Genocide and Customer Service

Not everyone who kills is a psychopath. We like to categorize each murderer as an inhuman creature, or at least a damaged human whose brain is demonstrably different from ours. But not every person killed is killed by a psychopath, and I’m not even talking about the ones killed by falling debris, exposure, dehydration, famine, or other God things.
Though I know he’s an asshat, Orson Scott Card has been a very good writer, if not human being. One of the best examples of this phenomenon appeared in his book Shadow of the Hegemon. Here, a general of a major military has to follow through with a plan to kill two boys. He is not a psychopath. He doesn’t start the interaction with the boys as emotionally dead to their existence as human beings. What clues one of the boys to the fact that murder is on the general’s mind is that he gets wildly emotional and begins to claim that things not the boy’s fault are, and how their situation is their own making, etc. He villainizes the boys and pumps them up in his mind as bad guys, deviants, something unnatural and dangerous. He forces them into Other, makes of them enemies rather than children, to allow himself the freedom to banish them from life as he has from his emotional reference as people.
I see this in customer service all the time. A lot of people are scared of social interaction. For whatever reason they tend to think they’ll be yelled at, made fun of, or whatever else, for something as simple as returning a malfunctioning product. A number of times, in fact, this hasn’t been far off, but it pre-loads many people with a fight or flight mentality before they’re even at the counter. They make a narrative in their mind and cast themselves as protagonist and the person behind the counter as antagonist; there are only two people in the story. Anyone not you is the bad guy.
I cannot count the number of times I have seen someone go to complain about an issue, get what they want, and then continue to froth at the mouth after achieving their end goal.
Reason: emotional momentum. They ramped themselves up to an energy level that now needs a means of expression, and if they aren’t given a fight on which to let it out it has to leak like pressurized air from a balloon until they deflate.
When you wonder at how human beings can commit acts of brutality, how something like “ethnic cleansing” can find support in so many, don’t bow to the easy answer that everyone involved is monster. We are all of us people, good and bad. The capacity to hurt another, and to convince yourself of how necessary it was to hurt them, is a rationale we all possess.

Note: After writing this I recalled the theory that laughter is unexpressed emotional energy being vented. It’s a pressure, the theory goes, that we release when our mind-body unit figures that there’s no further reason for the original feeling. Laughter too I’ve seen from angered patrons, but only after their issue is resolved. We say that is relief, but that’s exactly the point, isn’t it? A relief, a release, from that higher emotional state, and laughter is like the release of photons when an electron drops to a lower orbital.
Food for thought, anyway.


One Comment

  1. It’s astounding how much psychology there is in customer service, and how poorly served it is by having a manager wander around telling everyone to smile more.

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