These days I’ve found the privilege of re-reading the Conrad’s masterpiece for the third time, (and for the first time in English) and ‑unlike my teenage years that I was more interested in following the intense drama and romance in the book — this time ‑being older- I found fundamental similarities between psychology of Russians in imperial times with Iranians in these days. ( I also noted striking similarities between Iranians and Russians in the famous U.S foreign policy correspondence called “the long telegram” which some historians believe that its the document that defines the cold war, but that’s another story.) I would like to quote a line from Conrad here, which I found very interesting specially in the light of the events of these days:
“The scrupulous and the just, the noble, humane, and devoted natures; the unselfish and the intelligent may begin a movement — but it passes away from them. They are not the leaders of a revolution. They are its victims: the victims of disgust, of disenchantment — often of remorse.”
By the way, I don’t agree with Conrad about the innocence, purity and devotion of the people who begin movements; history showed us most of them were opportunists. Instead, I think, the noble, humane and devoted was Conrad himself.
For me it’s not only easy to appreciate the intelligence in Carl Jung’s accurate description of Adolf Hitler, but also it sends strong shivers down my spine every time I read it.
“Hitler seemed like the ‘double’ of a real person, as if Hitler the man might be hiding inside like an appendix, and deliberately so concealed in order not to disturb the mechanism … You know you could never talk to this man; because there is nobody there … It is not an individual; it is an entire nation.”
I’m not trying to downplay, deny or ignore the role and responsibility of the people who commit atrocities. But I can agree with Jung’s description of the tyrant, being a medium and a distilled essence of collective ignorance, hate and greed of its followers. An ordinary criminal does wrong things to satisfy his own desires, a tyrant satisfies himself by becoming a medium of all wrong desires of a cult who chose him as their symbol and guide. So what he does is more destructive than a lone criminal, because not only he has political power to do so, but also, can tap into the infinite source of destructive creativity produced by his cult. It’s a vicious circle that intensifies its own effect. They make an unwritten deal with their followers and supporters to be possessed by their desires to stay in power.
I’ve seen this horrible emptiness in the face of many living tyrants. There is some truth in their boasting of being invincible and eternal; If they got killed, until the cause (ignorance, poverty, prejudice, feeling of cultural inferiority and etc.) are in place, soon there will be another person who will take their place. They are the symptom of social disease, not the cause of it. However, once manifested, they contribute to and intensify the cause. (i.e. They enhance the hate, poverty, ignorance and the feeling of the cultural inferiority)
To me, they look like a horrible form of a Jaquet-Droz automata, restlessly and involuntarily writing the pages of history, with blood.
“It is an undeniable privilege of every man to prove himself right in the thesis that the world is his enemy; for if he reiterates it frequently enough and makes it the background of his conduct he is bound eventually to be right.”
George Kennan, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” (1947)
I was reading about second world war when I came across this quote from Freeman Dyson about Nazi military V‑2 rockets and the damage they done well, to Nazi military:
“… those of us who were seriously engaged in the war were very grateful to Wernher von Braun. We knew that each V‑2 cost as much to produce as a high-performance fighter airplane. We knew that German forces on the fighting fronts were in desperate need of airplanes, and that the V‑2 rockets were doing us no military damage. From our point of view, the V‑2 program was almost as good as if Hitler had adopted a policy of unilateral disarmament.”*
Apparently, the endless obsession of the Nazis with creation of super weapons blinded them to the realities of the war they were about to lose. When one studies the ambitions of Hitler, Albert Speer and their likes, they will see no lack of imagination, however, apparently their imagination and idealism went horribly wrong and created one of the greatest tragedies of human history. Imagination is not only the tool of creative class or scientists, it plays a big role in politics, specially in states that are run under the rule of a small political élite; If, according to Bismarck, “Politics is the art of the possible”, then imagination is the criterion that defines the borders of the possibility.
I believe there are two types of imagination, I call the first the constructive imagination, which, use creative thinking and taps into humanity’s vast cultural tradition to imagine new possibilities, and create new useful solutions. The other type of imagination I call pipe dream; dreaming of an ambiguous utopia, which built on sentimental ideologies, naiveté and wishful thinking.
These pipe dreams can lead states to think that there is a silver bullet strategy that can save them from their internal and external foes, all at once. Most of the time, the silver bullet reincarnates in form of a weapon with massive destructive power; Nazi Germany tried it with its flying bombs,Siegfried line, ballistic missiles, submarines and bombers. USSR tried it with “Tsar bomba,” ballistic missiles, and other types of WMD, North Korea with its nuclear arsenal, Iraq with their project Babylon (note the “local” taste in branding of most of these toys), and the list goes on. Most of the states mentioned exhausted their resources in the Faustian quest to acquire the deadly capacity they dreamt of. However, at the end they ended up with economic, political and moral bankruptcy; their fetish not only didn’t help them survive, it accelerated their downfall. Now, these states are either disintegrated, contained, besieged, ruined, or currently under new management. There is a lesson here: you can’t build and empire by relying only on military industry.
Nations die when they run out of imagination, albeit the constructive type of it. Resources can be bought, workforce can be employed, textbook history can be rewritten to suit the preferences of the ruling class, however, constructive ideas have to be generated in-house and their makers should be nurtured by freedom. No nation can think in place of another one. You can’t import ideas from southeast Asia.
The lesson of history for me is, tyrannical regimes, thanks to the reliance on pipe dream ideologies, sometimes ran out of resources, wise people, and ideas faster than exhaustion in any war and without need of any intervention from outside.
You just have to wave at their cheerleaders as they march toward self obliteration, and smile.
* Dyson, Freeman (1979). Disturbing the Universe. Harper & Row. p. 108. ISBN 9780465016778.