50 Shades of A-hole

Took a recent departure from writing, as is often the case, to think more about things. As ideas for different topics swirled around my head I kept returning to the theme of reality-setting. What I mean specifically is identifying the true nature of ourselves and relating that to the society in which all of us operate. The one, unequivocal truth I keep arriving at is we are all assholes to some degree or another. If at the reading of this you find yourself taken aback, in disbelief or ideally even offended that’s a good thing. Collectively put together it means you are quite sane and that the garbage programming you received growing up is open to being re-written.

As I’m once again on the road I’ll make an analogy to something relatable. Think of our need to be dicks as a light switch. Most of the time just enough to illuminate our view will do the trick, say getting up to take a leak during the middle of the night. Whereas there are other times where we are required to turn it to batman signal magnitude. The key is assessing the situation and starting at an intensity under where we initially might suppose. By doing this it alerts second parties of our intention to convey something they were likely blissfully unaware of – or possibly didn’t give a shit about. Once the light is on we can begin to adjust accordingly.

One key drawback about this is that your internal light will always need to be running – like the alternating & direct currents of electricity. This can be exhausting and an exercise in futility. Take heart though, I once attempted to be a world of smiles, rainbows and metaphysical sunshine. It didn’t work and it won’t for most people because we are most people. The odds are not in our favor and chances our they never will be…and that’s okay. Embrace the dark side of the force. Contrary to what religious tards and other do-gooders may want you to think the world isn’t a good place – it’s not a bad one necessarily either…it’s just a place.

Unfortunately, the dispelling of dishonesty in life isn’t going to come about by being honest, which would appear to be the natural progression of the process. No, honesty is only going to come about by first us being a-holes with one another then after a decade or two this will give way to the self-correcting measure of honesty. It’s a strange paradox but what about being human isn’t strange…or paradoxical? So, in signing off I encourage you to do your part now to get our species on track toward a brighter future for all. A future in which more people are prepared for the reality of existence – one that unreturningly states life isn’t fair, all things are not equal, that silver spoons are in short supply and that Santa isn’t real. Who would’ve thought we could accomplish all this simply by embracing our inner asshole?

The Space Between

The greatest distance a person will ever travel is the space between perception and truth. While there’s a myriad of reasons for this the only one I’d like to bring up is the foundational principle of honesty. Honesty is part and parcel a core concept in child rearing and (in theory) a fundamental element in establishing trust. Herein lies the problem, from the very beginning of our existence we are lied to – be it about a big, all powerful, all loving (yet sometimes vengeful) creator, or mythical characters that leave presents if we’re well-behaved individuals, the stories presented to us when we are most vulnerable have the greatest effect distorting the later eventualities of life.

As these systems work their dastardly worst we become further separated from any approximation or semblance of truth. This perversion continues until our lives become an uncontrollable array of paradoxes. ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ becomes a living mantra. I write today on this topic in light of a recent series of personal events but will highlight only one. A close family member of mine is struggling with the dynamics of a parental relationship. Her father is in advanced age and like those who have suffered loss and heartache (and will continue to do so) she struggles to connect to those who have gone before her through this relationship.

The problem is this relationship has some very unhealthy components to it – the most unfortunate of which is the controlling, manipulative nature of her father. For every brief flicker of good that emanates from this man comes an endless barrage of posturing, verbal judgment and ridiculously off-putting demands. The youngest of seven he is a byproduct of clear favoritism from his father and this special treatment likely re-enforced his behavioral pattern from an early age. His modus operandi appears to have always been about gaining leverage with those closest to him and exploiting it.

I’m confident many of us have relationships in our lives similar to this, with the majority yielding to this type of calculating individual until the day they (or we) die. Is there an answer to breaking this cycle? Of course there is…and it involves taking on the challenge of what was presented in the opening paragraph – bridging the gap between perception and reality. One single true thing, that’s all it takes and let it come completely out of the blue. There’s no need to notify this person of what’s about to hit them; in fact it’s better you don’t. Strike first, strike hard, no mercy – it’s of no consequence whether the individual is a so-called love one; if respect isn’t given it must be taken.

If anything was worth fighting for, worth waging battle to win, it would be in establishing ones self-worth. Protect the integrity of yourself. When others treat you like a number act in a way that turns the answer of the equation to 0. For that is what they ultimately see you as, nothing, and so to them they become nothing. The law of reciprocity exists everywhere in the universe. Newton’s third law states this – ‘for every reaction, there is an equal and opposite reaction’. Yet for some reason humans in their behavior attempt to circumvent this. Likely inspired by guilt, they seek to take the high road – as if there was something wrong with the ‘low road’ – often at their own peril. Understand this – when it comes to managing relationships – if you capitulate, you lose.

