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Joseph Augustine "Frisky Dirt" (Cambridge, UK)

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Buddha (Enlightenment Collection)
Buddha (Enlightenment Collection)
Price: £5.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Just one look at you..., 2 Feb. 2015
With all the visual literacy of a well honed action screen play pacing along nicely such is the charm of Deepak Chopra's recounting of the eternal tale of how an inner philosopher par extraordinaire came into being who, it has been said, significantly influenced the birth of Christianity, and there is no doubting his impact on Hindu Brahminism's hidebound caste system circa 500 BCE, and in his major contribution to New Age religions!

The early character of Buddha, Siddhārtha Gautama, is of course a sheltered ingenue but with an insanely tenacious and curious mind who shows a great sensitivity in observing the inner workings of the natural kingdom - much to the despair of his father who had a destiny of conquership mapped out from day one - not the one ostensibly foretold by Astrologers.

The outcome of these formative influences left me with a kind of pondering wilful suspense in putting on hold the great spiritual path we all know will take place, in order to immerse in the skilful narrative about how the son of a warrior King, schooled in the violence of the age, might break the confines of his Truman Show existence? At the same time, how might a band of brothers - ascetic mis-fits hankering a lifestyle akin to 60s hippydom - become Buddha's iniates and.. how would the dark dark supernatural trickster character, Mara (a pysychological demonic entity) have such an undue influence over both Siddhārtha and his chief antagonist, Devendra?

Yes, the plot certainly left me guessing - I had never heard it told in such a way before - and wandered was this all fictional licence, but above all there is the gentle unassuming dimension of Siddhārtha's hidden sixth sense in waiting, waiting to flower into a rare and delicate mastery over his lower self that conversely Devendra becomes totally beholden to in fits of jealousy and lust for power: a perfectly befitting foil to the spirutual majesty and presence of this seemingly wonderous tale.

In the beginning and then the end once lived a legendary demi-God that challenged, disrupted and sign posted "the way" and in this story is the possibility that a flicker of Buddha's qualities might shine a light on those seeking similar enlightenment. Deepak certainly adds to the humanisation of this myth for our filmic age.

Predatory Thinking: A Masterclass in Out-Thinking the Competition
Predatory Thinking: A Masterclass in Out-Thinking the Competition
by Dave Trott
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Faced with a problem you can't solve... get upstream and change the context, 20 Jan. 2015
A book of stories about the power of the imaginative mind in the hands of a creative enquiring mind that is designed to grab your attention but makes you feel slightly short changed afterwards - somewhat like the world of advertising where its author hails from!

However, there are some great anecdotes containing famous quotes with elegant solutions to everyday problems, and most importantly in trying to overcome common attitudes of mediocrity, principilising (not formulating) wisdom "between the lines" of what life's circumstances brings forth has it seems been David Trott's journey since graduating from art school and we are now the benefactors of this treasure store.

I loved the observations that predatory thinking is a zero sum game at the material level in that you can't add something without taking away something; that 90% of advertising does not work; that you have to give up being spoon-fed; that believability beats truth; that trusted relationships are the ultimate point of difference among your competitive set; that not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts; that we can't assume everyone knows what we know; that we should look at the telescope from the other end; that if you cannot handle rejection you limit your possibilities for success; that lazy people don't want to grow and criticism is often more useful than praise; that resentment only hurts yourself; that those who can't, teach; that managing choice takes precedence over increasing choice; that to be reminded again "the ignorant are arrogant and cocksure, while the intelligent are full of doubt." (Russell); that in mass media you are only ever talking to one person; that great making simplifies and makes powerful; that "taste is the enemy of creativity" (Picasso); that it's OK to feel ncomfortable; that having the right credibility is no guarantee of being an expert; the difference between scepticism and cynicism; that don't try to be liked; that if we learn to ignore ourselves, we can do anything we want; that knowing your team's strengths and weaknesses increases trust in its capabalities; that having some skin in the game is like ham and eggs: the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed; that Germany lost the war because Hitler was a tactician (how-specialist) masquerading as a strategist (what-generalist), and therefore prone to making big picture blunders, whereas Churchill was a great strategist with tight deadlines and loose controls. I loved the example of the difference between effectiveness and efficiency, a common battle many of us face in bureacracies whose lingua franca can be the stuff of Orwellian nightmares.

