President Biden is ensconced in the White House, in the Oval Officer, and deeply embedded in the multiple crises facing the United States and the world. For this, we can all be extremely grateful.
At the same time, Alexei Navalny is imprisoned in a Russian prison, awaiting the government’s desired sentence of 13.5 years of hard labour for opposing Putin whom he accuses of using the nerve agent, Novichok, a Soviet-era chemical weapon, to poison him. A CBC report by Chris Brown, January 19, 2021, carries this searing indictment of the poisoning:
An extensive investigation by journalists with the collective Bellingcat uncovered flight manifests, addresses and phone logs that all pointed to the existence of a secret nerve agent program run by the FSB (Russian Federal Security Service) designed to eliminate the Kremlin’s enemies. Russian authorities have repeatedly denied any such program exists and warned Navalny that he could be arrested for treason just for accusing Putin of the crime…..Moscow-based political scientist, Ekaterina Schulmann, (is quoted),” There is Putin, and there is anti-Putin, which is him… This is a very brave action. He is acquiring a certain type of moral authority as a person who has demonstrated that is a person who is ready to suffer for his convictions.”
Writer at The New Yorker, Russian-American Journalist, Masha Gessen, also an outspoken critic of Putin, tells Morning Joe (MSNBC) today that even if the United States imposes sanctions on Russia and on Putin, they will have little impact.
In a Foreign Policy piece, entitled, “What does Putin Stand to Gain (and Lose) by Going after Navalny?” by Amy Mackinnon, September 10, 2020, we read this:
As Russia’s best-known and most effective opposition politician, Navalny was one described as the man Putin fears the most. Homing in on one of the most hot-button issues for Russian voters, Navalny and his team have repeatedly exposed the dazzling corruption of some of Russia’s most senior politicians. After a 2017 investigation alleged that then-Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev had used $1 billion in bribes to but lavish properties, it triggered nationwide protests in the Russian heartland traditionally thought to form the core of Putin’s base.
As to what price Russia will pay….
Mackinnon writes: It is not yet clear. After Novochok was used against Skripal (in the UK), over 20 countries followed Britain’s lead in expelling dozens of Russian diplomats in what then-British Prime Minister Theresa May described as the latest collective expulsion of suspected Russian intelligence officers in history. (Angela) Merkel has faced growing calls, including from her own party, to halt construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany, a project long backed by Germany and that is over 90 percent complete. And on Monday, a version of the Magnitsky Act*, which could impose sanctions on human rights abusers and corrupt officials abroad, was introduced in the German Bundestag: if passed it would provide Germany with another avenue to respond to future Russian misdeeds.
The new Russian constitution, permitting Putin effectively life-long reign, has considerably upped the ante against anyone who attempts to oppose Putin, criticize Putin, expose Putin, and especially one like Navalny who has, in spite of the roadblocks Putin has put in his path, grown and developed a considerable following in Russia.
Confronting dictators, long considered a cancer on both national and international political affairs, has evaded scholars as well as practicing politicians. Back in 2015, in a piece entitled, The Psychology of Dictatorship: Why Gaddafi Clings to Power by John Cloud, (from healthland.time.com), we find three explanations for dictatorial behavior:
a) Dictators are psychopaths…defined as antisocial personality disorder, (featuring) “repeatedly performing acts that area grounds for arrest,” deceitfulness, impulsivity, and lack of remorse.
b) Dictators are paranoid narcissists… Most non-dictatorial leaders employ subordinates who are empowered to question them., Dictators arrange their lives so that no one can play this role….In a 2003 piece in the journal Psychological Review, three researchers led by Dacher Keltner of the University of ?California, Berkeley, look at how elo3evated power changes the psychological makeup of those who have it. They found that powerful people become more willing to take credit for accomplishments they didn’t achieve. The also begin to see the world around them in ‘more automatic, simplistic ways’.
c) Dictators are more or less normal people who develop mental disorders in the extraordinary circumstance of holding absolute power….In a new paper called ‘How Power Corrupts,’ a Columbia University team of psych0logists suggest that power doesn’t change the psychology of powerful people but, rather, their physiology. Lead author Dana Carney and her team hypothesize that because power eases so many daily stressors—dictators never have to worry about driving a car of paying a mortgage—powerful people show persistently lower levels of cortisol, a hormone closely associated with stress. Typically, immoral behavior—even routine sins like lying—is stressful. ‘A lie-teller must actively inhibit and suppress many things including: the truth, internal monitoring of (his or her) moral compass, social norms, fear of consequence, and consideration of others’ interests,’ Carney and her colleagues write. ‘This suppression leads to negative emotions, decrements in mental function, and physiological stress.’ …(T)he powerful have an abundance of emotional and cognitive resources available to use when navigating stressors as they arise.’ In this way dictators may become immune to regret…..(D)ictators are too strong militarily and too weak psychologically to bargain. That’s why they invite annihilation.
Our question here is one of those imponderables: what can the world do, if and when dictators/tyrants/psychopaths/sociopaths/narcissists/opportunists without regret or even an authentic sense of responsibility…claim and hold onto power?
Their fear of loss of power and control, of course, is an intense, and perhaps overpowering motivation, (not to excuse or justify their abuse). Once perched on the pinpoint tip of a political, economic, theological, pyramid of power, the spectre of a “fall” is terrifying. And the extrinsic rewards of affluence, influence, the appearance of invincibility, and the pygmied sycophancy of others congeal together in a façade of delusional impermeability, self-satisfied, and even more self-righteous justification of anything and everything designed to preserve this false personal euphoria, a kind of insulated, isolated nirvana.
