Manipulation one-on-one: Chapter 1 – From bossing people around to Lying to the Future

Do you know how you boss people around? Simple, you just take a big fat doodoo on their parades.

Case in point:

I was watching the Showtime TV series Billions the other day. This series is all about the conflict between the ambitious and unscrupulous Assistant US Attorney (AUSA) Chuck Rhoades, played by Paul Giamatti, who is going after the target of popular wrath nowadays, the amoral backdoor deal broker, hedgefund billionaire Bobby Axelrode, played magistrally by Damian Lewis. On the face of things, the AUSA is the good guy and the Wall Street player is the villain.

Bobby Axelrode – the unscrupulous billionaire and low hanging fruit targeted by the Left. After all, they think all the rich people are evil, and of course being poor is nowadays grounds for sainthood. I am not surprised that they see the world in such clearly defined colours. Not at all, to say the least. A famous Star Wars line goes a little bit like this “If you aren’t with me, then you are against me”, says Darth Vader. To which Obi-Wan Kenobi replies: “Only the Sith deal in absolutes.” The same goes for the Left. To their limited minds, the world is very clean cut. If only the world was that easy to interpret and decipher. As it happens, it is not wealth that which dictates morality. It is self-restraint, which means always watching oneself for signs of moral decay. But that is much difficult to measure and using such metrics would put most of humanity into moral bankruptcy.

The series is excellently done. The cast is superlative to say the least. And the subject matter is quite current, given the left-right conflict permeating American politics today.

And if there ever was a cultural motif more worthy of screen time, I can’t say that I know of such a theme. You see, today rich people are quickly becoming the enemy of the people, just like 100 years ago, when the Bolsheviks were destroying the Menshevik moderates in their quest to gain supreme power in all of the Russias.

And this is not something I can get behind of. Not at all. You see I am not yet ready nor will do I expect to ever be ready to condemn my fellow Man or Woman just because they made it Big. I leave that for others who believe in self-loathing with so much passion that they mistake it for envy. Because, and this has been apparent for some time now, most people manage to reserve a huge dose of envy for that which they are not able to possess.

Case in point, any Joe Blow out there envies and covets what people like Bill Gates have, oblivious to the fact that they do not have the skills, intellect, inclination, application and industry that Mr. Gates exhibited from an early age. But hey that doesn’t mean they cannot envy people whose net worth ranges in the tens of billion dollars. Because they can and they do covet and hate them for it.

That doesn’t mean I give the rich a blank cheque for their shady dealings. Not only that but I do NOT agree with the callousness of the rich elites, who think they can earn their way into gaining supreme political power. I am of the belief that one can either be rich and not be able to run for political office; or the other way around. If they want to run for office, they must renounce all of their earthly possessions. The rich cannot have the cake and eat it too. No way, Jose.

But enough with the critique of the rich-poor politics of power. Let’s go back to the main topic.

At one point, the AUSA manages to indict one of Axelrode’s associates, Billy Stearn, who plays the role of the unflinching sidekick, unwilling to betray his boss for anything in the world. When faced with a personal dilemma brought about by prosecutorial blackmail, Billy, who is bigamous, prefers to let his wife #1 know about wife & family #2, rather than betray Axelrode. Defended by a great hotshot lawyer, paid for by Axelrode, who values loyalty above all else, Billy gets his case heard by a sympathetic judge, who rules in his favour, and dismisses the AUSA’s case.

Bet you guys are all heading to Crave TV to check out the series, by now, eh! But wait, because there’s also a kicker. When Billy Stearn returns in triumph, like the prodigal son he is, to a standing ovation from his brother and sister-traders, his boss Axelrode takes a huge fat doodoo on his parade, calling him to order. And that is how you boss people around. You rain on their parade. You do it fast. You do it furiously. And you crush your victorious sidekick before they even know the extent of their own fleeting power.

In the end, Axelrode’s hard stance is just for show, because while they appear to fight, in truth they are plotting the demise of their common enemies, but as I said you gotta watch the show. It is worth it.