Inward Bound: Exploring the Geography of Your Emotions
Inward Bound: Exploring the Geography of Your Emotions
by Sam Keen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £2.56

3.0 out of 5 stars Healing the psyche through boredom and despair, 6 Jan. 2015
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Sam Keen's Inward Bound is on the one hand a rather mild polemical examination of the perils of modern US society and on the other a 'startling' jumping off point of boredom as an indicator for mediocrity and oppression in ourselves reflecting back the usual "pack" of instrumental forces of modern day living: a surfeit of shallow persuasion, exposure to violence, over reliance on specialisms i.e fragmentation, the monotony of order and so on.

The book is divided into two parts: part one, the exploration of simple and chronic types of boredom that veer towards depression and apathy, as well as their precursors and complicators; part two, is how to overcome the pain of suffering and instead lead a wholesome life - for example, with topics such as sex and intimacy, the politics of depression and hope, beyond guilt and shame, the joyful art of doing nothing to escape ego repetition, and learning to suffer with dignity in not giving in to the ungainly Pollyanna Principle (avoiding pain) to name but a few of the authors key reflections.

Boredom, Keen suggests, is a superior "blaseness" (the blues) and depression, an inferior "tormentedness" (dark night of the soul) which can be healed through the hero's journey: for Keen overcoming the state of 'tonic binding' (Fenichel) and unpleasant tension resulting from our inhibition of instinctual needs and "tyranny of the shoulds" (Horney) is the path boredom and depression as great teachers can set one on in a journey of Self discovery.

As with many books of this ilk they tend to carry the historical period they were written in on its sleeve and some of the ideas Keen draws on are possibly dust gathering or less enthusiastic in certain circles, for example Freudianism and its co-variants or miscreants!. Also, the visionary pulpit of a rosier world, that tends to emanate off some of the more ambitious pages, is, if not, a rousing 'culturally creative' manifesto, can appear slightly rose tinted at times, for with an impassioned plea against the usual sources of societal decline, Keen mentions: "As a society we are so governed by the specialist system that it is hard to imagine what it would be like to reclaim our lives from the control of experts. But it is not hard to imagine that we would be richer and more secure if our education included spending a season growing food, learning the elements of health care so that we could birth our own children and take care of our own dying, building a house, fixing a car, arguing a case in court, playing music, writing a story, teaching a child, programming a computer". In counterargument to this pronouncement I would say that the ideal of becoming both a psychonaut (being) and cosmonaut (doing) is way off the radar for ordinary people trapped in the current politico-financial systems heavily dependant on specialist services; to dream only of a multi-adaptable kairos organic time - as opposed to chronos measured time - would be a great luxury.

Keen exhibits an almost mythopoeic missionary zeal throughout that reminds me of Robert Bly's style for attaining inward mastery of the Self, leaving you with a heady mix of possibilities. However waking up from the introspection there is the stark reality of a severe undercalculation of the giant societal shifts one is up against and that are required for inadvertant truth seekers to join the same page!

Overall I found this book frustratingly brilliant in that there are more richer, informative, dedicated and possibly pragmatic books in the psycholgical health, self development and cultural advancement sections than Inward Bound is able to acheive on its own - and therefore the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts in this case.

Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution
Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution
by Roman Krznaric
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.39

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Empatheia in suffering is the new sympathy, 20 Dec. 2014
The premise for this book is nothing new, however, the timing and relevance of its message is a refreshing escape from our marketing and narcisstic driven culture. The read does come across, though, as a futuroligists' manifesto in blue sky thinking, as many of the points raised are humanely idealistic, but this should not put off being inspired to make the change as many noteworthy empathists throughout history have done, and who are discussed at some length: Mandela, Che Guevara, Ghandhi, Oscar Schindler, Patricia Moore, George Orwell and Harriet Beecher Stowe - and Adam Smith who wrote 'The Theory of Moral Sentiments''.

Roman Krznaric presents a handbook for revolution that is so extraordinarily counter to society's reinterpretation of Western historical wisdom that it is worth quoting the author quoting Goethe (p203): "[the] cabal of priests..are trying to seduce man from activity in the outside world. Man only knows himself insofar as he knows the world."

It would appear that our Socratic quest for introspection has removed man from the world of empathetic understanding and instead a new word is coined that has a far more noble endeavour of peace-making and healing that challenge the theocracies and economic philosophies of the past, even it might be said many religions, and chimes with the current zietgeist for media connection making: outrospection!

However, a cautionary note from the author. The internet encourages the voice of 'homo self-centricus' and a state of 'continuous partial attention' i.e. large quantities of shallow information, short attention spans and weak superficial connections that indulge the animal ego with "standardised presences backed by gigantic investments that pre-fit into multiple choice identities...flattening out what is unusual and making it easier to discover commonalities, but impoverishing the quality of complexity".

There is, it seems, a long way to go to immerse oneself in really depthful community conversations that could be facilitated by emerging digital forms, since at present the message is dominated by online default e-fit personalities egosurfing, narcissurfing or vanity autogoogling, prone to deception and self-aggrandisement and the 'online disinhibition effect' (trolling). Facebook is teaching an entire generation to promote their personalities in an age where empathy marketing has become a pernicious tool.

A plethora of historical Western books on human culture have been written about how our animal brain thrives in competitive and self-interested environents stemming from Hobbes's "nasty, brutish and short lives", Adam Smith's 'invisible hand', Darwin's struggle for existence and Freud's aggressively driven discontents, but Krznaric argues that such thinking has been foregrounded at the expense of cooperation. 'Homo socioempathicus' has been out-gunned by homo self-centricus and it wasn't until the birth of psychology and primatology thst investigations into cognitive (perspective-taking) and affective (shared emotional response) empathy (einfühlung - feeling into) discovered biological mimicry (Spitz, Piaget, Bowlby, Kropotkin) as the basis of our human capacity for empathy: in the field of neuroscience, for example, 'mirror neurons' (1990) fire up when we see somebody else going through the same experience as ourselves.

Knowing that our brains are wired for both individualism and empathy, Krznaric's mission is to promote the latter as a cultural force by shifting what the cognitive linguist George Lakoff calls our mental frame towards social causes and community projects, i.e. humanising the Other. In overcoming the barriers of prejudice, obedience, distance and denial, 6 habits of highly empathetic people are described, of which Habits 1 and 2 are the preliminaries of how to switch on the empathy function.

For Habit 3 Krznaric proposes that we seek experiential adventures in 'DIY immersion'; this is very much the underpinning of the book's revolutionary intention: how do we find the time to acheive the empathetic delights of a method actor or an undercover social reformer such as Beatrice Webb, John Howard Griffen and Günther Wallraff or the 'wealth swappers' Tushar Vashist and Matthew Cherian? Can we copy Andreas Heinecke's concept of 'sense swapping'? Travelling into other social worlds shakes us out of the narrowness of our home grown worldview and erodes our empathy deficit and to this end Krznaric would love to see an Empathy Travel Agency on every High St and in every shopping mall: "that assesses your empathetic needs and desires, and offers you a tailor-made experiential package..called Empathy Escapes - Unpack Your Personal Baggage!"

Habit 4 practices the craft (rather than a following of a checklist of techniques) of conversation which is what highly empathetic people tend to do through their curiosity about strangers, radical listening, taking off their mask, developing a concern for others, as well as the courage to experiment with creative openings. It is suggested a seventh element of self love derived from the Greek word 'philautiam' is cultivated as opposed to its negative meaning of narcissism: "All friendly feelings for others are an extension of man's feelings for himself (Aristotle)".

Habit 5 uses armchair empathy which is at the heart of storytelling in the arts, such as the social documentary photography of Lewis Hine that exposed child labour in early 20th century United States, or seeking advice from a professional bibliotherapist who works in an empathy library and advises you about your reading habits based on your personal circumstances. Seminal empathy apps are also discussed, for example 'Chatroulette' and 'Ambient' or video games such as 'That Dragon, Cancer and Peacemaker'. The last chapter of the book signs off with a very interesting innovation in the establishment of Empathy Museums that propose for example an experiential adventure space consisting of a library of humans, story telling hubs, dramatic role plays, extreme working condition rooms, harsh climates, a Mr Ben type wardrobe shop and Fair Trade interactive cafe!

Habit 6, inspiring a revolution, is a somewhat grand term described in three cultural waves starting with the rise of 18th century humanitarianism - a significant proportion established by the Quakers; the expansion of rights after WW2; and the current age of neuroscience where empathy skills are taught in schools, for example UK SEAL. Peace building and mediation projects that aim to shrink the empathy gap of space and time are also discussed which are having a localised transformative effect in world conflict areas. Finally, the hidden capacity for bioempathy with animals, e.g hedgehogs, and the more speculative notion of biophilia with nature is explored.

As an apt summary of this enlightening read the golden rule of 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you' is symptomatic of the modern age and neatly sums up why many of the world religions may be missing the point. This rule needs to be complemented by the platinum rule which "resists the temptation of projecting our own experiences and views onto others" and instead is 'do unto others as they would have you do unto them' i.e. by removing the ethnocentric 'just like me' factor - but can this actually be acheived in practice as noble as it sounds?

To gain such a level of mastery of one's own awareness in seizing the difference between the two rules in relation to how to treat Others will, I fear, be nothing short of a true undertaking especially as it requires the majority of any community to be following the same principle if the rule is to be sustainable!

Soft Friday
Soft Friday
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £9.48

5.0 out of 5 stars A debut album that's born fully formed..., 2 Dec. 2014
This review is from: Soft Friday (Audio CD)
A musical duo hailing from Leamington Spa making ear catchy tunes that are so well crafted you may think you have heard them all before, but... possibly too syrupy for some and therefore lacking in the challenge department. The tracks are pulsatingly driven with hypnotic passages of guitar riffs to a steady tranquilising beat that plainly calls on the psychedelia moniker with a strong element of dance, while a moody lyrical feminine air permeates the atmosphere with the kind of Indie vibe that smacks of cool underground slouchness and dreamy pop.

Beck Wood's yearning vocals overladen with the drive guitar wizardry of John Ridgard creates a dark attitude that is so reminiscent of early Garbage, The Howling Bells as well as some of the rock and blues inspired groove making of DJ duo Deep Dish - compare with the amazing 'Flasdance'. 'Wake Up' is the stand out track for me, but the remaining album is also worth a long ride, that is until you run out of juice. If you are seeking a debut release in 2014 with some significant melodic artistry infused with melancholic wandering then look no further.

Everythings Alright Forever
Everythings Alright Forever
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £18.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Surely a candidate for most overlooked album ever..., 13 Nov. 2014
In the pantheon of Shoegaze albums gifted from the UK in the early 90s this album ranks amongst the very best, and is surprisingly unknown with no signature tunes to mention with most of the plaudits reserved for Giant Steps. However, with a near identical production to their stable mates My Bloody Valentine, whose makeover influence here is undeniable, the revealing experimental deftness is nothing short of mesmerising with Martin Carr's beautiful haunting melodies sitting delicately under the feint vocals of Sice Rowbottom, making for a dreamlike heaven!

It is so easy to find comparisons with MBV but possibly unfair, as Kevin Sheild's trade mark style was not crafted in isolation and where these two bands merge, borrow or absorb is unclear, but Everythings Alright Forever is a worthy companion to that any Sheilds hath concocted with tracks like Firesky and Smile Fade Fast my particular favourites - to name but a mouth watering few.

Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £5.63

5.0 out of 5 stars The quintesential SY album remembered by its gooeylicious choice of songs..., 4 Nov. 2014
This review is from: Goo (Audio CD)
Having listened to Goo when it was released on tape cassette first time round, I thought it would be worth a Blast Last to find out how it stood the test of time particularly when compared to other similar bands from the same era.

The unique SY ingredients of boundary pushing mega-detuned noisenik guitars has never been bettered In My Honest Opinion. The role reversal vocals of Thurston's and Kim's imperious crassness is an aurally tuned aphrodisiac surfing the most exciting wall of melodious noise ever created, especially on their stadium fodder classics of Kool Thing and Dirty Boots. However the album throws out a whole bundle of other sweet sounding tracks in Mote, Disappearer, Tunic and Cinderella's Big Score that there are really never any dull moments to mention but plenty to reminisce.

At the same time Goo should be the Gemini twin of Daydream Nation - still both my favourites out of SY's discography by quite a margin - as this was the most unique and possibly most creative point in their history when they were customising their sound to break into the Indie mainstream with even a large chunk of an ITV South Bank Show episode in Feb 1989: given over to their originality. To my mind Goo is the more accessible of the two albums, but you takes your pick as both are essential listening before the band's muse changed direction - and then fatefully their stock of customed tuned and modified cheapo guitars were stolen and with them the means to produce the truly best and unreplicatable music they ever made which this album so continually and wonderfully captures to this day.

In Sheep's Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People
In Sheep's Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People
by George K. Simon
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.35

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars When someone's game and control can no longer be distinguished and all you have left are uneasy feelings then read this book..., 28 Sept. 2014
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The tough meat in the sandwich of a (A Wolf) In Sheep's Clothing is Simon's assertion that western society has moved from a "don't even think about it" to "a just do it" culture which neurotic types often excuse away as "misunderstood" behaviour. This central message throws a light on the win-lose tactics adopted by covert aggressive types to help establish the tools a victim requires to become self-sufficient and capable in recognising, labelling and nullifying a manipulator's tactics - especially when it is often so hard to validate one's gut feelings without the clarity-making reassurance of objective aggressive evidence!

Covert aggressives are "not bothered" enough by the outcome of their own sexual or aggressive drives inflicted upon others and lack self-restraint. Quoted is an old therapeutic saying: "if a person is making himself miserable, he's probably neurotic, and if he's making everyone else miserable, they're probably CDO (Character Disorder), i.e. their thinking can be a cocktail of selfish-focused, possessive, all or nothing, egomanical, shameless, guiltless and looking for quick and easy results.

According to Simon the power tactics often employed by those wanting to manipulate a situation include: minimisation ("just" and "only" sentence structures as opposed to neurotic catastrophisation); lying by distortion or omission (elaboration or vagueness); selective inattention (not ADD); rationalisation as a form of persuasion but also as an absolution of manipulator guilt; distraction and diversion tactics; covert intimidatiory veiled threats; shaming tactics - subtle sarcasm and put downs to increase fear and self doubt; vilifying the victim; milking the servant role while fighting for dominance; seduction to increase trust and loyalty by charm, praise and flattery; projecting blame and feigning innocence as well as ignorance.

