Posted by: chrismaser | November 13, 2010


Each agency is an aggregate of individuals, which collectively acts as an extended family, and each agency, through its official doctrine, is the reinforcement of society’s perception of itself.

I never thought about the meaning of an “agency” until I went into the Army when I was 17 years old. My first week was at Fort Ord, California. Having nothing to do, we were given something with which to look busy.

I remember a struggling piece of lawn, which should have been granted the Congressional Medal of Honor for valor above and beyond the Almighty’s intent for grass. I saw that poor piece of lawn sheared with an old, push lawn mower ten times in one day; I mowed it twice! In addition, I immediately learned about the chain of command.

A man with one stripe on his sleeve told me to mow the lawn, and while I was in the middle of doing it, a man with three stripes on his sleeve came up to me and told me to do something else, whereupon I said, “ Sir, I’ve been told to do this.”

The man narrowed his eyes and asked through tight lips, “How many stripes did he have? How many do I have? Who are you going to obey?

My eyes bugged out and I gulped, “Sir, I guess I’d better do as you say. You have three, and he had only one.

A damn wise choice, son!” he said as he walked away.

After I got to Fort Lewis, Washington, and started basic training, learning how to kill the enemy for the sake of “God and Country,” I found myself confronted with the greatest proverbial wisdom of mindless obedience the military has to offer: “Yours is not to question why; yours is but to do or die,” and “If it moves, salute it; if it doesn’t, paint it.” Beyond that, there was the “hurry up and wait” syndrome.

I was also told that “You’re in the Army twenty-four hours a day, remember that. We pay you eleven cents an hour twenty-four hours a day, and you’d better damn well be grateful! Where could you get a better deal than that: eleven cents an hour twenty-four hours a day, three hot meals, and a bed? Your ass is ours!” I remember thinking: I know a lot of places where I could get a better deal than that, and I’d prefer twenty-two cents an hour with twelve unpaid hours off this base.

The Army was my first introduction into the collective thinking of a malfunctional agency. Of course, I didn’t recognize my dysfunctional family as belonging to the same category. Nor did I think about the malfunctional school system, which tried to make me into a right-handed person, which tried for twelve years to make me conform to some preconceived notion of acceptability by attempting to steal my individuality and my imagination.

And yet an agency can serve a useful purpose in society. The problem arises when the agency either “forgets” what its purpose is or the purpose becomes obsolete, while the agency becomes self-serving to its own survival.


Series on Resistance to Change:

• Our Institutionalized Resistance To Change

• The Inception Of An Agency

• Stages In The Cycle Of An Agency

• When Dysfunction Creeps In

• Homeostatic Defense

• Coping Mechanisms

• Coping Mechanisms: Anger And Aggression

• Coping Mechanisms: Appraisal

• Coping Mechanisms: Defensiveness

• Coping Mechanisms: Denial

• Coping Mechanisms: Displacement

• Coping Mechanisms: Filters

• Coping Mechanisms: Projection

• Coping Mechanisms: Rationalization

• Coping Mechanisms: Repression

• Coping Mechanisms: Resistance

• Breaking The Dysfunctional Cycle

• From Where I Stand

Text © by Chris Maser 2010. All rights reserved.

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This article is excerpted from my 1994 book, Sustainable Forestry: Philosophy, Science, and Economics. St. Lucie Press, Boca Raton, FL. 373 pp. It is updated in my 2012 book, Decision Making For A Sustainable Environment: A Systemic Approach. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL. If you want more information about this book, want to purchase it, or want to contact me—visit my website.

If you wish, you can also read an article about what is important to me and/or you can listen to me give a presentation.

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