Light things float and heavy things sink
After Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu came to power in 1965, he called himself "The Genius of the Carpathians". He had even made a sceptre for himself, which prompted Spanish painter Salvador Dali to personally send a telegram to him mocking the said sceptre. Little that the deluded Ceausescu understood the concept of satire, he had Dali's letter published on the front page of the newspaper. A dictator is a ruler, who is ruled by his delusional mind.
The delusion works both ways. The deluded ruler deludes his sycophants, who further reinforce that disorder in him. A minister of the Haryana state in India said last week that Narendra Modi is a better brand than Mahatma Gandhi. The zealous minister even went as far as saying that Gandhi's picture would soon be removed from the bank notes. What he left unsaid is that Modi's photo will fill that space.
Every ruler is a performer, who draws inspiration from his audience. And, those who surround him form the first line of applause. In the first press conference of US president-elect Donald Trump held on January12, his supporters and staff clapped every time they deemed their man had responded to a media question with supposed vengeance. Flattery is a given in a despotic regime like laughter track is in a recorded comedy show.
And this delusion devalues everything amid raging inflation. All standards but the standard of blandishment are lowered, magnifying the power and persona of a ruler beyond and above his human condition. The ruler also returns the favour with equal amount of exaggeration.
One example is Chinese leader Mao Zedong, who had arbitrarily declared a completely unremarkable soldier named Lei Feng as the nation's greatest hero. Feng had died in an unremarkable fashion after being hit by a telephone pole. But staged photos depicted him doing good deeds, and stories of his heroics were inserted into textbooks. A diary belonging to Lei was supposedly found after his death and it contained nothing but flowery praises for Mao.
The danger of this mutual fawning is that everything in a country gets diluted. Focused on one particular individual, all the attention flows to and from that same individual. Those who elevate this individual also gets elevated themselves, all postings, awards, rewards and commendations evolving like a shuttle going back and forth in a loom. It relentlessly weaves the warp of self-interests in the weft of opportunities.
This weaving process destroys institutions like termites eat wood. Titles are tilted, dishonourables are showered with honours, appointments in key jobs are disappointing, and recognitions are reprehensive, because everything smacks of foul play. What comes out of this putrid culture is the despair that a flunky is hiding behind every accomplished person.
This disturbing decadence percolates through every layer of a society, resulting in the singular process of sucking up to the higher authority. And every achievement is inlaid with suspicion, because it depends more on truckling than talent. The country produces body counts of award winners and title holders in the same manner mannequins represent humans in a store window.
Which fires off a chain reaction of impositions. The ruler imposes himself on his lackeys, who impose themselves on their coteries, who impose themselves on their votaries. It spreads subservience far and wide into the entire population of the country with the ripple effect. That's the genesis of cult following, which paralyses an entire nation under the widening gyre of gracious ingratiation.
More times than not, ingratiation usurps common sense and wellbeing. The soothsayers once advised Burmese dictator Ne Win to change the currency into denominations of 15, 30, and 90, so that he could live to be over 90 years old. He immediately decreed that the older, "unlucky" denominations would cease to be legal tenders. Most Burmese hiding their cash in biscuit tins, the entire country lost its savings overnight. Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha had forbidden the ownership of colour televisions and typewriters all the way until the 1980s, because they were a distraction from the true Albanian way of life: communism. He had even banned beards.
In Greek tragedy, character is fate. If a nation builds its strength on puffery, it diminishes its people every time they draw breath. It creates a make-believe world where absurd begets absurd, erosion of standard taken as a standard unto itself. Delusion runs wild, while the nation ignores the wheat and concentrates on the chaff.
Water always freezes from top to bottom. That's also how bootlicking pervades people. The top is frozen first before it reaches the bottom .One more thing to learn from water is how the highest minds rise from the lowest, not by dint of merit but servile interests. One has to observe water to understand that dynamics. Light things float and heavy things sink.
The writer is the Editor of weekly First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star. E-mail: email@example.com