sociopaths, clueless, and losers
August 1, 2017 4:09 PM   Subscribe

The Gervais Principle, Or The Office According to “The Office”, Venkatesh Rao [previously, and since complete]
The Gervais Principle is this: Sociopaths, in their own best interests, knowingly promote over-performing losers into middle-management, groom under-performing losers into sociopaths, and leave the average bare-minimum-effort losers to fend for themselves. The Gervais principle differs from the Peter Principle, which it superficially resembles. The Peter Principle states that all people are promoted to the level of their incompetence. It is based on the assumption that future promotions are based on past performance. The Peter Principle is wrong for the simple reason that executives aren’t that stupid, and because there isn’t that much room in an upward-narrowing pyramid. They know what it takes for a promotion candidate to perform at the to level. So if they are promoting people beyond their competence anyway, under conditions of opportunity scarcity, there must be a good reason. ... The Gervais principle predicts the exact opposite: that the most competent ones will be promoted to middle management. Michael Scott was a star salesman before he become a Clueless middle manager. The least competent employees (but not all of them — only certain enlightened incompetents) will be promoted not to middle management, but fast-tracked through to senior management. To the Sociopath level.

The Gervais Principle II: Posturetalk, Powertalk, Babytalk and Gametalk
We began this analysis of corporate life by exploring a theoretical construct (the Gervais Principle) through the character arcs of Michael and Ryan in The Office. The construct and examples provide a broad-strokes treatment of the why of the power dynamics among Sociopaths, the Clueless and Losers.

This helps us understand how the world works, but not how to work it. So let me introduce you to the main skill required here, mastery over the four major languages spoken in organizations, among Sociopaths, Losers and the Clueless. I’ll call the four languages Posturetalk, Powertalk, Babytalk and Gametalk. Here’s a picture of who speaks what to whom. Let’s use it to figure out how to make friends and influence people, Office style.
Morality, Compassion and the Sociopath - "Again, the response to the Gervais Principle II seems to require a response to key themes that have emerged. There are several that I am going to touch upon in the next part, and some I am not touching, ever, but one deserves note and a serious response, since I hadn’t planned on addressing it. This is the question of good and evil. For those of you who want the elevator-pitch version, the short position is this: my entire thesis is amoral; there are good and evil sociopaths; more sociopaths is a good thing; the clueless and losers are exactly as likely to engage in evil behaviors as sociopaths. Details follow. Keep in mind that this is a very rough sketch, and a sidebar to the main series that I really don’t want to pursue too far."

The Genealogy of the Gervais Principle- "One reason I have delayed posting the next part in the Gervais Principle series is that as expectations have grown, I have gotten more wary about shooting from the hip. Especially because the remaining ideas in the hopper (there’s enough for two more posts before I call the main series complete) will likely be even more controversial than the first two. So one of the things I have been doing is testing the foundations laid in the first two posts more rigorously. So here goes, a (very pictorial) survey of the ancestry of the MacLeod hierarchy and the Gervais Principle. This is not Part III. It is another side trip."

The Gervais Principle III: The Curse Of Development
If you have ever been manipulated by a baby, you’ve been on the receiving end. If you’ve ever poked fun at a French-quoting pedant by striking a mock-professorial pose and spouting some pseudo French, (le bleu blah), you’ve dished it out.

Manipulation by pets is perhaps the most powerful illustration, since your most powerful weapon, human language, is useless. Cesar “Dog Whisperer” Milan’s techniques are the only defense (they don’t work as well on cats). The South Park episode Tsst, where he teaches Cartman’s mom to use dog-obedience techniques to control Cartman, after various Nanny reality-shows fail, is a must-watch.

To explain and explore the Curse of Development, we need to wade through some theory before we can get back to entertaining examples from The Office.
The Gervais Principle IV: Wonderful Human Beings
Marxist Office Theory
No, not Karl. Groucho. Groucho Marxist theory is the key to understanding Andy’s predicament.

Andy doesn’t belong, and it frustrates him to the point that he punches holes in walls. He can’t get into the Finer Things Club (a lunch group comprising Pam, Oscar and Toby, devoted to occasional elitist indulgences) despite his best efforts, while Jim can drift in without even trying. Andy’s life is about joining clubs. And Marx provides the core idea we need in his famous line, “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.”

There is a deep truth here. Social clubs of any sort divide the world into an us and a them. We are better than them. Any prospective new member who could raise the average prestige of a club is by definition somebody who is too good for that club.

So how do social groups form at all, given Marx’s paradox? The answer lies in the idea of status illegibility, the fuzziness of the status of a member of any social group.
The Gervais Principle V: Heads I Win, Tails You Lose
For the Greeks, any divine purpose, even subtly malicious randomness, in the ordering of the universe, was preferable to purposelessness. At least the gods cared enough to be cruel.

Nietzsche saw tragedy differently. For Nietzsche, God was dead and only the flesh was real. There was only the indifferent Great Bureaucrat of the material universe, Chancellor Entropy, apathetically offering humans a form to fill out, with just one simple check-box choice: “death or booga booga?”

The Clueless disdainfully ignore the reams of fine print, and proudly check: death.

After trying, and failing to understand the fine print, the Losers cautiously check: booga booga.

Finally, the Sociopath frowns doubtfully at the form, and asks: “Can I speak with your supervisor?”

“Certainly,” says the Great Bureaucrat. “There’s some additional paperwork for that I am afraid. Just fill these out, and take them over there. Godot will be right with you.”

Welcome to the penultimate episode of the Gervais Principle series. The saga of two-plus years and 20,000-plus words of booga-booga that you have already endured is now winding its way to a tortuous conclusion.
The Gervais Principle VI: Children of an Absent God
And so here we are, ready for an assault on our Everest: the mind that lies behind the low-reactor Sociopath face. A face that gazes upon the worlds of Losers and the Clueless with divine inscrutability. It’s certainly been a long climb.

With the resurrection of David Wallace and the ascent of Robert California to a richly undeserved heaven-on-earth, a harem of young East European women, the crew at The Office teed up their final season, and presented us with our last and biggest challenge. And finally, we are ready to take it on.

Under the creepily steady gaze of Robert California, Jim wilts and chokes. Dwight blusters like a frightened dog, “Stop trying to get into my head!” But ultimately even that courageous Clueless soul cowers.

But you and I, we are going to break through. Our gaze may flinch. We may lose the staring contest with Robert California. We may fail to perturb the preternatural poise of David Wallace. But we will figure out the minds that lie beneath.

As The Office winds its way to a satisfyingly redemptive American series finale this week, the remaining questions in our own little sideshow tent will be answered in deeply unsatisfying and empty ways.
posted by the man of twists and turns (44 comments total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
 
The Peter Principle is wrong for the simple reason that executives aren’t that stupid...

Ah, I see an early flaw here.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 4:22 PM on August 1, 2017 [39 favorites]


Too bad I haven't watched the show, this all seems interesting.
posted by AFABulous at 4:30 PM on August 1, 2017 [1 favorite]


This all seems really fascinating, but in my experience its the rich and well connected--people expected to be "rainmakers"--that consistently seem to have that inside track to senior mgmt, regardless of psych profile or pretty much anything else, but still, this post looks like it'll be fun to dig into later tonight, so thanks for the considerable effort that must have gone into putting it together.
posted by saulgoodman at 4:35 PM on August 1, 2017 [8 favorites]


Remember, the one simple principle that is most often true is "it's more complicated than that". The Peter Principle is one of those commonly-accepted principles for which that totally applies*. I bought the book with that title when it first came out in paperback (I had vague aspirations of organizational success at the time) and its tens-of-thousands of words never added that much to it. The Gervais Principle looks, so far, like a good enhancement/replacement, based on the hundreds of words in the post, but I'll have to finish the thousands of words in the linked articles to be sure, and since I am minimally affected by corporate organizational dynamics at this time in my life, it'll take me a while to get around to it. Still, very good post.

*the only other principles for which short statements apply accurately are Murphy's Law ("If anything can go wrong, it WILL go wrong") and Cole's Law ("Thinly sliced cabbage").
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:37 PM on August 1, 2017 [12 favorites]


but in my experience its the rich and well connected--people expected to be "rainmakers"--that consistently seem to have that inside track to senior mgmt, regardless of psych profile or pretty much anything else

Loser fratbro and nepo-hires are sidelined all the time, it's not that. As far as I can tell, the reason you do see more, let's just say "upper class," fast-trackers is because they've been socialized into the language, mannerisms, and more importantly, strategic responsibility-gathering and -shirking. There is a whole language of management and executive-ing, which arrives as a shibboleth of whether you'll be the giver or the receiver: many people hate their bosses, still others want to be the boss that is hated. It pays better.

I'm excited to read this!
posted by rhizome at 4:41 PM on August 1, 2017 [6 favorites]


This is where Gervais has broken new ground, primarily because as an artist, he is interested in the subjective experience of being Clueless (most sitcoms are about Losers).
I think this is what makes Gervais' work so utterly excruciating to watch. His characters are beyond help because they have gotten themselves into unbearable dilemmas by strength of effort. Losers might be winners given different circumstances, but the Clueless are progenitors of hopeless circumstance.
posted by ethansr at 4:42 PM on August 1, 2017 [25 favorites]


That’s also part of what makes the American version of the show superior, at least in my opinion: you find out eventually that Michael Scott was actually very good at something, at some point, instead of popping into existence fully formed as a guy who is just generally bad at his job and who has always been.

Of course, that only strengthens the “problems as a result of effort” thing, but…
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:31 PM on August 1, 2017 [9 favorites]


AnecdoteFilter: I tried to get an old girlfriend into The Office, but she had a hard time believing that people would treat each other so horribly at work, and that kind of broke her suspension of disbelief.
posted by Sphinx at 5:53 PM on August 1, 2017 [2 favorites]


I tried to get an old girlfriend into The Office, but she had a hard time believing that people would treat each other so horribly at work, and that kind of broke her suspension of disbelief.

Only someone who has never worked a day in their life could be so naive. Office Space was practically a documentary.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:08 PM on August 1, 2017 [21 favorites]


That’s also part of what makes the American version of the show superior, at least in my opinion: you find out eventually that Michael Scott was actually very good at something, at some point, instead of popping into existence fully formed as a guy who is just generally bad at his job and who has always been.


hoo boy, do have the opposite view. the complete lack of redemptive qualities in any individual character in Gervais' original makes it ineluctably superior to the warm-and-fuzzy American franchise. I actually found it confusing and off-putting that the links in the original post here refer to the Gervais Principle when the American version of the show reads, to me, as an assault on the UK version.

(tl; dr: UK Office rules, US Office drools OK!)
posted by mwhybark at 6:10 PM on August 1, 2017 [21 favorites]


I've read the first one, and I'm intrigued by the thesis. I'll be reading further but I'm a little surprised at the assertion that Dwight isn't talented enough at Cluelessness to be promoted; I would argue he is, its just that his cluelessness is different than Michael's. Michael is half-aware and working to create a plausible script for others to bolster him; Dwight doesnt need that, his Cluelessness is a self-bolstering form.
posted by nubs at 6:10 PM on August 1, 2017 [1 favorite]


I'm about halfway through. I've got some reaaaaaaal deep suspicions of work that makes generalizing claims as this does that falls into the realm of pop-psychology, but I will say that this is better than most of the genre.

One thing I've been thinking about as I've been reading is that, if you want to expand this out to a national level, a lot of the "clueless" would tend to be modern American conservatives, who gaze adoringly at the master classes, ape their language, and usefully buy into lies of a meritocracy. A lot of the "losers" would be the marginalized who tend to make up the far left, who see the lie of the meritocracy, but are willing to play by the rules so that they can get by and make do in order to pursue things they actually love. A lot of the sociopaths are, unsurprisingly, the people at the top of the heap, who are willing to abandon or subvert other aspects of their humanity in order to climb (or, in a lot of cases, remain squarely at the top).

