Leadership is a curious beast. Leaders should, I suppose, without being too much of an expert in the matter, give an example. We assume, I mean those of us who are democratic in our inclinations, that this example is what we might call a good example. But either way, whether good or bad, leaders shape our environments.
A while ago, I wrote this post on the subject of the Melian dialogue. In it I concluded the following:
I think the answer to the latter lies in the lessons of the Melian dialogue. I stumbled across these lessons the other day at a talk given by Google’s Bill Patry. For most of his talk, he seemed both amiable and sharp on the subject of copyright and its implications for our society. But in response to a question taken from the floor at the end of the session, he gave the Melian dialogues as an example of the ways of the world. Despite the fact that he seemed to describe himself as a political beast of Democrat-leanings, where government intervention in society’s functioning could often be seen as a positive, in reality it became apparent that at the heart of his thinking – perhaps more as an American than as an individual in his own right – was this unalloyed acceptance that might, by definition, is generally right.
And as corporate types seep into – and perhaps even invade – our democracies, fashioned and forged as they are on the transactional killing-fields of such ways of doing business, it is inevitable that a systemic change to how we perceive the extent to which democracy can go beyond the brutal Darwinism of other epochs will inevitably begin to inform our ways of seeing.
It would seem that no one, not even the American centrists Mr Patry may serve to represent, sees any longer any issue with accepting the lessons of the aforementioned philosophy: that the exercise of naked power is no longer a shameful exercise.
And as businesses across the world reserve the right to act accordingly, and as democracies become an extension of business practice, so might is right will become the mantra of modern democracy.
And the idea we could help support the weakest in society a mere blip on a now confused conceptual horizon.
I wrote this piece early in 2012, and think it useful this afternoon to revisit it in the light of fast-approaching European elections – as well as general elections but a year away now. And I wonder if it wouldn’t be a good idea to ask the question today’s post implies in the title: “What happens in societies when there are proportionately more criminals – or those of a criminal mindset – at the top of the various hierarchies that people our democracies than at the bottom?” Now the straightforward answer is, of course, obviously straightforward: corruption runs rife, and economies become hugely inefficient. A democracy decays from within. Trust amongst everyone is terrifyingly lost.
But the situation we are living now, a situation which the Melian dialogue alluded to above kind of foresaw, is one where the decay I describe is actually seen as virtue: after all, in hindsight everything the UK Coalition government has achieved in the past few years has been aimed at cementing the underlying assumptions that the powerful are always right, by virtue of their power; the moneyed have every right to acquire more wealth, by virtue of their wealth; and the mighty must never have their acts queried or questioned by the evermore (rightly, properly, correctly) voiceless and poverty-stricken workforces, who – as a result of their inability to do more than barely survive – are thus clearly deserving of their pitiful situations, by virtue of their rank inability to improve their lot.
Thus my question; thus my worry. This isn’t simply a situation where the Athenians entirely rule. This is also a situation where what the Athenians do is seen as entirely just. And those who are ruled over, and those who might initially – intuitively even – wonder if justice is being served, are convinced by powerful voices and leadership that the killing-fields of corporate business are a fitting model for our once mediating sociopolitical actors: where once our politicians looked to measure the impact of a full-on commercial sector with respect to the fundamental interests and human rights of every private citizen, now that full-on commercial sector runs rampant in our public spaces, our political debating chambers and our once congenially gentle sitting-rooms.
Everything Everyone is for sale.
And it’s not just bad for the private citizens out there; long-term, it’s bad even for the Athenians. Total control never did anyone any good. Total control always makes those who possess it weak, lazy and dysfunctional in the end.
I suppose what I’m really asking is the following: how do we know that what our political and business leaders have slowly and ever so gradually introduced into the environments that were once our very particular nation-states is actually what we really want? How can we stand sufficiently aside in order to perceive whether a moral corruption and criminality is progressively taking hold not only of notable people at the top but also, little by little, of ourselves? How is it possible for us to be sure that we have that distance in order that we may properly understand what we are losing? (Or maybe that’s even: “have already lost …”.)
Just ask yourself this – as a goodbye litmus test of the current state of our state. Imagine the following situation: if you were living in a country where the people are the top were generally criminally minded and the people at the bottom were generally law-abiding, would you actually notice it was the case? And, as a result of the way leadership
so often always imposes its assumptions, mightn’t you actually find yourself thinking it was completely the other way round?
And if so, what then? What, then, might happen? And what, then, could you possibly do about it?