Crush Your Enemy Totally (Except When You Shouldn’t)
In 1948, Bumpy Johnson was the Godfather of Harlem. As a favor, he took a boy under his wing named Flash. He let him live in his house, had him running errands, let him tag along when he picked up protection money – all the stuff that Frank Lucas claimed do to for Bumpy in American Gangster.
Flash got ahead of himself and started running bad checks through Bumpy’s clean bank accounts and allegedly hit on his daughters. He got caught up and over his head and made a succession of unforgivable mistakes. The hammer fell quickly. He beat Flash within an inch of his life on a public street corner. He never even raised his hands to resist. And after a final kick to the head, Bumpy never looked at him again.
Bumpy’s crew pleaded that he kill him. With an ass-kicking like that, they said, he’d made himself an enemy for life. He had. Within just a few weeks, Bumpy caught a young woman sent to plant heroin in his house. Later, Flash flipped to the police and snitched on crimes that he’d never even committed. Bumpy did ten years in Alcatraz.
I don’t think the lesson is that he should have killed him, although Robert Greene is often right. Maybe he shouldn’t have beaten him in the first place. Responding emotionally, as I’m quickly learning, is rarely a good idea. Are the consequences of publicly humiliating someone really worth that soothing rush of adrenaline? It probably says more about you than it does about them. That whole, “I’ve got to assert my dominance or I won’t feel good about myself,” is as much weakness as it is anything else. A lot is said about ruthlessness and power, but maybe not enough about restraint.
Coincidentally I’m about to start working on a final essay about the Mitylene Revolt and Cleon’s appeal to kill em all.
Great post. Sometimes its funny the way things dovetail.
Good post. I just finished reading the Godfather, which seems pretty relevant to this. In the book, Don Corleone kept layers of buffers between himself and his crimes, so that any of his men would be blamed for a crime before him. He had tons of political connections ready to help him if he was in trouble. But regardless, he always remembered that anyone, no matter how insignificant or weak they seemed, had the power to kill.
It seems to me here that Bumpy showed a sign of weakness by not finishing off the guy. His ounce of compassion led to his downfall. I don’t know the full story, but it seems he should have either finished him off or just cut him out of his life (if he didn’t feel Flash would bother him anymore.)
In the Godfather, it says that no man of spirit should allow himself to be subject to poverty, fear or degradation. But I don’t think the risks associated with satisfaction of revenge are always necessary. Sometimes it’s better just go cut people out of our lives.
Good post, Ryan.
Incidentally, I was in a similar situation just recently. I was acting all calm and peaceful, just trying to find out some info about a crime committed against my property, and Im pretty sure this guy — this thug kid, actually — was responsible. Went to his house to talk to his parents, and when I just started asking questions to his mom, the kid comes to the door, acting all crazy (and guilty)and just starts geting up in my face, and telling me he’s going to whip my ass if I don’t get out of there, and his mother has no control, of course. His mom was nice and reasonable, but she had no authority.
The hilarious thing is is I’m almost 100 pounds heavier than this kid, taller, and he gets up in my face. I really, really wanted to just give him the ass whupping his father never did, but I just let it go, because I knew this kid just had to feel superior and if I hurt his superiority complex, I could expect a brick through my window. Or something. Not exactly the ghetto where I live, but there are a large number of suburban kids running around acting like they are living the thug life. You know what I mean. 3 car garage, nice neighborhood, spoiled white kids who think the man is getting them down.
I’m so glad I didn’t stay there longer, because eventually my emotions would have taken over. Imagine if I did kick his ass, though. I might have made him feel inferior and made a permanent enemey. Plus, assault charges.
Instead, I just walked away like he could kick my ass and just said thank you for your time. It felt shitty for a moment because this kid was a real prick, and his mother obviously had no control over him.
Not quite the same situation, but I was thinking along similar lines, Ryan.
