Saturday, August 17, 2013

31 reasons why institutions exist to do what they do

Just why institutions exist to do what they do isn't so easy to discern. 

I had an undergraduate Philosophy professor who, earlier in his career, had pastored a large church in the northwestern U.S. in the midst of some of the most turbulent times of the 1960s.  (I believe it was in Oregon.) It grew from virtually nothing to around 500 members, and he confessed he never quite knew just why.  To the consternation of many, he regularly turned-down speaking engagements and book offers from people wanting him to come and reveal his "secret" for church growth.  He was as understated a man as he was insightful.  He also studied some under a well-known philosopher with the enviable career name of John Wisdom. As is often the case with undergraduate studies, one remembers the style and methods of instruction almost to the complete exclusion of content. But from those studies, I do remember a remark he made about institutions, and it has been rattling around in my mind for many years. Lately, I went casting [1] about trying to interpret what his quote meant, which I note at the end of this list.

01. Institutions exist to serve man.
02. Institutions exist to classify us.
03. Institutions exist to impart stability.
04. Institutions exist to tell us how we can help.
05. Institutions exist to reduce transaction costs.
06. Social institutions exist to satisfy social needs.
07. Institutions exist to further the ends of individuals.
08. Institutions exist to reduce uncertainty in the world.
09. Institutions exist to solve the problems peoples face.
10. Institutions exist to check dangerous human appetites.
11. Institutions exist to organize people toward a purpose.
12. Institutions exist to actually provide responsive services.
13. Institutions exist to support and condone the "status quo".
14. Institutions exist to help solve collective action problems.
15. Institutions exist to reduce uncertainty in human interaction.
16. Institutions exist to constrain state power vis-`a-vis their citizens.
17. Institutions exist to govern the inter-dependencies among smaller units.
18. Institutions exist to reduce uncertainties involved in human interaction.
19. Institutions exist to provide order, which makes self-determination possible.
20. Institutions exist to serve and strengthen the society of which they are part.
21. Institutions exist to make binding decisions when competing interests are at odds.
22. Institutions exist to mediate tensions and maintain equilibrium between competing interests.
23. Institutions exist to keep themselves alive, make some people rich, and control the rest of us.
24. Institutions exist to pass on current knowledge and to add to the knowledge we humans already have.
25. Institutions exist to perpetuate themselves just as they are. The goal is that they will never change.
26. Institutions exist to serve the delivery of programs and services that move the people toward the vision.
27. Institutions emerge and persist because they resolve some problem of survival and adaptation faced by a population.
28. Institutions exist to help us out of situations that are too painful for people and entire communities to contemplate.
29. Social, political and economic institutions exist to serve a small class of elite much to the detriment of human progress.
30. Institutions exist to ensure a Pareto optimal outcome-—that is, outcomes where no one can be made better off without making someone worse off.
31. Institutions exist to perpetuate their existence and promote their agenda, to funnel power in specific directions, with the assumption that their existence is valuable and necessary.

And, of course, to the credit of my old Philosophy teacher, the best one:

00. The only real rule is that "institutions exist to perpetuate themselves."

Okay, maybe it's 32 reasons, but 00 seems awfully close to "bachelors exist to marry no one."  I wonder if he was pulling my leg?



[1] I don't claim to have come-up with any of these, but merely did a Google search and spent way too much time plucking and pasting them into a text file, much like a boy might put a beetle in a box, only to forget what it looks like once it's in there.

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