The Sermonette of the week is still to come and I don’t know if this one (tomorrow) is as good as it could be. Maybe if I had more time to devote to the blog? I have been reflecting on the metagame, as I’ll refer to it and will share it below. It’s not quite a sermonette, and more of just idle musing over what have been a few careers that I’ve had…and I have had a few. Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, and so forth have all involved metagamers at one level or another. To the organizational me, they’ve been the enemy – the ghost in the machine that causes it to break. Sometimes the task-oriented me didn’t take the time to step back and look at the larger picture. You can call me myopic and you’d be right. I excuse myself because I was young and it takes living to put the pieces together.
It’s the cause and effect of the Peter Principle, put in other words, with a different spin. It’s the Dilbert cartoon in action.
Thoughts on the Metagame (Opinion)
The worker who kisses ass is seen as management material not because they give their all to the company, but because they spend that effort they would otherwise give to the company on looking as if they give it all to the company. They spend that time on all of the little social games instead of producing, and because the effort spent on the metagame is focused entirely on the appearance of virtue, it overshadows those who are actually performing the primary task, it overshadows actual virtue.
This is how human hierarchal structures end up working. This is why the people in authority are generally not focused on whatever the purpose of the organization has, but are focused on achieving positions of authority. This is why we have career politicians, why administrators end up pulling in ten times the salary of a skilled worker under their purview, and why performing well in an exam or test is not actually the same as being good at the thing that the exam is supposed to be testing. The metagame outweighs the game.
In the same way that metagamers hack organizational structures and procedures to promote themselves without needing to be good at the primary task of the organization, there are people who do it to society. You read about it on blogs such as this one and you see it on the news. Sociopaths, of a kind, give out all the right signals to get people to do things for them without actually having what you’d think of as having a conscience. People who are nothing more than self-propelled masks, terribly adroit at playing the game without empathy, or genuine connections.
Every person who reads this has seen it and can put a. (different) face to it.
Bull shiting often pays really well.
Yes indeed, it does. Look at the talking heads on TV. Most of them are making a million a year or more – some vastly more. And their managers who are almost all weasels, are making a lot more than that.
Yeah, and for what? Merely talking about what others are doing. Some of them have value, but I have come to the point where placing too high a value on blathering on is counter productive to a happy and fulfilling life. I have recently limited my media intake to a much lower level. Besides, in ten minutes with the right sources one can gain the necessary highlights.
Your blog today enticed me to last year’s Taco Tues blog, I’m a sucker for tacos. (https://www.virtualmirage.org/taco-tuesday-3/).
I wonder how your daughters move to Arizona and her husband’s planned long commute worked out? I’m just curious…
Take care and keep your powder dry…
I had a daughter (daughter #3) living in Prescott, AZ who moved back to California with her husband, who is in the car business.
Daughter #1 is a school teacher at a Christian school, married to a police officer and I think that’s who you’re referring to. They ended up deciding to stay where they were for now. Admittedly, they live in Temecula, a very conservative enclave of California. They also looked at moving to Idaho and commuting (by air) from there, which would have been a nightmare. He’s going to ride it out for another decade or so unless things get a lot worse. He has a MASSIVE – TRUMP 2024 – banner across the front of his house. Some other neighbors of his do too. I’d think that if somebody like Camela or Ilhan Omar becomes the next president, he’d move to Arizona. They have kids in school and those sorts of community roots.
Law enforcement in Arizona is paid much less than they make in California and it really shows up in retirement. The same is true of Idaho. Many years ago, I was offered the directorship of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI). At the time, I was in a lower law enforcement rank than the one I retired at and even with the perqs that came with the job, it was about 1/2 of what I was making. I had connections, I had a SPECOPS background and that’s the route that the offer came to me. This is not me bragging, it’s an explanation of why it would be inadvisable for him to leave before his retirement kicked in at age 50.
10 years of 15%/year cost of living growth means on the day of retirement he’s going to get 25% of the purchasing power he would get today. 20 years of 15%/year cost of living growth means 10 years after retirement he’s going to get 6.1% of the purchasing power he would get today. This is assuming government will be unchanged enough to make these payments, or even to continue to employ them for another 10 years. It is not possible today to plan for retirement.
If things get a lot worse, it will be a lot harder to move out of California, or do anything else. Therefore, why not abandon this false hope of a retirement, move now, and switch to work which people will hire without having the IRS pointed at them?
EL, do your kids actually LISTEN to you? I have a great relationship with my children, and I spend quite a bit of time with them all things considered. They tell me, “Dad, you’re so smart.” But do they listen? No.
On the other hand, my grandma wanted me to be a piano player or something safe and ‘gentle’ and I went another way. I hated piano lessons.