Certain tools of empowerment are also discussed at great length, and it was at this point that I quickly reached the conclusion that much of the nature of the material on offer here effectively amounts to commonly found assertiveness techniques. For example, see if you agree?:

1. Accept no excuses and stick religiously to the principle of civil conduct, but don't agree for the sake of it.
2. Judge actions not intentions, and don't try to mind read as it is practically impossible to get behind the mask of impression management tactics.
3. Remember like a cardinal sin failing to see the aggression in the tactics of another is how we get manipulated.
4. Set personal and reasonable limits to what you tolerate before taking counter action or disengaging.
5. Decide what action you will take to take better care of yourself, ie reasonable limits, for example what is your burden or disproportionate share of obligation.
6. Making direct requests with I statements gives little room for the manipulator to distort or claim they misunderstood and if you don't get a direct response you already know the manipulator is fighting or resisting.
7. Accept only direct responses after a clear direct request and ask again!
8. Stay focused on the here and now, not diversion and evasion tactics. Promises mean nothing. Change only takes place in the moment. "I will not talk to you unless you change your tone of voice" or "I am going to step outside until you connect to what I am asking!"
9. When confronting aggressive behaviour, keep the weight of responsibility on the aggressor to change no matter what tactics they use to throw the ball back.
10. When you confront avoid sarcasm, hostility and put downs as aggressive personalities are always looking for excuses to go to war with denial, selective inattention or blame.
11. Take action quickly and act at the first sign before any momentum builds.
12. Speak for your self and don't use others to bolster a position.
13. Make reasonable agreements appropriate, reliable, verifiable and enforceable, and make promises you can keep, and don't ask for something you know you are not likely to get.
14. Propose win-win situations as it puts to use the aggressive personality's determination to win.
15. Be prepared for consequences by anticipating them by developing support systems.
16. Be honest with yourself about your needs and desires.

It has to be said that there is an awful lot of solid wisdom which this book provides but not enough to separate it from other books on assertiveness. Where it does succeed is in trail blazing a new psychological category to add to the more often classified interactive styles known as agressive, submissive and passive aggressive often as covered on management training courses.

However, one should not underestimate the degree of masquerade in presenting a mask to others that so often becomes such a hard task to expose, particularly by someone who has a strong caring inclination towards understanding another's motivation (and therefore making excuses). It is in this area I thought there could have been more forensic profiling of the traits a covert aggressive displays and how to look out for them, otherwise it has hard to distinguish Simon's covert aggressive from good ole fashioned Machavelliasm! In this repect Oliver James's book on Office Politics (see review) better undertakes a more rounded analysis of similar subject matter without thoroughly demonising such behaviour.

Songs Of Innocence
Songs Of Innocence
Offered by Qoolist
Price: £8.07

47 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tour de force.. Pure class for such a late work in U2's career, 13 Sept. 2014
This review is from: Songs Of Innocence (Audio CD)
As a closet U2 fan who considered their best work done and dusted over 15 years ago, and who started to tire with Eno's tutelage this album is by comparison far freer in drawing on past influences but less futuristic and experimental in nature; there are fewer "sonic fireworks", as Bono mentioned, but a surprising recaptured innocence for these post middle age rockers - if this is the intended aim - as the sound is more old skool U2. For example, the electric Yamaha piano refrain employed in songs like 'New Year's Day' makes a similar guest appearance and there are the intense anthemic elements that once graced Red Rocks arena in parts. A much bigger revelation is Bono's muse whose intimacy with the mike on this album is a nothing short of a rebirth as his voice reaches far higher registers than ever I can remember - see 'California (There Is No End to Love)' and 'Raised By Wolves' to name but a few songs.

