art. Still, there is a meaning in linking creativity to value, provided such a value is seen as an inherent principle of staying alive in an active, not passive manner. Yet precisely crisis becomes a proponent of fear because people no longer come to creative answers, but rather produce 'fear' which they overcome through all sorts of repressive means from alcohol and drugs to religious cults terminating in seeking the 'ecstasies': the static dance in an attempt to silence the subjective fear coming up from within, a fear whose reason remains unknown to the person experiencing that fear. (H.Broch)

It is interesting to note that more fear is being produced by those people having a secure job than those facing daily the hard reality of a society no longer recognising them as human beings, but instead treating them as failures. The embarrassing fact is that those with security fear the potentiality of unemployment and thus tend to favour 'radical solutions' even if that would mean a worsening of the political situation, i.e. in Germany there is the saying all those unemployed are too lazy to work and they should therefore be put into concentration camps to make them work. Here the wrong naming of reality, i.e. that person is only lazy, is directly connected with attitudes favouring a reactionary solution.

Furthermore, Prof. Baeck spoke not so much in favour of a global approach, but rather in his critique of the Atlantic tradition of economic thought about leaving out culture and thus the separation of real life and economies. If the European economic thinking wants to use the words 'community' and 'local people, their identities' rather than big scale business, then this may hold for an Austrian village, but certainly not for life within cities. By the same token, big business is expanding rapidly, and only very few manage to compete really at world level. This then is crucial, for if the borders of a business become vague and due to the 'added value' created by involving, for instance, an entire community, then this reliance upon 'civic virtues' is but another way of getting unpaid work being done for the company. They are doing it for the sake of the community. Every economist and critical social scientist knows this trick by business: to obtain work from others without having to pay for it. Artists know this best. Once a company succeeds in changing the relationship between services offered and payments having to be made, then naturally profits go up. It is nevertheless a form of exploitation with an even dangerous undertone, that of an entire community becoming dependent upon one company for economic survival. Also the size of community becomes relative, if one thinks about the scale the Mercedes-Benz consortium has reached in the meantime and to what extent all of Germany is dependent upon this concern. In other words, for the sake of protecting some cultural identity, the political prize to be paid may be a whole-sale give away of all resources, including human ones, to just one monopolising company. Modern economic thinking suggests a need to return to 'values', as if solutions are to be found by not leaving values to be an ideological issue, as was the case during the Cold War, but become subjective truths to be really lived. Yet real life is not the final truth, or as Adorno would say, structurally speaking, 'there can be no true life in a wrong context'. He meant the danger that people can easily justify things or rationalise their situation because their lives depend upon getting the necessary income to survive; as Adorno would say, every empirical researcher asking someone 'do you like the job you are doing', will never get a negative answer, even if the person asked works for a nuclear plant. Economic systems have their own ideological component; the impossibility to step out of the dependence from the car is surely not only the result of the automobile makers, but the scale of those businesses has created a system of dependencies. A person running a service station cannot image any life independent from that; his material basis of existence allows him no longer the freedom to think about alternative forms of existence which would pay more heed to environmental constraints. Here perhaps the ecological movement has made the political mistake of posing this problem merely as an irresolvable paradox between needing jobs and saving the forests. The shift in the debate as indicated in this lecture points more in the direction of 'sustainable economies' meant to keep resources safeguarded for the future. This then would be an extra value introduced into economic thinking used to relating only to things, if they can be exploited, that is used to create extra value. The lessons on how to live with nature have not been learned well by man; the economic systems so far have prevented any practical consequences to be drawn out of that fact.

People usually face always the same dilemma: should they sacrifice the ideology (their honesty) or the reality (the need to earn a living), for they are incompatible with one another. The difficulties of ascertaining what the truth is often lie hidden in that difficulty of choice. The former Communistic regimes were taught that lesson, namely that in the long run it was impossible to ignore reality; since then, it is proving to be much more difficult to refute how Capitalism is working. It can be said by trying to evade basic value conflicts; protection of people in fear may mean keeping them away from crucial information which could easily disturb their assumption that there is no contradiction between ideology and lived beliefs in reality.

As Flaubert would say, 'it may take a woman twenty years to discover that she had made the wrong choice of a man when she married the officer for the sake of a save income, and another twenty years by the time she realises that she cannot continue covering up her mistake in society'. Forty years is already more than half of an entire life span, a most precious time which will not come again. The fact that this illusion can be kept up, is beautifully expressed in the German saying of these women being 'the iron widows of reason'. No wonder then that so many people complain at the end of their lives that they have not really lived, for they never stood to what they were doing, but they did it to survive 'superficially' in a system demanding from them things they never really did believe in. That then leads directly to 'cynicism': the resignation in life.

However, psychologists and other social workers have come across countless cases in which parents only believed that they were doing the best for the children, when in fact their style of imposing authority was in reality 'child abuse'. In other words, there is much ambivalence in such vague suggestions about work being done with 'zeal' due to 'civic virtues' being involved. The ambivalence is revealed in being indifferent when it comes to dealing with a disturbing past like the existence of concentration camps: whether regression or conscious reflection, that does not apparently matter, much more the fact that it was done and hence part of the company's C.V.. In that sense the company Benetton knows that things are bought nowadays not because of the product itself, but through people knowing for what the company stands for, including the Aids issue, hence a very aggressive advertising campaign that hardly shows the products, but an imaginary relationship between the company and the Aids issue. What is really disturbing is that everything and nothing is made use of, to claim of being progressive, handsome, aesthetically pleasing and yet equally strong, an adventurer, etc., in short everything that the normal human being apparently longs for and wishes to be. Advertisement as the moulding of the human being in the realms of illusions can no longer be called a fetish of things, but rather a perversion of life used to give value to completely irrelevant things. Only the fact that there is the money, while the other side has none leaves everyone thinking the emperor has still clothes on, when in fact even 'naked truths' do not change anything in the perception of the system and what political lessons are to be drawn out of it. There is, as a matter of fact, too little resistance against attempts to sell things. In that sense, Prof. Bekemans' caution that European societies should not succumb to the 'culture of consumption' must be taken further as a critique of culture, but not as a proponent of 'cynical reason' (Sloterdijk).

Nevertheless, it can be argued, as does Adorno, that the kind of ambivalence capitalism introduces into life is the very reason for the perfect functioning of atrocities like the concentration camps: no one really believed that they existed, still today many believe it was a fiction, because the capacity of man to understand political reality is limited to what can be resolved. As Marx said, 'people are only prepared to see those problems which have a solution'. That leaves out the very dimension of culture in which problems are described without the fiction of having any solution; solutions take time to mature, and many a times a truly engaged scientist or researcher had to reformulate the original question before finding the solution, that is the ability to give an answer within a new context of doubt, for such an answer must be located within a precise meaning. This is what perhaps Popper meant by the quality of a theory residing with its ability to be refuted, to be contradicted, to be stopped from being implemented especially when it would mean going against life.

Thus knowledge about our lives is very much linked to that overall European concept of 'systematisation', but the linkage between culture and economy has been examined only at a rudimentary level and in a random, unsystematic way. In short, ambivalence is really hesitation and giving the benefit of the doubt to reality in the wish that things are not really so bad, that one would have to draw out of that personal consequences, including a change in life style or as Adorno would say to throw oneself out of the comforting situation one has created for oneself. Ambivalence in perception is really the unresolved problem of political responsibility for what is going on in reality.

When Beuys is cited as claiming 'everyone is an artist' (like Lenin who said everyone, including a kitchen woman can be the government), this too touches upon the issue of political responsibility for what kind of energies, destructive or constructive ones, one releases. Artistic work has very much to do with remaining creative, that is constructive, despite the fact, as shown by Picasso, that one has to go through phases of negation - the artistic form of destruction - before the new can be created. Picasso is here a special case for he had morality, that is, love for life, including that of children. His destruction was really to take things out of their meaningless context and to give them a new meaning, like handle bars of a bicycle transformed into the horns of a bull. To see those other possibilities, that is the artistic play with the ambivalence of illusions (Gombrich), yet this differs very much from Beuys' ill-fated attempt to educate people through art to see art differently. It is simply impossible to show something and at the same time try to condition people on how they should react; it always ends in a loss of authenticity. The main difference is that a professional artist knows how to handle destructive forces with care, in order to let out energy in directions which are neither destructive nor reactionary, but creates something. Here one has to agree with Lenssen that creativity is there, where value is being created; it needs to be added, however, not any kind of value. The value of colours that Chagall gives to his paintings within the form of 'poetic realism' is determined by a kind of censorship he imposed upon himself, for he stated that after First World War would could not simply continue to paint as if nothing had happened. It was Chagall's critique of many painters he re-experienced after having returned to Paris after that war was over and who to his disappointment had not changed their style, content, form, anything. Thus value has to do with overcoming indifference to life as if nothing has happened and things can stay unchanged: the illusion of continuity. The latter can be extended to a 'cultural identity' a particular region or local area wishes to uphold.

