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Anarchism Not to Blame for Re-engineering

Column by Anders Hove
Opinion Editor

I was on my way back from the physics colloquium last week when I noticed the latest addition to the Infinite Corridor. I'm the sort of person who can't resist a bookstore, so when I saw those glossy display stands and rows of bookshelves, I couldn't help myself. I entered.

"History section. Must find history section," chanted my less-than-cerebral cortex.

"Could I help you find something?" The voice emanated from a brown-haired saleswoman who had just emerged from an antechamber pushing a small cart stacked high with books. She drew the cart up beside me and gazed into my eyes expectantly.

"Just looking, thanks."

"No, Mr. Hove. I don't think you quite understand," said the young woman in a low, soot-choked voice. A large, crooked hand darted from her pocket to a corner of her face and began to peel away what appeared to be a thick layer of skin. I looked on horrified as the mask slid off, revealing an old, round, wrinkled man.

"Radovan!" I cried, recognizing my old friend, proprietor of the Balkan Subversive & Revolutionary Bookstore, and purveyor of all things underground. "I didn't know ŒBalkan Subversive' had an MIT branch!"

"Well," croaked he, "I'm afraid the subversive literature business is a little slow these days. That is why I'm expanding into the management science market."

Unlike most ninety year-old Serbs, Radovan has never shown a very keen understanding of market forces. I suspected an ulterior motive. I picked a book off a nearby shelf and glanced at its title: The Reengineering Revolution, by Michael M. Hammer '68. "What's your game, Rado?"

"Ah yes! A big shipment of those just arrived from a Mr. Immermic last week. Said something about using management panaceas to destabilize capitalism and prepare the road for anarcho-syndicalism."

I was indignant. "Get real, Radovan! Re-engineering is totally above boards. I don't know who this Immermic guy is, but there is no diabolical plot to destabilize MIT society. They are just trying to redesign processes at MIT to reflect original, non-organizational goals. It's designed to rationalize outmoded functions and to eliminate pointless red tape. And it's geared toward community involvement and participation. Your crazy ideas make me sick."

"Co-opted again, eh, Hove?" grunted Radovan. "I was once like you. I thought these people were just a pack of stuffed-up management consultants. But you can't deny this talk of theirs." Plucking the volume from my hands, he turned to a random page and began reading.

"ŒLeniency toward those who impede a re-engineering effort gives a lie to the leader's pronouncements about re-engineering's critical importance,' page 40. ŒResistance is manifested not only among people who will "lose" because of re-engineering. The human psyche is much more complex than that, and even ostensible "winners" can turn out to be implacable foes. It is necessary to understand the variety of motivations behind resistance,' page 124."

"Look," I said, "just because they write radical, revolutionary screed about using psychological warfare to steamroll opposition to the new order doesn't mean they're anarcho-syndicalists. These folks are going to have just as much trouble overcoming organized interests on campus as students usually do. Furthermore, they know they won't succeed unless they follow up on their populist rhetoric and start the Œvisioning' process at the level of the MIT community. That Œs an indication of realism, not ideology."

I caught a flash of Radovan's yellowed grin as he turned back to his hideaway. "Would you like a little bet? In six months, if this place isn't hopping with proletarian communes, you owe me a box of Turkish cigars."

I nodded my assent, and headed for the door. I felt pretty sure I wouldn't lose my bet with Radovan, but I still felt a little uneasy. I wanted some assurance that this wacked-out, New Age thing called "re-engineering" would live up to its promises for redesigning processes without sacrificing civic values and student organizations. Revolutionary change regarding student-administration relations seems about as likely as a rabid outbreak of anarcho-syndicalism.