Of the numerous critical responses we have received, we start with this commentary sent by a thoughtful college student:

About group selection — It seems to me that gs means that a person will act to propagate the genes of the group even if it is not to the advantage of the particular individual.   Species selection just means a larger group.  What confuses me is that it seems that if there is gs then people will act altruistically or tend to do so because they are programmed to do so by evolution, in the same way a large percentage of men vigorously pursue sex.  I see people generally being rather self serving.  Also, I see substantial institutions (religions, at least) in our society which are dedicated to instilling and reinforcing more generous behavior.  I think people have to be pushed towards more altruistic behavior at the behavioral and cognitive levels. Unless I have gs wrong and it just means that some of my genes will be preserved if I sacrifice myself for people who are similar to me, or the whole species.  It seems to me also that people are willing to sacrifice themselves for belief systems or ways of life, regardless of the genetic advantage, but I don’t know the theory on that.

I’m having problems with the word “altruism.”  It seems to me that most of the time people are getting something out of whatever they are doing, like Mother Theresa finding meaning in helping the suffering.  I mean, we’re not like eusocial insects exactly.
“Compassion” I think applies whether you get something out of it or not, and I think universal compassion is actually a logical position to take.

D. W.

The comment and criticism below were in response to the section on leadership (7.5) in Issues in Applied Ethics.

Found your applied ethics piece intriguing. I am an entrepreneur involved in my 4th start up situation. I have been a strategic planning / leadership consultant since the early 80’s and familiar with much of the literature you cite. My theoretical leanings are toward self-empowered work teams. I like to believe the best in others and strive to encourage them to reach higher. HOWEVER, my experience as an entrepreneur teaches me otherwise. I think you believe this skill might be evolutionary, and you might be right, but I’m not so sure that adequately explains people’s differences in nature. I’ll share with you several observations.

Most of the rhetoric about self-empowerment is reserved for large corporate America, because (a) the organization’s infrastructure is developed to the bureaucratic plateau and therefore can withstand a fair amount of deviation before destabilization and (b) it tends to be largely trivial in that a suggestion to go to a flexible lunch hour and cost-cutting measures, while it certainly dramatically impacts the entire organization, tends to deal with low-vested points of view (of little cultural consequence). By contrast, a small business that encounters treachery among its principals is usually destabilized and goes out of business before the finer points of ethics can get addressed. That is, the stakeholders “run for the hills” in the face of the barbarians. I have experienced an extreme amount of macro-cultural resistance to self-empowerment approaches in situations where those options are open and available. Now that I have been out of the self-empowerment crowd since the early-90’s, I see a trivialization of those points of view in other camps. At first I thought it was out of fear of the unknown. Now I’m not so sure. I think non-empowerment types know another aspect of reality that may be founded on more than ignorance and brutishness (which I think conversely, is the way empowerment types trivialize their philosophical enemies – liberals and conservatives?!). Empowerment types think this reality will diminish through education and information. While I’d agree on certain aspects of the issues. I don’t think it’s that simple. There are underlying character and formation issues that need to be addressed… issues I don’t think the education and science communities think are relevant… issues that may be the Achilles’ Heals of their conceptions.

I’m going to generalize for the sake of shortness. I find “corporate types” (of every philosophical stripe) are often fish out of water in an entrepreneurial environment. They seem to forget their business ethics and drop into a lower level on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. What I see from them is a lack of personal character that enables them to choose right from wrong on the prima fascia evidence rather than on what the corporate bureaucracy will let them or not let them get away with (internal vs. external foundations of identity). An interesting psychology develops. The rules of the game have changed in the lightly structured entrepreneurial environment. With the cushioning support structures gone, they start looking for guidance and support and assurances and “warm fuzzies” from the entrepreneur (his new leader). He forgets all the superficial “empowerment stuff” to which he gave lipservice. It’s now survival baby, and in most cases he doesn’t feel the entrepreneur is doing enough for him. The entrepreneur hasn’t changed. He’s still scrapping and working to make a go of the new business. He doesn’t have time to “tell the guy what to do.” He wants to give general direction and then depend upon him to decide himself.

