To my great regret the feedback is clear and Gray Mirror has no choice to become, for at least one more moment, a self-help blog.
Why should I not be a life coach? Have I not screwed up everything in my own life? What a thing it is, to be middle-aged. Still, one should never stop adding professions.
Don’t worry. We will soon clear our heads with more of our usual material—finance, critical race theory, cryptomonarchism, robot war zeppelins, and the like. But today, readers are invited to submit heavy personal questions such as that answered below.
To ask a question, just reply to this email, or sign up and reply to the signup email. No girls (in this round). I will answer any questions I feel like answering—if there are no such questions, this will be the last Uncle Yarv.
The column was inspired (and named) by an excellent initial message. Maximilian from Alice Springs writes, with wit and sincerity:
I am sure for many of your more ’tistic readers this interpersonal-based topic is getting a little long in the tooth, but as a thirty something guy with a dad who is waiting to die from cancer (if only it would mercifully finish the job), I’m a little low on actionable parental advice these days.
I often find myself reflecting on a conversation, a course of action, a recent event and start doubting my own motivations. Generally, I come to the same unhelpful conclusion—yeah, I was probably both serving myself here a bit but also trying to be “Good.”
At the end of this last post, you get into how to see your own darkness and that only through analysis can you really thwart it. I would appreciate a little explication on what this analysis looks like for you, given that my expertise is in the behavior of T cells and not people.
So, maybe throw caution to the wind and start up an “Uncle Yarv” self help blog. There will be a great Reeeeing and gnashing of teeth, but the world will still exist to conquer tomorrow.
I’m not sure I can always thwart it! I can certainly recall a few instances in the last few weeks in which I did not, in fact, thwart it—when I should have thwarted it. Though it is by no means always to be thwarted!
This “dark triad” (not exactly my favorite name) just means you like power. Liking power is no different from liking chocolate ice cream. Most people like chocolate ice cream, and most people like power. Obviously this is a blog about power, so it would be a reasonable prior that I like chocolate ice cream.
Well—the more you like power, the more you are likely to engage in behaviors such as narcissism (playing yourself as a character), Machiavellianism (manipulating others), and psychopathy (not minding if you hurt others, or even liking it).
It is going too far to say that all these behaviors are inherently bad. There are plenty of professional situations, and even a few personal situations, that require a bit of acting. Sometimes others need to be manipulated into the things they should be doing. Even the infliction of hurt can be for great justice—for instance, in saying a thing that feels both true and necessary, but is not kind.
But it is best to avoid these specific manifestations and focus on their ultimate cause, your power drive. Of course, since you are a monkey, you want status and importance and attention. You want to be proud and strong and independent. You do not want to be weak and humiliated and controlled.
Everyone has an inner monkey. But some people have a MONKEY. It is no surprise that these big-monkey men and women are a disproportionate proportion of the people you read about in books. “And some of them, I assume, are good people.”
Your monkey is part of you. Your monkey is your friend. Your monkey is you. Your monkey can even be useful. But—you really don’t want your monkey to go running around your jobs and relationships, throwing shit and smashing things. (If you are a woman, your monkey is also known as a “hamster.”)
Generally, anyone who desires power feels very strongly that he does not have enough. This could be because he is indeed powerless. Or it could be because he is powerful, but insecure—creating a feedback loop in which power grows only stronger.
The power drive is a neutral emotion. It can lead you to want to do things that are bad for yourself and/or bad for others. It can lead you to want to do things that are good for yourself and/or good for others. You do not need to reach around the back of your head and try to rip the monkey out with a dremel tool.
You just have to know he’s there—and about how big he is. Then, whenever you consider a course of action, you can ask a simple question:
Does my monkey want this? If I do this, will it make my monkey happy? If I don’t do it, will my monkey be sad?
The answer to this question does not determine your choice. A decision that makes the power-monkey happy may well be a good decision. But since you are not your monkey, you should make your decision after subtracting its opinion.
In other words: am I doing this only because it makes the monkey happy? If it didn’t make the monkey happy, if the monkey didn’t care, would I do it? Would I even think of doing it? Then you remember again that you are not your monkey.
You can even remember to think of strategies that make the monkey sad. Suppose you are in a relationship in which you hold an unequal power position—in which you feel much more secure than your partner. Because you like this relationship and want it to last, you can do things that strengthen your partner’s confidence in the relationship. Unless they are Machiavellian ruses to trick your partner into a false sense of security so that you can later kick the chair out from under her, making the monkey super happy, these unrequited cessions of power will make your monkey cry big monkey tears.
Basically, your monkey exists and you can’t get rid of him. But you are the man and he is the monkey. He is your natural slave. And yet, when your monkey is happy, you are happy; when your monkey is sad, you are sad. You cannot break this chain. He is you.
The important thing is just to know your power-monkey exists. If you know you have this little guy in the back of your head, you have some chance of mastering him. If not—he will be your master. And as for remembering this in the heat of some moment—good luck, my friend. But as always, you’ll have better luck if you try.