There is some really interesting information in this book. I am fascinated by the scientific study of personality, the sort of meta-layer of social pe...moreThere is some really interesting information in this book. I am fascinated by the scientific study of personality, the sort of meta-layer of social perceptions of personality, and the history of some kind of progress towards a more robust theory not only of personality, but of how to smooth the interactions between types and how to make the most out of our differences.
A good companion to this book would be Barbara Ehrenreich's Bright Sided which, if I recall correctly, also had a few historical points to make about the self-help movement. There has also been a lot of good work on evolutionary psychology which is working to make these theories more robust, many of which are in my Goodreads list.
Cain begins this book just like her legal training would have her do it. She narrates a story from her perspective, with her framing of the facts in order to focus us in on what this book is trying to accomplish: rehabilitate the "introvert." This is achieved with a few game-show trivia facts about some famous introverts and, then, a too cute gimmick of telling a story of an introverted lawyer whose refusal to conform paid off in the end: it was the author! I finished the former part wondering if introversion would cure cancer and the latter wondering if this book wasn't a sort of public tale of self-justification, an apologium.
Next, we're brought to a historical section designed to answer the question: how did we get this way, where we prefer the alpha status and the extrovert. Cain lays the blame at the usual tote-bagger* 20th century villains' doorsteps: establishment snobbery, the cult of personality, and flyover country religiously influenced self-help movements.
You see, before these infections spread, a more authentic and pure form of personality was accepted throughout America—the cult of character!
This got to be too much. FIrst, none of these things were so pervasive as to be, on their own, the cause of what's claimed they're the cause of. If anything, they are flashes of reflections of a change more likely brought about by the shifting of the population, new technology, and so on. Second, I just can't fathom that the appeal to an ahistorical vision of Victorian sensibilities is seen as more authentic (or less distorted by harsh modernity) than its successor era. Third, Conformity has gotten a bad rap of late. Yes, there are a few exceptions to the rule who seem to justify every deviance, every antisocial behavior, and every Social Darwinist claim about Galtian supermen and the way they carry all of us. Finally, the apparent sigh with which it was noted that John Quincy Adams (who lost both the popular vote and the electoral vote, but who was installed by his former colleagues in the House) was one of the only introverted Presidents.
Why, you mean someone who must win an election needs to be charming, gregarious (a word almost used to the point of becoming a slur for extroverts in this book), and outgoing?? Of course. Politics is not a realm for introverts, whether the term is limited to those who are shy or "introverted" in the quasi-Jungian sense defined by Cain. (As an aside, her victory over the circumstances story about being an introvert in law practice is less miraculous than it sounds. Those who aren't trial lawyers (what might be called a "barrister" in other countries) or litigators, and who do mostly transactional work—more like what they call a "solicitor"— are actually better off being pleasant and polished enough to gain the confidence of the client and thereafter simply being focused, analytical, and quiet).
Nor is anything involving democracy directly. For better or worse, humans are more or less wired to follow leaders who connect with them, though it is most certainly important for these leaders to listen to their quiet, strategic, and analytical (and potentially introverted) advisers and policy makers. To tell voters they're "doing it wrong" with respect to democracy isn't democratic.
Introverts are hardly the oppressed group painted in this book. They are just simply misused in certain realms, just as extroverts are. No one wants a belly laughing butler. To me, it would have been far more interesting to note incongruences between the purported function of certain jobs and the social conventions for the personality type most venerated by it. For example, Cain's after-school special about her negotiation with the banks could have been coupled by a story of an extrovert gaining purchase somewhere people think they don't belong.
The whole underdog leitmotif is distracting and needlessly contrarian—a short version would have made a good article for Slate. Is there really a cabal of extroverts keeping people down? No.
Social dominance and hierarchies are still more or less poorly understood in a scientific manner. And while we as thinking intelligent beings should not feel constrained by biology, we also should not be too quick to dismiss the adaptations that got us where we are. Without charismatic leaders to pull groups together in times of peril, groups could face annihilation.
We need other people. We need to interact. This means that we should accept that it takes all kinds. But I believe we should err on the side of being pro-social, something our society requires and our brains are programmed for.
