Monday, August 17, 2015

The Rise of the Sour Cream, Part 5

[This is the fifth part of a continuing series, excerpting Chapter 22 of my book, Freedom or Serfdom.]

Paving the Way for Tyranny

In the latter part of the 1980s Nancy Foner studied nursing homes by volunteering in a non-profit home regarded as above average. She noted two nursing aides, Gloria and Ana. Gloria was mean and abusive to the residents. She would yell at them, order them to eat, and even went so far as to leave an immobile resident in an awkward and precarious position, supposedly as a joke. Another aide intervened and prevented a possible fall. Ana, on the other hand, was kind. She called one resident “Mama” and gently coaxed her to eat.  She applied makeup to a resident who was unable to move her arms, and showed other kindnesses to those elderly residents.

It is obvious which care-giver most of us would prefer, but what did the nursing home administration do? Gloria was highly regarded and even put in charge when the supervising nurses were away. Ana? She was constantly in trouble, reprimanded for taking the time to be kind to the residents. Ana failed to meet bureaucratic regulations while Gloria complied to the letter.[1]

That, on a small scale, demonstrates how bureaucratic rules give advantage to the heartless and punish people for kindness and personal integrity. Government unrestrained lives by those bureaucratic rules and provides a similar advantage to heartless power-seekers. They are the people willing and able to manipulate the system for their own advantage.

Personality Problems

What kind of person is attracted to politics or other positions of power, and has what it takes to obtain that power? Be it a candidate for high school class secretary, president of the United States, or prime minister of some socialist country, what is that person like? Most likely he is an extrovert. He thrives on attention, and people are attracted to him. The contemplative, less extroverted type is easy to overlook – and much less likely to seek public office. That biases elections toward the extroverts, the back-slappers, the charismatic. They get people excited – but then what? Are such people the best leaders? Allow me to tell you about one of them.

I stood at ease with the other soldiers, enthralled as the commandant of the jump school spoke. One of the most effective teachers I ever had the pleasure to meet, he not only helped us learn the techniques of parachute jumping, he motivated us to jump out of perfectly good airplanes, a thousand feet above the ground. His charisma was amazingly effective, both as a teacher and as a motivator. Because of that charisma he never got another promotion.

In a previous assignment he commanded a brigade of paratroopers. The wind was blowing, hard enough that regulations prohibited airborne operations. You can guess where this is going. Yes, he got his troops fired up. They were tough paratroopers; a little wind wouldn't bother them. Let the wimps follow that silly rule. Out of the C-130s they went – two of them to their deaths. His charisma, unrestrained by wisdom, was dangerous as long as he was commanding officer.

Charisma can be a problem. Timothy Judge of the University of Florida business school says that being an extrovert is correlated with being chosen as a leader, but not with being a good leader. “We go for these effervescent leaders when what's really needed is a dull, focused, plodding [type] building effective groups and organizations.”[2] Leadership requires two distinct but unrelated abilities. First and most important, the leader must make wise decisions. Second, he must motivate people to act on those decisions. Motivation without wisdom only leads people to Hell faster. It is the demagogue, the potential tyrant, who is most likely to motivate without wisdom.

 Charisma attracts votes. It also causes people to act without thinking. Extroverts are the people likely to win elections, but not the most likely to make good decisions. The only possible solution is for voters to pay more attention to substance and less to image.

Beyond Personality
There are two opposite reasons for [supporting democracy]. You may think that all men are so good that they deserve a share in the government of the commonwealth, and so wise that the commonwealth needs their advice... On the other hand you may believe fallen men to be so wicked that not one of them can be trusted with any irresponsible power over his fellows. (C.S. Lewis)

Charisma alone does not a successful politician or tyrant make. The life of the party, the guy who entertains co-workers, the neighbor who enthralls us with his stories, all spice up our lives without seeking office. Political power requires something more. Not every charismatic wants political office, and even many who have such desires lack the requisite drive. The people who obtain that kind of power pay a price to get it.
Be it a democracy or a dictatorship, advancement requires determined effort, including acquisition and organization of supporters. In a democracy, those supporters are voters and the campaign workers who convince those voters. In a dictatorship supporters must be those already in power, or people with the ability, often military ability, to overthrow those in power. In either system, competitors must be removed or rendered powerless. Only the most able and determined reach the top. That ability and determination can be used either to advance freedom or to enslave the people.

Who has the motivation, the drive, to make that effort? Only those most committed to their goals. Some of course want to help others. Some want power. Some are worse than others but all have a tendency to run roughshod over competition to reach their goals. 
Next time we shall discuss the worst of the worst in government rulers, the “cream” that is not only sour, it is downright poisonous.

[1]      Howard, op cit, pp78-79

[2]      U.S. News and World Report, November 2009, p26

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