Robert Greene on the Relentless Rebel

I spent this afternoon listening to the Audible version of Robert Greene’s The Laws of Human Nature (narrated by Paul Michael), which I also blogged about – here – a few days ago.

I especially enjoyed the section in the fourth chapter devoted to toxic personality types.

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Robert Greene, Theophrastus and Machiavelli

Robert Greene’s interest in human character is just the latest manifestation of the typology genre that goes back to Theophrastus’ On Moral Characters, while his search for laws of power or success places him in similar territory to Machiavelli.

The combination of the Theophrastian and the Machiavellian in Greene’s books is perhaps what makes them so compelling. There is a tension in them, which is similar in some ways to the tension in Machiavelli’s writings between Virtù and Fortuna. In Greene’s case, tension is between the perceived stability of character “types” and the flexibility needed to master the “laws” of power, or of human nature and so to negotiate ones way successfully through life.

In another context, it is the conflict between Othello and Iago (for which, see Joel B. Altman’s excellent tome, The Improbability of Othello ). Othello bases his assessment of people on typological models, whereas Iago works with laws of power to turn peoples perceptions of characters inside out and is himself not what he seems.

Machiavelli sees that whereas a man of great virtù will adapt himself to changing circumstances, most men are indeed “fixed” types which is why, when fortune changes, they do not, and thereby come unstuck,

…variando la fortuna, e stando gli uomini ne’ loro modi ostinati, sono felici, mentre concordano insieme, e, come discordano, infelici. 

(…fortune varying and men remaining fixed in their ways, they are successful so long as these ways conform to circumstances, but when they are opposed then they are unsuccessful.)

Machiavelli, Il Principe, XXV, 9

Ten Types of Toxic Personality

One typology that has become quite common in recent years is the delineation of the “toxic personality” type. Robert Greene’s entertaining dissection of the toxic character is most entertaining as he divides toxic characters into ten types:

  1. The Hyper Perfectionist
  2. The Relentless Rebel
  3. The Personalizer
  4. The Drama Magnet
  5. The Big Talker
  6. The Sexualizer
  7. The Pampered Prince(ss)
  8. The Pleaser
  9. The Saviour
  10. The Easy Moralizer (e.g. the PC type)

Typologies are fun to read (or listen to) because you find yourself thinking – ah yes, I know someone just like that! Or perhaps you begin to feel that the typologist is getting a bit to close to the bone for your own comfort!

Rebel Rebel!

Of the ten types of toxic personality, the one that resonated most with me was The Relentless Rebel, which I have extracted and offer here in video (thanks to Pete Sapper of *Charisma inc) and text formats:

The Relentless Rebel: At first glance such people can seem quite exciting. They hate authority and love the underdog. Almost all of us are secretly attracted to such an attitude; it appeals to the adolescent within us, the desire to snub our nose at the teacher. They don’t recognize rules or precedents. Following conventions is for those who are weak and stodgy. These types will often have a biting sense of humor which they might turn on you, but that is part of their authenticity, their need to deflate everyone, or so you think. But if you happen to associate with this type more closely you will see that is something they cannot control; it is a compulsion to feel superior, not some higher moral quality.

In their childhood a parent or father figure probably disappointed them. They come to mistrust and hate all those in power. In the end, they cannot accept any criticism from others because that reeks of authority. They cannot ever be told what to do. Everything must be on their terms. If you cross them in some way, you will now be painted as the oppressor and be the brunt of their vicious humor. They gain attention with this rebel pose and soon become addicted to the attention. In the end it is all about power — no one shall be above them and anyone who dares will pay the price. Look at their past history — they will tend to split with people on very bad terms, made worse by their insults. Do not be lured in by the hipness of their rebel pose. Such types are eternally locked in adolescence and to try work with them will prove as productive as trying to lock horns with a sullen teenager.

Robert Greene, The Laws of Human Nature, ch. 4.

Does that ring any bells?


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