What is Control? Do Leaders Have It?

A blog post at www.human-current.com

Control is probably an ‘essentially contested’ concept — which is to say that not only does it mean many different things to different people, these meanings are grounded in concepts of rationality, human communities and practices, which may make it impossible for proponents of different meanings to really communicate with each other.

But we can try! We tend to want to talk about one form of control as bad, evil, mechanistic, crushing. This is the mindset which systems thinkers somehow liken to being trained to throw stones — reductionist control. If you’re good enough at it, and you know the weight of the stone, strength of the wind etc, you can predict where the stone will land. But if you’re suddenly presented with complexity, in the form of a live bird, this nasty sort of control can only think about applying known thinking. So you make the live bird more like a stone, which prevents the nasty habit it has of behaving unpredictably when thrown. It does lose certain essential, birdlike qualities — but it becomes as predictable as a rock (because, now, it’s much more like a rock… or potentially tied to it).

Then there’s another type of control, which we desperately want — a control which is somehow creative or enabling. Another way of putting this is the distinction of two types of power in Scandinavian or Germanic languages (which I learned from Jonathan Horwitz, a very good teacher). So you have macht, or might, or power over. And kraft or the power to create, power with.

So forget about arguing over words, if you can. What do we want control to mean?


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