Saturday, 26 April 2014

Shooting The Messenger

One of the hardships of life is to be the bringer of bad news.  Or, if not that, to be the person who says what people do not want to be said whether by accident, purpose or in the course of debate.

An occasion of being in this position was as a junior in an organisation.  In open forum elsewhere in the summer of 1967 I expressed the view that the value of the pound sterling was under stress and might suffer devaluation.

A few days later, back at the shop the boss was more than livid on being told this, he was rabid.  This was high treason, the grossest lack of patriotism, a shocking lack of faith in the ancient tradition of nation and the rest.  The senior staff nodded their heads and looked askance.

Then this happened a few weeks later when Wilson cut the value and blamed the gnomes of Zurich.  Far from being generous in defeat or congratulating me for my insight and seeking after truth the boss denounced me as a liar.  My view that there could be rising import prices was contradicted by the word of the Prime Minister that the pound in our pockets was safe.

Indeed I was one of the evil people who had brought about this national tragedy.  My seniors hastened to agree with him.  The fact that both the serious press and learned journals were my sources or that in a small town far away in the provinces I could hardly sway the money markets did not move them, so I changed jobs.

The reluctance to accept bad news or unwelcome advice or information seems to part of the psyche of so many humans, too many and especially in the higher ranks.  More damaging is that when truth does emerge it is called a lie and those who try to admit to and deal with it are liars and enemies.

You may choose your own choice examples of this syndrome from the recent past.  It is an integral part of the many and various political, financial and other disasters we have had.  What is more worrying is the modern management theory and structures create systems where this is a necessary function.

It was an attitude built in to the last Labour government and prevalent in the present Coalition.  Over in Washington DC the State Department almost gives master classes in the art of evasion.  It is hard now to find either a government or a major organisation that does not operate on this basis.

If you couple this with what is known as Resource Curse, see the long Wikipedia article, then there are all the makings for a lot to go wrong.  There are a number of commentators who expand the concept of this Curse to nations over dependent on other activities, in the case of the UK financial services.

There is a good deal to read on this subject out on the web but much less on the peculiar psychology of the human condition that is unwilling to seek or recognise reality or truth, or when it is revealed to blame and defame those who stumble on it.

Once we had a god or gods to remind us of some of our mistakes and follies along with shamans, oracles, soothsayers and priests or preachers to make sure we heard some bad news and understood it.  These days we have moved away from these sources to ones that tend to tell us what we want to hear or are amused by.

There is a price or prices to pay for this and the bills are beginning to come in.


  1. Excellent. No doubt this is a penalty of hierarchical societies and organisations, but it can be baffling in its idiocy.

  2. Excellent. Civilisations have rarely learned very much and detailed history rarely taught, expecially now.