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Face-saving in business, politics and war Face-saving in business, politics and war
by Joseph Gatt
2020-10-16 07:05:23
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What is good is bad. What is bad is good.

This is pretty much how things tend to work in face-saving societies when it comes to business, politics or military affairs.

In business

What is good is bad. What is bad is good.

For example, if your product works perfectly, it will draw vast amounts of criticism, and you'll have trouble getting good deals.

wapol001_400If your product has defects, you're more likely to get some praise, and your partners are more likely to make a bit of an effort to try to get it to sell.


A good product makes other people and companies look bad. And in face-saving societies, people tend to want the rest of the world to be as “imperfect” as they can possibly be. So any individual or product that nears perfection will get hammered down.

How does this work out?

Let's say you have great laptops that you want to sell. Robust, lasting battery. Robust screen. Very fast. Lots of memory. Never breaks.

Your laptop is just too perfect, and will get destroyed by the critics. For two reasons. From a consumer standpoint, any consumer who purchases your laptop will face jealous friends. Those jealous friends will either steal his laptop, try to infect it with a virus, or just make fun of him for owning that “perfect laptop.” They will call him or her “gay” or “European sissy” or “arrogant prick” for owning such a good laptop.

From a B to B (business to business) standpoint, those other lower quality laptops competing with your perfect laptop are going to use dirty tricks to sabotage you and your partners. The government could improvise a series of audits, you could face legal problems with authorities, or your laptop could be deemed “not to comply with local norms.” Or the government could impose a series of instructions that only apply to you and take time and waste money, as in imposing design changes or strict labeling instructions.

What is good is bad. What is bad is good.

In business (and politics) you should also keep in mind that “debt” is not just financial. In “face-saving” cultures, any favor, praise, compliment or good deed counts as a “debt.”

What do I mean by that.

If you're doing business in face-saving nations, and that your partner takes you out for an expensive dinner, entertains you, showers you with praise, and gives you some advice that you could use in your business.

If you thank them and tell them you had a wonderful time.

A couple of weeks later they will come back and shower you with burdensome favors, the kind of favors no one would really want to help people out with. They could ask you for a loan, or ask you to lower your prices considerably. Or worse, they could even ask you to perform unrelated favors, as in providing services that your business does not provide.

If you refuse to perform those favors?

First off, you'll blow the deal. Second of all, they will constantly remind you that that night they took you out and entertained you and showered you with praise means you owe them a debt, and that you repay that debt by caving into their favors.

What do people in face-saving societies do?

If someone takes you out to a gourmet dinner, you act like the dinner tastes weird and that you're not having a great time. When they praise you, you reject the praise, and you shower yourself with criticism. The irony is, the criticism you “shower yourself with” is in fact directed at your guest in disguised manner. And, to further humiliate your guest, you discuss how your “imaginary friend” invited you to the best dinner ever and that that specific food tasted awesome (hinting that the food you are being provided isn't that great).

What is good is bad, what is bad is good.

So if you want to win at business in face-saving societies. You treat your host to a cheap dinner (that will get you praise). You try to sell them your worst possible product, before gradually selling better products. Your worst possible product will get praise, although sales won't be great. You hint at criticism of your partner, by discussing other partners that don't have what your partner has.

Your partner will be irritated, but you have the upper hand.

In face-saving cultures, business is slow. A lot of deals don't go through. The idea is constantly, eternally having the “upper-hand.”

In free societies, business is about winning and making excellent profits.

In face-saving cultures, business is about maintaining the upper-hand in the system, that is, surviving, and not being manipulated by competitors.

Face-saving in politics

It's interesting how Israel is constantly trying to get a done-deal in the conflict with the Palestinians, when the Palestinians are merely trying to keep the upper-hand in the conflict.

What is good is bad. What is bad is good.

So in politics in face-saving nations, good politicians get all the criticism, because they are good.

Bad politicians don't get criticism, because if you do criticize them, you point out the hurtful truth, and they lose face.

So, if your country is doing well and things are going smoothly, your partners from face-saving nations might point out your country's weaknesses. If your country is in recession or things are not going great, your partners from face-saving nations might praise your country for doing very well.

The notion of “debt.”

In face-saving nations, “good deeds” are counted and are perceived as a debt. So if the Palestinians go six months without an attack on Israel, the Palestinians will tend to count that as a debt that Israel owes them, and the Palestinians will start asking for that “debt” to be repaid on one form or the other, and if Israel refuses to count that as a “debt” (peace is not supposed to be a debt) then the Palestinians will start threatening to attack or use other forms of blackmail.

In free nations, we only count the finances we owe each other as debt.

In face-saving nations, debt is not just about money. There is “historical debt” and any favor performed will count as a “debt.”

Example: French soccer star Zinedine Zidane was born in France to Algerian parents. Many Algerians count Zidane as a debt, as he arguably the best player on the French squad and helped France win the World Cup in 1998 and reach the World Cup final in 2006,

So the conversation could go like this:

Algerians: We gave you Zindane!

The French: let's focus on politics here.

Algerians: we gave you 4 million workers. That's billions of dollars inn GDP.

The French: you also gave us terrorists and criminals but let's not count those. Let's focus on politics.

Algerians: we gave you Edith Piaf and Marcel Cerdan and Daniel Prévost and Albert Camus and Enrico Macias...

The French: if you keep going like that we are going to ban all Algerians from appearing on TV or being cultural personalities. Those artists and sports figures are individuals and they owe their talent to themselves.

Algerians: you stole our land for 132 years!

The French: that debt has been repaid.

Algerians: that debt could never be repaid! It's an eternal debt!

You get the idea.

Keeping the upper-hand

In face-saving nations, politics is not about winning great deals or getting great economic results.

Politics is about keeping the upper-hand, even when that requires all kinds of dirty tricks. Crowds can be manipulated to keep the upper-hand. Wars or threats of war can be made to keep the upper-hand. The deals can be cancelled to keep the upper-hand.

In sum, in face-saving nations, because what is good is bad and what is bad is good, bad politicians are really going to try to find different ways to stay in power, and to try to be as indispensible as they can.

Military affairs in face-saving nations

War in free nations is about clearly controlling territory, with clear institutions, clear prerogatives, and a clear path to peace and to solving the conflict.

In face-saving nations, conflicts are more blurry, ambiguous, and it's never clear who the winners are and who the losers are.

Victory is defeat, and defeat is victory.

In face-saving nations, if the general discusses victory, it probably means that defeat is imminent. Over the last 72 years, despite losing countless wars, the Palestinians still discuss history as “a series of victories” over the Israelis.

In face-saving nations, when a war is about to be won, that's when defeat starts being discussed. This is because individual generals want the victory to themselves, they will start trying to pull down other generals by arguing that the victory was in fact a defeat.

Between 1945 and 1949, Stalin in the Soviet Union made it sound like the USSR was defeated in World War II, and Stalin made those defeatist speeches with the goal of purging all the generals and politicians that he wanted to purge.

Once Stalin had gotten rid of the “problematic” elements on his team, and that Stalin's “internal” enemies were all dead, that's when Stalin started parade after parade crying victory.

So it's only around 1950 that the Soviets started celebrating victory in World War II, which ended in 1945.

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