So, our instructor assigned us to write a story with a strong emphasis on irony. Mine is about a hypothetical future American tragedy of a coup financed and designed by the Kremlin. By way of summary, this is how it related to irony and I appended this to the story for the instructor’s edification.
“And, the most ironic part of the whole American tragedy was this: even though he spent his entire life conning others, it was beyond his ken to consider that Vlademort Putrid was likewise conning him. He had been lying and bragging so long about his competence in all things that he actually came to believe he was smarter and a better strategist than Putrid. Putrid likely could have done it alone. But, of course, he did not do it alone. Putrid had the collaboration of highly trained, highly dedicated KBG/GRU professionals to help.
“In principle, perhaps he could have enlisted American experts, but he didn’t feel the need. Furthermore, he faced a real dilemma. He couldn’t openly ask any but the corrupt for help against American interests. And those who were corrupt were generally far less competent and always less well connected to a healthy network of professionals than their more numerous and genuinely patriotic counterparts.
“I said that was the most ironic part of the whole American tragedy, but there are near contenders. Another highly ironic part of his entire con game was that the played the game as though the only thing in the universe that mattered was his own pleasure. Of course, no matter what moves he made or is yet to make, he is not actually immortal in and of himself. By lying to himself and everyone else, he essentially cut himself off from being part of The Great Tree of Life (or at least from being a non-cancerous part). Rather than living on through his actions that benefited the whole, he delimited his life, curtailed it, circumscribed it to his own physical mortality.
“The intertwined corollary of the above is that even while he lived, he missed out on the best feeling in life: being in caring and loving honest relationships. In order to absolutely and positively ensure that he grabbed as much as possible for himself, he limited his “prizes” to mere material crap and the pleasure of cruelty. “
So, this is how they responded:
“When it comes to being ironic, this is definitely A plus material.
However, sad to say, there are also some serious problems with your narrative. First, of all Americans are too well educated to fall for the lies of a known con man. And, why not simply make the character more believable? It’s not plausible that so many people would fall for the con. Apart from that, the cowardice you portray on the part of so many within his own party is also unbelievable.
Still, the mechanics of the writing was also clean, so I’m giving you a B+. Next time, focus on believability rather than forgoing that to punch the irony.”
I was a kid once. And, like most boys brought up in the 1950’s, few things held as much pleasure as destroying things!
When winter came to Ohio, sledding was fun. Don’t get me wrong. Especially, when we took the time to go to sled down the Derby Downs track or the toboggan run behind. But a snowball fight? Especially one where you really nailed someone? That was great.
Making a snowman? That felt cool. To use free snow to make a sculpture! And, it was fun to “shape it” and make it resemble a human. But tackling it at full tilt and thus smashing it down? That was great.
Spring flooding led to overflowing gutters which led to wading in the water and deeper is better! I didn’t exactly want to have the water spill over the black rubber and pour down to soak my shoes, socks, and pant legs. No. On the other hand, I would enjoy being able to brag about it to my buddies. “I was on Elm Street & the water was deeper than my boots!” On the other hand, I wouldn’t really enjoy my mom yelling at me for it. But it wasn’t as meaningful as having bragging rights with my buddies.
For many years, I’ve thought it absurd that I lived in the supposed “Temperate Zone.” We had cold, snowy winters, flooding in the spring, thunderstorms and tornados in the summer as well as hazy hot days of summer. And, no school. So — plenty of time to get in trouble. Just to take one example, we loved to break glass. If we found an empty coke bottle or jam jar, we would put it on the ground or better, a large rock or tree stump. Then, we’d typically take turns trying to destroy the glass with a well aimed throw. We did take turns. I mean, after all, we were civilized.
Autumn leaves brought raking and piles, but more importantly, the opportunity to jump into them. (And, to some extend destroy them). And, by the way, I thought my dad was a real killjoy when, after spending an hour raking leaves, he would yell at me not to wreck it up. I thought, “What’s the point of raking up the leaves into a pile except to jump in it!?”
Even to this day, there is a part of me that would positively relish taking a sledge hammer to an abandoned house or a junked car. Or, maybe even my own car! As an adult, however, I realize that actions have consequences. And, that ideas about what to do have alternatives.
If I smashed my car, I wouldn’t be able to use it afterwards. Also, there’s a chance of really injuring myself by embedding a shard of glass or metal or hard plastic in my thigh of eye. If it’s someone else’s car, there’s the added likely consequence of criminal penalties. Besides that, penalties aside, there is karma. Most likely the person whose car is destroyed will be stressed, angry, and possibly even violent. Violence begets violence. I would have sent a wave of negativity into the community. Even if I never got “caught,” I would be contributing to a world worse that the one I was born into. Is it worth a momentary pleasure?
I can get much the same kind of “pleasure of destruction” from hitting a tennis ball hard and winning points, but at this point, it isn’t only superior power as a source of winning a point that I like. I can also experience pleasure through outthinking my opponent; by using feints; by concentrating better; by having a better plan. It feeds into the same pleasure center but it doesn’t destroy things in the process. No shards of glass.
There is only one thing worse than being a destructive little kid. That is being an adult who wants to destroy things that they don’t understand and they can’t replace with something better. Those are not actually adults. They are children in adult bodies. They should never be in a position of power. Not in politics. Not in business.
It’s natural to feel some destructive impulse, at least, if history or personal experience is any guide. It’s also natural to want to relieve yourself. But if you’re an adult, you don’t simply pee your pants because you can’t be bothered to hit the head.
