By Wil Forbis
So much ink has been spilled over the allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein that I'm loath to add more. Nonetheless, something compels me to share my thoughts.
We've all heard the gist of the scandal. Big Harvey spent several decades luring young women---many of them established actresses---into his various lairs. He would then present himself barely clad in a shower robe and demand sex. Many of the women fled or detangled themselves from the situation, but some say they were raped.
Additional accusations leveled against Weinstein imply that, when he wasn’t molesting women, he was a plain old asshole. He ran his business as a boss from hell, a guy who screamed at, mocked and humiliated employees and competitors, bringing many of them to tears.
I read reports of his tirades and tantrums and found myself wondering, "Why would anyone work for this guy?" But the answer is obvious. Despite all his flaws, Weinstein was very effective at his job. He produced dozens of hit films over the years and shepherded many of them to Oscar victories. I suspect his employees figured that, while Weinstein may have made their lives miserable, at least he was a winner.
How was Harvey able to prosper despite being a complete ogre of a human? It doesn't take long for the rather onerous possibility to percolate to the surface: Weinstein succeeded not despite being an asshole, but because of it. His ability to stomp all over people, to grind them down to withered husks, to get his way all the time is exactly what made him so effective at his job.
Let's pause for a second and contemplate some of the theorizing found in evolutionary psychology. According to EP, the environmental forces at work throughout most of human history primed us to be friendly creatures. We may make war against the other tribes out there but, within our group, we work together. A general look around the workplace backs this up. As much as you may complain about your coworkers, it's rare that you actually get into a shouting match with them. People, for the most part, get along with each other.
Evolutionary psychology argues that this sociability is wired into our nervous systems. We get physically agitated at the thought of conflict and seek to avoid it. We like the warm, fuzzy feeling of being friendly. It's a good design. But it has a flaw.
The problem appears when you observe those rare people who don't have the "avoid conflict" program built into their biology. These are the folks who don't mind getting into shouting matches, or shoving people into hallways, or cajoling young women into uncomfortable situations. Some of these people are called psychopaths or sociopaths, while others fall under different labels. (I make no claim of knowing how Weinstein could be diagnosed.) In common parlance, we group these people under the blanket label "assholes."
In a friendly, social environment, assholes have an advantage. They can bully their way through life and most folks---gun-shy about conflict---do nothing. The good guys just try and stay out of the asshole's way. This lets the asshole gain power and soon he or she is your supervisor, boss, or company president. (Or just President of the country.) And then the asshole is even more intimidating.
Because of their ruthlessness, assholes have an easy time getting to the top. As a result, it's particularly satisfying to see them crash and burn, the way Weinstein is now. But the fall of an asshole is never all that satisfying, is it? We are still plagued with the knowledge that the asshole got away with it for as long as he or she did. While Weinstein may never work in film again (though I wouldn't bet on that), he'll still have some wealth and still be able to mentally replay his memories of badgering a starlet into bed, or humiliating a competitor in business. He may, at the end of the day, say it was all worth it.
There are likely many articles like this one making the rounds and I suspect that, after diagnosing the problem, they launch into some prescription about how we can tackle the problem of assholes, how we can neuter them in our society. I offer nothing of the sort because I don't think there is a solution. The various interactions where an asshole insults someone, or yells at an underling, or berates a competitor are outside the scope of the police and the law. (You can't arrest a guy for making someone cry.) And I doubt the non-assholes of the world (of whom I hope I am one) will ever get the gumption to consistently stand up to bullies. It's a bleak view but I feel it captures the state of the world.
And that's the world we're stuck with. One where assholes thrive.
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Wil Forbis is a
well known international playboy who lives a fast paced life attending
chic parties, performing feats of derring-do and making love to the
world's most beautiful women. Together with his partner, Scrotum-Boy,
he is making the world safe for democracy. Email - firstname.lastname@example.orgVisit Wil's web log, The Wil Forbis Blog, and receive complete enlightenment.