99. Duplo Men in a world of Lego.

Thanks to Mr Belton, our young, dynamic English teacher, (nicknamed ‘Sexy B’) we studied the novel ‘1984’ when we were 12.  We found out that George Orwell wrote 1984 in 1948, that it had something to do with propaganda and quite a lot to do with Stalin’s USSR.

Amongst many gems, Orwell coined the term ‘doublethink’, meaning that people could hold two diametrically opposed views at the same time.

Because Orwell was a writer, the concept of doublethink was largely ignored by psychologists, who were still trying to understand how genocides could happen.

In 1957 Leon Festinger coined the term ‘cognitive dissonance’ meaning a situation where two opposed beliefs or behaviours could co-exist. 

In Orwell’s idea of doublethink, there was no tension or anxiety involved in holding opposing views. There was no need to bring in moral-based concepts like hypocrisy, deceit or plain lying. You just had two different views at the same time.

Whereas with cognitive dissonance there is a tension between the two beliefs, so that a person tries to reduce the tension by pumping up one of the beliefs and diminishing the other. Many (quite unconvincing) experiments took place to show cognitive dissonance happens, at least in samples of carefully selected American college students. 

Also in 1948, the WHO made a statement defining the concept of ‘health’: 

‘Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’. Health became an entirely different thing from not being ill. More recently people are using the term ‘mental health’ in all kinds of contexts, often stretched or inverted, so that people ask me things like ‘was Trump a bit mental health?’

Trump does not seem unhappy with himself in any way.  Also psychiatrists are not supposed to diagnose people they haven’t met, even if those persons are famous, for instance suggesting certain politicians fit the profile for Narcissistic Personality Disorder. 

According to the ‘Goldwater rule’ in the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Principles of Medical Ethics, ‘it is unethical for psychiatrists to give a professional opinion about public figures whom they have not examined in person’.

Shouting at the television probably doesn’t constitute giving a professional opinion so it’s probably OK to keep yelling abuse. The TV can’t hear you, or so we thought.

Despite the rule, in 2019, ‘The Independent’ reported that 350 mental health professionals had written to warn Congress that ‘Trump’s mental state is deteriorating dangerously due to impeachment with potentially catastrophic outcomes’. 

Conversely, “Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS) was proposed as ‘a mental condition in which a person has been driven effectively insane due to their dislike of Donald Trump, to the point at which they will abandon all logic and reason’’. 

TDS is a refreshed version of BDS, Bush Derangement Syndrome, invented by a psychiatrist, Charles Krauthammer, in 2003.

Notice that TDS affects everyone apart from Trump, including the 350 mental health professionals who wrote to Congress, leaving Trump the only person coming out of the situation looking completely healthy. 

We should look at Trump and BritainTrump (and the other world leaders that Pink Floyd would have consigned to the Fletcher Memorial Home) and instead of asking why they are deranged, ask instead why they seem so well.

Along these lines, we need to revisit doublethink and ask, is doublethink a step forward in human development, a special power of some kind?

BritainTrump for instance wrote two articles within days of each other both opposing Brexit and promoting it. There are websites devoted purely to recording his lies. The Marcus Rashford related lie, June 2020, went as follows:“I talked to Marcus Rashford today and congratulated him on his campaign which to be honest I only became aware of, recent … erm, today.”

Simon Hattenstone, in the Guardian, wrote at the time that this was a new kind of non-useful lie:

‘on Tuesday he appeared to have taken his lying to a new, worrying level – he now seemed to be lying just for the hell of it’

Yet he seems happy with himself and so far the voting public seem reasonably happy with his behaviour. 

Let’s assume Britain’s PM has evolved beyond cognitive dissonance into ‘dual mode’ so there are no signs of mental tension. Attempts to see the problem as ‘pathological lying’ or ‘mythomania’ are plainly judgemental. All we know is that there are two versions streaming at once. 

Double thinking, sometimes called double-bookkeeping, tends to be regarded as pathological, whatever the motivation. Whether it’s unconscious or deliberate, whether it’s delusional or magical thinking, we’re suspecting, in the words of Tokyo Blade, a ‘Head full of Bad Wiring’. That’s in contrast to everyday observations of doublethinkers, suggesting they are very happy indeed, having their cake and eating it.

Could it make sense to belong to several political parties at the same time? While you’re in town on Sunday morning, could it make sense to attend the catholic church and then the Friend’s meeting house gatherings, if the timings are favourable and you’ve paid for a whole morning’s pay and display? 

