A dictatorial leader’s puppets and blind followers may not only lose their IQ but also their conscience.
CEO and professor Margaret Heffernan observed in Willful Blindness, “When the individual is working alone, conscience is brought into play. But when working within a hierarchy, authority replaces individual conscience.”
Just following orders
Heffernan cited the famous Stanley Milgram experiment in the 1960s.
In the Yale laboratory, students were given instructions to administer an electric shock to a man strapped to a chair. Every time the man in the chair would give a wrong answer, he would get an electric shock. The voltage would go higher every time.
Sixty-five percent of the students showed no guilt and remorse in pulling the lever up to the maximum 450 volts. They didn’t care about the victim at all. Of course, the man in the chair was just acting. But the students did not know it was just a set-up.
The experiment was repeated by different groups, even once using a puppy in the electric chair, and the conclusions were the same. Many people were willing to do bad things without guilt if they’re "just following orders." Milgram’s study explains why “yes men” can execute a dictator’s evil or unjust orders. It may enlighten us on why majorities in an assembly can be just mindless, heartless rubber stamps pretending to be legitimate.
The dictator wants 100% loyalty
If you are an autocrat’s sidekick but you are smarter than him, you may be kicked out, if not executed. Dictators are so insecure. They don’t like people who have the intelligence, or the popularity of a potential successor. Even Fidel Castro had to exile his number two, the heroic and good-looking Che Guevarra. Chinese strongman Mao Zedong sent thousands of intellectuals to labor camps. Saddam Hussein had members of his own Ba’ath party, who were intellectuals and credible professionals, shot by a firing squad.
If political allies want to stick around, to keep receiving the pork barrel and the perks, they have to surrender their IQ. They only need to repeat what the boss says which is usually stupid. So, the lapdog has the problem of being loyally stupid while pretending to be smart when speaking to the public. Or maybe they just swallow their pride and get used to lying through their teeth.
Many dictators and dictatorial bosses are narcissists. Joe Navarro was an FBI specialist assigned to cases involving people with clinical pathologies. He reported that narcissists don’t want to be contradicted. Those who disagree with them are seen as “enemies.” Navarro also described narcissists as “wound collectors.” They never forget when slighted so, they always “have an ax to grind.”
Disregarding the constitution
Corrupt regimes like accusing their critics of “violating the Constitution.” In truth, it is the bad party that actually interprets the law their way. According to Frank Dikotter, author of How to Be a Dictator: The Cult of Personality in the Twentieth Century, historical dictators did not preach ideologies in their pure form because ideologies were too vague for the masses to grasp. Instead, the dictator was the one who mattered. The law was what he said.
In recent autocracies, rulers bent the laws to suit their agenda because most politicians and judges were appointed by the dictator himself.
Abandoning the ship
When the current boss is beginning to lose the chance of longevity, maybe sick or losing popularity and influence, these hack politicians will change their pitch and chummy up to the emerging new leader. Their principles have always been flexible anyway.
Although it’s human to just follow orders, citizens expect more courage and independence from politicians because they were trusted, they were voted and they are paid with people’s taxes.
How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt
How to be A Dictator: The Cult of Personality in the Twentieth Century by Frank Dikotter
Living with the Paranoid Narcissist by Joe Navarro in the Psychology Today website
The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith
Tyrannical Minds: Psychological Profiling, Narcissism, and Dictatorship by Dean A. Haycock
Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril by Margaret Heffernan
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Robert Labayen spent 22 years in advertising prior to joining ABS-CBN in 2004. He was VP-Creative Director at Saatchi & Saatchi and Executive Creative Director at J. Walter Thompson, two of the country's leading ad agencies. He is currently the Head of Creative Communications Management at ABS-CBN. His job involves inspiring people to be their best. He is a writer, painter and songwriter.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.