The Pathology of Power

Written by Jamie MacMaster

Over the Christmas Holidays I came across a You Tube clip of the elegantly blunt Nigel Farage, Leader of Britain’s Independence Party, delivering a devastating but accurate indictment against the political elites responsible for the malaise that has infected Britain and the rest of Europe. He lambasted those career politicians who would do anything, say anything to acquire and retain the power they so desperately crave, even to the absolute detriment of the very people whose lot in life they are supposed to protect and improve.

The beauty of his speech was its non-partisan nature: it was directed at any and all politicians whom, regardless of party or ideology, could comfortably shoulder the mantle of moral decrepitude they had tailored for themselves – which Mr. Farage had so exquisitely described. And it may bring some solace to closeted Europhiles lurking in this audience that Mr. Farage’s criticisms apply mutatis mutandis on this side of the pond; the languages and faces may change, but what is rotten in Toronto and Ottawa surely smells the same as the decay in London or Brussels.

It is at this point that I must insert the de rigueur proactive apology/disclaimer that is as truly Canadian as a hockey stick: Mr. Farage’s criticisms – which I roundly support, adopt and proclaim, do not apply to all our politicians. But they apply to far too many. And the sad thing is, not one of the lumps deserving the criticism would think for one second that the accusations referred to him or her – sociopaths are incapable of honest introspection.

And sociopaths they are indeed. I recall a few behaviours that are generally accepted as the hallmarks of a sociopath: feigned emotions; pathological lying; the need to win at all costs – ethics be damned; and last but not least, a total absence of remorse: never admitting wrong, and only apologizing when caught. Can you hang those descriptors on a few politicians you know? Perhaps even a Premier or two? This, Ladies and Gents, constitutes a good part of our problems: political office is the opiate and the holy grail of the sociopath. And we suffer because shameless self-advancement is the antithesis of, and irreconcilable with, devoted public service.

And that’s not the end of our woes. Except for a miniscule amount of revenue collected via tariffs (which probably doesn’t pay the collectors’ salaries), all of our nation’s wealth comes from private enterprise. Yet to our detriment, the shrinking eighty percent of our population that toils in the private sector is terribly under-represented in our council-chambers and parliaments.

A perusal of the curricula vitae of those who demand and disperse our tax-dollars reveals a stunning lack of business experience. Most of them have never had to prepare a budget, deal with regulatory obstacles, or indeed, make a living off the fruits of their own labour. Instead, more often than not, those whom we elect to public office have been recipients of government pay-cheques for their entire lives. So there is no understanding of the myriad stresses and strains that afflict those of us who put bread on our tables (and theirs) by our own diligence and ingenuity, instead of debiting the public purse. Yet we continue to elect them.

As surely as Walkerton’s infamous Koebel brothers passed out beside the valves, we have fallen asleep at the switches of democracy. We devote a hundred times more scrutiny to the character, work ethic and experience of a summer student than we do to those who make the most monumental of decisions, supposedly on our behalf. Election after weary election we delegate our responsibilities to a hapless press – to reframe the worn issues and to re-ask their pathetic questions. As if (expecting the miraculous) one day Peter Mansbridge (or a local reporter) would ask, “Sir, what do you have in your résumé that would assure the eighty percent of the population that works for private enterprise that you would use their tax-dollars cautiously and wisely?”

We ignore our vestigial instincts – those little flags and bells that flutter and tinkle when a smile is turned off and on like a light switch, when expressions of concern seem a bit contrived, and when eye contact is only maintained until someone with more political capital comes into the field of view. And from time to time we get rid of one set of bums for another; hoping against hope that the new brand of sociopath stew might have a bit more substance. And we lose again.

But the biggest losses are surely those of human dignity and worth – their debasement lessens us all. In the dying days of his faltering 2006 campaign, when the ridiculous “Troops in Our Streets” ads hit the screens, I watched a TV interview with Paul Martin. I am sorry that I did. Now, the only image I can conjure up of the man is that of a frightened, craven animal who tossed aside dignity and truth in a desperate attempt to hang on to the power that was slipping away.

For what does it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Mark 8:36


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