Sunday, October 13, 2013

I say jump, you say how high

Paul Krugman recently made a reference to a Tom Wolfe essay titled "The Ultimate Power: Seeing 'Em Jump" in his article about the GOP and the true motivation behind the US's top money makers: the 0.1%.

The essay, first published in New York Magazine in 1968, focuses on power - Wolfe goes on to describe in detail how power-hungry New York politicians and businessmen lead their lives, indulge in very specific possessions and treat their underlings.

An obvious question that lacks an obvious answer quickly surfaces: What lies behind their drive for power?

To answer, Wolfe references Abraham Ribicoff, a former Connecticut Senator and Governor, who offers an interesting take on what drives these people:
On what really drives people like congressmen and senators - fame? money? the exercise of power? 
Ribicoff says: 
"It's not fame, at least not in the sense of publicity. They see their names and faces in the paper so often they take it for granted. It's not money. There may be some congressmen with deals going, but most lose money while in office because of the cost of campaigning and entertaining. It's not even the exercise of power, at least not in the sense of putting a bill through or having a part in policy decisions. For most of them it is something else. It's more...seeing people jump. It's a feeling...knowing that anywhere they go, people will move for them, give way, run errands, gather around...and jump..." 
Wolfe adds: 
Jump! Power is, after all, control over people's lives. So perhaps it is natural that the symbols of power - as opposed to mere fame or wealth - should involve people jumping, i.e., acting like servants or loyal vassals.

"Now, raise your hand if you like it when they jump."

I'd be hard-pressed to think of a better way to describe most politicians.

Cristina Fernandez from Argentina, according to an article in The Economist, has built an administration and cabinet full of jumpers (or as Argentines call them, "sock-lickers"), that cannot exist without her.

Fidel & Raul Castro, Evo Morales and Nicolas Maduro are all examples of leaders that not only have jumpers, but also have historically gotten rid of those that do not jump, threaten to stop jumping or just simply, for valid reasons or not, cannot jump anymore.

Africa's longest-serving leaders (Ethiopia's Meles Zenawi - 20 years, Chad's Idriss Deby - 21 years, Sudan's Omar al-Bashir - 22 years, Burkina Faso's Blaise Compaore - 24 years, Uganda's Yoweri Museveni - 26 years, Cameroon's Paul Biya - 29 years, Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe - 31 years, Angola's Jose Eduardo dos Santos - 32 years, Equatorial Guinea's Nguema Baso - 32 years, until recently, Libya's Muammar al-Gaddafi - 41 years - reference) certainly have their fair share of jumpers, and it'd be idiotic to assume that they're not turned on by others jumping for them. If anything, after so many years in power, it would have to become even reasonable to assume that these men can't help it - their own search for power has made them addicted to it.

They thrive; their people languish.

The world economy suffers.

Mind-numbing subservience squashes entrepreneurship.  Citizens that aren't free end up either working for the detrimental system that limits them (which becomes more powerful through their conscious promotion) or are paralyzed by it.

Global trade advances at a snail's pace. Necessity provokes reform and advances, but mires the newly erected economic structure with corruption and conflicts of interest.

Education is perverted. Creativity and innovation is cornered and made to forcibly trudge through pre-approved channels - thus dampening, stagnating and deviating the creative process.

Those are some general effects.

To describe what lies behind this, one might think of pride, the most serious of the 7 deadly sins; a vice to watch out for, mainly because of the dangers and moral pitfalls related to superiority complexes.

In a religious context, pride has been a point of discussion since Lucifer was cast out of heaven for challenging his Creator. God said "Jump" and Lucifer said "You jump." That was it.

On earth, people are free to make others jump - which is fine, if the jumping serves a purpose. After all, someone has to jump.

The problem, in a nutshell, comes when the jumper is made to jump for its own sake.