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The Year Ahead 2019: The Dangerous Trends That Are Shaking Up The World Today

Edward Gibbon started his description of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire at a period of history when it was at its peak. During the reign of the so-called Five Good Emperors, the Empire had attained its greatest geographical extent. Its population lived in relative peace and prosperity. Yet, it is also here that the first cracks that would eventually bring down the greatest state of the ancient Mediterranean world began to appear.

The people of that era did not know that the Empire would eventually fall, and even in the times of chaos that would later come, the fall of such a superpower appeared unthinkable. The end did arrive and the Empire crumbled, ushering in an era of darkness from which it took a long time for civilization to wake up.

In hindsight, this collapse appears inevitable. The structure on which the state was based was clearly eroding slowly but surely, until one day it was no more. History can often serve as a mirror on which to reflect our own times and that’s why it is useful to take lessons from the things that happened in the past. What is alarming is that the same types of cracks that slowly brought down Rome have started seeping into our own modern structures.

As the Cold War was coming to an end, Francis Fukuyama triumphantly declared “The End of History”. From that point onward things were going to move in only direction: the direction of progress, peace, and unlimited hamburgers. However, just as the wise fortune tellers were popping open bottles of champagne to celebrate this momentous occasion, new menacing creatures were starting to crawl out of their dark caves, foreboding a new era of unimaginable terrors.

The current age brings with it numerous seemingly new challenges. Decisions need to be taken in order to set a course through these troubled waters. It might seem frightening, but for the student of history, some of these challenges are far from new. They have been here before. What was old is new again, and what is new will become old. It is up to us to construct the correct path, so that in the future our epoch does not become a warning sign, talked about by our descendants as a lesson in what not to do.

While the time of the Roman Empire can teach us many valuable lessons, I would argue that it is a preceding era in Rome’s history that can serve as a better analogy for our modern era, and offer us many illuminating parallels to what is happening today. It is in fact the fall of the Roman Republic, that is in many ways very similar to the situation in the present day.

This is because our own modern institutions are modeled on those of the ancient Roman Republic. The so-called Founding Fathers of the United States studied that era in great detail and set up the newly independent republic to resemble Ancient Rome. While the United States has the closest parallels, other countries (Europe, but also elsewhere), also owe much to their Roman heritage. That is why if you want to better understand the processes at play today and where they can lead us, you should look at what happened in Rome after the Punic Wars.

Yes, you can argue that the analogy is not perfect. After all, our modern era differs greatly from that of Ancient Rome in multiple ways. However, human nature has not changed since that time. If you dropped a baby born in that era into the 21st century and have it grow up in one of the countries of today, they would not differ from anyone else. The point of a historical analogy is not to model perfectly, but instead to teach us lessons and show us potential dangers.

Polybius was an ancient Greek historian who spent much of his later life in Rome and wrote an extensive history of that city. He is also credited with developing a cyclical theory of political evolution called anacyclosis. According to the theory, states undergo cycles of development going from monarchy, to tyranny, then to aristocracy, which gives way to an oligarchy, which is then replaced by a democracy, which then degenerates into an ochlocracy (or mob-rule). Once this is completed, the cycle resets itself and goes back to a monarchy.

This is a powerful model that gives us predictive capabilities. Polybius wrote his “Histories” at the height of the Roman Republic, when its greatest rival had been vanquished, and riches beyond imagination began pouring into the city of Rome. Yet of one thing he was certain: Rome too would one day fall. Amid the triumph, he was starting to see the first signs of the problems that would lead to the eventual collapse of the Roman Republic.

Have we hit up Ochlocracy?

As the clock ticked down the last moments of 2018, and fireworks around the world welcomed in the new year, the headlines in the leading global newspapers were dominated by ominous signs of looming chaos. Trump shuts down the federal government over financing for his pet project, Brexit descends into utter retardedness (even after we thought we had already hit rock bottom in 2016 with the referendum), Putin rattles his sabers against Ukraine, and the first order of business for newly elected Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is the signing away of the rainforest.

