I was in the USAF…. a branch of the second greatest organization of human effort ever to be established–the first being the Catholic Church. Anyway, it occurred to me that the US military was the fulfillment of the struggle for the rights of the working poor personified in the IWW and cultivated in the post (Civil) war working class struggles through to the 1920’s and 30’s–perhaps perfected, in it’s imperfect way, by the reconstruction of Japan under MaCarthur. Eisenhower says in his autobiography that if it hadn’t been for the real danger Nazi-Germany posed… he probably would’ve gone through the war a low-level officer and gone out into the civilian sector after the war to become a salesman. Instead, the twits with a name, and their new found silly walk, were passed over for the sake of those with ability.
In the military, I found real community, advocacy, opportunity and the training and instruction to take on the responsibility with which I was entrusted. I didn’t know how good i had it until I returned to the civilian sector to a world resembling a zombie-apocalypse–there are chunks of me ambling about in the bellies of more than a few former intimates. In the military, we had several different roles to play, jobs to perform with a constant curriculum of training and retraining. In the military, my primary job was radar tech (in which I maintained and repaired radar tasked with controlling civilian air traffic), I worked as a base operator, bus driver, air freight cargo loader, in disaster response, job control, drafting written daily status reports, maintaining stock supplies and TO (technical order) libraries.
This last was of particular interest to me. While in the military I learned the necessary basic skills to participate in and maintain the smooth workings of a large organization, I also learned the potential and value of those skills. Since being out, I have continued in a lifelong habit of reading with a renewed sense of interest and ownership in and for my society. Among the authors and actors whom have influenced my thinking are Lewis Mumford, The City in History; and political activist, Ralph Nader. Both of whom seem to suggest that there are a missing set of institutions in our society.
When I was in the Air Force, we had gone through a recent re-evaluation of the roles and responsibilities of troops, particularly in response to their rank in the hierarchy. It had been acknowledged that rank did not necessarily indicate intelligence or ability or degree of potential contribution to “The Mission.” It had been emphasized at every step of training and integration into the workplace, the importance of “The Mission.” “The Mission” trumped rank, position or time in service. If you had an innovation or identified a fault in the meeting of the goals to accomplish “The Mission”–if you saw a problem–it was your responsibility to either address that problem, report that problem or both.
Upon returning to the civilian sector, I recognized a more strident acknowledgement and constant jockeying for position within the hierarchy… to a much greater degree than in the military–where hierarchies were clearly defined and little contested–to the degree that hindered whatever the given “Mission” at the time. Also, I saw little compunction against sabotage, even self sabotage, as an idiotic component of an over-arching culture of participation, or lack of. In the civilian sector, it was much more important to discredit the guy next to you for your own dim light to shine that much more brightly than to meet the basic objectives of the given task. Not only that, but others would participate in ones noncompliance out of a value for cultivating workplace cliques rather than ones own ability to contribute.
But it was the TO (Technical Order) library which still burned brightly in my imagination when thinking of my time in the Air Force. With this system of encapsulating and keeping knowledge… an organization could dedicate as few as two troops to the task of retaining any skill or technique the service required or acquired. And it occurred to me, what if this organizational pattern could be applied to the cultivation of hobbies and interests in the civilian sector to the end of not only knitting together human effort not based upon personal ambition, but personal interest and a cultivated questing for knowledge and accomplishment? What if such organized endeavor could be codified in a manor to bring together corporate activity which would grow with the depth of applied interest and activity from two members with an idea to 1000 members with facilities, self-maintained libraries and frequent visits from instructing scholars and professionals? Something I would call a PIL–yes a nod to the second band of a certain rotten John Lydon–a Peoples Independent Library. There could be thousands of them flourishing in every town… based around everything from cooking to political activism… concerned with anything from resurrecting ancient glass making techniques to evolving balanced curriculum for pre-teen children.
Out of such work might emerge a culture conscious of those traits and values necessary for large scale corporate action. A re-emergence of a monastic movement brought to the masses in the ruins of an empire wilderness. Anyway… just a thought.