Philip Robert Harris, Ph.D. Toward Human Emergence: A Human Resource Philosophy for the Future. Amherst, MA: HRD Press, 2009.
This book, his 49th, is the result of an old dream. I met Phil Harris, the author, in 1967, when this text was in its first draft, and when we both were training cops, Phil in Philadelphia and I in Washington. What we were really doing was taking overly-academic and almost timid materials to disinterested cops to persuade them that change was being imposed upon them. Specifically, that black guys and white guys had to ride in the same squad cars, and that some traditional policing methods and words were no longer acceptable. These courses became prototypes for diversity training in police agencies across America.
Did we and other crusaders tilt the scales in favor of human emergence? Maybe, since television cop dramas and movies all involve the full range of people, pigmentation, and preferences. But perhaps most notable, America has a president who isn't the standard-issue white male and is a bona fide intellectual. Talk about an iconoclast!
But is the American experience evidence that we as a species are emerging, given all the primitives shooting and planting IEDs along roadsides in support of religious differences? The author says yes, but notes that "This volume on human emergence supports the thesis that humanity is emerging into a new state of being, whether the process takes hundreds or thousands of years." So much for the idea that what is, socially, politically, globally, is all there is or will be. We are still in process!
We won't coalesce around the idea of a global community until, as some have said, we are threatened by aliens or environmental extinction. Either event will cause recognition that our future is out there, somewhere in space. But, if the book has a major structural flaw, it is that the author could not wait to share his enthusiasm for the emerging breed of space-dwelling wunderkind. They will have forged social contracts away from spears, swords, and RPGs and toward a collegial society with the New England town meeting or a Quaker assembly as antecedents. Yes, and throughout the book, we are reminded that the social and technical tools are largely available right now; it's just consciousness and political will that are lacking.
As utopian as this might sound, it is technically feasible to beam electricity from the moon, and Richard Branson is a year away from launching commercial flights for space tourists. However, the economic and educational/scientific criteria for space colonization mean that the pioneers will bear little resemblance to the hard-scrabble hoards that pushed Conestoga wagons across the prairies. Oops! That means there will be a lot of leave-behinds, citizens who haven't emerged - as evidenced by America's newest and largely unrecognized growth industry: prisons and Homeland Security. While we have been reminded of the growing distance between the incomes of bosses and mere workers, between the rich and the poor, it has been harder to recognize the collateral damage inflicted on society by these dualities. This text does a commendable job of flashing a spotlight on these dark areas, but without so much intensity that it becomes uncomfortable.
After New Orleans and Katrina, the fumbling efforts in response to the Haitian tragedy should not have been a surprise, nor that the rescue of law and order in both instances was effected by the military. We are organized for combat, but not for the convergence of resources for the common good; for research into killing machines, but not on ways to share resources more equitably and to structure social systems that support such values. It is in these ways that past practices, nationalism. and old-fashioned greed compromise the opportunities for humans to emerge from the ruts of obsolete reasoning. One of this book's intriguing recommendations is morphing the military's rapid response capabilities into humanitarian rescue units. They can do what civilians apparently cannot!
Among the most important discussions in this text are the ones on self-control and social controls, and the socializing efforts rooted in values education that accommodate cultural and religious differences. We know how to train negotiators to deal with hostage situations and corporate mergers, but seem unable to translate those skills for application on playgrounds, campuses, and in communities. As a result, choices too often are made on the basis of power, authority, and privilege rather than on citizen participation and involvement, and that pretty much eviscerates democratic process and community building. It is hard to drive change for the better when the cards are stacked in favor of the status quo and its primary beneficiaries.
Among the most interesting discussions are those on preparing people for lives offworld, because other than adding the prefix astro, most of the processes are essentially what we already know. The author has published both a novel and a text on living offworld, is associated with a new space-oriented university, and has participated in a number of NASA-sponsored events as a consultant or presenter. Further, he has explored the psycho-social demands of living and working encapsulated in space vehicles or scuba suits, and appropriated the title of "space psychologist." It's not surprising, then, that the text is full of space-themed examples and illustrations. Rather than being a distraction, they serve to emphasize that much of what space society will demand - or any other transition from past- and existing-practices -- is that we use the skills and tools that social and behavioral scientists have been amassing for decades. We have the tools to do everything necessary to support human emergence or space colonization -- except the will to present them and implement them as necessary building blocks for survival. Or to create for the present more competent and effective social systems. In this way, Toward Human Emergence is a text to support a powerful survey course on enterprise management, providing a rationale for sidebar explorations into old and new research on ways to facilitate human effectiveness.
Throughout, the author has provided useful steps for pursuing change, more effective operations, and the assumption of personal responsibility for changes each of us can effect. Stepping up to the plate has diminished among Americans, concerned and programmed as they are to respond to the stand-clear imperative of political correctness. Consciousness and the courage to lead need to be rediscovered.
In all, it is a hopeful text and even helpful if you make presentations and need some new material. BTW, 40 years of thought and refinements to the text have resulted in a book that is entirely reconfigured and re-resourced since its 1967 first draft. You will be impressed by the currency of its references and the quotable material it provides.
Finally, those of us in HR/training/education see the changes in the content we must offer to participants, who themselves are different - anxious about job security (or even finding one), impatient with tedious and overly-detailed subject matter, and wired into a cut-to-the-chase mindset. They reflect the changes and the challenges presented in Phil Harris' text, and for this reviewer, they validate the author's premise that humans are emerging, breaking old constraints and demanding more relevant relationships with the organizations they serve.
Have you ever wondered if jobs are shipped offshore in some part to get rid of employees with different expectations, who are not satisfied with authoritarian managers and rigid bureaucracies? You might when you read the chapter on "The Convergence of Culture, Change, Choice, and Control." And that raises one last question: What will democracy look like when our emergence takes us offworld, when little can be left to chance, and when control is king?
Woody Sears earned his doctorate with Leonard Nadler at the George Washington University, who created the professional and academic discipline known as HRD. He has spent the last decade teaching and consulting in Eastern Europe, and lives in Vilnius, Lithuania. He is the author of six books published by HRD Press in 2007-8, and is a regular contributor to the Cincom ExpertAccess business e-zine.