Monday, December 20, 2010

More on Social Darwinism's Shortfalls

In September, I posted an article linking to two articles explaining why Social Darwinism is not a philosophy leading to any kind of sustainable prosperity for a company or society.  One reason given is that it treats people as commodities.  I think this bit deserves special focus because it’s so subtle, yet so central to Social Darwininsm’s indefensibility on both moral and practical grounds.

For example, it’s very possible for a worker to be tremendously competent at meeting and exceeding company standards, yet also be tremendously negative in their actions and attitudes toward their co-workers. Social Darwinism fails to see that an individual’s “on paper” productivity and his or her actual, holistic productivity are two different things; and that the latter is ultimately at least as important as the former, arguably even more so in the long run. I’ll demonstrate below how unwarranted negative actions often decreases others’ productivity.   

Smith and Jones work for the same employer.  Potentially, Smith can produce $180K of “stuff” while Jones can produce $150K of identical “stuff”.  Together, they can produce $330K worth. However, suppose Smith’s actions and attitudes cause him to actually produce $200K worth of "stuff" (contrary to his expected potential production) while his attitudes and actions toward Jones cause Jones to produce only $90K worth.   In this case, Smith gains $20K for the company from his actions and attitudes while Jones loses $60K due to Smith's attitudes and actions toward him.

While Smith’s own productivity exceeded the even the most optimistic predictions, the company still lost potential productivity on Smith overall; for Smith’s actions caused the combined actual productivity of both ($290K) to fall well short of the potential expected potential ($330K). That means Smith’s actions cost the company $40K, even as Smith himself produced $20K more than potentially expected.  In a fair world, this means Smith would either be fired or get a  $35K pay cut. Unfortunately, in this world, Jones will have to answer for his own shortfall somehow.  This is because worker shortfalls caused by a coworker’s actions and attitudes toward that worker are not detectable on accounting statements, let alone quantifiable.  This doesn’t make the $40K net loss caused by Smith any less real, only hidden.

Social Darwinism, being an essentially pro-status-quo establishment philosophy, would simply assume that Smith’s a winner and Jones is a chump – end of story (OK, that’s an oversimple caricature of how management would handle the situation, but it’s still the real-world expected outcome).  However, as shown above, there could very well be more to a situation than meets the eye (or production sheets and accounting statements). Using this assumption in this scenario, the company unwittingly reduces its overall productivity, even if its most productive workers do produce far “above and beyond the call of duty”.  The company is therefore failing to see that people can be tremendously lacking in “thick skin”, social smoothness, etc. who nevertheless can be productive for their employers in absence of other workers whose actions and attitudes can negatively affect the worker's productivity.

Result: In such an environment, people’s individual success depends as much on on their ability to have a thick skin toward people who are frankly bullies as on their actual productivity of real goods and services (and possibly not even that).  Ditto for other scenarios involving bootlicking and co-worker politics vs. actual production of saleable goods and services.* Unfortunately, “thick skin” and bootlicking are not saleable to the public; only the company’s goods and services are.  So while it’s true that good companies place primary value on worker productivity, to add anything beyond the basics of social skills of courtesy, openness, civility, fair-mindedness (i.e., bootlicking, thick skin, social schmoozing) is to add an unnecessary demand on the workers.  By doing so, the company is excluding people who may not have thick skin or are super-smooth socially, but who nevertheless can be significantly more productive in the absence of workplace politics and especially workplace abuse.  This results in the company having a harder time finding successful employees, however slight; and therefore an inefficiency the company needs to purge from its system.

Therefore, by implicitly adding “thick skin” and bootlicking to the demanded traits of a worker is to add what is, at best, a human resources inefficiently for the company.  At worst, the company might be so demanding of “thick skin” and/or social smoothness that they lose sight of the essential basic characteristic of a good worker – producing profitable goods and services the company wants.  Clearly, this company’s assumption of “Smith-winner/Jones-loser on productivity grounds alone” can only lower a company’s overall productivity of other members of society. 

In the end, Social Darwinist beliefs is essentially a back-rationalization for justifying incivility toward others. The only ones who benefit are those who need the benefit the least – namely those already at the very top (whether financially or socially), ones who can easily live the rest of their lives without work if necessary; or even if necessary can easily find other employment or start their own business. 