What should arguably be humanity’s greatest era is quickly descending into a mix of chaotic protest movements rampaging through national monuments, brain-dead individuals plowing their cars into masses of people, all set to the background tune of the raping of the environment. The solution to petty grievances has often been either shooting yourself in the foot or setting your hair on fire. The camps on both sides are fortifying their positions and building up barricades, leaving normal people stuck in the middle to be hit with the crossfire. Say goodbye to nuance. It is my way or the highway.

According to Polybius, democracy degenerates when citizens become greedy, entitled and corrupt, which then makes them fall prey to various demagogues who try to entice them with seemingly sweet, but ultimately bitter promises. What we are seeing is the rise of bread and games for the unthinking masses, combined with fiery rhetoric promising to solve all their real and imaginary problems.

The solutions that are rising up in popularity are nothing more than a mixture of pipe dreams and delusions. Any normal person should be able to see that they are far from reality, but mind-boggingly some people will still get fooled by the simple, but dangerous messages.

While the solutions offered up by populists are just hot air, they arise because there indeed are real problems:

1) Rising inequality between the rich and poor, with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer (or at least perceiving themselves getting poorer).
2) Unstable economy driven by greed and corruption.
3) Rising debt levels among the population and countries.
4) Decadence, rise of reality TV and druggie culture, coupled with a loss of real values.
5) Massive migration flows from poorer countries.
6) Wars abroad, and terrorism at home.
7) A degradation of the environment, climate change, and loss of biodiversity.

Yet the years leading up to 2019 have been the best years in humanity’s history. After the end of World War 2, we saw a rise in prosperity for most of the world’s population. At least in the developed world (but also in many parts of the developing world), people had more money, better education, better healthcare, and more leisure time than all the generations preceding them.

Advances in technology have also allowed us to travel to the other side of the world in hours, and share information within seconds. Almost anyone now has access to vast stores of knowledge just with the click of a button. This would be something hard to imagine for the people of any era that came before us.

How come our political institutions are getting messed up then? What are the driving factors of all these worrying trends? To answer these questions, we don’t need any sophisticated analytical tools. We can just look into the past. Ancient history can serve as an analogy to show what can happen when a certain combination of factors start unraveling the deepest fibers of society.

How the Roman Republic won its greatest battle and seeded its own destruction

The defeat of Carthage once and for all in 146 BC had established Rome as the sole superpower in the Mediterranean world. It was now controlling vast swaths of land, and with them enormous resources. The conquest of new territories and the opening up of the trade routes brought in great riches. Rome went from a city-state to a world power almost overnight.

This had a tremendous impact on the social fabric of the Republic. The elites grew enormously wealthy, while a new class of impoverished arose. Traditionally, the city was built around a class of small farmers, who owned their own land and produced crops on it. They were the backbone of society, growing the food, not prosperous by any means, but generally satisfied with their lot in life.

The Roman army was composed of citizen soldiers who would be called up to battle in times of need. As the wars that the Republic fought in started to take place further and further away from, many of these small-time farmers ended up spending many years on campaigns. With no one to work their land back home, their plots would deteriorate. When they came back after the wars, their farms would be in ruins and they would end up racking up debts. Unable to pay those debts, these farmers would then be forced to sell their land and move to the city as landless poor. And who would buy up these plots of land? It would be the aristocratic elites now with deep pockets full of gold from the wars.

What made the problem even worse was that after losing their farms, they were unable to find work. The wars had also brought in many slaves, who ended up doing most of the jobs. The newly landless Romans were not competitive on the job market against these slaves. After all, you can’t really compete with free.

Discontent among this newly impoverished class grew. Social strife was nothing new in the Republic. Since its founding, there had often been periods of social conflict, as the plebeians tried to gain more rights from the patricians. By the time of the Third Punic War, this process had largely been completed, and the plebeians had acquired almost equal rights to the patricians. A new aristocracy composed of the patricians and some newly rich plebeians arose.

However, this new strife was different from the previous struggle between the classes. While in the old conflicts, the main protagonists were the plebeians who were rising up from the bottom with visions of improving their prospects, the new struggle included large sections of people who had been better off before, but lost out.

Of course this was not the only struggle. For centuries now, Rome had been controlling the Italian peninsula through a system of alliances with neighboring cities. These cities provided a large proportion of the Roman armies, but only received a meager portion of the spoils of war. The people of these cities were clamoring for more rights and most of all, to be granted Roman citizenship. They argued that they earned it through their loyal support of Rome. However many current Roman citizens were against this, fearing that they might lose influence.

