Thursday, February 24, 2011

Gaddafi, My Old Boss

Photo:, Flickr Creative Commons

I don't think that Gaddafi is really crazy. I don't even think he is uniquely evil. I'll give you Kim Jong Il, but I think part of my willingness to pick on Kim is simply how dorky that guy is. Nerds and racial minorities are always given a shorter ethical leash than the cool kids. It's a shame to my dork heritage that I fall into the same judgmental trap.

But getting back to Gaddafi, I'm not saying he isn't horrible. He is. What he's done in his time as leader of Libya is horrible. What he's done since the protests have started is even worse. My point is that I've known people who function in normal American society who would likely do as much as Gaddafi had they ended up ruling as dictator of some third world country.

It may be unfair to assume that the boss I had who got an underling fired so she could cover up the relatively minor mistake of having forgotten to tell us about a mandatory meeting would have massacred protesters in Libya had she been in Gaddafi's place, but I'm pretty sure she would have. Sure, selfishly protecting your image at the cost of someone else's career isn't the same as ordering an air strike on unarmed citizens, but then my old boss couldn't have had someone shoot that teacher without consequences. I'm sure if Gaddafi had been born in the suburbs of St. Louis and worked as a mid-level executive in a big corporation he'd be known by his underlings as a backstabber, intellectual thief, and tyrannical micro-manager, but they wouldn't fear for their lives.

I think it may be dangerous to assume that the people who create evil are somehow fundamentally different from the average person because they usually aren't. Instead, they're people whose character flaws were magnified by the situations they were in.


Courtney said...

I think it's VERY dangerous to assume that the evil people of the world are fundamentally different. Sure, there are people who have mental disorders that make them capable of some horrible things, but by and large I think most dictators are a product of too much power and too little consequence. I think anyone is capable of being evil if they grow up under those circumstances.

Even people who grew up like you or I are capable of terrible things. After WWII there were lots of psychological studies done on American volunteers because social scientists wanted to prove that we'd surely never fall into the same trap as the German citizens did under Hitler. The overwhelming consensus was that people will do just about anything if an imposing authority figure insists that they do so. Scary, to say the least.

Jacob said...

Yeah, the Cold War authority figure studies (including the jailor/prisoner study that caused new ethics rules) along with what they've learned about how people behave in crowds should pretty much disabuse one of thinking they're better.

Of course the point of this is not to dismiss horrible people, it's to help keep you from putting yourself into or helping to create circumstances where the self can be lost.

Julie said...

There are perfectly horrible people everywhere who just don't have enough power to do something about it.

Mickey said...

Yeah- good point. When it comes down to it, an asshole is an asshole, and too often we let them get away with it.

Chris said...

Very true. Makes me that much more nervous about the kind of political extremists that got elected to Congress last year. Fortunately, we still have that handy separation of powers.