TCC Year 1
To read past Dialogue click above on TCC Year 1 or the months for TCC Year 2.
2 March 1999....................Organization Man
To start our March Dialogue on the topic of evolutionary psychology and interpersonal development, click here. This is a good article by Virginia Postrel concerning the evolution of cultural norms in a society characterized by an accelerating pace of change as spontaneous social order takes its natural course. (PD)
4 March 1999.............The Tip
Here's an interesting article that demonstrates the importance of psychology in making choices that seem to involve only economic calculation. Question: Does tipping affect the level of interpersonal development and if so in what way? (PD)
The Tip: A Reward, but for Whom?
By WILLIAM GRIMES
NEW YORK -- Many uncertainties surround the dining experience, but one thing is sure. At the end of the meal, the diner, barring a near nuclear catastrophe, will leave a tip. Last year, American diners left an estimated $12 billion on the table, at an average of 16.7 percent of the total bill. In Manhattan, the standard tip is closer to 20 percent at a good restaurant. Regardless of the amount, the gesture may well be mass delusion.
In theory, a tip is a reward for good service. But many restaurants pool tips -- putting them all into one pot and evenly dividing them at the end of the night -- which means that the reward intended for a particular server is shared among many. Under these circumstances, a tip is a little like a declaration of love delivered over a public address system.
And in any case, the message may say more about the sender than the receiver. A tip, social scientists seem to be discovering, has less to do with the diner's opinion of the service than it has with his opinion of himself, his need for approval or his desire to please the waiter.
The tip, in other words, is a puzzle. No one quite knows why diners tip in the first place, or whether tipping serves any rational economic purpose. It's not at all clear how the custom started, for that matter. Even the word itself is of obscure origin.
The economic argument for tipping is that it gives restaurants extra managers at no cost. Because a restaurant cannot possibly monitor its staff as efficiently and accurately as the people being served, this function has been delegated to diners. Acting as employers, they assess the performance of the service staff and set their salary accordingly.
The prospect of a good tip motivates the staff to provide good service in the present, and the diner who leaves a generous tip helps ensure good service in the future.
But tipping is not only, or even primarily, an economic transaction. It is also a social event, and as researchers have discovered, a very complex one, at times bordering on the perverse.
Michael Lynn, an associate professor of consumer behavior at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, has been studying tipping since 1980, and although he readily admits that many mysteries remain, one thing is fairly clear: The quality of service has very little to do with the size of the tip.
"Bill size allows me to explain 70 percent of the variability in tip amount," he said. "Less than 2 percent of the variability can be explained by how the diner rates the service." Lynn and others have found that the social norm of tipping dictates that a more or less predictable tip will be left, depending on the size of the bill. "The primary motivation for tipping is social approval," Lynn said. "It's expected."
The peculiarities of the diner-server relationship also confound the economic model. Researchers have found that in most cases, diners do not feel that they are judging the waiter, but that the waiter is judging them. They tip to please.
Theoretically, the tip is a weapon, but as a social scientist named Leo Crespi found when he studied tipping in the 1940s, "most people do not have the requisite nerve."
This may be an American problem. Some researchers have theorized that the tip is a way to defuse the anxiety associated with the unequal server-diner relationship, and a way of fending off envy and ill will.
In a country dedicated to the principle of social equality, this anxiety takes an acute form. Indeed, over the years, many social critics have attacked tipping as an insult to the nation's core values, a repellent holdover from the days when aristocrats would fling coins at their servants.
In "The Itching Palm," a 1916 screed against the practice, William R. Scott argued that "tipping equals flunkyism." Flunkyism, the author said, is "the willingness to be servile for a consideration," and he called it "democracy's deadliest foe."
Social unease may be the waiter's friend, however. In one well-known 1984 experiment, researchers found that a waitress who touched her customers, whether male or female, on the hand or shoulder when asking if the meal was all right, raised her tips to 14 percent, from 11 percent.
