Malcolm Gladwell  

Malcolm Gladwell  

A weeklong electronic journal.
Nov. 22 1996 3:30 AM

Malcolm Gladwell  

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       My friend Sarah Mosle called this afternoon to complain about yesterday's diary, arguing that I failed to give an adequate definition of the Theory of Disqualifying Statements. I think she's right, and so, instead of forging ahead with the exciting new details of my life--haircut!--I'm afraid I'm going to have to revisit yesterday's entry. Sarah and I agree that for a Disqualifying Statement to be a Disqualifying Statement, it has to be symmetrical--that is to say, its reverse has to be a disqualifier for the person who made the initial Disqualifying Statement. Thus, to refer to yesterday's example, in order for "nice tits" to be a true Disqualifying Statement, my friend's would-be amour would have to have found the retort--"I would never go out with a man who called my breasts 'tits' "--sufficient to disqualify her as well. In the literature, this is referred to as the principle of Mutual Assured Disqualification (MAD), and it is the standard by which mere differences in tastes can be distinguished from true differences in values. A statement that is merely clumsy or inappropriate is not a disqualifier, for if challenged, the speaker will immediately disavow it. Neither is a statement of merely perverse preference. For example, "I hate Democrats" does not pass the MAD test, since a potential date might find that offensive coming from me; but I would not necessarily find the obverse--"I hate people who hate Democrats"--offensive at all. In fact, I might find that kind of attitude quite charming.
       This theory clearly has its most important implications, however, when, under conditions of true values-disparity, the requirement of symmetry is not met--when the Disqualifying Statement fails to disqualify, leading to what should probably be called Disqualifying Statement Nullification Disorder (DSND), which is a syndrome describing either 1) the state of realizing that a Disqualifying Statement has been made but being unable or unwilling to actually disqualify on that basis (c.f. battered-wife syndrome); or b) the state of being oblivious to the fact that a Disqualifying Statement has been made, which is, I suppose, best described as a kind of generalized psychiatric variant of Uncle Tomming. Pat Buchanan's popularity, by this measure, is clearly a manifestation of DSND, Type A, as in: "Sure, a nuclear war with China may have unpleasant side effects. But so what? Lock and load!" Perot supporters, by contrast, are more likely to be DSND, non-A, Type B, as in: "Paranoid? What makes you say he's paranoid?" As for DSND type A plus B, it's a much rarer variant, possibly confined to those who still think O.J. Simpson is innocent. I could go on, of course, and believe me, Sarah and I did. But I don't want you to think that I'm, like, crazy.

Malcolm Gladwell is a staff writer at The New Yorker.