Axelrode on Fear

Bobby Axelrode is not just a run of the mill billionaire. That is to say, he is not just one of those Warren Buffets or Bill Gates of the world. He is also a fine psychologist. For instance he reduces fear to a periodic table element: Aluminum. I know, crazy, man.

Yeah, that’s right. For Axelrode, one of humanity’s most potent sentiments, fear, tastes like Aluminum.

But wait, there’s more in the same vein. He goes on to explain that, truthfully, most of us will try to evade fear, rationalise it out of their lives, mitigate its pernicious and insidious effects on our psyches. Not him though. For him, it’s quite the other way around. He cultivates it. Yes, you heard right. The guy is freaking awesome. He takes a nefarious, poisonous feeling, and embraces it. He actually takes command over fear using it as a motivator. And not just to manipulate people but to discipline himself out of engaging in a bad pattern of behaviour.

You see, most people hate or are afraid to be afraid because normally fear makes people run or take the easy way out in general. Have you ever heard about the fight or flight reflex? This is the decently genuine and ‘normal’ reaction of most human beings when faced with confrontational situations. So basically, you either outrun your opponent if you recognise that he’s either bigger, better or faster than yourself. Or, alternately, you fight them, when you estimate that you cannot outrun them, and you go big instead of going home.

So, both people as well as warships fall into one of the two categories. They are either fast cruisers or destroyers, capable of dealing rapid damage and flee the scene. Or they are slow but giant behemoth-battleships, and they stay to fight, because they may lack the speed, but they sure don’t lack the firepower.

Bobby Axelrode is special though. He is both. Like one of those German WW2 fast pocket-battleships, designed to outrun anything they couldn’t outfight, and vice-versa, he recognises that fear is a prop or a tool, so to speak, that he had to master while growing up poor. And by Jove, if he doesn’t do a terrific job mastering all of its nuances.

So, when he becomes rich like Croesus, Bobby hangs on to fear, heeding it, listening to it. For him, fear is what darkness is to Simon & Garfunkel, namely an old trusted friend.

I know, it’s quirky. But it’s true.

“Hello darkness, my old friend I’ve come to talk with you again…” – Simon & Garfunkel really knew their lyrics, man.

Sometimes One Takes a Bite on Its Own Medicine

In the end, even the supreme manipulator can be subject to attempts at manipulation. After a series of Public Relations (PR) nightmares, which threaten the quiet seclusion of his money making empire, Axelrode facing public wrath, needs to make a course correction. He hires a PR specialist, or what Mel Brooks would have called a bulls..t artist, to advise him on how to manage public perception and of course, his future legacy.

“This is the time when a man like you allows reflection to dictate action.”

said BS artist Mr. Ayles that Axelrode hires for $500,000 per annum.

Axelrode hires the voice of respectability because he wants his name to be acknowledged in all future stories. And funny as the whole scene is, it is also extremely real. Because Axelrode is not the first nor is he the last to hire a sycophant like Ayles to white wash his tarnished reputation because Ayles “speaks the nasal language of culture and credibility.”

If you are looking for a reason to hate the man, I think this is it. Because while most people hate Axelrode for being rich as a nabob, while being unable to display any of his merits, I for one think that no man should ever attempt to launder their image and pervert history in the process.

A former prime minister of France, Francois Guizot once told French workers to enrich themselves. And perhaps he was right to suggest that even though it is way easier said than done, and to be honest sounds a bit smug. But overall, he wasn’t wrong to recognise the transformative power of capital.

The moral of this story is very simple. Getting rich is fine. However, becoming rich doesn’t cover the person acquiring wealth in a cloak of respectability. To the contrary, becoming rich is often an immoral, perhaps even an amoral process, which deprives the newly enriched of respectability, and sometimes even exposes them for who they truly are, a venal, morally dead on arrival carcass of the person they once were. So, to even entertain the notion of altering the public record to reflect a lie, that is the true crime. And yet nobody cares about lying to the future generations.

And that is not fine. That is definitely not fine.

François Pierre Guillaume Guizot (1787-1874) – French statesman who coined the catchphrase “Enrichissez-vous or Get rich!”. Portrait by Jehan Georges Vibert (1850).

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