Ultimately, hyper-competitive, dog-eat-dog attitudes assume that only society’s already-established-and-proven “winners” can produce things that the greater society would otherwise benefit from in the long run.  In the end, the company gets what it truly values most – if they ultimately value a person’s individual productivity over how that person’s behavior affects others productivity, then they end up with highly productive yet highly unpleasant workers.  This only hurts worker morale and ultimately its actual productivity, regardless of the workers’ potential talents. Clearly this is a maladaptive philosophy, which, if left unchecked, is a long term threat not only to a company’s bottom line but to the overall prosperity of a community or even a nation.

*Obviously high-end sales is an exception to this, especially when actively prospecting for new clients. Here, social smoothness, assertiveness, and thick skin are indeed essential traits. Also, I’m ignoring traits where assertiveness and thick skin also are obviously a necessary trait in order to serve the public interest (namely security, police, and combat occupations, but professional or semi-pro athletics as well). However, this is not true for the majority of occupations.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Narcissism, Psycho/Sociopathy, Bigotry, and Bullying

Work in Progress

Note: I have no training whatsoever in psychology, much less psychiatry.  My knowledge comes merely from a layman's reading of Narcissistic and Antisocial Personality Disorders, usually in the context of Corporate Psychopathy.  Therefore, this post is ultimately my personal speculation and nothing more. Only a trained mental health expert duly licensed by his or her local, regional, or national governmental entity is qualified to give an authoritative opinion in this matter, particularly regarding the mental state of any particular individual.

It’s well-established there are similarities between Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Antisocial Personality Disorder (formerly called psychopathy or sociopathy), as evidenced by the fact that many having one condition will have traits of the other. In fact, both personality disorders are classified by the American Psychological Association as “Cluster B” personality disorders (dramatic/erratic ones). However,  it’s important to note that not all narcissists are antisocials and vice versa.
After reading the DSM-IV* diagnostic criteria for both disorders, I noticed the mindsets accompanying the disorders are far too similar to bigotry for me to confidently handwave away. I will deal with the bullying aspect later. For now, let’s look at the similarities between narcissists and bigots.

 Like narcissists, bigots try to raise themselves above certain “others” or degrade those same others.  Also like narcissists, bigots seem to merely endure the presence of “lesssers” in their presence, if they tolerate them being in their presence at all.  Again, also like narcissists, bigots have a superior sense of entitlement relative to the target of their contempt.  Yet again like narcissists, bigots get quite irritated (often outright agitated) when others call on them to consider the feelings and interests of those others they look down upon.  Ultimately, narcissists and bigots are egocentric, whether for themselves or the group they are members of (or wish they were part of) – usually even in reference to other groups they don’t particularly look down upon (even in this case, their respect for that group is conditional upon that group – as a whole – conforming to their ultimately shallow ideals of respectworthiness to a satisfactory degree).  Without implying that either one is necessarily the other, all these similarities compel me to believe that these mentalities have the same ultimate source – elevation of the self or one’s own group above others.

With this in mind, I adapted the DSM-IV criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder to check how closely the attitudes of a bigot mirror those of a narcissist.  As you can guess, all I did was cross out the word “others” from the official DSM criteria, then substitute in its place races, religions, sexual orientation, believers in a different religion, political ideology, philosophical outlook, etc.

(1)  has a grandiose sense of the importance of their own race, orientation, belief system (whether religious, political, philosophical, etc.), socio-economic group, etc. (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).

(2)  is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, etc. of their own race, orientation, belief system, socio-economic class, etc. OR preoccupied with with the ultimate beauty or admiration or widespread sense of righeteousness of the same.

(3)  believes that their race, orientation, belief system, socio-economic class, etc. is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with people of similar backgrounds or belief systems (or institutions).

(4)  requires from others an excessive admiration from others about their own race, sexual orientation, belief system, socio-economic class, etc.

(5)  has a sense of entitlement for their own race, orientation, belief system, socio-economic class, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her group’s expectations.

(6)  is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others who do not belong to their race, orientation, belief system, socio-economic class, etc. (especially those less acceptable to their social group) to achieve his or her own ends.

(7)  lacks empathy towards others who are not part of their race, sexual orientation, belief system, socio-economic class, etc. (i.e., is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of those outside their own or preferred group(s)).

