Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Which Part of 'It's Over' Don't You Understand, Mugabe?

For some reason Harrison Ford movies produce memorable lines. There was, of course, Blade Runner and Roy Batty's dying speech. There was also the brilliant exchange with Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive - Ford: 'I didn't kill my wife', Jones: 'I don't care.' Tom Stoppard once admitted to me that he found that line as thrilling as I do. But there's also also a line in Witness when Ford confronts an armed bad guy and says simply, 'It's over.' The bad guy capitulates. He has been overwhelmed by the logic of his situation. There's no longer any point in being bad. Why, one wonders, does this never happen to Robert Mugabe? He is surrounded by evidence of his abject failure and wickedness and yet still he clings on. In fact, you don't even have to seek out such extreme examples. I've known - and still know - petty tyrants who are plainly doing nothing but harm and yet they persist. This preoccupies me because I keep wondering what I would do if I were such a failed tyrant. I think I would capitulate, not because I am especially virtuous but because my mind is easily changed and I have little sense of my own importance to anybody but myself. This makes me amazed and usually appalled at the spectacle of the 'strong' leader - or, perhaps, any leader. How, on earth, do they do it? What do they think they know that gives them any expertise in running the lives of others? Sorry, strange stuff, but that's the way I am this morning.


  1. Reading S S Montefiore's Stalin the Red Tsar has put me in a similar mood and I've been musing on the problem all last week.
    Would it be reactionary of me to put it down to wickedness? I nearly said evil, but that might have been a step too far for modern sensibilities. Some men are more powerful and therefore more effective than others at being wicked. But when the circumstances encourage wickedness percolating from high places, it is a rare person who can see it and have the courage to stand against it.
    Mugabe is hangs onto power by any means available to him just as G Brown does the same here.
    I venture to suggest that Brown is the more dangerous tyrant in his soul because Mugabe doesn't seem to have much of an ideology - he just wants to keep in power - whereas Brown's power trip is the neo-religious lifetime campaign of a zealot.

  2. Maybe somewhat invidious to compare with Mugabe, but I'm rather concerned how our current Government keep faith in themselves in the current economic climate and the mad bureacracy (and pay) clearly evident at Haringey and in most of our public services that they have been so willing to promote. Sometimes, the decent thing is just to get out of the way. Bet Blair's now glad he did.

  3. Erm...I'm no big fan of Gordon Brown, but come off it.

    The lesson from Zimbabwe is that our political 'scandals' are laughably trivial.

  4. Brit - and is the lesson from North Korea is that our government is fine and dandy?

  5. Depends on where you're standing, and on your sense of scale, Rumi.

  6. A possible flaw in your logic is the bad guy realizing there's "no longer any point in being bad". What the bad guys may see is that there's no longer any point in trying to control things.

    So I'd guess that most of what you're talking about is good old-fashioned psychopathy. The bad guy thinks that what is good for him is good for the world. He will never be able to see the situation from the other guy's point of view, and if you cannot do that, how can you ever change?

    There's a sliding scale here, from the extreme example - Stalin - to the petty martinets of office politics. And of course there's the collusion. The bad guys flourish thanks also to a raft of other guys who support them for various reasons.

    That's one of the points of a court of law, I'd guess. It is to lay out what the bad guy has done in such forensic, grinding detail that the bad guy will be forced at last to see himself for what he is.

    So there are no failed tyrants, in their eyes. Like the Norwegian Blue, they are only "resting". I'm right with you about the memorable lines in Harrison Ford movies.

  7. They can only survive by being propped up by those for whom it is in their interests.

  8. What has Bob got to gain by giving up power? A life on the run at 80 odd? trail and a noose, being torn apart by the mob? the best he could hope for is a nice cell in the Hague and his blessed Human Rights protected by the enlightened West.

    Unfortunately I don't wish to spoil your lunch with such unsophisticated thinking, but the only thing that is going to work with Bob and most other tyrants is to put a bullet in their head/s.

    Of course another tyrant is the most likely to do the deed, but when you have a crap set of cards you start taking chances.

  9. On the other hand, I sometimes wonder how many people there are who would not be tyrants. And there is the other side to this master mentality, which is the slave mentality, illustrated in its atrocious extreme here: A Glimpse of Horror: Read extracts in English from Shin Dong Hyuk's unprecedented memoir of growing up in one of North Korea's most brutal prison camps, in which there are details put forth of how human beings, including children from birth, are being subjected to the most atrocious treatment. But, near the end of the article, Shin Dong Hyuk says this:

    The reason why prisoners don't resist or rebel goes beyond fear of the armed guards watching over the camp. All prisoners have been brainwashed to believe that they are in the camp for a good reason, that they have done wrong and deserve to be there, and the thought of escape hardly crosses their mind. Most prisoners, including me, believed that they were supposed to be in the camp. My escape wasn't an act of rebellion against the prison camp system; I was just tired of having to work so much, and I simply wanted to get away.

    Parents report on their children, children on their parents, and neighbors on the people living next door, so an uprising would be impossible. Prisoners may be upset and have gripes against their guards and supervisors, but they never go as far as to think of opposing the prison camp system itself. All they do is suffer in silence. Resistance is simply unthinkable.

    So there are two sides. The resolution seems to be this democracy that we have, this relative freedom, that includes entitled rights. But even still, as far as we have gotten, amongst us are still bosses who cannot help sometimes just thinking up some bossy thing to say to make sure the employee knows he's boss. And he or she does not want even a suppressed f-you attitude taken, simply that the employee does the fool's errand or whatever, attends to the whim. That master-slave relationship survives on ignorance from both sides. But it's such a difficult thing to overcome, and I'd bet an easy thing to revert to.