Sophisticated diners may cringe, but waiter introductions also put green on the table. So does crouching at the table when taking an order instead of standing upright; or, if the server is a woman, putting a smiley face on the bill. For male waiters, the smiley face actually cuts tips.
Some responses are simply weird. It is well known that credit-card customers tip more lavishly than cash customers, but experiments have shown that cash customers who are presented with a bill on a tray embossed with credit-card logos will leave a larger tip than cash customers who receive a plain tray.
The waiter does not always win. It is well documented that tip size decreases with the size of the party, which is why many restaurants impose a mandatory service charge for groups of six or more. According to the NPD Group, which does research on consumer marketing, single diners leave an average tip of 19.7 percent. That number drops to 16.9 percent for two people, 15.2 percent for three, 14.9 percent for four and 13.2 percent for five.
Researchers have theorized that a phenomenon known as diffusion of responsibility may account for the downward slide. Just as a lone witness is more likely to help an accident victim than a witness who is part of a group, the diner in a group may hold back a bit on the tip, expecting others to pick up the slack. Or it may be that diners feel that the amount of attention given to each member of the party diminishes with the size of the group.
Even if tips were a purely economic message sent from diner to waiter, the widespread practice of pooling tips jams the signal. In what is known as a "pooled house," which includes almost all fine-dining restaurants in New York, a tip does not usually go directly into the pocket of the waiter.
Instead, all cash and credit-card tips are added up at the end of the evening and distributed to waiters, runners and busboys according to a point system. A point is the total tip pool divided by the total hours worked by the pool participants. Each worker receives an amount equal to the hours he or she has worked multiplied by the point amount, or the fraction of a point assigned to a particular job category.
In the simplest sort of pool, if the night's tips add up to $1,000, and the staff is made up of six waiters and four busboys, who together worked 50 hours, a point would equal $20. A waiter working five hours would earn $100. A busboy, paid at a half-point rate, would pocket $50. Some pools include the bartender, sommelier, maitre d'hotel and others. If they don't, waiters normally tip these people, which can take as much as 45 percent of the waiter's share of the tips.
The mildly socialistic pool system penalizes the outstanding waiter who is surrounded by average ones, but it also evens out the injustices of a stingy table, or uneven seating patterns, which can make one waiter's station more valuable than another's.
In a nonpooled house, seating can become a serious source of friction, and service can become balkanized, with waiters at one station refusing to help customers outside their area. In theory, workers in a pooled house will be eager to help each other, knowing that better overall service will translate into more money for everyone.
Managers do track how much their waiters are being tipped. An eager-beaver server can expect to get better hours, better tables, and perhaps a promotion to assistant sommelier or, more rarely, captain or maitre d'hotel.
"I like the pool system better," said Belinda Behne, who has been a waitress at Gotham Bar and Grill for five years. "I realize that the old maverick style of waiter doesn't like it, but the pool means that no one waiter gets hurt, and you can rely on a steady income. At a restaurant like Gotham, I want willing help surrounding me. It takes the pressure off."
Of course, diners could always adopt the visionary scheme outlined by Crespi half a century ago. Crespi despised tipping, which he saw as a way for management to avoid paying a fair wage. He proposed the formation of a National Anti-Tipping League, whose members would leave, instead of a tip, a printed card explaining that it was up to the waiter to confront his boss and demand a living wage. The American people, the card explained, would be right behind him in this demand for social justice.
Strangely enough, the idea never took off. Add a smiley face, however, and it just might work.
8 March 1999....................basic evolutionary psychology
Quoting from THE MORAL ANIMAL by Robert Wright------------------"Between us and the australopithecine, which walked upright but had an ape-sized brain, stand a few million years: 100,000, maybe 200,00 generations. That may not sound like much. But it has taken only around 5,000 generations to turn a wolf into a chihuahua---and, at the same time, along a separate line, into a Saint Bernard. Of course, dogs evolved by artificial, not natural, selection. But as Darwin stressed, the two are essentially the same; in both cases traits are weeded out of a population by criteria that persist for many generations. And in both cases, if the "selective pressure" is strong enough---if genes are weeded out fast enough---evolution can proceed briskly.
