September 1, 1996 -- Vol.1, no.2
This public lecture was presented in St. Petersburg, Russia, in February 1995.Good Evening, I am glad to see all of you here. Dostoyevsky said in "Notes from the Underground" that "Petersburg [was] the most theoretical and intentional town on the whole terrestrial globe". So I am here tonight to share my theory about how men control one another and thereby limit each others freedom. And my intention and hope is to get you to figure out how to apply what I have said, that is, that this talk will give you some tools you can use to get, and keep your freedom.
The American humorist Mark Twain, once said: "It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either" (Following the Equator, Chapter 20. Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar). And the English writer George Orwell once said: "Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows. So, permit me share my equation with you tonight.
The questions are: "Why do people join political, religious, professional, or social movements, of whatever size, and surrender so completely, giving up, in the extreme, everything; their fortunes, their, critical thinking, their political freedom, their friends, families, even their own lives? What causes people to create a system or perhaps merely follow a system that creates Auschwitz, the Lubianka, the killing fields of Cambodia or that conjures a constricted and stilted art described by one of your great writers: Andrei Sinyavsky, in his essay "On Socialist Realism". As Milosz said in his introduction to the re-published version: "That anyone who opposes this system of aesthetics is committing a political offense might appear fantastic. But unfortunately, socrealism is not merely a question of taste. It is a philosophy too, and the cornerstone of official doctrine worked out in Stalin's days. Socrealism is responsible for the deaths of millions of men and women, for it is based in the glorification of the state by the writer and the artist, whose task it is to portray the state as the greatest good, and to scorn the sufferings of the individual." And Sinyavsky himself asks: "Can there be a socialist, capitalist, Christian, or Mohammedan realism?" And my answer is, yes, of course. It is a human effort at control and control of that type comes from what is common to all of us, fear. It transcends all boundaries, nationalities, religions and cultures. So my first answer to the question "why do people join these types of movements" is fear. We are all human and we are, all of us, afraid of something.
Autocracy is derived in fear. Autocracies use this in order to impose their view of reality, their particular version of the Truth, with a capital T. The object is control over more and more followers; ultimately, control over everyone. Either one follows or one is eliminated. They swallow large numbers of people, if their ambitions are realized, in proselytizing campaigns designed to play on these common fears. And they claim to be able to rescue people from their fear, to make them feel safe and secure. They claim to know of what people are afraid of, and to know what to do about it.
Polarization and overzealous fundamentalisms, whether religious, political, social, right, left, radical or reactionary, psychoanalytic or humanistic, scientific or spiritual, have gripped us with a particular intensity. Today we are faced with serious challenges to what Jacob Bronowski called "The Ascent of Man": "Knowledge is not a loose-leaf notebook of facts. Above all it is a responsibility for the integrity of what we are, primarily of what we are as ethical creatures. You cannot possibly maintain that informed integrity if you let other people run the world for you while you yourself continue to live out of a rag-bag of morals that come from past beliefs".
How do leaders and followers form a movement that eventually oppresses others and what is the relationship between them? The concept of existential life positions is helpful here. All of us relate inside ourselves and outside ourselves, that is, ourselves and others or, I and you. We decide, sometimes fairly early in life, what we think of ourselves and what we think of others. This reveals four possibilities. Either I like myself and I don't like you (+, -), or I don't like myself and I don't like you (-, -), or I like both of us (+, +), or I don't like myself and I like you (-, +). One position tends to become fixed and in times of stress we revert to it. Being locked into relating in ways other than the (+, +) is a symbiosis, or limiting mutualism, that restricts possibilities of action physically, socially or psychologically. So that two people might relate to each other from opposite positions (+,-) and (-,+). Each from his own position needs the other to relate in this specific way. This establishes the basis for expression, and confirms, one's own position, thus limiting the scope of the relationship and the means of expression. These ways of relating tend to become repetitive and prescribed.
