Part 5: Some German Guy and a Pig
Well, as you guys have already guessed, the theme for this is A. Adventure Time, Alternate Tracks (which was originally Thomas Aquinas, but my test audience responded better to the pop psychiatry), Abraham Lincoln, Atreides, etc. I’m sure you probably figured that the “bad leader” entry was going to be Woody Allen. But, I’m going to go in a completely unexpected direction for examples of bad leaders with Adolf Hitler and Animal Farm. Shocking, I know.
I’m gonna assume you have some idea who Hitler is, since this is the internet and he comes up six times per comment section. Here’s a video of him rapping against Darth Vader, in lieu of an actual description.
Alright, I’m going to state this upfront: I do not support any of Hitler’s political decisions, particularly regarding race or international relations. Apparently, that’s a more controversial stance to take nowadays, but I’m going to take it anyway. Call me a hero if you must.
But, let’s take a step back and ask the question: How the hell did someone like him get in power? It can’t JUST be that most Germans were racist and anti-Semitic, right? It can’t JUST be that the Milgram Experiment was right and the majority of people would follow orders to kill someone if prompted hard enough, right? It can’t JUST be that people aren’t willing to risk their lives to fight tyranny, right? Well, no, it’s not JUST any of those things, but it’s a little bit of all of those things. But, mostly, it’s that Hitler and the Nazi Party knew how to get people off their asses: Confidently appeal to their absolute worst impulses and promise rapid results in exchange for simple actions.
I shouldn’t have to say this, because you know it’s true, but people like confidence in their leaders and they’re more likely to follow confident people. This makes sense, because we want to follow someone who knows what they’re doing, and, on simple matters, that’s usually what confidence indicates. After all, you don’t want the person telling you how to get through the desert to go “I’m like 65% confident I know what I’m doing.” Unfortunately, on more nebulous and multidisciplinary matters, like, say, ALL THE SHIT RELATED TO RUNNING A GOVERNMENT, having confidence in an action is more likely to be an indicator that the person either A) has too little of an idea of how a government works to realize that they don’t understand it or B) has simplified it back to a more tribal model of government where things like “civil rights” or “international relations” aren’t of any real concern. Or both.
Also, people like simplicity. It’s hard to grasp someone’s cost-benefit analysis of applying a 5% tariff on aluminum imports from Canada over the various projections of the national industry needs over the next fifteen years. It’s pretty easy to grasp “if you kill these people who we’re telling you are super bad anyway, you can take over their property and businesses.” I’m not saying this is similar to why the Kardashians have so many shows, but it’s why we have all of them except Khloe and Lamar.
And, the last, possibly worst, thing, is that a lot of people are willing to give into their worst impulses when absolved from responsibility. Now, there’s a good news/bad news on this one. The good news is that the famous 65% number reported by the Milgram Experiment is based on bad reporting. The bad news is that, based on follow-up experiments and data analysis, it’s about 30%. Yes, that’s right, about 1 out of every 3 people were willing to seriously injure or kill someone if they thought they weren’t going to be held responsible for it. This 30% is actually pretty consistent among most forms of harmful behavior, from failing to return a found wallet to internet trolling. The key is that they aren’t going to be held accountable for it, whether through anonymity or through having a higher party state it’s okay.
All three of these things culminated in the Nazi Party’s biggest political victory, in the German July Election of 1932, where they won a commanding… 37%. And a decent percentage of those voters appear to just have hated the existing Weimar government and voted for any form of “change.” The Nazis then LOST 35 seats in the November elections. After physically forcing other candidates to withdraw, in March 1933, they still only had 43% of the Reichstag. And yet, in 1933, despite only having 30% of the Reichstag, the Nazi Party, through a combination of threats and, ultimately false, promises, got 67% of the vote and passed the Enabling Act, permitting Adolf to essentially ignore the German Constitution and, shortly thereafter, ban all other political parties. Then, people who spoke out against this were violently silenced during the Night of the Long Knives, and we ended up with a Holocaust and a World War, too. So, yeah when Hitler assumed power, the government was basically was 1/3 strongly for Hitler, 1/3 strongly against, and 1/3 able to be coerced. Hell, in 1940, after all of the victories of the Nazis in their conquest, only about 35% of adults in Germany actively joined the party. Yet, most of the country went along with it while the Nazis attempted to literally overthrow the world (along with Japan and, to a lesser extent, Italy) and eradicate several other ethnic groups. And it’s not like it was really something people saw coming, either:
It is a hopeless misjudgement [sic] to think that one could force a dictatorial regime upon the German nation. […] The diversity of the German people calls for democracy. – Theodor Wolff in Frankfurter Zeitung, Jan 1933 (2 months before official dictatorship).
