Wesleyan University social psychologist Scott Plous said one dimension of the phenomenon is known as the actor-observer bias. When we do something wrong ourselves -- drive 60 mph in a 40-mph zone, for example -- we explain our actions in terms of situational factors. We say we are speeding because we are running late, or that we got held up at work. But when we see someone else do something wrong, we are far more likely to link the behavior to the nature of that individual.It's described as the difference between "situational" understanding and "dispositional" understanding. I think it can apply to bureaucrats as well. When people cuss and moan about "faceless bureaucrats", I think it's true that they lack the bureaucrat's understanding of the rules being applied. So the bureaucrat knows the situation and applies the rules. The citizen, who just got screwed (or feels he did), only knows that some bastard screwed him by mindless application of some rules.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Those Despicable Bureaucrats
Shankar Vedantam in yesterday's Post has an article describing how we view others. Here's a quote: