Monday, 5 January 2015

Psychological Despotism And Its Role Within Society

I am indebted to my husband for bringing to my attention an extract from one of Peter Drucker's management books that examines the question of psychological despotism.

Although it was originally written specifically with regard to its application within the field of business management, its observations mirror many of my own thoughts today.

Psychological Despotism
Extract from: “Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices” by Peter F. Drucker, (London, Heinemann, 1974)

·                     Theory X – the traditional approach to worker and working – assumes that people are lazy, dislike and shun work, have to be driven, and need both carrot and stick.  It assumes that most people are incapable of taking responsibility for themselves and have to be looked after.

·                     Theory Y assumes fundamentally that people want to be adults; they have a psychological need to work and want achievement and responsibility.

The Theory X principles have been around for a very long time.  They were applied to managing worker and working in the building of the great pyramids of Egypt and still inform the organization of worker and working in the modern mass-production plant.

But what to put in its place is largely a matter of guesswork and speculation.  Even the labor unions are still focused on talking about money, pensions, hours off, coffee breaks, and so on.  The union leaders are, in other words, trying to maintain and even strengthen a Theory X management in the company.

Most, if not all, of the recent writers on industrial psychology profess allegiance to Theory Y.  They use terms like “self-fulfillment,” “creativity,” and the “whole man.”  But what they talk and write about is control through psychological manipulation.

They are led to this by their basic assumptions, which are precisely that: man is weak, sick, and incapable of looking after himself.  He is full of fears and anxieties, neuroses, and inhibitions.

Essentially he does not want to achieve but wants to fail.  He therefore wants to be controlled.  Indeed, for his own good he needs to be controlled – not by fear of hunger or the incentive of material rewards but through his fear of psychological alienation and the incentive of “psychological security.”

Psychological control by the superior, the manager, is possible; and psychological control by the superior, the manager, is “unselfish” and in the worker’s own interest.  By becoming his workers’ psychological servant, however, the manager retains control as their “boss.”

This is “enlightened” whereas the carrot-and-stick approach is condemned as crassly coercive.  But it is despotism nevertheless.  Under this new psychological dispensation, persuasion replaces command.  Those unconvinced by persuasion would presumably be deemed sick, immature, or in need of psychotherapy to become adjusted.

Psychological manipulation replaces the carrot of financial rewards; and empathy, i.e. the exploitation of individual fears, anxieties, and personality needs replaces the old fear of being punished or of losing one’s job.

Psychological despotism, whether enlightened or not, is gross misuse of psychology, the main purpose of which is to acquire insight into, and mastery of, oneself.  To use psychology to control, dominate, and manipulate others is self-destructive abuse of knowledge.  

Psychological despotism is basically contemptuous of people.  It assumes that the manager is healthy while everybody else is sick; that he is strong while everyone else is weak; that he knows while everybody else is ignorant; that he is right whereas everyone else is stupid.  These are the assumptions of foolish arrogance.”


As with any new idea or concept, it is of little benefit to mankind or society if, in time, there are those who comment that what it replaced, was in fact, the better option, after all.

The difficulty then is not 'how to replace' something old with something new but how to go back to the old without losing face?  How do we go back to that which was once familiar but is now unacceptable?

When many would denounce any such considerations as backward-looking, or in some way, repressive.  Foolish, even.

But what happens when something isn't working, or isn't working as had been intended? What then?  

Do we carry on regardless, knowing that 'we' are not the ones responsible and justify a reluctance to act by claiming it is not our place to speak out?

Even when there are those who believe that society is being impoverished and who are willing to speak out - what then?

How, exactly, do we make people see?  How do we make people see without becoming tyrannical ourselves?


When I first decided to set this blog up, it was due in part to pondering many of these questions as I knew I was none of the things 'I' had been portrayed as being, and to this day, remain aware of the damage such thinking caused, in excess of all previous events in my life.

To me, I knew that my experience was 'proof' that all the experts must be 'wrong' with their assessments (of abuse) but I did not know how to convey this to other people, or how to do so in such a way that would in time, lead to questions being asked of those who had caused me to question myself.

I did know, however, that I was not alone in thinking, or being made to feel this way.

From the outset, I have not used any words or phrases that those agencies who deal with abuse, use.  This is not meant to be in any way pedantic - it is simply that as these words are not true of me, I will not use them, in much the same way that someone who is not a thief, would agree to being called a thief.

If I refute their words, it is because they are not true of me and if it is not true of me, most likely, it is not true of others also.

However, this presents new challenges, ones that potentially create more confusion and uncertainty.  That, if I don't see myself as a 'victim' does this mean I am not one?

That, if my reaction to being viewed as a 'victim' is that I want to punch them on the nose, what would this suggest, other than I am very angry?

