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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. Not many new ideas here, but genealogy should prove interesting for at least some of you. A sense of history is a necessary (though unfortunately not sufficient) requirement for effective sociopathy. For those who came in late, this post will make no sense to you. Read The Gervais Principle and The Gervais Principle II before you tackle this one.
The Complete MacLeod Hierarchy
First, I need to draw a more detailed version of the original cartoon by Hugh MacLeod, one that captures the Gervais Principle itself, which I only described with words before. Here are two views of the complete picture. The first, the dynamics view, shows the 3 behaviors: checking out, overperformance and Machiavellian scheming, that animate the hierarchy and create its people flows. It pained me to have to mess with the elegant simplicity of Hugh’s original, but too many people were getting confused about what exactly I meant, and we need this detailed view to do the genealogy.
This dynamics/behavioral view does not capture the full complexity of what’s going on, so you need a complementary structural view to capture that. This diagram is even uglier. Here it is:
This is way too mechanistic for my tastes, but is the best I could do for now (I was trying to draw it using a volcano metaphor, but got nowhere). The important structural elements to note are the three ways out of the entry lobby at the lowest level, of which two have filters/gatekeeper mechanisms. Machiavellian scheming takes you straight up the pipe, and if you sweet-talk the bouncers and get past the velvet rope, you are in. The second filter is the Gate of “Come hang out with us.” Aspirants to checked-out loserdom must actually get past the social gatekeepers that control access to the checked-out loser groups that make life at the bottom bearable. In a very explicit example, Andy is kept out of the “finer things club” run by Pam, Oscar and Toby (an adult version of a new kid in a school trying to join the ‘cool kids’ table, then the ‘geek kids’ table, and being rejected by both, having to eat alone). An everyday example is the New Guy being invited to join the regular evening beer session.
The only path that does not contain a gatekeeper is the Employee of the Month funnel. Mere record-setting overperformance — something within your own control to a large extent — gets you there. That’s why it’s actually lonelier in the middle than at the top. The loneliness of leadership (the top) is not as extreme as the loneliness of clueless middle-management life, rejected by the sociable huddle below you, and by the predatory players above you. And remember, the Sociopaths actually like solitude, while the Clueless yearn for connections that they are denied. So they suffer more.
Okay, now that we’ve gotten that clearly reviewed, let’s look at the history.
Drucker Hierarchy (1954)
Curiously, despite the severe handicap of being, apparently, a nice guy, Drucker actually got this stuff. In Management by Objectives and Self-Control (included in The Essential Drucker) he wrote:
A favorite story at management meetings is that of the three stonecutters who were asked what they were doing. The first replied, “I am making a living.” The second kept on hammering while he said, “I am doing the best job of stonecutting in the entire country.” The third looked up with a visionary gleam in his eyes and said, “I am building a cathedral.” The third man is, of course, the true “manager” [we are more likely to call this person 'leader' in 2010 - vgr] The first man knows what he wants to get out of the work and manages to do so. He is likely to give a “fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.”… It is the second man who is a problem… there is always a danger that the true workman, the true professional, will believe that he is accomplishing something when in effect he is just polishing stones or collecting footnotes.
That, in short, is the source of blinded-by-craftsmanship guildism that is particularly characteristic of the Clueless. Think the varied passions of Dwight. Though Drucker offers some screwed-up views on occasion, he has sufficiently many gems like this scattered through his (volumnious) writing that he earns redemption, and entry into the Whyte school of management. Here’s the hierarchy capturing Drucker’s anecdote:
I’ve talked enough about William Whyte, that I can just offer you his ideas in triangular form without further comment. In my Organization Man trail, I haven’t yet gotten to the part in his book where he talks about the “Non-well rounded man,” but I will. Note that Whyte doesn’t talk about the lowest level much because he isn’t interested enough in the Losers to explore their lives in detail (he is actually most interested in the after-work life of the organization man). It is a pity this version of the hierarchy looks so impoverished, because Whyte has some of the deepest, richest things to say about all this.
Hammerstein-Equord Hierarchy (1933)
This one was new to me, but I was delighted to find it, thanks to @amitseshan. Here is the relevant quote from General Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord, from the German military, 1933:
I divide my officers into four classes; the clever, the lazy, the industrious, and the stupid. Most often two of these qualities come together. The officers who are clever and industrious are fitted for the highest staff appointments. Those who are stupid and lazy make up around 90% of every army in the world, and they can be used for routine work. The man who is clever and lazy however is for the very highest command; he has the temperament and nerves to deal with all situations. But whoever is stupid and industrious is a menace and must be removed immediately!
So let’s put him on the family tree as well. I have been wary about applying these ideas to the military because you don’t want to mess with even ironic-offensive pigeonholing of the people protecting the democracy we are having fun in. But if the military themselves arrive at the idea through introspection, who am I to object? (besides this quote, there are moments in Band of Brothers, Men Who Stare At Goats and of course, Catch 22, that really get at the military version of all this). The good general though, apparently hadn’t heard of 2×2 diagrams, so his language is a little confused. He actually has 2 axes and 4 quadrants, each defined by a pair.
