Parallel realities in the USA
As I write this, the USA are in a massive state of schizophrenia, with parallel realities. President Donald Trump is refusing to admit electoral defeat in the presidential elections, and whipping up support for a conspiracy theory (“they stole these elections”). Meanwhile, president-elect Joe Biden is preparing his administration, using diametrically opposed messages ("We are opponents, not enemies" and “I implore you: wear a mask”).
En passant capture
It reminds me of a case in which I myself did not wish to admit defeat. I was perhaps seven years old, and playing chess with my dad. He took one of my pawns with his, after I’d made the first two-field move. I objected, but he came up with the weird story that this was a special rule, called “en passant capture”. I still remember my anger at this dirty trick of his, always rewriting the rules. My reality was different from his.
Of course, since then I’ve been able to see that what I did was what sociologists call “extrojection” (Kemper, 1978). Faced with my loss, instead of admitting my ignorance as a beginner, I blamed someone else.
Anger and shame
This extrojection of blame has an emotional consequence. It leads to anger, where taking the blame oneself leads to shame. A person who cannot admit to any status loss will extroject blame. A bad loser, we’d normally say.
Trump is a bad loser, but he’s not the only one. We can think of other leaders refusing to go gracefully when their time has come. In fact, many cultures give quite a bit of support to bad losers. When a leader starts to find enemies, that might be the start of a “bad loser” episode.
Consider these quotes. In Brit Roald Dahl’s 1988 classic (and 1996 film) “Matilda”, about a smart girl with stupid parents, Matilda’s father shuts her up with the following words: “I’m smart, you’re dumb. I’m big, you’re small. I’m right, you’re wrong. And there’s nothing you can do against it”. This sums up the bully. There is no end of stories and films in Anglo culture in which power is the main argument for getting what one wants.
In cultural terms this glorification of power happens most in a Masculine culture. Power, in physical terms or shown by weapons, is worthy of social status. Trump oozes this kind of primitive “grab ‘em by the pussy”, “lock her up” power. By implication, powerlessness is a degradation.
Nobody in the world better than me
There is another constituent of difficult losing. Consider little white middle-class Molly, in the 1994 USA film “Corrina Corrina”. Molly was being bullied at school. The black maid (played in the film by Whoopi Goldberg), allows her to stay away a few days, then sends her back. She makes Molly repeat “I am Molly Singer and there’s nobody in the world better than me”.
Molly is in fact making an outrageous status claim, obviously untrue. But the point is that her daring to do this, discountenances the bully. In cultural terms, her statement fits what Misho Minkov (Minkov, 2007) calls a “monumentalist” culture. The Hofstede synonym is “Short-term oriented” (Hofstede et al., 2010).
Culture and narcissism
The cultural implications are that a Masculine, Short-term oriented culture could make extrojection dynamics more likely. Casting blame to others for one’s failings can become a national hobby. This plays into the hands of narcissistic leaders, who’ll find it easy to fool followers into believing their schizophrenic, blame-ridden, megalomaniac version of reality.
Biden vs Trump: status vs power
In terms of Kemper’s status-power theory (BOSS Blog 10), Trump and Biden exemplify the two ways in which people can try to get what they want: use power, or give status. Trump uses power on enemies real or imagined, while Biden gives status to friends real or hoped for.
Tame your inner Trump
When faced with failure or defeat, we can blame others (extrojection). We can blame ourselves (introjection). Or we can accept it and learn from it, as I did from the en passant capture my dad surprised me with. I learned a lot from him.
Accept defeat and carry on
How can we avoid getting caught in blame cycles? From my vantage point in a feminine, long-term oriented culture, that answer seems clear: make the next generation a bit more ready to accept defeat and carry on.
Message to parents
The message to parents is: tame your inner Trump. Show to your children, by example, that there is honour in losing gracefully. Both you and they will be better people.
Here we come to the most important lesson my dad taught me: once, having sent me to my room, he came to me later and apologized.
Message to leaders
The same holds for leaders: there is honour in admitting to your people that something has not worked out. Rather than fearing you, they will respect you for it. You will be preventing schizophrenia in your organization, or your country.
Theodore D. Kemper (1978) A social relational theory of emotions. Routledge.
Michael Minkov (2007) What makes us different and similar. Klasika I Stil.
Geert Hofstede, Gert Jan Hofstede & Michael Minkov (2010). Cultures & Organizations: Software of the mind. McGraw-Hill.