Power causes Brain Damage?

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Jeanne Reames
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Power causes Brain Damage?

Post by Jeanne Reames » Thu Jun 27, 2019 8:46 am

https://getpocket.com/explore/item/powe ... ket-newtab

This is utterly fascinating, not just for modern folk, but for thinking about Alexander. (And why a figure like Hephaistion who grounded him/"mirroring," might have been so critical that when he died, Alex became unmoored. More fodder for why it's not "romantic nonsense" that losing Hephaistion was Alexander's "last straw.")

There's a lot of interesting info in the article, including how being "emotionally obtuse" can help those in power...sometimes. But all this makes me think of ATG's confrontations with his officers and soldiers especially in India and Babylon. Did he really understand what they were asking?
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Re: Power causes Brain Damage?

Post by sikander » Sat Jun 29, 2019 4:41 pm

Greetings Jeanne,

Interesting read, but I think this fails a bit to take into account the types of personalities that the modern world "rewards" with power.

A number of studies have explored the real possibility that many of those today who climb to the upper echelons are psychopaths; the very traits that make them able to impress others (risk-taking, ruthlessness/lack of empathy, chaos) also play against them as time passes and they have to form connections to help them retain that power, especially should exposure or an action they allow or encourage cause others to question, reject or challenge their position - having created an atmosphere in which a lack of positive direction and goal setting occurs, the chaos they have created starts to break down the team and disrupt the solidarity of the group. The psychopathy that helped them climb to the top requires a specific sort of environment and permissive work culture. While often charming to those above them, they can be abusive to those "beneath" them.

While aspects of this can seem to color Alexander's mindset, the circumstances were far different- he did not "climb" his way to the top nor was he prepared for it; his "natural kindness" was remarked on; he showed restraint in circumstances when the typical CEO does not, and the culture he lived in was both brutal and striving for refinement at the same time.

While I agree that Hephaistion was his "anchor", I believe that has more to do with his peculiar isolation/upbringing from childhood on, including trust factors in a world composed of political intrigue and murder as advancement, position and security- something a psychopath in a nurturing environment is usually able to overcome, and who are often quite successful in forming long-term personal multiple friendships. And while Alexander had friends, the question would be Did he see those friendships as equal to his relationship with Hephaistion, or did he see even those as connected with his position and power more than with himself as an individual person?

I suspect Alexander knew what his men were asking; but he felt "betrayed" or "let down"- a failure of those he wanted to share a vision that in reality, most had probably never shared (and that was HIS failure, perhaps)...it wasn't part of the cultural dynamics to focus on empire building more than individual accumulation and position; additionally, it is likely that the stresses were taking their toll, too... complex at best. Failure and disappointment often brings anger towards the one who disappoints.

Indeed, about a year after the Useem article was originally published, the flaws in the study were being discussed, and the conclusions questioned. While power priming is interesting research, and the literature of same fascinating, it is also true that there is still controversy over such "social priming" studies (as there have been a number of failures in replicating findings), as well as over studies in power in general (and in why groups give power to, or give themselves over to, those in power even when the signs point to danger)

So I would argue the verdict is still out . Just random thoughts on an afternoon!

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Re: Power causes Brain Damage?

Post by Jeanne Reames » Thu Jul 04, 2019 12:09 am

Hi, Sikander. Sorry for the slow response (book stuff). In any case, I think you make some good points here, particularly about differences in how one came to power between now and then.

I definitely don't think Alex was a psychopath (although I think some of my colleagues might argue that point, ha). However, I would argue that he did have to climb to the throne, at least somewhat. It wasn't just handed to him. Tim Howe has an interesting article on Alexander's first years, the excution/(murder) of Attalos, and etc. I'm not sure I buy everything he says, but it's a useful caution that perhaps his seat on the throne was a lot less secure than we tend to think, especially in retrospect. (Tim makes an interesting argument that at least part of why ATG was so furious with his mother for killing Kleopatra and the baby wasn't just the horror of it, but that he was considering marrying her himself--not unlike what it seems Archelaus did when he took the throne, as a means of further establishing legitimacy.)

Anyway, at the very least, he had to get rid of his cousin, who was a serious rival. And he had to show a strong hand with Lynkestis, lest they break away again and fought against him (as they had so often in the past). And that's just within the kingdom. That said, he did certainly come to the throne with a sense of belonging there. I haven't yet had a chance to read Fred's new book on Alex and the religious aspects of his/Argead kingship, but I'm eager to do so. I think he did feel (and continue to feel) a certain *responsibility* towards his subjects that no CEO of a major corp would be expected to feel today, for sure (even those who, like, say, Hobby Lobby, claim to be religious).

So yes, I think that is a very big difference, and is well-worth noting. And I think that is part of why he did feel betrayed by his men. He'd taken care of them, given them bigger victories than anyone ever in the history of Macedonia...why weren't they properly appreciative? So yeah, that's definitely true. I'd argue the very isolation of his success, though, made him unable to see things from their perspective, and I suppose that's the part of the article I found most interesting. And it's something that's probably inevitable for anybody in the spotlight.

Another thing that would at least somewhat separate out Alex from many CEOs, etc., is that after Persepolis, it stopped being a cakewalk, so to speak. Things went south quickly in Baktria. I suspect that the years between Granikos and Persepolis are when he would have been most susceptible to what the article describes.

But yes, I find power studies fascinating...probably because of who I research. LOL.

Thanks for the good thoughts and observations.
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Re: Power causes Brain Damage?

Post by sikander » Fri Jul 05, 2019 12:59 am

Greetings Jeanne,

Thank you for the reply... I appreciate your thoughts on this.

