TBIMG Question #10 ~ Absolute Power

by Dr. Madhi Obeidi and Kurt Pitzer

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TBIMG Question #10 ~ Absolute Power

Unread postby Liz » Wed Jul 18, 2007 10:56 am

Pg. 96. Saddam removed the piece of paper from the notepad, and we all watched as he slowly tore it into tiny pieces, which he put in an astray. The double message of this was subtle but clear: the program was top secret, and the president had finished listening to the technical side of things.

Absolute power, also called absolute authority, is a term used in political science to describe a head of state and head of government that holds supreme executive, judicial and legislative powers. Most modern forms of absolute power are deemed undesirable, especially by proponents of democracy. People that wield such power are often called dictators and tyrants. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Absolute_power)

How do you think absolute power influences those working under such a regime?

How does it effect the tyrant wielding the power?
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Unread postby Betty Sue » Wed Jul 18, 2007 12:54 pm

I think that fear, again, plays a part in how people working under a dictator are influenced. In order to stay in favor with the dictator, they tend to try to decipher what he wants and give it to him rather than to explore all alternatives honestly and go against the grain when necessary. Underneath, however, the workers are highly distressed at their lack of freedom and may be hungry to find a leader who will help them revolt.
The tyrant is also acting out of fear, fear of giving any power to anyone but himself. He ends up with too many 'yes men' and too little knowledge. He never really knows what his subjects are thinking and has a false sense that things are going well.
An example from the book:
Saddam paused and then launched into a general speech about the technological progress of Iraq and the Arab nation.
"Soon we will be on par with countries like Switzerland in technological terms," he said. "Hussein Kamel, how long will it take Iraq to reach the level of Switzerland?"
"Not long, for sure," Hussein Kamel said dutifully.
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Unread postby ThirdArm » Wed Jul 18, 2007 1:19 pm

I think absolute power contains the seeds of its own destruction. People working in a situation of where absolute power is held by one person are fear-driven. They can't speak the truth, even if it would be for the good of the country, or for that matter, the 'good' of the tyrant.

In turn, the tyrant is surrounded by 'yes men' as Betty Sue said; and they are not giving out the correct information. So he is continuing with the false reality. And, eventually, it will all come crashing down. In a throwdown between reality and fantasy, reality is going to win every time.

Who knows what would have been the result if Saddam had been a more 'normal' person?
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Unread postby Liz » Wed Jul 18, 2007 2:36 pm

Betty Sue and ThirdArm, good answers! I think we tend to focus on the negative effects on the victims of the tyrant and not the negative effects to the tyrant, himself—at least I do. So it is interesting to ponder the negative effects of the “yes” men on the tyrant.

ThirdArm, your comment about Saddam not being normal brings to mind what a friend of mine shared with me recently. She goes to school at a technical college in Chicago. And one of her instructors (also an Iraqi) told her that he knew Saddam back in the day. They went to college together. He said he thought Saddam was a good guy. He also views Saddam as a good ruler because he knew how to deal with the mentality of the people in that culture and how to control them to make the Iraqi society work. Yeah, right.
:eyebrow:
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Unread postby nebraska » Wed Jul 18, 2007 2:59 pm

Liz wrote:Betty Sue and ThirdArm, good answers! I think we tend to focus on the negative effects on the victims of the tyrant and not the negative effects to the tyrant, himself—at least I do. So it is interesting to ponder the negative effects of the “yes” men on the tyrant.

ThirdArm, your comment about Saddam not being normal brings to mind what a friend of mine shared with me recently. She goes to school at a technical college in Chicago. And one of her instructors (also an Iraqi) told her that he knew Saddam back in the day. They went to college together. He said he thought Saddam was a good guy. He also views Saddam as a good ruler because he knew how to deal with the mentality of the people in that culture and how to control them to make the Iraqi society work. Yeah, right.
:eyebrow:


I find that to be a very revealing remark. We talked about cultural similarities, but there are huge differences between Western and Iraq cultures as well. And that creates a rather sticky situation.

