With the number of people living under dictatorships up by a billion, a reminder of dictators' deceptively humanizing traits

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/06/25/likable-monsters.html


“Adolph Hitler was charming Ernst Hanfstaengl… a sympathetic buffoon.” [Hitler’s] goofiness made Hanfstaengl love him… each naive act increased my belief in his homespun sincerity."

It’s hard for me to imagine that Hitler did not share at least some of his own thoughts on Jews and other “undesirables” while in the company of Ernst; racism and bigotry must have been part of “the charm” that Evans wrote of.


Tyrants Aren’t Born Sociopaths

Not all of them, but it’s very probable. One of the fundamental characteristics of sociopaths is that they are naturally talented actors: they are very charming and charismatic and know inherently how to connect with their audiences – individuals and crowds – on different levels, as described in the article’s other entries. For example:

Hitler knew that when he was talking to conservative businessmen and aristocrats like Hanfstaengl they understood that whenever he said “Jew” he really meant “Communist” (and vice-versa) and that it was this understanding (and not his amusingly goofy table manners that made for such a good story about the fellow later on at the club) that would win him the funding and support he needed.


So Hitler painted roses? How sweet!

Yet he was a relentless art critic: “Anyone who sees and paints a sky green and fields blue ought to be sterilized.”


This is basically the story of my life. Not being a dictator. I mean, I’ve always felt like “normal” people (family members, colleagues) see me as slightly untouchable because I find charm distressing. I have cousins and stuff who live in tasteful expensive houses, and when I see them they’re all small talk & bonhomie, and my reaction is a thinly veiled “agh! You can’t just program me to like you, I don’t know what’s under your halloween mask”, and they’re thinking “what’s this ungrateful asshole’s problem? I serve schmooze of only the highest quality”.

If I had ever been good at that game, my life would be a lot more comfortable, especially being a white man. I’m self-aware enough to recognise that in that case, I’d be strongly motivated to defend the game, even when it involved laughing off blatant evil.

That’s what makes the horror of demagogues so visceral for me. I know exactly why a Turmp is so unacceptable, but to really explain it to a normie would mean explaining that I sort of reject the core of their existence.

tl;dr Holden Caulfield



Well, that’s the American version of the Office. Ricky Gervais, for all his faults since, created a truly and thoroughly unlikable character for himself in the original. Maybe American audiences need a bit more sugar in their wine…


Right there with you. I was brought up to deeply distrust slick and charming people and always watch out for the pitch or the ask that they’d be throwing my way 90% of the time. I can play the game back a little, but I’d rather not. And, yes, trying explain the game to people who fundamentally don’t and won’t get it is exhausting and discouraging.


My wife is the same way, having been raised by a sociopath. She has an allergy to charm that sets off her red flags. She’s a very kind and genuine person, but if someone does something that raises her hackles, she has a habit of antagonizing them until they reveal themselves completely, and not accepting first nor even second apologies. She doesn’t have crowds of acolytes, but the people who make it through the gauntlet are friends for life, and are a solid bunch. It’s bizarre that we ended up together, because I skated on charm my entire life, but since we have, I’ve learned a lot about my own dishonest tendencies from her, and about being careful in who I trust and how much.


We had an elderly family friend who was from the landed gentry in the 1930s. She had learned German at school and was invited to join Ambassador Henderson and his family in Berlin for the 1936 Olympics.

She had been forewarned about the Nazi regime and what to expect; but when she arrived, Germany had temporarily cleaned up its act for that summer. The official were friendly, the anti-Jewish propaganda was removed, the secret police were nowhere to be seen. It was almost normal. Schirer says something similar in ‘Rise and Fall of the Third Reich’.

She also got to meet Hitler and some senior members of the Nazi Party at a reception and again said how they turned on the charm. She was even complemented on her German by Hitler himself.

Then as soon as the games were over and foreigners and the international media had left, it all went back to grim reality.

See also Russia right now.


“…and are described by their childhood friends are not exceptionally cruel or sociopathic…”

Perhaps “…AS described…” or “… friends AS not exceptionally…”

One or the other.

ETA and I’d like to see Ernst Hanfstaengl’s “social cache” - a place of hidden things, that he shares with others? If anyone from Cracked comes by, its cachet.


… Ernst Hanfstaengl, a hilariously named German aristocrat …"
And his nickname was Putzi.


Sounds like something related to me by my step-dad, he in a MASH unit in Riyadh during Desert Storm. When the cameras were on and news people about, service people would go on about how they felt privileged and proud to help out people of the region, but out of sight of cameras and reporter eyes the racism and bigotry flowed out like water.




Came here to say this, leaving satisfied.

(shakes cane) All these kids posting to the internet who think canon is cannon, cachet is cache. It’s like they never actually read books! Literacy is dead! (shakes cane some more).


The OxyContin ref is a timely touch.

1 Like

I guess I never watched all of the Office. I always thought Michael Scott was a horrible person.

It’s considered that he was a subpar artist himself with no real vision; his rejection from the artistic community was supposedly one of the reasons for the deeply rooted discontent which led him to become a mass murderer.

His perceived lack of talent was almost certainly at the core of his ‘Degenerate Art’ campaign.



Feel free to use my lawn, while you’re here. :wink:

1 Like

I never watched it when it was running, but binged it recently because it was the least awful thing Netflix suggested that was easy to an oddly-shaped schedule.

Michael got gradually more likeable as the show went on. Apparently the first season went so badly that they decided to gradually move Michael farther and farther away from Ricky Gervais’ character. In season 2 he showed competence (to everyone’s surprise) on a sales call, which demonstrates he got to be the boss by at least being good at something. He had other surprising moments of competence up through season 5 when he was fired and started a rival paper company. He also became more considerate of others, and had a few points where he broke down into sincerity (again, in limited doses), so you start to look at his annoying tendencies as more of an act, the result of his personal workplace survival strategy.

Part of the take-away then is, “your shitty boss is miserable because of this shitty job, too. The job makes everyone miserable. So cut him a little slack.”

Dwight followed a pretty similar trajectory later in the series: humanized through failure, proven crazy but competent, and ultimately befriending most of the people he fought with in the early seasons. They even gave him a nephew when they tried to spin-off “The Farm”.

1 Like