Versatility in Personality

Abstract: This article describes how the Government enforces a specific personality on people and that this practice is more and more out of step with a modern world in which people can electronically visit many places simultaneously. The article argues that, in future times, one's presence will be more and more based on virtuality, rather than on one specific physical location. A variety of personalities will be common, each with a great amount of versatility. The article complements the earlier article Plan your Selves.

A. The Bureaucracy's Mindset

Today's society measures success in financial terms, which benefits people with a certain mindset. Success in this society, as it is shaped by the Government, implies abiding by rules, keeping tidy accounts, knowing in detail the regulations applying to the activities one undertakes, following up orders by courts, accepting instructions from police, corporate authorities and other government-controlled officers.

B. Creativity is not rewarded

In short, to be successful, one needs to walk in line with bureaucracy. This means that people who are creative and innovative, who improvise and try out new paths, are hardly rewarded for their efforts. On their own, they face huge barriers. At best, they are recognized for their contributions within an otherwise bureaucratic and authoritarian organization.

People glorify stars, because people so often have to suppress their own desire to shine, but on the other hand people insist that such stars should walk in line with the suffocating bureaucracy just like everybody else. Some people will be able to capitalize on their excellent performance and the esteem they have earned by their efforts. But few will be able to hang on to their earnings. If their names and faces become familiar on TV, they may earn a lot of money by appearing in ads. But by supporting an unattractive product, they may effectively sell the goodwill they had built up.

Usually, such stars have specialized in only one specific area and are unfamiliar in other areas. They are likely to end up in litigation and, being unfamiliar with the practices common in other areas, they may take too many "risks" and quickly lose their fortune. Artists who excell in, say, visual arts, are not necessarily the best actors, managers or lawyers. They have specialized in visual arts, but financial success often leads them in directions that ultimately cause them to fail. This is how society devours and spits out talent.

C. The Edge of the Law

In today's society, specialization is enforced upon people due to the fact that the Government enforces cartel- and monopoly control on large parts of services in areas such as security, law and order, welfare, travel, health care and education. Competition is becoming more popular and is even encouraged through legislation, but generally only in specific areas deemed to be commercial. This encourages specialization in such specific areas. On the other hand, competition is only allowed to go that far. Business practices have to fit in with the regulations made up by the Government. This encourages those who are good at this "game", those who feel comfortable with bureaucratic rules. The Government furthermore influences acclaimed competitive sectors through its sheer market power.

This system advantages those who exploit the law, who operate on the edges of the law. Criminals are protected by privacy law, by anti-discrimination law, etc. Companies that study the law in detail and dare to go further in moving outside common standards of decency than other companies, can get away with it, since anyone who accuses them of foul play faces litigation. The intricacies of the legal situation in a specific area make such an area less accessible for others. This also encourages inefficient mergers between companies that both operate in the same area.

D. Versatility is ruled out

In today's society, versatility is ruled out in many ways. Those who "make it" in today's society are impersonal specialists, boring technical experts, dull professionals and heartless bureaucrats. They have tunell-vision and focus on one area and make people walk in line with the letter of the law applying to that area, ignoring everything else. Education plays a large role in this, but the shape of the Education System is merely a symptom of the way society in general is organized.

Versatility in personality is ruled out in many ways. People who try to step out of the roles enforced upon them by society are hunted down by authorities such as police, regulators, town planning and many other bureaucrats. Anyone who becomes involved in sectors such as education, health care, law and order, town planning, etc, will quickly become disillusioned by the bureaucratic and hierarchical thinking that is so common in these sectors.

The Government does not regard anyone as a person. In the eyes of the Government, anyone is a number, a subject, one out of many other members of the population. The Government distinguishes between members of the population by details such as place of residence, birth-dates, registered names, marital status, citizenship, educational qualifications, occupation and income. The Government makes it look as if one's personality is entirely determined by such factors.

E. The Triumph of Versatility

In the end, versatility in personality will become not only more acceptable, but desirable. In Don Paragon's Vision of the Future, trends point at versatility as the dominant characteristic of personality in the future (see the Appendix to this article).

Some people may argue that the Government's rules provide stability and certainty. But it should be noted that the Government in fact forces people to "wear different hats". An employee may have different priorities at work than at home among family. Similarly, one may speak differently as a company director than in private. The law actually prescribes such differentiation in many ways, e.g. insider trading is a criminal offence.

The above issues have been discussed before in the December 1994 issue of Optionality, in particular in the article Plan your Selves. Versatility in personality does not imply that one should be extremely flexible and dynamic. Instead, the above article suggested that having multiple personalities should not be stigmatized as a disease, but as a solution that may suit future times that call for optionality.

Appendix. Personalities of the Future

Don Paragon's Vision of the Future describes how the Era of Government came into existence and how it will end. In the Nomadic Age, that predates the Era of Government, people had to adopt a tribal personality. But, once people had settled down, the Era of Government forced another personality upon people.

People became "population" and the place where one lived came to determine one's personality to a large extent. The tribal differences that were once so huge, were wiped away by the law of the land that everybody had to abide by. The Agricultural Age made all people subject to the law of the land. But the Industrial Revolution started to shake off this submissiveness to land and rewarded the ingenuity of the individual more.

As trade grew, international contacts were established and proved vital to commercial success. The Government, in an effort to hang on to its power, enforced the concept of citizenship on its population, recreating a "we against them" atmosphere that it hoped would maintain loyalty to the land. In other words, the citizen still belongs to the land of origin when abroad.

The concept of citizenship becomes less relevant because of globalization. Today, we can see all kinds of "foreign" people in the city centre (the hub of political control). Immigrants, diplomats, overseas politicians and government departments staff, sigh-see-ers, tourists and tour-operators, people visiting relatives, foreign employees who temporarily work away from their headquarters, business travellers and conference delegates, overseas students staying for longer periods, not only to study or do research, but also on working holidays, etc. Business demands that borders are opened for their sales staff, for temporary foreign workers, etc. The travel and tourism sector itself is huge, taking numerous pilots, stewards, travel agents, tour guides, translators and interpreters from one country to another. In 1995-96 the value of the combined domestic and in-bound tourism to the Australian economy was estmated at $47 billion, making it the second largest industry in Australia, just behind mining. Travel combined with tourism constitute the largest industry in Australia, employing more people and raising more foreign currency than any other industry.

Yet, the Government allocated huge amounts of subsidies to an over-protected and over-privileged manufacturing sector that employs ever less people, offers much boring work, creates huge polution problems, etc. A recent study found that the amount of money spent on tourism research and development was a mere 0.3% of total R&D expenditure. This compares with some 14% for agriculture, 32% for manufacturing and 7% for mining. The Government hangs on to the past, trying to impose a law-abiding personalit on "its" people, but the modern world dilutes the concept of citizenship.

The Government believes it can keep "its subjects" captive with the concept of citizenship in a world where people cross territorial borders with increasing ease. But the biggest revolution is yet to come. The Mobile Revolution is now making a mockery out of territorial borders, not just due to easier physical border crossings, but to the ease at which information can cross borders over telecommunication networks. One can now be virtually present in overseas locations, finally allowing one to shake off this patriotic personality that comes with citizenship. The future asks for versatility in personality!

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