The tensions between the different classes and groups were growing. The battlelines were hardening. The poor wanted to move up in life, while the rich wanted to keep their privileges.

Then in 134 BC came Tiberius Gracchus. This was a man who came from a wealthy and well-connected family, however his main political aim was to reform the system and alleviate the struggles of the poor. How much of his acts were due to genuine caring for the down and out of society, and how much of them were due to his own personal ambitions is up for debate. Probably it was a mix of both.

In that year, he was elected one of the plebeian tribunes. This was the position meant to defend the rights of the plebs and thus had wide-ranging powers, including the power of the veto. He had to share these powers with several other guys who were also elected as tribunes for that year.

His main political agenda was to get a land reform passed. The proposal on the table was a quite simple one. A large part of the lands in the Roman Republic were so-called public lands, lands that in theory were owned by the state. In practice, most of these lands were farmed, usually by rich Roman landowners.

The proposal was to limit the amount of public land that could be farmed by a single person to a certain amount, and then redistribute the rest to the landless poor. Yet this was met with strong opposition from many wealthy senators. One reason for this was that they were set to lose lands that they started considering as theirs. Another, and probably more important reason was, that whoever would preside over the land redistribution would become very popular with the people. This would get them many clients, which was incredibly important in the patronage system of Rome.

The Senate blocked this reform. Tiberius was furious and was resolved that the reform was going to be passed in any way possible. Traditionally, the Senate had to register its opinion before the vote would pass onto the people in the Assembly. However, Tiberius decided to bypass the Senate altogether and move directly onto a vote in the Assembly. The senators were furious, and devised a devious plan to block the reform.

The plebeian tribune had the powerful right of being able to block any legislation with a veto. Tiberius was not the only tribune. There were several others. The senators went to one of them, Marcus Octavius, and convinced him to use his veto power to stop the entire process.

Tiberius tried everything in order to unblock the proceeding, including talking to the senators and coming up with some sort of a deal, but it was of no use. He then decided to do a much more radical action. If a tribune is blocking the will of the people, then he should be deposed, he argued. This was something that was never done before, but for Tiberius passing his law was incredibly important. The Assembly voted to depose Marcus Octavius. With him out of the way, the land reform law passed.

The Senate continued to try to derail the implementation of the legislation, but Tiberius always came up with a way to bypass them, often not in a very legal way. The final nail in the coffin was when he decided to run for re-election as tribune. This was never done, and gave the senators proof that he wanted to make himself king.

Kings were detested in Rome due to historical reasons. For some senators it became logical that if Tiberius wanted to make himself king, he should be killed in order to prevent him from doing so. A group of senators gathered up, armed themselves with all kinds of things, got up on stage while Tiberius was speaking and beat him to death, along with many of his supporters. They then dumped the bodies into the Tiber River.

For the senators, this was supposed to be the end of this. They got rid of a potential tyrant and brought back things to normal. Instead, what happened is that this was the start of a shitstorm that a hundred years later ended with the fall of the Republic and the rise of the Empire.

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I Have Been Writing This Blog For 5 Years Now – What Have I Learned?

I cannot believe how fast time flies. Five years have passed since I started writing this blog. Over these years, I have changed the focus of the blog several times, but keep pumping out content which I hope is ground-breaking in several ways.

The main aim now is to create a framework for people who want to become Renaissance Men, versed in many disciplines, able to cross-pollinate ideas across different domains and bring in fresh new perspectives whenever needed.

The world is changing and what has worked in the past few decades seems no longer to work for most people. This means that you will have to adapt to these new circumstances. In the future, many of the menial tasks that people perform today will be fully automated, and in order to be able to thrive in such a world, you will have to bring added value.

The way to become anti-fragile for the future is through adopting the skills of an expert-generalist, the modern term for a Renaissance Man.

One thing that I have started focusing on in the past year is trying to address some of the basic problems that people have. If you cannot keep a tranquil mind and an optimistic mindset overall, you will falter on your way through all the different challenges that you face in your life.

That’s why it is important to address this first and foremost. I have found that some of the Ancients provided very good answers to these problems, ones that are very pertinent even today.