(+, -) and (-, +) are defined as defensive existential positions, as my colleague Fanita English, so nicely puts it. That is, she thinks both of these positions are arrived at to ward off total feelings of despair (-,-). This despair gets forgotten but tends to resurface at critical times in life. "At those times we confront the feeling of "having fallen from grace". We develop the defensive existential positions to protect us from existential despair. Rousseau thought that everyone emerged out of childhood either with a slave or a tyrant mentality. A modification of these terms may be applied to the extremes of the two defensive existential positions, Master, Follower. Together they combine to enslave people therefore slave is an inaccurate term for "true believers", that is, people who need to find a marvelous parent who will take away all one's fears, define reality without questions and create the illusion of safety. Masters develop a (+,-) existential position and Followers develop a (-,+) existential position. The Master Follower relationship is a kind of psychological symbiosis formed from mutually complementary defensive existential positions.
The Master is oversure to the Followers complementary undersure. The Master is helpful to the Followers helpless. This usually is transformed into a secondary position for each: Bossy for the Master to rebellious for the Follower. The Master seeks people who will relate to them from a compliant child position and the Follower seeks powerful parents. They stroke each other in ways which are not really fulfilling. Both the giving and the receiving are artificially induced and therefore are like eating de-vitaminized food. This exacerbates the hunger even more, like drug addiction, which falsely seems to energize while inducing starvation. So seeds of mutually killing each other off, like what happened in Jonestown, are there from the beginning of the symbiotic relationship, even though both parties are mutually satisfied by the complementary stroking. Some masters are like locusts that devour everything in their wake, making a meal of everything.
From the `Grand Inquisitor" in Karamazov we have a definitive understanding of the mentality of the Follower: "So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship... Man is tormented by no greater desire than to find someone quickly to whom he can hand over the gift of freedom with which he is born... Man prefers peace and even death to freedom of choice in the knowledge of good and evil".
This reminds me of a time after the Viet Nam War protests at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968. We had all been in the tear-gas a few times and were tired and a bit discouraged. We were watching a documentary about the annual migration of the wildebeests on the Serengeti Plain in East Africa. There were risks: Lions, Hyenas, river crossings etc. and someone asked why they were so free and we, with all our socialization, brain power and tool-using were not. No one had the answer. This bothered me for several days. It kept popping up in conversation. But no one had an answer. At the time I was working as an art therapist in an intensive care unit at a large psychiatric hospital. One day I asked one of the nurses the question and one of the patients overheard. I remember him as very disturbed, psychotic. He had a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Quick as anything he said: "Oh, that's easy. Freedom isn't safe".
Next one wonders about the social medium in which the Master/Follower is allowed to flourish. What of all those outside the core relationship; all those who don't join but are witnesses? There are usually many more of them than there are in the autocratic structure growing in their midst.This reveals a third type in the Autocratic system: the Bystander. Of the three types, they are the largest group. Many of them become followers for pragmatic reasons, manifesting no "true belief". They opportunistically join the movement for personal advancement.; they are often in the (+,-) life position although they do not qualify as Masters. Others succumb to pressure and join the Followers from a (-,+) position. They are afraid and allow themselves to be seduced by an illusion of safety experiencing inclusion as love.
The largest group of Bystanders are passive and give their tacit permission by saying and doing nothing. It seems all that can be done at the time. They continue to remain outside, knowing somehow that becoming a Follower is not right, or good. But they do not become Resisters for a good reason, terror. They avoid being noticed even when Masters are overthrown, often facilitating the rise of still another Master.They are motivated by the fear of death or imprisonment. Sometimes they are simply indifferent. A river needs a bed in which to flow. Bystanders are like rocks in the river, small by comparison to it and, more importantly, separated. They are strewn all over the riverbed and are not united in a grouping large enough to dam the river.
One is reminded of the case of Kitty Genovese, a famous incident in the United States. You may have heard of it. A young woman was being raped outside a large New York City apartment complex. She was screaming for help. It was the middle of the summer and many people had their windows open. No one did anything. No one came to her aid. Each in their own apartment. No one even called the police. She was murdered right there in the street in front of hundreds of witnesses and no one did anything. I wonder what would have happened if they had all been together in a large group.
