Next week, I will be in Cleveland to work with my colleagues at Case and Lucy Kimbell to facilitate a workshop in which we work with several institutions in the University Circle area, reflecting on their past and re-imagining their future. It is a particularly exciting opportunity as these organizations collectively represent an idea of organizing in the industrial age and they are looking for ways in which they can re-design and re-discover themselves in this new digital era. At the turn of the last century, Cleveland was a hotbed of innovation and many of these institutions were born out of that particular socio-economic context. As the world moved beyond the industrial economy, however, the City of Cleveland has been struggling, along with other cities in the Rust Belt, to find its new meaning and relevance in this increasingly digitalized and post-industrial economy. As they city struggles, these institutions struggle as well. These organizations were built based on a particular cultural production and consumption regime that is no longer relevant in today’s economy. These institutions represent a collective expression of grand idealism and soaring optimism shared among the last century’s economic, cultural and societal entrepreneurs, who built the “New World.” Now, that new world has become an old world and those entrepreneurs were replaced with whom Max Weber called “Last Man” (Letzen Menschen) — “Specialist without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of humanity (Menschentums) never before achieved”. The challenge upon us, then, is not just finding a relevance for these old institutions in this new day and age, but to discover sources of new entrepreneurial spirits that will fill the void that was created by decades of dominance by the specialists without spirit and sensualists without heart.
P.S. In thinking of this issue over the summer, I found a book by Kang, Sang-jung, “Power of Agony”, very powerful. The book was originally published in Japanese and I read it in Korean version. In this book, he is examining the changes in the current society through the lens of two authors who wrote at the turn of the last century, Natsume Soseki (a Japanese author) and Max Weber.