I have spent a lot of time going through some of the most powerful pieces of ancient writing and distilling the main ideas. If you apply it in your life, you can overcome some of the greatest obstacles that life throws at you.

There are different approaches that you can adopt, based on your internal preferences. Or you can always mix and choose different ideas from different perspectives.

One big school of thought in the ancient world were the Stoics. Marcus Aurelius was an Emperor, but also a practicing Stoic and his ideas on how to go through the day are quite powerful. You can create a system based on them to help you get through the day:

Marcus Aurelius: How to gather the strength to survive in adversity.

Then go into my series on describing the Three Stoic Disciplines:

All the articles in this mini-series:
The Introduction.
The Discipline of Desire.
The Discipline of Action.
The Discipline of Assent.

Then read the application of this in practice:
A day in the life of someone applying the system of Marcus Aurelius.

You should also read about the thoughts of the man who Marcus learned from, Epictetus, the former slave turned philosopher (as written down by his student Arrian):

The wisdom of Epictetus.

The Epicurean philosophy can also be a good fit for people who want to live a simple life and avoid all the BS:

The thoughts of Diogenes of Oinoanda on pleasure, pain and living a life of happiness.

Plutarch was a Middle Platonist, famous for writing the inspirational biographies of many famous Greeks and Romans, but he also wrote some practical advice on several subjects. His advice on keeping a tranquil mind in a turbulent world can be quite helpful for people living through the chaos of the modern world:

Plutarch and keeping a tranquil mind in a turbulent world.

Finally, Boethius was a philosopher and statesman who lived at the time when the Roman Empire in the West had collapsed. He was a Neo-Platonist (and a Christian), and composed his greatest work when he was sitting in jail, accused of a crime he did not commit. He penned his thoughts on why it seems that the bad guys always win and the good guys lose, and how to deal with the apparent unfairness of the world:

Boethius: how a man about to die found happiness.

I have tried to introduce people to these different thinkers, so that based on their ideas, they can start forming their own daily framework.

The time of the expert-generalist has come

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Spotting Opportunities When They Are Right In Front Of You – Or What You Can Learn From Red Bull

At the moment I am in Thailand on my third Muay Thai training trip. Something that I came out of a “fuck it” moment for me has now turned into an annual trip focused on improving my martial arts skills and also my body.

If you browse the shelves of local stores (many of the small ones like 7 Eleven or Family Mart are open 24/7), you will see that there are small glass bottles of an energy drink with a very familiar logo. The two red bulls clashing has become one of the most recognizable brands in the world today. Its popularity has virtually exploded overnight.

Red Bull is known as one of the biggest Austrian companies, one with a global reach. Its products have become quite popular with people who want to get extra energy for studying, daily activities, or parties (vodka redbull anyone?). So what is this local product on Thai shelves which looks almost exactly like this global brand?

At first thought, you might probably think that it is a cheap local imitation due to lax copyright laws. The cheap price (10 baht!) seems to infer it, especially since cans of Red Bull are usually quite expensive elsewhere.

You will be surprised at the real story though. It’s not the Austrian Red Bull which is the first Red Bull. In fact, it is the Thai one!

How did this come about? The story of Red Bull is about spotting opportunities when they are right in front of you.

Dietrich Mateschitz was a toothpaste marketer who had a quite unremarkable career. It took him 10 years to graduate from university and he worked for a string of companies until a business trip in 1982 brought him to Thailand.

There he met Chaleo Yoovidhya, who owned a pharmaceutical company, but had also invented an energy drink which was quite popular among Thai day laborers. Dietrich tried this drink and found that it cured his jet lag.

Then a brilliant idea struck him. If this drink is popular in Thailand and has these energy giving effects, maybe it could become popular in his own country too? So at 40 years old, this guy with an unremarkable career up until now decided to have his own “fuck it” moment. He quit his job and started his own company.

Together with Chaleo, they founded Red Bull GmbH. Each of these guys put up US$ 500 000 in order to create the company. The company was not an overnight success and the things that Dietrich had to do in order to bring it to the global success that it is are also quite remarkable, but they are for another story.

The key lesson here is to spot opportunities when they present themselves to you. Dietrich saw a low-cost product in a far away country and realized that it had potential to be a high-cost product in his own.

