A new starting point to consider the Strategy: human beings are at the center of nothing.

8 september 2023

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Claudius Ptolemy of Alexandria was a Greek mathematician and philosopher who lived in Egypt between 100 and 168 AD. He was the author of the synthesis of classical astronomy and an essential work of reorganization of the studies of astronomy. His most important work is Composition Mathematics, the Great Syntax or Almagest. In its thirteen books, Ptolemy orders all the knowledge of antiquity about the stars, especially that of Greek astronomy. Starting from the Aristotelian model, Ptolemy elaborates a geocentric and anthropocentric theory of the cosmos in which the Earth is the centre of the universe, and everything revolves around it.

Although erroneous, for over a thousand years, the theory of astronomy of Ptolemy remained the only explanation possible for the cosmos. The reasons for its success lay in these two points:

1. The Ptolemaic system predicts with fair accuracy the motion of the stars on the celestial vault and is confirmed by the actual observation of the night sky by man.

 2. The model was adopted as an official theory by Catholic Church, whose repressive policy prevented for many centuries any scientific criticism in Europe.

 It would have to wait until 1543 to see the contestation of the Ptolemaic model by Nicholas Copernicus. In his De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the revolutions of the bodies celestial bodies), published a few days before his death, Copernicus contradicted Ptolemy’s geocentric model. In time, Copernicus’ idea was accepted as a theory of the solar system’s actual constitution, overturning the physical/astronomical (geocentric) view and the philosophical/theological (anthropocentric) view of the medieval tradition based on Ptolemaic theory.

 For this reason, following a juxtaposition proposed first by the philosopher Immanuel Kant, the term “Copernican revolution” has subsequently been used in a broad sense, and also to designate similar processes of overturning of fundamental paradigms that occurred, at different historical moments, in other disciplines science or philosophy.

We faced with the first insult to human narcissism and its anthropocentric attitude: the cosmological insult.

 Until the mid-19th century, there was a widespread belief that all living beings were expressions of a design divine design. Not only that, but the man, in particular, was the crowning achievement of that creative process and its apex, being all other beings a corollary of it. The reference book for this thesis was the Bible’s Genesis.

Just as with the Ptolemaic system, no one dared to question the creationist theory until, on November 24, 1859, a book published in England at 15 shillings sold out on the same day. It was The Origin of Species in which Charles Darwin, on the strength of his many observations collected around the world, presented the hypothesis that living beings, including man, were the result of a more or less random evolution from environmental adaptation. There was also strong criticism and opposition in that case, particularly vivid even today, especially in the U.S., by creationists, who, however, merely stigmatize how the new theory was nothing more than a further attack on anthropocentrism in biology. There we faced the second insult to our narcissism, the biological one.

 Greek thinkers such as Plato and Aristotle were among the first to confront fundamental questions about the mind’s workings in antiquity. The Greek philosophers examined many of the questions psychologists continue to deal with today. However, there was no doubt that our will could always and ultimately control our thoughts and behaviours. It was only with the work of Sigmund Freud, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, that the attack was brought to even this belief, giving early explanations to phenomena already making it wobbly.

Unconscious phenomena determine thoughts and behaviours the mind cannot control (libido, drive, super-ego, etc.). Thus even in the case of the mind, which also belongs to us, another anthropocentrism collapsed: there was the psychological insult. (Freud was also the author of the list of the insults presented here).

 We arrived toward the end of the last century, in an era where it was still believed, despite increasing evidence to the contrary, that man could control even social phenomena and society as a whole. Politics is considered the actress capable of governing society as a whole. The economy is supposed to have laws that, once known, can enable it to be guided to its liking.

Organizations, especially those corporations, are governed by strict protocols, hierarchies, etc. Niklas Luhmann (1927-1998), a German sociologist, took it upon himself to respond to launch the “fourth insult” to anthropocentrism, the sociological one.

 A prime example of the inability of politics to control society is these words taken from the Declaration of Independence of one of the largest and most prosperous country in the world:

 We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

This is the preamble of the Constitution of the United States of America, the country that created the most incredible system of slavery and oppression ever realized in the world in terms of its size and duration. It is also still responsible for widespread and tolerated discrimination based on race and religious beliefs.

Why has politics not succeeded in making all this disappear, despite having declared it as its priority in the fundamental charter? What about the economy where the total unpredictability of the economic system is evident despite the efforts of politicians, bankers, and companies? Why does inflation rise or not fall despite the actions of the central banks? Why don’t wages rise in those countries where employment is at its highest?

In the case of organizations, there is other daily evidence: programs of so-called “Change Management” that change nothing or very little (and if something happens, you fail to replicate it in other contexts), overpaid managers whose contribution to collective corporate performance[1] is laughable, and many others.

Luhmann had the merit of proposing a model that account for these dynamics starting precisely from the observation that the will of individuals does not determine the social phenomena. Indeed, it can act as a trigger; any politician, banker or manager is free to implement a measure, but the results are unlikely to be close to expectations.

The organization is also a social system and accepting Luhmann’s perspective, it too is autonomous with respect to the wills and dynamics of individuals.

The organization differs from the minds and bodies of the people who are also part of it. The way it goes on differs from the thoughts or physiological processes, although they influence it. Embracing this distinction makes it possible to overcome the misunderstanding of anthropocentrism even in sociology (politics, economics, organizations, etc.), realizing here, too, a “Copernican revolution.”

Such a revolution in the social, as in the cosmological case, biological and psychological is essential to be able to give better account for the complexity of the world around us; from politics to economics via organizations and business.

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