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January 29, 2013

Insights Into Human Nature From Humans Who're Going to Kill You

It would be nice to think that you can trust powerful people who are aware that power corrupts. But this turns out not to be the case.

For instance, this is from the FBI's account of its interrogation of Saddam Hussein:

Around this time [1973], Hussein seriously considered leaving the government but remaining in the Party...Hussein did not like the "power" and his position in the government. When he joined the revolution of 1968, his intention was not to stay in government. Hussein had planned to stay involved only within the cells of the Party at the lower levels. At that time, he believed it would be a "shame" to serve in the government. Until this day, Hussein still does not like government. He likes the people and the Party, but believes it is difficult for the government to judge fairly. Hussein observed individuals described as "kind and gentle" before serving in the government who subsequently became the opposite after their appointments to government positions.

I imagine Saddam would muse about this while taking a breather from dumping nerve gas on six-year-olds.

Then there's what Harry Truman wrote in his diary in 1947:

The Jews, I find are very, very selfish...when they have power, physical, financial or political neither Hitler nor Stalin has anything on them for cruelty or mistreatment to the underdog. Put an underdog on top and it makes no difference whether his name is Russian, Jewish, Negro, Management, Labor, Mormon, Baptist he goes haywire. I've found very, very few who remember their past condition when prosperity comes.

Yes, those Jews, so selfish. And people in general! They're just awful. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go nuke Nagasaki.

Che Guevara also got into the action:

Cruel leaders are replaced only to have new leaders turn cruel!

This is from a book about Guevara by Jon Lee Anderson:

In his memoirs, Guevara Lynch avoided the issue of Che's leading role in the tribunals, but did allude to his shock at discovering his son's transformation into a hard man…His father's befuddlement was shared by some of Che's old friends and acquaintances. Initially thrilled by his guerrilla war exploits, their delight had turned to horror with the news of his role in the summary executions, and they could not fathom what had happened to their friend to make him merciless.

I'm just glad that Abigail Adams, who wrote this to John Adams in 1775, never got her hands on the levers of power. It sounds like she would have been the greatest monster in human history:

I am more and more convinced that man is a dangerous creature; and that power, whether vested in many or a few, is ever grasping, and, like the grave, cries, “Give, give!” The great fish swallow up the small; and he who is most strenuous for the rights of the people, when vested with power, is as eager after the prerogatives of government.

Maybe we should give up on the idea of finding "nice" people and putting them in power.

—Jon Schwarz

Posted at January 29, 2013 12:24 PM

indeed the essence of liberalism is to diffuse the concentration of power- because of corruption, as, ironically, even evil dudes know

Posted by: frankenduf at January 29, 2013 01:13 PM

POWER destroys that small part of the brain that is responsible for one's ability to think sensibly, rationally, humanely and ability to think about the consequences of one's actions.

Posted by: rupa shah at January 29, 2013 01:32 PM


Posted by: Mike Meyer at January 29, 2013 02:33 PM

Those links to the Saddam interview are no longer links to what they were, but now will help someone get a job if they have a "sad dam interview" because "landing your dream job is no easy task!" Pity that. Even the internet can't be trusted!

It was too late for Harry Buckstopper to nuke Nagasaki by the time he got mad at Henry Morgenthau for lacking all sense of proportion about the Holocaust in 1947, and the big issue then, as the refugee boats continued landing in Palestine, was whether Truman should listen to Marshall and not back creation of Israel or should instead listen to Clark Clifford and get the New York vote in the 48 election, which all sorts of his enemies including Edgar Hoover expected him to lose, and which he perhaps would have lost without recognizing Israel and also letting rip the war scare of 48. Lo and behold, Truman did what got him elected and created Israel, and let us put aside his general stupidity and ignorance and characteristically bigoted views and face the question: how his general view of human nature turned out there? It looks to me like, in the words of Auden, we've seen what every schoolboy knows, those to whom evil is done do evil in return. To anyone trying to be optimistic about humanity en masse, that's really a drag.

As for Che, I suppose he became hard for the same reason all revolutionaries become hard, and anybody who fights for anything becomes hard--there's no choice. Stay soft and your enemies kill you and everything you care about. But otherwise having lots of trials in the middle of fighting a counterrevolution is a great idea.

As for Abigail Adams and that prick she was married to, all bullshit aside, they just hated any sort of democratic revolution and the mass of people in general. That's what our "Constitutional" solution was all about. So enough of that "remember the ladies" crap (not that it's in this post). Abigail was probably as afraid of the mob as her reactionary hubby was, but maybe I'm being too hard on her, because I don't know much about her and just can't forgive her for marrying him.

Posted by: N.E. at January 29, 2013 02:35 PM

Maybe we should give up on the idea of finding "nice" people and putting them in power.

Anarchists have been saying this for,I don't know, 150 or so years!!

Posted by: verymessi at January 29, 2013 03:23 PM

Philosophically, I'd love to join you Anarchists, but you have no program for getting clean water to the cities, waste out of it, controlling disease, maintaining infrastructure and public institutions, civil or criminal law of any kind. Saying it will be paradise is not a programme.

Me, I'm a Leveller, of a sort. Income disparity and class is the real issue (but Communism sure wasn't the solution) If nobody can accrue wealth, then what is there worth becoming corrupt for: much less. You can still have reward, status, holidays, etc., but none based on lucre.

Posted by: Ἀντισθένης at January 29, 2013 08:21 PM

Truman may have been a small-minded, parochial, anti-Semitic, former Klansman, mass-murderer...

...but it doesn't mean he was wrong.

Witness, fresh from today's news pages:

Posted by: HarryTheHat at January 30, 2013 12:25 AM

Anarchists have been saying that for a long time, it's true, but it's easy to say that when you're in opposition. (Problem being, who runs stuff?)

On the other hand, there was a time when the anarchists actually took over -- Catalonia, 1936. And they handled things just fine, until they were overthrown and imprisoned by the NKVD, and then executed by Franco after the Stalinists were defeated.

Problems, problems, problems.

Posted by: The Creator at January 30, 2013 05:02 AM

There's an anecdote in Suetonius I'm too lazy to look up now relating how Tiberius, soon after becoming emperor but before he went batshit insane, denied and rebuked the senate which had tried to give him more power, saying something to the effect that it was dangerous to freely give rulers more power even if they seemed responsible because things can happen to a man's character -- especially a powerful man's -- which would give the people cause for regret. Which is exactly what ended up happening.

Posted by: HTML Mencken at January 30, 2013 08:14 PM

Theoretically the system of CHECKS&BALANCES is supposed to cover these type of situations. Lobbyists write the checks and THE TAXPAYERS PAY the balance.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at January 30, 2013 10:00 PM

I've always thought I would make a really benevolent dictator.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at January 31, 2013 05:24 PM

Al Gore: US democracy 'has been hacked'

Former US Vice-President Al Gore is a passionate climate change campaigner and a Nobel laureate.

In his latest book, The Future, the man who narrowly missed out on becoming the 43rd president of the United States writes about the US political system and the infiltration of corporate interests.

He spoke to the BBC's Jon Sopel about the state of US politics, the environment and the recent sale of his niche cable TV network Current TV to Qatari-based news network al-Jazeera.

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at February 1, 2013 09:42 AM

Maybe we should give up on the idea of finding "nice" people and putting them in power.

No need to go all anarchist. But we need to lower our expectations.

Posted by: Yastreblyansky at February 1, 2013 11:52 PM

Yastreblyansky: EXACTLY!

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