Many successful business stories are just that, spotting and then grabbing opportunities when they present themselves to you.

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Don’t Argue About The Tactics, If You Don’t Have A Strategy In Place

Sometimes people argue about the little things, while missing the big picture.

Many people will be familiar with this situation. At work, frequently the time is spent in endless meetings, arguing over things which at the end don’t really matter.

People like to argue over tactics, without actually having an overall strategy in place.

Strategy vs. Tactics

Do you know what you want to achieve in this life and how you will do it? Does the place you work for have a clear vision of what it wants to do and how it wants to achieve it?

Most people don’t. And amazingly neither do most places of work.

Sure, you might spend countless hours arguing with your boss on whether you should do Action A, but no time is spent reflecting how doing Action A is supposed to contribute to whatever the ultimate goal is.

It’s amazing that people or places of work don’t have a clear strategy in place.

Strategy is something that is often misunderstood and rarely spelled out. Yet, having a clearly defined strategy is often the difference between success and muddling along in chaos.

If you were building a house, would you first define what it will look like and how you would build it, or would you first try to decide whether you need shovels and what length they should be?

If you want to build a house, you first need to determine what it will look like and how you will build it. Only then can you decide what types of tools you will build it with.

This is the essence of the strategy vs. tactics debate.

To help you better understand what each of the two terms means, you need to keep in mind that both words originally come from the military sphere.

In every military campaign, the goal is to win the war. However there are different strategies that you can adopt to do that.

You can rely on tanks and the blitzkrieg like the Nazi Germans did at the beginning of WW2 or on guerrilla warfare as many of the resistance groups did under occupation.

This is what falls under the term strategy. Each strategy then implies some tactics.

For example, if you are a guerrilla fighter, your tactics would consist of sabotage and small skirmishes. While if you are a tank commander who is tasked with implementing the blitzkrieg strategy, your tactics would consist of grouping tightly together large numbers of tanks and quickly overwhelming the enemies with them using speed and surprise maneuveurs.

If you are an MMA fighter, and you decide to implement the ground and pound strategy, then your tactics would consist of setting up your opponent with punches and kicks, and then in a surprise moment, bringing them down in order to control them and hit them with a barrage of punches as you sit on top of them.

Military is not the only sphere where the terms strategy and tactics are used.  Today these two concepts are used for example in business. The meaning stays the same, just the domain changes.

In terms of running a business, Alfred Chandler, a management researcher, defined strategy like this:

Strategy is the determination of the basic long-term goals of an enterprise, and the adoption of courses of action and the allocation of resources necessary for carrying out these goals.

Resources are limited and you need focus in order to achieve your goals. Strategy gives you that focus.

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My 3 Year Blogging Anniversary – What Have I Learned?


Can’t believe it’s been 3 years already since I started my blog. Time flies pretty fast. This wasn’t the first time I started a blog, but it’s the only time I have been consistent and persistent. Before this, I usually gave up pretty fast.

The origin of this blog starts off in September of 2013, when I was recovering from my ACL surgery. I had the idea of starting a fitness blog focusing on gaining weight (since everyone focuses on losing weight and there aren’t too many resources for skinny guys actually trying to gain weight).

Initially, I started a free blog, but then the following month, I decided to get serious and put my money where my mouth is and took the plunge and bought a real domain name. So in October 2013, the Gain Weight Journal was born.

At the same time, I also tried to continue maintaining some other blogs in niches such as language learning. However these were all side activities, which consumed a lot of time. So I decided to unite the different blogs and so the Renaissance Man Journal saw the light of day. The decision behind all this is better covered in a previous post.

What I want to cover now is what I have learned on my 3 year blogging journey. There have been and still are many ups and downs and the journey is still just in its initial stages, but there are already some lessons that I can share.

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Live Your Legend: One Moment You Are Here, The Other You Are Gone


Your place in this world is not eternal. Your clock is ticking away and it has been ticking ever since you were born.

You never know when this clock will stop ticking, when the countdown will reach zero. Have you been living life the way you wanted to live it? When your moment in this world is up, will you leave a legacy?

I originally did not want to write a post like this. One recent event however shocked me, and made me reflect on life.

