17
Oct 19

Social Psychology and Criminal Justice

If the real world were to live up to our ideals, the judicial process would be a carefully designed and perfectly fair set of procedures aimed at achieving the objective, impartial decisions regarding violations of criminal and civil laws. In fact, the judicial system is neither as excellent as our ideals nor as terrible as our nightmares.

In newspapers, on radio and television, in other sources of information, we regularly encounter information about crimes and criminals. The criminal information is so widespread and so easily assimilated that people easily develop a distorted view of this aspect of our world. The media reminds us daily that crime is a serious problem that threatens any of us; the accessibility heuristic works easily when we make assumptions about the spread of crime and its dangers.

In fact, the record level of crime in the United States, including murder and theft, was recorded in the early 1980s, and since then it has been falling. According to Crime Rates, the total number of crimes fell from 41.2 million in 1981 to 34.4 million in 1991 (2019). FBI Statistics show that the number of offenses of the seven main types (including violent crimes) continued to fall in 1994, the third year in a row (FBI, 2011).

One of the explanations for this is that most violent crimes are committed by young men, and the surge generation (including criminals) has now reached middle age. The bad news and one of the reasons why we think crime is rising rather than decreasing are that the percentage of gun homicides committed by minors is skyrocketing. In fact, over the past decade, the number of teenage killers has tripled. Who are these armed young men? Ames Grawert indicates that boys aged 12 to 15 years in the 1990s had a 1 in 8 chance of becoming a victim of crime, while for people aged 65 years such chances only 1 in 179 (2017).

Thus, the facts concerning crime are extremely complex. In general, the percentage of violent crimes decreases, although the percentage of crimes among adolescents (especially against their peers) increases; but our perception usually simplifies the question by not considering the individual details. It is easier to accept readily available information and believe that the situation with violent crimes has deteriorated compared to previous times. The fact is that we exaggerate the problem based on the media attention to each tragic crime. We easily remember such stories, and it seems to us that similar events occur daily.

References:

FBI. (2011). Crime in the United States by Volume and Rate per 100,000 Inhabitants, 1992–2011. UCR. Retrieved from https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2011/crime-in-the-u.s.-2011/tables/table-1

Grawert, A. (2017, April 18). Crime Trends: 1990-2016. BC. Retrieved from https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/crime-trends-1990-2016#targetText=Crime%20is%20often%20driven%20by,by%20an%20estimated%207.8%20percent.

United States Crime Rates 1960 – 2018. (2018). Crime, Punishment, and Ratio of Crime to Punishment Per 100,000 and Rank by Year and between States 1978 -2012. Retrieved from http://www.disastercenter.com/crime/uscrime.htm


16
Oct 19

Issue in the Legal System

One issue that is present within the legal system is false identifications. False ID’s typically stem from police lineups and photographic lineups. There are many situations where even the most confident eyewitness can mistake the identity of the accused. After all, while observing a crime, an eyewitness often has a very short period of time to observe what’s happening, let alone remember specific details of the offender’s appearance. In fact, where a weapon is involved, eyewitnesses tend to focus more on the weapon than on the person holding it.

Individuals in a lineup who look like the victims attacker are likely to get accused even when that specific person is innocent. This was the case in 1984, when Ronald Cotton was convicted of raping Jennifer Thompson. Jennifer positively identified Ronald from a photo lineup and a live lineup as the man who raped her (Gruman, et al., 2017). He was sentenced to life in prison as a result of Jennifer’s positive ID. After 11 years of serving his sentence, Ronald Cotton was released and found not guilty of raping Jennifer. A man named Bobby Poole rapped Jennifer and that was confirmed by a DNA test. Ronald Cotton was in prison for 11 years for a crime he did not commit because of a false ID that was a result from a police and photo lineup.

Another case where police lineups were to blame for a conviction was the case of Otis Boone. He maintained his innocence from the time he was accused of two robberies in 2011. The two victims picked Otis Boone out of separate police lineups and as a result was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison, even with no psychical evidence. He appealed to “New York’s highest court where the majority of judges ruled that the jury should have been told that witnesses often struggle to identify strangers of a different race because mistaken identifications are a major factor in wrongful convictions. Mr. Boone is black; the victims were white” (Southall, 2019). The court granted him a retrial and made it mandatory that the judges must explain the cross-race effect to jurors whenever a case involves a witness identifying of a suspect of a different race. At the trial his public defender presented evidence that Otis Boone was over a mile away from one of the robberies five minutes before it occurred. He was acquitted and spent 7 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit.

