Infohazard warning for The Gervais Principle

I think The Gervais Principle (by Venkatesh Rao) may be an infohazard for some, and I want to give you fair warning.

In particular, if you work in more of a blue-collar environment, or in a large organization with layers of bureaucrats or middle managers, I think that reading The Gervais Principle may make it harder for you to relate socially to your colleagues. It may increase your sense of alienation and reduce your motivation at work, because, among other things, The Gervais Principle is a critique of the social environments that laborers (often unconsciously) use to make their work more tolerable.

The critique may reveal to you the power structures behind the social facades, but depending on other circumstances in your life, there is no guarantee this new understanding will help you improve your situation.

Rao says the following:

By my estimate, the material in this book has already triggered . . . hazardous reflection for thousands of people over the past four years. It has triggered significant (and not always positive) career moves for dozens of people that I know of.


There is a cost to getting organizationally literate. This ability, once acquired, cannot be un-acquired. Just as learning a foreign language makes you deaf to the raw, unintelligible sound of that language you could once experience, learning to read organizations means you can never see them the way you used to, before. Achieving organizational literacy or even fluency does not mean you will do great things or avoid doing stupid things. But it does mean that you will find it much harder to lie to yourself about what you are doing and why. It forces you to own the decisions you make and accept the consequences of your actions…So to seek organizational literacy is to also accept a sort of responsibility for your own life that many instinctively reject.

This power can have very unpredictable effects. You may find yourself wishing, if you choose to acquire it, that you hadn’t. So acquiring organizational literacy is what some like to call a memetic hazard: dangerous knowledge that may harm you. A case of “where ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise.” […]

But I believe, unlike Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, that almost everyone is capable of “handling the truth”. Sure, some of you may end up depressed, or make bad decisions as a result of this book, but I believe that is a risk associated with all writing of any substance.