“Don’t you see? We don’t have to run away anymore! I am more powerful than the Chancellor, I… I can overthrow him! And together, you and I can rule the galaxy! Make things the way we want them to be!” – Anakin Skywalker “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith”.
There is a saying that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Think of the number of Dictators in history who have ascended to absolute power through the power of the people and ultimately bought nothing but war, hardship and death. The most well known despots and dictators came from humble beginnings. Saddam Hussein was born to a family of shepherds from a Village near Tikrit. Hitler was born in a modest household in rural Austria and as a young man fought his Father constantly over his dreams to become an artist. Stalin lived in an impoverished household, his father an alcoholic cobbler.
In Star Wars, Anakin Skywalker was born in to slavery and remained in bondage until he was taken by Qui-Gon Jinn and bought to Coruscant to train as a Jedi. What marks each of these personalities is a burning passion to control and to shape not only their destiny but the destiny of those around them. At the root of that Passion was a deep seated Fear.
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” – Lord Acton
People respond to power as they respond to fear. As a species we are social animals who gravitate to strong leaders who advance the needs of the group. Leaders are often selected for their qualities such as hard work, dedication, compassion and loyalty, their ability to derive the best out of the group. Leaders also rise to power through cunning, subterfuge and ruthlessness, they promise people what they want and say the right things, they remove obstacles one by one. The manner in which some of the most vile Dictators ascended to power reflects their temperament and self will.
“Power is always dangerous. Power attracts the worst and corrupts the best” – Edward Abbey
The tendency to put one’s own needs above others regardless of the consequences is the hallmark of a narcissist. Where the person is able to satisfy their needs at great expense to others and do so with impunity and without regard to that suffering is the markings of a psychopath. They do not know empathy, though they pretend to. The similarity between both personality types is that these individuals may appear outwardly normal and even successful in business, government, political or military service. They only care for themselves and their own desires though they may convince others, including loved one’s, of the opposite. They can be charming, funny, intelligent and sharp as a knife and yet within them resides something so compellingly dark and cold that it shudders the very soul. Give them absolute power and they will embrace it like a Bride taken to the grave.
“Nearly all mean can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character give him power” – Lincoln
The illusion of Control
Alcoholics have some things in common, in abuse priorities are skewed. Getting “tight” usually comes before most other affairs in order of priority and if it doesn’t we are usually working on the next opportunity. Where booze is considered we tend to have a complete lack of consideration for the needs of others. This can be painful to realize and we may deny it but then we remember the number of times we failed to make commitments to our families and friends when alcohol became involved. We spent our time and money on booze when it should have been for the family.
We tend to get hostile to those who suggest we might have a problem and when drunk we could resort to violence if the supply was cut off. When it seemed that others were trying to intervene or impede our drinking we became paranoid. We were certain people spoke bad things about us and plotted behind our backs, we became paranoid. We concealed our booze and drunk in hiding. Lying became second nature. Attempts were made to control people, place and things, we had to run the show and bend others to our will. When they failed to comply we became dark and sometimes we did and said things we later regretted.
“Dance with the Devil and she will never let you go” – Sicilian Saying
Paranoia, narcissism bordering on psychopathic tendencies and rampant self obsession seems to describe some of the behaviors we exhibited. Sort of sounds a bit like a Dictator doesn’t it? I can imagine that our loved ones and Friends did not like that side of us and suffered as a result of our excesses.
Being sane and normal to the extent where we stop acting like a complete “POS” requires a fairly significant deflation of the Ego. All of the characters listed above went out true to character. Their Ego’s refused to accept the truth. Saddam was never humbled in his cell and was defiant to his last breath as he was hung by a cheering crowd of sectarian rivals. Hitler as mad as ever ordered his people to lay down their lives for him before he took the cowards way instead of defending Berlin. Choosing suicide Hitler took a capsule of cyanide and blew his brains out. Stalin died believing Russia loved him yet he was hated and feared to such an extent Khrushchev removed all effigies and statues of him.
In a symbol of a descent in to a person spiritual hell, Anakin burned in terrible agony on the lava flows of Mustafa as Obi-Wan looked on in pity and despair. As he burned and clung on to life, the hatred consumed him utterly. Anakin was finally redeemed by Luke in an act which symbolized the power of forgiveness and Love.
Those that recover after hitting “Rock Bottom” know the power of redemption, forgiveness and Love. That power saved over lives and restored us to sanity and health. Through forgiveness, humility, empathy, honesty and Love we become Powerfully Recovered.
The Power of Love
I was in South Africa in 1994 and witnessed one of the most extraordinary events in modern times. This was the first free and fair election in South Africa’s history. On April 27 the Nation voted in the first Black President in a country that had been staunchly Apartheid only four years before. I was there because I thought the country would “Balkanize” and erupt in to bloodshed, tribal fighting and war. I wanted to take photos and see what happened. There was no way war was not going to happen as “TIA-This is Africa”.
Many of the people I spoke to feared that Mandela would bring a Dictatorship to South Africa far worse than White Rule. Would he take his revenge for the extra-judicial murders, the brutal police and Army actions and his 27 year prison sentence? Would he confiscate property and return land to dispossessed tribes and kick out the whites? No one was sure what he would do, thousands of people left the country fearing the worst.
Civil War seemed certain. The tension and fear in South Africa was palpable and everyone braced for the coming storm though many dared to hope. Then the most amazing thing happened on April 28…absolutely nothing. That morning the sun rose to a new flag and a new Democracy, there were no sirens or gun shots or smoke. In my hotel room I could hear birds singing and children laughing outside. As I lay on a bed in a cheap hotel room in downtown Durban, my throat parched and mind in torment from another hangover, I lit a cigarette and realized; this was the sound of Peace. I was a bit shocked and confused, not knowing what to do next.
Truth and Reconciliation
Mandela later opened the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and all of the crimes and atrocities that had been committed by all sides during the decades of Apartheid were laid bare. No one was thrown in prison and everyone was pardoned of their crimes. The only condition was complete and rigorous honesty. With the truth out, people were able to grieve, forgive and embrace and move on. Everyone had been a victim and the scars ran deep but there was a dream that the country could live as one, no longer divided along the lines of race and ethnicity.
This is why Mandela is seen as one of the greatest leaders in History. It was not a strong masculine presence or a commanding voice and great speeches that marked him as a great leader. It was his presence and his actions. Mandela had a calming effect on people and a kind word for all. Bafana had a deep love for his country, compassion for all its people and the ability to forgive and embrace those who had tortured and jailed him. Africa is full of tragic stories, South Africa was at last a shining beacon of hope in a troubled world.
“Each of us is as intimately attached to the soil of this beautiful country as are the famous jacaranda trees of Pretoria and the mimosa trees of the bushveld – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world” – Nelson Mandela
Power can corrupt those that desire it above all else. Power can also be used for the good of all. Marcus Aurelius was a Stoic first and the Emperor of Rome second, he considered all people in and outside the Empire to be fellow citizens of the world. Power was a responsibility, not an entitlement or excuse for abuse.
Aurelius believed that it was in the nature of all humans from the lowly peasant, to soldier to the Emperor to work together for the common good. That an Emperor should first serve the people and protect them. It is irony that his son Commodus would end up being one of the most despotic and violent Dictators since Nero and ultimately precipitate the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire.
Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Leaders like Mandela and Marcus Aurelius remind us that Power can also be based on Love. One can still be powerful, caring and humble at the same time.