According to the Innocence Project, “About 70 percent of the 364 convictions overturned with DNA evidence in the United States since 1992 involved witnesses who identified the wrong assailant, and nearly half of those mistaken identifications involved a witness and suspect of different races” (Southall, 2019). This is obviously very concerning because it could happen to anyone. The Innocence Project presents a few ways in which the accuracy of eyewitness identification can be improved. One way is to use the double blind method. This method is designed to prevent the administration of the lineup from providing inadvertent or intentional verbal or nonverbal cues to influence the eyewitness to pick the suspect.This is done by the administrator and eyewitnesses not knowing who the suspect is. It is important to use methods such as the double blind method when carrying out lineups because it is preventing innocent people from being convicted.

 

References:

Eyewitness Identification Reform. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.innocenceproject.org/eyewitness-identification-reform/.

Gruman, J. A., Schneider, F. W., & Coutts, L. (2017). Applied social psychology: understanding and addressing social and practical problems. SAGE.

Southall, A. (2019, March 18). A Black Man Spent 7 Years in Prison. Then a Court Changed the Rules on Racial Bias. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/18/nyregion/cross-race-identification-witness.html.


15
Oct 19

Can Algorithms Predict Crime?

The origin of criminal behavior has been much debated over the years as some believe there to be a biological basis that makes people more prone to committing and others deem one’s environment to be responsible for causing crime (Gruman, et al., 2017).  Is there a certain gene that when expressed causes people to commit crime or is it due to a hormonal imbalance in the brain that pushes one towards a life of crime?  Alternatively, do people blame one’s upbringing, their friends and their families as the reason why someone commits a crime?  If society is to blame for crime, can we somehow analyze societal trends in order to predict crime?  The city of Bristol has attempted to answer this question by implementing an algorithm that tells how likely each citizen is in being a victim or a perpetrator of a crime (Booth, 2019).

Approximately 170,000 citizens of Bristol are listed in a database that assesses the possibility of each person being involved in a child abuse or kidnapping crime (Booth, 2019).  In addition, this algorithm determines how likely a person will behave and take part in antisocial behavior.  This may seem surprising; however, the algorithm utilizes information such as past criminal behavior, gang membership, domestic violence and school truancy in order to predict criminal activity.  The reason this new method has become so helpful to society is because it uncovers information about people quicker than many psychologists and therapists could have found if they met with each person.  Police and local government can pinpoint certain areas at high risk for people to commit crime and either increase police presence or bring in more counselors to talk to people in the area about their antisocial behavior (Booth, 2019).  In addition, if someone appears to be at high risk for criminal behavior and are already seeing a counselor, then the counselor can be notified and deal with the person appropriately.  So far, the algorithm has proved to be a success as they studied five people who were the victims of sexual exploitation.  Three of the five individuals were in the top 100 list of people in the area who were at high risk of becoming victims and the other two were also high up on the list of potential victims (Booth, 2019).  Although this algorithm seems promising for other towns to use, it does not mean that it is 100 % effective.  Even though 3 of the people were on the most at- risk list, it would be difficult to reach out to every person on the list and talk to them about avoiding situations where they can be exploited.  In addition, the algorithm may report a person to be at high risk for committing crime, but it may be wrong and could hurt people in the process.  Also, this does not mean that all other forms of protection including the police and the legal system are less important because humans are better able to understand a real- world situation and talk to at risk people rather than a computer algorithm that uses certain patterns to predict crime.  The algorithm utilized by Bristol is very promising as it can look at trends in behavior such as truancy and past antisocial behavior in order to prevent crimes as well as help those at risk receive the proper attention for them to get better.

This new technology uses the social psychological and the sociological theories of criminal behavior in order to find those in society who pose a risk to other people.  Sociology uses ideas such as anomie, socioeconomic status, neighborhoods and education and attempts to understand how they relate to criminal behavior (Gruman, et al., 2017).  Researchers have found that those who come from a lower socioeconomic status and who report feeling more alone and isolated in society have higher rates of criminal behavior.  In addition, social psychology theories such as the general personality and social psychological model (Gruman, et al., 2017) of criminal behavior implicate that those who have not completed school or have a low degree are risk factors that can increase the likelihood of criminal activity.  Also, those who have been associated in the past with people who have criminal records are also more likely to commit a crime.  These ideas paint an accurate depiction of proven trends that is found amongst those convicted of a crime.  If a town wants to make their community safer and protect the innocent then using an algorithm that finds those who fit the typical characteristics of a criminal can allow police and counselors to find them and rehabilitate them so they can function normally in society.

-Madison Laezzo

Resources:

Booth, R. (2019). How Bristol assesses citizens’ risk of harm – using an algorithm. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/oct/15/bristol-algorithm-assess-citizens-risk-harm-guide-frontline-staff.

Gruman, J. A., Schneider, F. W., & Coutts, L. (2017). Applied social psychology: understanding and addressing social and practical problems. SAGE.


14
Oct 19

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

In a school, communication is vital. Whether it’s teachers within the same grade-level communicating about their current plans, or teachers communicating to their student’s parents about activities that they will be doing that week in class, communication is important to keep a school running as smoothly as possible.

Schools can also be viewed as a team. I work in a county with over 50 schools. Each school is referred to as a team, having fundraisers with the school raising the most money earning a reward, and the schools playing each other in sports. Within each school, it is split between educators and students. Recently, we had a fall fundraising event and if our students raised over a certain amount of money, our principal would be saran-wrapped to a  pole, and the principal, assistant principal and dean would be pied in the face during a den rally. Our students worked together as a team and managed to raise over the amount and those events happened last week! Educators also work as a team. Every day, the teachers of the same grade-level eat lunch together and discuss ideas for activities to use in the classroom. They also share class materials and worksheets and give ideas to each other on how to make things easier to understand for their students.

In my classroom, there are three educators. Myself, another TA, and the teacher. We have four severely autistic students in our room so communication is extremely important in our room. Each child has a unique IEP (individualized education plan) so it’s important that we communicate with each other on things each child may not understand, or things they have learned so their IEP can be adjusted accordingly. In our classroom, we can also be defined as a group. A group can be defined as “two or more persons who are interacting with one another in such a manner that each person influences or is influenced by each other person”, (Shaw, 1981). We are always relying on each other for new techniques that will work on our students Whether its techniques to get them to listen, or things that they are working for, we need to constantly try new things because of how rapidly they change their wants.

For the most part, our students are non-verbal, so communication can be hard between us as the teachers and the students. We use sign language, and pictures to help the communication but for the most part we work as a team to help each other out to provide as much for our students as we possibly can.

 

References:

Pennsylvania State University (2019). PSYCH 424, Section 001: Applied Soc Psy. Lesson 7: Organizational Life AND Teams. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/2008549/modules/items/27030737

Shaw, M. (1981). Group Dynamics: The Psychology of Small Group Dynamics. New York: McGraw-Hill.


14
Oct 19

Looking for a Job?

