Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” is widely regarded as one of the best self-help books of the 20th century. Indeed, Carnegie’s work is deservedly known as a modern classic because it is founded on powerful insights about social psychology. Today, there is no shortage of seminars and business classes teaching people to embrace the potent lessons of human nature that he has uncovered. Among these notions is the idea that “nobody wants to be told what to do” and that it is necessary to make people “glad to do what you want them to do”. It is difficult to appreciate this idea without fully understanding its subtlety and the many ways in which it can become enormously effective across all social contexts.
In other words, it is inevitable that people will be told what to do because human relationships have always been hierarchical. As a matter of evolutionary biology, the strongest of men exerted more influence over their tribe than weaklings. Similarly, the elders of the tribe have become chiefs and were revered for their wisdom. During hunting expeditions, the tribe leaders possessed considerable authority over their subordinates who were expected to obey their orders without question. Those who openly disrespected the elders of the tribe could be banished or slaughtered. Although the relations between women were less rigid, the females also had an implicit understanding that some members of their tribe were more capable than others.
The underlying idea is clear: the more capable and competent a tribe member was, the more respect he or she commanded. In groups that constantly dealt with matters of life and death, social relations were hierarchical for one very simple reason. These groups could not afford to allow the weak and the incompetent to call the shots. That is why the relations between male hunters were much more stratified than those between female gatherers. This is also partly why hierarchies of military and police departments are far more stringent than those one can encounter in schools or nursing homes. Yet even there, the most experienced of teachers and caretakers are deemed to be more valuable than the complete neophytes.
Since time immemorial, in nearly all cultures, women were often deemed to be more socially skilled than men and even as recently as the Victorian Era of Great Britain, it was a truism that women were morally superior to men. Although most modern writers, including that of today’s radical feminists would question the accuracy of this observation, the proposition is not entirely without merit. In female groups, the leaders were often able to conceal the hierarchical nature of relations between members. This was easier to do than in male hunter groups because the relationships were already less hierarchical to begin with, albeit female leaders had to exercise considerable social skill and moral consideration to achieve this goal. Building on this insight, Carol Gilligan propounded an “ethic of care”, arguing that a feminine style of leadership should emphasize empathy and concern for others. When this approach is implemented effectively, female leaders can practice a democratic style of leadership.
Although such approach may be appropriate for schools or nursing homes where relationships are not especially hierarchical, it is less fitting for the male dominated cut-throat business environment. There, even the most accomplished of female leaders can only pretend to practice an ethic of care. In others words, such leaders manage to seize the best of both worlds. On the one hand, they preserve the natural hierarchy of relationships in a competitive business milieu. On the other hand, they have concealed this fact and thereby enhanced their popularity by pretending to practice a democratic style of leadership.
Clearly, this is a subtle maneuver that only the most socially intelligent of leaders can carry out effectively. It may also be true that women are more likely to succeed in this endeavor than men, yet Carnegie shed light on this timeless truth of human relationships long before Gilligan developed her ethic of care and the feminine approach to business leadership has even been explored in detail.
As it happens, Carnegie’s insight applies not only to business, but to all spheres of human relations, including that of child-rearing. By definition, children are not as wise or capable of as their parents. Therefore, it is impossible to conceal the hierarchy that defines the bond between parents and children. For centuries, children were expected to unquestioningly obey their parents who had few, if any moral obligations to justify their dictates. Yet, in light of the self-esteem movement that took root in the late 60s and early 70s, such a style of parenting has been deemed authoritarian and damaging to the child’s self-image.
Hence, it has become fashionable for parents to begin implementing Carnegie’s insight about making people “glad to do what you want them to do”. As such, parents routinely strive to bolster their youngsters’ fledgling self-esteem by engaging in false flattery and other tactics of psychological manipulation. In effect, the parents act as self-serving guidance counselors who tell youngsters what they want to hear, as opposed to what they need to hear.
In keeping with the Dunning-Kruger effect, the children who were reared in this manner are entirely oblivious to how they are susceptible to the kind of subliminal influences that Carnegie wrote about at length. In comparison, children who were raised in a much harsher environment were able to cultivate the gumption and fortitude needed for a more skeptical outlook to various psychological appeals. In this sense, the self-esteem movement has deprived youngsters of the vital opportunities to become anti-fragile and in the language of John Taylor Gatto, rendered the modern youth reliant on provisional self-esteem. In the end, the self-esteem movement appeared to defeat its own fundamental purpose. Instead of exposing the children to opportunities to learn about the unpleasant realities of life, it created a foundation for attitudes of delusional narcissism.
This is partly why the youth continue to receive their provisional self-esteem from guidance counselors, teachers, professors and left-wing campus activists who inundate them with opportunities to engage in endless virtue signalling. Today, there is no shortage of clubs student activists can join that are dedicated to diversity, environmentalism, fighting sexism, racism, transphobia and so forth. To become members of such organizations, they need to do little more than claim to believe in any PC cause the Democratic Party espouses and to hate those who oppose it. In other words, people of all creeds and sexual orientations are welcome, as long as they do not sympathize with any right-leaning views.
In contrast to the modern social justice warrior, a person whose upbringing was not defined by the self-esteem movement would have little sympathy for the campus radicals’ cry for censorship. Unlike them, such a person would have enough confidence in himself to not feel threatened by people who express views that are different from his own. He also would have no need to be told that he fights for a noble cause and that everything else he does is wonderful. Hence, he would become his own person in the strictest sense of the term because he would have no reason to be “glad to do what he is told” as he would have no need to trade off his intellectual autonomy in return for constant validation and reassurance. That is why the contrast between Berkeley’s student activists who demand censorship and Mario Savio’s Berkeley Free Speech movement from the 1960s could not be any more glaring. Savio’s cohort demanded freedom from censorship, yet today’s Berkeley activists for the very opposite of what the initial Free Speech movement stood for. The pioneers of the Free Speech movement wanted to be independent, yet today’s Berkeley activists are begging their deans, leftist professors and bureaucratic cronies to tell them what to think and feel. Unlike the countless business-people whom Dale Carnegie mentored, the academic elites no longer have to do anything to make the student body docile enough to be happy to be told what to do because their minions already arrive on campus pliable to political manipulation.