On being Important..

When I was a child of Empire, the nice chaps from Propaganda came to our school. The first thing they did was to tell us that we were the most dazzling, resplendent boys they had ever seen.  They held their chins and shook their heads softly, bottomless eyes blinded by our majesty.

We were the cream of the cream. We were special, the destined leaders of tommorrow and they softly ruffled our hair with their smiles when we blushed at the thought.

We were then shown gut churning photographs of what-the-enemy-did, though, strangely more memorable than the dry heaves, was the final part of their act, a symbolic gesture to convey the inevitable demise of the enemy, our undoubted Triumph over Evil.

The two man team, all booted with medals and serious look, picked up the respective assault rifles of either side and demonstrated with wry, delighted smiles, that ‘our’ safety catches were marginaly quieter than theirs. It was a moment of pure victory! Their gleaming eyes conveyed to us all that this fact alone would win us the war! We boys all looked at one another with triumph and relief.

The entire hall exhaled. It was going to be ok. We were going to be victorious heroes!. It was guarenteed. The fact that my fingers were cut to pieces from days of forced labour punishments the previous week, no less than any slave and the only option to which was a beating, did not inform this wonderful news.

What so shocked me about the war that then unfolded, one in which we were actually cut to pieces by the loud safety catch, was not the horror of it all,  but just how easy it had been to march me to my death.

I’m an intelligent bloke.

and the fact I survived still puzzles me. I got shot at a lot.

a few scrapes and bruises, hey lads!

One of the greatest dangers posed to us by authoritarian leaders is not simply the subsequent suffering of the people, but that the people themselves are far more subject to authority than they are willing to let on and are therefor able to be controlled without realising it.

The chilling Milgram Experiment, conducted by Stanley Milgram in the 50’s explored the extent to which subjects would administer ‘corrective’ electric shocks to another, supposedly wired up in the next room, if they got answers wrong to simple questions. Of course it was rigged but the one admininistering the shocks didn’t know this.

What they found was that 65% of the white male test subjects would administer maximum voltage, despite pleas and screams, if simply and persistently persuaded to do so by an authoratative man in a white coat.

Test subjects even continued to deliver the shocks after the begging from next door had died away….

synopsis of the Milgram experiment

the full film of the Milgram experiment.


What Milgram discovered, to his own surprise, was the hidden suggestibility, the poverty of empathy, that can exist when you combine a latent willingness to submit to authority and be free of the burden of life’s responsibilities for an afternoon, with the invitation to wield a little power yourself.

And all it takes is to be ‘selected’  from others who are not selected. To be spoken to seriously in a scientific place with switches and dials by someone standing over you in a uniform.

What Milgram accidently discovered was the tide of ‘pathological entitlement’ that runs through Western Civilisation, the feeling of being owed, of being  inherently priviledged with right which easily overides secondary considerations like other folk.

The ‘Monument’ in my apartheid Alma Mater was inscribed, ‘That Might Have Right and Have it More Abundantly.’

‘Ave it., boys, ‘ave it! You know what you want! You shining lads, you lusty Sons of the Nation…

What makes a pavement psychopath, makes him different from those he rubs shoulders with in the metro, is not that he dreams of power, but that he feels it is his denied right. This subliminal grievance, coupled with the sudden recognition of his god-appointed wonderfulness..

after all this time..

makes men into putty. Moments before their entire loss of soul you will find them muttering, ‘finally!’

So the great danger is not the powerful dictator. Its the sum total weight in our collective consciousness that wants to be important for a day.