I’m almost positive without research being done, (which is a big no no in my future field to assume, however, I’m going to anyway) that a majority of working individuals have hated at least one job they’ve had. In my own case, I’ve hated about half of every job I’ve ever had. I have worked with children the majority of my life. I love my first job and I was lucky to be there from teenage years up until adulthood. Of course, there were aspects of it I didn’t like such as waking up at the crack of dawn or rude parents, but I loved the environment and the students.
There were many reasons I didn’t like coming to work at other places of employment I had. The majority had to do with leadership. I’ve had hostile managers, that I felt like loved to berate me. I’ve had supervisors that wouldn’t support the team but will take credit for the accomplishments of the group. I also had supervisors that had no idea what they were doing.
One way to avoid those unfortunate environments is to find something you enjoy. Job satisfaction is an important factor in whether or not you’ll stay at a particular place of employment. Job satisfaction according to Gruman, “can be defined as a person’s attitude toward his or her overall job as well as toward various aspects of the job; it is a predisposition to respond to one’s work environment in a favorable or unfavorable manner.” In other words, it is the ways to determine what causes you to like your job.
When it comes to looking for a job you can gather if the work will be mentally challenging from the ad a company puts out for the position. Equitable rewards are usually noticed after working there and sometimes is labeled in the company’s benefits policy which most find out in great detail after being hired. Supportive working conditions and supportive colleagues is what you can figure out before you accept the position by asking some key questions in the interview. You can also get more information about the work’s challenges in the interview as well. Asking these questions could help with your own person-job fit model. The person-job fit model argues that job satisfaction will be higher when there’s a pretty good matchup between your personal characteristics and the nature of the job (Gruman, 2017). The key is to not be too intrusive. Make these question flow into the interview like conversations as to not put off your future employer.
Asking what the companies’ values or mission statement is very important. This let’s you know what environment you will be entering into. A related question is what is the office culture like? These answers will let you know if this organization is something you want to run away from depending on your personality. An eclectic artist would not want to work in an environment where the culture is very strict in appearance and conversation and the organizational values reflect a cutthroat mentality where individuals steal ideas in order to gain success. It’s important to ask upfront instead of finding out later.
To find out more about supportive working conditions, asking about a learning development program or about training will let you know if they support employees learning more. This could also clue you in about how the company supports growth. If you’re the type of person with high growth need strength which can be explained by your job contributing to your personal growth and development, it’s especially important to ask this question.
One question I have learned to ask an interviewer which gives insight to supportive colleagues is “What do you like best about working for this organization?” This would give information on how colleagues support each other when things go wrong. Social influence at work can affect job satisfaction. The answer to this question derives specifically from their social environment at work. Beware when an interviewer gives vague answers and doesn’t answer with some slight enthusiasm. It probably means you should definitely run for the hills.
These are things I wished someone told me once I got into the workforce full time. I would’ve avoided some very unhealthy environments. Please remember, that you add value to your organization by being there. You do have to accomplish getting their attention with impressing them in order for them to offer you the job, but they need to impress you as well. After all you’ll spend the majority of your days working there.


14
Oct 19

Value of Sports

There are a lot of things that we can learn from sports and it is simply one of the greatest things that humans have created. It’s a powerful tool that helps improve mental/physical health and also helps build relationships with other people. In order to have a successful team cohesion is a must. Cohesion has been defined a process which is reflected in the tendency for a group to stick together and remain united in the pursuit of the objective (Gruman, Schneider & Coutts, 2017). The success of the team really does depend on cohesion because even if the talent is there but if there is no chemistry no team will be successful. There are a lot of things to consider when building a great team and this is the job of the coaches and leadership. They need to keep in mind that cohesion is both affective and instrumental in nature and they need to find the right balance in order to build a good team (Gruman et al., 2017).

Looking at the different way that teams develop is very interesting because for the most part they all follow the same path be it in sports or in anything else. Tuckman (1965) found that most groups will go through these same developmental stages which include forming, storming, norming and performing. Looking at different sports this is something that most people can definitely relate with. I feel like these 4 stages are something all teams go through and once everything is established the success depends on team cohesion. Especially when it comes to sports everyone needs to be on the same page and work together towards the final goal. Many teams have talent but if they don’t work together you can definitely see that and they will not be successful.

It is also interesting to see the impact that sports can have on individuals. It can teach us a lot of life lessons and make us better people in general. Someone mentioned the movie Remember the Titans recently and it really brought me back to the value that sports can have. At the beginning of the movie this people hated each other but as they worked together towards one goal they became family. This movie is a great example of Tuckman’s (1965) theory and it shows the impact that sports can actually have on individuals. It is important to get kids involved in sports at an early age and show them the value of leadership, teamwork, winning, losing, friendship and competition. These are life lessons that everyone could benefit from and that is why I believe that sports are more than just a game.

References:

Gruman, J. A., Schneider, F. W., & Coutts, L. (2017). Applied social psychology: understanding and addressing social and practical problems. Los Angeles ; London ; New Dehli ; Singapore ; Washington DC ; Melbourne: SAGE.

Tuckman, B. (1965). Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological Bulletin, 63 (6). 384–399. doi:10.1037/h0022100


13
Oct 19

The Art of Meetings

How Effective Communication and Time Management Contributes to Employee Satisfaction

 

Within an organization, time is money. Literally. The time that we spend, working effectively and efficiently, contributes to the earnings of the organizations we work for. That’s why they hired us. Yet, there is one thing standing in the way of effective time management throughout the workday: Meetings. Rarely will you encounter an organization that does not utilize meetings, even if it’s only occasionally. While the purpose, length, and size of meetings will vary based on where you work and what you do, we can make a sweeping generalization about most meetings; They suck.

