Sunday, August 09, 2015

Catching up with Ian Welsh -- on character and ideology, understanding the world, and applying the Golden Rule


by Ken

I trust everyone is keeping up with our friend Ian Welsh now that he's posting on his contribution-fueled superschedule. Of course he's been chiming in on the expectable subjects, like the pulverizing of Greece by the German-led avenging angels of the Eurozone (in which connection, by the way, I heartily recommend Ian Parker's New Yorker profile of former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, "The Greek Warrior"; if you're pressed for time, the subtitle, "How a radical finance minister took on Europe -- and failed," tells the story in a nutshell). And lately he's proposed a couple of blockbuster reading plans which could keep most of us out of (other) trouble for, probably, years:

"The Role of Character and Ideology in Prosperity" (July 28)
I want to take readers through some of my previous writing on ideology and character, and how they help form the societies we live in.  Taking the time to read these articles (a short book’s worth), should vastly improve your understanding of the world and the articles to come. It should be worth your time even if you read the articles when they were published, as, at the time, they lacked both context and commentary, and were not collated to be read together so that the connections were obvious.
"So You Want to Understand the World? A Reading List" (August 7)
On occasion I get requests for reading lists. Here’s one, not exhaustive. . . . Please feel free to include other books you think worth reading in comments.
But there's a pair of posts I've had it in mind for a while now to go back to, and while I'm not going to say much about them, I think some of you, at least, will be interested in the posts themselves and intrigued by the reactions to both.

First there was this simple post from May 27:
How to Be Liked or Even Loved by Blue Collar and Service Workers

by Ian Welsh

Be friendly, interested, and acknowledge their existence.

You will be amazed how soon they think you’re a wonderful person.

What I find amazing is how little it takes: make eye contact, smile, ask a question or two. They’re in a near complete drought for people who treat them with even a smidgen of kindness, respect, and interest.

If you need a self-interested angle: Once you’ve established this relationship (shallow as it is), you will be astounded at what they will be willing to do for you, often without you even asking.

File this post in “absolutely obvious things most people don’t do.”
Simple, no? And just this side -- or maybe a little on the other side -- of inspiring. But controversial? Who'd-a thunk it? You or I might see here a fairly straightforward apπlicatio˜of the Golden Rule. One charge I wouldn't have seen coming was: "Patronizing."

Hmm. This engendered a fair amount of discussion, in which Ian certainly received a fair amount of support, but the tone of the dissent left me puzzled -- it was as if people were lying in wait to . . . I don't know what, make sure that balloon doesn't stay aloft?

And in any case, it turns out that rather overwhelmingly readers seem to have misunderstood the post from the ground up, which led to a follow-up post on June 12, which began:
Being Effective and Liked in the Workplace

by Ian Welsh

A couple weeks ago, I wrote an article about how to be liked by service employees and blue collar workers. [Here there's a link to the post I've reproduced above.] I wasn’t writing about “in the workplace” or “as a manager,” but most commenters read it as both.

Today, let’s actually talk about being effective (and yes, liked) in the workplace. I’ve been out of a corporate environment for years now, but my last corporate gig was at a large insurance company. It wasn’t managerial, though I led the occasional team and was responsible for one large departmental reorganization. Instead, I was a senior line employee: responsible for getting stuff done that required the help of many other people, but without the authority to just make them do things. By my count, at one point, up to 16 other specialties, spread across almost a dozen different departments, could be required.

I had no authority, but I needed other people to get my job done.

Until I went off the rails in my last year or so, I was very good at this job. And I’ve held line authority positions elsewhere, including being a dispatcher and a managing editor.

So, here are Ian’s guidelines for getting folks to do what you want, at work, and having them like it. To be clear, these never worked on everyone, but they have always worked on enough people. . . .
What followed was enormously interesting (hint: it began with "First, find something to admire," and continued with "Next, treat them right"), and I find it hard to imagine anyone not wanting to find out what Ian was proposing.

And again, the response was fascinating. Many readers added interesting personal stories, lending both support and disagreement, both absolutely legitimate, though there was a strain of discord that this idea doesn't work with bosses, even though Ian had noted pretty conspicuously in the post:
Unfortunately, I can’t give any advice on managing up beyond the immediate boss level. As a rule, I’ve always been terrible at dealing with upper-upper-management. Perhaps because they’re used to people saying what they want to hear, and I don’t do that. . . .
Oh well. But again, there was that frequent tone of, I don't know, "How dare you, sir?" As Ian found himself noting in some of the ensuing comments, the quarrel often seemed to be not so much with him as with the Golden Rule.

Which is interesting too. Was this not Jesus's single most important teaching? The one that pretty much underlies all the others? But I think it accurately represents the fuck-that-goddamn-Jesus tone of most of organized Christianity the most organized Christians barely even pay lip service to it.

These posts of Ian's which out of nowhere carve out bits of real-life turf for exploration and illumination are some of my favorites. That you never know what you're going to find on his blog is one of my favorite things about it. The address could hardly be easier to remember; it's And contributions to make it possible for Ian to continue blogging at his current rate are always encouraged.



At 1:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I started reading Welsh's blog some time after it was mentioned here. I was put off initially when he revealed he was formerly a successful economist. More posts followed that exhibited a veneer of erudition but a real lack of understanding of how the world works (despite reading lists, as below).

Re: Welsh's current post "How to be liked or even loved by blue collar and service workers," I'll have to agree with commenter "Winston Smith": "Ian, you truly are an elitist shit."

Whatever "innocence" Welsh may want to claim on his post is belied by his apparent apologist Newberry (yes, I know the poor fellow is recovering from a stroke.): "Yes, if you can fake not having ulterior motives, the rest is a piece of cake. And yes, there is a way to fake them."

Welsh advises reading Marx in his "Understand the World" reading list post. It seems that the only thing Welsh has been able to glean from Marx is that Ian Welsh is upper class.

What's next from our highly educated/successful pal: "How to win friends and influence people among the coloreds"?

I'll use the occasional references to Welsh here at DWT to keep with his "upper-cruster surreptitiously defending the upper crust in the disguise of a regular guy" ploy. Thanks for the service. It's about all I can take of Mr Welsh.

John Puma

PS my own suggested reading.

1) "The Book (of the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are)" by Alan Watts: perhaps the most accurate definition of human "ego" that explains a great deal of our problems.

2) "Too Smart for Our Own Good" by Craig Dilworth: Our cleverness has created the technology that has caused our myriad problems. More of it, therefore, it cannot be reasonably expected to solve those problems.

At 12:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The level of delusion, assumption without evidence and misreading in that comment is extraordinary.



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