"Let nothing human be alien to me"- Terence

Friday, January 28, 2011

Inside the mind of power

I don't want to comment very much on Egypt, other than that it is damn exciting and scary.  I haven't really studied Egypt in a while, and can't offer the insight that others can.  But a few quick comments, which also apply obliquely to Yemen.

Power is a strange thing.  Obviously, it corrupts, as the fella said, but not just monetarily or even morally.  Too much power engenders an intellectual corruption, in the sense of decay, like a body in the weeds.  It leads to strange acts of rationality.  One of our problems with analysis is that we either expect people to behave by our rationale or expect them to be loony.  That's a mistake- people act in a rational manner, but only in one that makes sense to themselves.   It's like a drunk driver- he doesn't usually say "screw it!  I'm loaded- give me my keys so I can blow through some red lights!"  He more likely thinks "come on, I've only had 11 drinks, over like four hours, and I chewed on some ice for a minute.  I've driven far more drunk than this.  I can do it."   It is completely rational in his mind.

Mubarak right now is kind of like that drunk, and that is what makes him so dangerous.  What he is doing seems to him to make sense, even if for us it is crazy.  To illustrate that kind of insane rationality I've written a short play.

Protestors:  Mubarak has too much power!  We want freedom and democracy and to be part of the modern world!

Mubarak: OK, how about I cut off your internet and shut you off from the world, with like three fucking phone calls?   Will that shut you up?  Will that make you stop saying I have too much power?

Protestors: We're not sure you understand.  


That move made sense to him.  People using the Twitters and the Facebooks and maybe the Googles to meet up?  Let's shut everything off.  Even J-Date.  But there is no way- no way at all- that wouldn't inflame people even more.  It solidifies exactly what they were thinking.

Basically, when those in power forever are cornered, they will act like the wounded beasts they are.  And we cannot expect them to act in a way that comports with any reality other than their own.  If the US is going to play a positive role, it has to provide inducements for these leaders that fits their mindset, not just a call for freedom and the right to gather (though that has to be the public side of it).

This isn't to say I am totally on board right now with Salih being deposed.  I have no idea what will come next, and neither does anyone, if they are being honest.  But I can see a point in the very near future where we might have to accept some chaos inside of Yemen rather than being on the wrong side of history.  We've argued for a some time that Yemen policy has to be a long-term thing, and standing by a doomed regime will lose the future.


  1. Your first foray into drama is brilliant. I laughed, I cried, I liked it better than Cats. Bravo!

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