There are more things in the political economy of the United States, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your 10,000 word analysis of a TV show.
posted by codacorolla at 6:30 PM on August 1, 2017 [10 favorites]


The sociopathy sidebar - in which the author identifies as a budding sociopath - is an interesting one. There's one bit I want to call out:
The morality that they [losers and the clueless] defer to is always a codified communal version of the views of some charismatic sociopath...
I'm not convinced that's true. Communal moralities are often, I think, an organic growth that incorporates bits and pieces from many sources. Yes, there's a bit of Jesus and Adam Smith and Bob Marley in there - charismatic sociopaths, by the author's loose definition, who take responsibility for their individual morality - but there are also lessons learned from collective experience, moral ideas generated from who-knows-where.

And sometimes, I'd suggest, the charismatic sociopaths are merely waving the flag for a moral principle that a bunch of clueless losers figured out. They're taking the credit, as sociopaths will, for the work of others. I'm willing to bet that Hammurabi didn't come up with all the laws in his Code, Jesus didn't create the Golden Rule, and Adam Smith wasn't the first to think about pin factories.
posted by clawsoon at 6:30 PM on August 1, 2017 [4 favorites]


Without the sociopathy sidebar, I would've read this as it should've been (but apparently wasn't) written, like the tongue-in-cheek, funny-because-it's-kinda-true predecessors Gamesmanship, The Peter Principle, Parkinson's Law, Systemantics, etc. He's gone a little too far down the Scott Adams path of believing that his incisive observation and amusing theorizing constitute a new moral understanding.
posted by clawsoon at 6:40 PM on August 1, 2017 [21 favorites]


Isn't the trick, then, to strive for competence and resist the pull to sociopathy? As Karl Marx puts it (On The Jewish Question), "only when man has recognized and organized his 'own powers' as social powers, and, consequently, no longer separates social power from himself in the shape of political power, only then will human emancipation have been accomplished." Socialize and depoliticize.
posted by No Robots at 7:03 PM on August 1, 2017 [3 favorites]


And Marx provides the core idea we need in his famous line, “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.”

There is a deep truth here. Social clubs of any sort divide the world into an us and a them. We are better than them. Any prospective new member who could raise the average prestige of a club is by definition somebody who is too good for that club.
Either he doesn't get Groucho or I don't.

Groucho isn't saying he's too good for any club that would have him as a member, he's saying he's such a reprobate that no reputable club would have him -- and who wants to be a member of a disreputable club?

This guy's a little out of his depth, in my opinion.
posted by jamjam at 7:15 PM on August 1, 2017 [24 favorites]


I've read the whole thing and love it. So good. His book Tempo is also good.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:23 PM on August 1, 2017


GhostintheMachine:
The Peter Principle is wrong for the simple reason that executives aren’t that stupid...
Ah, I see an early flaw here.


In Part V, he argues that an effective sociopathic executive will use apparent incompetence in the service of plausible deniability when things go wrong, thereby changing the risk/reward equation in their favour.

As I have no experience in the sociopathic upper reaches of large organizations, I have no idea whether he's right or wrong. Examples from a TV show don't quite cut it. Perhaps I'll have to read some more Robert Caro before I judge his thesis.
posted by clawsoon at 7:48 PM on August 1, 2017 [3 favorites]


an effective sociopathic executive will use apparent incompetence in the service of plausible deniability when things go wrong, thereby changing the risk/reward equation in their favour.

*cough*Reagan*cough*
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:49 PM on August 1, 2017 [8 favorites]


Without the sociopathy sidebar, I would've read this as it should've been (but apparently wasn't) written, like the tongue-in-cheek, funny-because-it's-kinda-true predecessors Gamesmanship, The Peter Principle, Parkinson's Law, Systemantics, etc. He's gone a little too far down the Scott Adams path of believing that his incisive observation and amusing theorizing constitute a new moral understanding.

Ah, ok. As I've been going there have been some warning flags that I didn't like, so at least I know where those were coming from.

One thing I've been thinking about as I've been reading is that, if you want to expand this out to a national level, a lot of the "clueless" would tend to be modern American conservatives, who gaze adoringly at the master classes, ape their language, and usefully buy into lies of a meritocracy. A lot of the "losers" would be the marginalized who tend to make up the far left, who see the lie of the meritocracy, but are willing to play by the rules so that they can get by and make do in order to pursue things they actually love. A lot of the sociopaths are, unsurprisingly, the people at the top of the heap, who are willing to abandon or subvert other aspects of their humanity in order to climb (or, in a lot of cases, remain squarely at the top).

Funny, I was thinking from a political perspective that this model would argue that the Sociopaths put a Clueless in office, one who engages in all the right posturetalk but is proving perhaps a little too damaging too fast to the rest of the organization.
posted by nubs at 8:19 PM on August 1, 2017


So tired of cynicism.
posted by amtho at 8:22 PM on August 1, 2017 [11 favorites]


I finally got to the last installment. I'll warn those of you who haven't read it yet: In this episode, he masturbates furiously toward his climax.
When Sociopaths accept the divine roles that the Clueless and Losers eagerly thrust upon them...
posted by clawsoon at 8:29 PM on August 1, 2017 [8 favorites]


Funny, I was thinking from a political perspective that this model would argue that the Sociopaths put a Clueless in office, one who engages in all the right posturetalk but is proving perhaps a little too damaging too fast to the rest of the organization.

Depending on how much you buy the theory presented here, trump is a very effective dodge maneuver: put all of the blame on the clueless and inept trump and his supporters, while you gain the material rewards (largely invisibly, because of the designed opacity of high finance) of whatever regulations and social safety net he manages to destroy. Then, come in as the solution to the trump problem later, and gain yet more benefit by serving as a rescuer. Sort of like the bankruptcy of DM, the scheme can very quickly get out of hand if you pick the wrong clueless who is so inept at the game that they can't play the role you want of them.
posted by codacorolla at 8:30 PM on August 1, 2017


The Peter Principle is wrong for the simple reason that executives aren’t that stupid...

Ah, I see an early flaw here.


Yes, many times leaders can't tell how competent people are at their current job, let alone how well they'd do at something different.

the tongue-in-cheek, funny-because-it's-kinda-true predecessors Gamesmanship, The Peter Principle, Parkinson's Law, Systemantics, etc.

The great thing about the Peter Principle and Parkinson's Law is they are simple and recognizable. There are many times they are not applicable but I don't think you could ever say they are "wrong." I'm not that far into it but I'm not getting that here. More like a TV tropes entry where people are trying to map multiple roles onto different works and you can kinda see it but also could be a stretch . . .

- - - -

Also, one of the lines that makes me worry about myself after twenty years in corporate America:
[Sociopaths] are also the ones capable of equally impersonally exploiting a young idea for growth in the beginning, killing one good idea to concentrate resources on another at maturity, and milking an end-of-life idea through harvest-and-exit market strategies.
Seriously all of these but especially the one I bolded seem like "business practices," not sociopathy. Are we morally bound to support all good ideas anyone has? In that case only the businesses with fewer good ideas than resources would ever succeed.
posted by mark k at 9:11 PM on August 1, 2017 [2 favorites]


Ok, so I finished it. Reading this reminds me of reading about an exceedingly clever con-job: you're impressed with the craftsmanship, but still think the con is despicable. This series of articles is an intellectual con-job, on a couple of levels. But, just in the sense of internal consistency, if you are a true sociopath (that is: god-like being of social constructivist power that has become un-moored from the laws of mere losers and clueless), then why would you ever give an accurate portrayal of a system that benefits you through its byzantine nature? As the unenlightened, shouldn't we be inherently, incredibly, suspicious of such free, unsolicited advice from a self-described sociopath? Well, at any rate, I am. Digging a little deeper there are other red flags.

First: This work "independently" reproduces theories that are pretty common in other domains, but does a little side shuffle in renaming them with the (increasingly tedious, much like the source) Office analogy, and a bunch of simplified custom interpretations. I'm sure that there are others, but since this is the realm I know, he bites off a LOT of Pierre Bourdieu's concept of Field Analysis (relative fields of power, understanding social relations as species of capital, elaborating a system of the dominant and dominated), but never gets around to citing him. The theories that he does cite (well, name drop is more accurate) tend to be old and outdated, with many falling into pop-sci. The polite explanation here is that he's getting the same result as other, more rigorous, theorists. The uncharitable explanation is plagiarism, with a few hand waves to distract the audience and give the _appearance_ of rigor.

Second: It uses a horoscope-like generality to make everyone think they're a Jim (a loser who can turn sociopath). There's a reason that Jim is the lead character of the show. He sets up the life-of-the-mind of the sociopath as some blessed and privileged position, but I suspect that it's actually something most people go through at some point (the feeling of seeing through a socially constructed reality). There's another name for sociopathy, as he defines it, and that's selfishness. There are tons of tortured artists who treat others terribly, and then turn that suffering into a story of their own brokenness and specialness. That's, generally, referred to as a Jonathan Franzen novel. By latching onto general experiences, presenting the possession of these experiences as an elect ability to manipulate social reality, and then telling a just-so story of how one's interpersonal problems are (in a superman fashion) actually great strength, you're subtly pulling the reader into a philosophy cribbed from better sources, which don't have the same nihilistic bent as this. Put another way, nobody reads thousands of words of this and thinks, "Huh, he's right, I'm a clueless ding-dong, jus' like Michael!"

Third: It ignores context, and talks in mythic, archetypal terms. The line about ignoring Karl Marx and referencing Groucho Marx is (unintentionally, I think) telling. A nice move of using the Office as a scaffold is that it gives the illusion of being grounded in reality (because The Office is a show that derives from shared reality of American working life), but allows him to pick and pull in a way that wouldn't be acceptable if he was talking, say, about the current American economy where these incredibly neat theories may start to fall apart. At the end he demurs. He says, "aw shucks, this whole thing was a big goof!" But, clearly, that's not true. Read the comments on any of these entries, and you'll find a bunch of self-defining sociopaths just chomping at the bit to make this fluff into a real life philosophy. I do wonder if he's considered the implications of telling a bunch of self-satisfied people that they are a) free to remake social reality as they see fit, b) inherently (somehow?) better than a majority of other people, and c) justified in feeling empty for abusing those people because nothing really matters. I wouldn't want that on my conscience.

Others, above, have mentioned these things in similar terms. I actually sort of appreciate this as a sort of, I dunno... speculative social theory? It takes our real world, which actual scholars have taken pains to study and theorize, and scrapes off all the serial numbers, puts on a fancy coat of paint, and then gives us a nice little narrative. He's actually a pretty good writer. He takes more complex ideas, compresses them into a bite-sized package, and then uses them to spin a compelling narrative. If you don't take this as a direct reflection of reality, then it's entertaining. I'm more worried about the people who do, and what the author gains in presenting this as more than clever wordplay.

Anyway, having read this, if like myself you feel like you need an intellectual shower. My personal recommendation is, the wholly opposite 'ethics of care' philosophy.
posted by codacorolla at 9:24 PM on August 1, 2017 [39 favorites]


[Sociopaths] are also the ones capable of equally impersonally exploiting a young idea for growth in the beginning, killing one good idea to concentrate resources on another at maturity, and milking an end-of-life idea through harvest-and-exit market strategies.

Seriously all of these but especially the one I bolded seem like "business practices," not sociopathy. Are we morally bound to support all good ideas anyone has?


Yeah, speaking from the non-profit sector that bit was (for me) straight out of a book called "Getting to Maybe" which goes into the fact that there's a life cycle to our business practices, and that we have to be able to nuture ideas in the beginning, exploit the ones that we can take to impact, and end the ones that no longer work while salvaging the learnings/important concepts (which is something many non-profits struggle with). Reading that passage was the start of me having some serious reservations about how much this guy was starting to drink his own bathwater; you don't need to be a "sociopath" to apply that knowledge.
posted by nubs at 9:52 PM on August 1, 2017 [1 favorite]


Either he doesn't get Groucho or I don't.

Groucho isn't saying he's too good for any club that would have him as a member, he's saying he's such a reprobate that no reputable club would have him -- and who wants to be a member of a disreputable club?


In his view, those are two ways of saying the same thing. Everyone supposedly wants to join groups that are a step up the social ladder and avoid groups that would be a step down. Meanwhile every group shuns people that are too far below them on the social ladder and aspires to recruit people of higher status than the group.

In other words, Rao thinks it ought to be true of everyone that a club that wants me as a member is a club of lower status that I don't want to join.

