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Please explain large organizations to me, or possibly explain people - Input Junkie
January 4th, 2011
01:29 pm

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Please explain large organizations to me, or possibly explain people
How hard is it to understand that it's wrong in any number of ways to piss off a largish proportion of your subordinates for the fun of it?

I know workplace bullying happens. I'm not sure what it would take in the way of training to convey the idea that it's bad to people who feel a strong compulsion to bully or policies and organizational culture to choose people who aren't inclined that way.

I realize there are specific policies about not being nasty about race, gender, and orientation, but does the Navy have a general "don't be an asshole" principle?

A small mystery to me: somehow, the potentially worst-behaved tenth of a percent of people in a culture usually is restrained, and I think one of the distinguishing features of cultures is how good they are at doing it. I have no idea how it works. Punishment matters, but not that much-- punishment isn't that reliable. I suspect there's a large element of hypnosis: "People like us don't even think of doing things like that."

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From:richardthinks
Date:January 4th, 2011 07:02 pm (UTC)
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I can't really shed any light on this, but I can say that mocking performances that play on sexuality have been a shipboard tradition for a long time, and deplored by shore-based commanders for very nearly as long. The commander here is working in a very different social environment from the reporters, and I expect that at least part of his crew receives his actions very differently from simple bullying. I suspect, but cannot support the suspicion, that the whole thing serves some important function aboard... which is also likely to involve coercive discipline and power.

Which is not to say that the whole thing isn't terrible. Obviously the command structure of the Navy (and of many other maritime organisations) makes consent difficult to track, and equally obviously the whole thing just shouldn't happen. But it keeps happening.
And no, my thesis doesn't explain why.

Alas, historical work on the topic has had very little evidence to work with and there tends to be a clear split between maritime historians, who say "we see very little sign of it, and anyway it was rigourously punished when found" and gender theory which tends to produce manifestos rather than what I'd call scholarship. Steven Zeeland's books are unusual for offering fewer foregone conclusions than most, but wind up being more like kiss-and-tell memoirs than the ethnographies they purport to be.
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From:richardthinks
Date:January 4th, 2011 08:48 pm (UTC)
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Sorry, just realised that the missing phrase in the above - what I mean by "it" - is "inappropriate" sexual behaviour of all kinds.
From:henrytroup
Date:January 4th, 2011 07:25 pm (UTC)
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I think it's the lack of other proper rewards. If doing a good/ok job is not recognized, then the self-generated reward of messing people around may be all that a certain kind of person gets out of their job.
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From:madfilkentist
Date:January 4th, 2011 08:19 pm (UTC)
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Doesn't getting promoted to captain of an aircraft carrier count as a reward and recognition?
From:henrytroup
Date:January 5th, 2011 05:50 pm (UTC)
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yeah, I hadn't checked his history before I commented. I have no idea why he would have done that stuff.
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From:malkingrey
Date:January 4th, 2011 08:20 pm (UTC)
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The whole affair has a distinctly odd flavor to it, from where I'm standing. The existence of the videos is not in itself surprising, at least not to me (sailors use foul language! sailors who've been at sea for a long time think and talk about sex a whole lot! I am shocked, shocked to discover that gambling has been going on in this establishment!) What surprises me is the time-lag between the date of the videos and now, the lack so far of a source or original complaint, the paucity so far of corroborative complaints by former enlisted personnel, and -- most tellingly -- the puzzling absence from the story of the CO at the time, who by virtue of his position is responsible whether he knew of the videos' existence or not. (And I find it hard to believe that "not" is even a possibility. The officers' wardroom, even on an aircraft carrier, is not so large a group of people that its members don't know all about each other's comings and goings.)

This has all the earmarks of a move from above to take somebody down -- either the then-XO or, ultimately, the then-CO -- for some other reason, either from personal spite or because of something so dangerous or so embarrassing that raunchy videos on the internet make an acceptable smokescreen. And if it's the then-CO they're going after, then either the spite is so great or the thing being smokescreened is so big that it's worth trashing not just one but two careers in order to accomplish it.

