A generic name for groups, clubs, churches, schools, universities, societies; the subdivisions and holons that make a community. They include professional networks and associations—Émile Durkheim’s “corporations”. “Institution” is in this sense similar to social capital, and the groups, friendships and connectedness that it seeds.I49

There is, however, a form of institution—the institution-with-a-mission—which exists, not for the benefit of its members but to advance another aim which stands the best chance of being achieved if its members surrender their interests to it. The members of such an institution are useful to it insofar as they contribute to those ends; they therefore have to be at one with the institution in terms of opinion, partially or comprehensively sacrificing independent critical judgment to it; the person loses his or her identity and suffers metamorphosis into a creature of the institution. Franz Kafka’s suggestion of a suitable institutional character in this sense was that of a cockroach.I50

And the institution’s breadth of judgment narrows down accordingly. The effect is a regrettable condition. It affects companies with a mission to dominate a market (using their size or a capturing technology such as genetic modification). It also affects pressure groups and campaigning institutions of all kinds, governments included; they lose their minds, overstate their case, and see the world as a system which can be substantially—or sufficiently—understood, wrapped up and sorted in terms of their own aims.

It is important to understand what an institution-with-a-mission is, because there are good reasons to believe that we are all living in one, whether we are on a payroll or not.


Related entries:

Community, Metamorphosis, Instrumentalism, Social Entropy.

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David Fleming
Dr David Fleming (2 January 1940 – 29 November 2010) was a cultural historian and economist, based in London, England. He was among the first to reveal the possibility of peak oil's approach and invented the influential TEQs scheme, designed to address this and climate change. He was also a pioneer of post-growth economics, and a significant figure in the development of the UK Green Party, the Transition Towns movement and the New Economics Foundation, as well as a Chairman of the Soil Association. His wide-ranging independent analysis culminated in two critically acclaimed books, 'Lean Logic' and 'Surviving the Future', published posthumously in 2016. These in turn inspired the 2020 launches of both BAFTA-winning director Peter Armstrong's feature film about Fleming's perspective and legacy - 'The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation?' - and Sterling College's unique 'Surviving the Future: Conversations for Our Time' online courses. For more information on all of the above, including Lean Logic, click the little globe below!

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