Knew a gal who got a promotion every time she got a divorce and remarried someone higher on the food chain. Worked her way up to team manager doing that, but no management skills. The team she was put in charge of all quit and left the company. Suddenly she didn’t look like management material anymore.
Catching on later in life – something my dad said frequently: we grow too soon old, and too late smart. Nowadays I’d be tempted to substitute wise for smart.
Camela Harris parlayed it to the Vice Presidency of the United States. This explains that it’s not who you know, it’s who you blow. She’s totally incompetent (so is Pedo Joe) but she is a heartbeat away from the Presidency, leader of the free world, commander-in-chief, etc.
I think it has been a consensus with every tech-oriented person I’ve ever known that the last person you want as your manager is the one that wants to be the manager. Without exception, the best guys to work for have always been the ones that took the position reluctantly or just to help out “for now” and then got stuck in it.
The worst of the worst – the worst of the managers who wanted to be managers – were frequently, though not always, the diversity hires.
Relatives of the boss are also insufferable leaders.
Both of you are absolutely correct on all the points raised. Diversity hires are always a bad thing. Then add to that nepotism and it’s really bad.
Let me add that another horrible situation is having to manage persons who kiss up outside the chain of command, so that your problem children are the favorites of YOUR boss.
One thing that you can do is to make yourself indispensable through excellence. It doesn’t mean that you will be officially recognized, promoted, or receive a bonus outside of a collection of jams and jellies at Christmas. But you’ll be indispensable.
You’d think so.
This has always been so. Any suggestions on remedies? I have heard of lower level employees reviewing / grading their supervisors (for instance, through an outside consulting company such that the reviews are anonymous etc) though have never actually seen it.
I’ve seen those sorts of employee reviews, and a lot of them are brutally honest. I don’t know what upper management does with them. A lot of upper management mistrusts line managers who are too popular with the troops. There are peer reviews in some areas of the US Military and I’ve been peer-reviewed in situations.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen the same sort of people that I took a shot at in this piece move up despite honestly brutal peer reviews and being dopes. As I type, I’m ticking them off and the number is legion.
The Peter Principle (if you haven’t read it) and Dilbert reinforce that it is pervasive in MANY, but not necessarily all business and government cultures. The bigger they are and the more Theory X they are, the more it is the case.
I had an employee that we will call Ken (because that’s his name) who was the consummate kiss/suck ass. He was a kiss ass before he worked for me and while he worked for me he offered to let me have sexual congress with his pretty wife. I declined. The point is that he fits the model perfectly. Ken was promoted and given a particularly sensitive job wherein he worked closely with the FBI. The FBI suggested that he be given the assignment because he was flexible to their wishes and for all I know, maybe they were taking turns with his old lady.
At the time, I was vice president of a prestigious international association. My boss (who fit in the metagame scenario) came to me and suggested that I should resign from the post and suggest that they insert Ken. I’m sure that my boss was boning Ken’s wife at the time. I said, “here’s a number, call them and make your demands.” They laughed at my boss and I kept the post. Anyway, I predicted that Ken might last two or three months in the assignment before it was TOTALLY F-ed up. I am a prophet (without honor) and at about the 2.5-month mark, things were failing badly. At that point, they came to me and asked if I’d fix the mess. I asked for total autonomy and it was given, and I went through the outfit like Musk at Twitter and it became a significant success. (patting myself on the back) The point that SiG made and others made is that you can’t have ass-kissing imbeciles making key decisions or things go to hell. Take a look at the Brandon Administration – the poster child. Camela might give a decent blow job but that’s about all that she can do. Maybe she barks like a dog or something extra?
When you said “like Musk at Twitter” I was reminded of an earlier version – “like beans through a gringo”, but the Musk story is fresh in everyone’s minds.
Like shit through a goose…(Paton)
I’ve seen it, Jeff. In that case, upper management ignored the proles assessment of their pet poodle. A somewhat vindictive poodle, as it turned out. Oh well.
I dealt with a pet poodle with a jealous wife by sending the 9-month pregnant 23-year-old blonde bombshell wife of a friend to his house when his wife was home but he was not, asking for financial help with the medical bills associated with his baby. The lady provided completely plausible details of when and where the impregnation took place.
Said poodle was spending so much time dealing with the vindictive wife that he left the people at work alone. The poodle had also ACTUALLY knocked up a woman at work, about 5 months along at the time. When the first incident calmed down, the second one – far more on point, reared its ugly head.
I have a lot of experience dealing with pet poodles. In some circles, the poodles feared me with an unreasoning dread.