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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Wed Jul 18, 2007 4:53 pm

Good answers! I don't think I can really add anything new to what you all have said.

Liz, that is an interesting comment by your friend's professor. Does he not believe the Iraqi people are capable of running their own country? It sounds like he is talking about them as if they were little children needing guidance or something.

I have never understood the mindset of a dictator or those who can follow one blindly, especially after all the historical examples. However if the information flow is tightly controlled and influenced then people don't have enough information to know the difference.
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Unread postby Liz » Wed Jul 18, 2007 5:47 pm

DeppInTheHeartOfTexas wrote: Liz, that is an interesting comment by your friend's professor. Does he not believe the Iraqi people are capable of running their own country? It sounds like he is talking about them as if they were little children needing guidance or something.


That's the way I took it.

DITHOT wrote:I have never understood the mindset of a dictator or those who can follow one blindly, especially after all the historical examples. However if the information flow is tightly controlled and influenced then people don't have enough information to know the difference.


I think we are back to the fear issue again. I think that only the very brave would try to overthrow a dictator. And I believe that the mindset of a dictator is one who is obsessed with the idea of power and control. He can be so blinded by his thirst for power that he can't see the forest for the trees, unable to face reality (like we discussed early on).
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Unread postby fansmom » Wed Jul 18, 2007 6:14 pm

I frequently read more than one book at a time. I should not be reading Schindler's List and TBIMG. There is too much similarity, and one of the most obvious similarities is the abuse of power. Those of you who have seen the movie Schindler's List: do you remember Amon Goeth, the concentration camp commander (played by Ralph Finnes) who shot random workers just because he could? Absolute power, absolute corruption. Too similar to Saddam.

Liz, that is an interesting comment by your friend's professor. Does he not believe the Iraqi people are capable of running their own country? It sounds like he is talking about them as if they were little children needing guidance or something.
I think it could be a difficult, slow process for someone who endured under a dictatorship to learn to live independently. There would be a whole new set of rules to learn, and decision-making skills would have to be relearned.

Although this doesn't completely pertain to today's question, I certainly found it interesting. It's from msnbc.com today--a female NBC reporter in Baghdad talks with Iraqi women about life--
http://worldblog.msnbc.msn.com/archive/ ... 75611.aspx

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Unread postby suec » Thu Jul 19, 2007 3:52 am

Very interesting, fansmom! It highlights a number of similarities between cultures that we were discussing in that question.

When it comes to the question about absolute power, I don't think it is just fear that holds people back from challenging authority. It seems that it is human nature to be obedient - or for the majority to be so, anyway, according to the psychologist Stanley Milgram. He tested this theory in the sixties in some rather controversial experiments. He gives the details here:

http://home.swbell.net/revscat/perilsOfObedience.html

Add fear in as a factor on top, and the dictator stands a fair chance of success. The price, I suppose, is being followed from fear rather than love, but it depends what your priorities are. With everyone being so sycophantic, it may be that he loses his sense of reality, but I am not sure that would matter to him. If he is master of all he surveys, he can choose whatever reality he likes - until it does come crashing down. I think the loss of truth is a very high price, more so at the level of the ordinary people, husbands and wives unable to fully express their thoughts for fear of the bugs.
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Unread postby Liz » Thu Jul 19, 2007 9:37 am

suec wrote: husbands and wives unable to fully express their thoughts for fear of the bugs.


Isn't that sad?

I need to print out the article on obedience and read it. Then I will come back and comment on that. I did that last night with Fansmom's interview of Iraqi women. Quite interesting, Fansmom! It makes my friend's Iraqi instructor's comments seem somewhat reasonable. It seems some of the women would have preferred to remain under Saddam's dictatorship.
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Unread postby ThirdArm » Thu Jul 19, 2007 12:24 pm

Liz wrote:
suec wrote: husbands and wives unable to fully express their thoughts for fear of the bugs.