(8)  is often envious of those of a different race, sexual orientation, belief system, socio-economic class, etc. others or believes that others are envious of him or her.

(9)  shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes toward those of a different race, sexual orientation, belief system, socio-economic class, etc.

So far, we’ve emphasized the list with regard to the bigot raising themselves up.  In the real world, most people barely give those groups (or any “out” group, or even targets of bullying) a second thought. That is, they usually ignore or shove them aside, except when they feel like harassing them or exploiting them.  Also, keep in mind that just because one thinks unreasonably highly of him or herself does not mean they view those they are “better than” with active contempt. With this in mind, let’s look at this list from the standpoint of looking down on others in a spirit of active contempt.

(1)  has a stuborn sense of the worthlessness of another race, orientation, belief system (whether religious, political, philosophical, etc.), socio-economic group, etc. (e.g., downplays or degrades their achievements and talents, expects others to see “them” as inferior regardless of how great their accomplishments are).

(2)  is preoccupied with fantasies of the ultimate failure, weakness, timidity, stupidity, etc. of another/or certain race(s), orientation(s), belief system(s), socio-economic class(es), etc. OR preoccupied with the ultimate disgust, contempt or evil of those groups.

(3)  believes that their race, orientation, belief system, socio-economic class, etc. is "unclean”, “sleazy”, etc. (often uniquely so) and therefore no “normal, sensible, self-respecting person with strong backbone” should associate with such people, or even try to understand their point of view.

(4)  requires from others (especially members of their own group or the most socially acceptable groups) a firm contempt of the race(s), sexual orientation(s), belief system(s), socio-economic class(es), etc. they hold in low esteem.

(5)  thinks such race(s), orientation(s), belief system(s), socio-economic class(es), etc. don’t deserve even the basics of common courtesy, decency, fairness, and respect (often speaking about them in terms suggesting they barely [if at all] deserve even the very basics of human rights, civil liberties, etc. – perhaps to the point of secretly wishing genocide against those people).

(6)  if they aren’t ignoring or snubbing such people, they either denigrate, exploit, con, manipulate, or even persecute such people to achieve his or her own ends.

(7)  thinks any “normal, sensible, self-respecting person with strong backbone would (or ought to) lack empathy toward members of those race(s), orientation(s), belief system(s), or socio-economic class(es), etc. (i.e., be unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of those outside their own or preferred group(s)).

(8)  sees these “others” as a threat to social position/status, if not to their culture, society, or even civilization.

(9)  shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes toward those target(s) of their contempt.

As I said above, this doesn't prove narcissism and bigotry are exactly the same, or even similar. Most bigots are not narcissists. Narcissists comprise only one percent of the general adult population. Even so, I cannot help but notice the similarities between narcissism and bigotry.  Personally, I think (at the time of this writing) the most likely explanation is that most bigots are brainwashed by narcissistic cultural attitudes, but that's merely my own opinion.  This certainly is an interesting avenue to explore by professional researchers.  Nevertheless, given how little we still know about human psychology, I think it wise to ask yourself how much behavioral difference there really is between bigotry and narcissism, particularly whether one can cause the other (but not necessarily do so).

*DSM-IV  Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fourth Edition, of the American Psychiatric Association

As for psychopathy/socipathy -- In short, I don't believe bigots and bullies are psychopaths, not most of them anyway.  Psychopaths and sociopaths generally do not have emotion, although sociopaths do have a sense of loyalty (the defining difference between a psychopath or sociopath).  Only one percent of all adults are psychopaths or sociopaths, while well over one percent of a population could be considered bigoted, even if they aren't even a substantial minority of the people. If we use 1960s White American Southerners and 1980s White South Africans as examples, it's safe to say that well over one percent of those populations harbored bigoted or otherwise racist tendencies toward African Americans and Native Africans respectively. So despite the fact that behaviors like bullying and bigotry do resemble the behaviors of psychopaths and sociopaths toward other people in general, I think the similarities are more superficial than real. Were they - as a group - truly pathological, then we should see them behaving similarly toward each other at much greater rates than is acutally the case. For this reason, I've all but completely discarded the notion that bullies and bigots are even close to having psychopathy/sociopathy to even a moderate degree (barring the absolute extreme-most cases).