To those who would portray me this way, my response only further establishes their theories.  That I must be a victim because I am acting like one.

Or that I must be a victim because I am not able to acknowledge that I am a victim.  At which point, I no longer feel angry - I feel immensely sad.

I do not understand why anyone would want me to be a victim.  I do not understand why so many government agencies and charitable organisations seem to need me to be a victim.

In my opinion, this mindset underpins approximately 95% of all thinking with regard to abuses that take place today.

Agencies use the term 'abuse' whereas I use the word 'suffering'.  It is far more dignified. Abuse suggests an imposition but it is one that the agencies themselves have imposed as it does not originate from any abuser.

Agencies also use the term' victim', which I wholeheartedly reject.  If anything, I am a survivor but if people wish to label me as something, I would hope it is as a writer and not as a victim.

Agencies require people to be victims instead of recognising that victims are people.  Walk into any police-station and you will discover there is a 'Victim's Suite' instead of a Guest Suite.

I do not consider myself to be a victim, so it makes telling my story even more difficult as rarely are there any two strands that go in the same direction at the same time.

If some consider me to be a victim when I do not - any conversation we might have would likely go as thus:- 

Q - are you a victim?

A - no.

Q - oh, er, are you a victim or aren't you?

A - no.  And yes.

Q - can you explain that, please?

How to explain that it is 'they' who have made me a victim?  How to explain that whilst indeed, there may have been instances where 'victim' would be more appropriate, they do not speak of being victimised but only of being a victim?

If one is a victim, is that not a contradiction in itself?  If one is a 'victim', would this not suggest past tense, rather than present?

Should we not instead alter the wording that is used, that, instead of using 'victim', people are instead referred to as 'survivors'?

There is only one problem with 'survivors' however ~ it means they have survived!  

'Victims', the very word, suggests that those on the receiving end are in some way beholden to others; whereas 'survivors' does not.

Survivors imply there exists people who can be respected, people who have endured and come through, sometimes against great odds.

But survivors don't do much for charities.  They do even less for government, whose desire to 'help' often overrides the greater duty of care to its citizens that would allow people to take responsibility for themselves.

Survivors don't require 'help' as such, they are often most able to help others ~ so, when portraying survivors as victims, this remains to me, the greatest of all abuses.

In cases that dominate the news headlines on a daily basis, abuse is always portrayed as having happened to someone (which does not mean that it has not).

It is portrayed in absolute terms - 'I was abused'.  It is then up to the courts to establish guilt or innocence.

However, this is not the correct way to examine whether abuses have occurred, so any establishing of facts is then, to some extent, flawed from the outset.

For example, by way of highlighting the inconsistencies of claiming to have been abused and how this can skew proceedings:-

If I wanted, I could paint a picture that suggests that abuses have taken place in my early years and in time, may find myself in court - by way of challenging those - who in my mind - are responsible.

Although I know that my recollections are 'true' and would bear an accurate reflection of events that took place many years ago, some of those being accused would argue vehemently against my words.

What would this suggest?  That I am mistaken?  Or that I am lying?  Or that those who I accuse, are mistaken, or lying?

When you are willing to recognise - firstly, in yourself - that the answer is both and neither, this is why viewing complainant's accusations of abuse is also fraught with complications.

It does not mean that the complainant is not being truthful, even if it also suggests that the accused is innocent if they refute the accusation being made against them.

Unlike crimes that are more definitive, such as murder, which is often unequivocal - there is a dead person, and there are the grieving family members.  It then is a case of establishing facts that resulted in a person's death.

But with 'abuse' - this often is not possible to determine, when one party does not accept that 'abuses' occurred.  It is not simply a case of trying to establish behaviours that might constitute that abuse has occurred, when behaviours vary considerably in every single person and in every single family, and for all sorts of reasons.

What may be deemed as abuse by one, would not be by another.  So does that mean that abuses have occurred, or not?  

The key in understanding whether it has or not - is intent.  As most, if not all abuse, takes place between people who are known to each other, rather than with a stranger, the recipient will always possess some understanding as to whether disagreeable behaviour can be deemed to be abusive or not.

It is partly dependent on whether any injury has been caused; or, there may be other contributing factors - such as health, for instance.  Someone who is impaired in some way may be abusive at times, as a result of frustration at their condition but not because they are abusive per se.

And what of all those who have suffered abuse?  Are they not far more likely to be abusive within relationships, as a result?  Do we 'punish' those who have already suffered?  If so, what is the point of 'protecting' children if all we do is punish them when they are older?

Trying to 'prevent' abuses occurring is not possible, although this view contrasts with expert opinion. 

What is possible however, is recognising that when abuses occur, it is the person on the receiving end who is best able to determine what if anything to do next.

When the alternative is listening to those whose insatiable demand for victims ensures that there will indeed be many more.