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In a world increasingly reliant on technology and information management, we are faced with a challenge. As early as 1985, Jiddu Krishnamurti signalled the potentially devastating consequences of technological proliferation in the absence of moral awareness as a “crisis of consciousness”.
To address this issue, we need to develop an understanding of what viable behaviour in the information age entails. How do we ensure the sustainability of our world which is becoming increasingly complex, interactive, and dynamic? How do we create meaning and coherence in the way in which information is communicated and controlled?
Although we currently rely on popular psychology and legal guidelines to direct our efforts in this regard, we need a Copernican shift in our conception of this challenge, metaphorically moving the focus of interest in our solar system from the earth to the sun.
Here the focus will be on the concept of integrity, which has intuitive appeal within society at large and the corporate world in particular. Integrity is generally associated with moral- ethical behaviour and is seen as a gateway to trust, alignment of motives and collaboration. No wonder then that organizational culture surveys globally indicate integrity as a key value.
Integrity refers to wholeness, integration, and coherence, all of which are critical for complex systems functioning and sustainability. Its inherent characteristic of resonance signifies a reduction in noise, fragmentation, and randomness.
But what is this sought-after nugget of virtue and what benefits might it confer on individuals, organizations, and societies? The abstract concept of integrity is multifaceted; elaborated upon by philosophers, psychologists, and sociologists, and, although unfamiliar to many, by the hard sciences of mathematics and physics, quantum physics in particular. It is also operationalized, regulated, and leveraged by business, technology, law, and religion.
For current purposes a social sciences perspective of integrity and its implications for organizational culture will first be considered in part 2 of this blog-series. It should be noted, though, that in terms of scientific status, social sciences are descriptive in nature and incapable of offering the predictive insights associated with the hard sciences. Social sciences deal with both physical and metaphysical realities which, taken together, do not lend themselves to any straightforward research methodologies. In consequence, the social sciences have turned to rational conceptualization based on a combination of empirical observation and philosophical speculation. This has resulted in different and at times contradictory models and approaches. The challenge remains to anchor the subsequent descriptive offerings of social sciences deeper into both science and philosophy.
Given the contributions of many best-selling authors such as Covey and Goleman, popular psychology offers descriptions of integrity including the virtues of honesty, authenticity, diligence, prudence, efficiency, punctuality, foresight, responsibility, consistency, respect, compassion, gratitude, purity, courage, substance, wisdom, conscience and being principled, ethical (where ethics refers to societal codes of conduct), and moral (referring to personal conviction).
The moral frailty of human beings, though, often lies at the root of ethical failure. Greed, fear, anger, envy, self-defence, denial, deceit, pride, thoughtlessness, carelessness, recklessness, impulsivity, need, ego, and the like, all of which can be associated with underdeveloped levels of awareness, may derail ethical conduct. Not only human, but systems functioning too, can be impaired by factors related to inadequate capacity, technical defence, speed, variety, integration, and feedback.
The social science descriptors of integrity are thus somewhat generic and abstract but nevertheless aspirational and valuable. Proponents of the concept have also contributed to awareness and collective consciousness globally. However, the descriptive terms of popular psychology, lack definitional precision. They need to be theoretically contextualized, scientifically explained, and practically operationalized in terms of norms and behaviour-specific guidelines.
Most people and systems show some degree of integrity. Without its associated qualities of coherence and purposefulness, systems functioning becomes unsustainable.
From a systems perspective, integrity increases efficiency, enables flow and reduces fragmentation and disruption. Socially it offers security and predictability, resonance, and peace of mind. It engenders trust and psychological sanctuary - a sense of immunity against the adversities encountered in our existential quests. In other words, the integrity of others and systems enhance our goal achievement. No wonder then that it is highly valued from both personal and systems perspectives.
Integrity, and the lack thereof, presents itself in various guises in our complex, information- rich world. The struggle between ethics and morality on the one hand, and hypocrisy, window dressing, deception, control, and justification on the other, seems to play out on almost every stage in society.
One could be forgiven for taking a dim view of the level of integrity of major societal institutions. While ‘business’ promotes the paradigm of value-creation to liberate and empower people, its profit-motives often result in centralization and monopolization aimed at restricting competition in order to ensure particular stakeholder gains. The legal fraternity promotes the twin goals of justice and fairness, but often leverages regulatory mechanisms and legal technicalities to tip the scales in favour of the more powerful. Medicine and healthcare have recently been tainted by dubious big pharma motives, not to mention the inherent risks and adverse consequences associated with scientific experimentation, medical negligence, and the illness or harm sometimes caused by medical interventions. Religion, associated with spiritual awareness and connection is often leveraged for social control and manipulation. Science and Technology’s vast and rapid expansion is also increasingly met by objections from concerned visionaries.
Immersed within the Information or Digital Age on the one hand, and what some refer to as the Experience Age on the other, the way in which we create, manipulate and exchange information has become an important component of integrity. We are challenged by ethical dilemmas related to not just ecological matters and human agents, but given impending developments, also to non-human agents and systems relying upon the deployment of artificial intelligence, block chain technology, robotics, and genetic engineering – even that of super-humans.
Obvious failures in integrity within this context thus far include fake news and the spreading of disinformation; manipulation of perceptions to promote political and commercial agendas; ecological exploitation, abuses of personal information and rights; unnecessary centralization of control, including excessive restriction, regulation and demands for compliance; and the unnerving possibility of what is referred to as technological singularity or an AI takeover as the dominant form of intelligence on the planet.