Skip to main content

I've often written about the usefulness of being ruthless when the situation and the times demand it, and on occasion some readers have taken issue with that proposition, clinging to the notion that ruthlessness is always wrong.

Given the current constitutional crisis in Washington, I think this is a good time to expand on this proposition, especially because it goes to the root of what it means to be engaged in a power struggle with a bad-faith actor.

Let me first touch on the subject at a very basic, personal level... First, I recognize that the concept of power itself is amoral.  In other words, power does not care whether it is being wielded by a moral or immoral actor.

For the purpose of this discussion, let's assume that the protagonist is a moral actor, i.e., a person who is guided by principles of honesty, fairness, justice, equality, and empathy...

I think it may be useful to illustrate the concept using an anecdotal account, first.  From a personal perspective, here's how I've understood the concept of power struggle with a bad-faith/immoral actor (a proposition which I admit is subjective when it comes to my own experiences).

No matter the environment or situation, when it comes to interpersonal relationships I always start by giving people the benefit of the doubt.  In other words, even when people seem to have done something wrong against me, I assume that they didn't do it on purpose (maliciously), and that they may have acted out of ignorance (i.e., they din't realize they were doing something wrong).

Because of it, my approach to dealing with perceived wrongdoing is to immediately let the person know (in a very dispassionate and respectful manner) about how I'm perceiving the action, and then watch carefully what that person does after he or she has been made aware of my perception.

Then, after that, I have series of "tests" I use to determine whether the person is a good-faith or a bad-faith actor, again giving the person plenty of opportunity to show he or she is a good faith actor who's transgression wasn't done on purpose (i.e., maliciously).

Here's where I think the concept of ruthlessness comes into play... If after giving the perceived antagonist plenty of opportunity to prove their good faith I determine that he or she is in fact a bad faith actor, then the gloves come off and that point my approach is total and utter destruction of the antagonist, ruthlessly.

In other words, at that point things like compassion, fairness, and especially appeasement or accommodation completely go out the window, all replaced by a ruthless and relentless focus on destroying the enemy (metaphorically speaking, of course).

But here's the thing, if you are to be successful this process require yo to be as dispassionate as possible; it must be almost like a mechanical process.

You evaluate the situation, your leverage against the other person, your weaknesses, any power imbalances, and then once you have a clear picture of those things, you patiently and relentlessly work towards gaining the advantage and putting yourself into situation where you'll be able to totally destroy the enemy.

The chess game metaphor applies here... It is very important that you don't make your final move until you are absolutely sure that it will lead to the total and absolute defeat of your opponent.  And again, that is why being dispassionate and extremely patient is of paramount importance in this process.

Once everything is in place, then you make your final move, and at that point you must feel no compassion towards your enemy or have any compunctions about the steps you're going to take to defeat him.

This is called ruthlessness...  It applies to any environment, but it can be especially effective in the corporate (where is where I've implemented it) or political environment.

Now, before I move on to the next area of discussion, I acknowledge that for certain people who are gentle, good-hearted, this whole concept would seem to be anathema.  In other words, the thought of being this calculative, this dispassionate, this ruthless is not something they could do, ever.  I understand that fully.  But also, that's the reason evil (sociopaths), seem to always find a way to power.

From The 48 Laws of Power:

Law 15: Crush your Enemy Totally - All great leaders since Moses have known that a feared enemy must be crushed completely.  (Sometimes they have learned this the hard way.)  If one ember is left alight, no matter how dimly it smolders, a fire will eventually break out.  More is lost through stopping halfway than through total annihilation:  The enemy will recover, and will seek revenge.  Crush him, not only in body but in spirit.
This is a good segue into the topic of President Obama's Original Sin... The original sin of course is that he was a neoliberal corporatist to begin with.
Obama's Big Sellout: The President has Packed His Economic Team with Wall Street Insiders

The president has packed his economic team with Wall Street insiders intent on turning the bailout into an all-out giveaway

Barack Obama ran for president as a man of the people, standing up to Wall Street as the global economy melted down in that fateful fall of 2008. He pushed a tax plan to soak the rich, ripped NAFTA for hurting the middle class and tore into John McCain for supporting a bankruptcy bill that sided with wealthy bankers "at the expense of hardworking Americans." Obama may not have run to the left of Samuel Gompers or Cesar Chavez, but it's not like you saw him on the campaign trail flanked by bankers from Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. What inspired supporters who pushed him to his historic win was the sense that a genuine outsider was finally breaking into an exclusive club, that walls were being torn down, that things were, for lack of a better or more specific term, changing.

-- by Matt Taibbi / Published on Sunday, December 13, 2009 by Rolling Stone

The emphasis is mine

This, of course, would doom any possibility of actually addressing the rampant criminality by the Wall Street racketeering criminal cartel and the war criminals/profiteers of the Bush administration, from the the get go.

But if one consider Taibbi's quote referring to him running "as a man of the people standing up to Wall Street," one must accept the fact that many millions of people who voted for him expected him to do just that.  We expected him to address the widespread looting by Wall Street, and the injustices that situation brought about.  And we expected him to hold Bush administration criminals, accountable.

Why, because both, the Wall Street criminal racketeering cartel and the Bush administration criminal gang have proven to be bad faith actors against the country, against the people, against democracy itself.  And thus they needed to be dealt with, ruthlessly.