Rao's view is that groups are possible because they are made of people who mostly don't know how they compare with each other in social rank (although the highest and lowest rank in the group is supposedly clear). I'd argue that there are plenty of people who mostly don't care how they rank against each other, although they can probably still point to groups they wouldn't want to be a part of and people they wouldn't accept into their group, and maybe also groups they might theoretically want to join but know they aren't welcome.
posted by straight at 10:47 PM on August 1, 2017 [1 favorite]


We began this analysis of corporate life by exploring a theoretical construct (the Gervais Principle) through the character arcs of Michael and Ryan in The Office.

Sociological insights from watching a fictional TV series?

My, what are they gonna come up with next? Maybe "What I Learned About Biology From Watching Avatar".
posted by sour cream at 12:45 AM on August 2, 2017 [3 favorites]


Sociological insights from watching a fictional TV series?

eponysterical + beans go well with sour cream and overthinking
posted by Joseph Gurl at 1:20 AM on August 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


hoo boy, do have the opposite view. the complete lack of redemptive qualities in any individual character in Gervais' original makes it ineluctably superior to the warm-and-fuzzy American franchise. I actually found it confusing and off-putting that the links in the original post here refer to the Gervais Principle when the American version of the show reads, to me, as an assault on the UK version.

The people in the US Office are pretty revolting, too. As far as I'm concerned the only normal, nice person is Oscar and that's because we don't get any extended Oscar narrative.

By the last season Jim and Pam are people I'd run twelve miles to avoid.
posted by winna at 4:51 AM on August 2, 2017 [2 favorites]


I'm with codacorolla and clawsoon (which is an excellent name for a whisky label)... This started to get a little creepy and a little over earnest. I propose a Rao/Dwight Corollary: if you think you're a Sociopath, you're actually Clueless. (I shudder to think about my ex reading this... He'd form a whole new paradigm and then tell everyone on Less Wrong.)

If you replace Sociopath with Leader throughout, it sounds just like some Clueless management books.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 4:51 AM on August 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


So this is like that two million word objectivist Harry Potter fanfic only with The Office instead?
posted by rikschell at 5:12 AM on August 2, 2017 [6 favorites]


"Do I need to be liked? Absolutely not. I like to be liked. I enjoy being liked. I have to be liked. But it's not like a compulsive need to be liked. Like my need to be praised."
posted by tehjoel at 5:13 AM on August 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


The South Park episode ... is a must-watch.

Aaaaaaaaand I'm out
posted by solotoro at 5:59 AM on August 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


Great comment, codacorolla.

My brain woke me up with the nub of it this morning: The idea that piercing the veil of social reality has anything to do with a) developing social skills and b) developing the sociopathic desire to use them to manipulate, is bullshit.

Many of us have a series of enlightening and sometimes wrenching realizations about the nature of social reality. That doesn't turn us into sociopathic ubermenschen. We're still the same socially inept, caring (or not) people that we were before. If the author's thesis was true, it would've been Thorstein Veblen who ruled the Gilded Age, not Carnegie, Morgan and Rockefeller.

Seeing that social reality is a series of masks, being able to change social reality (for the better or worse), and wanting to manipulate social reality for our benefit are three different things.
posted by clawsoon at 6:01 AM on August 2, 2017 [8 favorites]


Don't let the poverty level wages, clothing, and pleasant demeanor fool you: the social science department of your local university is an unholy swirling locus of power and evil
posted by codacorolla at 7:53 AM on August 2, 2017 [5 favorites]


The Peter Principle is wrong for the simple reason that executives aren’t that stupid...

Ah, I see an early flaw here.


One can only assume that Venkatesh Rao has not spent much time in any sufficiently large organization (private, public, non-profit, whatever) to see it happen again and again. Though to make the Peter Principle really assert itself, ambition has to be emphasized -- that driving desire of the Peter to raise himself above his current position, reason and rationale be damned. Because I've encountered many a functional employee who's quite happy to remain and sustain at their level of competence for all kinds of sane reasons. The Peters on the other hand, aren't just incapable of functioning at the levels they have achieved, but generally incapable of even beginning to grasp that they themselves are the problem, that all the chaos erupting around them is of their own making ... as opposed to everyone else's.

