Just the other day I was at my local café and couldn’t help overhearing a conversation between a small group of hedge fund managers at a neighboring table. One of the young Turks was addressing his fellows, “Everyone sees us as the enemy. It’s not as if we make the laws, and we didn’t break them either. We took risks and we’re paid high returns. There’s no crime in that. It’s not like anyone sheds tears for us when we lose. In life there are always going to be winners and losers. So here’s to finding a chair when the music stops”, to which they all raised their lattes and toasted.
Bravo to the players! Are these the winners in the big game? Are these the masters of the universe who create the scams, draw in the suckers, and then take them for all they are worth?
As one looks around the table, they are all uniformly well tailored, well coifed, and self satisfied. Each is unashamedly out for number one, but collectively they seem to form a kind of tribe. The all share a rigid, boxlike worldview, in which a pie can only be sliced up so thinly, there are only hard facts, you either win or lose, things are either black or white, grey is for losers and want-to-be’s.
The linear mindset, tribal tendencies, and the cult of narcissism are mutually reinforcing. Linear thinking lays the foundation for narcissism by viewing the world in terms of discrete elements, as opposed to an integrated whole. The less of a bond we feel with our neighbour the less likely we are to see the wisdom in attending to their interests. Looking out for number one becomes the only fixed point. As each of us lives our lives in this way, we naturally assume that that those around us think the same way. This creates a game of catch as catch can, do it them before they do it unto you. The tribal paradigm takes narcissism to the collective level. They and we, replace her and I, but the basic approach remains the same. The tribe, dominated by narcissists may show solidarity towards the outside world, but will be a house divided against itself. The individual in this type of tribe views their fellow tribe members in one of two ways; as tools to be manipulated to further their own personal agenda, or as competitors vying for status within the group.
These three elements work together to generate the worldview of modern man. The relative strength in the mix of each one of the three may vary from culture to culture, but the overall effect is always the same.
Each member of the tribe is placed in a position where they must choose between two options – complicity and exile. Fear, rather than mutual respect, becomes the glue that binds the group together. An example of this is when a questionable act is committed, which furthers the interests of the group. In these situations, the security of each individual requires that everyone in the group be culpable for the act. If this is not the case, than those who are innocent become witnesses, and therefore mortal threats, to those who committed the crime.
Perhaps the most famous example provided by history is the assassination of Julius Caesar by the senators. It was critical that all present, Brutus among them, drive their dagger into the aspiring tyrant. The same principle applies to any powerful group, be it a crime family, political party or the senior management of a large corporation.
Once the tribe member has been allowed in to the tribe’s inner sanctum, the choice between complicity and exile is illusory. The insider, by definition, knows too much. They have seen the backstage machinations, which underpin the myth. Should they share what they know with those on the outside they could threaten the entire status quo. Given that the group is a collection of narcissists, for whom all others are merely means to their own personal ends, should someone become a threat they would not find it difficult to justify doing what ever it took to protect their security. Consequently, an insider who breaks rank and attempts to get out faces the spectre of almost certain annihilation. This principle applies to a Wall Street investment banker no less than to a Mafia king pin.
What if these puppeteers sitting around the table, so pleased with their stature in this world, were no less puppets than those they deceive; perhaps even more so because they are forever the prisoners of their own delusions of grandeur. They are like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, bit players in a bigger drama, suffering from the delusions that they themselves are the antagonists. The rest of us just might wake up from the grand illusion we all share, but they never will!