Tuesday, February 22, 2011


The fiasco that is taking place in Madison, Wisconsin, and to lesser extent in Ohio and other state capitols has prompted me to consider how organizations sometimes respond to adversity. Although I did take a cognate (minor) in Social Psychology in graduate school, I am not a social psychologist. My observations are rather general and based somewhat on anecdotal evidence. They also represent a somewhat visceral gut reaction to the goings-on that I have witnessed via the unreliable mass media. Those of us who are Libertarians favor small constitutional government, but are often characterized as preferring anarchy to civil order. What we see in the various national capitols throughout the world and here in the state capitols are “big government” apologists behaving as if they were French Revolutionary  anarchists.  The world is turned upside down, and contradictions reign supreme.

When groups and the people who represent them are confronted with issues that may undermine their hold on the realm of their influence, they may react with a strategy called “diffusion.” Diffusion is the tactic that seeks to spread the blame across a wide horizon so that the complaints and demands of the “aggrieved” group seem small when compared to all intervening variables that have contributed to the imbalance. If we use educators as an example for this discussion, we might hear that state funding, local funding, lazy students, uninvolved administrators and parents, and community indifference are reasons for their failures to perform. The argument continues with their demands for higher pay and greater benefits because all of the factors that impede their abilities to achieve are not their fault, and hence, the teachers should not be held accountable. Inadequate results spring from the multitude of intervening elements that conspire to limit classroom efficacy. For many decades the diffusion ruse has been successful as locales, states and national entities have responded with increases and benefits. But to many who hold the keys to the treasury, the diffusion argument has begun to lose steam. Despite the massive infusion of money and commitment, performance has diminished or stagnated.

Although similar to “diffusion,” “deflection” is more pointed, more targeted. The group that uses deflection as a blame-shifting tool usually identifies one or two specific “bogeymen” whom they accuse of being the cause of their non-performance. In the example cited above, the focus of deflection could be “the taxpayers,” the school board or the legislature. Rather than identifying multiple interveners, the deflection strategy isolates one or two as the nemeses of adequate job performance. Deflection is a direct and forceful attempt to shift blame and/or demonize an entity that may be unwilling to yield to the demands of the complainer. This tactic is similar to the one used by siblings who ride in the back seat of the family car…”she did it first” followed by “he made me do it.” It’s past time for taxpaying citizens to quote the driving father. “Do you want me to come back there?” Citizens are becoming frustrated with a government structure that is too big, too unresponsive, to manipulative and unconstitutional. The deflection maneuvers annoy the citizens who are aware, and they respond with anger.

Detraction” is the most strident and dishonest of the defense mechanisms. Rather than attempting to diffuse or deflect blame for inadequate performance, the group seeks to undermine the credibility and reputations of its detractors. Detraction is not defensive, but is a wholly offensive approach. The campaign of detraction could result in the “truth” becoming a casualty because there are no limits, no rules. The gloves come off as the aggrieved party attacks its critics, and accuses them of numerous nefarious schemes and actions. They assume the persona of a cornered rat as they lash out at anyone who challenges them or their positions. If the challenger can hold fast and not back down, the detraction strategy is the forerunner of collapse. It is the weakest argument available, but it is delivered viciously. By withstanding the assault the challenger can prevail as the defender runs out of energy and arguments.
Three-D’s, diffusion, deflection and detraction will become more prevalent as the battle to restrain our bloated government becomes more heated. We must not waiver. We can never yield. There is too much at risk, and we must stand firm.


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