How to deal with people: Power-seekers and bossy assholes

Becoming Overhuman is a difficult path to follow in life. The constant effort to improve yourself, the relentless attention to the world around, always analyzing more, always thinking one step ahead, searching for truth and power – actually, the metaphor “path” is not a good one. It is more like an infinite staircase, and you’re carrying 200 kg on your shoulders, and every five steps you take four steps backwards, and on every third step there is a puzzle you cannot solve unless you read 2 new books, but the books are in languages you don’t speak, and you have to push through people that are physically trying to stop you from going up. But, at least you do not go alone and you have company and fun, which is a good thing.

In this slow ascension there are also people that make your life more difficult than other people. Stupid people, aggressive people, authoritative people, and more – and their intricate combinations like stupid-authoritative. In this series, “How to deal with people”, I explore what you can do when you come in contact with such people.

I would like to mention in advance that the general rule may well be “Just leave”, but this kind of advice is simply not applicable all the time. What if you can’t leave? What if you don’t want to leave? It is a bad idea to relinquish your goals simply because you happen to get some opposition. Obstacles are meant to be passed, not avoided, and sometimes you get human obstacles.

In this episode, we will  dive in the world of power-seekers and bossy assholes.

I rarely get in contact with these people but sometimes I do. They are bossy and authoritative, and tell you what to do either implicitly or explicitly. They are masters of unsolicited advice and they always leave you feeling like you lost. In other words, they seek to be in a position of power over you. They want to assert their dominance, show that they are the alpha, make it clear that you are submitted to them.

This means that they will use the imperative mode to tell you what you should do, and when not doing this, they will try to make themselves look superior to you in other ways. They will want to handle things and they will not ask for your permission in things that other people normally would. They will probably have initiative to perform various tasks, which potentially makes them valuable, but they will still have to be submitted (more on this later). Every single member of this group that I came across in my life has been male and possessed the image of a “tough guy” and usually had some sort of leadership role (trainer, company boss, …) Now, it is a mystery to me if it is their leadership role that causes them to overextend it to other areas of life, or if they simply seek such positions of power because they are naturally attracted to them. Whatever the case may be, in my experience male tough leader types will have great potential to fall into this category. (I do not care to guess if they are deeply insecure or not; this type of psychoanalysis seems to me to be guesswork, not testable, prediction-generating hypotheses… “If you can explain either outcome, you have zero knowledge.“)

Some of the more common things you may expect with such people are:

  • Pranks and jokes on your expense, with no possibility of rebuttal: they can make fun of you, but they do not laugh if you do the same to them: they get serious and either shut up and simply look at you in a semi-angry way, or they openly tell you to shut up in some way (“You shouldn’t be saying such things.”; “I suggest you watch what you’re saying”; and other “friendly” advice).
  • Undermining your authority (if you are in a position of authority), regardless of functionality: sometimes you have to undermine someone’s authority, but not for its own sake but in order to do something better. These people will intentionally undermine your position of authority not because there is anything to improve, but because you are in a position of authority, and they want to take you down.
  • Implications of superiority: they will make passing comments where, if you think deeply about it, they put themselves in a superior position to you. For example, they might say that they let you win sometimes (if you do some competitive activity with them) so that you may learn something.
  • Unsolicited advice and “I’ll teach you”-attitude: They’ll give you advice you didn’t ask for and that you didn’t need (which might not mean much by itself; some genuinely well-meaning people will do the same, but with these people you will have a distinct feeling that the advice isn’t only there to help you, it is there to affirm their position of power).

Why these people do so I do not know, but it is annoying and potentially hindering to some of your progress. The thing is, you can’t really ignore them but at the same time, what they do is so subtle that you can’t call them out on it. This puts you in the stupid position of having to play the game against them while you could be spending time doing something more useful. But there is no use in complaining that you have to perform you duty – you simply do what is necessary and don’t complain.

So, what may you do when faced with people that try to one-up you, demonstrate that they are more powerful and affirm their superiority?

There are many avenues of approach. We have already mentioned simply going away as one possibility, but this is not something that you will want to do all the time. Perhaps you cannot or will not for some reason go away, and you need to take care of this person. If you chose to do so, you will have to play a game of power with them. Eventually, you will have to submit them: demonstrate that you are superior to them and the sooner you do so, the better off you will be.

I understand that you do not want to do this thing. However ugly it may be, I find that it is necessary. It seems to me that it is more than just difficult to create a relationship of equality with these people; I find that it is impossible, because the drive for domination is so deeply seated that most are not mindful enough to perceive it, especially real-time (everything is easy in hindsight). In some people, this drive is stronger, and some people seem to be lacking it altogether. I think that all have some degree of it, and those that have more of it must restrain it more. I speak from my own experience, for I was once myself such a fool, and have to periodically revisit the lessons I have been taught. Entropy is human; to revert to old and natural states of mind is usual. If you do not keep the fridge plugged in to a source of electricity, it will revert to room temperature. If you do not keep yourself from being an asshole, you will revert to being an asshole. I honestly do my best to keep myself in check and I think I am doing fine. Well… At least I have first hand experience (zeroth hand?) with these people.

So. Instead of trying to create a relationship of equality, you will have to submit them. You have to demonstrate power because power is the only thing these people respect. If you do so, you may have a chance of building an egalitarian relation; if you do not, they will continue to dominate. How do you demonstrate power?

Now… Here we come to the intricate details of handling these people. I believe the appropriate mindset for this is playful: simply do these techniques in a playful manner; observe how their facial expression changes, how they become less secure of themselves, how the balance of power tips, how anxious they suddenly become. Think of it as a funny game, benevolently toying with someone’s mind. (If you do not have this playful attitude you might start to take it altogether too seriously, which is never a good thing.)