At least to me, why the person so many millions of people thought was going to address these obvious injustices and criminality turned out to be a neoliberal corporatist, will always remain an enigma... But for the sake of discussion, let's assume that he's a good faith actor.  In other words, let's assume that he really though that for the sake of the country and given the circumstances the best course of action was to look forward, and not backwards, and to embrace certain economic theories aligned with neoliberalism.

If that is the case, then in my opinion he made a very grave mistake by assuming that the Wall Street racketeering criminal cartel could be tamed, or that he could reason with bad faith political actors.  This could have been a fatal mistake for the country.

Here's how Jonathan Chait, writing for New York Magazine, describes the current situation:

The Shutdown Prophet

Washington couldn’t have gone dark without a radicalized Republican Party. Or maybe it was destined to all along.

Instead, to the slowly unfolding horror of the Obama administration and even some segments of the Republican Party, the GOP decided that the alternative to finding common ground with the president did not have to be mere gridlock. It could force the president to enact its agenda. In January, Boehner told his colleagues he’d abandon all policy negotiations with the White House. Later that spring, House Republicans extended the freeze-out to the Democratic-­majority Senate, which has since issued (as of press time) eighteen futile pleas for budget negotiations. Their plan has been to carry out their agenda by using what they call “leverage” or “forcing events” to threaten economic and social harm and thereby extract concessions from President Obama without needing to make any policy concessions in return. Paul Ryan offered the most candid admission of his party’s determined use of non-electoral power: “The reason this debt-limit fight is different is we don’t have an election around the corner where we feel we are going to win and fix it ourselves,” he said at the end of September. “We are stuck with this government another three years.”

Last Tuesday, House Republicans shut down the federal government, demanding that Obama abolish his health-care reform in a tactically reckless gamble that most of the party feared but could not prevent. More surreal, perhaps, were the conditions they issued in exchange for lifting the debt ceiling later this month. Lifting the debt ceiling, a vestigial ritual in which Congress votes to approve payment of the debts it has already incurred, is almost a symbolic event, except that not doing it would wreak unpredictable and possibly enormous worldwide economic havoc. (Obama’s Treasury Department has compared the impact of a debt breach to the failure of Lehman Brothers.) The hostage letter House Republicans released brimmed with megalomaniacal ambition. If he wanted to avoid economic ruin, Republicans said, Obama would submit to a delay of health-care reform, plus tax-rate cuts, enactment of offshore drilling, approval of the Keystone pipeline, deregulation of Wall Street, and Medicare cuts, to name but a few demands. Republicans hardly pretended to believe Obama would accede to the entire list (a set of demands that amounted to the retroactive election of Mitt Romney), but the hubris was startling in and of itself.

The emphasis is mine

When I read this, this quote from Rule 15 of The 48 Laws of Power comes to mind: "If one ember is left alight, no matter how dimly it smolders, a fire will eventually break out.  More is lost through stopping halfway than through total annihilation:  The enemy will recover, and will seek revenge."

Imagine what would have happened if instead of appointing the same Wall Street criminals that looted the country, to government positions, or choosing to look the other way, or "look forward instead of backwards" when it came to the massive crimes of the Bush administration (and the deranged Republican party), he had actually done the right thing and allowed/enabled the proper investigations of those crimes, letting justice run its course?

We would not be in this position.  We would not be dealing with an emboldened and group of political nihilists willing to take down the country:

To weaponize the debt ceiling, you must be willing to inflict harm on millions of innocent people. It is a shockingly powerful self-destruct button built into our very system of government, but only useful for the most ideologically hardened or borderline sociopathic. But it turns out to be the perfect tool for the contemporary GOP: a party large enough to control a chamber of Congress yet too small to win the presidency, and infused with a dangerous, millenarian combination of overheated Randian paranoia and fully justified fear of adverse demographic trends.
The emphasis is mine

Instead, here we are, facing what could end up being one of the most destabilizing periods in the nation's history, caused by both, the timidity of a new president, and the boldness of a truly deranged political faction.

Obama is the one that should have been bold once he took office in 2009...

Law 28: Enter Action with Boldness - If you are unsure of a course of action, do not attempt it.  Your doubts and hesitations will infect your execution.  Timidity is dangerous:  Better to enter with boldness.  Any mistakes you commit through audacity are easily corrected with more audacity.  Everyone admires the bold; no one honors the timid.
Both, the Wall Street criminal racketeering cartel and the crazed Republicans seem to understand these rules very, very well.

Finally, we'll have to see what ends up happening; we all hope that the impasse is resolved and that the country steps back from the brink.  But as I've argued before, keep in mind that if the situation is not resolved in time, and we get to the brink of default, or actually cross that Rubicon, the Wall Street criminal racketeering cartel and the billionaire funders of the Teabaggers will probably benefit the most from the chaos.

Market For The People |Ray Pensador | Email List | Twitter | Facebook

P.S. There is a small group of users who regularly engage in disruptive behavior in my diaries' discussion threads.  I would like to ask people interested in serious discussion to avoid engaging these few folks in any way.  They usually engage in insults, mockery, and fallacies intended to derail discussion, and post several messages each.  I know this may be annoying to some readers and may prompt them to engage these folks.  I highly recommend that they be ignored so we can focus on intelligent discussion.
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site