Why I Hate Almost Everyone (Part 15): Those Drunk with Power

There are certain types of persons who, given any amount of influence, command or authority, become drunk with power.

They get tipsy on tyranny. Pissed on prestige. Soused with strength. Potted on privilege. Muddled with mastery. Smashed on supremacy.

And I am not necessarily talking about those who actually wield supreme executive power. You don’t have to be a tyrant or despot to get loaded on leadership (ok, that was the last one, I promise).

In fact, if anything, there seems to be an inverse relationship betweem the rank of the person and the degree of power or amount of the authority granted… and the corresponding reaction thereto.

In other words, the smaller the person and the more mediocre the rise in power… the more likely it is that said person will behave like some banana republic dictator thereafter.

(‘One Bullet’ Barney)

Picture Barney Fife being made ‘acting Sheriff’ for a week while Andy is away. You get the picture.

While this phenomenon can happen almost anywhere, it often happens in an office setting. A person is given a promotion with the responsibility to supervise and manage his former colleagues. Most people, I am happy to say, perform their new jobs well and are very admirable in the fact that they do not turn into Josef Stalin.

However… every once in a while, someone gets promoted and we discover to our mutual horror that burning within that small, dark heart is a desire to exploit his new-found power and lord it over his former peers.

(Help! I’m being oppressed!)

He sneers at and denigrates those who are now ‘under him.’ He suddenly is too busy to have lunch with his now former friends. He begins to mistreat them, using his position to exact punishment for perceived wrongs done to him in the past, or worse, just for the sick thrill of it.

Just to be clear, I am not talking about someone who has risen to the level of his incompetence, as per The Peter Principle. [1] Someone who is merely incompetent is not, by definition, a cruel overlord. Far from it. Such a person is often a pitiful creature that evokes pathos not hatred.

The person who becomes a bad boss upon being granted power already had dormant within him or her the seeds of evil. It took the granting of authority to water that seed and make it bloom into the vile, carnivorous plant now occupying the manager’s office down the hall.

Underlings feel powerless. They submit to the ill-treatment because they feel there is nothing to do other than leave. And for many, that is simply not an option. They need the job… so will put up with being mistreated because they feel that have to. Some may try to undermine the newly-minted superior and thwart his every plan. Those with connections with upper management may try to crush him from above. Some may try to ‘manage upward’ to limit the danger posed to them (see footnote below). But for the majority of underlings, they look upon their former friend, former colleague, former co-worker and peer with an impotent loathing.

But what of the new bureaucratic oligarch himself? Unlike ‘normal, decent’ management types, he uses his power (or what little influence and authority he now has) as a weapon of oppression, not as a tool to further the interests and ultimately help bring about the success of the enterprise. Part of it could be mere self-aggrandizement, demeaning and snubbing others to make himself feel (or look to others) important as befitting (in his eyes) his new station. But part of it could be something more sinister… a kind of workplace sadism, on a certain level. To that person, inflicting pain is not merely a means to an end… i.e. making others respect his authority; it is an end in and of itself.

Such a person is deserving of the deepest loathing.

We can only hope that their tenure is short-lived. As with the Barney Fife analogy, we all know that Sheriff Andy will be back next week so we try the best to stick it out until Monday.

Until then, those drunk with power earn our contempt… and hatred.


[1] The Peter Principle:In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.” In other words,  employees tend to be promoted until they reach a position in which they cannot work competently.  The principle holds that in a hierarchy, members are promoted so long as they work competently. Eventually they are promoted to a position at which they are no longer competent (their “level of incompetence”), and there they remain, being unable to earn further promotions. Peter’s Corollary states that “in time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out their duties” and adds that “work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence.” “Managing upward” is the concept of a subordinate finding ways to subtly “manage” superiors in order to limit the damage that they end up doing. It was formulated by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull in their 1969 book The Peter Principle, a humorous treatise, which also introduced the “salutary science of hierarchiology.”


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