But do they have to?

            According to Rogelberg et al. (2011), meetings are not meant to be an exercise in futility but an irreplaceable venue for teams to exercise “group decision making, problem solving, sense making, and communication.”. They are also a financial investment. So, we ask the age-old question, why should we be having meetings? Anthropologist Helen Schwartzman provides a shockingly sensible solution, “instead of having the meeting as a place to solve problems, we need to have problems and crises and decisions to produce meetings.” (Dubner, 2019).

So, we have a why. We meet because we have to solve a problem. Say a problem has arisen and we are in charge of planning this meeting, our next logical question is going to be ‘How long should this meeting last?’. This is where Parkinson’s Law comes into play. Parkinson’s Law was first coined by C. Northcote Parkinson who wrote “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” (Shantz, 2008). This means that if we create a two-hour meeting, we will find an excuse to make the meeting last for two hours. Conversely, this can also be applied to setting time-limits. By making shorter meetings that directly address a current problem, we are able to give attendees a sense of purpose, motivation, and show them that we value their time. Naturally, this approach also saves the organization money.

The last basic question when creating a meeting is who should attend? We can find the answer to this question by going full circle and looking back at why we are meeting in the first place. We meet to solve problems. A problem or a situation has produced the opportunity for a meeting, so the only people that should be present are those that the problem pertains to. The decision makers, those that can provide insightful input, there is no need to send a blanket invite to the entire office. While it may be easier to simply mark everyone’s schedule on google calendar, or send an email to everyone, the goal is to show employees that their time matters. Valuing employees, effective time management, and purposeful, pertinent communication all lead to more satisfactory meetings. Which increase employee satisfaction. Which saves time. Which saves money.

 

References:

Dubner, S. J. (2019, September 18). How to Make Meetings Less Terrible. Retrieved October  13, 2019, from http://freakonomics.com/podcast/meetings/.

Rogelberg, S. G., Rhoades Shanock, L., & Scott, C. W. (2011). Wasted Time and Money in  Meetings: Increasing Return on Investment. Small Group Research43(2), 236–245. Retrieved from https://journals-            sagepubcom.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/doi/full/10.1177/1046496411429170?utm_source =summon&utm_medium=discovery-provider.

Shantz J. A. (2008). Battling Parkinson’s Law. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l’Association medicale canadienne179(9), 968. doi:10.1503/cmaj.081266.


13
Oct 19

Dave is a Jerk.

Dave is not a nice person. Obviously his name isn’t actually Dave; I changed his name because I’m not a jerk. Dave started with our company a little less than a year ago, fresh out of prison for armed robbery with his… mother. He was in prison for a long time and when he was eligible for parole, my boss vouched for his life-long friend and provided him with a really cushy job and a place to stay to satisfy the conditions for his parole. My boss is a really great guy (totally not a jerk)! 

As Dave wove himself into the company culture, a very tight-knit family, I was the first one to speak up about Dave’s attitude and how he spoke to me. He continuously snapped at me, told me that things were not his job and degraded me when I asked questions. His attitude was very negative. When I brought this to the boss, Dave’s lifelong friend, Dave turned the situation around by making me look like the aggressor. I was scolded by the person who I came to for help. I cried for months, had anxiety attacks every day during work when I had to encounter Dave, and my performance was not up to my normal standards. I started to withdraw. My boss stopped talking to me and including me in conversations, my heart was broken. I kept a log of every time he bullied me with screenshots, kept my head down, and did my work, but I casually started seeking employment elsewhere. One day I noticed that he was added to one of our management virtual chats. Since everyone in the management side of the company was able to see this chat and I thought that this will be how he digs his own professional grave. One day he snapped at Donna in the chat room. Donna is like everyone’s southern grandma, not a single bad bone in her body, and no one disrespects Donna. Well, I noticed that once Dave snapped at Donna, my boss started talking to me again. I think he finally realized that Dave was actually a bully and I was just the first one to speak up.

Fast forward to last Friday.