About two weeks ago, I had returned from Tanzania. It was one of the greatest adventures of my life. Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro was something that stretched my limits and shattered the mental boundaries that I previously had. I had also visited the Serengeti, which made me see the grandeur of nature and experience the wild in its raw, naked form.

A few days after having returned, I was back in my ways and my usual routine of work and home. Browsing the net, I stumbled across a blog called “Live Your Legend” run by Scott Dinsmore.

Scott had created a blog many years ago, but it didn’t take off right away. For close to four years, he saw almost no outside traffic and got zero revenue from it. However one day, that all changed and his blog really exploded. Suddenly, Scott could live the life he always wanted, travelling the world and challenging himself.

This energized him and he channelled this energy into trying to inspire people to live their life according to their dreams, to live their passion.

I returned to his blog a few days later and found his latest post. It was about him traveling to Tanzania to go climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and see the Serengeti.

It got me excited. It was exactly the same trip I had just returned from. My memories of it were still really fresh and had left a lingering positive feeling in my head. I wrote a long comment on that post and left. I thougth nothing of it.

I decided to check back on Scott’s blog again two days ago. I was hoping to see a new post detailing all of his adventures in Tanzania. My trip had mesmerized me and I am sure it would do the same thing to other people.

What I felt was utter shock when I read the comments people were leaving: “RIP”. Unfortunately, the post that Scott left about his plans to go to Kilimanjaro was to be his last ever. He died in an accident trying to ascend the mountain.

I am still feeling the same shock right now. I never knew the guy and only discovered his blog very recently. Yet there was a sense of connection that I felt. He was the same age as I am. And his death happened at the same place that I had been at just a few days ago.

What made it more personal is that I had made a comment on his post just a few days before this tragedy. All sorts of thoughts started rushing into my mind.

It made me reflect on how fleeting life really is. You are here one day, and the next you are gone. One moment you are full of life and a second later it is all over.

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What You Can Learn From The Chimps: Traits Of The Alpha Male Leader – Part 3

More lessons from the African Jungle to dominate in the Concrete Jungle. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.


7) Charisma

An alpha is a bigger than life persona. His presence dominates the central stage. He exudes a certain energy and a magnetism that pulls others towards him. This natural aura that an alpha male leader has is called charisma.

By having charisma, others are naturally drawn to him and he gets conferred respect from below. Individuals follow charismatic leaders because they want to, not because they are forced to. A charismatic leader is inspirational in the very essence of his being.

Charisma is the ability to affect the emotions of others in a positive way. Chimps are very emotional creatures and that’s why charisma plays a great role in leadership. It speaks to them deep down on an emotional level. Charismatic leaders inspire trust and obedience just through the way they carry themselves and communicate with others.

Max Weber, in his book “On Charisma and Institution Building” describes charismatic leadership in this way:

The term charisma will be applied to a certain quality of an individual personality by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, super-human, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities.

The way the alpha carries himself and acts gives him a natural authority over others. He is self-confident and dominant. The alpha sits with his back straight and while walking his every step is done in a powerful way.

This natural authority can be observed by the way other chimps behave when they are in the presence of the alpha. Their entire demeanor changes. They get out of his way as if by instinct and naturally make themselves appear smaller.

There is a chicken and the egg problem however. Do alpha chimps have charisma because they are in a position of power, or are they in a position of power because they have charisma?

Whether one precedes the other, both charisma and power are akin to pheromones. A high status draws others towards that particular individual. Other chimps want to engage with him and copy him. Scientific experiments have shown that chimps when adopting a behavior are more likely to adopt it from someone in a position of power and prestige:

When given opportunities to watch alternative solutions to a foraging problem performed by two different models of their own species, chimpanzees preferentially copy the method shown by the older, higher-ranking individual with a prior track-record of success.

The alpha is a hero to others and everyone wants to be like him. He is admired by the rest of his community and thereby followed by them.

It’s much easier to hold onto power when you are a charismatic individual, well-liked by others, rather than ruling through the use of intimidation and aggression. You build up allies in an easier way and expend much less energy to keep your status.

