K R Bolton
A recent empirical analysis, the first of its type, examines what the study’s author, Professor Jeremy Bernerth, Department of Management, San Diego State University, has termed the Proclivity To Be Offended (PTBO). Bernerth examines the consequences of this syndrome from the perspective of how it impacts on business efficiency and personnel relations. (Bernerth, 2020).
While it can easily and widely be observed that what is popularly called the ‘Snowflake’ syndrome often manifests as histrionic personality disorder (seeking attention through excessive emotional reactions) PTBO acts more subtlety and pervasively.
Paving the Way for De-Normalisation
Narcissism, hysteria, sociopathy, and other mental disorders tend to cluster around adherents to Leftist ideologies including liberalism. (Bolton,2013). Certain of the Frankfurt School Theorists and other neo- and post-Marxists such as Louis Althusser, rationalised their Oedipal anxieties into ideologies of social conflict, for example. The Marquis de Sade placed an ideological façade over his sociopathic manias and was heralded by Jacobin France (Bolton, 2013, p. 64).
Several generations have been mentally reprogrammed to respond with degrees of offence. On a basic, grassroots level, it is widely perceived as ‘political correctness’, and when manifested histrionically the term ‘Snowflake’ has come into the popular lexicon to describe bizarre phenomena that became increasingly apparent after the Trump election.
A human relations industry has grown around the associated area of ‘unconscious bias’. Corporations expend time, energy and money attempting to address what are regarded not only as open, but even as unrecognised prejudices in the name of ‘good corporate citizenship’. The human relations industry emerged from the ‘sensitivity training’ and ‘group therapy’ ideas that become popular during the 1960s and 1970s as a new form of psycho-therapy, as forms of mind manipulation. Generations have been inculcated with a culture of grievance, as victims or as perpetrators, the latter mostly being termed ‘unconscious bias’, resulting in self-censorship, self-recrimination and what would otherwise be regarded by psychiatrists as self-negating, self-destructive thinking. There is a term for it that was used by Communist China and Bolshevik Russia: self-criticism. The same techniques entered the West decades ago as ‘human relations’. (Zelevansky, 2019).
Although Bernerth does not address the matter, it would seem that PTBO might be the result of several generations of reinforcement of beliefs of entitlement and protection from hitherto common factors of life that once toughened the individual physically and psychologically.
An assault on normality was initiated by the Frankfurt School of neo-Marxist and post-Marxist social scientists who produced well-funded studies intended to show that the cause of mass psychosis, including ‘Fascism’, which could be measured on an ‘F scale’, is the white patriarchal family. (Theodor Adorno et al,1950). There were many others such as Gunnar Myrdal’s American Dilemma (1944) on race relations, Margaret Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa (1928) on adolescence, and Alfred Kinsey’s sexology; deeply flawed studies intended to subvert what remained of Western traditions. So far from being side-lined as the preoccupations of a few eccentrics, such ideas percolated within institutions such as Columbia University, received influential patronage from the Ford, Carnegie and Rockefeller foundations et al, and became the mainstream discourse throughout all levels of society.
Bernerth’s concern is the impact this hyper-sensitivity has on business relations. A survey was completed by 395 individuals, with an average age of 25.9 years, and an average job tenure of 3.6 years. 54.6% indicated they were male; 70% indicated they were White; 10.9% Black, 9% Hispanic; 6.5% Asian; 3.6% Other. Questions involved job satisfaction and employee engagement to the job. The aim was to measure the degree of dissatisfaction from feelings of ‘offence’ that interfered with full commitment to one’s job. This includes cognitive interference theory. As the name suggests, cognitive interference involves the intrusion of unconscious thoughts into consciousness, diminishing ability to focus on an immediate task. The survey sought to measure not moral outrage towards a specific event, but a more generalised attitude. Subjects were asked to rate how personally offended they were towards 9 events/topics:
1= Not at all offensive
2= Indifferent or neutral
3= Somewhat offensive
5= Extremely offensive
The term Washington ‘Redskins’
Wearing a shirt that has an American flag on Cinco de Mayo
Telling someone to ‘man up’
Dressing up as an American Indian for Halloween
Saying ‘God bless you’ after someone sneezes
The term ‘Blue lives matter’
The playing of the USA National Anthem
Believing that individuals who do not have legal status to be in a country should be deported
Using the term Islamic terrorist (Bernerth, p. 321).