What I Owe You

Along with the continually unhealthy desire of people to be nice there is another idiotic concept that needs to finish its lifecycle sooner rather than later – that’s the idea of ‘owing’ people things. It’s one thing if a person owes a bank or a friend money, these are transactions in which there is some type of contractual agreement, written or spoken, that sets the expectations of the arrangement. No, what I am speaking of is this overwhelmingly burdensome belief that if something positive should happen to an individual that they have an obligation to return or ‘pay forward’ the generosity they received.

First, I want the reader to understand this, I am NOT suggesting that a person become a total, self-serving prick. No, what I’m specifically addressing here is the too often occurring state of leveraged one-upmanship. We all know this type of relationship either from personal experience or having a loved one in this kind of demented predicament. There’re a variety of names for it but two prevailing extremes tend to make these people easily identifiable. The most common kinds are the ‘control freak’ and at the other end of the spectrum ‘the user’. Their describable behavior patterns are well documented so I won’t elaborate.

What I do wish to do here is emphasis the value of taking emotional inventory of relationships; particularly the ones involving family and/or spouses. A person can use whatever metaphor they like when undertaking this action…me I like to think of it as house cleaning. The dynamic that exists between two people doesn’t need to (and probably shouldn’t) be spotless. A little dust and dirt are natural. Trying to get every nook and cranny borders on mental defect and if that’s the prevailing personality of one of the respective party’s I can assure you they are the aforementioned ‘control freak’. Ultimately the level of commitment between two individuals should be clean, livable, and operable within the presence of company. Sure, things will get messy from time to time (keeping the analogy going) but at the end of the day how we are with those who matter shouldn’t require more than a gentle spring cleaning.

Look at Me

Welcome to the new world. In this world, things such as humility, candor, and sense of a unified purpose have been replaced by self-aggrandizement, back handedness, and the will of the individual. We have moved from a society of forward progress and achievement based on production to one of mindless consumption. Despite the tone of my words I don’t want it to be thought I find this backward slide a critique on society; particularly in America. This is a natural part of empire, we are western Rome leading up to the crises of the 3rd Century, only instead of Christianity to calm the fervent masses we have social media. The super natural has been supplanted by the ordinary and talent-less.

Where I would diverge from many of the critics of popular culture today is that I first don’t fret this transformation. History, as its been continuously stated, repeats itself and I am merely an observer. Secondly, the turning from the outward to the inner is the direct result of an overly subservient personal nature. The scales of balance between ‘me’ and ‘we’ have long been broken and the default of the human system is always back to the self. For of all the negative characteristics that can, and do, exist in the id the inability of the collective to carefully manage and respect the necessary autonomy of the singular person make it an even more unlikely candidate than pure, classical liberal thought to reign supreme.

As the world has grown to unsustainable proportion the competition has only gotten fiercer. Try as we may to wear a smile during our interactions people have become more of a concern than ever to other people. Our dispensing of kindness, particularly in business or potentially competitive settings, drives a greater number of people to judgement rather than analysis. We haven’t quite reached the point where we view each other as enemies by choice and colleagues by default but that is certainly a possibility. The concept of blending in is perceived as disastrous, yet becomes a necessity at some juncture particularly as group size increases. A bizarre duality that makes managing life feel like the equivalent of traveling backward on a one-way road, blindfolded.

Is there an end game to all this? What is a person to do that doesn’t know where they stand in all this mess? The only advice I can offer is for those at the fringes; for those people caught between generational commitments, those who are torn between the concepts of loyalty to others or loyalty to self. Simply remove yourself from the spectacle, at least for a period of time. When you can see how things unfold from the sideline you get a better sense of how the rules of life dictate the sport of existence. After this grace period you can then decide what works for you, an existence spent glorifying the self, honoring the group or if your especially clever navigating back and forth between the two. Personally, I haven’t mastered any of these skills but with an early enough start future generations possibly can.

A Profile of Genius: Gustave Le Bon

While I’m certain there are many definitions for what the word ‘genius’ means based upon the defining source both academically as well as personally I’d like to go ahead and give you mine. To me a genius is someone whose idea (or ideas) stand the test of time in that they theory or theories prove as close to accurate today as they did when they were postulated. For this first ‘profile of genius’ I’ve selected an individual I’m quite certain many have not before heard of – the French polymath Charles-Marie Gustave Le Bon…or simply known as Gustave Le Bon.

