"The greatness and the genuine trait of your thought and writings lie on the fact that you positively and interestingly make use of philosophical thoughts and thoughtfulness in order to deeply and concretely cogitate about America's social issues. . . . This does not mean that your thought is reducible to your era: your thought, being inspired by issues characterizing your era . . . , overcomes your era and will still likely be up to date even after your era, for future generations." Bruno Valentin

Friday, April 11, 2014

New Birds of Prey in Modern Retail

In a dysfunctional organization, the shared pathology fortifies its defense mechanisms with an obstinacy that appears rock-solid. Lines such as, “Unfortunately, the product cannot be returned” can be seen as part of an egg shell that seems to be durable until it is cracked open. By analogy, cracking the egg entails parsing such lines as are typically dished out to outsiders. Let’s take a look.

First, the word cannot is incorrectly used in the sentence, for a store’s return policy is not a law; whereas a business is subject to a law, no such requirement pertains to a company’s own policies. To treat the latter as tantamount to laws is essentially to vaunt the self-importance of the company, store, and even the employee enunciating the policy-law. “Your policies are not laws; of course you can make an exception, even if your supervisor is the person who can do it.” The word cannot serves the organizational dysfunction by giving the impression externally that the company is more than it is (i.e., a state of sorts with its own laws). At the employee level, the devise is essentially a power-grab—a distended or exaggerated urge to control others being a typical symptom of insecurity borne of underlying weakness.

Substituting may not for cannot gives the customer at least an implied opening that from the standpoint of the organizational pathology could prompt him or her to push through the defense mechanisms and trounce the core weakness. Were an “upper” manager to even consider such a linguistic change, an underling would likely contend that every customer would be returning items. The fallacy in this reasoning goes by the wayside in the mechanizations of the organizational dysfunction. Indeed, ignoring or dismissing logical fallacies is itself one of the defense mechanisms!  This is arguing with such an employee or manager is apt to be an exercise in futility.

Notice the "exchanges accepted" instead of "accept exchanges." The passive voice extends to "are revised" and "are shipped," suggesting an underlying mentality of weakness. Also, the forcefulness of the "must" (as one might expect pertains to a law) is belied by the inherent subjectivity in "mint condition." Finally, the blood-red color, as well as the black background color, suggests a certain passive-aggressiveness in line with the use of "must" for what is actually a policy (rather than a law). (Image Source: omgmiamiswimsuits.com)

Second, the use of the passive mood also hints at the underlying weakness in the dysfunctional organization because the action is sidestepped. “We do not accept returned items” highlights the action (i.e., the refusing) of the company’s employees/managers whereas “cannot be returned” omits the actor entirely! The latter phraseology matches the insecurity that naturally manifests out of weakness. Besides implying that the power of the actor to act is in some way compromised or enervated, the passive voice hides the actor and thus protects him or her from being confronted. The actor’s underlying fear here is that a head-to-head clash would not end well for the actor, given his or her own and shared (i.e., organizational) pathology.

Third, just as the choice of the word cannot and the use of the passive voice both involve a manipulatory fabrication (i.e., lying with a hidden agenda), so too does the addition of the unnecessary adverb, unfortunately. For the stealth actor (i.e., the non-supervisory or managerial employee), the policy is hardly unfortunate; otherwise, the policy would not be “on the books.” Lest the adverb is intended to refer to the customer [rather, lest the policy’s formulator or the employee mouthing it is referring to the customers]—as though the fact that the customers would have to keep ill-suited products were unfortunate—the policy itself indicates just how much its formulator and implementers really sympathize, especially since the formulator can change the policy. In other words, the use of the word is a lie designed to give the customer the false impression that “the store” really cares and that unfortunately the policy cannot be changed (and by whom?).


Even the tactic itself in such a line is a lie in that the pathogens are utterly unwilling to tolerate the very same tactic directed back at them. A customer wanting more than a glimpse of the sickness need only reply, “Unfortunately any refusal to accept back the deformed item will have to be turned over to small claims court.” Even though the particular employee would have no involvement in such legal proceedings, and thus no rational reason to bristle at the customer’s stated policy/law, he or she would be too accustomed to dictating terms to customers to let that privilege lapse without at least a spike in anger and attempt to regain the upper hand. “You are free to do so,” an employee might retort, as though he or she were granting or allowing the freedom. In fact, the implication is rather arrogant, again as if the company were akin to a state rather than being a mere counter-party in a commercial exchange. 

The hidden agenda becomes apparent by realizing that the statement is duplicitous or redundant, as the customer obviously already knows that he or she has the liberty to sue. The employee knows this of course, either consciously or unconsciously, and is not really informing the customer that he or she can go to small-claims court. “I don’t need you to tell me I can do what I’ve already told you I know I am free to do,” an astute customer might retort in turn. 

The exchange of words is really a control battle stemming from an organizational pathology’s attempts to defend itself against potentially interlarding intruders. The threat is of course over-stated—hence the exaggerated intent to “nail down the hatches” to weather the perceived storm. Yet the “new birds of prey”—Nietzsche’s label for those among the weak who can’t resist their urge do dominate (even the strong)—are not content to merely defend, for they must have the upper hand in order to feel sufficiently protected.