Charismatic alphas don’t need to coerce others into doing what they want, they can just command and inspire. For example, in his book “Demonic Males”, Richard Wrangham describes how an alpha male inspires his troops to go on a border raid:

Sometimes the most dominant male – the alpha male – charged between the small parties, dragging branches, clearly excited. Others would watch and soon catch his mood. After a few minutes they would join him. The alpha male would only have to check back over his shoulder a few times.

Another charismatic leader was Ellington, who ruled the Ngogo community. He had a natural authority that inspired others just by his presence. John D. Gartner in “The Hypomanic Edge” describes a typical scene:

Ellington does not theatrically hoot and drag tree limbs to whip up the crowd. He doesn’t have to. He merely appears in public, sits down – and excitement begins to swirl around him. The other males hoot and jump with pleasure in anticipation of what is to come.

There are some things that charismatic leaders do that give them that natural aura. They are visionaries and have a catchy vision that inspires others. This vision then gets passed onto his subordinates.

A charismatic leader has an incredible ability to communicate and get his message across. Only using body language, facial expressions, a few sounds and without words, a chimp leader captures the attention of the minds of others. The fact that he cannot use words does not diminish his message. Most communication, even by humans, is non-verbal.

Charisma is also demonstrated through actions. Charismatic alphas pay attention to the needs of others within their community. They play with the infants and help out when needed. They don’t refrain from grooming other lower-ranking individuals. An alpha leads by example, actively participating in hunts and leading border patrols.

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What You Can Learn From The Chimps: Traits Of The Alpha Male Leader – Part 2

More lessons from the African Jungle to dominate in the Concrete Jungle. Read Part 1 here:

5) Ruthlessness

When his authority is challenged, an alpha needs to be ruthless and show everyone who is the boss. Christopher Boehm spent considerable time observing chimpanzees in the wild and writes:

I know from my ongoing tutelage that normally the alpha male will not allow other males to display when he does, for their displays are – in chimpanzee political language – challenges to his high status. Jealous of this authority, he carefully dominates everyday group scenes by rushing around furiously while the display tendencies of others are heavily inhibited by fear of an immediate attack from him.

A chimpanzee alpha males has dominance over all other members of his group. He is the boss and has no mercy when it comes to preserving his position and status.

I got your balls in my sack!

I got your balls in my sack!

He has his frame of mind and everyone else lives in his reality. A leader cannot let himself get walked all over by others. Assertiveness is the main way of functioning for an alpha. If he gets too passive, someone else will take his place.

He understands the fact that not everyone in the world is nice and there are many individuals who put themselves first and won’t hesitate to put you down and stab you in the back when it serves their own purpose. Unscrupulous individuals take advantage of the niceness and other weaknesses of others and that’s why an alpha has his own interests at heart first. That is the reality of the jungle.

A leader is not afraid to be feared by others. The threat of coercion and sometimes coercion itself are effective ways of keeping other chimps in line. This passage by Nicolo Machiavelli applies in the chimp world the same way as it does in the human world:

A question arises: whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with. Because this is to be asserted in general of men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and as long as you succeed they are yours entirely; they will offer you their blood, property, life, and children, as is said above, when the need is far distant; but when it approaches they turn against you. And that prince who, relying entirely on their promises, has neglected other precautions, is ruined; because friendships that are obtained by payments, and not by greatness or nobility of mind, may indeed be earned, but they are not secured, and in time of need cannot be relied upon; and men have less scruple in offending one who is beloved than one who is feared, for love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.

There are times when merely being assertive is not enough, and at least a bit of ruthlessness is required. If a threat is in the way, you need to eliminate it without thinking of the feelings of others. You are the one who comes first and a little bit of heartlessness is part of the package.

Ruthlessness takes many forms. One is being able to take hard decisions which might hurt the feelings of others. This is one of the many qualities that a leader needs to have.

However there is another even more controversial form of ruthlessness. This is the manipulation of others to get what you want. Being manipulative is one of the strategies that some chimps, including alphas, use. Even if an alpha himself does not use these techniques himself, he needs to know about them in order to protect himself against them and be ruthless with the guys who use them against him.

Primatologists have even coined the term “Machiavellian intelligence” when it comes to chimps. Chimps often behave as if they had learned “The Prince” by heart and are applying the principles described in the book. In the context that the primate researchers use the word “Machiavellian”, they mean that chimps are often very manipulative and like to scheme and plot. Their main objective is to get and keep power.

