“Tyrannical”, “Delusional”, “Cruel”, “Homicidal” and “Maniacal” are a few words used to describe the latest cannibalistic actions of Muammar Qaddafi in the past week. Even United Nations U.S. Representative Rice reeled off her own list of diagnostics as Qaddafi mowed scores of his own formerly faithful citizens down.
What is it about Dictators that bring out the worst in them when they are threatened? What Makes Muammar’s attempted dethroning so much more difficult than the other toppled middle east regimes?
Well the thing about Dictators is that they are required to rule with an iron fist, that’s why they get to tell their citizens what to do. They don’t ask, they dictate. Dictators require detachment from empathy, a centric laser focus, belief in their own omnipotent powers, a keen understanding of the psychology of the people they lord over and yes, a tad bit of grandiose delusions. In truth the level of Narcissism required to be a stalwart dictator is by nature outside the bounds of an ordinary mind.
Qaddafi’s conundrum reminds me of Stalin and his visual explanation on the psychology of autocracy. Stalin once grabbed a live chicken during a speech on leadership and plucked it in front of an appalled audience. He then threw the chicken on the floor bloodied and squawking in pain. While the chicken fluttered around featherless, Stalin took from his pocket a few grains of corn and the outraged and inflicted chicken came up to him and ate right out of his hand.
This story tells the tale of how dictators gain support for their tyranny as much as it speaks to the mental state of the victimized supporters. On one hand autocrats get their way by exacting cruelties as a measure of threat as well as wielding power. On the other hand there are the willing, hungry and scared rank and file. Basically one cannot dictate to an indignant, individualistic and hostile populace. Tyranny requires accomplices.
It seems that people in general can be much like Stalin’s chicken, in that, you could beat them, bloody them, kill their offspring and they would still ‘love’ you enough to be loyal if you ‘feed’ them in some way. Much like an abused wife, making excuses for your tyrannical behavior and offering up innocent doorposts as the cause of her black eye.
Loyalty, it seems, is cheaply won rather than earned. Low self- esteem and a ‘poor-me’ mentality may be essential psychological ingredients in the partnership required for a successful dictatorship. What is happening to Qaddafi now is that the 40 – year waltz is out of step. And so the anatomy of a dictator also reveals the anatomy of those who would be ruled by such forces.
The Economist rightly purports that if Qaddafi’s murderous ‘cleansing’ works it will be the death knell of further revolutions sweeping across the middle east, and a return to the status quo.
As I write the Saudi Stock market is plummeting amid fears of a Tunisian-like takeover. Saudi Arabia, the land of be- headings, and lopping off left hands as well as outrageous largess, is also ruled by an oligarchy of iron fists engaged in a finely balanced minuet. The royalty offer increases in pay and improvements in perks as concessions to bridge the wide standard of living gap. Further corning of the chickens in an attempt at massaging their minds. And so the story repeats itself through time.
Call him crazy all you want Qaddafi is working a tried and true formula. In my opinion, until the ridden stand up and remove the saddle, Dictators will always have willing beasts of burden.
- Cuckoo Qaddafi: English Edition (andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com)