“Do not cross me… I have five multi-million dollar companies and I’ve served in the USAF. I know exactly how the world works. What do YOU think you know? What is it you think YOU can teach ME?”
I had the misfortune – or fortune, depending on which perspective you take – to engage in a slow-burn confrontation with a classic authoritarian personality with possible psychopathic tendencies. (Think Trump’s narcissism blended with Hillary Clinton’s snake-like ruthlessness). It certainly wasn’t the first time and it probably won’t be the last. It’s a fascinating and intimidating spectacle as such people can be highly unpredictable; you never quite know if a blunt object is about to sail your way or if a figure is going to leap out of the shadows armed with a monkey wrench as you put the keys in your car door. Thankfully, it hasn’t happened yet, but I came close to it during a dinner party last week. No monkey wrench but a cheese knife had a momentary starring role…
As always, it was instructive to see how such people – we’ll call him Ned – grapple with facts bouncing off their distorted beliefs and how alarming it can be to see someone lose their composure from what should have been a free and easy discussion. Yet, because he took my cordial and sometimes slightly mischievous disagreement as a full frontal attack on his brittle persona, it could only have ended as it did, namely an aborted, half-hearted act of violence followed by a fast exit – his diminutive wife in tow.
Guiltily hilarious for me, highly embarrassing for him.
I suppose I should have just kept silent. That would have been the sensible thing to do. Sometimes it is the only thing you can do.
On the other hand, there are times when you have to say: No. I am not going to continue to listen to this buffoon suck the energy out of an otherwise pleasant evening. I am not going to nod sagely with a thin smile, keep my head down and continue to walk on glass around an individual who is deeply in love with the sound of his own voice as much as he is with his warped views on politics and society. Since everyone was grinning inanely and /or averting their eyes, clearly not wanting to make a scene (how English) then he continued to trumpet what was essentially a fascist philosophy to the point where I thought the wine glasses would vibrate. Occasionally, a few people attempted to engage and offer a painfully polite and ingratiating alternative to his Wagnerian world – it was like an ogre gleefully pulling off the head of an unsuspecting knight or maiden.
To summarise: Ned is an asshole of the highest order.
While that’s by no means a crime (otherwise half of humanity would be in jail) there is a limit to how much of said asshole I – we – could all take. So, rightly or wrongly, I calmly (although with some trepidation) began to respond to his insufferably boring monologues on American Empire and big dick military might in similar jovial fashion, but without his vitriolic asides. Obviously, as he was completely identified with his beliefs this little tête-à-tête resulted in a spectacular showcase of a contractile mind that circled me like a caged animal visibly digging its talons into the table-cloth at every perceived slight. The more I began to highlight some unpalatable truths regarding his Amerikan Mein Kampf version of reality the more hysterical his fragile persona became. He served up an impressive transformation which included ice-blue eyeballs ablaze, flared nostrils, the occasional sneering grimace and thumping fist all backed up with a spittle-flecked invective which spewed forth like a torrent of toxic waste, blobs of food and splashes of wine tumbling down his once pristine cream shirt.
Ned was on a mission.
When the opportunity presented itself his wife dutifully tried to wipe his front with a napkin while encouraging him to calm down, needless to say, without success. And to her credit, she intermittently attempted to steer her husband away from the subjects dear to his shrivelled heart, (apple pie America, evil liberals, evil Muslims, the sanctity of Uncle Sam and the piety of purpose inherent within U.S. intelligence agencies) but to no avail. He was determined to fight off the usurper that I was, preferably I imagine with a view to skewering my head to the pork and beef kebab stick so that he might serve me up on a cerebral platter as a warning to all.
“Do not cross me. I have five multi-million dollar companies and I’ve served in the USAF. I know exactly how the world works. What do you think YOU know? What is it you think YOU can teach ME?”
It was an extraordinary crescendo of lip-curling aggression that poured forth. He might as well have been beating his concave chest and swinging from the rafters. One would have been forgiven for thinking that I had just been caught diddling his wife over the billiard table and was still wearing her bloomers on my head. Of course, I hadn’t. I was simply disagreeing with him.
Nevertheless, this mode of thuggish delivery got worse and worse as the evening went on and proved to be the foundation from which he launched his attack, no doubt safe in the pseudo-knowledge that he always got his way. And for sure, he was a very wealthy man who thought nothing of buying the odd castle in Scotland so he could be close to his idea of clan lore and his “Scottish roots.” (The alleged lineage to King Malcom I was dissected to death ad nauseum with loud corrections against those who dared to interject). Earlier in the evening during the hand-wringing mingling period his wife was heard to saying: “We did think about buying Culloden castle which would have been just lovely, but Ned didn’t fancy it at the time. Still, it would have been nice to add to the books.” (Cue hand over mouth and coy tittering).
Well, obviously, one castle is never enough. But being part of the plebian 99.9% I wouldn’t have understood the necessities of American “Royalty.”
Ned had obviously made his considerable mark in the world of property, hotels and venture capital by operating as a human bull-dozer, ruthless in his pursuit of power and status. (Let’s face it, it wasn’t his sense of humour and charm that oiled the wheels of his business acumen). Here was a man used to getting his way with everything and anyone, someone who would not countenance contradiction on any of his beliefs held like bejeweled dummies to his puckered mouth. And if his latest audience were deemed suitably submissive to his “expansive personality” and “no nonsense” demeanour then he could comfortably wax lyrical about his highly biased and cliched knowledge of British history and his numerous business exploits, happy and contented that he had lassoed some followers who, by the force of his personality or their own predispositions, were hanging on his every word.
Indeed, there were several individuals present whose personalities and child-hood programming meant they were eager to assume the submissive position of vassal to feudal lord, painfully unaware just how obsequious were their responses. These were the assigned authoritarian followers seeking approval from a larger than life character in their midst. Like an electronic switch pressed to “on”all the right triggers were there: they were ready to shine his shoes with gushing compliance to his worldview if need be, anything other than challenge that hobnailed boot uncomfortably wedged up their backsides.
The fact that we were bored out of our skulls and ready to fall on our fish knives, mattered very little to him. The importance of maintaining centre stage was paramount. That way he could vacuum a steady stream of people’s energies flowing into his Saturnine frame. So, you can imagine that he did not take kindly to the threat of having his worldview systematically dismantled, which, given the nature of his argument and foghorn discourse, was as easy as demolishing a derelict building desperately in need of repair. He was boorishly stupid when he thought he was intelligent and worldly-wise which meant he relied on bluster and bullying to get his way.
Yet, despite being loud, trite and largely ignorant about the true nature of the military-corporate world in which he lived, flying around his various properties like a hawkish golfing celebrity, there was something forlorn and tragic in his stance which was only visible when I felt he was about to clamber across the table with the cheese knife in his bony hand. There was a moment of spasmodic disgust at the realisation that I was taking an opposing view on virtually everything he stood for, so it became personal. Since his mixed up views were completely enmeshed in his identity, to attack these opinions was to besmirch his vision of who he was.
His knuckles turned white, spindly fingers curling around the knife which slowly turned in my direction but thankfully never left the table but remained poised like a trident targeting my features. More “in the know” explanations sailed my way. It didn’t matter that everyone knew he was a asshole. For him, he was a sophisticated CEO and “philanthropist” who had been in Tatler, GQ and The Economist which was obviously reason enough for demi-god status.
“What about The Bearsden Gazette?” I said, cheerily.
“Have you been in the Bearsden Gazette? That has a great business section. If you haven’t been in the Bearsden Gazette then….”(apologetic wince).
“I don’t know the Bearsden Gazette. Is it an architectural digest?”
“No it’s a community local, south of Glasgow.”
(Eyes narrow, chin juts.)
“You know, community? That thing which emerges when people start to work together without State and big business routinely fucking them over.” (Winning smile).
Not the most subtle repast to the incessant droning on of American exceptionalism but my barely veiled cover was blown. And so it began in even more earnest.
A good half an hour later amid occasional interjections from others who were rapidly shouted down, and after our bloody forays into the mess that is the Middle East thanks to Anglo-American, NATO and Israeli geo-strategy, the dessert trolley came trundling in as a possible solution to this jousting match by a work colleague and friend. She looked like she was trapped in hostess hell. As the desserts were passed around, dear rakish Ned pushed out his chair and leaned his large hands on the table like some great spider about to spin a sticky tempest:
“And just what makes you such a fucking expert on the Greatest – THE GREA-TEST – (finger stabbing in my direction) – Nation on Earth?”
As he finished bellowing this latest question, a loud chime sounded as his head hit the edge of the lamp which was at a low angle in relation to the dining table. This acted as a rather comical full stop to his query. If he wanted to invoke an impression of intimidation and fear it was instantly dissipated as his bald forehead hit warm steel. Reeling from the impact, he moved his hand a tad too far to his left upsetting his wife’s wine glass and the remains of her raspberry coulis.
“WHOOOOOO THAHHHHHH FUCK DECIDED TO FIX A FUCKING LAMP TWO INCHES FROM THE FUCKING DINNER TABLE?!” He yelled with a mixture of laughter and intense irritation. The question was directed at me. I just blinked, desperately trying to stop a smirk from spreading over my face. There was an awkward silence while someone picked at their fruit salad, a knife on glass squeaking and scraping as though it was the only sound in the world.
“That would be me,” said our hostess severely, with a strawberry poised on her spoon, “And I’ll thank you to sit down now.”
