Meditations: Texts, Traditions, And Tyrants
Texts, Traditions, and Tyrants
The Democratic Convention in the U.S. was a hoot. Not since the ancient Egyptians imbued their pharaohs with the mythic power of bulls, has a would-be leader been cloaked in such symbols conveying strength. Basic attitudes regarding leadership and followership haven’t changed much over the last 6000 years.
Leadership has two, diametrically opposed meanings. The first implies authority, conformity, and following. The second implies a forerunner, guide, and one who points the way. The old, dying human race clings to the first set of meanings; the new, emerging human being appreciates the second.
Leaders always entail followers. Whereas, to lead by example means simply to go first, and always involves the willingness to go alone if necessary.
As Brian Fagan says in “The Long Summer,” a book about how climate change affected prehistory and early human civilization, after 4000 B.C. nomads and cattle herders moved into the Nile Valley, bringing their ideas and traditions with them. Foremost of these were notions of strong bulls as leaders of the herd, which became the dominant motif of the pharaohs.
Thus basic ideas of leadership grew out of cattle cults, and a reverence for elders who had great ritual ability “to call on the supernatural world, and predict rain.” Whether part of human development or inherent in human nature, the pattern of leadership entailing followership obviously still holds sway over the vast majority of people today.
One of the core questions on which the future of the human race turns is this: will this ancient and increasingly anachronistic model of leadership continue to prevail, or will followership give way to being a light to oneself for most people?
Contrary to conventional thinking, we don’t need to worry about leaders, but followers. The idea that leaders determine the nature of a society and the policies of a government is part of the fairy tale of leadership. Actually, followers carry far more weight, and leaders step in to fill the need that their followers demand of them.
Democracy is a vacuous word because rule by the people, while a fine ideal, has almost no basis in past or present governments. Most people don’t want to do the hard work of continually educating and taking responsibility for themselves; they would rather give a man, or occasionally a woman, the authority to make decisions for them.
Therefore the idea that the masses are manipulated by “elites” simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Of course there is a great deal of manipulation by political and economic leaders, but how many people accept the truth when they hear it? Generally speaking, people not only get the leaders they deserve, the leaders they get reflect their collective desires and psychology.
Hitler filled a vacuum that had opened up in Germany in the early 1930’s, and was praised at home and abroad for his “strong leadership.” Most Germans followed him right to the bitter end. Stalin is still revered by at least a quarter of the Russian population. And in some essential respects, Saddam Hussein represented, as the Bush Administration is learning, the character of the Iraqi people. (No matter how much they blame foreign terrorists for the continued chaos, the rampant criminality in Iraq cannot be explained away, by the Right or the Left.)
As for President Bush, he embodies the hollowness and superficiality of the majority of American people. His election wasn’t a fluke; it was probably inevitable, as is his re-election unless a lot more people wake up. And though Kerry would be a quantum improvement, his “I’m John Kerry, and I’m reporting for duty” acceptance speech, with the sham salute upholding the “we’re at war” motif, displays the spurious ‘strength’ people demand. (I fear where all this disgusting nationalistic/patriotic claptrap in America during these scoundrel days will end.)
This theme of arrested human development applies in even more invidious ways to organized religion. Texts, traditions, and tyrants all go together, in both the Christian and Islamic worlds.
In exchange for psychological comfort, religious and political leaders provide answers to questions for which there are no answers, just life-long dialogues within and between people.
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The author welcomes comments.