The Art of Undermining (and micro-Undermining)

The greatest human social gift is that of Undermining.

This is what sets man apart from animal. Undermining. This is how we differentiate intelligence in the normal social and interpersonal sphere. The Art of Undermining is overlooked and unrecognized. We call it everything but what it is.


I’ve also come to the conclusion that many people are heavily involved in the Art of Undermining and don’t acknowledge, or are unaware, they are practicing the sly art in the first place. I believe it is possible to assert that Undermining is an instinctual trait! This is possible. Perhaps the Art of Undermining is a vestigial social skill we still possess from our distant ancestors who battled for group supremacy amid grunts and physical signals. Because most often, as practiced in the insular world of catty 21st Century society, Undermining is frequently unspoken, or at the very least, obliquely planted in a feathery plume of barely seen derision. The modern (and ancient) workplace is all about Undermining.

Undermining spans a range but its ostensible aim is to reduce prospective or real competition in reputation’s standing (ie, bring them down a few pegs on the social ladder) in order to free up climbing space for the social climbing Underminer. Undermining can be primitive and callous. “You are an imbecile!” exclaimed at a supercilious philosophy professor, or using an e-vite slight to inappropriately leave a key member of a team off an invite list for a work meeting. Undermining can be flagrant, or bloated with subterfuge, but in all cases, the end result involves reducing the supposed “might” of a competitor.

I notice that in the workplace, the Art of Undermining tends to be very passive, to the point of unawareness. This is why I am convinced much of it is instinctual! Undermining a person can be like climbing a grand mountain one tiny vertical step at a time. It can be so gradual and indistinguishable so to as appear undetectable. What may seem to be an entirely benign gesture, when appraised from a position of great perception and suspicion, can actually be viewed for the micro-Undermining move it is. In itself, harmless, but when compounded and directed at the weak-minded (which is just about everybody), grows and blossoms in acuity and influence.

For this reason, Undermining can never be pointed out, for a shrug and raised eyebrows are sufficient replies to subdue and discount the accusation since most micro-Underminings appear ethereal and insubstantial to the person of normal perception (which, in the case of most inadvertent Underminers, is all of them) so to make a big deal out of a seemingly trivial behavior exposes oneself to accusations of “overreacting.”

The Underminers are everywhere. If you pay close attention, and keep your eye on the ball, you will know them. If you are very keen, no one else will see them, except you. There is little you can do except to be prepared for that moment all the Undermining coalesces into one big gaping spiritual wound of ill-fortune brought on the tiny, pitter-patter of a thousand little Undermining hands. And then it will be too late because the Underminers can easily discount any role they had in your doom.