Skip to main content

Charisma and evil

I was thinking this as I read Harry Potter (and I'm not giving anything away here), as a follow up to seeing Last King of Scotland a while a ago:

Why do people follow madmen? It's seems to be an unanswerable questions, or rather there are a multitude of reasons but it doesn't explain why some people do not follow and some do.

Now Voldemort is fictional, and Idi Amin was all too terrifyingly and tragically real, but in the fictional account of him, it seems that anyone with half a brain could see that this person was out of their mind, paranoid, delusional, sociopathic, etc. AND therefore know that their own lives were precarious with such a person.

My husband and I have discussed this at length, and come up with a small list:
a) We make excuses for people's behavior until it's too much
b) The possibility of power is tempting enough to ignore the possible dangers
c) The basic human inability to ever really believe that it will happen to us. Yes, this person slaughtered his last four advisors because of tiny or imagined slights, but I'll be cleverer than they.

There is also the problem of charisma.

My aunt worked for TWA out of St. Louis from the early 60's through to the mid-70's and she recounts the story of John F. Kennedy's campaign. In what once would have been a whistle stop, JFK landed and my aunt, either from supporting him, or working for the airline (or both, I forget) was in the crowd that greeted him. She says that the power of his personality was palpable--the charm, or charisma, or whatever seemed to reach out to everyone of the people in the crowd individually. She says that film and television can never do justice to it. Now, I've never quite understood the cult of JFK except that mysterious and tragic death always sanctifies the victim so I am intrigued by this description. Hitler too, though short and unattractive was able to rally crowds to fever pitch. Stalin, Mao, Amin, perhaps even Hussein were able to make people follow them, at first, by the power of their personalities. And even later, it was only those close enough to really see (or those actually suffering under it) who understood what there was to fear. I understand that eventually you are so afraid that you cannot get away and perhaps it is too late from the first meeting, but I don't understand why you would put yourself in danger if it was within your choice not to. Voldemort offered his followers a way to overcome death. Perhaps these leaders do too--certainly Jim Jones and other cult leaders claim that there way was salvation.

I believe that we (humans) are all desperate to believe in something and that many will throw themselves at anyone who seems to know some great secret. I guess what I don't understand is how people could not see that Amin or Stalin or Hitler had no answers and were secretly more scared than anyone around them.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Driving in Boston

Inching along in a log jam of traffic yesterday on the Mass Pike I watched an Audi a few cars in front of me weave in and out of traffic determined to find the lane that was "moving" and yet for the whole half an hour that we sat there he ended up still only a few cars ahead of me. Sure there were times his lane pulled ahead, but then mine would catch up and he would switch back. The only thing he accomplished was to make the line that much slower. There was a great article that a friend sent me years ago on the physics of traffic and it has been determined that weaving in and out of tight traffic will really gain you nothing and in fact cause the very blockages that you believe you are defying. (Sidenote--an unfortunately side effect of so much of interest on the internet is that it is impossible to store all of the articles that interest you over the years in the vague belief that you will someday want to reference them to others) The article also pointed out that if all d…

Adapting a book--The Prestige

I was completely blown away by the movie of The Prestige, and I thought then about reading the novel, but it seemed too soon. So I carried the author's name around with me for over a year (Christopher Priest) and then, finally remembered to buy it through an odd sequence of events. We watched The Painted Veil based on the novel by Maugham starring Edward Norton, and while I decided I didn't want to read The Painted Veil because of it's differences from the film (which was more romantic and tragic) it reminded me that I had wanted to read Fight Club (the movie version of which starred Edward Norton) and that reminded me that I had wanted to read The Prestige (which did not star Edward Norton, but was up against The Illusionist which did). Whew...so it's all Edward Norton's fault.

The Prestige is a very good novel, and yet, the movie differs from it considerably. And I am still trying to figure out what exactly that means. The central premise is the same, AND HER…

The end of Cloud Atlas

Feel I must write this--promised it to myself, can I finish before midnight (when I said I would go to bed at 11)?

Where was I?

Oh, yes, section 5, where it gets interesting--because it's the future, at least 25 years, hopefully more. I say hopefully, because I don't want to be living in this future. The section is called "An Orison of Sonmi-451." An Orison (I had to look it up, proving I don't remember my Shakespeare) is a prayer, but in this future world where language has taken as many turns as in Orwell's 1984, it is more a confession or final statement. Sonmi-451 is a clone (as the name might suggest). The section is not entirely original. It owes much to Brave New World and Phillip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (made into the film Bladerunner). I find it interesting that 40 or so years ago--when Dick wrote his book he believed that future slaves would be Androids, replicants. Now we are much more likely to presume they will be clones,…