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Book recommendation: The Guru Papers

The Guru Papers
Masks of Authoritarian Power

by Joel Kramer and Diane Alstad

This book was particularly formative for my thinking.  I believe the first time I read it was about a decade ago, though it's been out longer.  I've recently loaned it to a friend and every time I pick it up I run across another awesome thought.  Basically it starts out looking at gurus, who they are and what they do, and why.  The tail end of the book is about authoritarianism, and the nuts and bolts of how people fall prey to bosses that don't even pay them.  It was partly this book that programmed me to be hyper-aware of the word "should".  I'm ready to re-read it, soon as I get it back...and have the time.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 10th, 2011 11:41 pm (UTC)
It sounds like a good, and necessary, read. Often the authoritarian leader does not set out to become one, but because the nature of leadership is poorly understood and the dynamics of leadership only become apparent as the process goes on, leaders and followers often fall together into the trap of fascism. That is one reason that i am so fearful of the political process as it is now manifesting itself in the United States.
Nov. 11th, 2011 04:53 am (UTC)
Somebody pointed out after 9/11 how the US response met the definition of fascism.... I hadn't realized it before then. I'm curious though in your vision of the process. How do leaders and followers fall into fascism?
Nov. 11th, 2011 05:41 am (UTC)
Its not really my idea; a psychologist whose name i cannot remember came up with it in the 1970s. People come into leadership in a variety of ways, but mostly by default. The myth of leadership exists so there must be "a leader." Ofter the person who becomes leader is a person with the skills which the group needs. I personally have sat in groups which were trying to organize and elect their first leader, person after person refuses nomination until finally someone succumbs and accepts the nomination; he is of course elected.

As time goes on the leadership is subject to several processes. One is Michel's "Iron law of oligarchy." Leadership confers power and other advantages, so leaders try to hold on to their positions and usually succeed in doing so. Leaders begin to see the successes of the group as personal successes and challenges to their leadership as personal challenges. An "us" versus "them" attitude emerges in which the leader eventually becomes contemptuous of the followers and begins to see them as obstructions to his leadership. He comes to see his followers as an internal enemy; and finds it more comfortable to associate with other leaders than with his own followers.

This of course makes the leader feared and his attitude toward his followers becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
He becomes willing to use more and more harsh measures to control followers and get things done. He is psychologically separated from them and develops totally inaccurate ideas about both his own behavior and character and that of his followers. He no longer lives in the same "world" as has followers.

This is a danger that confronts every leader and it is impossible to foresee at the beginning of the process. Term limits might help but Putin has shown that term limits don't mean a thing if one can make sure that his hand picked candidate will succeed him. The only solution i can think of a following that does not need a leader, that has the self assurance to jump on the very first indication of abuse of power and tell the leader that this will not be tolerated. People will follow an authoritarian leader even if they refuse to believe that they will.

Nov. 11th, 2011 04:40 pm (UTC)
Lord Acton said it in 1887
"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."

And you are right about the basic follower nature of homo sapiens. It has been repeatedly demonstrated in all kinds of embarrassing and scientific ways.

About leadership: I have done some interesting reading on the subject in the last couple years and the tidbit that sticks with me is that the most popular person (ie the one chosen by democratic process) is rarely the *best* actual leader. This is because excellent leadership requires an emotional coolness and willingness to do what is unpopular and difficult. The best leaders are not likeable.

It would be interesting to see some science on what kinds of leaders are least corruptible.
Nov. 11th, 2011 08:57 pm (UTC)
Re: Lord Acton said it in 1887
"excellent leadership requires an emotional coolness and willingness to do what is popular and difficult." Yes, but i would hardly call it "excellent." This implies that he knows what must be done and others don't, which is a perfect recipe for authoritarian (and by my definition, corrupt) leadership. Corrupted, not by bribes or sex perhaps, or even power necessarily, but by his own hubris.

