Home Concepts Organizational Theory Journey to Irony I: The Lands of Alpha and Beta

Journey to Irony I: The Lands of Alpha and Beta

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I wanted to leave immediately, but decided to look around a bit more, before journeying to the third land. When I wandered away from the festivities and the parade, I discovered a well-ordered world. Each street was anointed with trees and flower beds that were carefully and thoughtfully landscaped and maintained. I walked by a record store, where once again I heard music playing. It was not band music nor was it music from an American Broadway hit. Rather, it was the stirring music from Richard Wagner’s Das Reingold. Specifically, it was the “Entry of the Gods into Valhalla” show piece. I knew this “barn-burner” from my brief (and quite ambivalent) study of Wagnerian opera.

This land of Beta brought back memories of other lands (in the real world) that I have visited during my youth. There were the magical themes parks in California. First, there was Knott’s Berry Farm (with its Old West Village—that has expanded in recent years to include many other features). There was then the opening of Disneyland in the same community (Walter Knott and Walt Disney were apparently good friends, and both were politically conservative). I remember the parades and fireworks held every evening at Disneyland and the many rides operating in a diverse set of lands –with “Main Street’ being the core meeting place for all of the lands.

Other, more recent, theme parks come to mind. Most of them seem to be in the business of creating a specific (often utopian) vision of a future world in which technology has solved most (if not all) of our problems. Or (like Knott’s Berry Farm) they draw us back to a time when law-and-order was in place (supposedly) or soon would be established by an honest and brave sheriff. These were the good old days (that never really existed) or the great new days that are just around the corner (and probably will never arrive). Most importantly, these are days of a unified, clear and coherent message. One can readily become and remain a true believer in such a world.

Learning About Beta

As I leave the land of Beta, I reflect on the nature of utopian thought and the allure of true and sustained belief in one set of “truths”. There are two (and only two) alternatives (truth and fiction), and it is my responsibility to make the right choice. Fortunately, as a resident of Beta, I would be assisted by other people and institutions in this dualistic world. Everyone and everything around me are crying out the truth.

Beta is a land in which an external locus of control is the coin of the psychological realm. I don’t have to look for internal sources of truth and verification. This difficult work is done for me by the people in authority and by the powerful rituals and related symbols of power and veracity that saturate my daily life. There is order, stability and continuity. Patterns are prevalent and reinforced by virtually everything that exists in the land of Beta

My more detached analysis suggests that the land of Beta operates like a smooth flowing stream—one of the subsections in the white-water environment. There is a powerful flow of water that is not easily modified or terminated – as we all know when reading about attempts to control floods in the real world. Is it any wonder that I felt like someone swimming upstream when seeking to move away from the palace and crowd? I felt alone and alienated as the outsider and non-believer. To borrow from David Riesman (1950), I was lonely in a crowd and alienated from those people with whom I was interacting. I was not marching to the same drum as everyone else. I felt threatened in (and by) this environment of true belief.

There is one other piece of white-water analysis to offer. The Beta environment is to be found not just in the rapidly flowing stream. It is also to be found in the whirlpools—especially when those living in this land face some opposition. Things begin to swirl around and drive deeper. The utopian vision suddenly becomes a dystopia. I am reminded of the Nazi era of the 1930s and 1940s in Germany and the McCarthy Era (and Loyalty Oaths) of the 1950s in the United States.

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