How The Irresistible Pull Of Power And Authority Dictates Our Decisions

Posted on October 23, 2014 in Society, Specials

By Amreeta Das:

“Where you see ideals I see human. Alas! All too human”
– Nietzsche

This article is not to debase or vilify national leaders, neither is it an umbrage against famous men, prompted by common cynicism. It is an attempted search into the nature of humanity, which bears itself out against time. I hit upon this particular idea from an extract in my History Text Book which reiterated how Mussolini “was provoked ( by a daunting speech delivered by socialist leader Matteotti before his assassination) to reply that he would have taken no account of the vote ( in the 1924 elections) if it had gone against him”. To be sure, this statement sounds alarmingly familiar regardless of its national specificity. Here, as a general clarification, I mention that I do not intend to deliberate on men’s propensities towards the misuse of power or launch diatribes against recurrent trends of dictatorship in history to testify the power-hungry nature of man. Rather, I would attempt a sympathetic probing into all that shapes history in all its dynamism and complexities. I begin my article, thus, by taking inspiration from Nietzsche’s statement “Human, All too human”.

Picture Credits: Jesus Solana
Picture Credits: Jesus Solana

Branding a young college student as ‘Maoist’ for her logical questioning or imprisoning a professor for caricaturing a certain political leader might reflect the brazenness of a particular regime, in a trifling and ludicrous way. But what lies behind these apparently rash and deservedly criticized actions is an insecurity that has recurred at all stages of human evolution. It resides in the heart of all men and women, and becomes manifest in ways explicitly varied .These incidents, according to me, require thoughtful analysis. The aforementioned insecurity, needless to say, springs from a terribly uneasy conscience; take instance from the VC’S action at JU. The sense of the just and the right is present in every human psyche. These instances serve as extreme measures to drown the inner voice of righteousness. We invent defenses for anything and everything. The decision to call for the police, being fully aware of its destructive ramifications, was a desperate move knowing that his opposition was in the right. This reminds me of Vladimir Lenin’s forcible dismissal of the Constituent Assembly, when despite every effort, The Bolshevik Party failed to grab a majority. He justified his undemocratic action “as the highest form of democracy”, further adding that “since the Bolsheviks knew exactly what the workers wanted there was need for another party”.

As mentioned earlier, the intention here is not to condemn people. Being at the receiving end, we seem to know the exact resolutions of a given crisis. In that way, each of us would make the Prime Minister perfect. But do we ever question what would we have done if we were in their place? Notably, all the three political leaders mentioned above, with howsoever vested interest it might be, came to power addressing the genuine issues of the people. They understood the people, without a doubt. What then so drastically transformed them? The answer is both simple and clichéd “Power”. Remember Napoleon and Snowball, the two Pig Leaders from George Orwell’s Animal Farm, and the later modified maxim of Animalism “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others”? No one could have expressed the ethos of humanity better.

Ingrained in every human nature is the uncontrollable urge to enjoy unopposed distinction. This leads to extreme dictatorship in some cases and in others, prompts wise men to act like fools for retaining their popularity. We are all narcissists. Again, it is this very desire which projects a leader as the saviour and defends all his measures, however irrational, as being tailored to serve the greater interest of the people. My readers, undoubtedly, can think in this line of many known and unknown figures who have exhibited similar traits in their life.

“US and Them”, a particular Pink Floyd favourite of mine, is the perennial order of existence. To wield power, a ‘Them’ is inevitably required, not understood, but debased and defeated, charged with betrayal and infirmity. Then, as the ‘Us’ ascends to power, knowingly and unknowingly, they tread on the path not quite dissimilar to that tread upon by ‘Them’. In this way the world moves through time and space. We remain united in our divisions and mistakes. We search for virtues and virtuous people too much, to compensate for personal deficits of course, expect that by dint of some inexplicable power our leaders, along with their other recognized capabilities, would suddenly turn into impeccably moral men. Morals exist, so do vices, inextricably woven together. Perhaps, we could begin by being more thoughtful, not accusatory but understanding, if not virtuous but human, listen before arguing, debate but honestly, with a concrete purpose and not a motion which fizzles out soon after the debate is over. If we for once soul-search patiently, then we might alarmingly bump into someone who is so like the leader we condemned and criticized and verbally stoned today. This is where rectification begins and so do the possibilities for change, however bleak. This brings me again to where I began “We are human. Alas! All too human”.