Mittwoch, 31. August 2011

The Psychology of Dictatorship - Insights from Child Psychology

The people of Tunisia and of Egypt overthrew their dictators earlier this year. The civil uprising against the leadership in Libya, and similar movements in other countries, continue. The twentieth century also threw up Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Idi Amin and Pol Pot. Other regimes have caused much human suffering in Eastern Europe, Africa and South America, and many persist.This all raises broader questions. Why do we have dictatorships? Why do dictators have such loyal followers? What's the psychology?
Does the spiritual dimension throw any light on the subject? In simple terms, ‘Good' and ‘Evil' take sides against each other, with dictators and their henchmen embodying evil. The masses act as their (relatively) innocent pawns. So it goes, but this is not a full and sufficient explanation of the phenomenon.
Many dictators suffer from extraordinarily high levels of both grandiosity and paranoia. These dynamics usually go together, based on thinking as follows: "I am supreme and special. People are envious of me. I must control or destroy them before they destroy me."
During the first, ‘egocentric' stage, the everyday experience of a very young child involves standing at the centre of his or her own universe. There is a magical and omnipotent quality about this. When the child wants something to happen, it happens. When something else happens, something unwanted, the child flies into a rage... and this gets the desired result, when a parent intervenes to deliver what is wanted.
Dictators frequently behave like this, as if they are stuck in stage one, ready to rant whenever thwarted until they get their way, and then to punish without justice those chosen to take the blame.
In the second, ‘conditioning' stage, more rational, external influences take control. The child increasingly recognises his or her dependency on the goodwill and co-operation of others, seeking to follow and please those who are stronger and can ‘make things happen' for them. People stuck in this stage, anxious about their security, make good henchmen for tyrants. They feel safe and powerful doing the bidding of the one in ultimate control.
From this perspective, cruel, tyrannical and repressive dictatorships are major examples of spiritual immaturity gone wrong.
The majority of people forced to submit to brutal and intolerant regimes are those in ‘conformist' stage three, governed by the drive to belong. Those in the ‘individual' stage four; people who think independently, speaking and acting for themselves; are among those who flee repression or resist it, sometimes at great cost to themselves, their families and associates.
Dictatorships can often be recognized by the overthrowing of religion and suppression of spiritual values. The ‘Fatherland' and racial purity, or the ‘Revolution' and social equality, for example, are set as the highest ideals, however partisan and unrealistic in reality. The ‘Führer' (Hitler), ‘Party Leader' (Stalin), ‘Head of State' or ‘Generalissimo' (Mussolini) then becomes a kind of secular High Priest to the cause in each case. This too attests to the general spiritual immaturity of such types of leadership.
It is also true that leaders of religious groups and organizations have at times established intolerant, tyrannical and oppressive regimes. Here, the psychology - and relative spiritual immaturity - is the same. Truly mature spiritual leaders do not want to lead and dictate but to serve their people, and to do so fully in the people's interests and without discrimination.
Part of the merit of a spiritual interpretation of dictatorships is the possibility it offers for hope. At one level, any time our understanding of a problem is improved, it increases our options for finding wise and workable solutions. Even more hopeful is an idea that comes from the word for ‘evil' in some Middle Eastern languages (such as Aramaic, the language of Jesus). It translates not so much as ‘bad' but as ‘unripe'. Unripe, of course, is the same as ‘immature'.
The implication is that what is unripe can mature, given the right, circumstances. A bad person can be nurtured and turned around; even a dictatorship, if not replaced, can sometimes be transformed into something healthier.
The first step would be to prevent further injustice and suffering, as far as may be possible. Those who are ‘unripe', or evil, must be prevented from harming themselves further, by being prevented from harming others. This obeys the spiritual principle of ‘reciprocity', by which harming people somehow damages the destructive one, and helping people benefits the helper.
Omnipotent, ‘egocentric' stage infants grow to accept their limitations when they cannot get their way all the time, and when adults stop pandering to their whims. They are forced by nature and circumstances to mature into the ‘conditioning' stage. These children then develop further when no longer in total thrall to rigid parental guidance or external leadership.
Isolate and remove power from a tyrant and his henchmen, the general mass of people feel liberated from oppression. Each may then be encouraged to develop further, from ‘conformist' stage three towards ‘individual' stage four and beyond.
Some will have grown through the adversity of oppression, already thinking independently, taking responsibility for their thoughts and actions (perhaps as resistance workers) into ‘integration' stage five. In the aftermath of dictatorship, when order needs restoring, these more enlightened people can form the nucleus of a wiser, more compassionate leadership. Although continuing rivalry and factionalization remain very possible, this would be the ideal, and provide the best way forward for the majority.
Spiritually enlightened leadership is rare. We do well to recognize it - and emulate it - when we can. As people generally mature in terms of spiritual development, generation by generation, the powers of dictators and dictatorships will naturally wane. This is our hope for the future.

Learning from Dictatorship, a spiritual understanding of dictatorships offers hope, by Larry Culliford, Psychology Today.

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