"While we still draw breath, while we still remain among human beings, let us cultivate our humanity." - Seneca.
Eudaimonia in Greek is sometimes translated as happiness, but meant something more like human flourishing. To flourish is to realize your potential, as a seed flourishes when it falls on fertile ground and is cultivated. In our inner garden are virtues, or excellences, and there is corruption. As wheat and tares compete in the field, so virtues and vices compete in our inner garden. To cultivate another, to help the other birth their better self, is paideia. Socrates said he was the midwife of this fellow citizen's soul. Such birthing can be arduous. Paideia is a liberal art, not a science or managerial trade. Paideia liberates us from our vices, from our enslavement to base passion, from covetousness. It is a kind of soul-cultivation, or medical practice, to help what is excellent within us to thrive. The liberal arts are the arts of a free citizen and a free people.
Now metrics tend in another direction. Whether in business, government bureaus, whether in China, Russia, or America, when we measure and manage what we tend to create are people subordinate to a system. Weber spoke of the "iron cage" of bureaucratic or corporate life, filled with "sensualists without heart, specialistis without spirt." In other words, a managed workforce and satisfied customers. (For a contempory critique of the managed life, and how measurement and management have been driven across the planet by modernism in all its forms, including communism, fascism, capitalism, architecture, city planning, census studies, contemporary industrial design and scientifically managed agricultural practices, consult Seeing Like a State by James Scott.)
For some of us the nonprofit sector, including the internet commons, is the last frontier of active citizenship. We idealize it as the public square in which we slough off our roles as manager, worker, expert, or consumer and come forward as human beings to cultivate our humanity, not only as individuals but as collective members of the body politic, no more vital when isolated than is a hand cut off from a wrist. Conviviality, congeniality, good conversation, playfulness, and informal civic bonds are messy and inefficient, which is why at work there is no time for them. But on our own time as citizens we can play, or volunteer, or potter about, without having to answer to Head Quarters with our Quarterly Progress Against Plan. From this perspective, an ancient and honorable one, the idea of managing the garden in which we cultivate human flourishing as if it were a factory managed for optimal results is repulsive.
The economy of love and the economy of lucre often stand opposed. We all know that when the experts arrive at the worksite, neighborhood, or the school with their legal pads, stopwatches, and scannable forms, that soon there will be layoffs, mergers, work speedups, benefit cuts, outsourcings, and gentrification. While the woman in the corner office will do better, we may well do worse. The band teacher, the art teacher, are the first to go when no child is left behind as standardized tests and teaching to the test prevail. The discipline of management and measurement is the methodology of Taylorization and mechanization, of the one right way, of the interchangeable part; and, it is dehumanizing, even as it maximizes some numerical result, at the expense of so much that is simply cast off, ignored or suppressed.
By way of analogy imagine that you were put in charge of a forest as either manager or steward. As manager you must maximize dollar value of board feet per year, over the relevant time horizon, discounted to a present value. As steward you might be asked to make the forest as an ecosystem flourish, culling only what you must to keep the forest vibrant. What will flourish under these regimens? And what will perish?
We have reached a point in planetary life where what will perish when all is managed and measured in accordance with the logic of metrics seems to be human life itself. Perhaps it is time we retreated to a more organic understanding, based on metaphors drawn not from modern bureaucracies, whether those of business, military, or government, but from the garden that God entrusted to our first parents to tend.
When I am told, as if I were a slow-witted child, that I must measure and manage my life as a citizen, my creative life, my life as a volunteer, when the benefits of metrics are explained to me, by some recent Harvard graduate, some Wall Street Wizard, or some consultant from McKinsey, when I am told that my gifts of time, love, and money participate in a "social capital market" that can be made more efficient and effective, I glance at the managerial martinent and then look down at my hands thinking that I would not be such a human being, such an arrogant, stunted, blind and deficient creature, such an ideologue, such a bipedal calculation engine, such petty royality, for all the cash in Candidia Cruikshanks' Swiss bank account. I will kiss whatever boots on company time, but my life as a citizen is not yours to manage. On my own time, I make it my goal to heal what is sick in myself and in others and to cultivate what is healthy, virtuous, excellent. Such is the role of a Morals Tutor to America's Wealthiest Families. (Who because the bighshots don't listen, preaches to the wind on the internet.)
Philanthropy, or giving is a virtue, an excellence, a joy in itself, not a production and consumption process meaningful only as a means to another result. Giving is an expression of grace, or of the graces, of the inner life, of creativity and generativity, of community and solidarity, of love across geography and generations, in us like DNA, "the force that through the green fuse drives the flower." That love is blind and relentless, unforgiving. As the seed breaks the husk, as the soul outlives the body, or the blade outlives the sheath, so by love we are split open, in birthing something better than these mechancial men and women that we become when beaten down into what Wordsworth called "the light of common day."
Thoughts from a Dumpster, old books recalled at the onset of old age. So Diogenes rages as the upwardly mobile reader walks past reading Fast Company or the Wall Street Journal. You know which end is up. If I were as wise as you, I would not be old, friendless, and broke.