“Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt” is the techie cliché that is used to describe a negative marketing campaign against a competing software product or service. “FUD” may also aptly describe the general miasma pervading today’s global economy. In such difficult times, many would readily welcome a voice of confident assurance offering a way to move forward. Isn’t this what we want?
Today’s meltdown has been compared to the crash of 1929 and the Great Depression. For now, let’s focus on what happened to a single country, one that had great scientific, cultural, and political achievements in its past, but was brought low by military defeat and financial disaster.
The people of that nation were humiliated and hungry. Weariness, apathy, and ennui were the sentiments of the day. Their democratic processes produced much talk, but little action.
Then a great leader arose. Like other politicians he made promises, but he also delivered results. He instituted large public infrastructure programs and cooperated closely with business and industry. These economic stimuli reversed the financial downturn.
More importantly, he gave them back their pride. He led them back on the path to greatness and promised to lead them beyond. They were elite—and within that elite was yet another elite, the charismatic leadership that gave them their vision and efficiently executed their mission.
Inefficiencies such as the rule-of-law, open dialog and consensus were dispensed with gradually. The few who objected were ignored or denigrated. After all, they reasoned, only whining legalists and the sentimental old guard would be foolish enough to cling to a tainted past.
The kaffee klatsch leadership discussed its policies and action plans in relative secrecy. Certainly there were disagreements even within the ruling elite. But these were resolved behind the scenes, avoiding public doubt and discord.
The resulting decisions and policies were presented with much creative flair, hype, and spin intended to motivate and energize the public. Any success was praised to high heavens. Most of all, the leadership praised themselves; a mutual admiration society that preened itself. Any mistakes were quietly downplayed or simply hidden away. Their marketing campaigns were impressive even by the standards of today’s globe girdling ad agencies.
The leaders also provided convenient scapegoats to serve as an outlet for hatred and contempt. Negativity was stoked and directed outside the elite. Within the elite, the leadership was “united” and could do no wrong. Things were finally moving forward. Neither did they worry about personal responsibility nor quibble about principles. Surely, there must be something wrong with those who thought otherwise or complained! It all seemed so natural, so convenient, so efficient. Everyone loves a winner, there’s no success like success!
Even those who claimed objectivity, those who should’ve known better, saw clear progress and were impressed. These were practical people. They were afraid of killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Instead they preferred “peace in our time” and wearily sought compromise while pretending statesmanship.
It’s fun to run with the wolves—until the pack turns against you.
It’s easy to forget the lessons of Germany during the period between the two world wars. Some of us wonder why they did what they did then. Why did they allow it to happen?
But are we so different?
Would we not likewise welcome and support an inspiring, invigorating leadership? Would we not be proud of being part of a proactive, progressive elite? It is far too easy to suppress any doubts (those of others and even our own) for the greater good of moving forward.
Proactive and results-oriented are highly desirable traits. Considerations of open transparency and inclusive participation become, at best, minor matters to be glossed over or dispensed with outright.
Or shouldn’t we rather take a break, step back awhile, and take a deep breath. Be careful what we wish for and forget about facile deus ex machina solutions. For even the most charismatic of leaders will have a dark side; and the dream can easily turn into a nightmare.
The end never justifies the means. When principles are sacrificed, danger lurks down the seemingly rosy garden path. In the end, we will be judged how we do things rather than just by what we do or achieve.
“In my estimation, more misery has been created by reformers than by any other force in human history. Show me someone who says, ‘Something must be done!’ and I will show you a head full of vicious intentions that have no other outlet.”—The Reverend Mother Taraza, Conversational Record, BG File GSXXMAT9© Frank Herbert
Print ed: 05/09