You can’t join the labour party if you’re a member of another party. Churches, on the other hand, don’t employ bouncers. Many are nice places to hang out and some offer low price coffee and biscuits. The methodist church even has a capsule coffee machine. Would you give up Hail Marys in return for Lungo Intenso? Maybe you don’t have to.

If I’m asked what football team I support and I reply, ‘Man Utd and Liverpool’, am I facing a beating? 

My argument is that such thinking is commonplace, but also that it is extremely rare.

15. Searching for Weapons of Mass Distortion*

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In Glasgow, its safety in numbers.

Every Sunday morning I see the same lady in the newspaper shop buying lottery tickets. I’ve always wanted to ask her why she didn’t just send her money straight to Chancellor George Osborne, cutting out a chain of middle men and reducing the queuing time in the shop for the non-gambling section of the public.

I expect her reply would be something like, ‘I know my chances of winning are statistically not significantly different from zero, however the excitement of watching the draw and the possibility, however remote, of coming into sudden riches, beyond my wildest imagination, taps into a part of my mind that believes in dreams and miracles’.

Or, she might say, ‘I won a small amount once or twice, and it seems that intermittent reinforcement is one of the most powerful conditioning paradigms. I am simply powerless to resist’.

Or she might just say, ‘you cant take it with you, you tight git!’

Or, the killer retort: ‘why don’t you send the £2.50 you just wasted on the Sunday Times directly to Rupert Murdoch?’

Secretly, I ‘d love to have a go on the lottery but I cannot begin to understand how you go about it. People ask for things like, ‘two butterballs and a blingo’ and receive mysterious cards, some of which you can scratch. They seem happy with their purchases, even though they have exchanged real money for imaginary money.

It’s the same kind of cellophane packaged trinket as a cigarette packet, something that lights up the anticipation of  reward pathways, if you still have them.

It strikes me that Lottery Behaviour illustrates the theory of ‘cognitive dissonance’. This means that people have sets of thoughts that conflict with each other, but find some way of reducing the disparity.

Gambling provides a bit of a buzz, but goes against the value of prudence. The mind works to justify the behaviour.

For example, the lottery is ‘for charity’. So it is OK to give money away. The lottery company will help you with this argument by not telling you how much of the take actually goes to charity (28%). And of the 28%, how much is left for the actual good cause, after the charities have employed their staff and paid their overheads?

What does it matter anyway; the money is all recycled within the economy, generating employment?

Apart from the fact that Camelot, who run the UK national lottery, is wholly owned by the Ontario Teachers Pension fund. Nevertheless, I have nothing against retired Canadian teachers and have no problem with sending them any spare money we have. Its a way of thanking them for providing the current generation of Canadians.

Lots of people can help us reduce our cognitive dissonance, and make a good profit out of doing so.

The workings of the National Lottery mix a few different processes. Which is the odd one out:

1. Giving to charity?

2. Tax?

3. Gambling?

4. Profit for shareholders?

5. Pensions?

Clue: one of them is supposed to be a vice.

One way of reducing the difference between ideas is to soften the ideas and make them less distinct in the first place. Since ideas are usually written in words, if the words themselves are made meaningless, the ideas will get soft and fluffy enough not to jar against each other in our pockets.

Its a win/ win scenario.

Managers are people who make a living out of Cognitive Dissonance. Part of their job is to distort and reduce the meaning of language.

If you are working anywhere in business or the public sector you are  probably experiencing stress and frustration attributable to managers.

Take a typical scenario. You are sitting in a small hot room pretending to listen to someone giving a presentation. There is an ‘action plan’ to formulate. Something has to be written in 28 small boxes on a spreadsheet. People who are unable not to volunteer or avoid eye contact are given tasks to complete that will spoil their weekend. A pointless deadline is set for completion, leading directly to the affected person pulling a sickie that day.

Managers are people who like Audis, ties and bar charts, and I have no wish to offend any of them.

True, their claim to be a specific profession is undermined by the fact that the most successful managers of all have had no training whatsoever (e.g. Richard Branson, Alan Sugar, Steve Jobs…). The same cannot be said for eye surgeons or train drivers. Their main offence, however, has been to pervert the course of language. The question is, why do they do this?

Some people have suggested that there is something very sinister in the distortion of language. Gore Vidal, for instance, wrote:

‘As societies grow decadent, the language grows decadent, too. Words are used to disguise, not to illuminate’

George Orwell wrote about war propaganda as far back as the 1930s. I am sure he would not be surprised at the ‘dodgy dossier’ and other more recent examples of war related spinning of information.

People are pretty reluctant to engage in homicide, so to wage a war, some massive dissonance has to be bridged. Orwell noticed that those people creating the most extreme propaganda tended to be those furthest from the combat zone.