I'm also somewhat confused what the controversy is. If Peter Drucker is saying that the best CEOs he knows lacked charisma and some were introverts, then it hardly matters how influential the learning style at Harvard Business school is. Even if every publicly traded company has a HBS graduate in it, not every publicly traded company has an HBS CEO. Just like just about every white European is descended from Charlemagne, but only a handful are royalty, the influence of the HBS technique can be overstated. As for Tony Robbins, I don't doubt that he is influential in certain sectors, but a self-help cult is not evidence of a broader social phenomenon. Has Cain met many lawyers selling her Amway products and Robbins tapes? I doubt it. It's more a marker of the middle- and lower-middle classes than it is a general phenomenon, if even that. That's the reason it may be news to Cain, who comes (apparently) from a different background, one more like mine.
Next comes the complaint about Paxil. Of course. It's so bad they're making us feel like we need to be chemical zombies to fit in! This is a slightly modified version of the tote-bagger* trope that complains about Ritalin in children. And it's usually in the same context: denying there's something wrong with *me* so I shouldn't need this drug and its horrible side effects. Society should simply conform to *me*!
So, if I were to mimic Cain's mode of arguing, I could suggest that every company that has a graduate of the Peter Drucker School of Management in Claremont, California is necessarily part of an effort to reduce charismatic business leaders. Now we can see this argument fails the soda-out-the-nose test and we can put it aside.
As for the claim that charismatic leadership is a "myth," I think I can avoid unpacking into an argument on the one hand and will be unable to rehabilitate at all. It is simply not correct. Whether or not Lou Gersten is an introvert or not is a purely anecdotal (ironically, an HBS-style case study) version of an argument. Cain fails to acknowledge that, for example, in the survival scenario, the introvert who failed to persuade the group will die if he can't save the group. It's not just that the others are being idiots and engaging in groupthink, it's that that individual is not saving the group either. They will *all* die and fail to pass on their genes. If the smarter one were really better adapted to the environment, he would persuade. This is not just a failure of the others or of the group as an separate entity. It's a failure of all of them individually and jointly. You can't dismiss that.
People listen to people who talk more. It is unlikely that that will change much.
The reasons for this are not part of a 20th century fad or a business school method. Rather, the latter are the effects of biological adaptations that we're only now beginning to understand. And, at least in situations where our genetics have counted, following that kind of leader—far from being a "myth"—has produced our civilization as we know it. Dismissing it as a myth, is, without hyperbole, calling into question human evolution. From the very beginning, we relied on others—some of whom were less fit in many ways—to work together to survive. Humans are social animals. Even if the introverted smart guy had picked the right stuff to save from the wreckage, he couldn't have carried it on his own. His odds of success go from 0% to something nonzero if he has another human that is no smarter than a pack animal. Again: we need people. We need to stop undervaluing others—something I thought was the thesis of this book until it became apparent that it was going to turn "extroverts" (or gregarious people as she sneers) into the latest incarnation of the high school football jock who beats up Daniel-san. Now, extroverts are killing people stranded in Labrador because they won't shut their mouths. Ugh.
I'm not sure where the switchover from some kind of general phenomenon to what goes down at Tony Robbins seminars and Harvard Business School happened. Is this book really just about the author's healing—or is it at all scientific? If charismatic leadership is a mere myth, we need an entire counterhistory for the end of Republican Rome, and more than half the leaders of countries that speak Romance languages in the 20th century from Mussolini to Peron to De Gaulle to Franco—and do I violate Godwin's law to mention that this was also a phenomenon of consequence in Germany and Russia? It's no myth. It may be perverse in its effects, some of the time or all the time, but it is not a myth. Perhaps this is why we have the sudden and unexplained jump to the corporate world—no more sighs about unpopular Presidents or other political leaders. I wouldn't be alone in suggesting that while he was certainly no Mussolini, Franklin Roosevelt was a charismatic leader who brought about sweeping change to the country. I might find more agreement with framing it this way from right of center historians who question these changes than from those left of center who downplay his charisma in favor of the need for the changes—but I think he, along with other American leaders such as JFK, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama are leaders whose personality was more important to their story than some particular policy they held firmly and quietly.
I had to stop reading about 20% in because I just didn't think I would profit that much by continuing. I already implicitly accept the only valid and sound conclusions I can draw from this book: charismatic snake-oil salesman do not necessarily improve shareholder value.
