Does the Exercise of Power Reinforce Psychopathologies?

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The tendency of power to obscure reality has been noted in the past. Neal Gabler in 2004 wrote “All politicians operate within an Orwellian nimbus where words don’t mean what they normally mean, but Rovism posits that there is no objective, verifiable reality at all. Reality is what you say it is, …” What does this imply?

Given that exercising political leadership from a position of centralized power fashions realities, does this tend to reinforce the psychopathologies of leaders? In other words, don’t leaders become drunk with power? Don’t they become corrupted by the power? Don’t arrogance and hubris take over their behavior? Don’t they receive positive reinforcement from seeing their power to move masses and events? Doesn’t this reinforcement amplify their ambitions? These are all implications, and these are also ideas that have been aired before. They are becoming better and better known as descriptively accurate because we are seeing more and more examples daily. We see this effect of centralized power not only at the national level but also in the behavior of police locally. We see it in the strange ambitions of the NSA to mop up every conversation ever made in any medium.

The persons wielding power become separated from objective reality, and that itself is virtually a definition of a psychopathology or a disorder of the mind. Subjectivity conquers objectivity. To guard against this tendency, a political leader should be exposed to many viewpoints backed up by cogent analysis. He (or she) should not be surrounded by yes-men (or yes-women) who merely mirror his own views and reflect them back to him. Stalin was known for purging anyone around him who disagreed with him. Hitler refused to hear opinions that differed from his own. They structured their office so as to enhance their own psychopathologies.

As U.S. presidents become more and more surrounded by a closed circle of advisers, or a compliant press with bland editorials, or news reports in the media that reflect their own press briefings, or controlled town meetings where views contrary to their own are vetted, or motorcades and conferences where protests are carefully vetted or hidden from view, they too amplify the tendency to separate themselves from reality and live in a world of their own making. In the Bush administration, the White House began to manufacture its own intelligence reports so as to justify attacking Iraq. The White House lawyers create their own judicial and legal interpretations so as to give the presidents what they want as justifications for their wars, their torture, their assassinations, their anti-constitutional activities, and their executive orders. The heads of state tend to restrict their conversations to closed groups and each other.

A follow-on dangerous effect is that the leaders not only separate themselves from exposure to contrary views or to objective reality, but also they reinforce their beliefs in what they view as reality. They believe their own propaganda. They then feel even more embattled when contrary opinions are expressed to them. They rationalize by assessing their opponents and the public as ill-informed or irrational.

To counteract this tendency to be divorced from reality, a group of ex-intelligence officers has taken to writing open letters to politicians. They recently sent a letter to Angela Merkel that’s well worth reading. It is immediately clear that they are complaining about matters held to be factual that are not supported by reality or actual facts:

“You need to know, for example, that accusations of a major Russian ‘invasion’ of Ukraine appear not to be supported by reliable intelligence. Rather, the ‘intelligence’ seems to be of the same dubious, politically ‘fixed’ kind used 12 years ago to ‘justify’ the U.S.-led attack on Iraq. We saw no credible evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq then; we see no credible evidence of a Russian invasion now.”

Why would they feel the need to write such a letter if they had not observed the phenomena I am describing?

An observant independent person who reads and thinks about such matters will not be taken in by the realities (or spins) being proffered by politicians, but most people don’t have the time or the interest to do this.

If the above theory fits the facts, there is an important corollary. The politician will find that obscuring the truth and shaping reality and public beliefs is easier (lower cost to him) when the situation involved is more complex, when the public and media know less about it, when it cannot be easily observed by the public, and when he has better control over the flow of information

An overseas war meets these conditions. Global warming fills the bill, until there is a series of cold winters. Complex financial matters fill the bill. A complex health insurance scheme fills the bill until some people experience its high costs. The medical benefits of some remedy will be hard for the public to see and assess. The leaders of a government will choose areas of control partly on the basis of their capacity to paint the picture that enhances them and their powers, and that will be in areas of greatest complexity and opaqueness to the public in which these leaders will have a greater opportunity to shape the reality as they see fit.

11:38 am on September 4, 2014