One might wonder how the selective pressure could have been very strong during recent human evolution. After all, what usually generates the pressure is a hostile environment---droughts, ice ages, tough predators, scarce prey---and as human evolution has proceeded, the relevance of these things has abated. The invention of tools, of fire, the advent of planning and cooperative hunting---these brought growing control over the environment, growing insulation from the whims of nature. How, then, did ape brains turn into human brains in a few million years?
Much of the answer seems to be that the environment of human evolution has been human (or prehuman) beings. The various members of a Stone Age society were each other's rivals in the contest to fill the next generatiion with genes. What's more, they were each other's tools in that contest. Spreading their genes depended on dealing with their neighbors; sometimes helping them, sometimes liking them, sometimes hating them---and having a sense for which people warrant which sort of treatment, and when they warrant it. The evolution of human beings has consisted largely of adaptation to one another.
Since each adaptation, having fixed itself in the population, thus changes the social environment, adaptation only invites more adaptation. Once all parents have the XXL gene, it gives no parent an edge in the ongoing contest to create the most viable and prolific offspring. The arms race continues. In this case, it's an arms race of love. Often, it's not.
It is fashionable in some circles to downplay the whole idea of adaptation, of coherent evolutionary design. Popularizers of biological thought often emphasize not the role of fitness in evolutionary change but the role of randomness and happenstance. Some climate shift may come out of the blue and extinquish unlucky species of flora and fauna, changing the whole context of evolution for any species lucky enough to survive the calamity. A roll of the cosmic dice and suddenly all bets are off. Certainly that happens, and this is indeed one sense in which "randomness" greatly affects evolution. There are other senses as well. For example, new traits on which natural selection passes judgment seem to be randomly generated.
But none of the "randomness" in natural selection should be allowed to obscure its central feature: that the overriding criterion of organic design is fitness. Yes, the dice do get rerolled, and the context of evolution changes. A feature that is adaptive today may not be adaptive tomorrow. So natural selection often finds itself amending outmoded features. This ongoing adjustment to circumstance can give organic life a certain jerry-built quality. (It's the reason people have back trouble; if you were designing a walking organism from scratch rather than incrementally adapting a former tree-dweller, you would never have built such bad backs.) Nonetheless, changes in circumstance are typically gradual enough for evolution to keep pace (even if it has to break into a trot now and then, when selective pressure becomes severe), and it often does so ingeniously.
And all along the way, its definition of good design remains the same. The thousands and thousands of genes that influence human behavior---genes that build the brain and govern neurotransmitters and other hormones, thus defining our "mental organs"---are here for a reason. And the reason is that they goaded our ancestors into getting their genes into the next generation. If the theory of natural selection is correct, then essentially everything about the human mind should be intelligible in these terms. The basic ways we feel about each other, the basic kinds of things we think about each other and say to each other, are with us today by virtue of their past contribution to genetic fitness." Questions: Is there a connection between genetic programming and interpersonal development? Is there a relationship between the theories of natural selection and complex adaptive systems? (PD)
12 March 1999...................justifications
Quoting from THE MORAL SENSE by James Q. Wilson-------------------"How can one reconcile the existence of a moral sense with the evidence of moral depravity, immoral oppression, and amoral self-indulgence---that is, with crime, cruelty, and licentious extravagance? There is no puzzle here. The moral sense is no surer a cause of moral action than beliefs are the cause of actions generally. Behavior is the product of our senses interacting with our circumstances. But when we behave in ways that seem to violate our fundamental moral sensibilities---when we abandon children, sacrifice victims, or kill rivals---we offer reasons, and the reasons are never simply that we enjoy such acts and think that we can get away with them. The justifications we supply invariably are based on other claims, higher goods, or deferred pleasures: we need to assure a good crop, reduce suffering, produce a son who can inherit our property, or