“A state, is called the coldest of all cold monsters. Coldly lieth it also; and this lie creepeth from its mouth: “I, the state, am the people.” … Where there is still a people, there the state is not understood, but hated as the evil eye, and as sin against laws and customs.”
— Nietzsche – Thus Spoke Zarathustra
Ever been exasperated by the good king – bad advisers fallacy? Ever tried to get someone to examine an idea from his own, individual perspective – not just from that of the country/society/leader?
Losing one’s own perspective and adopting that of the strong is another painfully frequent symptom of unfreedom. It is customary to discuss politics from the viewpoint of the country, or its leaders – as if we were kings moving peasants on a strategy chessboard. Except, we are those peasants.
And this innocent-looking thinking habit casts a long shadow on our political behavior. Its symptoms are plenty:
Helplessness explains why authoritarian followers are so bad at adopting their own point of view: it is uncomfortable. While adopting that of the leader is not risky and promises the illusion of control.
By blending our individual viewpoint with that of our leaders, we can end up actively supporting moves that reduce our own freedoms – in order to save time and effort to the leader. We call it the national interest. We subconsciously try to make things more manageable for an imaginary leader. This is probably also the reason why the central planning approach is so appealing to people’s minds.
By adopting the leader’s viewpoint, we also enable ourselves by proxy. We think from the perspective of power – which feels infinitely better than admitting our limited means and lack of individual control. If we could somehow steer the will of the powerful in the direction we want them to go – either by prayer or by showing unilateral support – we would feel better. If not, we can change our minds to want what he does.
We can also choose to focus on how hard it must be to protect us from all those fearsome threats and emergencies. We can lose ourselves in the difficulty of his task, which is an excellent excuse to ignore the moral implications, as we have seen in the Milgram-experiments. We can project the same excuse to the leader and fixate on how hard it must be to boss around all those peasants – like ourselves.
We dwell on how he shouldn’t have been provoked – rather than denouncing the aggression he commits. We end up genuinely hating those pesky and unreasonable activists, who demand transparency and human rights (to help criminals, who else), because it is extra work for our leader. Effectiveness will trump liberty and the desire to control others (by the proxy of the leader) beats the desire for (own) freedom.
Under an authoritarian regime taking one’s own, individual perspective is risky, as well as painful. It reminds of the lack of control. Utilitarianism and other forms of collectivisms (adopting the viewpoint of the community or the country and defending its perceived interests) thus overtake individual perspectives, and we end up in a system that serves only its own continuation. Authoritarians will trade individual freedom for collective freedom any time, giving rise to class-based, ethnic, and national “independence”, rights and interests. No individual in sight.
Taking the viewpoint of the stronger is also safe. Just as a hostage doesn’t even look for blame in the aggressor, oppressed societies direct their wrath against those, who can be safely blamed: other victims of oppression, designated scapegoats, each other, civil society, or outside forces.
This kind of bonding also erodes accountability of the leader because it is not subject to any kind of utility calculation – the same way the kidnapper doesn’t have to do anything nice to earn the victim’s gratitude.
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