*Note from Sarah – Having located the cleaned up version which New Class Traitor sent me, I replaced the post*
Psychological displacement in management, politics, and the culture wars – New Class Traitor
All of us have a number of psychological mechanisms for coping with “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”. Some are adaptive (anticipation, humor, building social support networks, …) while others are maladaptive.
Displacement (a term originally coined by Sigmund Freud) is one such maladaptive strategy: the mind substitutes a “safer” goal, object, or target for one deemed to be unattainable or overly dangerous. Some classic examples of ‘displacement’ are a bully picking on a weak kid in response to being picked upon by a bigger bully, or the abusive mid-level employee who works out pent-up rage at bosses or customers on his underlings. Or, for that matter, the frustrated-at-work husband or wife doing so on their spouse.
Like all of us who have dealt with management (in my case, from both sides of the fence) I have on numerous occasions witnessed two ‘displacement’ mechanisms on the part of managers who were incompetent or out of their depth.
The two mechanisms are seemingly opposite but in fact closely related. Let me deal with the most common one first.
Faced with large and seemingly insurmountable problems, the outclassed manager starts hunting around for some umpteenth-order detail problem that (s)he deems to be manageable — then makes this the top priority, both to deflect attention from inertia on the first-order problems and to be able to “solve” something and declare victory, thus creating an illusion of competence and/or relevance.
One example known to me occurred at a large organization that shall remain unnamed. The previous CEO had been fired, and his successor inherited — together with a fundamentally sound fiscal situation — many problems such as toxic employee relations, administrative overload, and the appalling state of the organization’s IT management.
A competent manager — or even an astute amateur — would have tried addressing these problems first. Instead, the new CEO came out with a campaign to… address employee health by encouraging employees to bike to and from work, and providing loaner bikes on bike racks. Other initiatives were similar “polishing of the candlesticks while the house is on fire” — some of them might even have been good ideas if everything else were running smoothly. Needless to say, he did not last long in his job.
[See also “Ten habits of incompetent managers” http://www.fastcompany.com/919287/ten-habits-incompetent-managers ]
Interestingly enough, we see parallels of this ‘displacement’ behavior in the culture wars. One example is the preoccupation of various European and American anti-racist groups with the racism and judeophobia on the part of the old ethnic-collectivist extreme-“right” — while (at least publicly) largely ignoring the surging, much clearer, and more present danger from the (equally collectivist) hard-left and Islamists, whom they are unable or unwilling to confront.
Another is that of certain “transgressive” artists petting themselves on the back for images like a crucifix dipped in urine — while suddenly having second thoughts when the ox being gored is Islamic rather than Catholic, Protestant, LDS, or traditional Jewish.
Yet another is that of a POTUS who, faced with unprecedented national debt, a stagnant-at-best economy, and a foreign policy that is falling apart at the seams everywhere, instead pontificates on all sorts of trivial issues.
For yet another: in California, Proposition 8 would likely not have passed without the overwhelming support of the Latino and especially black communities — but the anger of pro-“gay marriage” activists was displaced from these ‘unsafe’ targets to a few LDS and evangelical individuals who had had the temerity to put their own money where their beliefs are.
One more example: various “social justice warrior” (more correctly: social justice Tartuffe) groups obsessing over all sorts of anti-female and anti-homosexual “microaggressions” while completely ignoring the hardcore misogyny and homophobia emanating from the Islamist sphere. Hmm, lemme see, who is the bigger ‘homophobe’: somebody who refuses to bake a wedding cake for Adam and Steve — or who actually makes custom wedding rings for Eva and Sylvia but dares display a poster asserting his personal belief in traditional marriage — or would that be those who hang “the people of Lot” from cranes (Iran), throw them from buildings (ISIS), or crush them under toppled walls (Taliban)? Or who is the bigger misogynist: somebody who disputes the tale of “mattress girl” or the gangs grooming adolescent girls as prostitutes, mass-raping women, or executing women for the crime of having been raped?
The more cynical among us would point out to the fact that the fate of “gays” in Iran does not lend itself well to collecting of cheap political points by self-serving radical-left hacks. However, I also believe that, for many other feminist or “gay” activists, there is the realization that radical Islamism is an opponent too big to handle — or where pushing back might bring them into ideologically uncomfortable ad hoc alliances with conservatives and libertarians — or even (gasp!) old-school Euro nationalists. So therefore the anger is displaced to “safe” targets.
So much for the first displacement mechanism. What about the second one? It takes the nominally opposite tack of diverting all attention to some superissue broadly seen as overarchingly important — about which one can then pontificate at will, thus freeing oneself from the need to actually try and address more mundane problems. For example, here in Israel (where I live part-time), the agenda of the day is understandably dominated by ‘ha-matzav’ (the [security] situation). Politicians of any stripe who want to raise their public profile — without the thankless hard work of writing and passing legislation that deals with mundane things like roads, crime, still pervasive oligopolies,… — can instead spew hot air about ‘the situation’/’the peace process’/… while quiet professionals get to do all the actual heavy lifting involved.
Abroad, “global warming” can act as a similar “get out of work free” card.
Some people engage in both forms of displacement at the same time. The former Mayor of New York was clearly very successful in creating and fostering the financial news agency that bears his name — but appeared to be out of his depth running a city with a population larger than Israel and a metropolitan statistical area population between Rumania and Australia. Rather than dealing with mundane yet serious issues like the bed bug epidemic, deteriorating personal safety post-Giuliani, or the woeful vulnerability of the city’s infrastructure to disasters both natural and man-made — hizzoner started on the one hand nannying the size of soda servings, and on the other hand pontificating about ‘global warming’. Neither of which was much help when Hurricane Sandy hit the city. The cold equations have no mercy on those who ignore reality.