Source: https://imgflip.com/i/yk6z2

Dave was no longer with our company. Text messages of “Did you see?!” rattled amongst the company within seconds like maracas with screenshots of the announcement.

Just as Bob Sutton mentioned in the No Jerk Rule podcast, Dave’s victims felt de-energized, demeaned and abused. He also screamed at the Vice President when she was trying to help his work-flow and regularly participated in political-backstabbing, such as changing my complaint about him into him being the victim, just like Sutton mentioned (2007). The funny thing is that Sutton also mentioned the Kiss-Up and Kick-Down part of being a jerk (2007), which is partially true since he worshiped the ground the boss walked on but treated the rest of us like peons. 

Dave wasn’t going anywhere for a while so I utilized two strategies, avoidance and backstage confrontation. While I could not avoid Dave entirely since we worked together, I made sure that all work correspondence was in the public eye so there were witnesses. Occasionally I would send the VP a message to just please review the messages in the file without attaching any emotion to the request, which occasionally she would respond, “He’s just a butt.” One day I ran into him while out on assignment and I confronted him. I told him that working together is going to be a lot more efficient than working against each other, so if we could try to have patience with each other as I know he is trying to learn how this company works. He divulged that he hates using virtual communication and email because he cannot convey his tone. As we saw in the studies by Kruger, et al., Dave’s problem of not being able to communicate tone over email is not his alone (2005). In these studies, students were consistently over-estimating their ability to convey their tone over email (Kruger, et al., 2005) so just imagine how bad Dave’s tone must be if he is aware of how poorly he communicates via email! 

Sadly, Dave’s issues seem like a person-job fit issue where he did not have job satisfaction because his personal disposition did not mesh well with his job characteristics (Gruman, 2017). Looking at Dave’s communication from a mechanistic perspective, he could not transmit his message correctly (unless at that moment he was transmitting being a jerk, which was often). He was used to being in prison where friendliness, cooperation, and camaraderie were probably second-hat to sheer survival. Those are the exact pillars that our company was built on and why we thrive! Our lesson commentary that Dave’s behavior creates conflict, undermines moral, decreases our productivity, and increased turn-over (PSU, 2019). None of those things are useful in a growing company. 

Thankfully, it seems that Dave’s personality of screaming at upper management, poor attitude, and divisive behavior led to his demise with the company. Sutton’s podcast said that jerks like Dave are not hard workers, they thrive for revenge, they lie and wait for something to occur so they can pounce on the opportunity to benefit, they avoid confrontation with the boss but their actions notoriously drives them out of their jobs (Stanford, 2007).

Hopefully our boss has learned his lesson that when possibly the kindest person on your staff tells you about a bully, you might want to listen to her. When we come into contact with jerks like Dave, Sutton suggested that we avoid them as much as possible and keep contact to phone calls and emails. He also suggested that we document all instances of abuse and eventually confront them in private that we have plenty of documentation of their abuse and we will report them to HR if their attitude does not change. As a company culture, our company could adopt a zero tolerance no-jerks rule, which many companies have adopted and fire jerks immediately because they are harming our company culture (2007). I wish Dave well but honestly, I am very thankful he is on his next life journey… far away from me. 

Resources 

Gruman, J. A., Schneider, F. W., & Coutts, L. (2017). Applied social psychology: understanding and addressing social and practical problems. Los Angeles ; London ; New Dehli ; Singapore ; Washington DC ; Melbourne: SAGE.

Kruger, J., Epley, N., Parker, J., & Ng, Z. (2005). Egocentrism over e-mail: Can we communicate as well as we think? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89(6), 925-936. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.89.6.925

Pennsylvania State University (2019). PSYCH 424, Section 001: Applied Soc Psy. Lesson 7: Organizational Life AND Teams. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/2008549/modules/items/27030737

Stanford University eCorner (Producer). (2007, May 30). The No Jerk Rule.  Bob Sutton, Stanford University [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from https://ecorner.stanford.edu/podcasts/the-no-jerk-rule.


13
Oct 19

All Work is an Act of Philosophy

“All Work is an Act of Philosophy.”

~ Ayn Rand

In the modern Western, Capitalist Society, the businessperson has perhaps lost sight of these important words of wisdom. The discipline of philosophy is under attack and no longer holds the stature or respect it once did in Academia, to the detriment of the economy.