Repeat listens quickly confirms the recognition that this deeply personal album of seminal reminiscences and formative influences is some of U2's best work to date. The quality of song writing is a side swipe at the head swelling cynics that abound in the music press and makes one question whether a stint working as Broadway writers has dutifully paid off. There is a carry-over from the 80s inspired material trialled on the single 'Invisible' earlier in the year, for example 'Iris (Hold Me Close)' and some tracks have had 5 years of refinement - 'Every Breaking Wave' has been muchly reworked since its debut on the 360 degrees tour. Other songs delve into Arcade Fire territory, and dare one mention Coldplay, e.g. 'Song For Someone' - which could have been written by Chris Martin and Co and may turn out to be a siganture tune. 'This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now' has somewhat of a Gorillaz take and is a personal favourite with its unexpected progressive poppy deviations.

The whole shebang of rock pop may be considered to be in a difficult place right now with no supposed modern equivalent of a generational voice due to the fractured nature and "noise" of the charts in an era when any singular world wide attention akin to The Beatles has in hindsight been gifted as a legacy to the generations who exploited the art form; this might explain the 5 per cent take-up of a possible 500 million iTunes downloads reported by Apple. Dare one say it but the real songs of experience for U2 maybe having to adjust to their niche in a music industry that has gone through a seismic upheavel in delivery, distribution and consumption. In not wanting to appear out on a limb they have called on their friends to hi-jack the daddy of them all to recapture a lost relavence in an era when such notoriety is mostly reserved for pop stars like the K-Pop rapper Psy. Many have complained that iTunes spammed their audience but my guess is declining sales, especially of U2's recent chart singles, dented the collective ego in a Billboard charts world dominated by the uber slick and uber schtick.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 19, 2014 6:39 PM BST

Office Politics: How to Thrive in a World of Lying, Backstabbing and Dirty Tricks
Office Politics: How to Thrive in a World of Lying, Backstabbing and Dirty Tricks
by Oliver James
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

5.0 out of 5 stars Be animal and get a disguise if you want to survive., 7 Aug. 2014
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As the nation's well known psychotherapist Oliver James has a penchant for telling it like it is and stripping away the sheen, the preen and the God only knows chaff. Following on from 'Affluenza' and 'The Selfish Capitalist' there is a distinctly similar critiquing method here but directly aimed at the psychosocial effects of the modern office environment, where - out of a sheer survival instinct - we are tempted to joust in court tournaments for scarce resources by indulging to various degrees in nest feathering astuteness, networking, effectiveness and sincerity tactics, including 'dirty tricks' (sabotage, blackmail, defamation and deception). The purest of "players", known arcanely as the TRIADIC i.e. exhibiting traits of Psychopathy, Narcissism and/or Machiavelianism, cynically and deviously earn their status and monetary prizes at the expense of less savvy adversaries - usually because they appear to operate automatically, or naturally without any seeming joins so to speak.

Such a description is nothing extraordinary if one is thoroughly Darwinian about a typical office day. For instance the usual stock of phrases spring to mind such as "it is a dog eat dog world"; however this might presuppose a club weilding psychopath, imperious narcissist, or treacherous Machiavellian about to constantly battle it out for our status. Instead, the dissembling sophistication of modern living can mean the subtle hand of masked authenticity (even the covert aggressive kind) is hard to determine and: "If you are someone virtuous (conscientious, honest and rational) and who regards office politics as antithetical to these traits, think again. Assuming you want to get your way in the workplace, you may be betraying yourself if you do not use astuteness and appropriate tactics to advance your cause."

One of the ways that James drives his many points home is by using case studies based on confessional research heavily anonymised for the purpose of the book. We follow Charlie, Giuseppe, Gerald, Sofia, Jill and Terry and others in their astute or bungling influence resembling the characters of a medieval court drama. It is therefore little surprising that canniness, shrewdness, and high self-monitoring are valuable traits.

