Yesterday, Vladimir Putin made an impassioned speech before the Russian parliament. He was received with loud cheers, standing ovations, and even tears. Tears are what worry me, and should also worry the Russian people. There is a long and painful history of demagogues who have been skilled at tapping into passions and unleashing tears. We sob while professing our love for our leader, our country, our great and noble history, and our great and noble cause. We sob, and when the tears flow, blood soon follows.
Some years ago I wrote the following:
From The Universal Civics Course
‘When the leaders' grand visions turn to ashes—as they so often do—we kick the bums out, impeach them, send them into exile, hang them, or shoot them. And then we wait. We wait for the next leader whom we can again hold responsible for our lives and our systems. And on and on it goes.
‘I propose that we develop a Universal Civics Course. Its purpose will be to enlighten all of us regarding our rights and duties as members/citizens.
‘In the course, we will explore the role not only of the leaders but also of the members in humankind's history of warfare, oppression, and genocide: How the members trusted too much. How they abandoned their own responsibility. How they were too lazy to work at citizenship. How they went for the bait when their leaders told them how special and noble and deserving they were in contrast to the others, in contrast to "Them." (That’s when the tears flow.) How they found easy targets for their frustrations.
‘We will study case after case—from the past and the present—of this pattern of member complicity in evil. And then the first phase of the course will end.
‘Some years later, the Leader will call our Graduates out to war. "Our cause is noble," the Leader will say. "We want nothing for ourselves, only justice for others. "The enemy is the Devil, set on our destruction," he will say. "Our people are great. We have not started this war, nor do we want it. But our personal wishes must be set aside in the face of this great threat. To war, boys and girls, to war! Our cause is just!"
‘Our graduates will listen to the Leader. They will study the facts. They will dig deep—behind the propaganda. They will observe the Leader closely: They will see all the tricks he uses to arouse their emotions and dampen their minds. ("Notice that chill that runs up and down your spine. Isn't it great how he does that?") They have seen all of this before. They will study, observe, discuss, and when the leader speaks, they will listen hard.
‘Then they will look at one another; smiles will break out across their faces; there will be giggles, then laughter, then wave after wave of bent-over-double, helpless, uncontrollable laughter.
‘And then the difficult business of co-creation will begin, which is the final examination for the Universal Civics Course.’
From Seeing Systems: Unlocking the Mysteries of Organizational Life, by Barry Oshry, 2007, Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco