by Sam Buntz
It’s kind of funny that the strategy employed by schoolyard bullies, cult-leaders, and Vladimir Putin-type guys toward their respective cronies is essentially the same: striking the right balance between patting said cronies on the head and ignoring them. You’ve got to make them work for the head-pat… but you can’t withhold the head-pat for too long. You need to constantly keep in mind which crony is ripe for a head-pat, and whose turn it is to squirm in the shadow of your icy indifference. This simply has to be exhausting for everyone involved, especially considering that the goal of most of these cronies is to eventually be the guy dishing out head-pats. You have to do your time, cycling through the world of head-pats and no-head-pats, a process which is most likely to last until you die, unless you become head head-patter.
But in the meantime, you’ll have plenty of sub-cronies below you on whom to deal out practice-head-pats, while these sub-cronies busily linger about, intent on gaining more power for themselves while handing out selective head-pats to their sub-sub-cronies… Again, it sounds exhausting. Like Franz Kafka said, it’s possible that Alexander the Great could’ve looked out over his future domain, and just stood still, letting the weight of his body get the better of him. That sounds so much easier, so much simpler. It’s surprising it doesn’t happen to more politicians.
I remember one of my teachers said that it strikes us as having inherently more dignity to be a tyrant than to be a slob—but, personally, I’d go with being a slob, if those were my only choices. Bluto Blutarksy needs to trump Stalin, ethically at least, in addition to having a better time. For that matter, I think I better understand politicians who seek power in the same way that other people seek money and fame—say, for the purpose of filling a swimming pool with Jello and inviting super-models over, or getting Kanye West to play at their birthday parties.
That makes sense—that’s the kind of thing that Silvio Berlusconi did, or that Bill Clinton or Jack Kennedy did. It remains within the realm of comprehensible human activity. But to seize and pursue power purely for the purpose of wielding it—of dealing out more and more head-pats, and more and more carefully cold silences—seems to me monstrous.
The rewards of seizing Crimea (or, to be fair, Iraq)—despite what rationalizations the leaders may offer—are ultimately pretty tasteless, scent-less, invisible, inaudible and intangible. Monetary rewards may accrue for certain businesses and industries, but they might as well have gained them in any number of peaceful ways—the real motive lies in the leaders’ attitudes to power. The true purpose of such invasions and excursions is simply to expand the field in which such calculated head-pats can be administered and refused.
When Alexander the Great went to meet the philosopher Diogenes—who lived in a barrel—Alexander asked him if he (Alex) could do anything for him, given his sorry and destitute state. Perhaps sensing that this might be but the first head-pat of many, Diogenes cleverly cut off the possibility, saying, “Yes, you’re standing in the sun. Get out of the way!” Fortunately, Alexander thought this was funny, and left Diogenes alone… I wonder if there is, somewhere, a Ukrainian Diogenes who might level the same reply at Vladimir Putin? After all, it may be the only honest response anyone can make to an advancing head-patter. It saves both one’s head and one’s dignity.