Megalothymia: a need to disproportionately dominate over others in ostentatious and spectacular ways

According to Paul Sagar in “The last hollow laugh: Since Francis Fukuyama proclaimed ‘The End of History’ 25 years ago, he has been much maligned. His work now seems prophetic

Throughout his analysis, Fukuyama insisted on the centrality of thymos (the Greek for ‘spiritedness’), or recognition, to human psychology: what Thomas Hobbes called pride, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau labelled amour propre. This denotes the need to be liked and respected by other people, and to have that recognition outwardly affirmed – if necessary, extracting it by force. Some human beings, Fukuyama thought, are always going to be inherently competitive and greedy for recognition. Some will therefore always vie to be thought of as the best – and others will resent them for that, and vie back. This has the potential to cause a lot of trouble. Human beings demand respect, and if they don’t feel that they are getting it, they break things – and people – in response.

Fukuyama thought, human beings didn’t just exhibit thymos, but also what he termed ‘megalothymia’: a desire not just for respect and proportionate recognition, but a need to disproportionately dominate over others in ostentatious and spectacular ways.

There was every chance that the last men (and women) would be deeply discontented with their historically unprecedented ease and luxury, because it failed to feed megalothymia. If the last men went this way, they would become bored by what Fukuyama called ‘masterless slavery – the life of rational consumption’. The spread of egalitarian values that went along with secular democratic politics would open up spaces of severe resentment – especially, we might now postulate, among those who had lost their traditional places at the top of social hierarchies, and felt cheated of the recognition that they believed they were owed.

“If anyone strikes you on the right cheek”: The day Martin Luther King was punched twice by a Nazi

Brad Pierce's Blog

According to Ron Rosenbaum interviewing MLK biographer Taylor Branch about his “battle to prevent Dr. King’s profoundly considered theory of nonviolence from being relegated to history, and not recognized for its relevance to the issues America and the world faces today”

King’s practice, Branch says, was complex and radical and has been often misunderstood. Some of his closest supporters had their doubts about King’s own commitment to nonviolence—whether it was “personal” or just an abstraction for him.

During a meeting of King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a man rose up from the audience, leapt onto the stage and smashed King in the face. Punched him hard. And then punched him again.

After the first punch, Branch recounts, King just dropped his hands and stood there, allowed the assailant (who turned out to be a member of the American Nazi Party) to punch him again. And when King’s associates tried…

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If you aren’t real, you aren’t powerful

Brad Pierce's Blog

According to Jules Buccieri

If you aren’t real, you aren’t powerful.

See this essay by Howard Fine on why a speech was almost universally considered a disaster. It shows why you come across so much better when you’re spontaneous, and how important it is to have something important and real to say, compared to merely trying to say it well.

According to Phil Gyford’s notes on Stanislavski’s An Actor Prepares

Be careful when rehearsing with a mirror — teaches you to watch the outside, not the inside.

According to John Wareham (The Anatomy of a Great Executive, pp. 35-36)

A person will often present a facade founded upon the aspect of his or her personality that he/she most fears — or knows — to be missing.

He says to ask yourself

What is the impression that this individual takes the greatest trouble to convey to me?

Then, until…

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Let’s hear it, quietly, for introverts

According to Susan Cain, regarding “Why the world needs introverts

We live with a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal – the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha and comfortable in the spotlight. The archetypal extrovert prefers action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt. He or she favours quick decisions, even at the risk of being wrong; works well in teams and socialises in groups. We like to think that we value individuality, but all too often we admire one type of individual – the kind who is comfortable “putting himself out there”. Sure, we allow technologically gifted loners who launch companies in garages to have any personality they please, but they are the exceptions, not the rule, and our tolerance extends mainly to those who get fabulously wealthy or hold the promise of doing so.

and

Many of the most important institutions of contemporary life are designed for those who enjoy group projects and high levels of stimulation. As children, our classroom desks are increasingly arranged in pods, the better to foster group learning, and research suggests that the vast majority of teachers believe that the ideal student is an extrovert. As adults, many of us work for organisations that insist we work in teams, in offices without walls, for supervisors who value “people skills” above all. To advance our careers, we’re expected to promote ourselves unabashedly. The scientists whose research gets funded often have confident, perhaps overconfident, personalities. The artists whose work adorns the walls of contemporary museums strike impressive poses at gallery openings. The authors whose books get published – once a reclusive breed – are now vetted by publicists to make sure they’re talk-show ready.