The principle to observe is…

Brain beats brawn and brawn beats brain. But sometimes brain beats brain and brawn beats brawn. Best is that both brain and brawn beat their brain and brawn.

If you are dealing with a person that is physically superior to you in some way (the stereotypical way is size and strength of muscle), you can either beat them at their own game (be better at what they are currently better, in this case get bigger and stronger) or beat them where they are weak. In my personal experience, with such leader-tough guy males, you do the stupidest possible thing – honestly, this is so stupid that I get ashamed for doing it, but it’s very effective – you say big words.

That’s it. If you want, you can not only say big words, but talk about subjects they are not knowledgeable in, like quantum physics or political philosophy, but simply saying words like inference, transhumanism, quintessence, double-blind study, existentialist or singularity will be more than enough.

Take a look at this sentence and think about it.

And now, observe this sentence and contemplate it.

“Look” and “think” are practically the same as “observe” and “contemplate”, but for a stereotypical alpha male that prizes his brawn, they will come as a shock; a challenge to their superiority: “How can this beta speak these words? Words are knowledge; knowledge is witchcraft; witchcraft is power: this is a man I will have to respect more than I used to.” Naturally, this will not register consciously – if it would, then they would already be aware of their tendencies and we would not have a problem. But regardless, they will feel less certain around you for they will see that they do not know all you know, and however strong or big they may be, there will always be a little nagging uncertainty in the back of their mind. They will be challenged.

Now, you may be thinking that this is so stupid that it would never work. It is, of course, up to you to try it. Maybe the person dominating you is genuinely not so dumb as to be impressed with big words: this makes it a bit harder, but at least they’re not an absolute idiot, and I feel glad for them. Maybe you’ll not be able to simply use big words instead of simple ones. In this case, you will actually have to be smarter than your opponent, not just more eloquent. You will have to be more knowledgeable about a subject and then talk about this subject. You will have to refer to transhumanist ideas, you will have to mention Tegmark duplicate worlds, you will have to speak of languages being more or less analytic or synthetic. The more you know, the more guns you have.

It should not come as a surprise that all this is also a warning to you: YOU will also find people that try to do the same thing to you. Depending on the level these power-seekers operate on, they might try to use some of the techniques mentioned here. I know I’ve had at least one person trying to use big words to impress and assert dominance.

Or, if your opponent is the mental kind, you might want to submit him with the power of your body. You might demonstrate a difficult physical feat like a backflip, or move a heavy object, or run faster and jump higher than they do. There is something to be said about physical demonstrations of power. When you see someone do 50 push ups in a row, or do a backflip or something like that, and you are the type of person that wishes to assert dominance, some primal part of you will bow in respect. There is a reason why the coolest kid in the class is the guy that can do the backflip. It is a stupid reason, of course, but it is still a reason.

To recap: you will have to either physically or mentally (or both) overpower the person that is trying to submit you. However, be mindful of this thing: do not become who they are simply because you’re handling them. The abyss gazing into you and all that stuff. Remember that you are simply playing a game: you do not truly wish to dominate them; that is what they do. You toy with their stupid, primal, apelike desires – but you do not share them. Do not become an asshole in the process of fighting assholes. It is very easy to screw this up, so be extra mindful of it.

I’ve already mentioned that you should not nod your head when these people speak. By the same token, you should not follow their conversational leads: if they wish to speak about a certain thing, change the subject back to something you wish to speak about. If they wish to joke, do not share the initiative, remain serious. If they wish to speak seriously, do not accept the invitation, keep it humorous. Whenever they try to change to conversation, you take control of it again and steer it where you wish, not where they intend to. These people will occasionally implicitly or explicitly ask you to agree with something they said. However hard it may be, do not give silent consent, do not give consent of any kind, do not acknowledge what they say. Go out of your way to criticize their arguments if the arguments are flawed, and give them no leeway to start changing the subject. Keep in mind that these are men that are not Bayesian rationalists: they try to win, not to learn, and so they must be either ignored/avoided or defeated entirely if you are to interact with them. Arguments will not sway them; good rhetoric will. Good rhetoric can be accompanied with good, rational arguments (as it should be, always), but keep in mind that you’re dirtying your hands every time you use rhetoric instead of plain English and probability mathematics. (Sometimes you need to punch people in the face, and sometimes you need to use rhetoric. Just don’t forget that it is not who you really are.)

You may be the sort of person that gives other people compliments, or put yourself underneath others (“Wow, you’re really strong, I’ll have to train more to keep up with you”, “Dude, you’re too smart, can you recommend some books to me?”). You maybe do so because you are kind, or maybe it is a calculated move based on studies in psychology. Whatever it may be, mind that doing this with one-uppers and authoritative jerks simply strengthens them. They should not be given compliments, their accomplishments should not be lauded and the most important thing of all, you should never, ever, ever put yourself beneath them in any way, even in the most honest and simple ones like “Wow, you speak so many languages, that’s so impressive, I speak only two.” With normal people, yes, why not. I always do this. I am genuinely impressed with some people and feel that it is right to compliment good achievements. When someone does something well – why not say “good job” or even “you do this thing so much better than I do”? But these power-seekers will take every compliment you give them as a sign of weakness, not kindness. They will project themselves over you, not be thankful of your recognition. Don’t handle them like you would handle other people. Give them no word of praise. Give them no acknowledgement.

I hope I’ve provided something of use and I hope that you will try out these techniques with assholes in your life you can’t avoid.

Do you have assholes in your life? How do you interact? What do they say to you? Leave a comment and share your story with the rest of us.


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