Rather than merely describe the dictators motives and circumstances, one is also prompted to ask, Why does any culture/society/organization/institution even contemplate continued deployment of models of leadership that emulate dictators, champion dictators, historically revere dictators, depend on dictators as if they were an unquestioned, and unquestionable fixture of the needs of any group of people? Why does history pay such close attention to the narratives of dictators, even with the accompanying caveat that their’s is not a moral or and ethical or even a sustainable path to follow? Is this more of a masculine ‘thing’ than of a feminine thing?
We have come to a place where science, and the dependence on reason, and the power implicit in both science and in reason, have risen to such prominence, (and wealth, status, political and cultural influence) that we have gone beyond what can reasonably be considered an optimum/fair/equal/sustainable relationship with what most consider “nature.” We have either forgotten or ignored our dependence on nature, along with our turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the truth that nature does not need humanity, whereas humanity clearly needs nature. We have built dominance into the very fabric of our notion of leadership. Just yesterday, the new coach of the Detroit Lions Football Team of the National Football League, in his exaggerated attempt to represent what he considers to be a ‘battered city’ (Detroit) where unemployment, racism, poisoned water, among other blights from which it is beginning to recover said: (as reported on ESPN)
This place has been kicked. It’s been battered. It’s been bruised. And I could sit up here and give you coachspeak all day long…..Here’s what I do know. This team is going to take on the identity of this city and this city has been down and it found a way to get up. It’s found a way to overcome adversity right? So this team is going to be built on, we’re going to kick you in the teeth, right? And when you punch us back, we’re going to smile at you. And when you knock us down, we’re going to get up, and on the way up we’re going to bite a kneecap off. Allright? And we’re going to stand up and it’s going to take two more shots to knock us down. And on the way up, we’re going to take your other kneecap and we’re going to get up and it’s going to take three shots to get us down. And when we do, we’re going tyo take another hunk out of you. Before long,we’re going to be the last one standing. That’s going to be the mentality.”
Now, whether or not Putin would smile and get warm fuzzies when reading such a diatribe, I don’t know. However, the impression that hangs over the Russian dictator smells eerily evocative of Campbell’s violent passion. In the NFL, whether or not kneecaps now need special insurance, time will tell. On the world stage, with the U.S. declaring it wants a five-year extension of the START nuclear arms treaty with Russia, and the pandemic raging on all continents and the natural ecosystem being poisoned hourly by the activities of people everywhere on the planet, it would seem to a ‘no-brainer’ scribe that dictators could spelt trouble, not only for Navalny, but for all those whose grasp of reality (carbon emisssions especially from fossil fuels, pandemic viruses, vaccinations, invasions of wild animal habitats, and the corruption of lives lived nearly exclusively for the pursuit of personal excess) defines their political agenda.
In an ironic and surprising piece in The Guardian, by Brooke Harrington, October 19, 2018, entitled, “The Bad ?Behavior of the richest: what I learned from wealth managers,” we find this:
It was quite unexpected, in the courser of discussing tax avoidance, to hear professional service providers say things like: ‘I’ve told my colleagues: It Is ever become like some of our clients, shoot me.’ Because they are really immoral people—too much time on their hands, and all that money means they have no limits. I was actually told by one client not to bring my wife on a trip to Monaco unless I wanted to see her get hit on by 10 guys. The local sport, he said, was picking up other men’s wives.’ The clients of this Geneva =based wealth manager also ‘believe that they are descended from the pharaohs, and that they were destined to inherit the earth. If a poor person voiced such beliefs, he or she might well be institutionalized: for those who work with the wealthy, however, such ‘eccentricities’ are all in a day’s work. Indeed, an underappreciated irony of accelerating economic inequality has been the way it has exposed behaviors among the ultra-rich that mirror the supposed ‘pathologies’ of the ultra-poor. In fact, one of the London-based wealth managers I interviewed said that a willingness to accept with equanimity behavior that would be considered outrageous in others was an informal job requirement. Clients, he said, specifically chose wealth managers not just on technical competence, but on their ability to remain unscandalized by the private lives of the ultra-rich: ‘They (the clients) have to pick someone they want to know everything about them: about Mother’s lesbian affairs, Brother’s addiction, the spurned lovers bursting into the room.’ Many of these clients are not employed and live off family largesse, but no one calls them lazy. As Lane and Harburg put it in the libretto of the musical Finian’s Rainbow:
When a rich man doesn’t want to work
He’s a bon vivant, yes, he’s a bon vivant
But when a poor man doesn’t want to work
He’s a loafer, he’s lounger
He’s a lazy good for nothing, he’s a jerk
When the wealthy are revealed to be drug addicts, philanderers,, or work-shy, the response, is-at most- a frisson of tabloid curiosity, followed by a collective shrug. Behaviors indulged in the rich are not just condemned in the poor, but used as a justification to punish them, denying them access to resources that keep them alive, such as healthcare and food assistance….These disparate perceptions aren’t just evidence of hypocrisy; they are literally a matter life and death.”
Perhaps, Mr. Putin, and his affluent oligarchs, plutocrats, are not an insult and an affront to Mr. Navalny; they are, in truth, an affront and an insult to all of the people in the world. And their insouciance, indifference, and callous imperiousness threaten any attempt to bring the pandemic to heel, to clean the planet’s ecosystem, and to level the playing field so that all people, rich and poor, educated and non-, western and eastern, Russian and American, can find food, learning, work and dignity in whatever new world order that awaits the last three quarters of the twenty-first