Bernerth in introducing his paper writes that the problem considerved is that ‘Managers are increasingly working in politically-charged contexts. Polls show citizens of many countries are more polarized today than ever before and that these political divisions increasingly arise in and affect the workplace. As political divisions grow, so too do reports of people taking offense to politically or socially sensitive events and issues’. (Ibid., p. 314).
Corporations want to be ‘inclusive’ within the context of a global economy where profit maximisation is hampered by vestiges of customs and traditions hindering the development of the global market place and the global consumer and producer. While a multiplicity of studies have found that the supposed benefits of the much-touted ‘cultural diversity’ of the workplace is a myth, and that diversity undermines social trust (Peter Dinesen, et al, 2019). Bernerth’s study looks at the way the broader agendas of ‘political correctness’ seems to have induced and reinforced neurotic attitudes among individuals towards issues that were until recently regarded as trivial.
‘Whereas acquiescing to these sensitivities is lauded by some as “a force for promoting positive social outcomes,” others call into question the altruistic portrayal of outrage over perceived social injustices. This divergence of views translates into two contrasting perspectives regarding the implications for employees and organizations: one perspective holds that proactively limiting perceived injustices and offenses may benefit both employees and organizations as it helps employees to adaptively respond to the environment and thus advance their careers, while organizations likewise benefit as they send a message to the public that they are concerned with redressing historical injustices and thus attract better applicants and a larger proportion of the market. The other perspective suggests individuals and organizations are overly sensitive, and that “politically correct” stances and behaviors stifle communication and distract the individual and organization from developing competencies’. (Bernerth, p. 314).
With the pervasive and draconian character of ‘political correctness’, the second outlook mentioned above, that ‘individuals and organizations are overly sensitive, and that “politically correct” stances and behaviors stifle communication and distract the individual and organization from developing competencies’, is not likely to be one that is notable in any large or even moderately sized corporation or business, or in any educational, political, religious or social institution in the Western world.However Bernerth finds that – like theDinesen study on social trust and diversity – Liberal theories do not achieve the assumed results. By pandering to the neuroses of the perpetually offended, despite the amount of time, energy and money, there is a lack of evidence that the ‘capital expenditures are necessary or beneficial’. (Ibid., p. 314). The result has been to reinforce and to multiply feelings of grievance, ‘including the increasingly common tendency to be offended by a vast array of events and traditions’. (Ibid.).
Bernerth’s concern is to examine how PTBO as a hitherto unexplored form of cognitive interference intrudes on and disrupts employee performance. So far the tendency has been to attempt to eliminate cognitive interference with the use of, ‘team building’ (sensitivity training), by eliminating both conscious and supposed ‘unconscious bias’ while pandering to the perceptions of the offended.
That such coercive and accusatory techniques might cause cognitive interference among those being subjected to mental, moral and even religious deconstruction does not seem to be considered. In other words, is a backlash of resentment being created among those who are unjustly accused of ‘unconscious bias’? Presumably the political and economic interests intent on eliminating ‘unconscious bias’ are confident that a combination of repressive laws and indoctrination at all levels of society will eliminate residual dissent, such as ‘thought crime’.
What must be exorcised from every employee is any discernible vestige – including especially that of the ‘unconscious’ variety – of bias at which someone might take offence, on the condition that the target will always be someone holding hitherto normal values, usually referred to as ‘white’, male’ and ‘patriarchal’, or anyone retaining a traditional outlook; such customs and values having long been deemed as high on the ‘F scale’ (Adorno, et al) and in need of elimination.
Offended by Trivia
The empirical study of PTBO specifically examines the ‘tendency to be sensitive to customarily innocuous societal events and traditions.’ Bernerth gives the example of the playing of the U.S. National Anthem; once a source of pride, but now a symbol of ‘oppression’ for an increasing number. It is important to note that PTBO is not considering any single tradition or event but such examples as part of a syndrome of offence towards an array of issues, and differs from ‘moral outrage’ (feelings of anger directed at third party transgressors). (Bernerth, p. 315).
