Yup, More Ethnography

Digging deeper into the yuppie culture and the influence of Church's three-ladder class system had me collate more than enough material for another hopefully-illuminating synthesis, so here goes; by the way, Church appears to be... quite the character, from how he's gotten banned from Quora, Wikipedia and Hacker News (that last being pretty remarkable, for how open-minded and level-headed they tend to be compared to most of, say, Reddit), and publicly admitted to siccing a private investigator on coworkers he held a grudge against. However, this doesn't detract from the quality and incisiveness of some of his writings (said class system proposal included), and I do like to separate the evaluation of ideas from the behaviour of their originators, whenever possible.

Much of the following is borrowed from Venkatesh Rao's formulation of The Gervais Principle in 2009, and Alex Danco's fusion of this principle with Church's three-ladder class system a few months back (which has in turn gotten a response from Church himself), into The Michael Scott Theory of Social Class. Rao's and Danco's original writings are - as with Croesus' article in the previous post - recommended reading; but I will attempt to summarize the broad development of these theses here, peppered by my own commentary.


The Gervais Principle (TGP)

Before there was TGP, as noted in its introduction by Rao, there was the Peter Principle (1969) and the Dilbert Principle (1995). Probably still the best known of the three, the Peter Principle observes that people in a hierarchy tend to be promoted to their "level of incompetence", which must be a tempting explanation for why large organizations appear dysfunctional (most every manager is stuck doing something they're bad at). The Dilbert Principle, on the other hand, posits that top executives aren't that dumb, and strive to promote the most incompetent employees to middle management instead, that being the place where they do the least harm (since much of it involves arranging mostly-useless busywork such as endless meetings, whereas the line workers actually produce, and the executives actually set high-level company strategy)

Rao, however, claims that both these principles are incorrect, drawing from numerous case studies of the celebrated The Office sitcom. His full TGP consists of several main components: the division of employees into three broad stereotypes, the Sociopaths, the Clueless, and the Losers; the MacLeod Life Cycle of an idealized firm, which describes the growth, stagnation and dissolution of companies in terms of these stereotypes; and what might be termed OfficeTalk, which describes five broad languages that characterize interactions between the three stereotypes. Rao's original dissertation supports the development of these theories with concrete examples taken from The Office, which shall be largely elided here.

It begins with the typical pyramidal structure of a company, of which I gather there is little dispute. Here, Rao places Sociopaths at the top of the hierarchy (corresponding to the C-suite and upper management; also not much argument here), the Clueless (low/middle management) below them, with the bulk of the pyramid (oft around 80% by headcount) comprising the Losers beneath the Clueless. Definitions follow:


Having established the three stereotypes, the MacLeod Life Cycle of a firm goes as such: a bunch of Sociopaths sets it up, and draws in enough useful Losers to do the actual work, while underpaying them as much as they can get away with. Note that the mark of a Loser is that he accepts his fate as told by the Sociopaths, for whatever reason - if he actively fights for his due, he might very well join the group at the top; if the Loser instead simply puts his nose to the grindstone and hopes to be recognized for his hard work by the Sociopaths one day... well, it could happen, but what's a heck a lot more likely is that they'll be known as Big Fat Suckers - the Losers who're dumb enough not to at least coast along with the rest.

Continuing, as the firm grows, an interverning layer is required between Sociopaths and Losers, and this is the Clueless middle managers; the functional threshold between Clueless and Losers is stated to begin at the point where the reward-to-effort ratio suddenly hits sharply-diminishing returns, such as with a fast food joint assistant manager who, for a nominal 20% raise over his take as a burger-flipper, is now responsible for coddling half a dozen disinterested teenagers, mopping the place after work, making sure it stays up to code etc. - possibly earning less per hour than before his promotion. Naturally, this level is where the most earnest Suckers get strung along, to act as an unwitting warning to the clear-eyed Losers nominally under him: this is a crap deal, don't strive to be a Sucker.

In this way, the Clueless layer acts as insulation between the Losers and the Sociopaths, with the dividing line between Clueless and Sociopath being about where a promotion actually results in more pay for an easier life; true, maybe being CEO is challenging in that one can fail and collapse the firm... but there's almost always a golden parachute even if the worst happens. According to the MacLeod Life Cycle, the growth of this Clueless layer tends to outpace that of the Sociopaths and Losers as a firm stagnates, until the zombified structure crumbles under its own weight, and another set of Sociopath corporate vultures swoops in to cannibalize the scraps.

