Wednesday, October 25, 2017
Book Review: The Ape in the Corner Office: How to Make Friends, Win Fights and Work Smarter by Understanding Human Nature
The Ape in the Corner Office: How to Make Friends, Win Fights and Work Smarter by Understanding Human Nature by Richard Conniff
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Power is central in human relationships, and it's only in the context of groups and relationships that we become fully human, sorry Ayn Rand. But the characteristic error of our time is that people think we are rational beings, not animals, that we are in control of our post ideological world. But in fact we are just monkeys who one day put on a hat. We experience so much stress and anxiety at work because much like animals in a zoo the workplace is an unnatural environment.
The approach/inhibit theory of power states that we approach or challenge when we are able and retreat when we are at a disadvantage, falling back into the hierarchy until next time. It's a safe place to hide and having a strong social game allows people the opportunity to live long enough to pass on their genes. So we live in artificial environments ruled by strict rules of hierarchy. To mitigate that we need to be strategically altruistic.
The authors one main argument is that nature built us to be nice, in other words show proper deference towards those with power. No society is egalitarian. You can never escape the pecking order all you can do is try to limit the number of pecks. We re-create the highly codified hierarchies of the playground wherever we go for the rest of our lives. The hierarchy exists to ensure domestic tranquility. If you think your not a part of a hierarchy it's merely invisible. Hierarchies work the same reason bureaucracies work, it's the easiest way to manage groups of people, they pretty much organize themselves in this way. But hierarchies exist or are tolerated because it keeps those with less resources safe.
We are unselfish animals in the sense that we do good for others but usually only for selfish reasons, in other words we are unselfish for selfish reasons.
Almost all of our aggression now gets channeled into symbolic forms. Meetings are ceremonies to reinforce the hierarchy, to remind people who's boss, and to praise or chastise anyone who isn't. Small talk is way to check and see that the social order is still in tact. The answer to the question, "How are you today?" isn't supposed to be answered honestly, what your boss is looking for is your tone of voice in giving your response.
We groom each other with our words now. Grooming behavior itself evolved into language and gossip is a form of grooming, it's also a strategy for coalition building among subordinates and its used to level the power imbalance and one of the main functions of gossip in any workplace is to communicate the unspoken rules. According to the anthropologist Robin Dunbar, its the only reason we evolved speech in the first place. Smart managers encourage gossip, weak managers obstruct it.
Office politics itself is in fact just primate politics. Political maneuvering follows the same rules of the jungle. It's surprising how little of our own behavior has advanced beyond that of our fellow apes.
Sunday, October 15, 2017
Little Black Book of Stories by A.S. Byatt
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
The short story “The Thing in the Wood” was stunning. It begins with the opening line, “There were once two little girls who saw, or believed they saw, a thing in the forest,” Byatt knows how to begin a story, and it involves confronting the unconscious which has come to life as a monster. Overall, unfortunately, I could have done without reading this book.
Accidental Revolution: The Story of Grunge by Kyle Anderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
How long does it take for the present to become history?
For the political theorist Francis Fukuyama, history ended in 1989 – for him all the big questions had all been answered, and the ‘90s were the first decade of a final era of democratic capitalism. By the start of the 21st Century, of course, Fukuyama’s thesis was brutally discredited, and endless crisis has brought history roaring back to life yet again. But if we cannot speak of an end of history we can perhaps speak of an end of culture?
Having realized that they couldn’t or didn’t want to achieve the cookie-cutter suburban success story that was promised in their youth, Gen X’ers embraced the outsider mentality and ushered in the idea that it was cool to be uncool. And we, Millennials, as all impatient pre-teens have done since the dawn of time, adopted the popular culture of the group right ahead of us, so we became miniature Gen X posers. Now, we’re wise enough to grudgingly accept the fact that we were just the lame little siblings hanging out on the sidelines of the Gen X party, but we’ve never quite shaken the influence it had over us as impressionable adolescents.
The ‘90s may turn out to be much more than a point on a timeline, but the first decade of a much longer era of stasis because culturally the 90’s never died. As William Faulkner put it in another context, “The past isn’t dead; it’s not even past.”
Will grunge ever be less relevant? Probably so, but it's the last important music revolution that we've seen at this point.
Monday, October 9, 2017
Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O'Brien
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Z for Zachariah is an inversion of the Adam and Eve story, one where Loomis is portrayed as the snake in the garden: a murderer, a would-be rapist and a usurper of land. He is "the last man on earth", desperate to prevail and procreate.
The title of the book derives it’s name from an alphabet book Ann used while learning to read. A is for Adam, etc. “I learned the alphabet from a picture book called The Bible Letter Book. The last page of all was "Z is for Zachariah," and since I knew that Adam was the first man, for a long time I assumed that Zachariah must be the last man.”
Biblical symbolism threads throughout the narrative, but rather than being didactic, it consists of an uneasy seesawing of power between two characters and in some ways, functions as a story of awakening for Ann, much like Eve in the garden of Eden.
The story itself seems to have been largely misinterpreted by many reviewers however, mostly because of a common failure to recognize that Ann Burden is an unreliable narrator whose viewpoint is biased, paranoid, and highly irrational. Her fear of John Loomis is unfounded, arising from naive and self-centered thinking. Fear causes her to suppress sympathy and the desire for companionship, her social instincts, ultimately making her flee from the last surviving man and doom humanity to extinction. Z is not really about personal survival at all but about the need for people to overcome biased egotism and help one another in order to survive as a species. This need should be increasingly apparent in our own time especially, since people continue to struggle with the basic problems of understanding one another.