“Stop, Hey, what’s that sound?”
— Buffalo Springfield
Imagine someone being so rich and powerful and well-connected that they can summon world experts for advice on just about anything.
Imagine this someone is also motivated enough and smart enough that they beat out all sorts of rivals to get to the position they’re in — not purely by inheritance — but partly or even mainly by merit and luck.
And, then, given those overwhelming advantages, they make stupid decisions anyway.
For a recent example, go no further than Putin’s war on Ukraine. Or T-Rump’s recent call to subvert the US Constitution.
What’s going on? Chances are, both are suffering from D4 (Dictator’s Degenerative Delusional Disease).
What is it?
D4 is a very common affliction among dictators who are heads of state. But it’s not limited to those few. It can occur in the bully of the family, a narcissistic team leader, or a business executive. Anyone who has a degree of unchecked power is subject to contracting the disease.
Where does the name come from?
“Dictator’s” because it mainly strikes those with a degree of unchecked power.
“Degenerative” because, left to its own course, the disease will get worse and worse over time.
“Delusional” because, one of the most destructive systems of the disease is the dictator’s beliefs (and eventually even perceptions) are not moored to reality.
“Disease” because it is bad for the physical, mental, and spiritual health of the dictator, those around him, and the society as a whole.
Why is it bad?
For those around the dictator, the disease is bad because people close to the dictator are typically demeaned, demoted, fired, or, in the case of Putin, killed.
For the society as a whole, D4 is bad because intelligent actions rely on finding and communicating the truth. When the dictator instead subverts the truth and insists on people pretending lies are true so that the dictator “looks good”, innovation suffers; the economy suffers; and since energy goes to fighting imaginary enemies, real dangers receive fewer resources. Hitler’s dictatorial insanity caused 6 million Jews to be intentionally killed, but he also caused the death of 4.2 million non-Jewish Germans including soldiers and civilians. Stalin was responsible for the deaths of over 10 million Russians though how many more is in some dispute. Somewhere between 40 and 80 million Chinese died under Mao.
Dictatorship and the attendant D4 is even bad for the dictator. They might enjoy their ill-gotten gold or possibly enjoy the cruelty they are able to wreak. Ultimately, however, they miss out on the best parts of life. As they ignore the voices of reason around them, they become more and more disconnected from reality. Ultimately, even if their brains don’t fall prey to hardware destruction, they do fall prey to data degradation. They insist on an ever-more illusory view and ignore or destroy those who try to bring them back to reality.
How can we prevent Dictator’s Degenerative Disease?
Although, there are no panaceas, there are several known ways to help prevent D4.
Anonymous FB can be provided to the dictator or dictatorial boss. This can help them stay tethered to reality. However, the natural tendency of the dictator, when they get news they don’t like is to insist on finding the identity of the person who gave the honest, but unwanted feedback. Ex-President Trump, for instance, not only fired the whistleblower Alexander Vindman, but also Alexander’s brother.
The ruled need options. One of the major goals of any would-be dictator is to get rid of free and fair elections. Once they get in power and begin using the government to line their own pockets, people in a democracy would simply vote them out. So, instead, they either hold no elections or hold “show” elections. Free and fair elections are one of the best mechanisms for keeping rulers accountable.
The culture of a society can also help. If someone in a major political party in America showed obvious signs of wanting to become a dictator disconnected from reality and began lying about results of their programs, soon the other powers in the political party would gently push that person aside. Until recently.
Day in Court. Another check on D4 is to have an independent judiciary that does not feel “beholden” to the dictator. Once judges decide to give “special treatment” to a would-be dictator, D4 becomes much more rampant.
Checks and Balances The founders of America (and other democracies) realized that some people are quite susceptible to D4 and therefore arranged a system of Checks and Balances. This method only works if the the other parts of the government perform their duty. Everyone in the judiciary and the legislature swears to uphold and defend the Constitution. But if people take this oath and then thumb their noses at that oath by not, say, convicting an obvious breach of faith on the part of the would-be dictator, then the function of Checks and Balances stops working.
The Rule of Law requires that no-one is above the Rule of Law. If even one person, such as a dictator or would-be dictator is treated as being above the Rule of Law, then, in effect, the Rule of Law means nothing. The dictator can essentially “overrule” any court by means legal or illegal.
Turnabout is Fair Play. Conceivably, a lottery system could be used to choose some of the people in government. Or, people could find themselves in any position in the society.
Independent Judiciary. Judges could not be “sponsored” by the same wealthy people who have an outsized influenced on electing officials in the legislative and executive branches.
To support a dictator means nothing more or less than putting yourself in chains and then handing the keys to the dictator along with a lash in return for a promise that they’ll be good to you.