Actually Bystanders have more power than they realize. For example, public protest was so strong in Germany in 1939 that Hitler was forced to close the Euthanasia program, the secret pre-war project to gas German citizens who were determined to be "defective". An important aspect of the silence of the Bystander is the selective use of terror. It neutralizes most people. The great Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski described it in his masterful book about the Shah of Iran. He records an interview with one Mahmud Azari, who was walking home down a deserted street one evening. He heard someone following and walked a bit faster. Suddenly he realized there were two or three people following and so walked even faster. But to his dismay there were even more, a group was after him. He started to run, realizing what was after him was a whole crowd. Terrorized, he jumped up, clutching the bars of a window and turned to see his pursuers... No one... The street was empty. He told Kapuscinski : "From then on I felt the fear. It would hit me at the most unexpected moments. I was ashamed but I couldn't deal with it. It began to disturb me profoundly. I thought with horror that by carrying that fear inside me I'd voluntarily become part of a system founded on fear. A terrible, yet indissoluble, relationship, a sort of pathological symbiosis, has established itself between me and the dictator."
Following the eating metaphor, we could say that Masters cook the meal. But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself. Let me digress for a bit about power itself, power and eating. The Nobel laureate Elias Canetti spoke of this in his great work "Crowds and Power": "The road the prey travels through the body is a long one and on the way all its substance is sucked out of it. Everything useful is extracted 'till all that remains is refuse and stench. This process, which stands at the heart of every act of seizing, gives us a clue to the nature of power in general.... Anyone who wants to rule men, first tries to humiliate them, to trick them out of their rights and their capacity for resistance until they are as powerless before them as animals. He uses them like animals and even if he does not tell them so, in himself he always knows quite clearly that they mean just a little to him; when he speaks to his intimates he will call them sheep or cattle. His ultimate aim is to incorporate them into himself and to suck the substance out of them. What remains of them afterward does not matter to him. The worse he has treated them, the more he despises them. When they are of no more use, he disposes of them as he does his excrement, simply seeing to it that they don't poison the air of his house. He will not dare identify the individual stages of this process, even to himself."
Returning to the eating metaphor, one could say that the Master is the Master Chef who supervises the cooking of the meal and eats as much as he pleases. In most cases he gets the Followers to do his hunting and cooking, but he identifies the prey and dictates the recipe with which it is cooked. The Followers are the cooks, eat the meal as well, but they also want to be eaten by the Master, to be absorbed into his great crowd-body. The Master eats to become larger, stronger, the strongest. The Follower eats as well but also wants the safety of inclusion. The greater his fear, the greater the need for a strong leader who will digest him and keep him safe. Bystanders watch others eat and are initially outside the development of the Master-Follower relationship. People identified as the Source of Evil are seen, depending on the type of Master involved, as either harmful bacteria that must be destroyed, or as unclean food that must be purified before consumption. Slaves are the main body of the meal and are discarded as refuse after digestion. Resisters choose to disrupt the meal by destroying the kitchen and the restaurant.
Now allow me to be more specific about each type and role. There are two broad categories of Master: Ideological and Despotic. Masters such as Czar Nicholas of Russia, Somoza in Nicaragua, and Batista in Cuba, are despots perpetuating the interests of a small, privileged few. They possess no particular vision of the world, no ideology that claims a universal truth. Unlike Ideological Masters, they do not believe in history with a capital H, that is, that one can grasp in History answers that reveal cause and effect and from this understanding shape objective forms of action that will change the world in a precisely prescribed manner. They do not want so much to change the world as to dominate it for their own mundane interests. A good example of this type of Master is the American gangster of the 1920's and 30's Al Capone. He, like most despots, commanded only loyalty and obedience from his Followers.
