The Enemy of Fingertip-Feeling and Resilience

White Men Can’t Help It,” by Michael Orey, Business Week, 15 May 2006, pg 54, http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/06_20/b3984081.htm

One can only hope…,” by Leonard Powers, Business Week, 5 June 2006, pg 17, http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/06_23/c3987014.htm

“Sociology is the Mississippi of the Social Sciences. No matter how bad your field it, sociology is always worse.”
– Overheard

This post isn’t about racism, though it could be:

Enter the magician. Sociologist William T. Bielby is the leading courtroom proponent of a simple but powerful theory: “unconscious bias.” He contends that white men will inevitably slight women and minorities because they just can’t help themselves. So he tries to convince judges that no evidence of overt discrimination — no smoking gun memo, for instance — is needed to prove a case. As Allen G. King, an employment defense attorney at the Dallas office of Littler Mendelson, puts it: “I just have to leave you to your own devices, and because you are a white male,” you will discriminate.


Nor is it about babbling academics, though it could be:

One can only hope the courts will soon realize that “unconscious bias” theory is a silly amalgamation of junk science and psychobabble whose sole objective is to profit at the expense of the innocent.

Rather, it’s about a disastrous movement growing in corporate America in response to these threats:

The key flaw that Bielby typically finds in the companies he testifies against is that they give managers too much discretion and let them rely on too many subjective factors in hiring, promotion, and pay. In that kind of unfettered atmosphere, he says, all people (not just white men) unknowingly revert to stereotypes in making decisions. “The tendency to invoke gender stereotypes in making judgments about people is rapid and automatic,” Bielby wrote in a 2003 report on Wal-Mart that was filed with the court. “As a result, people are often unaware of how stereotypes affect their perceptions and behavior,” including “individuals whose personal beliefs are relatively free of prejudice.”

Bielby faulted Wal-Mart for the way it identifies candidates for management positions that often require a move. Without a “systematic mechanism” for determining who might be interested, he wrote in his report, managers may automatically assume women don’t want jobs that require them to relocate.

Job postings are one way around this problem. But Bielby, citing deposition testimony of Wal-Mart executives, noted that store managers had authority to bypass the retailer’s posting system and “informally approach” candidates. That can result in what he calls “tap-on-the-shoulder” promotions, typically favoring men. In its appeal, Wal-Mart says Bielby’s testimony is unscientific and unreliable.

The good Dr. Biebly is attacking the use of fingertip-feeling in business. Fingertip-feeling, or as Erwin Rommel called it, “fingerspitzengefuhl” is an intuitive feeling that is critical to success. It lies halfway between automaticity and comprehension, and following fingertip-feeling is important to success in nearly every field.

During the Vietnam War, the US Army widely abandoned fingertip-feeling and adapted a more systematic approach to complex operations. The alternative, the Zero Defect Policy championed by Secretary of Defense Robert Macnamara, was described as a “cancer” by generals and was partially responsible for losing us the war.

Yet, despite the great similarities between war and business, men like Bielby would mandate, through the Courts, the abandonment of fingertip-feeling by corporate firms. Indeed, he and his allies have already made substantial progress here. And it may be disastrous.

American companies have historically been resilient and adaptive, but this court-mandate would make this much, much harder. Call is “maldevelopment in a box.” It cherrypicks the best of the American system, throws it into the manure pile, and gives us whatever courts decide instead.

Utterly sickening, and utterly typical of the Leftist Courts.

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