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chimpanzee alpha male

What You Can Learn From The Chimps: Traits Of The Alpha Male Leader – Part 1

chimpanzee alpha male

What does it take to be a leader in today’s society? The way society looks in the modern world might have changed, but the old rules of rising to the top still continue to function in the same way as they did before. It is still a jungle out there and you need to understand the rules of the jungle, if you want to become a leader.

Chimpanzee society is ruled by alpha males. These are the leaders of their groups, the dominant males. We can learn a lot from the way that things function in chimpanzee society and apply it in our own world. In a previous article, I have analyzed some strategies that chimps use to become the alpha males of their groups.

Now I want to delve a bit deeper into the traits of an alpha male. The same traits are needed for a man to become a leader in today’s society and to stay at the top. We can gain a lot of insight into the nature of leadership by looking at our closest cousins.

1) Ambition and the Will to Lead

Mike was a small chimp, who at the beginning of his life spent most of his time on the outskirts of his group. He was the last male to eat and he was not respected by the other males. Yet he still rose to become the alpha male by using his smarts.

Jane Goodall noted that what separated him from the others was his enormous will to lead. He had a huge drive that pushed him to do everything possible to rise to the top. Most of the other males in his group did not have this incredible ambition and the drive to fulfill it. Sure, many of them wanted to be the alpha male as well, but they lacked the willpower and the headstrongness that Mike had.

When he started his bid for power, Mike had this incredible energy about him. He was always coming up with new ways to try to show his dominance. This dominance was not based on physical power, since he was physically small, but on the illusion of power.

He found kerosene cans and used them to make his charging displays more threatening. He was always running around, causing havoc. When the researchers took the cans away from him, he found something else. He did not let obstacles stop him from reaching his goal: the goal of becoming the alpha male of the group.

Alpha status is something that can be won over by the sheer force of willpower. Mike wanted to be the leader, and wanted it more strongly than everyone else in his group. He achieved his goal.

Not all chimpanzees have this ambition and will to lead. Even the biggest males can sometimes be at the bottom of the group due to their mild personalities. One such example is Jomeo.

Jomeo lived in the same group as Mike, although a few years later. At one point he was the biggest male in the group, however he seemed to lack any ambition or drive to be dominant and so was one of the lowest ranking males in the community. Jane Goodall (in her book “Through A Window”) noted:

I have often wondered about Jomeo’s fascinating character, his strange lack of any sort of dominance drive. If he had not been wounded as an adolescent, would he have gone on to become a high-ranking male? Probably not, after all, his brother Sherry showed the same inability to cope with adversity. Was this a genetic, inherited trait? While this is possible, I suppose, it seems far more likely that it stemmed from the personality of their mother, Vodka. It is indeed unfortunate that I did not know Vodka well – she was too shy.

It seems that the drive for dominance could be a factor based on nurture, so it is something that can be changed. When the researchers first saw Mike, he was a social outcast, hanging out on the edges of the group and often being the last male to feed. His behavior did not seem to be that of someone who wants to fight to be the alpha male.

However at one point something changed. Maybe Mike just reached the point where he got tired of living at the edge of the group, being an outcast. He just decided to say “fuck it” and go for it. He set a goal for himself and went on to pursue it with determination and tenacity. Ambition and the will to lead depend on the mindset and so are definitely things that an individual can work on.


With ambition, one has to watch out though and go about things in a systematic way. Appearing too eager for leadership and rising to the top can backfire. In extreme cases, it can even result in the individual chimp getting eliminated by his rivals.

One such example comes from the Ngogo community at Kibale National Park in Uganda. There, one lower-ranking male had recently risen quickly in rank, which did not sit well with some of the other males. So at an opportune moment, a group of males decided to eliminate one rival for themselves. They formed a coalition, ganged up on him and in the ensuing fight ended up killing him.

That particular individual that was killed had been showing a lot of ambition to lead, however he did not back it up through coalition building, intelligence or strength. Instead, he was a loner who associated with very few other chimpanzees. This made him a prime target for other ambitious males who decided to gang up and eliminate him, in order to have one less rival for the top positions. The particular lesson here is that you need to back up your ambition in some way and especially have powerful allies to defend you.

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