If i get this right, the blond bombshell wasn’t actually pregnant with the poodle’s child, but you sent her there with enough plausible details, false details, but details, and wound the wife up enough to take out the poodle and his interference at work. Correct?
Pardon my naivety, that’s genious. Evil genious.
I have no doubt you were feared.
The bombshell was married to a USGOV employee friend of mine. Both worked in the intelligence community and went along with the plan. She was pregnant with his child – as far as I knew.
Vindictive wife worked for ME, so I knew when she’d be off work. Vindictive wife (Latin heritage) was particularly jealous of petite, white blonde women. I had all that background and knew what the poodle’s schedule had been and all of the details necessary. The bombshell stressed to vindictive wife that all she wanted was help with the funds associated with the birth and said that she didn’t want child support. Vindictive wife swallowed the story whole – enraged – as I knew she would. Bombshell stressed that she didn’t need money NOW but would in the future. She never returned, but the damage was done, and of course, I knew that poodle knocked up a lady at work and that domino hadn’t fallen (yet) so he was walking on egg shells which vindictive wife took as an admission of guilt.
reading the semi/pre?-sermonette and the comments and answers makes me think you might consider offering a course/writing a book on the subject, sort of on the style of “Games People Play”
It would be a one-month course at least with practical examples of how things worked in the past. Graduates would leave the hallowed halls with the skills necessary to defend themselves in the business world. Role-playing would have to be part of the course.
I worked at tech companies in Canada during the 90’s and into the 2000’s. It amazed me at the number of Chinese immigrants that came to work at a company and would practically zoom up in management. All with Ph.D.’s. None could do any real work. Their Canadian doctorate was just a ticket for them for Canadian citizenship and access to the North American job market. But fuck they were good. Could be charming as hell, which as odd being Chinese.
In hindsight they were almost surely very well trained by the CCP on just this task. And their move up in management greased with well placed bribes and blackmail. All very obvious looking back now. But it bewildered young me at the time. I thought you had to work hard and pay your dues to get ahead.
All you need to know is (关系) guānxì – in all of its cultural depth with all of the nuances involved and you will understand how and why. I have taught classes on the subject and when I did it, I was in demand literally worldwide. The subject is too involved for a paragraph, here, but it will explain why many Chinese people do what they do in business settings in particular. It bewilders you because you are not Chinese. It is used by the CCP of course, but in this case, not necessarily.
关系 does not translate well into English or any Western language. It does have its parallel cultural underpinning in the Middle East where the term used is wasta or
واسِطة. Culturally there are a number of subtle nuances that are different in Chinese and Middle Eastern practices.
You now have two of the most powerful words in all of Asia: guānxì, and wasta. Go forth and learn. There are practical applications and there are cultural applications to both words (in both worlds) There are also a lot of people who are so-called experts who can’t find their own feet (was ass).
Warning: It is hard to understand the deep cultural nuances of what guanxi means without actually having spent significant time in China. When I mention that, I mean just that. It requires UNDERSTANDING, not a one-hour lecture or a class. Circa 2018, I made a living resolving hostage situations in China wherein workers had taken their western managers captive and were barricaded. Hines is one of the Western companies that I worked for before they were sold to a Brazilian firm. I’d get a first-class, non-stop flight to China, and I’d resolve the crisis. In truth, it was a cultural thing. I did a similar thing (non-hostage) with Pirelli Tires, etc. I was regarded as a genius but it wasn’t genius at all. A trained chimp could have done it if the chimp knew which buttons to push. I think that I mentioned one or two of them on this very blog in that timeframe. Usually, my blogging has nothing to do with my work.
Twenty years ago or so, I taught at the People’s Public Security University in Beijing. (Distinguished foreign visitor) and my area of expertise was money laundering IN CHINA and through Chinese ex-pat communities. I’ve also lectured at Interpol, Lyon, France on the subject and at various USGOV agencies. Even at that, I’m not an expert because the matter is deeply cultural and I’m not Chinese. You must love the culture and immerse yourself in it if you’re to be effective in this understanding. The same is true of Middle Eastern culture.
I always hated dealing with the guanxi  mindset. And honestly, my understanding of it is only superficial. Despite both of my parents coming from highly “respectable” families (scholar/imperial bureaucrat lineages, with the occasional serious regional warlord in the mix), neither parent had the personality type to properly exploit the guanxi system and didn’t deal well with it themselves.