See also the TED talk and even the book.

In all the world there’s no one like you or me

Clothes make the man.

A story told by Arthur Naiman

A man goes to a tailor to try on a new custom-made suit.
The first thing he notices is that the arms are too long.
	"No problem," says the tailor.  "Just bend them at the
elbow and hold them out in front of you.  See, now it's fine."
	"But the collar is up around my ears!"
	"It's nothing.  Just hunch your back up a little … no,
a little more … that's it."
	"But I'm stepping on my cuffs!" the man cries in
desperation.
	"Nu, bend your knees a little to take up the slack.
There you go.  Look in the mirror -- the suit fits perfectly."
	So, twisted like a pretzel, the man lurches out onto the
street.  Reba and Florence see him go by.
	"Oh, look," says Reba, "that poor man!"
	"Yes," says Florence, "but what a beautiful suit."
		-- Arthur Naiman, "Every Goy's Guide to Yiddish"

Naked

According to Mark Twain

Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.

According to Steve Jobs

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

If you aren’t real, you aren’t powerful.

According to Jules Buccieri

If you aren’t real, you aren’t powerful.

See this essay by Howard Fine on why a speech was almost universally considered a disaster. It shows why you come across so much better when you’re spontaneous, and how important it is to have something important and real to say, compared to merely trying to say it well.

According to Phil Gyford’s notes on Stanislavski’s An Actor Prepares

Be careful when rehearsing with a mirror — teaches you to watch the outside, not the inside.

According to John Wareham (The Anatomy of a Great Executive, pp. 35-36)

A person will often present a facade founded upon the aspect of his or her personality that he/she most fears — or knows — to be missing.

He says to ask yourself

What is the impression that this individual takes the greatest trouble to convey to me?

Then, until you discover more, work on the assumption that the real person may likely turn out to be the exact opposite of this facade.

Robbing ourselves

According to Scott Ballum

When we align ourselves with the opinions of others without examination, we are robbing ourselves of the opportunity to analyze our own preferences and desires, to determine our own solutions. We miss the chance to review the criteria others are utilizing, to question their biases and seek our own inspiration. In stunting the development of our own individual perspectives and initiatives, we trap ourselves in lives that appear to be predestined, and deny the possibility of realizing our personal potential.

According to Blayney Colmore

Mary Dyer and Jon Daniels […] turned from an identity adopted from surrounding culture, to their own inner identity and authority. It’s the kind of authority that cedes to no one what we call conscience, but what might more accurately be named authentic self.

Get out of that pickle barrel!

According to Daniel Kahneman

Look at yourself as a point in the distribution.

You may be a superhuman outlier, but don’t count on it. We’re herd animals, and a psychological force of gravity pulls us into orbit around the norms of our current social network.

According to Philip Zimbardo

It’s not the bad apples, it’s the bad barrels that corrupt good people.

and

You can’t be a sweet cucumber in a vinegar barrel.

When you notice that the system or your social network are a corrupting influence on the people around you, better play it safe and move on before you catch the same disease.

According to Trent Hamm

The first surprise about change is that the problem usually isn’t people, it’s the situation. If you want change, you’ve got to change the situation a bit.

According to Magic Johnson

If people around you aren’t going anywhere, if their dreams are no bigger than hanging out on the corner, or if they’re dragging you down, get rid of them. Negative people can sap your energy so fast, and they can take your dreams from you, too.