This book is devoted to those who need deliberative insight into the tricks-of-the-trade in order to ponder, chew and refine one's act in direct competition with the born naturals and quick learners. Plenty of reseach makes it abundantly clear that within our multi strands of intelligence there are those who "just get it", who require less effort to reach skilfull maturity in natural expression (talent). The strand Office Politics deals with lies in the field of social intelligence or pragmatism. For those who "just don't get it" they must necessarily learn by observation and deliberate reflection outside the field with hard work 'mapping' talent. Therefore, a strong feature of this book is its NLP like breakdown of the steps -similar to a dating PUA - speeding up the synaptic connections for the introverted slower thinker when their experience produces little intuition. Explained in somewhat nuanced subtlety is why someone is so effective in getting their own way. I for one (being a naive learner in these matters) had not appreciated the championship performing level of someone's game. For example, the story of Charlie who worked as a high rolling Financier showed remarkable precocity way beyond his years that made me wonder at such Oscar winning prescient talent, even to the point of knowing when to quit the burden of 'emotional labour' of his high flying career - and when the fit between persona and authentic self became overly incongruent exacting an insurmountable emotional strain. Indeed he was a true sophisticate, 'knowing' the gap between his presentation of self and the damage it inflicted on his inner core.

Charlie is not a dark and handsome Triadic type steeped in dirty tricks of back stabbing, mendacity and ruthlessness; he adopts deception tactics by white lying omission and presentation management. James opines that outside these more widely distributed tactics there are those who are so immersed in the game to such a point (possibly through psychological disturbance) that in terms of the broad brush strokes of clinical analysis they would fit the description of the most maligned aspects of our often despised narcissistic culture: the tendency to take the easy money rather than pay the price, exploit the vulnerable without principle, and who cleverly manufacture their inflated egos to align with like-ability as their only indicator of effectiveness when the truer measures of output get coveniently obfuscated (see John Maxwell's 5 levels of effective leadership to understand the great bulge of managers in corporate hierarchies that occupy the lower tiers plodding in self promotion).

With such sub-clinical traits hovering around the daily work place it is curious to gain some insight in to their feeding patterns. It is implied that the political theory of neoliberalisation as a cultural force at its very centre precludes just and ethical competition in "order" to benefit a liberal elite; those who have stolen a march on everyone else at the pinnacle of "the system", and a socially cynical astute (the Triad) have the acting talent to sharp elbow their way to the top and keep those starting out in their place. For example, the legal profession - which comes in for some particular revulsion (as a toxic profession along with a number of others) - throws up this insight: "The only sure ingredients of growth are new clients, bigger bills...and more people at the bottom, each a little profit centre, toiling into the wee hours and earning more for the partnership than their take home."

The Triad proliferates in individualistic social systems it is argued, a recurrent theme in James's work. The recent comment by Monbiot is apt: "So, if you don't fit in, if you feel at odds with the world, if your identity is troubled and frayed, if you feel lost and ashamed - it could be because you have retained the human values you were supposed to have discarded. You are a deviant. Be proud". ( This is an ironic but essentially pessimistic statement about what normality may amount to in a cut throat world. I mention this since for James through his writings tends to elicit positive choices to solve the irrational aspects of Affluenza, addressing them as grotesque rather than labelling them intrinsically wrong. It is therefore to some credit that another old adage "when the going gets tough.." is a lasting legacy of reading this book. James is decidedly a realist.

So.. If you want to make the grade of black belt chameleon in mastering the white arts in your office, particularly if you are in a service orientated job where the links between performance and actual contribution get ever sommuddied and social pea-cocking the only certainty that can be assured to produce an effect on the boss.. Then... Without even a mention of the greyer techniques of lying by omission and back scratching, there is a role call of ingratiation tactics (chameleon ism, flattery, favour rendering), virtuous impression making and assertive go-getting (self-promotion, feedback-seeking, negotiation, networking, reputation building). As a conclusion an intriguing comparison is made with the attainment of office political skills and one's striving for emotional health such that living in the present, insight, fluid communication, playfulness, vivacity and authenticity (rather than passionate sincerity) all contribute to tactical awareness. At the same time, if you believe something is right without a core sense of who you are, and more importantly what is good for you, you are bound not to be sincere to Self.

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