This is the point that I think I take exception to your theories (although admittedly I haven’t read all your work) based on my practical experience. What I see is that self-empowerment bred corporate types are paper tigers in the entrepreneurial environment. They have few forward-looking visionary ideas (beyond changing the lunch schedule and saving a nickel on telephone costs). When they are expected to create and en-vision once they’ve “spent their idea wad,” an ugly thing occurs. They turn on the entrepreneur. They blame his lack of leadership. They almost never take responsibility for their own discomfort. They almost always blame the entrepreneur (it’s largely a face-saving measure because otherwise this failure will look bad on their resume – which they usually conceal in future resumes). And, they usually get lots of support for their point of view because the fact is, most people think like he does. A group-think co-dependency if you will. (The entrepreneur become the bogy man for the insecurities of both the guy who couldn’t make it and the group that listens to his reasons for failing.)

In conclusion, I see a paradox. On the one hand self-empowerment is a goal to which we must continually strive. However, I guess I don’t believe en-visioning is possible for the majority of people. While it is certainly possible, it seems entirely foreign at almost a genetic level for many people. They just can’t do it consistently, despite years/decades of encouragement. Therefore, en-visioning has levels of scale, and at each level, someone must become the catalyst and focal point. The leaders? I think so. Seems to me your issue is more along the lines of how that task is carried out, and shouldn’t be on whether it is needed. I do believe that many people, despite having a good education, are actually not capable of many original ideas and must look for ideas to follow. I see this a lot as an outsource contact to companies like AT&T. The bureaucratic “leaders” must suck/borrow/steal/cajole new ideas because they, by nature, have none/few. What they’ve mastered is a hierarchical system, not personal creativity. Personally, I think/wish creativity upon people. However, these desires on my part are often thrown back in my face because these people resent the  situations where you have encouraged them to step out and they’ve fallen flat (and they are loathe to give you creative credit). They may do it once or twice in life, then realize they WANT to follow and not lead. This is where you rightly point out, leadership becomes an issue of style over substance. But to argue against leadership on the basis of these models is off the mark. Leadership isn’t the issue. There, unLeadership is simply cloaked as leadership. We need to raise the bar on our definitions rather than allow the idea and need to be defined by the overly-hierarchical points of view.

Also, it seems that leadership style and approach is more your issue. The Shepherd vs. Rowdy Gates. In my experience, some of these preferences in people come down to personality types and preferences. Leadership can be exhibited in each type and circumstance, but the nature and attributes of that leadership is more granular. I see leadership issues like a shattered hologram… still maintaining the attributes of the whole. There are hierarchical elements when it comes to designated authority issues, AND there are conciliar elements when it comes to getting cooperation and execution. We need to distinguish power, authority, influence and skill. It’s not either / or. It’s hierarchical conciliarity. Order with consensus. Authority with competency. Influence with skill. Hierarchical in that we need a center and a catalytic spark to our en-visioning, but also Conciliar in that without the cooperation of the body corporate, nothing gets done. In the past the model has been skewed to hierarchy. Let’s not now make the mistake of swinging to a chaotic ultra conciliar model. We need both.

M. McK.


Is there really such a thing as a correct measure of a man, woman or child? Are we all not caught in a sea of movement that places us in unpredictable and sometimes volatile circumstance? Is there really any point or moment in our daily migration as individuals interacting with other individuals in constantly changing economic, social and natural circumstance that a man can be measured? Neither the man nor his circumstance are a static condition. It would seem measurement would only be possible if indeed nothing moved, but then what would life be? Indeed, from the time a human being is born he is being shaped and educated by the conditions that surround him. He grows emotionally and intellectually, each moment of his existence passing into yet another moment, taking all that was before him, and drinking in all that awaits him as he moves along. Each moment is a shared link to someone else. How a man is educated as a child will affect him as an adult, and yet there is a suggestion that this man can be measured by his own merits. Even how the man processes information, and what he is capable of learning, is part a genetic capability, part the vision of those who raised him, part the economic circumstance, part the country that he grows up in, etc. Can anyone aspect of this man’s being actually be measured as his own? How much of what he is can he really be responsible for? And yet by the standards of the day, this man feels responsible for every single second he lives and every single word or deed he does. The human being is born into a system of events, for which he himself has no power or capacity to control or change. What then can be the ‘correct measure’ of this man?


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