I guess you have the choice between Vito (ruthless efficiency), Sonny (emotional reactionary), and Michael (excessive ruthlessness, but finally dissolving into paranoia). We can see what happened to Bumpy when he took the road of Santino.
The question is how do you avoid the road of Michael when you try to live up to the standards of Vito?
This is very mature insight, Ryan. The essence of this post reminds me of Meditations (which I picked up on your recommendation here). Given the boundary conditions of the mob business, it probably would have been better for Bumpy to have killed Flash. Or, simply to have cut him out of the business and life by dropping him like a stone without any retribution. Give him a pat on the back and off he goes.
Also, this post reminds me of something people around me, whom I consider as mentors, have constantly told me or showed me through their actions – both positive and negative.
My former boss who retired is a brilliant man. The guy is very well known among the community I work as someone who was technically one of the best, but also for his attitude as well. When he got into arguments, while his intentions were never personal, he tore people apart. Fundamentally, he was always right. However, decent people who were flawed in their position/ways felt personally humiliated after discussions with him.
I learned many things from him and still do to this day. His integrity, technical abilities, never compromising the truth, etc. all have influenced me. But other people whom I respect ( for similar reasons) have always warned me not to emulate his emotion when relaying the message. I don’t fear repercussions of trying to do the right thing, because political retribution is assumed. However, I am also trying to co-opt others to my vision to ensure the task I’ve been given gets done. By taking emotion out, I have found that many, whom would not work with my boss are willing to work with me on my terms just because I don’t come off insulting, rather just telling them what I think and backing it up consistently with accuracy. Heck, in many cases they were almost itching to come around, just didn’t feel secure about doing so with my former boss.
Ultimately, his hands were politically tied and kept from doing what he did best as a result of reasonable/rational people simply fed up with the perception of being attacked and ripped apart, even when they agreed with him. My other boss, who recently passed away, definitely took your suggested approach in life. He said it, plainly, genuinely, without emotion, but didn’t back down either and did equally as well at his mission.
I’d have killed him. Post-beating of course. It’s important to set a precedent for ruthlessness. It’s not so much anger as much as it is what game theorists would call “credible deterrent”.
If the consequences are so severe, chances are you won’t do it, whether or not they’re motivated out of anger or simply the need to punish underlings.
I liked the anecdote, but was this supposed to be an example of an exception? It seems the moral of the story was simply to crush enemies totally. Did I miss something?
Well what about not about not beating him in the first place? Did it take away hitting on his daughter?
Obviously not. Nothing can undo the past. But it would never happen again if Bumpy had killed Flash instead of humiliating him.
What makes this an exception? Bumpy tried to caress Flash and was disrespected (a number of times) for his troubles. The appropriate response was not taken and look what happened.
“Well what about not about not beating him in the first place? Did it take away hitting on his daughter?”
It may not have done that but; I bet for sure that is stopped anyone else doing the same. Sometimes a once of prevention can do more then a ton of cure.
That’s an excellent post…it also makes me feel a twinge of guilt since I recently humiliated my former BFF. Sure, he deserved it, but there were definitely more tactful ways to get the point across (that lieing to my friends and telling me about it isn’t a good idea). Public humiliation also has the side effect of making you look like a ginormous douchebag, or callous asshole if you’re lucky.
How would you prevent insubordination, if not by crushing the perpetrator? How could one survive in a violent industry without succumbing to violence?
yeah like other posters i dont see an alternative to killing him in a criminal organization. My question would be what would you do in that particular case Ryan?
Come on now.
“I don’t think the lesson is that he should have killed him, although Robert Greene is often right.”
Read “The Godfather.” I don’t think any of us are criminal masterminds so it’s all intellectual masturbation, but there’s a lot of wisdom in that book. Michael was a better criminal than Vito but Vito was a better person. Or, it could be argued that Michael simply did what was necessary due to the extraordinary situation.
Whether he should have killed him or not can be argued. He should not have gotten involved personally because he had an emotional investment. Mixing business and emotion can only lead to pain and trouble.