The arts and the insistent, speechless self

According to Mark Edmundson

The truth of what we’re best fit to do is latent in all of us, Emerson suggests, and I think this to be right. But it’s also true that we, and society, too, have plenty of tricks for keeping that most important kind of knowledge out of reach. Society seems to have a vested interest in telling us what we should do and be. But often its interpretation of us — fed through teachers and guidance officers and priests and ministers and even through our loving parents — is simply wrong.

and

To be young is often to know, or to sense, what others have in mind for you and not to like it. But what is harder for a person who has gone unhappily through the first rites of passage into the tribe is to know how to replace the values she’s had imposed on her with something better. She’s learned a lot of socially sanctioned languages, and still none of them are hers. But are there any that truly might be? Is there something she might be or do in the world that’s truly in keeping with the insistent, but often speechless, self that presses forward internally?

This, I think, is where literature can come in — as can all of the other arts and in some measure the sciences, too. By venturing into what Arnold memorably called “the best that has been known and thought,” a young person has the chance to discover new vital possibilities. Such a person sees that there are other ways of looking at the world and other ways of being in the world than the ones that she’s inherited from her family and culture.

and

It’s probable that most people will be relatively content to live within the ethical and conceptual world that their parents and their society pass on to them. Burke and Johnson thought of common-sense opinion as a great repository of wisdom stored through the ages, augmented and revised through experience, trial and error, until it became in time the treasure of humanity. Perhaps the conservative sages were right. But there will always be individuals who cannot live entirely by the standard dispensation and who require something better — or at least something else. This group may be small (though I think it larger than most imagine), but its members need what great writing can bring them very badly indeed. We professors of literature hold the key to the warehouse where the loaves lie fresh and steaming, while outside people hunger for them, sometimes dangerously.

Call yourself what you want to call yourself

According to Neil Tweedie, writing here of the modern French Foreign Legion

“We don’t accept the hardened criminals any more, the murderers or rapists,” says Capt Samir Benykrelef, “so this makes our job easier.”

But there is still a hint of romance: all recruits must assume a new name on joining the Legion. This is because some recruits do indeed want a new start and new identity, and it is fairer to make all new Legionnaires undergo the same process. Soldiers can revert to their real identities after a year.

“Real” identities?

According to Bob Dylan, when asked why he changed his name

Some people …. you’re born, you know, the wrong names, wrong parents. I mean, that happens, You call yourself what you want to call yourself. This is the land of the free.

Maybe everyone should change their names every 10 years. Your “given name” doesn’t come with a gift receipt, so no refunds, no exchanges? Why should we be stuck with their choice? Yet, we feel we are. Same for our “family name”. Why doesn’t each wedding announce a cool new “family name” for the couple, like the reign name of popes and emperors?

I was tempted to title this section “Self-hatred is underrated.” Too strong, yet there’s some truth to it. People are so attached to whatever identity they got imposed on them, and accidentally acquired, often by bad choices and limited experience, or even victimhood and suffering. That’s the most dangerous attachment.

If you could reboot into a totally different self, why would that be so bad? It’s a trick programmed into you somewhere; loyalty is often so foolish.

Self-improvement, rewrite the program, reboot. Reinvent according to your own blueprint, not theirs, not the accidents of history. Sure, putting on airs, playing like you’re a bigshot, can be ridiculous, but the impulse to better yourself is not at all ridiculous.

According to James Camp

As the publication date drew near for Slaughterhouse-Five, on which Vonnegut had worked, fitfully, for 20 years, he brooded over his author photo. He was clean-cut, clean-shaven, a bit paunchy—in 1969, an unlikely candidate for cultural eminence. He decided “to cultivate the style of an author who was in.” “To meet the expectations of his audience was key,” Mr. Shields writes. “He lost weight, allowed his close-cropped hair to become curly and tousled, and grew a moustache. … He looked like an avant-garde artist and social critic now, not rumpled Dad-in-a-cardigan.” His upper lip would never reappear. Slaughterhouse-Five became a number-one New York Times best-seller, and its tousled (not rumpled) author became an icon of the counterculture.

Maybe that’s the way he saw his real self. Maybe it was the first time he was authentic?

Is authenticity overrated?

