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.”
(First appeared as part of The Poetry Exchange’s Featured Poet, Spring, 1997 under the title: “Deforested”)
Gray day wasted while the whippoorwill Wishes that the slushy city sewers Had not replaced the only lonely home he knew. The groggy foggy unfocussed hurly-burly rushing Of splashing autos on the gray macadam roadways That gnarl through the neighborhoods Is vaguely deja vu. Silhouetted smokestacks shadowly seen, Limned in gray on gray-green, Remind the mind how poor people pass the day after day. Where no home fire hearth lighted cabin In the winter woods beckons, beacons, hearkens Heartily a red sunset glow on white snow For a day’s work done.
One hardly knows.
Here, where machine clouds of steam unsentiently sip, sap the soul, You wonder as the rain water wanders, Then rushes through the gurgling gutters, What foul trick man played upon his own brave soul, To have forsaken all the fiery emotion that makes life great To sit at desks, to stand in lines, to wait. Where are the country color and The rich thick loves hidden Beneath the inventions, interventions, and pretensions of society?
We wander in our own gray-glass cages In a lurching kind of mock-precision, Like the nightmare dream of a psychotic technician. And the only color the commuter encounters In his travels to and from, Is the scarlet and the gold of a raccoon Too stupid to stay off the highways of modern civilization.
Pet Sematary (A relevant book by Stephen King which was a partial inspiration for the poem)
The manager of the hotel (or, “Stable Mighty Emperor Genius Maganificent Adiposity*” as he prefers to be called) called Kevin on his private, “Master Only Line.”
“Kevin? What the hell’s wrong with you?”
“Well, I … “
“Get down here. Now! I have a pipe I need you to unclog!”
“Are you serious? I’m in the fight of my political life here! And, anyway, I don’t know plumbing.”
“Get down here. Or, you’ll never get my endorsement again. Come clean my pipes and I’ll make sure you get the position you deserve.”
“I don’t know how to clean pipes!”
“Get down here. I’ll show you everything you need to know.”
A few hours later, at taxpayer’s expense, Kevin arrived and was ushered into SMEGMA’s anteroom to wait. After a few hours without any communication, a scantily clad model ushered Kevin into SMEGMA’s office which stank of rotting, overcooked Brussel sprouts, slug slime, and limburger cheese gone bad.
Kevin began extending his hand, but the odor nearly knocked him down. He jerked his hand back reflexively. He reeled from the Putrid smell and steadied himself by putting his hand on a nearby table. Unfortunately, it rested ever so briefly on a plate of cold catsup-covered French fries. The hand that was supposed to steady him instead slid violently off the table causing him to twist as he fell through the air and smacked hard into the rug. The thought flashed through his mind: “Thank God he’s got really large piles.” (Unlike his iPhone, Kevin’s brain had no autocorrect.)
One of the hard metal legs of an ergonomic chair nearly hit his skull. Kevin cried out in fear, pain, and outrage. The fall and twist and pain combined to disorient Kevin. The laugh disoriented him even more. “Whose (Unlike his iPhone, Kevin’s brain had no autocorrect.)
laughing? Why? I nearly broke my arm — and my head. And what is that smell?”
“That was great, Kevy. Do it again!”
“Do what again? Are you serious? I damn near killed myself!”
“So what? It gave me pleasure. Well, never mind. The moment is at lapsed.” (This brain was missing more than a spell-check app!).
“Look, Master, I have a fight to get back to. Can you just tell me where the pipes are you need cleaned. And, what is that smell?!”
“Just like everyone else who’se everyone held office held, I may have had people flush classified documents down the toilet. It’s the most beautiful golden toilet in the world, by the way, the universe, the galaxy, even the whole solar system!”
“Fine. Where are your tools?”
“Tools? Don’t you know? All you fools are my tools! You’re cleaning my pipes with your body. Some send me their rent money. Oh, it does make me laugh. Now, get in there and clean. And, I’ll just might make sure your Talker of the House.”
“It’s actually called…never mind. You want me to dive into the toilet in order to clean it? I mean, couldn’t I drown?”
“It doesn’t matter dear, so long as I am satisfied.”
Needless to say, (or is it needless?) Kevin never got what he was promised, no matter how clean he got the toilets.
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.