Which brings us to OfficeTalk, which is a discourse framework on how these stereotypes communicate within the firm (for the nitty-gritty details, please refer to Rao's magnum opus):


Languages spoken in organizations, according to TGP
(Original source: ribbonfarm.com)
[N.B. The least I could do was to clean it up in Powerpoint]



The remaining two speech types are exclusive in requiring the participation of the Clueless set:


The Three-Class Overlay

Interested readers can self-study TGP more deeply through Rao's writings, but it's time to move on to Danco's Michael Scott Theory of Social Class here. Danco's key insight is that the three TGP stereotypes of Sociopath, Clueless and Loser map pretty neatly to the three classes in Michael Church's ladder theory: with the Elite being Sociopaths, the Gentry being Clueless, and Labour being Losers. A little thinking finds this applicable to many other contexts (e.g. in the military, Officers/Sociopaths, Specialists/Clueless and Enlisted/Losers), but we will keep to social class for now.

The central statement of the Michael Scott Theory is that the higher you ascend the ladder of the Educated Gentry class, the more you become Michael Scott - yes, the guy who goes around quipping, "That's what she said!". Notably, Danco also recognizes the accuracy of Bobos In Paradise in splicing the classes atop the stereotypes. The defining attribute of the Gentry/Clueless class in this unified theory is then their wholesale departure from reality. Recall, Church in his three-ladder theory assigned virtues and vices to each broad class, and recognized the similarity between Labour and Elite in that they both prized money and raw power (both of which, to be fair, are neutral in themselves). Not so the Gentry, who were after knowledge and cultural influence above all.

The trouble with the Gentry nowadays, however, is that the balance has gone out of kilter, with the "knowledge" part getting sacrificed. In Danco's own words: "Generally speaking, the farther you go up [the Gentry] ladder, the more detached from reality you get. Importantly, this isn't seen as a problem: it's actually a virtue, so long as you portray it correctly. Sixty years ago, this group sought refuge and status in the suburbs, explicitly detaching themselves from the reality of dirty, dangerous cities. Now, it's fashionable to move back downtown, detaching ourselves from the reality of gas-guzzling, chain restaurant normie suburbs. The farther you go into expensive, performative habits (Doing triathlons, eating farm-to-table) and coastal echo chambers ('I don't know a single person who voted for TRUMP'; 'We should ban cars'), the farther you progress up this ladder". Put another way, the mainstream American Gentry appears to have constructed an artificial reality - aided by the compliant corporate FAKE NEWS - and are determined to maximize their influence within its parameters.

This embarassing disingenuity of the modern yellow-bellied Gentry - who are the ones supposed to be truth-seekers, within the class system - is only starker when placed against select Elite and members of the Labour/Underclass. The True Elite (E1/E2) likely espouse Straight Talk/Powertalk, because they possess "f**k you power" of the sort that can dismember nosy journalists at will*, or at least "f**k you money", that prevents them from having to proclaim views that they do not believe in, simply to keep making a living (note that this was the motivation behind tenure for academics & judges)

In keeping with Fussell's trenchant observations, many of the Labour class share the same predilection towards free speech as the Elite, but in their case it's more of "f**k you, I got no money anyway". Take your everyday construction worker† - he can (reasonably) state that he dislikes illegal immigration on social media, and if he gets cancelled by the woke Gentry mob and loses his gig, he can just march over to the next worksite to earn his bread. In contrast, your average professor is finished. Nobody's listening to his explanation on why he didn't kneel to the mob; his reputation with the only crowd that matters (professionally) is shot; his career may as well be over.

There really is no shortage of intellectual cowardice from present-day Gentry to harp on, and we may be examining a recurring example in the following blog posts...

Salient example of a member of the modern Gentry class bouncing heedlessly from one Herd Approved Worldview™ to another



[*This example reflects poor taste and a lack of class from the supposed perpetrators; the proper way would be for said journalist to silently vanish without any trace. Amateurs.]

[†The representative people to hear some real Straight Talk from, I gather, are the cabbies. It's almost as if taxi rides were invented for Straight Talk - the environment tends to be convivial, what with usually-passable seats and air-conditioning, and one doesn't face their interlocutor full on; any conversation is as private as can be expected nowadays, and the parties involved are basically anonymous and might never meet again, removing worries about long-term consequences; there's nothing much else to do (well, before smartphones); the cabbie is empowered by a sense of being in control (which he is, of the hunk of steel hurtling down the road); and he's indeed not unlikely to be of the requisite interchangable-labour class (really, are you really gonna take a cabbie's license away, for something he said that you don't agree with?); Singapore, New York, Nairobi, Hong Kong... it's the same everywhere.]