(tl; dr: UK Office rules, US Office drools OK!)

never made it past the first five minutes of the US version. I've been told it gets better once it sets its own tone, but I guess I just wasn't masochistic enough to get that far.
posted by philip-random at 8:17 AM on August 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


So tired of cynicism.

I'm tired of gravity, but it ain't going away.
posted by philip-random at 8:19 AM on August 2, 2017


I'm tired of gravity, but it ain't going away.

Gravity is more necessary, and much more useful, than cynicism.
posted by amtho at 8:42 AM on August 2, 2017 [2 favorites]


It seems everyone now analyzes TV shows as if they were real life, not stories written by people who can make the outcome whatever they want. I was guilty of this during the run of Mad Men, and suddenly realized how odd it was. A story told by a group of writers, directors and actors might be a good reflection of how our culture views reality, but that doesn't make it actual reality.
posted by maggiemaggie at 9:10 AM on August 2, 2017 [5 favorites]


This is probably more on-point for another post, but there's a lauding of executives and sneering at middle managers running through the pieces which reflects the propaganda that was used to justify the slashing of middle management through the '80s and '90s. The propaganda hasn't really let up since. CEOs are heroes; middle managers are useless bloat. CEOs must be pursued with whatever money and perks they demand; middle managers can be flushed whenever it's convenient.

It's a funny coincidence, I'm sure, but during that same time a lot more women entered what are effectively middle management roles. It's almost as if middle management had to be demeaned before women could be allowed to be middle managers.

I don't say this as a middle manager myself, or as someone who has any desire to become one, but as someone who has observed how often the success or failure of a project hinges on the coordinating ability and people skills - downward directed people skills and upward directed people skills - of mid-level production managers.
posted by clawsoon at 9:30 AM on August 2, 2017 [7 favorites]


clawsoon: IBM during the 90s, countless other places of businesses, etc., "There are more pistons than spark chambers!" gets translated to "Pistons are the most useless appendages of the internal combustion engine. Get rid of all of them!". In the immortal word of Tweeter Prime, "Sad".

(Necessary changes being made for variants like Wankel, of course).
posted by Chitownfats at 2:36 AM on August 3, 2017


I was reminded in parts of the (more obliquely outlined and more elegantly understood) secular humanist philosophy that Terry Pratchett often references, particularly in the Vimes novels. The "sociopath" (and I really think the other construction I've seen, "assholes" at the top, works a lot better in many ways) becomes disillusioned and nihilistic because there is no ultimate arbiter of morals, and most people find that a traumatic experience. Pratchett goes to the next step of pointing out that if there is no objective morality, then it falls to us to create one that suits, although not everyone can or wants to. ("He said to people: you’re free. And they said hooray and then he showed them what freedom cost and they called him a tyrant and, as soon as he’d been betrayed, they milled about a bit like barn bred chickens who’ve seen the big world outside for the first time, and then they went back into the warm and shut the door.") All of Pratchett's heroes are, in various ways, people who see that received morality is empty of authority and who have then constructed a moral system that works and who hew to it as firmly as any Catholic martyr; his villains are, overwhelmingly, people who have similarly seen through the social constructs but who have taken this Office-breakdown series' point of view that the only possible subsequent response is hedonism, despair, and the indulging of pleasure at others' expense.

I liken it myself to Minecraft. Some people, confronted with Minecraft, set about to do all the "achievements" and kill the Ender Dragon, likely becoming frustrated in the process. Others are briefly bemused, turn on creative mode, build maybe one thing, and then become bored and move on to the next FPS title. There's a certain mindset one has to have to perceive that the game is ultimately without purpose and to then set about making one's own goals and structures, in whatever way most suits.

Just because it isn't provided for you doesn't mean you can't build it.
posted by Scattercat at 8:49 AM on August 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


I encountered this awhile ago. The early parts are interesting, but by the end he gets way too far up his own asshole.

Sociological insights from watching a fictional TV series?

My, what are they gonna come up with next? Maybe "What I Learned About Biology From Watching Avatar".


Did you just take a 15-year break from reading things on the Internet? If so, welcome back.
posted by breakin' the law at 2:28 PM on August 3, 2017


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