Instead of learning the principles of morals and ethics, so that business can be conducted to the mutual benefit of both parties, the doctrine of greed has become the norm. Psychologically speaking, the ramifications of this glut in philosophical thinking are society shattering. Evidence is rampant, from the careless energy consortium living by the creed of “Drill, baby, drill” to the nefarious practices of Big Banks and Wall Street, who raced to the bottom of economic growth by introducing sub-prime lending and derivative investments.

Exacerbating this frenzy to garner as much money as possible is the duplicitous and dishonest behavior of the “talking heads” of mainstream media. After all, what gets published today is whatever sells the most copy, collects the most “likes” or produces the most shares. Gone are the days of an equal exchange of labor for value. Instead, for-profit businesses work to lower costs by paying lower wages, while hoisting up the false premise that Officers of the firm are acting to maximize the value to shareholders. When the reality could be nothing further from the truth.

Where the Wild Things Are

Examples of bad behavior in the business world run wide and deep. From agriculture to energy and finance to pharmaceuticals. Unethical behavior is rampant as long as there is an unquenchable thirst for irrational greediness. This is not to be conflated with rational self interest. No person should ever sacrifice his or her own self interests for the benefit of another. This is not how the philosophy of Capitalism works.

Instead of focusing on creating the best product, for the least amount of cost, business becomes consumed with political posturing, litigation, cumbersome HR policies that choke productivity and a myopic focus on the bottom line.

Returning to Ethics

The answer is not to abandon Capitalism in favor of a deeply flawed and failing socialist economic system. Instead, the path to a better economy can only be found by re-instating the discipline of Philosophy to its former status. Post Secondary institutions that require the basics of rhetoric and critical thinking as part of a well-rounded University education will find their students are better enabled to be productive, responsible citizens in this Brave New World.

The error being committed even as we speak is that the skills required to be successful in business must be taught and ingrained in the student before they even enter the working world. It is fatal for a business owner or Officers of a Corporation to think that they can teach these fundamental skills after the fact. Excessive time and energy are spent in error attempting to teach to the unteachable.

Start Early. Finish Hard.

Even before students enter University or College, their training in ethics and logic ought to begin at earlier stages of their development. Governments concerned about creating curriculum that focuses on the mechanics of sexual intercourse between same sex couples or that sacrifices the much needed skill of reading and writing in cursive would be doing a better service to young students, as early as elementary school, to focus on logic skills, such as learning how to file a tax return.

For-profit businesses attempt to fill this educational void with imaginative concepts such as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) which translates into “soft skill” activities that actually do little to increase the value of the firm for shareholders and serve to waste the time of the employees – instead of spending more time at work, organizing a worker-led organic garden, employees would probably prefer to spend any free time with their family and friends.

The Real Swamp to Be Drained

For the exceptionally greedy and unethical, there is an entirely different world of greed to explore. In this sphere of business, the names are made up, the points don’t matter and the better you can lie, the more money you will make. Deceptive marketing practices are ubiquitous, and every dollar garnered comes from pulling on the heart strings of the empathetic.

This is the world of Non-profit business. Some of the largest sums of money are collected and due to this unique status under the law, these organizations pay little to no money in taxes. Consider the National Football League. Annual revenue for the 2018 season hit the $25 Billion mark, making it the undisputed leader of professional sports in terms of profitability. NFL CEO Roger Goodell has just renewed his contract, earning $200 million over the course of the next five years. Of course, this doesn’t include the bonuses he’ll also earn.

Not Your Daddy’s NFL

Professional sports have always been big business. There is no surprise there and the numbers quoted above probably shouldn’t be surprising. Here is where the unethical shock sets in. Until 2015 the NFL enjoyed Federal tax exemption due to their Non-profit status. So, for the billions the NFL received in revenue, not one cent was paid back to the taxpayer.

You might think that this act of benevolence is a good thing, that it is altruistic for the NFL to inject an additional $10 million per year into the government coffers. However, this is not the case. The cost-benefit analysis was conducted and the number crunchers working at head office learned that accepting a $10 million tax bill every year is preferable to incurring the costs of remaining Non-profit and having to be transparent. Transparency, after all, requires costs through public scrutiny. Becoming For-profit allows the league to increase the opacity of its operations. Now unethical practices, such as covering up concussion injuries in players, can be swept under the proverbial rug with little public exposure.