You said: "I definitely don't think Alex was a psychopath (although I think some of my colleagues might argue that point, ha). However, I would argue that he did have to climb to the throne, at least somewhat. It wasn't just handed to him. "

I absolutely agree with this assessment; by not having to climb to the throne, I meant he did not have to go through the system of promotions etc so common today, that tends to "soften" people to accept the psychopathy of so many corporate executives today...

You said: "Tim Howe has an interesting article on Alexander's first years, the excution/(murder) of Attalos, and etc. I'm not sure I buy everything he says, but it's a useful caution that perhaps his seat on the throne was a lot less secure than we tend to think, especially in retrospect. (Tim makes an interesting argument that at least part of why ATG was so furious with his mother for killing Kleopatra and the baby wasn't just the horror of it, but that he was considering marrying her himself--not unlike what it seems Archelaus did when he took the throne, as a means of further establishing legitimacy.)"

I would agree his seat on the throne was less secure than many might think. The factions and power plays did not cease because Alexander took the throne. The old adage "keep your friends close and your enemies closer" was not bad advice for some time! I am not as convinced re his assertion that Alexander was considering marrying her himself.

You said: "Anyway, at the very least, he had to get rid of his cousin, who was a serious rival. And he had to show a strong hand with Lynkestis, lest they break away again and fought against him (as they had so often in the past). And that's just within the kingdom. That said, he did certainly come to the throne with a sense of belonging there. I haven't yet had a chance to read Fred's new book on Alex and the religious aspects of his/Argead kingship, but I'm eager to do so. I think he did feel (and continue to feel) a certain *responsibility* towards his subjects that no CEO of a major corp would be expected to feel today, for sure (even those who, like, say, Hobby Lobby, claim to be religious)."

I would agree he would have to rid himself of his cousin, and others. But that must be read in the context of a time, place, culture- nothing indicates these killings were "enjoyed"- it was simple reality: kill or be killed. The modern age does not have the brutality of Alexander's era, though it has a certain ruthless lack of empathy which is rewarded for reasons other than in the past.

You said : "So yes, I think that is a very big difference, and is well-worth noting. And I think that is part of why he did feel betrayed by his men. He'd taken care of them, given them bigger victories than anyone ever in the history of Macedonia...why weren't they properly appreciative? So yeah, that's definitely true. I'd argue the very isolation of his success, though, made him unable to see things from their perspective, and I suppose that's the part of the article I found most interesting. And it's something that's probably inevitable for anybody in the spotlight."

I agree he felt he had given them a lot, but at the same time, they had given much to him, too- and I think any military leader recognizes the limits of isolated action- in other words, he had to acknowledge that without them, nothing he dreamed would be possible, either. And his successes were at times not as "successful" as they could have been, so I would find it difficult to believe he was unaware that sometimes, "success" was a thin thread.
I'm not certain that failure to see things from your followers perspective *is* inevitable, however...I would see that as an approach colored by the modern world and how it sees leadership and followers today... there is often a 'disconnect" possible that would be less possible in the past, or under certain conditions. I think that happens most often when there is a greater distance, less connection and less interdependency between the "leader" and the followers- something easier in certain arenas than others.





Another thing that would at least somewhat separate out Alex from many CEOs, etc., is that after Persepolis, it stopped being a cakewalk, so to speak. Things went south quickly in Baktria. I suspect that the years between Granikos and Persepolis are when he would have been most susceptible to what the article describes.

But yes, I find power studies fascinating...probably because of who I research. LOL.

Thanks for the good thoughts and observations.

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Re: Power causes Brain Damage?

Post by Alexias » Fri Jul 05, 2019 9:03 am

The Indian 'mutiny' came on the back of a couple of very difficult years in Bactria, so maybe at that point Alexander did lose touch with his men. However, he must have won them back again viz the Opis 'mutiny' and the file past at his deathbed. They obviously adored him, and the point of the file past was that he knew and recognised many of them.

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Re: Power causes Brain Damage?

Post by sean_m » Fri Jul 12, 2019 2:35 pm

As an ordinary person who has lived his whole life in small countries next to large countries with powerful people, I can't comment on this thread without getting political, except to say that they seem to be describing a truism in medicalized language which someone from another culture could describe in moralistic language (luxus! superbia!) or economic language (modelling minds is hard work, one thing people use power for is to push work on others) or the language of personal gods and daimones. You could also mention the invisible chaffeur in that detective story: one reason why servants were key to intelligence networks is that in some parts of early modern Europe, aristocrats often ignored that they were there. We see traces of the same attitude to slaves in classical Greek literature: Xenophon mentions only one of his slaves once (and not by name!) in the entire Anabasis, and he also says that a general should know the names of his soldiers for the same reason that a craftsman knows the names of his tools.

I think that some of the people around Alexander who had keen eyes and open ears but not wealth and aristocratic blood would have had all kinds of stories to tell which are different than the ones in our aristocratic sources. Growing up at such a small court, many people would have seen him for many years before he put on the 'mask of command.' His relationship with Bukephalos is interesting compared to Xenophon's "50 stater horse" or some of the medieval writers, to quite a few riders horses were just tools to use up but one horse seems to have been special to Alexander.
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Re: Power causes Brain Damage?

Post by sean_m » Fri Jul 12, 2019 4:31 pm

I would expect that losing, killing, or having to send away so many friends unsettled Alexander, and so did going from a boy who might or might not become king to king of a small kingdom to King of the World with rituals and flunkies to keep others from getting close or saying impolitic things. The external feedback that he used to manage his behaviour was steadily removed, and he had to find new solutions while looking more and more divine.

I am just not sure that a biomedical explanation ("power changed his brain and neurochemistry") says anything different to a materialist than a divine explanation says to a polytheist ("the gods punished him for his crimes against gods and men"). I think that both can agree that power leads to unwise and arrogant behaviour, and that many of the things people do are a deep Mystery even to their closest friends.
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