Veblen Hierarchy (1899)
Now we get to what is probably the granddaddy of this line of thinking. I bought Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class several years ago, but for some reason (now I know: the anxiety of influence), didn’t get beyond Chapter 2 even though I was deeply attracted to the ideas. After I wrote GP I and GP II, the selfsame @amitseshan (he’s been among the people prodding me the hardest to continue this series) urged me to finish the damn book. I did and was blown away. Expect a review soon. This version of the hierarchy is a pretty good summary of Veblen’s (very densely-argued) book:
Veblen not only gets that the Sociopaths are in many ways very similar to the checked-out Losers (“lower delinquent class” in his vocabulary) he actually explores the dynamics of exodus (beyond checking out: dropping out) that I haven’t included in my model yet. The problem with dealing with the phenomenology of exit/exodus is that it takes you into full-blown social psychology and sociology within society at large, and I won’t have time to take that on anytime soon. Maybe when I retire.
Of all the precursors of the MacLeod hierarchy, Veblen’s is the most complete. He even anticipates evolutionary psychology arguments that can plausibly explain this outcome (he has a fairly robust social-Darwinist model that outlines a decent speculative theory of how the modern leisure class evolved out of “higher barbarian” and “barbarian” classes in earlier societies).
Shakespeare “Julius Caesar” Hierarchy (1623)
You should expect that Shakespeare had something to say about all this. He did:
Let me have men about me that are fat;
Sleek-headed men and such as sleep o’ nights:
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look;
He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.
Would he were fatter! But I fear him not:
Yet if my name were liable to fear,
I do not know the man I should avoid
So soon as that spare Cassius. He reads much;
He is a great observer and he looks
Quite through the deeds of men: he loves no plays,
As thou dost, Antony; he hears no music;
Seldom he smiles, and smiles in such a sort
As if he mock’d himself and scorn’d his spirit
That could be moved to smile at any thing.
Such men as he be never at heart’s ease
Whiles they behold a greater than themselves,
And therefore are they very dangerous.
Julius Caesar, Act 1, Scene 2
No comments necessary. The diagram:
Which brings us to the most basic version of the hierarchy of all: the Darwinist one.
Red Queen Hierarchy (2006/20,000 BC, depending on how you measure the age)
The Red Queen is yet another @amitseshan recommendation, this being one that I hadn’t heard of. I may or may not review this (it would be flame-bait due to its treatment of sexual selection, which I find unproblematic, but will likely make many readers go postal). Though I didn’t get a whole lot out of the book that I hadn’t already gotten out of The Selfish Gene, one theme that made a major impression on me revolves around the huge impact parasites have had in human evolutionary history. We tend to think of evolution primarily in predator-prey terms, but it turns out that parasitism might have been an evolutionary force equal to, or greater than, predation. This version of the triangle is the one I trust the least, since a lot of the arguments are very technical-biological ones, but here goes nothing:
I won’t attempt to seriously argue that this hierarchy is basically correct, because of the biological details, but three points to note are:
- Unlike the Social-Darwinist versions of the hierarchy, the genetic-Darwinist analogue does not permit movement among layers (for obvious reasons)
- Predators are sudden and great threats to prey, but parasites are low-level weakening agents that only kill you if their activity goes above a threshold.
- A potentially hazardous analogy: parasites weaken prey enough for predators to prey on. The clueless make the management of the losers easier for the sociopaths.
Other Potential Versions
There are other family tree candidates that I have not verified. Greek mythology (especially the idea of Titans battling the Olympians, and the stories of Icarus and Prometheus) seems to contain several of these themes, but I am not yet ready to venture a mapping. Indian mythology (which I am more familiar with), also maps, but again, not with the clarity I would like. If you can think of any other potential candidates, do post a comment. Curiously, The Lord of the Rings seems to map as well.
And to conclude, a connection that surprised me: an earlier version of the triangle in the backyard of my own thinking.
The Tempo Drummers and Dancers Hierarchy (2007)
My book-in-progress, about decision-making, Tempo, was initially meant to be a comprehensive treatment of all kinds of decision-making. That turned out to be too much to put into one book, so early on, I partitioned my material into individual and collective decision-making buckets, with the idea that I would put the collective stuff into a sequel. Keeping with the theme of “tempo,” I labeled my folder of notes for the sequel Drummers and Dancers. That has turned into a sort of working title. I know, what am I thinking, right? I haven’t even shipped the first book and I am already planning the sequel. Oh well.
Drummers and Dancers was a right-brained working-title choice, and I hadn’t thought deeply about the significance of the phrase. It only struck me about a month ago, reviewing my material, that the organizing theme of Drummers and Dancers is basically another variant of the MacLeod hierarchy.
I hope the symbolism is obvious. If not, wait for the book. After I finish Tempo, and if I have the energy to work on the sequel, that will be the book version of this series. I may keep Drummers and Dancers as the title. Sign up for the Tempo mailing list if you haven’t already.