The much maligned bro: the butt of every joke; the laughingstock of the world.
Or is he?
Consider, for a moment. Women and minorities earn significantly less; are promoted significantly less; and face significantly more…unpleasantness. Bros are neatly, conveniently installed at the top of every institution…not women and minorities…jobs, promotions, opportunities fall into their laps…effortlessly. Hey!! He’s my bro!!
And yet. The case against bros, as would-be leaders, might seem straightforward. Institutions with greater diversity — notably women, especially at more senior levels — perform significantly better. In every way. They’re not just more profitable, they’re better places to work, live, play.
It doesn’t make sense, right? You might think, given the above, that brotalitarianism would be on its way out. The question then is: why isn’t there less of it? What’s with the pervasive, predictable, totally self-defeating brotalitarianism?
Let me be clear what I mean by brotalitarianism. I don’t merely mean places run by men — but run according to the spirit of the bro. I don’t refer merely to sex, or race, or age; but to creed.
By brotalitarianism I mean a kind of totalitarian pessimism, about human possibility itself; which I will explain; that leads to the pursuit of short-term gain, all else be damned; a life lived artlessly, pointlessly, recklessly, obliviously. By brotalitarianism, I mean treating a great institution, the people in it, and your own life, like a can of beer: something to be guzzled, chugged, crumpled, and flung carelessly out of the window of your limocopter. But hey — at least you got buzzed! High-five, bro!!
Alas. The world does not run according to reason. Call the persistence of brotalitarianism prejudice if you like; call it discrimination; call it inertia, favoritism, bias. Brotalitarianism, like all dogmas, is a mountain. It cannot be shifted merely by the light of evidence; for evidence never won a debate in the long history of argument. And so we must look not just at “the numbers”; but into them.
Here’s my tiny hypothesis. Brotalitarianism kills the human spirit. The philosophy of the bro is like Ebola for the human spirit. It is to a life well lived what a topping of spray cheese is to the last supper. It stifles creativity. It shackles imagination. It suffocates humility. It ruins determination, patience, gratitude, kindness, mercy.
And so here’s what it doesn’t foster. Defiance. Rebellion. Wonder. Beauty. Justice. Grace. Love. Passion.
And guess what? If you’re going to forge anything—whether it’s a business, an idea, or a life — that is worthy…those are precisely the elements you need. Without them, you’re relegated to mediocrity; to predictability; to futility. Without them, you will never get the best from your people; they will never give their best to you; you will never create what is awesome; you will never discover a purpose, a path, or a point. Greatness will slip through your fingers like sand.
Those elements are precisely what every institution — and every life — needs. If it wishes to change the world. If it wishes to matter. If it wishes to endure; to last; to grow; to persevere; to accomplish; to be true, trusted, adored, respected, and, at last, to respect and to love itself.
Steve Jobs wasn’t a bro. Chelsea Manning isn’t a bro. Oscar Wilde wasn’t a bro. Picasso wasn’t a bro. Galileo, Newton, Adam Smith, Pablo Neruda, Amy Winehouse — they weren’t bros.
If bros truly ran the world, we’d never have iPhones, high-speed trains, democracy, the rule of law, constitutions, vacations, equal rights…much less the truly good stuff: art that elevated us, poetry that seared us, science that enlightened us, stories that civilized us, music that moved us.
What would we have? We’d be poorer in every way; impoverished as people; stifled as humans; condemned to live empty, dull, bland lives.
Let me sharpen my definition, then, of brotalitarianism. Brotalitarianism is the supremacy of pessimism; for it believes no life truly deserves to flourish into the fullness every life was meant to. It is conceit in cowardice of one’s duty to become one’s true, full self. It is vanity; greed; cronyism; obedience to bullying, flattery in snobbery, smugness in fear; egotism in complacency. It is the pursuit of all the things that make us small, inconsequential, half-alive. It is all hat and no cattle.
And in that sense, the truth is that the people we call bros today have always been with us. They were the fools that silenced Galileo. They were the good folks that laughed at Mandela and jeered at MLK. They were just following orders; they were just doing what they were told; they were just making sure the procedures were followed, the customs obeyed, the totems satisfied.
The bro is not an individual. He is a clone. He has existed throughout history; and throughout history, his purpose has been to stifle, and limit, and diminish. What? Life. The boundless possibility in each and every one of us. But the price is this: the bro will never be who he was meant to be — and that is the first and truest obligation of all who have been granted the privilege of life.
So let’s call them what they really are. Conformists. Enforcers. Flunkies. Stooges. Accessories; spectators; tourists; custodians of the status quo; janitors of the dungheap of greatness; policemen of the ordinary; demolition men of the human spirit.
Bros are bad for business, society, themselves, you, me (and everything else) because they toxify culture. Culture is a kind of atmosphere of mind; a set of shared assumptions and values. And the values bros instill in — or bully into — minds are those of humiliation, not humility; intolerance, not tolerance; cruelty, not diversity.
Show me brotalitarianism, and I’ll show you the tyranny of mediocrity; the radioactive fallout of cynicism. I’ll show you the furious, formulaic pursuit of the ordinary, the tolerable, the trivial, the tedious, the tasteless, the forgettable.
And so I’ll show you regret and remorse for lives barely lived; for brotalitarianism, which is just another word for absolute pessimism, and pessimistic absolutism, squanders the human possibility of those who believe in it most, surest.
Want to build an institution, an idea, a life….capable of changing the world? Seek out the misfits. The renegades. The rebels. The dreamers. The lovers. The ones who care so achingly much that they don’t give a damn. What the conformists, the stooges, the flunkies, the bullies think. Because they burn with love, wonder, truth, beauty, nobility, justice, passion. They’re the ones who change the world — and always have.
And let them teach the conformists why you and I call life, at its highest, noblest, and truest, nothing less than an endless series of tiny miracles.