avert a plague that would devastate the community. Our moral sense requires justification for any departure from it; as circumstances change---as we learn better ways of averting plagues or producing crops---arguments that once seemed adequate begin to seem inadequate, and our behavior changes accordingly. It is this feeling that we must offer justifications for violating a moral standard that explains the difference between a standard that is purely a matter of taste ("I like chocolate ice cream") and one that is a matter of moral sensibility ("I ought not to be cruel"). If we decide to switch to vanilla ice cream, we need not justify our decision, especially by any argument that the new flavor merits our respect; if we are cruel, on the other hand, we feel obliged to justify it, usually by saying that the suffering party deserved his fate." Questions: Why do so few people feel that taxation and state control of private property are immoral? Can the justification (or rationalization) of a "naturally" immoral act such as sacrificing victims to improve crop yield be so pervasive as to suspend our better judgment? Must we "learn better ways of averting plagues or producing crops" before arguments seem inadequate--- thus allowing us to reconcile our behavior with our natural moral standards? (PD)
16 March 1999.................... the butcher, the brewer, or the baker
Quoting from THE ORIGINS OF VIRTUE by Matt Ridley-------------"Returning to Adam Smith's pin-maker, notice that both he and his customer are better off: the customer gets his pins cheaper, the pin-maker makes enough pins to exchange for a handsome supply of all the other goods he needs. From this followed perhaps the least appreciated insight in the whole history of ideas. Smith made the paradoxical argument that social benefits derive from individual vices. The cooperation and progress inherent in human society are the result not of benevolence, but of the pursuit of self-interest._________he wrote:'In almost every other race of animal each individual, when it is grown up to maturity, is entirely independent, and in its natural state has occasion for the assistance of no other living creature. But man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour, and show them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them.......It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages. Nobody but a beggar chooses to depend chiefly on the benovolence of his fellow citizens.'
As Samuel Brittain has cautioned, Smith is easily misunderstood. The butcher may not be motivated by benevolence, but that does not mean he is motivated by callousness or a desire to be nasty to others. The pursuit of self-interest is as different from the pursuit of spite as it is from the pursuit of altruism.
There is a beautiful parallel between what Smith meant and the human immune system Our immune system depends on molecules that wrap themselves around foreign proteins. If they are to do so, the molecules must fit their targets exactly, and that means they are highly specific. Each antibody, or T cell, can attack only one kind of invader. Therefore, to work, the immune system must have almost countless types of defending cells. It has over a billion. Each one is rare, but is ready to multiply if it encounters its target. Its 'motive' is, in a sense, self-interested. When a T cell starts to multiply it is conscious of nothing and it is certainly not motivated by some urge to kill the invader. But it is, in a sense, driven by the need to multiply: the immune system is a competive world in which only those cells thrive that divide when they get the chance. To multiply, a 'killer' T cell must get a supply of interleukins from a 'helper' T Cell. The molecules that allow the 'killer' to obtain interleukins are the very same moledules that allow it to recognize invaders. And the 'helper' only helps because the molecule that compels it to help is the same molecule that it needs if it is to grow. So attacking the foreign invader is, for these cells, a by-product of the normal business of striving to grow and divide. The whole system is beautifully designed so that the self-interested ambitions of each cell can only be satisfied by the cell doing its duty for the body. Selfish ambitions are bent to the greater good of the body just as selfish individuals are bent by the market to the greater good of society. It is as if our blood were full of Boy Scouts running around looking for invaders because each time they found one they were rewarded with a chocolate.
Smith's insight, translated into modern idiom, was that life is not a zero-sum game. A zero-sum game is one with a winner and a loser, like a tennis match. But not all games are zero-sum; sometimes both sides win, or lose. In the case of trade, Smith saw that because of the division of labour, my selfish ambition to profit from trading with you, and yours to profit from trading with me, can BOTH be satisfied.
