at least you’ve reminded us of our Darwinian downside

Three things you might not know

  1. Genetically, we humans are only 1.2% different than chimpanzees.[1]
  2. Research finds that male chimpanzees that wage a campaign of sustained aggression against females sire more offsprings than their less violent counterparts and suggests that such nasty behavior evolved because it gave the more powerful males a reproductive advantage[2]
  3. According to surveys, 70%-90% of women do not make a complaint or file a charge with their employer when they are sexually harassed[3]

(9 minute read)

“There’s no Iron Throne involved in this power struggle … Dominant individuals enjoy a number of benefits that improve their chance of passing on genes, including richer access to sexual partners … Perhaps no effort is needed, the chimpanzee equivalent to the philandering Robert [a.k.a. Bill O’Reilly] … have learned a number of displays largely comprised of gestures, which can be broadly defined as distinct bodily movements … What’s particularly amazing about chimpanzee solicitations is that they seem to be intentionally communicative: following a display, signallers will visibly wait for a response from their target by gaze-checking, and, if met with failure, will persist in gesturing.” – A Glimpse Into the Sexual Lives of Chimpanzees by Brittany Fallon, PhD candidate, Budongo Forest Reserve, Uganda.

We know humans have evolved, at least a little bit, since branching out from our primate ancestors more than seven million years ago, but there are facets of our genetically driven make up that didn’t make the “great leap forward.” Today, it may not be accurate to call a human a monkey or a chimp but our brains have evolved enough to know when to call a spade a spade and an asshole an asshole. Bill O’Reilly is an asshole.

Aaron James in his 2014 bestseller Assholes: A Theory, defines what it means to be an asshole? Bill fits the bill. In fact, James should do a whole book on O’Reilly just like he did in 2016 for Trump with Assholes: A Theory of Donald Trump. After all, Trump is a proximate friend of O’Reilly.

O’Reilly represents just the tip of this broad taxonomy of the species, many of whom are hanging out in the shallow end of the celebrity pool, like highly-inflated, narcissistic, floating devices. Unfortunately, they are not on the endangered species list and there are probably only two ways to reduce their numbers:

  1. Evolution: This is a slow process but there may be signs emerging within the next few generations as seen by  the sons of Rupert Murdoch, who apparently pushed hard to fire O’Reilly.
  2. Anarchy: Self-correction on our evolutionary path will be much faster if half the world’s population, women, lead the insurrection to change the behavior of the monkey assholes (no disrespect meant to chimpanzees) who are encumbering the advancement of the species.

Plop a baby human into a group of chimps and ask them to raise him, Tarzan style, and the human as an adult will know how to run around the forest, climb trees, find food, and masturbate. That’s who each of us actually is. – Tim Urban, Wait But Why.

Troop leaders dominate

“We want to underscore our consistent commitment to fostering a work environment built on the values of trust and respect.” – Rupert Murdoch in a letter on O’Reilly’s firing.

OMG! Only a man who owned a disgraced British newspaper that collapsed under the weight of a phone hacking debacle could make a statement like this after paying millions in attempting to cover up the sexual predators who worked for him. O’Reilly is a serial abuser for whom Fox quietly settled the first lawsuit claim – of many – against him back in 2004, but the allegations from women just kept coming. And what does Trump, the monkey who holds the highest office in the jungle do, he defends his friend O’Reilly by suggesting he didn’t do anything wrong and should not have settled. When the head monkey is in denial and equally aggressive, the tribe is facing continuing damage to the females and further regression of the species.

Trump’s current and past behavior is a blatant endorsement of a culture that allows powerful men to behave without accountability. This impunity is one reason women don’t report sexual harassment. Members of the task force that headed up a Study of Harassment in the Workplace (June 2016) by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) asked a telling question: Why, after 30 years, does so much harassment persist and take place in so many of our workplaces?

  • Almost one third of the approximately 90,000 charges received by EEOC in fiscal year 2015 included an allegation of workplace harassment, including charges of unlawful harassment on the basis of sex [does not inlude state and local claims].
  • Roughly three out of four individuals never even talk about the harassing conduct. They fail to report the harassing because they fear disbelief of their claim, inaction on their claim, blame, or social or professional retaliation.

The EEOC in its recommendations stated, “Two things – perhaps two faces of the same coin – became clear to us.”