Ideological Masters, on the other hand, claim insight into a universal truth only they can reveal. They claim to hold the key to the book of knowledge and revelation. They create or adhere to a rigidly defined ideology, either complete and comprehensive as with Lenin and Stalin, or somewhat incomplete as with Hitler. These ideologies are utopian in nature promising relief and salvation. Unlike Despotic rulers, Ideological Masters need love and admiration, more precisely, a kind of secular worship from their followers. They identify themselves as having a special mission, For example Hitler fashioned himself as the genius sent to the German people. Another example in my country is the militant Black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan. He is a good example of the attempt at deification of the Ideological Master. In a speech at Madison square garden in New York City some years ago, he said to his followers: "They called him the Devil. They call me the Devil. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and fed the 5000 (the miracle of loaves and fishes) it was then that the authorities began to attack him. I am resurrecting the minds of black people from the dead, and they attack Farrakhan."
Ideological Masters identify a scapegoat. For Communists it is the bourgeoisie; for Farrakhan, as for Hitler... the Jews; for the Israeli militant Mayer Kahane, the Arabs; for Khomeini, Western civilization; for religious fundamentalists, secular humanism. I'm sure you can think of more examples. Despotic Masters do not do this. They are much more interested in accumulation of wealth. The Ideological Master seeks power, ultimate power if possible. He realizes that he must make a choice between riches and power. If one want to win the support and following of the masses, if he wants to become their hero, he must relinquish riches. And he must be willing to give his life for his cause. Despots do not do this. If they are faced by a stronger force, they steal as much money as they can and run, never to return. Ideological Masters assume heroic proportion. This is a necessary ingredient. The most important traditions center around heroes. They found the group and perform extraordinary feats that either save the group from destruction or enlarge it. As the American social psychiatrist Eric Berne said: "The most important hero psychologically is the founder of the group and thus may be called its primal leader. Primal leaders are canon makers. They make possible in practice the constitution, the laws and the culture. He may not actually set up the canon, but he gives it reinforcement. The historical canon-maker is the one who writes the constitution, but the traditional primal leader is the one who, by heroic deeds give it meaning by fighting or dying to make it possible.
The point should be made here that being a hero, setting up the group canon and being willing to die are in themselves not qualities characteristic of only Ideological Masters; as people like George Washington, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, indeed the great religious leaders possess these qualities. So what makes the Ideological leader a Master type? First, he must identify an enemy, though not just any will do. A source of evil must be found who helps create and sustain the special feeling so necessary for the formation of a group of Followers. How this source of evil is defined leads to a distinction between Ideological Masters: Enslaving and Converting. There is a third category, that of Destroying Masters. I will save that description for the end of this talk.
The Ideological Enslaving Master defines a specific group of people as the source of primordial evil. This helps form a clearly maintainable goal, known, clearly marked and near. The group, or crowd as Canetti called it, "is out for killing and it knows whom it wants to kill. One important reason for rapid growth... is that there is no risk involved... because the crowd has immense superiority on their side.... A murder shared with many others, is not only safe and permitted, but indeed recommended, irresistible to the great majority of men". Ideological Converting Masters need a source of evil as well, but in a different sense. They do not focus necessarily on a particular group, though they may, but rather on a an idea or concept such as a political philosophy, historical or religious tradition. The Converting Master attempts to transform the evil into converts to his cause. He allows that their evil is correctable and is willing to forgive if they will renounce their former ways and accept his definition of reality. Lenin is much different than Stalin or Hitler, as he defined a commonplace evil, one that is changeable. If the bourgeois will give up his decadent ways, he can be accepted into the socialist fold. Enslaving Masters see the evil as primordial, fundamental, primitive, and irrevocable, thus requiring isolation and removal from the society at large. Later when more primitive urges emerge in him, the need to isolate and enslave is transformed into the need to kill. More about that later.
Now let us turn to the relationship between the Master and the Follower.
Masters present themselves as having the answer, the way, the solution to all the people's fears. This mechanism is aptly described in Irwin Shaw's play "Man In The Glass Booth". Col. Dorf, a suspected Nazi war criminal is on trial in Jerusalem. He turns to the gallery of observers in the courtroom and says:
Of course it wasn't just the Jews. It was just the most practical way to attract
followers. Later Poles, Russians, Gypsies and more, many more were included.
More on that later as well.