The more foolish the military regime, the more the medals and uniforms get brighter and shinier.

The paranoid theory of management is that it is a propaganda machine to pretend to people that capitalism is fun, like a game, and that companies are benign.

My own theory is less conspiracy orientated and more based on seeing managers as a cult. Their world is highly ritualised. They are very fond of assembling in groups, presided over by a priest-like person.

Their prayer-books and rosary beads are laptops and projectors and their altar is the Powerpoint screen.

They speak to each other in jargon, but they do not fully understand the meaning, much as Catholics used to say prayers in Latin.

Though lots of commentators have recorded items of management-speak few have attempted to explain the phenomenon.

Like any species, managers’ main purpose is to increase in number and safeguard their various niches in the social fabric. Sometimes they are parasitic, but parasitism is only one of their methods of survival. They often prosper where there is chaos and decay, since they promise to create structure and harmony, mainly on diagrams.

A recent survey of 2000 managers, carried out by ILM, found that management jargon is used in two thirds of offices across Britain and nearly a quarter of workers considered it to be a pointless irritation.

The incredibly frightening interpretation of these findings is that one third of offices had not noticed they are jargon-infected.  And over 75% of workers did not think it was an issue.

That’s like 75% of people not regarding bubonic plague as a serious health problem.

The same survey listed the most – hated phrases, such as Blue Sky Thinking, Going Forward, Touching Base, Close of Play, Drilling Down, Right Sizing things, etc.

Is such misuse of language a harmless eccentricity to make dull work seem more exciting, or does it have a more sinister purpose?.

Many professions have invented their own jargon, doctors being prime offenders. It’s much more fun to call a male person ‘a 46XY’ than ‘a man’, for instance.

The main difference is that professional jargon usually serves to sharpen a meaning, whereas management jargon does the opposite.

In IT for instance, we have become used to acronyms like RAM, LAN and WiFi, not to mention Killer Apps. In sport, we know exactly what a Try, or a Birdie means and we have strong views about LBW.

Engineers can tell us what a double over head cam does. In Costa, we have the Latte, the Cappuccino and the Flat White. All these terms are highly valid and reliable.

Compare the expression: ‘granularity’. Or ‘leverage’. Or ‘synergy’. Not valid or reliable at all.

Two explanations here: Managers are simply aping other professions’ use of technical terms in  pretending they are a distinct set of experts.

Or, management speak is actually a way of reducing disharmony by abolishing conceptual distinctions.

This leads me to a surprising conclusion.

Management is not an exclusive club at all. Almost anyone can join in. No special qualifications are needed. Management speak is a free for all. Like Esperanto, its an attempt to unite all the professions and none. Managers can go from one type of company to another without having to know that much about what the company makes or provides.

Managers don’t need to be able to do maths or write proper sentences, let alone buy lottery tickets.

The management icon, the Venn diagram, celebrates the easy maths we can all do in year 6. Management is like bingo or ten pin bowling. Anyone can do it and they’re glad to have you.

Maybe we need managers to provide this kind of unity that masquerades as conflict. To portray the world of work as an exciting drama, or gladiatorial contest.

Just as we need politicians to give the illusion of political argument and lawyers to give the illusion of adversarial justice.

Managers may function as a kind of ecumenical movement to stop people fighting about whose God is best. The penalty is having to sand down the theological edges.

In serving to reduce cognitive dissonance, managers are probably helping us survive in a hopelessly conflicted world.

Perhaps the problem, again like politics and religion, is not the profession itself, but rather the type of people it attracts. The danger of abolishing the meaning of words is people taking liberties with the rule-book. Bullies and narcissists love to hide in these kinds of hierarchies.

If you feel that management culture is ruining your life, try re-framing your managers differently. An old – school CBT technique was disempowering a tormentor by imagining him wearing a tutu or sitting on the toilet.

Try imagining your manager as a pirate.

The empire once needed pirates to advance its cause. This resulted in one of the best PR exercises ever done, in effect re-badging cut-throats and thieves as swashbuckling heroes.

Your company might need pirates of a kind, if only to fiddle the government targets.

Your manager is just a pirate who likes to dress up.

Like Captain Shakespeare, (Robert De Niro) in Stardust, he’s probably got a penchant for ladies clothing.

Watch that movie if you haven’t already. Your manager won’t have seen it. Beware of pirate copies though.

*Weapons of Mass Distortion was a book by Brant Bozell III about a supposed liberal bias in the US media.

Your manager won’t have read it.

Much better, it was a track on Crystal Method’s Legion of Boom album.

Your manager won’t have bought it.