For any large group to function well, a small number have to be entrusted with its coordination and take decisions when it is not feasible to consult everyone involved. This has in some quarters given rise to the false dichotomy that offers either a ‘No One but Me’ individualism or a ‘Only We Matter’ collectivism. The former, in an anarchistic or libertarian guise, supposes that one can join in or pull out solely as when it suits one. If everyone follows the same approach, no organisation can endure as rule breakers simply declare they no longer want to sign up to the rule that now inconveniences them. The latter invokes ‘we’ as some kind of absolute prerogative that can override everyone’s autonomy, when in fact a small clique set themselves up as the will of the people.
The relationship between the members of any group, from a residents’ association through a business to an entire country, can only be sustained if it is based on genuine mutuality. This applies to all regardless of what position they may hold in the group. People have to agree to rules and procedures, and to entrust certain issues to be dealt with by specific experts and decision-makers. But they will only abide by the outcomes if they are confident that what are put in place respect their interests equally, and their support for others will be reciprocated.
This does not mean that everyone must have exactly the same responsibilities or the same rewards. It does mean that the criteria for being given different responsibilities and the rewards/penalties for fulfilling/breaching them are set to everyone’s satisfaction and will be applied without exception. In other words, any one who best meets the agreed requirements to be, for example, a surgeon or a supervisor, should be given the position in question.
As for the rewards and penalties, these should be subject to open deliberations so that it is clear that there is no privileging of some positions with disproportionate rewards and no disadvantaging of certain types of non-compliance with excessive penalties.
Worker cooperatives and companies like Semco have shown how people, when given the opportunity to consider the most appropriate reward differentials to maximise the overall benefits of their joint enterprise, will deliberate and come up with a sensible scale for their respective organisation. There is no universal formula, but a process grounded on mutual respect that leads to different roles and rewards backed by the informed support of all concerned.
Similarly, whereas the populist media may stir up public demands for harsher punishment for all kinds of offence, deliberative engagement of people in thinking through crime, punishment, and their implications for the wellbeing of society, has consistently led to a more thoughtful differentiation of severe punishment for crimes with vicious intent and little repentance, a focus on rehabilitation for offenders who seek a real chance to be respected citizens, and detection and warning techniques that are more likely to deter than pointlessly harsh treatment after the event.
Those who seek unwarranted rewards for themselves or vindictive penalties for others threaten reciprocal relations and undermine the organisations they are part of. Any effective institution will establish cultural norms to warn against such inclinations, and put in place rules and enforcement to prevent such behaviour from spreading beyond the odd occurrence.
Checklist of Appraisal Questions:
Are there arrangements in place to prioritise, adjudicate & enforce the fair distribution of benefits?
Are members involved in an informed manner themselves in determining what counts as mutual expectations?
How confident are members that the arrangements will operate reciprocally and reliably?
Do members believe that others have privileged access to what is produced by the group?
Are there members who are marginalised and given little say as to what they are expected to do or what they will get in return?
[For a complete list of essays covering the 9 ‘SYNETOPIA’ elements, look up ‘Guide to Synetopia’]