JR'S Free Thought Pages
Hierarchy, Business, Politics and the Peter Principle
By JR, December 2019
If we're looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn't test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power – P J O’Rourke
One will invariably find the nauseating sycophantic environment symptomatic of the Peter Principle in any randomly selected corporate office – or in any workplace for that matter, private or public. There always exist the inevitable intellectual mediocrities, moles, boot lickers and ass kissers lining up to gain favours from the intellectually challenged superfluous bosses, administrators and other management hierarchy ( bullshit jobs) in order to relieve themselves from the trenches where the real work is being done.
For anyone who has spent time in the workplace, it’s not difficult to understand and agree with the arguments of author Laurence Peter in his1969 book called The Peter Principle. Not only did the Peter Principle confirm what everyone suspected - bosses are for the most part unnecessary intellectually challenged sociopathic dolts and assholes - but compellingly explains why this had to be so. When a lickspittle yes man employee “excels” at a job - by which I mean never complains, never points out injustices and slavishly does everything he’s told to do incompetently without fail - he gets promoted. And as he keeps winning the employee of the month award and being promoted until he attains a position that he does badly, i.e., fucks up repeatedly at which point the promotions cease, he has thereby achieved his “level of incompetence”. But rarely is such n employee terminated from that position, regardless of how much he screws up and antagonizes generally higher intelligent lower echelon employees by pointlessly micromanaging them to the point of insanity.
Like the neighbour from hell on every street, unless one is brain dead, we’ve all witnessed this appalling self-serving reptilian behaviour of the self-serving office mole. If the golden rule (an oft cited minimalist ethical principle) was followed by everyone, capitalism would surely not exist. Sadly, the really existing golden rule in our dystopian corporatist neoliberal new world order is: "those with the gold make the rules".
The Peter Principle could perhaps be loosely compared to a theorem with many corollaries such as Murphy’s Law. The principle doesn’t merely expose the blundering idiot in the office. It takes one of the cornerstones of the so-called American dream - the desire to climb the ladder of success-and revealed it to be a formula for mass mediocrity. Free enterprise (aka capitalism) is not a meritocracy but rather an elaborate ruse, a vector through which the incompetent make their affliction universal. But there is more. The principle had, as a New York Times reviewer put it, “cosmic implications.” It wasn’t long before social scientists developed the “Generalized Peter Principle,” which claimed: “In evolution, systems tend to develop up to the limit of their adaptive competence.” As in the Second Law of Thermodynamics, everything in the universe progresses to the point at which it confronts some sort of collapse, utter malfunction and death spiral since the essence of existence is ultimate failure and eventual extinction. After all, 99.9% of all species that have existed on earth are currently extinct. Moreover, with global warming, pollution and ecosystems circling the drain coupled with our stupidity, greed, hubris, complacency, delusions, procrastinations and disrespect for the natural world under a cancerous global capitalism, we have become the authors of our own demise.
The most cogent explanations often strike us as alarmingly obvious. They make common sense observations – like the endless failures and fuck ups of human beings throughout history - and realize that since conflict, moral and intellectual failure and fiasco are the norms, the idea of “progress”, with perhaps the exception of science, is a myth.
I dare say, faith and hope are for fools. I suppose one of the benefits of pessimism is - given that thinking is hard work, people are generally lazy and screw up with regularity –is that one is never disappointed by the inevitable human failures and disasters.
Consider a recent article by 93 year old Newfoundlander Ed Finn...
Business and Political Hierarchy, incompetence and the “The Peter Principle”
By Ed Finn, December 4, 2019
Commuters in Ottawa are outraged by the multiple flaws and delays that plague the city's new LRT (lousy rail transit) service.
Federal employees are embittered by their government's atrocious Phoenix "pay-not" system, which has battered them with financial distress for the past four years.
These are just a few examples of the anguish inflicted on helpless millions by inept and unfeeling employers and politicians.
For an explanation, all you need to do is consult a little book first published in 1969: The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong. It was written by Laurence J. Peter with the collaboration of Raymond Hull, and has had many subsequent printings.
The book provides this succinct precept: in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.
There's a Peter's corollary: in time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out his duties.
Peter pointed out that nearly everyone who is employed works in some kind of hierarchal system, whether it's business, industry, politics, government, trade unionism, the armed forces, religion, education, or sales and services.
"All of them are controlled by the Peter principle. So, given enough time -- and assuming the existence of enough ranks in the hierarchy -- each employee rises to, and remains, at his level of incompetence." Productive work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence.
These pithy precepts, although they were formulated over 60 years ago, still remain valid. The incompetence of so many of our current political and business leaders, and the officials and bureaucrats, who submissively cater to them, plainly show they have reached their level of incompetence.
Peter's remarkable foresight was evident in his list of Peter's remedies, in which he suggested how employees could resist promotion to their level of incompetence and thus remain useful members of society.
"An enormous store of […] hours, of creativity and enthusiasm would thus be set free for constructive purposes. We might, for instance, develop safe, comfortable, efficient rapid-transit systems for our cities. We could tap (natural) power sources which would not pollute the atmosphere. We could return our farmlands to organic products that would enrich instead of poisoning the soil."
In closing, Peter declared that he had written the book so that readers could comprehend and make use of the Peter Principle.
"Its acceptance and application are up to you," he concluded.
The Peter Principle was widely read and received glowing reviews, with The New York Post even agreeing with the authors that it was "the key to understanding the whole structure of civilization."
Unfortunately, its revelations and advice were ignored by the world's business and political leaders, most of who, even then, had risen to their level of incompetence.
If Peter were alive today, he would be shocked and deeply saddened by the horrific extent to which the incompetence of business leaders and their political vassals has intensified rather than lapsed.
The rampant rise of business and political leaders' incompetence is alarming on its own, but is downright terrifying when accompanied by the overwhelming power they derive from the dominant global economic system.
Uncontrolled global capitalism, in fact, could itself be considered the ultimate outcome of the Peter Principle. Having reached the nadir of incompetence, its elite adherents have no constraints or moral imperatives imposed on their alleged omnipotence. They are free to maximize their power and wealth by depleting the planet's non-renewable resources and contaminating its atmosphere and water.
Corporate and political foolishness
This is a clear demonstration of foolishness, of course, but is the inevitable consequence of the Peter Principle running amok.
Who, now, can avert a global cataclysm? The employees of the planet-wreckers are impotent in their servitude, and the climate-change protesters, though personally still competent, can't prevail against the irreversible incompetence of the corporate and political elites.
If you have any doubt about my reasoning, consider the plight of the world's scientists and climatologists. Their specialized knowledge of the environment immunizes them from the Peter Principle, so they have been free to sound the alarm about climate change since the 1950s.
Their warnings have become increasingly strident as time passes without significant preventive action being taken. The big corporate CEOs and investors consistently ignore the scientists, while subservient politicians make only ineffectual token efforts.
When Laurence Peter first explained the Peter Principle, he anticipated that his revelation would help spur a mass avoidance of incompetence. He failed to take into account imperialist wars and the vast poverty, inequality, ill health and misery that global capitalism would inflict on billions of the world's inhabitants.
He did not foresee the corporate devastation of the environment.
He never imagined that, in such a blighted world, the moral and ethical depravity of its rulers would transmute their incompetence into an imminent Armageddon.
Otherwise, he would have changed the title of his book to The Peter Perdition.