Very strange, all 'round.
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From:heron61
Date:January 4th, 2011 08:45 pm (UTC)
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A small mystery to me: somehow, the potentially worst-behaved tenth of a percent of people in a culture usually is restrained, and I think one of the distinguishing features of cultures is how good they are at doing it. I have no idea how it works. Punishment matters, but not that much-- punishment isn't that reliable. I suspect there's a large element of hypnosis: "People like us don't even think of doing things like that."

Something like 2-5% of the population (at least in the US) are fairly monstrous people - sociopaths, the people who commit the vast majority of all rapes... I think in large part effective social order is a combination of protecting most people from such people enough that feuds and frontier justice are avoided and providing sufficient oversight to catch the nasty folks before they cause to much harm.
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From:richardthinks
Date:January 5th, 2011 10:49 am (UTC)
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you prompted a little essay from me, which I won't clog your comments with. It's over on my lj.
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From:orawnzva
Date:January 5th, 2011 02:50 pm (UTC)
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Having only a little to do with your questions — it's the USS Enterprise! There's got to be a song there, but I'm not going to write it...
From:(Anonymous)
Date:January 9th, 2011 09:06 pm (UTC)
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When you use the phrase "a largish proportion" it sounds to me like you expect demographic groups, like women or gays, to be offended, but I don't think that's a good prediction in the navy. ("People like us don't get offended by stuff like that.")

I don't see evidence that he pissed off "a largish proportion" of his subordinates. I also find the choice of the word "bullying" odd: I think of bullying as singling out people. If he ordered people to appear in the videos, that would be bullying. And maybe when he mentioned the people who complained. That action is not a good strategy for counting dissent, so maybe there was a lot that he didn't know about. I just don't see any reason to believe that there was much.

I'm not sure exactly what you mean by "a largish proportion," but I think it is an overestimate. I also think you underestimate the benefits of this behavior. It certainly made him popular with his subordinates, though it's not clear to me that it increased morale in a useful way. I really doubt he did this just for his personal fun, though becoming popular in a non-useful way might be well-described as "for the fun of it."
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From:nancylebov
Date:January 10th, 2011 12:55 am (UTC)
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The clips from his videos that were played on NPR talked about his videos being offensive (presumably to some women and gays, and to anyone who didn't want them to be insulted). It's true that I don't know what the proportion of people likely to be offended would have been on the ship, and it's hard to tell in general. There's certainly enough people who jump to conclusions about how offensive various things are or aren't.

I've been told that being Jewish isn't enough to give me standing to tell whether some rather subtle anti-Semitism counts as offensive.

"Bullying" might have been excessively strong language, though I'm curious about what you'd call harassing a group of people who aren't in a good position to push back.

It's ok if you post anonymously, but I'd appreciate if you'd use a handle. I prefer being able to tell one anonymous person from another.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:January 10th, 2011 03:26 am (UTC)

as above

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I haven't listened to the clips, so maybe I'm missing something important.

There is an important distinction between offensive to a particular person and banned-in-the-name-of-being-likely-to-offend-someone. He may well have meant the second meaning without thinking it would actually offend his crew; indeed, probably much of the appeal of the videos was that he was breaking the rules. Similarly, a Jew is probably better than a gentile at predicting whether other Jews will be offended by a particular statement, but it is risky to give an individual the power to interpret the rules of what is acceptable. For social rules to be practical, they have to be interpretable by everyone and they end up having lots of false positive and negatives as used as predictions of what actually bothers people.

If the goal were for the men to watch the women squirm, I would call that bullying. Men may be equally uncomfortable at the treatment of women, but if it's not clear which men, I wouldn't call it bullying. Similarly, if the women were predictably uncomfortable, but that wasn't the point, I wouldn't call it bullying. Maybe it's my usage that is weird.

Anyhow, as richardthinks said, there is a lot of bullying in the military. I find it hard to believe that this is disruptive when the rest of the system works. Maybe bullying the same group every week will piss them off, but even that I doubt, as long as other harassment has diversity.
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