There are no doubt individuals who never sell out their followers. I don't think there are very many when the chips are down. I suspect these are the natural rebels and non-conformists, the few who can hold on to their humility and values through thick and thin. I think women might do better than men, at least for a while.

I'm trying to think of leaders i honestly respect, most either did not see themselves as "leaders" nor stay in leadership very long, or they did not stay uncorrupted very long. Ghandi, The Buddha, Jesus, Mahavira, Chief Joseph, Adin Ballou, Pope John XXIII,, Martin Luther King,jr, Abraham Lincoln, My list, for whatever reason, is very short, and i'm nor sure some i mention were not corrupted in some way. A good leader would rather see his organization destroyed than watch it act in opposition to its own goals and values; survival is never a sufficient reason for doing something.

Edited at 2011-11-11 08:59 pm (UTC)
Nov. 11th, 2011 09:31 pm (UTC)
Re: Lord Acton said it in 1887
Oh, I meant UNpopular. My typos are getting out of hand. And just because the statement *implies* something to your mind doesn't mean it is absolutely the truth. You have acknowledged that you also have biases that are difficult to see around. It sounds to me as if you see leadership in general as problematic, as if you can hardly imagine a leader who would not become corrupt. Am I wrong?

Your list of leaders IS short and it is heavy on moralistic and religious figures. Wouldn't it be nice to have truly enlightened leadership? Oh yes, I'm with you there. Just not sure how we're going to pull it off.

Really I think the best leaders don't want to be leaders, they simply end up in that position because they are the ones who will say it out loud instead of just thinking it, and push the button if they believe it needs to be done. And I think you find fault with that very willingness to push that button. Perhaps you are at root a pacifist? No button pushing, only loftiness even in the world of politics? I can't argue, I just don't see it happening.... so we get leaders who are NOT enlightened and who are corruptible and we end up in this mess. Phooey.

I don't know where I'm going with this, just thinking on keyboard.
Nov. 12th, 2011 03:33 am (UTC)
Re: Lord Acton said it in 1887
Acton is a hero to me. He would not lead, he would not follow, and he would not get out of the way. The correspondence with Bishop Creighton in which that aphorism appears is quite worth the read. Creighton (an Anglican) had written a history of the Church which Acton reviewed very negatively. Their main point of contention was the character and behavior of some of the Popes, particularly those who had created, endorsed, or simply looked the other way during the inquisitions. Creighton saw these men as bearing heavy responsibilities for the survival of the Church and doing the best they could under very difficult circumstances. Acton (a Roman Catholic) wrote a scathing retort to this attitude which included the "power corrupts" aphorism and also, if my memory serves me, "Great men are almost always bad men." So i am not the only one who has this bias.

I think that the problem is a systemic one which is part and parcel of the very nature of leadership. Ultimately, only those who are being led can contain the potential for hubris which curses leadership.

Power, of course has many meanings ranging all the way from the power to live to the power to kill. I admire power in the "lower" ranges -- the power to create, the power to be, "potential", "potency", the power to give, the power of love. Max Weber once defined power as the ability to achieve objectives despite resistance. This power easily passes from influence and persuasion to force, "legitimate authority," delegated authority, coercion, violence, and authoritarianism. It is these "upper" reaches of power that are the subject of Simone Weil's aphorism about power hurting everybody: "The strong it intoxicates, the weak it destroys,"

If someone cannot persuade me with a moral and logical argument, then they should leave me alone. I don't need a leader; i prefer to travel alone "like an elephant in the forest, or a king who has lost his kingdom." I will accept information, advice, help, suggestions, influence, etc. from anybody, but pushing around from no one. I wish to get to that point spiritually where i can accept a fist to my face without that affecting in any way how i feel about the person hitting me or what i do or how i do it, There are people in the world like this; most of them are followers of some spiritual path. Some of them count as leaders, but only in the "lower" ranges of power use. None are powerful by Weber's definition.
Nov. 12th, 2011 03:37 am (UTC)
Re: Lord Acton said it in 1887
The book i have trying to think of is The Powerholders, by David Kipnis.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )



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