Isn't that sad?

I need to print out the article on obedience and read it. Then I will come back and comment on that. I did that last night with Fansmom's interview of Iraqi women. Quite interesting, Fansmom! It makes my friend's Iraqi instructor's comments seem somewhat reasonable. It seems some of the women would have preferred to remain under Saddam's dictatorship.


Last year, I met a woman who had married an Iraqi and lived over in Iraq for over 20 years. She retained her US citizenship and the entire family moved here in the early '90s.

I asked her about life under Saddam, and she said it wasn't that bad, all things considered. Unlike Saudi Arabia, women had a very Western-style life; people travelled to and from Iraq. All of her children went through university in Iraq.

She made the comment that he did know how to hold together the separate entities that are now in civil war. I asked her what her husband was doing now and what he thought about the situation.

She replied that he had been one of those who disappeared without a trace; somehow he had gotten on Saddam's bad side and that was that.

I had a hard time reconciling in my own mind those two statements. I certainly wouldn't have thought things weren't so bad, if my husband had suddenly disappeared.
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Unread postby Liz » Thu Jul 19, 2007 2:07 pm

ThirdArm, I guess you take the good with the bad. :-?

It boggles the mind.
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Unread postby nebraska » Thu Jul 19, 2007 10:55 pm

It does all boggle the mind....... :-? I was reading the History of Iraq and Babylon tidbits today (yes, I am still behind) -- it made my head spin. It is hard for me to imagine all the power struggles, the rise and fall of so many leaders, the complicated divisions in the area. As an American I am sure I don't grasp half of the culture and thought patterns involved in daily life in that region.

Sometimes I think we want to oversimplify things. Life is much easier if we can assume there is one right way......."our" way, the way we know...........and that all other ways are wrong. There is a certain air of superiority, an elitist way of thinking, implied by that assumption. No matter which side of any topic one may fall on. The truth is that the world is many shades of gray. It is easier to assume that Saddam was pure evil -- it is more difficult to accept that he had virtues thrown in with the bad stuff and that in his own time and in his own culture, he might be viewed a little differently by some of his own people. In spite of violence, quick retribution, and other actions that we, as Westerners, abhor.

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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Thu Jul 19, 2007 11:09 pm

Much food for thought here and I have been AWOL today! One thing that keeps standing out to me is how much we, as Westerners, don't understand Arab culture, and I suppose vice versa? Yet, when I read the interview that fansmom posted I see similarities. I wish we could start from there instead of our differences. :-/
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Unread postby gemini » Fri Jul 20, 2007 4:02 pm

I am catching up here and this thread alone has plenty to consider.
First my thoughts on todays question. We all know the saying about absolute power corrupts and Saddam is no exception to the rule.

Nebraska , you have stated rather well some of the thoughts that have been going through my mind as I read this thread today.
Nebraska said
It is easier to assume that Saddam was pure evil -- it is more difficult to accept that he had virtues thrown in with the bad stuff and that in his own time and in his own culture, he might be viewed a little differently by some of his own people.

After reading the great article fansom found about the Iraqi women, it is easy to see that those women judge how they are living now compared to under Saddam as a step downward. They seem to have no hope for their future and this is a sad state of affairs.

Watching the news lately on how bad things are going in Iraq between all the rival factors, the statement made by Liz about the professor who knew Saddam does not seem so strange. He may have a better knowledge of the Sunni, Shiite situation then we did.
He said
He also views Saddam as a good ruler because he knew how to deal with the mentality of the people in that culture and how to control them to make the Iraqi society work.


It seems that we may have a different idea of what is important from them. To us being free of a dictator is worthwhile because we see freedom as most important. It seems to them their society has so many religious beliefs that control their freedoms, they may see things very differently. Saddam's strong arm fear tactics seemed to let them lead a freer life than they have now. We make the mistake of thinking what works for us will work for all but these peoples culture is far too different from ours.
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