THE EDITOR: Recently the political issue of politicians “riding the backs of the people” has caused serious umbrage at the highest level, and has provoked much commentary for and against in the media. I would like to add my little two cents to the issue.
This theme has many illustrations in literature, none more poignantly so than in George Orwell’s political allegory Animal Farm in which Napoleon (the name tellingly so in reference to the dictatorial tendencies of the bearer in history) would con the other animals into becoming their leader and ultimately defeat the humans, only to become “human” himself at the end of the book, with all the ironic implications of the kind of oppression he would wreak on those whose backs he rode into power.
Brutus in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar would illustrate the possibility of a similar exploitation of the people by Caesar who in climbing the backs of the people, using them as a ladder, would only “scorn the base degrees by which he did ascend,” justifying the need to kill him “in the shell” (Act 2 Sc1 20-35).
This tendency to ride the backs of the people is evident in some “democracies” in the world, illustrated in Myanmar (Burma) where the leader Aung San Suu Kyi would climb to power on a democratic platform only to stand by and watch the ethnic cleansing perpetrated on the Rohingya Muslims by the military, and to some extent in Hong Kong where the democratic elected leader Carrie Lam seems more aligned with Beijing in the implementation of the much maligned Extradition Bill, though demonstrating a change of heart of late. And there are other “democratically elected leaders similarly inclined elsewhere in the world.
In the two literary allusions above and to some extent in Myanmar and Hong Kong, it seems apparent that politicians in democracies often ride the backs of the people into power only to be exploited or even virtually abandoned by them, once they have gained the “upmost round (14).” Is this the psychology of power, corrupting those who achieve it, some of them absolutely so, according to the tenet?
What of our own country which spawned the idea recently? To begin with, is it likely that any supporter of the two main tribes would be remotely interested in anything outside of what the two main parties have to offer, as, for example, a list of fairly progressive offerings dropped in my mail box recently?
Hardly, I think, for tribal supporters in our race-based electorate, give and take, are unlikely to be interested in ideas at the level of the intellect, ideas which can be critically evaluated and translated into concrete action for the good of the country. Instead their support is based on a mutually beneficial, though unspoken, arrangement between themselves and their race-based would-be leaders, whom they see as the provider of the patronage and privilege they seek.
And our leaders are fully aware of this dependency and exploit it to the hilt! This is the core of our problem in this society, for once leaders know they would not be questioned or held to account by their supporters who depend on them for their “mess of pottage,” and this at every level of the society, big or small, high or low, intellectual or simpleton, is it any wonder they can say and do as they please? Is this not the perfect framework for riding the backs of the people?
I leave the answer to you, the reader.
DR ERROL N BENJAMIN