To see this very clearly, it requires a special position of observation. Brendan Kennelly describes this position as a point of 'indifference', something that James Joyce attained in his opinion. In that 'indifference' there has to be searched for the humanistic perspective (for example see how James Joyce reacted to Odysseus who would not plough over his son when people tried to enlist him for the Trojan War. Such a position creates interplay between distance and closeness to people, in order to see who they are. That is to say, Beuys did not have that distance needed except through a cultural experience of difference when he had been shoot down as a Stucka-Pilot during Second World War and then discovered that the people he meant to kill treated him for over two years so that the Shamans could release him again to life. With that deep 'spiritual' experience he returned to a post-war Germany and tried to teach people on how to use their senses by altering their intellectual perception dispositions. His 'cultural actions' were truly pedagogical, and hence they failed in an important artistic sense, for the analogy of how to teach a rabbit something about the arts was really a conceivable easier task than educating people, and at the same time, untrue, because the rabbit and the artist do not share the same common language as does the artist with other people. Here lies a difference in point, or is it just a remark to reflect upon changing dispositions within the business world with regards to sponsoring the arts. This 'indirect' advertisement seems to be judged as being increasingly ineffective for business. They stop it not out of cultural, but due to economic considerations, which is surely not a cultural evaluation but a particular interest in gaining something without really doing something for it.

Art and business together reflects much more the kinds of indirect advertisements firms like to deploy. Lenssen revealed a new interest of business in the arts at quite another level of exploitation: artists have always been coping with 'uncertainties' due to a lack of money, unstable sales of their art works, difficulties with getting recognition and making ends meet, etc., thus they become an interesting species of mankind for business wishes to learn from them how they still can organise materials and work effectively under such conditions. Business wishes to pass on these valuable lessons to their employees now that they enter phases of uncertainty. They should learn to cope like the artists. That means instead of sponsorship, the relationship to the arts can become even more exploitive, given the fact how long any artist had to survive close to the existential minimum while still upholding human values. Now the artists should continue at the same level of 'uncertainty', but be ready to communicate their skills to survive to a business having become uncertain on how to handle 'uncertainty'. That this difference between artists and people at work in a business cannot be easily bridged, is apparent for someone knowing the true difference of living and working conditions; uncertainty is the price to be paid for artistic freedom. Those preferring a safe income on a monthly, that is regular basis pay through loss of meaning in the work they do. The two situations are not comparable. In other words, those spoiled by years of safe incomes tend to become like all people panic stricken and rather vengeful, when faced by uncertainties. They do not mind to utter threats to even the government, 'if they do not get what they need to escape economic recession, they will vote for the extreme right next time'. Threats or coercive bids are like the child catching on very quickly if it wants to get its way, it must know how to use the leverages of power. Artists never know how to use them for they cannot be tactical in the application of their power to do or to create things. Thus threats of coercive pressures is not a signal of being prepared to enter a human dialogue nor the creation of something in affirmation of human values, but rather the practise of coercion irrespective of the costs involved. It would be good if Mr. Lenssen had included such a critical undertone in his vigorous appeal to managers to use a new approach to culture.

1 See Aesthetics and Politics (ed. by Fredric Jameson) "Adorno to Benjamin", London 1977, pp.110-133
Epistemological orientation and work more with 'holistic' concepts, something which both Popper and Adorno refuted. The latter even expressed it most bluntly: 'the whole is the untruth'.

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