I was briefly doing some reading on dog training once because I was visiting my parents and they had a young puppy full of energy with little discipline. It was difficult to even take the young animal for a walk because he would zip every which way with no sense of direction and constantly fight against the tugging of the leash.
I soon discovered the ideas of a guy called Cesar Milan on the web, a fellow who I understand had a TV show.
It soon struck me that his kind of ideas didn’t just seem dog-like to me. I’d never found a finer manual in the art of herding people.
We have only to see Britain’s adulation for its royal family or Americans’ worship of the Kennedys to understand that the typical human psychologically requires a master as surely as any dog. People feel happy and safe when there is a dominating presence at the head of their tribe. They become miserable and anxious in the absence of discipline and leadership.
One has only to observe groups of kids. A classroom with a strong and competent teacher is well behaved and happy. A class with a weak teacher is obnoxious and miserable.
One would think that the kids with greater freedom would be happier, but the opposite is true.
Over the years I’ve had stints as a substitute teacher and an English teacher. I’ve worked in tourist venues where groups of kids pass through constantly. Everywhere I’ve gone, the kids without leadership have bratty sneers on their faces and while they may smile, it’s always a snide expression of mockery and contempt. They’re unhappy, insecure, and bored.
Investigating dog psychology on the internet, I read how canine misbehavior is an attempt to get attention and test the leadership of the master. The dog is begging to be shown rules and leadership just as it begs for food. After all, social creatures require rules and structure as they do food or water.
It struck me that all those kids are exactly the same way. Their misbehavior when not disciplined is just an escalating plea for leadership. They immediately become happy and compliant again when their misbehavior is punished and they are decisively cast down into their proper place.
Dogs, according to the likes of Cesar Milan, experience a great deal of stress when despite their pleas, no leadership is forthcoming. The dog starts to see itself as the incipient alpha bearing full responsibility for the wellbeing of the pack. This crushing stress, combined with perceiving the need to assert itself as leader, mere misbehavior can escalate into outright aggression. This is the point where the master loses control of the situation irrevocably.
Here, I reflected, rulers of people do not fall from internal disputes as long as they show strength and leadership. However, the moment a ruler makes concessions, the end is near. We can reflect on Gorbachev and the end of the Soviet Union, or Mubarak in Egypt. We can compare the outcome of President Jackson’s quick and decisive suppression of secession movements in South Carolina, with the concessions and indecisiveness of Buchanan.
It is an eternal law of dealing with the masses: the strongman is rewarded with obedience, the kind man with rebellion and overthrow.
American foreign policy would have been greatly improved had its formulators understood the human craving for discipline. They would have immediately had an astute and accurate understanding of what an Iraq without Saddam would be like. Now, faced with all the problems that the strongman kept in check, they’re forced to unhappily enter an alliance with the Iranians just to feebly attempt to restore what they already had—and willfully undid—because they chose to make real world policy while living in a fantasy land.
If anything, the colonialists of the British Empire had no illusions about the subservient and base nature of humanity. With incomparably less wealth, technology, and personnel they managed to govern most of the planet. A few jungle and desert zones capable of resisting the entire might of the United States caused no unusual problems for the British whose only advantage over the American superpower was a shrewd understanding of people.
Enlightenment thought teaches us humans are perfect rational agents, who need only be set free. But even the most casual glance at the psychology of real, ordinary people quickly informs us: One of the cruelest things that can be done to a man is to set him free. At heart, man wants to be ruled.