The Rise of the Genius Asshole

I hope I’m wrong about this, but in recent years I’ve noticed something: the Genius Asshole can do anything he* wants, at the expense of almost anyone he wants, and still be nigh-deified. In other words, it doesn’t matter if you are a complete failure as a human being, as long as you have some success.
Example one: Steve Jobs.
Don’t get me wrong: I love Apple products and I think he was literally a genius at predicting consumer needs and doing amazing things. But he has seriously had a sort of cult form around him (or, rather, the idea of him), and I find that a little alarming when you dig even a little bit into his personal life. He had a daughter that he refused to acknowledge for years; he habitually yelled at employees and threw temper-tantrums; he called in the middle of the night with unrealistic expectations for work; he is “fondly” remembered as a “slavedriver.”
It seems all that has created a “results are all that matters” outlook. It doesn’t matter that he was kind of a jerk to everyone around him; consumers got what they wanted.
Nationally broadcast but locally hosted radio DJ extraordinaire Kidd Kraddick just passed away, and his death has brought attention to his life, as so often happens. And he seems to follow a very similar formula as Jobs. Both were beloved. Both invented something from essentially nothing and worked relentlessly. Both are considered overbearing and difficult by those close to them. The personal assistant to Kraddick said working for him was “hell.” He also enjoyed the “call employees in the middle of the night with ridiculous demands” trick.
(Morbidly? They both died relatively young.)
It seems Walt Disney was also a Genius Asshole. He was overbearing, anti-semetic, and kind of a bully. Meryl Streep had some excellent remarks on his legacy.
Maybe it’s just me, but I have zero desire to work with or for someone like this, regardless of how “inspired” they may be. Intelligence, real intelligence, is sadly undervalued in our society, but genius — when it works, anyway — is praised to no end. But I was taught that intelligence wasn’t the end-all-be-all; kindness is. And there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of kindness or even basic empathy in the backstories of these men. Personally, I think you should just write down your super-great-middle-of-the-night idea; why can’t we work on it at sunrise?  And I say that as someone who is particularly driven and can’t stop working on things; heck, maybe I say it because I’m like that. I value that time off, and I think it should be respected.
Maybe it’s just part of America’s culture of workaholicism. I had hoped that was easing, but looking at our idols, it seems maybe not.
What do you think? Is there a connection between Genius and Assholery? Or am I missing the mark entirely?
*So far, I’ve mostly noticed the male variety, so I’ll use that pronoun, but that doesn’t mean the female Genius Asshole doesn’t exist. Yahoo! CEO Marissa Meyer seems to be making a run for the “office,” at least when she took away the company’s generous work-from-home policy, but it’s yet to be seen if she will be seen as either a success or sufficiently worshipped by others.


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4 responses to “The Rise of the Genius Asshole

  1. I think this applies not only to geniuses, but to anyone who has reached exceptional heights in their fields. Look at actors, singers, authors who are truly brilliant or, more tragically, just hugely popular. Then look at how many of them think they don’t have to treat “the little people” with any decency, how many of them turn into divas (or the male equivalent). Same goes for many politicians.

    Perhaps it’s some remnant of the feudal system buried deep in our collective subconscious – they are powerful, so they must be better than us, so we must bow down before them. Cause let’s face it, we allow these people to get away with treating “us” like this.

    • Very good point. But we seem to have more negative opinions of politicians and singer-divas than these types. Hm, something to think about.

      • Maybe because performing artists and politicians live their lives in the public sphere – we see their flaws in real time…some even flaunt them. In the business world their lives are only really revealed, as you say, once they have passed. And then we keep our criticism in check, cause you don’t speak ill of the dead, and all.

      • Such a great point! You’re totally right.

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