'We are not ready to suspect any person of being defective in selfishness,' observed Smith in his THEORY OF MORAL SENTIMENTS. Indeed, Smith pointed out that benevolence is inadequate for the task of building cooperation in a large society, because we are irredeemably biased in our benevolence to relatives and close friends; a society built on benevolence would be riddled with nepotism. Between strangers, the invisible hand of the market, distributing selfish ambitions, is fairer." Questions: Is interpersonal development in the form of trust, toleration, mutual respect, and cooperation a natural outcome of the "selfish" instinct to trade for profit? If depending on the benevolence of fellow citizens makes us a beggar, are we not all beggars in effect when we ask for and receive political favors such as rent controls, minimum wages, and production subsidies? (PD)
20 March 1999..................culture and human behavior
Quoting from TRUST by Francis Fukuyama-------------"The problem with neoclassical economics is that it has forgotten certain key foundations on which classical economics was based. Adam Smith, the premier classical economist, believed that people are driven by a selfish desire to "better their condition," but he would never have subscribed to the notion that economic activity could be reduced to rational utility maximization. Indeed, his other major work besides THE WEALTH OF NATIONS was THE THEORY OF MORAL SENTIMENTS, which portrays economic motivation as highly complex and embedded in broader social habits and mores. The very change in the name of the discipline from "political economy" to 'economics" between the eighteenth and late nineteenth centuries reflects the narrowing of the model of human behavior at its core. Current economic discourse needs to recover some of the richness of classical, as opposed to neoclassical, economics, by taking account of how culture shapes all aspects of human behavior, including economic behavior, in a number of critical ways. Not only is the neoclassical economic perspective insufficient to explain political life, with its dominant emotions of indignation, pride, and shame, but it is not sufficient to explain many aspects of economic life either. Not all economic action arises out of what are traditionally thought of as economic motives.__________There would not be nearly as many wars if the latter were fought simply over economic resources; unfortunately, they usually involve nonutilitarian goals like recognition, religion, justice, prestige, and honor." Question: If "culture shapes all aspects of human behavior", can it also be said that our evolved emotional framework shapes all aspects of our culture? (PD)
25 March 1999.................an atavistic longing
Quoting from THE FATAL CONCEIT by F.A. Hayek--------------"Moreover, the structures of the extended order are made up not only of individuals but also of many, often overlapping, sub-orders within which old instinctual responses, such as solidarity and altruism, continue to retain some importance by assisting voluntary collaboration, even though they are incapable, by themselves, of creating a basis for the more extended order. Part of our present difficully is that we must constantly adjust our lives, our thoughts and our emotions, in order to live simultaneously within different kinds of orders according to different rules. If we were to apply the unmodified, uncurbed, rules of the micro-cosmos (i.e., of the small band or troop, or of, say, our families) to the macro-cosmos (our wider civilisation), as our instincts and sentimental yearnings often make us wish to do, WE WOULD DESTROY IT. Yet if we were always to apply the rules of the extended order to our more intimate groupings, WE WOULD CRUSH THEM. So we must learn to live in two sorts of world at once. To apply the name 'society' to both, or even to either, is hardly of any use, and can be most misleading.
Yet despite the advantages attending our limited ability to live simultaneously within TWO orders of rules, and to distinquish between them, it is anything but easy to do either. Indeed, our instincts often threaten to topple the whole edifice. The topic of this book thus resembles, in a way, that of CIVILISATION AND ITS DISCONTENTS (1930), except that my conclusions differ greatly from Freud's. Indeed, the conflict between what men instinctively like and the learnt rules of conduct that enabled them to expand - a conflict fired by the discipline of 'repressive or inhibitory moral traditions', as D.T. Campbell calls it - is perhaps the major theme of the history of civilisation. It seems that Columbus recognised at once that the life of the 'savages' whom he encountered was more gratifying to innate human instincts. And as I shall argue later, I believe that an atavistic longing after the life of the noble savage is the main source of the collectivist tradition." Question: Is the power of the State based on "the rules of the micro-cosmos", a need to seemingly create order, or naked aggression? (PD)