How to Stand Up to a Dictator: The Fight for Our Future, is a new book by Maria Ressa. She is a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize because of her contributions as a journalist and change agent. Most of her book addresses dictatorial regimes in the Philippines and other countries in that region of the world. But events in those places are replicated everywhere.
The book confirms the adage that if you are not frightened by what is going on, you are not paying attention. That we all SHOULD pay attention and find ways to deal with the problem.
Ressa’s message: Democracy is fragile and modern forms of communication make it even more so.
How do human societies breed those who wish to dominate others? And, more importantly, allow them to gain power in the first place.
As an armchair student of history, I have observed how some people become dictatorial. But I do not know why. Even more mysterious is how those people can convince others to follow them even into oblivion. Or accept outrageous beliefs toward bizarre or dangerous behaviors.
How does one become an Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Benito Mussolini, or even a religious cult leader like Jim Jones? Crazed individuals, with amazingly creative minds, convince themselves their warped perceptions of reality are correct. That they have the answers necessary to overcome what they perceive as a society threatened by evil outsiders or mysterious forces permeating the universe.
Lunacy, or a warped view of the world, can be mixed with mannerisms and oratorical or writing skills that somehow make followers listen and believe. Usually, the root of the scenario is fear, allowing the potential dictator or bombastic bully the opportunity to convince others of an enemy outside their doors. That they will be consumed by that alien force if they do not believe the warnings. And they must support the self-proclaimed leader in a campaign to defeat the evil at their doorstep.
That scenario is replayed over and over. Adolph Hitler is probably the prime archetype of that image.
Hitler wrote a book, Mien Kompf, which was influential among certain followers. But his real friend was the medium of radio. Even movies of that era. Broadcasting to people convinced they were victims of a world that made them military losers in World War I. That their economy was crashing because of an economic depression. Made worse by reparation payments to war victors. An imagined Jewish conspiracy that created an economic system in which Jews prospered and everyone else was deprived.
Hitler succeeded in taking Germany to the heights of nationalistic chauvinism — word now more commonly used to describe the attitudes of some men toward women. “Feelings of superiority,” which occurs in both social and political realms. It is difficult to think of a woman dictator, although some queens were known to be ambitious and vicious.
But the penchant for dominating others through use of skullduggery or excessive assertiveness is fundamentally a male trait. An overwhelming need to dominate in order to feel respected and worthy.
Advocacy of Democratic Discourse and Resultant Actions Must Be Vigorous and Ongoing
We have all met someone who, in a smaller universe than a nation, strives to dominate through conniving and self-serving machinations. As in a company office, military unit, or an institution such as a school or church. People who gain an advantage through superficial charm, deferential performances, or talking the right kind of talk. Making assertions that make them appear more astute than they really are. Offering solutions to problems that seem clear and straightforward. Even if they are not.
They weave their way through a bureaucracy or chain of command using a combination of crafty observations and witticisms. Building alliances as they go. Making sure the most important alliances are with those in positions to help them later as they seek more responsibility and authority.
Typically, control is important. More to dominate than to serve. More to dictate than to collaborate.
When such individuals achieve their coveted position in an organization, their kind of control can be exercised. Through intimidation, manipulation, even ruthlessness. Only measured or refined enough to ensure the good opinions of those superior in rank or position.
Some organizations are tolerant of that behavior. Some encourage it. Some even maintain a culture that ensures its continuance.
For-profit companies and governmental organizations can either encourage it or maintain a culture that supports it.
Early in my various work experiences I decided to avoid being a victim of those who arbitrarily dictated and controlled subordinates. Even as a church member I thought for myself. Disputed those who had a stricter interpretation of what it is to be a Christian. Or a member of a particular denomination. They could think of me as they wished, which was not always kind. But they respected me for having a well thought out and scripturally valid perspective.
I could advocate a different perspective and why it was important to me AND the organization to which I belonged. Whining or complaining was never part of my strategy.
As an army officer I appreciated superior officers who explained the logic of a decision. And I questioned those who did not. Those I commanded were always consulted as to their opinions. Obviously, once a decision was made in either case, it was followed.
It is likely that approach would not have worked as a member of the Mafia. Mob bosses make offers that cannot be refused. Some politicians do the same once they acquire power and privilege. Unfortunately, the same is true in some organizations. Even those associated with religions.
Advocacy against tyranny must be based on something more than a call for freedom. Freedom itself is based on disciplined behavior. Not driven by those who attempt to impose their will on us. But fashioned in the belief that all human beings deserve dignity and the right to pursue happiness.
The pursuit of happiness is only possible when unconditional love prevails, founded on a full understanding of other cultures and beliefs. And advocating the creation and sustaining of all systems that strive to make love happen.
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