  1. First, across the board, we heard that leadership and commitment to a diverse, inclusive, and respectful workplace in which harassment is simply not acceptable is paramount. And we heard that this leadership must come from the very top of the organization.
  2. Second, we heard that a commitment (even from the top) is not enough. Rather, at all levels, across all positions, an organization must have systems in place that hold employees accountable for this expectation.

Geez, I hope they didn’t spend too much money on that task force to arrive at such a blinding glimpse of the obvious. We don’t need more recommendations like that we need action that generates behavioral change. And behavioral change only comes about when the consequences are a serious deterrent ($25 million and $40 million severance packages are not going to do it).

It starts at the top

The EEOC was right in stating that any change “must come from the very top” but realizing who is currently sitting on the “iron throne” – bully pulpit – at the top of today’s western culture could be a harbinger for regression. Angelo Carusone, President of Media Matters, who led his organization’s “Stop O’Reilly” campaign said, “In an atmosphere where the president of the United States can do what he did and say what he did—it’s a constant reminder that everyone needs to be more engaged, and more forcefully so.” Our culture is a confused or broken gyroscope, spinning upside down and the top has become the bottom of the barrel? Carusone added, “Trump forced the realization that people can get away with [sexual harassment] so brazenly.”

Our culture shines the gaudy light of entertainment on celebrity-shallow, so-called leaders like Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Donald Trump, which overshadows – blacks out – the true leadership values exemplified by the likes of Warren Buffett, James Goodnight, Colleen Barrett and Howard Schultz. There is an excellent HBO documentary called, Becoming Warren Buffett that not only delivers a wonderful biographical story but portrays a man who epitomizes leadership. You will discover how one rich, brilliant and transformed humble man became an extraordinary leader and exemplifies a perspicacious understanding of women (rent it, buy it, watch it).

“Just business” – hypocrisy or a nexus?

Much of the coverage about Fox jettisoning O’Reilly cited how bottom line vigilance can only tolerate bottom feeders like Ailes and O’Reilly for so long and then they’re booted out under the euphemism of it’s “just business.” For O’Reilly, the “just business” decision was between his show, which generated a reported $446 million between 2014-2016, versus 21st Century Fox’s pending takeover of Europe’s Sky TV, worth about $14 billion. It’s despicable that sexual harassment has to be equated with a corporate price tag when it should be as simple as having a clause in every man’s employment agreement or contract that protects the women from sexual harassment. It should have been in O’Reilly’s. They could have kicked him out the door, with cause, two-weeks severance, and on his way to a court room. But the male dominated workplace instinctively realizes that dominant chimps are not capable of rational human behavior, and they’re the ones approving most of the contracts. Or the lawyers write them and only 36% of women are lawyers and only 18% are equity partners in law firms. Most organizations mirror large cages or zoo enclosures dominated by the male of the species – you know, the ones were we call a lot of the bosses, assholes.

Despite Adam Smith writing The Theory of Moral Sentiments in 1759 (well before Wealth of Nations in 1776), capitalism and morality have never danced well together, although Buffett demonstrates there can be a natural symbiosis and a common foundation on which the two can grow together (Adam would have liked Warren). There is a nexus for these two historically divergent concepts and it can be seen in Fox’s calculation that the value of O’Reilly was exceeded by a greater capitalistic value, which, in turn is connected to a moral value. Ironically, the connection is through something that the misogynist Trump has valued throughout his adolescent-adulthood: The power of the brand.

A linchpin between morality and brand

Few corporations – very few – put morality ahead of money but if moral value can be linked to financial value then “corporate social responsibility” could move from being public relations hypocrisy to the nexus of making the protection of the brand and women one and the same. It’s despicable that sexual harassment has to have a financial-capitalistic calculation but if it can help protect women then it could be an important point of leverage.

“It takes twenty years to build a reputation and five minutes to lose it.” – Warren Buffett.

From the point that the New York Times started its investigation of O’Reilly to his firing, 21st Century Fox’s stock dropped 6%. The reason Fox, and others like United, finally get around to making the right decisions is because share value and brand reputation are more than kissing cousins. It’s not simply the loss of a revenue from programs like the O’Reilly Factor and its baboon host, or disgruntled travelers, it’s much more integral. According to a 2007 study, shareholders consistently react to the intertwining of stock value and brand value. A good example of protecting a brand was in 2014 when the NBA dumped the owner of the LA Clippers, Donald Sterling for racist remarks. Of course, such racism should never be tolerated, but it would be a brand catastrophe when the majority of your employees are black athletes. Well, in most companies women are the majority of employees and that reality could become a linchpin between moral and corporate values.

Consumer protest groups like grabyourwallet have taken on the Trump brand and are illustrative of the vulnerability of a brand. Right after Trump’s infamous Access Hollywood tape, two women decided they could no longer support Trump and the Trump brand and they set up a boycott list of retailers who carry Trump products. It worked and has been covered in national media and supported by many celebrities. Retailers started dropping the lines and when they did their name was removed from the boycott list. A New York Times article stated that more than 20 companies have been scratched so far including such names as Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Uber, T.J. Maxx and Kawasaki.

But can protests and brand management overcome primal genetic forces?

I wonder if Trump has ever considered the downside effect a disastrous presidency would have on the Trump brand? He is certainly not a long-term strategic thinker, never having had to think outside a limited real estate context or the tactical building of a brand. It seems that he’s so self-absorbed in his narcissistic cocoon and in desperate need for short-term affirmation that he is not able to measure such long-term risk. And he has demonstrated, repeatedly, he can’t differentiate between confidence and competence?

The Trump brand is one Russian scandal, conflict of interest or impeachment away from a cataclysm that would make United Airlines look like the Humane Society. It could be something like the bankrupt Trump Tower Baku in Azerbaijan, where Ivanka worked closely with a notoriously corrupt family connected to the Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. For anyone wanting to place a small wager, a UK gambling company, Ladbrokes just announced the odds on Trump being impeached dropped from 3/1 to even. And on his winning the Nobel Peace Prize, he is at 16/1 (I’d bet closer to 50/1).

A large percentage of male homo sapiens in positions of power like Trump, O’Reilly and Ailes become “dominant individuals [who] enjoy a number of benefits that improve their chance of passing on genes, including richer access to sexual partners….” Therein lies the problem. When the head monkeys are left to there own genetic devices, they cannot sufficiently apply the intellectual gift that has evolved in our species in order to override their much more dominant sexual aggressiveness. Whether we consider them primates or assholes, the problem is the same, and short of severe consequences, not much will change (being fired with a $40 million or $25 million severance, is obviously a thoughtless, male-created consequence that aides and abets, not deters).

However, as an interim measure, perhaps a more direct link between moral values and brand value could strengthen women’s protections and rights. The offspring of the aging troop leader Rupert Murdoch, James and Lachlan, made the connection that their father couldn’t and that led to cutting Chimp O’Reilly lose in the jungle where he now has to look for a new tribe.  Hopefully, most of the big-money, high-brand value tribes won’t take him in.

In the long-run, it’s an evolutionary battle between the sexes and the betterment of the species will depend on how soon women take charge.

We are the third chimpanzee

The Third Chimpanzee by Jared Diamond sheds considerable light on this sexual harassment issue by exploring human beings as just another mammal, the third member of the chimpanzee family. Diamond points out that long before the science of genetics, the ancient Greeks understood many of the similarities between monkeys and humans (obviously, since then we’ve been slow learners), and he speculates that perhaps someday we humans will treat primates as our privileged cousins.

In our limited ability to control the O’Reillys of the species, it would do us well to see them from the scientific, objective perspective that Diamond offers. Because if we don’t deeply understand the male problem, we have no chance of protecting the female half of our species, let alone eventually solving the predatory practices of dominant males. Diamond proffers that only through the detachment of science can we understand root causes.

It is the responsibility of our leaders, particularly those at the very top of the tribe, to expand their intellectual capability, to deepen their capacity for wisdom, and to develop consequential values that they can embed in the tribes they lead. Then, maybe, over time, the male species will learn to override 98% of their genetically driven primal, asshole behavior. In the meantime, let’s build more direct ties between the brands we value, the morals we value and the women we value.

“Think what this country could accomplish using the other half of its talent … women.” – Warren Buffett.


  1. American Museum of Natural History.
  2. Sexually Coercive Male Chimpanzees study by co-author Ian Gilby, a primatologist at Arizona State University in Phoenix.
  3. National Women’s Law Center, Nov. 2016