You wouldn’t know it from the appalling technocratic style of business speak, but business management theory has existential consequences, meaning that how we choose to organize labour affects the primary struggle we’re all engaged in as lone persons in the wilderness of nature. The scientistic flavour of modern business discourse conceals the fact that modern business doesn't advance a radically creative, progressive agenda, but models our social structures on the primitive pecking order. Humanists are incapable of stemming the tide of this antihuman conservatism, because they're not awed by their struggle's existential stakes.
Scientific Management Theory
Scientific Management Theory
Work was transformed from the medieval period to the modern one, as the guild’s form of craftsmanship was replaced by the scientific management of workforces. Some centuries ago in Europe and elsewhere, master craftsmen would practice and protect the secrets of their trade, whether it was carpentry, masonry, textiles or the like, hiring apprentices to keep those secrets alive in the next generation. These closely-guarded techniques were considered arts or mysteries, and so this division between insiders and outsiders took on religious significance. The insiders had esoteric knowledge of how to improve God’s earth, and in Europe, at least, craftsmanship was tolerated as something other than a blasphemous attempt to compete with God’s running of the natural order. The Church could tolerate the crafts, because of the ambiguity of the Christian myth of redemption after the Fall. We’re meant to be godlike, if not fully divine, and although the heavens were made perfect by God, freewheeling humans and the fallen angels ruined this particular planet, and so terrestrial conditions can be either further degraded or improved. Although Christian commonsense would dictate that craftsmanship (the attempt to excel at projects of intelligent design) is implicitly satanic in establishing so-called masters as rival creators and in challenging the natural order—even without any devilry inherited from the fallen angels themselves—the Church’s unmatched talent for compromise enabled the craftsmen to rationalize their business with a narrative of Christian enlightenment. According to this narrative, the kingdom of heaven won’t descend from above, but will be constructed from below by the faithful. Craftsmen restore a piece of Eden when they excel at their work, as long as they appreciate that their techniques must remain secret not only for the profane reason that workers inevitably compete to stay in business, but in view of their conviction that all human labour occurs in this mythical context of a spiritual war between good and evil.
Associations of craftsmen evolved into guilds which formalized the advancement from apprentice to journeyman to master and grandmaster, and which jealously guarded not only their trade secrets but the rights of their artisans, functioning thus as proto-unions in the absence of an all-powerful nation state. Eventually, medieval guilds suffered the fate of all large organizations, becoming corrupt in their rent-seeking, that is, in their unproductive extraction of wealth. Again, the rationale for the rigid and secretive standardization of techniques was that they were generally considered tactics in a spiritual war. Deviating from tradition could mean succumbing to demonic temptation and arrogance, in which case the cosmic scale would tip and instead of working on God’s behalf to restore the divine order, a craftsman would be undermining that order in service to the insane and evil forces of chaos. But the unearthing of ancient Greek works in the Renaissance led Europeans to recognize the depths of ignorance into which they’d fallen. The little bird of Renaissance scholarship of Greek literary texts had whispered into the ear of the Christian world that its myths were so many distractions from the horrific reality of its situation: there wasn’t progress towards a heavenly kingdom but a slump, from the collapse of the Roman Empire, which had carried on the excellence of Classical Greece, to the subsequent Christian theocracies. Humiliated by this discovery, the early modern power elites took up the challenge of rebuilding secular society, which required boundless skepticism about the Christian nursery rhymes that had allowed Europeans to slumber through what they came to call the Dark Age before the age of true enlightenment by Reason in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Secular enlightenment encompassed not just the familiar scientific process of understanding nature, but the quasi-prescriptive business of regulating social relations. Thus was born scientific management, the theory credited to Frederick Winslow Taylor in the late nineteenth century, whose mission is still pursued by the theorists that adapted his principles to the automated industries which made strict Taylorism obsolete. Taylor’s mission was to make business more efficient by maximizing workers’ productivity. This was achieved by a managerial class that functioned like a bureaucracy of social engineers whose expertise was in improving their business’s workflows. Instead of the craftsman’s secret tradition, there was an open, scientific sharing of universal (empirical, mathematical) knowledge among experts; instead of a religious context of work, there was a narrow, secular one of happiness through economic success; but most importantly, in place of an advancement of rank from apprentice to master, there was a reduction of all labourers to cogs in what Lewis Mumford called the megamachine.