PTBO resides permanently as an intrusive element of the unconscious intruding on the consciousness, and triggered by an array of individually perceived issues. Hence institutions including workplaces might be perceived as intrinsically unjust, and pervaded with ‘uncsncious bias’. As a form of cognitive interference, ‘off-task thoughts interfere with concentration and performance by drawing limited processing and sense-making resources away from task-relevant stimuli to task-irrelevant stimuli’. (Ibid.).PTBO is both a stressor and a task-irrelevant stimuli, interfering with ‘reasoning abilities and memory retrieval processes’. ‘Additional research indicates worrisome thoughts have a peremptory power, taking precedence over other areas and priming one to focus on aspects of the stimuli not perceived or felt by others’. (Ibid.). It is with the latter, that of stressors and stimuli ‘not perceived or felt by others’, that such concepts as ‘unconscious bias’, and ‘white privilege’ or the ‘patriarchy’, are in the thought control techniques used by ‘human relations experts’.
Might it not then be asked whether such measures are reinforcing the syndrome and are having an adverse impact on those with PTBO who are supposedly being helped, while creating resentment among those who are being scapegoated and accused?
Berneth writes of this cognitive interference in the workplace:
‘The proclivity to see offense in ordinarily innocuous events, as a result, likely gets in the way of effective task performance as being offended diverts attentional resources away from task-relevant cues and requirements towards the processing of peripheral or secondary cues. The offensive event competes with and impairs task-relevant thoughts and actions by reducing the amount of accessible cognitive resources. Rather than focusing on task requirements, those high in PTBO are distracted by perceived offenses that seem unjust; moreover, existing research indicates being distracted by worrisome thoughts creates a feeling of helplessness as divided attention prohibits resolving actions’. (Ibid., pp. 315-316).
Bernerth concludes that those with PTBO make poor employees. Perhaps this is among the variables that account for areas where women and ‘ethnics’ are said to be underrepresented, rather than being a result of ‘unconscious bias’, ‘discrimination’, ‘white patriarchy’ etc. PTBO can be so obsessive that a ‘woman of colour’ for example might be offended if she is asked for her opinion as a ‘black woman’, while also being offended if her uniqueness is not recognised. This is the type of scenario that can be seen described among the human relations industry. Hence, a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ pattern emerges not only for employers but at least as much for employees who are White generally, and White males particularly.
Teambuilding and Citizenship
As has been seen with the study of the data on social trust and multiculturalism (Dinesen, et al) the supposed ‘unity in diversity’ that is lauded is also shown by studies on PTBO to impact negatively on workplace team-building. Might it not therefore be stated that what applies to the sociology of a business can also be applied to society generally? When agitated this seething PTBO can erupt into mass violence, as seen by the present George Floyd/BLM riots. When Bernerth writes of the ‘citizenship’ standards required for a successful workplace ‘team’, we might apply that to the requirements for the building of a nation as a ‘team’. The team spirit whether in a business or in a nation is undermined by widespread PTBO. One might see how a society could be deliberately undermined by encouraging PTBO among suggestible elements.
Bernerth makes such an analogy between corporate and social teambuilding, and the requirements of reciprocation:
‘As individually-aimed citizenship behavior requires an awareness of the needs of others, it seems those with a proclivity to be offended may not pick up cues suggesting help is needed and/or not have the available resources needed to help. Citizenship behaviors may also (and frequently are) aimed at the broader organization. Sportsmanship, for instance, represents an employee’s tolerance or willingness to overlook problematic work characteristics and maintain a focus on resolving task demands. Other key sporting behaviors include avoiding complaints about trivial matters and “making mountains out of molehills”. Recent media reports suggest those who take offense to social issues and events are increasingly vocal—a pattern likely repeated within organizations’. (Ibid., p. 316).
