Whose salary depends on him/her not understanding something?
February 27, 2013 2:17 PM   Subscribe

Can anyone point me to a video demonstrating the Upton Sinclair quote, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it"--but in a non-political context?

I'm teaching a course on critical thinking for first-year students and want to show them a short (<5 min) video, probably an interview, that demonstrates this quote. I tried showing them an example from a political interview but that totally distracted from the point as students started arguing about whether the video was fair to one party or another. So I want an example that will be less controversial. The class is about science and pseudoscience, so controversy in that realm is ok. Thanks!
posted by underwater to Education (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
few different angles:

someone holding a job at a weapons factory. they may not want to acknowledge / "understand" the actual uses of the things they are building.

a factory worker who could optimize a part of the process, at the risk of his job.

a manager who knows a division he's in charge of is not pursuing anything profitable or valuable to the company
posted by mulligan at 2:21 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is a really sick, sad story that I wish I had more time to explain, and I suppose it is political in a way - but there is a "problem" with too many wild horses in the west, but they are legally protected and it is illegal to sell them for slaughter. So the Bureau of Land Management basically sells them to a known horse slaughterer who gives ridiculously implausible descriptions of what he does with them, while it is pretty clear he is selling them to slaughter plants in Mexico. Various governmental bureaucrats in the following articles make falsely naive or falsely outraged statements (outrage towards people who dare to suggest this honorable man could possibly be doing anything wrong.) They are the ones who salaries depend upon "not understanding" what is happening to the horses.

Buyer of wild horses under investigation by state, feds
Secretary of interior threatens to punch out local reporter
Are we leading our wild horses to slaughter?
posted by cairdeas at 2:28 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Basically these governmental bureaucrats have been charged with solving this complicated and difficult problem (what to do with thousands of wild horses?), and this man comes along to solve the problem for them and make them look really good in the process (exceeding all projected numbers for horse placements!).
posted by cairdeas at 2:30 PM on February 27, 2013

From The Daily WTF.
posted by pompomtom at 2:30 PM on February 27, 2013

In Moore's documentary "Sicko", there is a scene where an ex health-insurance claims adjuster explains the incentives and training they received to get them to the point of Not Understanding that when they deny someone's insurance claim for a life-saving medical procedure, that person dies as a direct result.
posted by anonymisc at 2:56 PM on February 27, 2013 [8 favorites]

I don't have a clip at hand, but I think there is plenty of evidence extant that the TSA exists as security theater, and actually does very little (relative to its size and budget) to ensure the safety of air travelers. And yet, the agents we encounter at US airports must approach their jobs with the studied seriousness of a method actor...because to do otherwise would be to admit that this particular emperor has no clothes.
posted by mosk at 3:24 PM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

I can't place the video, but I've also seen a documentary in which (a few decades ago) many tobacco executives were pretty invested in the idea that people freely choose to buy their product, such that they were not receptive to the research that it was addictive.
posted by anonymisc at 3:24 PM on February 27, 2013

Many sales positions require unalloyed enthusiasm for the product. It's not always genuine, but often (to my endless amazement) it is. I can't think of any specific video clips that fit your requirements, though.
posted by pullayup at 3:50 PM on February 27, 2013

Would being in the hospitality industry count? I always wonder why more things like Romney's infamous 47% video don't leak out. It must be very difficult to work one of those events if you understand who the people you're serving are and how their agenda will affect your life.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:51 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I know my job is understanding and learning things I don't yet know. Engineer. I'm not sure if this is what you're asking though.

Every day I go to work I need to solve problems nobody else has the time or knowledge to solve.
posted by irishcoffee at 5:00 PM on February 27, 2013

David Schwarz, responsible gambling ambassador for an Australian pokies manufacturer - even has a convenient youtube video explaining why measures to reduce problem gambling are no good.

Similarly, alcohol advertising folk who get to produce ads with 'johnny walker encourages responsible drinking'.
posted by jacalata at 5:03 PM on February 27, 2013

The story of Sergio, The Indexer and many others at TheDailyWTF.com EDIT: Ack! pompomtom beat me to it!
posted by Wild_Eep at 5:10 AM on February 28, 2013

I know you're seeking non-political examples, but the first and maybe easiest-to-understand one that comes to my mind is climate change denial. There are a lot of lobbyists/media types/etc. who you'll never make 'understand' what's going on. Gun control too; good luck getting Wayne LaPierre to admit that gun deaths in the home are exponentially more often fatal to residents than non-. That's how I understand the quote, anyway.
posted by troywestfield at 8:58 AM on February 28, 2013

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