Destroying American democracy because you’re too lazy to win votes, understand problems with all their complexity and try to find potential solutions, build consensus, collaborate and cooperate to improve our country — that’s a lot worse than are smashing glass, wrecking up a pile of leaves, and peeing your pants. If the very best pleasure you have is blowing stuff up, okay — get a job in demolition — not in a Constitutional Democracy.
What mainly distinguishes the two major American political parties has varies tremendously within the course of my own lifetime. And, while I’m not ancient, my life so far is about 31% of the time since The Declaration of Independence. That’s not most of the time, but it is all of the most recent 31%. Of course, if you did pay much attention in American History and weren’t just spending time surreptitiously carving your initials, passing notes, or throwing spitballs, you likely remember that the US began as rather disunited States under the “Articles of Confederation.” It wasn’t until June 21st, 1788 that it was ratified. Thus, my life so far is roughly 1/3 of the time we’ve lived under that Constitution.
The first time I became consciously aware of politics was when Eisenhower won in 1952. The principal of our school arranged to have the radio broadcast of Eisenhower. I don’t really know whether it was his acceptance speech or his inaugural speech, but I suspect the latter. Anyway, I was leading the class in cheering through much of the speech. At some point, my teacher said maybe the people I was getting to cheer didn’t really know what they were cheering for. That was probably true. It was definitely true that I had no idea why I was cheering except for two things:
1. Eisenhower had been a general partly responsible for our winning the war. My dad & all my mom’s brothers fought in WWII.
2. Eisenhower was a Republican and they were the “good guys.” I don’t recall having much of a discussion about it before hand. But I had certainly picked up that vibe.
After the teacher’s comment though, I got to wondering why everyone in my family liked the Republicans rather than the Democrats. As I recall, the basic reason given was that Republicans believed more in personal responsibility.
Later, there were entirely different reasons for disliking the Democrats; viz., the Vietnam War and beating up the protestors in Chicago.
But now? What has happened to the “Grand Old Party”?
Forget politics for a moment. In what area of life is perpetual lying a good way for people to cooperate? If the scientists & engineers lied like the Trumputinists, we would still be shivering in caves. How would you like farmers to send you poisonous bulbs and call them onions?
The fish rots from the head. That was bad enough. But that rotten fish head has been out of power for two years. But the putrefaction continues.
No platform. No policies. No allegiance to the Constitution. No sense of fair play. No limit to cruelty. No allegiance to the rule of law.
Who benefits from all that lack of governing?
Who benefits from a weaker, less effective US government?
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.
The gym stank of sweat, disinfectant, bloodstain. Vlademort shook his head; thought: stuffy stupid place for a chess tournament. Which I will win. “A silly game; a silly name,” it sang and rang inside his brain.
Others might resign, down a piece to a stronger player; that was the “sensible” thing to do; the “honorable” thing to do, he knew.
Vlad sang instead these lines as lyrics deep inside his outsized head:
“Check and Slay;
There has to be a Winning Way!
I am Me
And meant to win!
I am He
So cheating isn’t sin!”
Aloud, he called in his strong, authoritative voice, “Sir, we have a problem. My opponent cheated. We must rectify the situation for the good of the Noble Game. And the honor of our School and our Party.”
For a moment, Vlademort worried that a glimmer of smile might betray him. He bit his tongue down on his lower teeth. That usually worked, just as it did this time. As the Assistant Headmaster strode over to the boys, the man asked what the trouble was.
Vlademort’s foe, Dmitri, didn’t know what Vlad meant about “cheating.” Vlad had stepped right into a discovered check by a knight’s move that also attacked Vlad’s unprotected King’s Bishop. Vlad hadn’t seen the consequence so now he would pay the price. Very nice! But discovered check wasn’t cheating! While Dmitri pondered this silently, Vlad struck.
“Sir, as you can no doubt quickly surmise from the board, Dmitri just moved his knight here so he would check my King and attack my Bishop. A double attack. The problem is, his knight was here and we can all agree he cannot move a knight up two and over two.” Vlad locked eyes with the Assistant Headmaster and painted his face with confident innocence.
Dmitry frowned. “What? That’s the most absurd poo I’ve ever heard! My knight was here!”
“No, Sir, with all due respect, I clearly remember asking myself why he would move the same knight so many times to get in this position when, as you can clearly see, his bishops are completely undeveloped. It seemed strange at the time. I guess…I hate to say it, but maybe that’s what he … I don’t know. What does it show, Headmaster? I’m at a loss.”
“Vlad, I’m not the boss; I’m the Assistant Headmaster. You boys are going to have to work this out for yourselves. I don’t get paid enough to settle all your petty disputes.”
Dmitry’s face reddened with fury. He clenched his teeth.
Meanwhile, Vlademort nodded and said in an even tone. “Yes, I’m sure we can work it out. Dmitri? Do you want to move your knight back to where it really was, resign, or just play again? Tell you what. You can have white this time. Deal?” From the outside, Vlad seemed serene but the inside scene was a scream of joy. He had used them both as toy. He felt no wrong; he sang instead another song inside his head:
“I am Me!
I’ll show mom and daddy too
What I can do. You killed my puppy;
You evil two!
You will see:
Everything belongs to me!”
He sang it as he lied. As he sang, dissidents died. He sang it as he bombed and killed. “I am me and so strong-willed. You will see! It all belongs — belongs to me!” After being deposed, tried & condemned, Vlad’s song of wrong and might — still felt right.
The song so strong it rang and sang; inside his bullet-riddled head the last thing it said: