In the press these days there is the account of the trial in Lille of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, (also known as DSK), ex Head of the IMF, and one-time French Presidential hopeful, for ‘aggravated pimping’, a bit of potential lost-in-translation legal term that means facilitation of prostitution. DSK, whilst in his corridors of power, enjoyed sex orgies (‘but only four times a year, I was busy saving the world’, he said) which could be a private matter, unless there were allegations of brutal sex and prostitution. DSK is by no means the only implicated, and it may turn up one of the most benign of all, even acquitted for this charge. His greatest claim, however, is that he did not know that the women were prostitutes.
Here is an economist, PhD, ex head of IMF, who wanted to be President of France, who is having sex with strangers in a set orgy, but could not think of the idea that the women there had been ‘brought to him’ and ‘bought for him’. No wonder, when the right wing French newspaper, Le Figaro did a poll: “Do you believe Strauss-Kahn when he says he didn’t know the women he met were prostitutes?”, about 11% said yes, and 88% said no.
All this and other sex saga have frequently in common one thing. And it’s not sex. It’s power. From the three musketeers of the original Psychoanalysis, Freud focused on sex, Adler on power and Jung on universal archetypes. Guess who is the least known and read: Adler. Adler was right. It’s all about power
The Abu Ghraib prison pictures in Iraq showing prisoners humiliated, show power in action. They did it because they could. The child abuse epidemic is 10 % sex ad 90% power. The Zimbardo experiments of an artificially recreated jail in an university basement, where students who were given an uniform as guards transformed themselves into aggressive and nasty human beings (the experiment had to be stopped), is a power showcase. Most pornography is about power. The Milgram experiments showing that normal citizens of New Haven could administer electric shocks to fellow human beings ‘because they were told to’, is about power. (The experiment started with students, and when the findings were challenged because of the ‘student set up’, Milgran repeated it with normal citizens of New Haven who were equally happy to electric-shock others for a few bucks). The 50 shades of Grey is about power, no sex. The Holocaust was about power. The young mujahideen of IS chopping heads and throwing people out of balconies, is power, not religion. The executive firing on spot, is power. The illegal immigrants working for nothing, is power. The human trafficking epidemic, is about power. The in-fighting and endless inward-looking discussions, reorganizations and struggles in companies, are 10% business and 90% power exercise.
Most examples when humans did something that they were not supposed to do, harmed somebody else in the process, got away with it, and reinforced their own behaviours, are about power.
We do it because we can.
Hold on! How you dare to put the Abu Ghraib prison, DSK, insensitive firing, human trafficking, the Jidah and the rest in the same basket?
That is the problem. We think that these things have nothing to do with each other. Another case of blindness. This one called Collective Convenient Blindness. There is benign aggression in the corridors of power in the organization, and then terrible aggression in the television screens. Our minds can safely split them so that we focus on the horrible images on screen only. They have the advantage of being remote. However, we, progressive children of the Evolution, self-sanctified Homo Sapiens, are capable of anything when we grab something that smells, feels, tastes and looks like power. That is the sad truth.
We hear constantly about cases that have become public with or without prosecution, of people engaged in sex scandals of some sort. The ones who come to light and make headlines are usually about politicians or public figures. Most of these people will be well educated, perhaps wealthy, with one or more university degrees, perhaps lawyers, Presidents, pastors. Were all of them so stupid that they thought that they could get away with it? Yes, they were. All because an illness called Power-related Terminal Blindness
Incidentally, some of the pimps in the DSK case, allegedly said: ‘Isn’t power great?’ (at the same time that they referred to the women as ‘livestock’)
We have to acknowledge that, in our super-modern organizations, some leaders still perform horrible, gratuitous exercise of power with no business logic. I have witnessed too many of them, including an inhuman treatment by a HR Director with a title of Fellow of some Institute of Personal Development of some kind. Obviously the only developed thing there, was her ego. These people are dangerous. The worse, in my part of the world, are the ones who vocally profess Christian values whilst behaving the most un-Chrstian way. They scare me. (Disclaimer: I am Catholic, I don’t do Religion bashing, none of them)
This is an ugly picture, and one that many people will challenge. Our beliefs all fall somewhere in a spectrum in which, in one end, there is the Hobbesian ‘Homo Homini Lupus’ (man is a wolf to man), and in the other an over optimist, we all are Good People, the Seneca version.
It’s hard to dismiss the Hobbesian view when we see the continuous recycling of abuse and humiliation. The French used in Algeria torture techniques learnt form the Nazi occupation in their own country. The American ‘War on terror’ used interrogation techniques learnt from the Soviets in the Cold War. The Islamic State dresses hostages in Guantanamo orange suits. This is ‘knowledge transfer’ and ‘the learning organization’ as its best.
I have to say that the only thing that takes me away from the Hobbesian side of beliefs, towards a more optimistic Seneca side, is the unexpected acts of kindness and gratitude that we also see every day. They are as powerful as their opposite. Thank God for them. The hope in humankind comes from the most lowly, the unassuming, the non-self-centred, the ‘Decent People’ who navigate through life. And, I have to say, immense hope as well from the ones with Power who have vaccinated themselves. In all my leadership consulting, particularly Executive Retreats, I bring up the issue of power and control (and I have a copy of the original Milgram tapes with me). I see more and more new leaders in tune with this, wanting to do some good on top of delivering a strategic plan.
Since work, and work in organizations, occupy a great deal of our life, shaping organizational cultures of respect, dignity and enhancement of human beings, must surely be an important piece for better World Affairs. Injecting kindness and respect in the organizational culture of our businesses and companies, public or private, big or small, may be the best evolutionary investment we can do. I would not mind Genetically Modified Organizations in which we inject bits of goodness DNA.
Perhaps we could still be proud of Sapiens. One day.