Power: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Everything you always wanted to know about the ultimate double-edged sword

Anthony Weiner: Poster Boy for This Blog

Being a putz in public can be an extraordinarily efficient path to power

Wallis Simpson, the late Duchess of Windsor, understood power. The thrice-married socialite is arguably most famous for making the “objectifying” observation (according to feminists), “A woman can't be too rich or too thin.”

This blog is dedicated to exploring how it is that Ms. Simpson’s worldview can, at once, be 100% true yet, as the feminists who fulminate against her maintain, simultaneously a surefire route to a self-destructive demise. You see, if your power is bequeathed, it’s never really yours. That’s feminists’ strongest point: Earn the accouterments of success and they will be, well, empowering. When status is given to you or you inherit it, the result is more often than not heartache and pain.

William Shakespeare’s observation, “O how wretched is that poor man that hangs on princes favors!” reveals that he understood how problematic it is if your claim to fame is bequeathed power. Politicians suffer this all the time: As the late President John F. Kennedy maintained, “In the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding on the back of the tiger ended up inside.”

Which brings me to Anthony Weiner— Disgraced former Congressman whose sole achievement in life was kissing-up to and scratching the back of, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY). Because Weiner is so grossly lacking in authentic achievements –you know, like winning a medal, starring in a play or on a team, creating something— he is the gift that keeps on giving for anyone interested in the Bad or Ugly aspects of power.

To understand the depth of Weiner’s pathology you needn’t look at his Carlos Danger alter ego. What makes Weiner abnormal is right there for all to see in his public-putz-persona. Example: Campaigning in Brooklyn recently a woman who claimed to have voted for Weiner interrupted his campaign spiel by shouting, along with some unprintable invective, ““You are disgusting! You are an embarrassment…” If you don’t understand the Bad and Ugly of power, and if you are, for the most part, compos mentis, you would imagine that being shamed in this way, as Weiner has been for months, would drive you into hiding or a clinical depression that a freight car full of Cymbalta couldn’t help. Nope. What Weiner said about his detractor, with a Joker-like grin in an aside to his campaign workers after he silenced her was, ““I love how crazy I make some people.”

Weiner is a living example of how self-destructive behavior, negative attention seeking, and the like, can give those with inauthentic forms of power control over others. Face it: Weiner and the girl who had a “sexting” relationship with Carlos Danger are more recognizable than 95% or more of Psychology Today bloggers (yours truly, included), despite the fact that we’ve won awards, done research that helps humanity, and other things that afford a person authentic power but only in certain contexts. For the most part, academic achievements don't come close to affording the sort of "social power" derived from getting caught by the press with your pants down.

Yes, I know: You’d rather maintain your dignity than have the Q Score Anthony Weiner does. And there's no question that most of you would die of shame if your surname, and photos of what you sexted to strangers, was fodder for late night comedians. But folks like Weiner don't shame and, as a result, they can accrue massive amounts of power that enable them to command 6-, or maybe 7-figure incomes when an embarrassing run for Mayor of NYC ends and they return to life as political consultants.

You may not like the realities of how power is attained, how it works for good, and how it destroys, but since knowledge is, interestingly, power, I hope you’ll follow my excursions into all things related to this magnificent force—The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.

In my subsequent posts, in addition to providing you with what my 30+ years of studying power has taught me, I promise to answer all email that is signed (not sent above a pseudonym), and, if they are well reasoned, address all questions put to me about power.

 

After 30 years on the faculty of Harvard Medical School's Department of Psychiatry, Dr. Berglas moved to Los Angeles to focus on writing, consulting, executive coaching.

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