* Tote-bagger is used here as the kind of person who listens to NPR, shops at Trader Joes,may have entertained Jenny McCarthy's anti-vaccination movement briefly—definitely someone who is not a movement conservative—but who fails to call into question many if not most of the delusions they live by. Conservatives would call such a person a "liberal"—indeed this person is much like a conservative's stereotype of a liberal. But liberals would not agree, not at all, largely because this person is blind to their own white privilege, upper-middle class mores and outlook, and knows just enough to be dangerous but not expert in, well, anything you can talk to them about—except football. They wouldn't know about that.(less)
Most of the negative reviews about this book are from people who didn't get it. You can not like it for whatever reason--or think it's dated (it is a...more
Most of the negative reviews about this book are from people who didn't get it. You can not like it for whatever reason--or think it's dated (it is a bit) but if you claim that this is an instruction manual for faking higher status or a contributor to snobbery, you don't get it.
This simple question can reveal the truth of that: who goes unscathed in this? No one. It isn't written from an upper class perspective because they are made fun of just as much as the rest. If you think this book is snobbish, you may actually be proving its point about middles.
Very funny, insightful, and worth a read even 30 years on.(less)
I like Rachel Maddow a lot. People who draw a false equivalency between her and her purported counterparts on the right are far too facile in their co...moreI like Rachel Maddow a lot. People who draw a false equivalency between her and her purported counterparts on the right are far too facile in their comparisons. Maddow is quirky, intelligent, unorthodox, and, above all, she is not angry. And those who have refused her admittance to the ranks of the Very Serious, like The New Republic, are only showing their own rust.
Drift discusses a topic that should be of great concern to any subject of our great empire: that of the increasing militarization of politics. Maddow is obviously not aiming this book at the Chomskian air of academia. In fact, it is what she says it is: a small-'c' conservative review of the drift of which she speaks. It is an argument premised on the beliefs of our Founding Fathers, not merely on the current expediencies of empire.
The one fatal problem with it: it only tells the post-Vietnam part of this issue in that it is premised on the change from wars fought by your neighbors and paid for in your taxes, to wars fought by other people without costing you an immediate penny.
This is certainly a key transition, but it is only the resolution to the set up of the plot that began with the Manhattan Project during World War II and the messianic sense of America's role in the world that that war established. Without these elements, Vietnam would not have been Vietnam. And without the dread of the bomb and the vortex of secrecy that surrounded it and the power to use it from the beginning, there never would have been the same hook for secrecy to sink into to government and metastasize. Maddow is a little bit older than I am, so she is certain to remember the ever-present but subtle terror that the world could simply end in half an hour. This surely informed not only the government's urge to keep its military doings secret, but also fed the public's demand for a sense of security.
The drift began with Truman and the bomb, not with Reagan and his Hollywood gestures about Panama, Grenada, and the salute of the commander-in-chief. At that point, it just became regularized.
If the national command authority, which is the group that controls the use of nuclear weapons (and may or may not be identical with the Constitutional chain of succession) can launch doomsday, it seems, a fortiori, they can send a few troops here or there. Plus, if not for their ability to launch a deadly retaliation, the whole framework of Cold War brinksmanship would break down. Keeping America's nuclear secrets secret, and our ability to spy on Soviet nuclear capabilities secret, created the security state.
To that extent, Gary Wills's Bomb Power is a more incisive telling of this story.
Maddow has a section on the eerie decay of our nuclear forces which are foreshadowed by her comment that they are unusable. But this entire chapter does not seem to support or undermine her thesis, which is entirely separate from considerations of nuclear weapons. Her thesis, that the President can too easily launch wars detached from any cost to the citizenry (and which arrangment is antithetical to our Founders' vision). She makes no argument as to whether conventional wars are more or less likely in absence or presence of a strong and ready nuclear deterrent, and, despite explaining the current condition of our nuclear forces, never really connects the dots between the nuclear arms race in the Cold War and the massive centralization of military authority.
As I mentioned, Gary Wills explains this is great detail. But a simple example familiar to most should suffice. FDR tried and tried to get the US into World War II. Congress just would not do it. Not until Pearl Harbor. There was a formal declaration of war. The next war, Korea, was launched by the President without a declaration of war. We never really stood down from World War II. And there is where the drift began.
Leaving aside the nuclear issue, in the immediate post World War II era and its following years, the President ordered, without declaration of war, involved us in the overthrow of governments in Guatemala and Iran (the latter Maddow mentions), sovereignty-violating overflights of the Soviet Union, the Bay of Pigs invasion, and many other military adventures before we went to Vietnam. Even if you only consider those events that incurred massive mobilization, there is always Korea.
These defects undermine an otherwise informative and fun read and places it right in the center of the firing range conservatives are likely to attack Maddow on whether or not it's what she wrote: another liberal book blaming our problems on Reagan and Vietnam. In this case, this is not only a correct criticism, it's also one that should undermine the book even for liberals.