Monday, July 30, 2007

Studied Intransigence

My last post on Flip-Flopping noted strategic mind-changing can destroy discourse.

Today, I thought I would point out the obvious that intransigence destroys discourse as well. This case is easier to make. When one party in a discussion fails to listen, no communication takes place.

It is really sad, but in far too many cases the person who is best at not listening to others ends up making the decisions. I've been in companies that have made some really bone-headed decisions because one of the prime decision makers failed to understand the ramifications of the different options.

Some people have successfully used studied intransigence to weasle their ways into positions of power. The person who fails to listen to others is often mistaking for a man of action.

There are some cases where methodological intransigence works. Parenting is a good example. Parents (or teachers for that matter) will put forward a resolute face while, in fact, they are listening to the child. J.J. Rousseau pretty much suggested that this was the best way to educate children. It works up to the point that the child figures out that you are two faced manipulators. Studied intransigence works up to the point where the child strats mimicking the parent's intransigence. From that point forth, you simply have dysfunction.

Studied intransigence is often used in hierarchical systems. The prince listens to the people while not appearing to listen to the people. Mormons seem to like to be treated this way. They clearly like to treat others this way. As I understand, the way the system of revelation works is that the prophet pretends to be receiving revelation while in fact the prophet is simply testing political waters. They then declare that the decision they come to is a dictate from God.

Studied intransigence seems to work in assymetrical power relations. It fails miserably in situations that require serious adult to adult communications.

It seems to me that both George Bush the first and George Bush the second use the method of studied intransigence. It is a primary reason why so many people find the two politicians annoying.

Just as the vice of flip-flopping is related to the virtue of open mindedness, the vice of intransigence is related to the virtue of being resolute in one's actions.

The ability to act with resolution is a virtue. After the making a decision, we need people who go for it and make the decision a reality. If we decide to build a bridge, we want it to span the whole river. A builder who is still waffling between making a suspension bridge or arch bridge while in the middle of construction will simply create an engineering catastrophe.

The ideal leader is a person who is open minded in the design phase of a process, but resolute in execution.

In many cases, the difference between a vice and virtue is the timing. The best leaders authentically listen during the design phase but concentrate on execute during production.

Since the quality of an action is determined by the timing, when judging the actions of a potential leader, we need to pay attention to the timing of their actions. When something occurs is almost as important as what occurred.

Unfortunately, when looking at life, it is very difficult to determine the current phase. For this reason, people benefit by having a structured design process. In politics, we have an election cycle. Other industries have developed other structured decision making processes. Having a structured designed cycle can help determine who is a good leader and who is trying to play the system.

Developing a good structured design cycle is itself an art. The design cycle has to be structured so that it gets input from all the stake holders of a project, but you can't just be forever in design. The design cycle also has to be evolutionary. Each step of the decision making procession is contigent on previous steps. For example, if the first cycle of the design process decided to make a suspension bridge, it would inapropriate to rehash all of the arguments for an arch bridge in a meeting where you are to decide the color of the bridge.

Needless to say, politicians have learned that they can manipulate the debate subliminally by manipulating the design structure. Manipulating the design process is one of the most underhanded tricks in any politician's bag of tricks.

Unfortunately, the partisan political process seems to favor those who are best at manipulating the debate. A partisan politician cares more about their side winning than the quality of the debate. The partisan process favors those who are intransigent in the design phase, but who waffle in execution.


Charles D said...

It helps when your structured design cycle bears a strong relationship to the production environment, doesn't it?

We also need to factor in a few other externals. Our political design cycle is funded by special interests, primarily corporations and wealthy individuals in law, entertainment and business. In order for a politician to participate in the design cycle, he/she must agree to serve the interests of those groups. This biases the outcome.

Since the media is controlled by the same interests, they also rig the design process. The candidates who accept the large sums of cash are "serious" candidates, and those who represent the values and concerns of the vast majority of Americans are "fringe" candidates who deserve little or no air time.

Instead of making the final design choice of the two parties a national decision, it is managed on a piecemeal basis so that it further favors the well-funded politicians.

Of course, in both parties it is necessary to appear to support a wider range of interests than those represented by your funders. For Republicans, that is done by taking conservative positions on hot-button social issues and cozying up to right-wing religious leaders. For the Dems, it is done by courting minority leaders and unions. In both cases, the politicians once elected do little or nothing that truly helps these groups.

Bad design = bad outcome.

y-intercept said...

BTW, I used the terms production and design simply because they are common in programming. The design process needs to include measured input from the stakholders of the production system. The production system needs to have gaps in it for redesign. The design system itself is often transcendent from the production system.

The problem in big systems is that the different stake holders feel that they are not properly heard, and try to resort to manipulating the system.

You always have to be honing the design system to try and overcome imbalance, otherwise the system goes out of whack.

It is really hard to make a fair system where people get heard.

Charles D said...

Seems like we're missing a test cycle here. To re-frame my thesis, I would submit that the real stakeholders (the American people) are intentionally sidelined during the design phase. The primaries are dominated by special interest money and mainstream media (which is chasing the same money and has a major stake in increasing campaign spending). The people get cut out.

In this case, it is not rocket science to create a fairer system. You simply have to remove all private money from politics and replace it with public funding, restore the Fairness Doctrine for broadcasters so that they are less likely to slant the news toward a specific party or candidate, and insure that all candidates have free time on TV and radio to explain their positions and debate their rivals.

Of course, there's absolutely no way that will pass because the officials who would have to create the legislation are the beneficiaries of the broken system.