The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

The Organization Man

Imagine you belong to an organization that is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Its stated purpose is to safeguard that which you hold most dear. The organization is large, one of the largest of its kind, and rich – very rich –commanding a vast array of enterprises and influencing still others in some definitive and profitable way. You may not be in the higher echelons, but you bask in their reflected glow: they are strong which makes you, by association, a little stronger, more worthy of respect.

The organization counts some courageous individuals who have formed bonds of loyalty to confront danger, and not only survived but turned difficulties to their advantage. You’ve seen how, out of chaos, they created and imposed a kind of order that if not pervasive is at least persuasive. It has certainly persuaded you, who were born of chaos, shot like a bullet into the air and plummeting inexorably to the ground from whence you came. You long for direction, a flight plan.

You know that if you were to rise within its ranks, the organization would protect you. You know that some of your fellow members have had the opportunity to learn valuable lessons about how to live and stay alive. In a world where death is the only certainty, you can look forward to a degree of security that is denied people who do not belong. All that is asked in return is unquestioning obedience. This is fairly easy since you haven’t time for questions anyway, or at least you have just one you seldom entertain, i.e. if I wasn’t part of this, who or what would I be/do?

Now imagine your organization is being challenged from within and from without. The situation is unprecedented. The decision-makers have been caught unawares, lulled by the very illusion of beneficent order they devised and purveyed for many years. Their reaction is fairly predictable. Have you ever seen a schoolteacher corrected by an upstart student? The teacher is typically angry. The student gets slapped while his classmates look on, some elated by the teacher’s humiliation, others thinking the smart kid got what he deserved.

The purpose of the organization – be it a society, state, financial institution, religion or army - is to instruct us as to how to uphold a certain order, and those who disturb it cannot belong. That’s where you come in. You are called upon to obey, whether it means lying, cheating, killing or shutting up and acting stupid. If the consequences seem unpleasant, you simply balance them against your dedication to what you sometimes call ‘the greater good’ but which is in fact your own perceived good or that of your particular organization. You are anxious to prove your loyalty and belonging. There is a higher logic at work, one you needn’t understand, one you have long since bowed to and cannot now or perhaps ever disregard.

This is what is happening all around us. Everyone - whether their lives are defined by power or obedience - is desperate to maintain the illusion of order that like food and water has sustained them and therefore seems essential for existence. The trouble is that everyone has meanwhile caught a glimpse of the truth that lies behind the illusion, whether or not they are willing to admit it. Someone may say: look, this organization did wrong. Here’s proof, my brother! Look it’s right here and you can see it yourself – wonton murder, poverty, devastation! But my brother only sees what he wants to see, preferring lies, his own or others’, even inventing scapegoats, anything so as not to dispel the illusive order that holds him in its thrall. And can you blame him? We all embody this ambivalence, the self that clings to an established routine or relationship no matter how unsatisfying or destructive.

Even so, there are those with the courage to reject the old and stand in the midst of their confusion to affirm that uncertainty, even chaos is good since it means possibilities - not necessarily bloodshed or mayhem – but fresh starts. They believe they can exist outside the organizations and create better ones. When they choose to break their orders they may attract scorn, but they eventually attract others like them, until their collective voice and proofs can no longer be ignored. It happened before, and will again, however painfully and slowly, the trials, errors and dismantling, one failed despot or despotic order, one falling bullet at a time.

Maria Golia is the author of Cairo: City of Sand and Photography and Egypt.

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