Born the 7th of May 1841 in Nogent-le-Rotrou France, a tiny commune in Northern France – population roughly 11,000, Le Bon would go on to receive his qualification as Doctor of Medicine from the University of Paris in 1861. While his career in the practice never materialized he would later take the knowledge he acquired from his education and apply it to the field of anthropology after time serving in the Franco-Prussian war. Influenced by experiences in the Paris Commune of 1871 and time spent traveling throughout the world he would ultimately hone his focus on the field of sociology.

It was during this time period, the 1890’s, he would begin to release a series of well received works. Of them was my personal favorite and title from which I will share excerpts to unequivocally demonstrate his foresight and genius – ‘Psychologie des Foules’ or as it translated into English ‘The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind’ published in 1895. So groundbreaking was this work at the time it was printed into 19 languages within the first year of its appearance. While acknowledging and highlighting the true inner workings of society his text dispelled many of the hard-held beliefs of the idealist socialist class throughout Europe.

Turning the fanciful doctrine of what is now modern liberal thought on it’s head he recognized that throughout the world cultural formation is built upon many similarities and that it is the assembly of individuals into not merely collectives but groups of immense proportion that self-sabotage the ability of people to make advancement whether it be personally, financially or through any other mechanism. As I’m sure you will read upon further research the cast of unsightly characters influenced by this and many other titles I’d ask that you reflect on the following passages I’ve pulled from the publication:

“It is only by obtaining some sort of insight into the psychology of crowds that it can be understood how slight is the action upon them…that it is not with rules based on theories of pure equity that they are to be led, but by seeking what produces an impression on them and what seduces them.”

“The heterogenous [those who are different] is swamped by the homogenous [those who are the same] and the unconscious qualities obtain the upper hand. This very fact that crowds possess in common ordinary qualities explains why they can never accomplish acts demanding a high degree of intelligence.”

“From the moment that they form a crowd the learned man and the ignoramus are equally incapable of observation.”

“When a civilization is analyzed it is seen that, in reality, it is the marvelous and the legendary that are its true supports. Appearances have always played a much more important part than reality in history.”

These four powerful statements, written over a hundred and twenty years ago and contained within just the first half of the book, are as true today as they were in 1895. Fight as we continue to do against the reality of things in an attempt to create an idealized world it is in the very process of coming together on a grand scale that we ultimately fall apart. With the exception of certain times of war, which can be argued are often spurred on by the sentiments of crowds themselves, our ability to come together to rectify problems or issues has rarely worked or been severely slowed by the enormity of the systems themselves. This insight, still likely to be repudiated by a healthy part of the population today, is as true in modern times as it was when Le Bon wrote this master piece. It is this observation along with the courage to catalogue and write about it that makes this renaissance man a true genius in the field of social science and someone whose works continue to be in desperate need of our attention.

The Linked In Principle

Flashback to the 1960’s, a decade of immense change, civil unrest and the height of the counter-culture revolution. While many famous faces and names came and went during that time there’s one in particular I’d like to draw attention to. As you probably already guessed if you’ve read any of my other posts this person was not only keenly observant but willing to share his thoughts on what he discovered despite the potential backlash. The man I’m speaking of was Canadian-born educator Laurence Peter and the gift he gave the world came in the 1969 publication of his book ‘The Peter Principle’.

For those of you unfamiliar with the work I’ll give you the cliff notes version (though I suggest you read it because a) it’s insightful and b) it’s short). Peter states that “in a [business] hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence,” that “in most hierarchies, super-competence is more objectionable than incompetence” and that the presence of extremely skilled and productive employees “disrupts and…violates the first commandment of hierarchical life: the hierarchy must be preserved.” At the time such an attack on American business culture was likely out of the question. Dr. Laurence therefore wrote the book as more of a satire than say in Chomsky-like prose.

While it was at the time and to an extent still popular today amongst certain circles I feel it’s still not as well known as it should be. The way in which this system has continued to grow and evolve in modern times is equally impressive. In fact, an almost entirely new principled system has emerged and at the expense of using a term some other writer may already have (for which I apologize and will certainly give she or he credit in a later revision) I’m going to call it ‘The Linked in Principle.’ Yes, this is a direct shot at the website of the same name (which the author fully admits to have had an account with). The site, much like the structure of countless organizations throughout the US, is tantamount to a game of career musical chairs cleverly hidden behind the façade of being a business version of Facebook©.

I’m not going to argue the central causes of employment instability nor am I going to fault career focused individuals for watching their backs so to speak but Dr. Laurence hit the nail on the head when he revealed the “skills required to get a job often have nothing to do with what is required to do the job itself.” It is here we have the central thesis of the ‘linked in principle’ – that a majority of jobs are not obtained by demonstrated ability or even necessarily a perceived set – but rather through a popularity contest. The direct result of our desire to be sociable triumphing over the lesser need to be correct in the decision-making process.