According to David J. Gordon in Shavian comedy and the shadow of Wilde

But Wilde’s dandies are self-possessed because, paradoxically, there is no single self for them to defend, only a mask or persona to adopt opportunistically; it is in fact Wilde’s main argument against “sincerity” that it must be false because there are many selves.

His footnote cites The Picture of Dorian Gray

For the canons of good society are, or should be, the same as the canons of art. Form is absolutely essential to it. It should have the dignity of a ceremony, as well as its unreality, and should combine the insincere character of a romantic play with the wit and beauty that make such plays delightful to us. Is insincerity such a terrible thing? I think not. It is merely a method by which we can multiply our personalities. 

Such, at any rate, was Dorian Gray’s opinion. He used to wonder at the shallow psychology of those who conceive the ego in man as a thing simple, permanent, reliable, and of one essence. To him, man was a being with myriad lives and myriad sensations, a complex multiform creature that bore within itself strange legacies of thought and passion, and whose very flesh was tainted with the monstrous maladies of the dead.

and The Critic As Artist

ERNEST. Well, at least, the critic will be sincere.

GILBERT. A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal. The true critic will, indeed, always be sincere in his devotion to the principle of beauty, but he will seek for beauty in every age and in each school, and will never suffer himself to be limited to any settled custom of thought or stereotyped mode of looking at things. He will realise himself in many forms, and by a thousand different ways, and will ever be curious of new sensations and fresh points of view. Through constant change, and through constant change alone, he will find his true unity. He will not consent to be the slave of his own opinions. For what is mind but motion in the intellectual sphere? The essence of thought, as the essence of life, is growth. You must not be frightened by word, Ernest. What people call insincerity is simply a method by which we can multiply our personalities.

Aside: Unrelated to selves, but also about sincerity, from The Picture of Dorian Gray

“I don’t agree with a single word that you have said, and, what is more, Harry, I feel sure you don’t either.”

   […] “How English you are Basil! That is the second time you have made that observation. If one puts forward an idea to a true Englishman — always a rash thing to do — he never dreams of considering whether the idea is right or wrong. The only thing he considers of any importance is whether one believes it oneself. Now, the value of an idea has nothing whatsoever to do with the sincerity of the man who expresses it. Indeed, the probabilities are that the more insincere the man is, the more purely intellectual will the idea be, as in that case it will not be coloured by either his wants, his desires, or his prejudices. […]”

Brick walls

According to Randy Pausch’s “Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams

So that was a bit of a setback. But remember, the brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.

Remember brick walls let us show our dedication. They are there to separate us from the people who don’t really want to achieve their childhood dreams. Don’t bail. The best of the gold’s at the bottom of barrels of crap.

Aside: According to Leon Lukaszewicz in “On the Beginnings of Computer Development in Poland

Our job, although very stimulating, was poorly paid. It was quite easy to obtain a salary twice as high in industry and also be alloted a flat, which in those days of the acute housing problem mattered a great deal. We turned to [mathematician] Professor [Kazimierz] Kuratowski [the director of the Institute of Mathematics in Warsaw] with our grievances. He answered that “low salaries are a severe but necessary test of a genuine dedication to science of young research workers. If the salaries were high, what sort of people would we get here?” His arguments were not entirely convincing for us, but of course no one quit the Institute we adored. It should also be added that, some time later, some of us, already “tested,” were allotted the flats we and our families had dreamt about.

Advance the action, make things happen

According to Edward de Bono

If I had to choose the one motivating factor that seems to me to be operating in most successful people, it is the wish to make things happen.

I wonder if the emphasis on “results orientation” doesn’t sometimes inhibit this impulse in those who are nearer the middle of the distribution on this trait. Often the “result” I most want to see is simply getting started, taking action, making a down payment on the final deliverable.

Everything must go

According to Sean Murphy

Solve real problems that people will pay for where you add unique value.

Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 rules for writing a short story

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

See also “The only way to convince them it’s a great idea is to do it yourself“.

According to Corey Dragge

Let’s stop getting things done and start making things happen.