A few weeks ago I had dinner with a friend who was born in China and now runs a tech company (that she founded). She said, “I really prefer to deal with Americans [by which she meant white people]. It’s much more straightforward and honest. I don’t have time for the politics and the back room dealings.”
 pronounced “gwan she” — goddamn pinyin transliteration system is an abomination. Examples:
X is the phoneme “sh”
Q is “ch”
C is “ts” (as in the tsk noise you make by placing the tip of your tongue behind your top front teeth while sucking air in)
SH and CH are used for phonemes that the normal English speaker can’t pronounce. (And some can’t even hear – ie process – those phonemes.) Why couldn’t they have used sh and ch in their customary roles, and assigned the “weird” phonemes to Q and X? Don’t know! Either massively bad planning or deliberate f*ckery.
I agree that it is difficult to deal with but an understanding of how things work in reality in China and Asia is essential if you’re going to be able to function there.
I had a spell with corporate work (Mercury Marine). #1 in all categories, came layoffs and I was laid off in favor of an older man who drank and whored with the big boys. Brutal cure, but I worked straight commission sale/sales management from then on. My management style was basic. Perform or git. Nobody needed to kiss my ass or even be more than civil. My crew once sold over 1,300 New Kias in 30 months. The dealer principal was nicknamed “Little Hitler”. He was all results-former professional bull rider.
I don’t think that you need to be Little Hitler to be an effective leader. Big Hitler’s leadership style left a lot to be desired, but perform or git has to be at the core of any business.
He earned the nickname because he was a total hard-ass. He had guts. Over a period of three years I spent somewhere North of $2,000,000. During that time we probably talked no more than two hours. “Do it right, do it legal, don’t cut corners” was his instruction. Only thing he wanted to know was, “Is it done? If not, why not”.
Later we undertook promoting ATK Re manufactured engines. We made the preliminary plan at a Hooters in Fullerton, CA and refined it on a flight back to Denver. He said, “Get it done”, and left me to do it. So rare to work for someone with that mindset.
There used to be a Hooters near Cal-State Fullerton but I think that location closed. The one in Newport Beach closed too.
That reminds me of the Message to Garcia by Elbert Hubbard.
The essay describes Rowan carrying a message from President William McKinley to “Gen. Calixto García, a leader of the Cuban insurgents somewhere in the mountain fastnesses of Cuba—no one knew where”. The essay contrasts Rowan’s self-driven effort against “the imbecility of the average man—the inability or unwillingness to concentrate on a thing and do it”.
It is very rare to find somebody who will do it right without unnecessary BS.
Elbert Hubbard! I know of him because of his role with the Roycrofters and the Arts and Crafts movement. (A philosophy/worldview with which I find increasing resonance as time goes by.) For those who find themselves in Buffalo, New York, I heartily recommend visiting the nearby hamlet of East Aurora. Have dinner at the Roycroft Inn, stay overnight if you can. Visit the Roycroft Store and admire the handmade products of multiple artists and artisans.
One of the many things I liked about this short homily is its humility.
In marked contradistinction to soulless and increasingly satanic rulers, who we love.
Larry, thanks for your investment in this blog. We are no longer turning the pages of a few newspapers and periodicals, but surfing a myriad of oceans. Your myopic character is a strength and appreciated. Even if it has to be used in difficult areas of the social engineering structure. Just moved from blue ( OR ) to red/ purple (TX) for family. We left a beautiful place, closed an awesome business to live near our adult children and grand kids. Starting another business here just like I did in the last manipu -cession (2008) means more hard work and some of your working smarter on the horizon. Your the first page I read before the roosters crow! Retirement for the path I’ve chosen will most likely won’t kick in till I’m called home.
GFW2, it’s amazing that Oregon has gone the way that it has when you look at the state as a whole and it’s beautiful with a lot of great people. The population centers are not so great anymore and I get reports from my sister and her family who live outside of Portland and then commute in to work. I appreciate the amount of work that it takes to start a NEW business in this environment and wish you luck. Texas has some liberal enclaves but most of the state retains its common sense roots.
The media is LOUD, but most people in America are pretty solid. The freaks and misfits want everyone to think that they’re mainstream but they never will be. They get attention and they infiltrate but my sense is that the pendulum is swinging the other way. We’ll see how this election next week shakes out.
I may end up in Midland for a few days for work later next week or possibly the week after to meet with people. Even though Midland is not a garden spot, I still enjoy it because it’s Texas.
A bit east of another not a garden spot named Odessa, which was once described as an armpit west of another armpit named Midland. I’ve spent some work-related time out that direction; not terribly interested in a repeat. Might still be some of the Air Force formerly known as Confederate left at Midland, and presume you’ll have a look-see.
2010 Midland, TX I made a sales call on an auto parts store. The owner, who also owned a store in the next town over, wanted to chat. He said he sold his business in CA and moved to Texas. Said he was able to buy his wife the home of her dreams and focus on his day to day business instead of the constant intrusion of government dictates; that in CA that consumed at least an hour of each day.