I quite admired her apparent nonchalance but I knew that she was just as put out by this behaviour as I. He scowled at her and snorted derisively, leaning over to hack at the mature cheddar with such gusto that little bits bounced into his wife’s dish of lemon sorbet. His wife whispered something in his oversized ear before pushing her away and muttering between gritted teeth, something to the effect of: “Get off me woman. You know about as much as that pussy across the table.”
The next few minutes our authoritarian friend chewed his lip and stared at me sniffing every 2 seconds – a nervous tick to be sure. When he realised that he had nothing in front of him he barked for the cheeseboard and wine to be handed down once again as if we were his serving slaves temporarily unshackled for such an honour duty. He waved his cheese knife in my general direction again while sounding off about the evils of Putin, his evil entourage and the obvious double-dose of evil he was spreading across the eminently civillised Western hemisphere. Ned, and people like him were our only hope it seemed. And to prove this point he made an attempt at an obscene joke, presumably to regain the spotlight and garrotte any politically correct sensibility which might have been lingering in his vicinity. This failed miserably, partly because it involved killing more “rag-heads” and a lurid description of a female Syrian refugee offering fellatio to a member of Congress, and also because he had had too much wine so that it was (luckily as it turns out) difficult to decipher what he was trying to communicate to his rapidly cringing brethren.
After a few confused pauses where it seemed he’d lost track of who he was fighting and indeed to where the object of his ire (me) had disappeared. I actually hadn’t gone anywhere being somewhat rooted to the spot. It was Ned’s myopic vision which had wandered off. He had begun gesticulating to a nice man sitting next to me called Arthur who looked like a fatter version of Harry Dean Stanton. Arthur had gently raised his impressive eyebrows with a mixture of fear and puzzlement alongside a quivering finger pointing upwards to say that he hadn’t said a word and didn’t intend to – especially about Putin – for the rest of the evening. I had to lean in from my side to redirect his fury back to me. Arthur nodded cordially and continued to stare at his chocolate mousse which by now, had started to sweat. Ned meanwhile, resumed his tirade against me punctuated with copious knife pointing, finger jabbing and increasing personal abuse which usually included brutal descriptions of Putin and I wrapped in various states of sexual depravity. It was certainly a window into where Ned’s fantasies lay.
And sometimes the food even stayed in his mouth.
In case the reader is thinking he was just plastered I’m afraid the same obnoxious undercurrent was in evidence before the drinks began to circulate. The only difference being that all inhibitions and basic social etiquette had been cast aside. No one could take him seriously, yet, he meant every word. He was drunk but not to the extent that he didn’t know what he was doing. Judging by his wife this was a regular pastime. The problem was, Ned wasn’t getting anywhere since I wasn’t yielding but offering up more nuggets of information that were like hot coals of searing pain to his by now mottled belief system which, like an Italian composer on speed merely sent him to new heights of gesticulation as he tried to drive his identity stake through my heart.
This man was clawing back at reality so that he might hold on to his carefully crafted illusion of authority. And over what? A discussion on politics and the American Empire which managed to push all his buttons at the same time. What on earth would have happened had he been faced with a real conflict? Perhaps he would have been in his element?
At this stage, Mr. Ned had effectively proved my point that he was a product of that very same pathology, although by the same token, he was hardly likely to admit to that which he was entirely unaware. Besides, this very probably was normal for him and millions like him. I was like the Matrix cat who glitched his reality. He had no choice to become Agent Smith if he was maintain his mainframe.
Yet, for all that, after that crescendo of cognitive dissonance had reached it’s peak – part of me felt bad. He had become a spectacle of a bully which had regressed to a beast before slipping back to the little boy that he was, screaming at a nasty man who poked unsightly holes in his self-deception. And that is sad to behold. Despite his repellent behaviour it was hard not to feel pity for him.
Nevertheless, does it not sometimes require that we draw a line against what we know to be blatant lies polluting the environment whether that be at a dinner party or Congress? Does it not mean we draw a line in the sand (or across the raspberry coulis) and say no I won’t suffer another second of your aggression?
Aren’t we all tired of this bullshit?
Aren’t we sick of the Ned’s of this world who inhabit boardrooms, media outlets, government agencies, religious pulpits and intelligence HQs and who get away with the same rail-roading crimes against conscience?
This episode was a picture of the state of our world in microcosm; the very reason why we have allowed ourselves to be dazzled and bullied by self-styled authoritarians who cannot function – indeed, enact their laws, wars and social engineering programmes – without the adoration and tacit approval of their followers. And once they have that power, they ride rough-shod over any hope of natural living, transforming our inner and outer world into an arid wasteland.
Sometimes you cannot keep silent. Even if that means some broken glasses.
In the next post I’ll try to reconstruct the whole dialogue as best I can.