Closer to Home

For more common abuses of the Non-profit business class, simply look to websites like KickStarter and GoFundMe. These forums allow the greediest of the greedy to take advantage of the good nature of everyday people. Yes, they both promote a vigorous vetting process and scammers are thought to be booted almost at once yet for the truly determined, it remains a safe haven for lies and deceit to collect ill gotten gains.

At a local level, you may find a group running as a Non-profit to “save the Oregon Giant Earthworm (Driloleirus macelfreshi)”. This sounds wonderful – saving an endangered species, what could be more altruistic? Until you dig a little deeper and you find out the following:

  1. The organization plans to purchase a “reserve” for the earthworms to live in as a sanctuary.
  2. They need to buy special types of dirt in order to create the best environment for the earthworm to flourish.
  3. The sanctuary is to be built in the middle of North America.

This sounds okay but fact checking uncovers the following:

  1. The “reserve” is actually a giant section of swamp land in Florida, unable to support the earthworm.
  2. The special dirt required isn’t conducive to helping the earthworm thrive but instead will create a sturdy foundation on which can be built new housing developments.
  3. This specific earthworm only exists in Australia and wouldn’t survive in North America.

There is nothing illegal being done here. Under the guise of being Non-profit, this group can raise as much money as they want, tax free and once they’ve achieved their goal, give up the tax exemption, become a For-profit business and re-brand into “Florida Swamp Home Development Corporation.”

This Deserves Repeating

Just as a fundamental understanding of Philosophy is required to bring sanity back to the For-profit business world, it is also Philosophy that will save the integrity of the Non-profit organizations with truly noble causes.

The ability to think critically, risk asking the offensive questions and uncovering the truth is a more valuable skill today than it ever has been in the past. Emotional sentiments of being good to each other and loving one another will never be enough on its own to mitigate the ability of the charlatans and scammers to take advantage of the gullible. The only way to truly weed out the unsavory element in either type of organization is to confront them with the truth through rational, objectively determined facts and evidence. The best way to do this is to study Philosophy.

 


11
Oct 19

Team Cohesion Wins Superbowls

Everyone likes to win, but winning doesn’t come easy. Arguably one of best sport franchises in history is the New England Patriots. Known for their success in the playoffs, and constant drive throughout the season, they have been able to secure six Super Bowl titles. Coming up with a formula to be victorious every Sunday is what NFL coaches work on every week in practice, Head coach Bill Belichek has potentially cracked the code. You may think I am a Patriots fan, but that couldn’t be any further from the truth! I do, however, respect a winning mentality, Bill Belichek and the Patriots have just that.

6-0 and coming off a big win against the Giants, the Patriots are sure contenders to reach another Super Bowl this year. Even after losing a few big-name talents, the Patriots have continued to work together as a team and overcome the hurdles each week. Team cohesion can’t be questioned when speaking about this franchise. The objective every year is to not only win, but to raise the Lombardy trophy at the 50-yard line at the end of the season. In order to do this Tom Brady has to continue leading his team, and his success is largely in the hands of his offensive line. It’s not uncommon for Brady to praise his offensive lines performance following a hard-fought game. Little gestures like this can easily boost comradery and increase cohesion amongst the unit.

In recent news Antonio Brown was released from the team after only playing one game. The decision for his release wasn’t based on his talent level, but rather his off the field troubles. His larger than life personality has been known to carry over into the locker room. There is no denying his self-confidence in his ability, however, with a disciplined franchise you have to conform and adopt the team first mentality. The release of Brown had no effect on the collective efficacy of the team. Instead, they stuck to their game plan and have continued on their winning ways.

We may never know exactly what has made the Patriots so dominant, but cohesion has certainly played a part. According to Gruman, Schneider & Coutts, 2017 “there is considerable anecdotal and research evidence that teams high in cohesion perform better than do teams low in cohesion (p.137). As long as Bill Belichek remains at the helm, it is likely we continue to see the Patriots as a relevant franchise. However, we beat them once, so we can beat them again. Fly eagles fly.

 

Gruman, J. A., Schneider, F. W., & Coutts, L. M. (2017). Applied social psychology: understanding and addressing social and practical problems. Los Angeles: SAGE.


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