The other caveat, and subsequent observation, is that because many of these individuals (often white-collar workers) tend to be placed in teams and are therefore more easily able to stake the success of an idea or program to their contributed efforts – when in fact they may have either had nothing to do with the action or the said decision may even have had serious unfortunate longer-term consequences – results in the inability of company’s to properly identify truly incompetent employees. It is to this I lead in to the last point of the principle, a slight deviation from Peter’s, which states ‘a person will rise or fall directly in proportion to their ability to network and market themselves.’  At the end of the day the structure and struggle of corporations, particularly larger ones, is a result of none of the smart kids being allowed to sit at the cool kid table.

We’re all in a Cult and it’s okay

Whether you want to believe it or not you’re in a cult. Apologies for being the bearer of bad news but it’s true. Rather than dwell on the fact let’s move forward with an exercise. I want you to look up the definition of a cult. Since you’re already online it shouldn’t require much effort. Done googling it yet? What did you find? Now I want you to remove the word ‘religion’ from the focus; all religions are cults so I’m not going spend any time on that (for now). Again, what do we see? Pretty interesting right? I’d like you to take particular note of the synonyms. Now that you see them continue just a bit further to absorb the full context of the word.

How do you feel? Unchanged, okay…well you could probably stop reading this now. Curious as to where I’m going?  Wonderful, time for a deeper examination of semantics. According to the online version of Merriam Webster (I’d like to think a solid, reliable source) the second definition of the word cult reads – “a great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work.” Hmm, interesting. Now if we go back to the first definition Merriam gives and as I suggested earlier remove “religion” from it’s wording what we are left with is (I’m paraphrasing) – a [formalized belief] regarded as orthodox or spurious…[and] also its body of adherents.

So, there you have it in a nut shell. All a cult really is, is a group of people with a formalized set of beliefs. From the continued practice of these communally accepted ideas or principles we have what is known as culture. In fact, the word cult and culture share the same Latin root word, ‘colere’ which means ‘to tend or cultivate’. As I stated previously I’m not on a mission to get into religion with this post or even discuss cults as they are most popularly highlighted in American society, i.e. Manson, David Koresh, Jim Jones, etc. What I would like to discuss are some of the cults we belong to that effect the whole of our existence just as much as any religious belief yet for some reason aren’t properly understood as cults.

  1. Corporations
  • This is a no-brainer. The larger the number of employees the closer it becomes to a pure, unaltered cult. Think about it. You have 40, 50, 60,000+ people ‘greatly devoted to…work’ (albeit to various degrees). The object is a paycheck, the idea is to provide security of some sort and the movement is away from concepts such as individuality and freedom of a person towards being little more than an automaton. (**Author’s note – I presently belong to this cult so don’t fret if you do too)
  1. Political Parties
  • Unlike the prior cult I NO longer belong to this one. In a world where there’s 40+ flavors of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream but only two major political parties (United States) I’m not sure how a person doesn’t see this as some cultic shit. While it’s most often centered around something like the Presidential Election the phrase ‘lesser of two evils’ is something if thought about at greater length sounds both spurious as well as unorthodox. We (of which I include myself) willfully suspend a great amount of personal belief in order to gravitate around the ideology of holding up one person in reverence. Game. Set. Cult.

 

  1. [Blind] Patriot (Patriotism)
  • In America we know who these people are and while it’s commendable to have appreciation and even a sense of pride for where one is from an alarm has to sound when it’s carried on to a level of complete and totally blind devotion to one’s native land. What makes this group of folks particularly fascinating is that they manage to fit all the criteria of a cult by only the mere substitution of a ‘god’ by the ‘state’. Think about it for a moment. If you had to come up with one sentence to describe this group to the letter, what would it be? For me, I would say ‘a person with a great devotion to a leader or leaders, the idea of freedom (whatever the fuck that is) with the object being the spread of (in the case of the US) democracy everywhere, to allow the movement of capital markets to work where they have not prior been. I think that sounds about right?

There you have it, three things you’ve probably had thoughts of but not necessarily in the perspective of what they really are. Of course, there’s a ton more and I’m sure at some point if I keep this site going we’ll touch on quite a few additional ones. This post though was about re-framing perspective. I don’t know much but one thing I am certain about (and will touch on in greater length later) is that there is no such thing as reality. Yes, there’s definable realities and boundaries established by the wonderful fields of physics and mathematics but in the realm of human existence the only true thing is how someone perceives the world. So, huge congratulations go out to you – and I as well. We are all the proud members of some kind of cult and while its not Costco (which could also be argued is a cult….really, who the hell needs 20 tubes of toothpaste) we have all done our primary humanly duty and made sure we belong to something. After all we are just primates.