But, it’s possible that there are too many factors feeding into what allowed Hitler to come into power. Thankfully, fiction gives us simpler models, and George Orwell gave us one of the most elegant examples of rising dictatorship in Animal Farm.
Alright, it’s no secret that Animal Farm is basically just the rise of Stalin, but for those of you who didn’t have to read it in high school, here’s the Grouch’s Notes version:
Farm has animals. Animals hear speech by old pig about how animals need to one day not be slaves. Old pig dies. Farmer gets drunk. Animals take over farm and drive off farmer. Animals set up government stressing equality. Literate pigs start to take over government and establish principles of equality. One pig, Snowball, tries to improve the lives of the workers by modernizing the farm. He is driven off by another pig, Napoleon, who takes over as leader. Napoleon slowly revises the history of the farm to make himself seem like a hero, kills all of the people who he suspects of not supporting him, incompetently tries to adapt the plan of modernizing the farm, then ultimately becomes indistinguishable from the original farmer. Also, there are some sheep that chant blind support of Napoleon in order to drown out any opposition, a small pig that uses nonsensical phrases to confuse anyone who questions the illogical decisions of the leadership, and probably some metaphor for the Treaty of Rapallo.
How does Sta- sorry, Napoleon, take power? Well, his path is a little different, since someone else had already consolidated power through creating a pro-worker ideology and leading a revolution. In this case, it was Snowball, who did apparently actually believe in what he was doing. Snowball’s leadership even led to improvements in the welfare of the animals and had aims to advance the long-term capabilities of the farm. Napoleon then used violence to remove Snowball and insert himself in Snowball’s place and a combination of public violence, claims of outside threats, and overwhelming media control (the sheep) to ensure that no one can organize to do to him what he did to Snowball.
Napoleon’s leadership is pretty much portrayed as irredeemably bad. He does not care for almost any of his citizens, including the sheep that blindly support him, the dogs that protect him, the hens that make the eggs the farm uses, or even Boxer, the horse that dedicates his life to working for the animals. All of his decisions are only for the benefit of himself and his close circle of pigs, despite the fact that he is promising that all benefits will go to all animals. Slowly, he re-writes all of the laws of the farm, allowing himself more and more power until, ultimately, the only law is that “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others,” which means that he now has assumed full unchecked rule over the “lesser” animals.
Now, this is a little different than Hitler, although their power ultimately derives from the same process: First, from promising to grant benefits to a large group of people, which a smaller percentage of people believe strongly; then, when they don’t grant the benefits, claiming that they “absolutely would grant those benefits, but ‘they’ keep stopping it from happening;” then by saying “I can stop ‘them’ if you give me more power;” then by claiming that it’s proper for the people to make sacrifices of those benefits in the name of supporting the leadership; then by just flat-out terrorizing or murdering the dissenting population to cement power.
Okay, so what do these two examples have to do with leadership? Well, this is what happens when you make the first qualifications of leadership “persuasive and confident:” People will latch onto it on an emotional level. Hell, just watch Triumph of the Will or a good performance of Antony’s speech in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and you’ll get why it was so effective. Emotional drives are stronger than rational ones, and more prone to driving people to less sophisticated responses, like violence. A great example is of the crowd in Julius Caesar after Antony’s speech: They want vengeance for Caesar’s murder so badly that they murder a poet named Cinna because he has the same name as Cinna the conspirator. When Cinna points out that he didn’t kill Caesar, the crowd kills him for “bad verses.”
Adolf and Napoleon both used emotional, not rational, manipulations to get support. Rationally, nothing they proposed during their reigns should ever have been supported, since it was not just crazy, but openly was only benefiting a small percentage of the population composed of their friends. This isn’t to say that Adolf didn’t reduce unemployment (largely through murdering people and allowing the unemployed to take their jobs) or that Napoleon didn’t increase the crop yields (by killing anyone that messed them up), but the primary benefits of their rule never actually went to the people they were promised to. Bad leadership is always to the benefit of the few, not the many.
So, how do you pick a good leader? Well, come back tomorrow.
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