Where such team-building is sought by a corporation or a state or local government department, via ‘human relations seminars’, for example, the assumption is that behaviour modification is required not for those with PTBO but to the contrary for those who are deemed to be showing insufficient deference (including ‘unconsciously’) towards the perpetually offended. The syndrome is thereby reinforced, not dissipated. Where it is undertaken on a nationwide scale, we see laws and campaigns to reinforce PTBO. The current Human Rights Commission campaign ‘Voices of Racism’ serves this purpose, normalising PTBO by reinforcing neurotic notions about events and comments that would normally be considered harmless, well-intentioned or insignificant. (Bolton, 2020).
So far from placating those with PTBO being helpful Bernerth states that, ‘both anecdotal and objective data suggests giving in to those individuals expressing the most outrage is not an advisable strategy’. (Bernerth, p. 321). Again one is confronted with the prospect of reinforcing abnormal behaviour by accommodation and appeasement. Bernerth suggests that both narcissism and neuroticism are involved. (Ibid.).
Bernerth notes a study that suggests ‘those with a tendency to monitor and scan the environment for threatening information do not live a “happy -go-lucky” lifestyle’. (Bernerth, p. 316). One might say that preoccupation with finding events or traditions that can reinforce one’s feeling of being offended leads to neurosis; when sufficiently agitated, psychosis, and in the right milieu mass psychosis. Yet, is this not what is encouraged by the Human Rights Commission, or by justice minister Andrew Little advocating the need for a ‘hate speech’ law, and justified by very specious examples such as those chronicled in the HRC’s report on ‘hate crimes’? (P Hunt, 2019).
Bernerth alludes to PTBO being analogous ‘to a threat of sorts’, with those high in PTBO taking more time ‘processing and making sense of stimuli overlooked or disregarded by many’. (Bernerth, p. 316).
Bernerth’s states that,
‘The most fundamental implication of this research is the finding that the current trend of taking offense to an array of events and traditions represents an underlying phenomenon and not isolated reactions. Moreover, this state correlates with some of the most important work-related outcomes and in ways one might not expect or predict. For example, one might assume those who display PTBO are the most helpful in the organization as their prescriptive morality dictates helping and providing for others but study results indicate a negative relationship between PTBO and two different forms of citizenship behavior. Moreover, PTBO negatively correlated with task performance and positively correlated with counterproductive work behaviors, suggesting not only that these individuals engage in fewer citizenship behaviors but also engage in behaviors managers and organizations want their employees to avoid’. (Bernerth, p. 320. Emphasis added).
Applying the findings of Bernerth to broader sociological questions, at the most extreme, posturing on social issues in the name of ‘liberty, equality fraternity’, ‘human rights’, or ‘all power to the soviets’, has resulted in mass psychosis and social collapse. (Bolton, 2013). The PTBO syndrome is exploited by those who pose as champions of ‘social justice’, and justified by cognitive dissonance for those who require rationalising their thoughts and deeds as something noble; however, ‘There is a way that seems right to a man,But its end is the way of death’. (Proverbs, 14:12).
Theodor Adorno et al, The Authoritarian Personality, 1950.
Jeremy B. Bernerth, You’re Offended. I’m Offended! An empirical study of the proclivity to be offended and what it says about employees’ attitudes and behaviours, Journal of Business Research, No. 116, May 2020, reproduced on Sci-hub: https://sci-hub.st/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusres.2020.05.040).
K R Bolton, The Psychotic Left, London, 2013.
K R Bolton, Anti-Racism campaign shows bigoted intent of ‘hate speech’ law, The European New Zealander, 5 August 2020, https://theeuropeannewzealander.net/2020/08/05/anti-racism-campaign-shows-bigoted-intent-of-hate-speech-law/
Peter Dinesen, K.M. Sønderskov, F. Thuesen, Working Together? Ethnic Diversity in the Workplace and Generalised Social Trust, Working Paper, 2019. An interview on this paper with Dinsen can be heard at: Center for the Study of Democratic Citizenship, https://csdc-cecd.ca/event/speaker-series-peter-dinesen/
P Hunt, It Happened Here: Hate Crimes 2004-2012, Human Rights Commission, 2019
Nora Zelevansky, ‘The big business of unconscious bias, New York Times, 20 November 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/20/style/diversity-consultants.html