Maps of Meaning, discussion – Part 2b aside, Hero Worship and Populism

In the last blog there was a part that I thought worthy of its own little aside. Peterson talked of admiration of elders and celebrities, to the point we worship them and mimic them. Who these worshipped people are is going to depend on the worshippers’ values and whether the worshipped person appears to have met them. One of the things I omitted in the discussion is the community, social or cultural impact of this: once a person starts to get a lot of praise, others may start to praise the same person by proxy of a societal expectation. I, for example, once tried to mimic football supporters (not an actual footballer) just to fit in with my peers. Alas, I eventually just conceded to not fit in in this respect.

I also worried about a “marketed” person. A person whose effort and hard work and failures and limitations are not publicised, so if they’re not really in your community, you never see that. That gives false impressions of a person. For example, former Presidents Donald Trump marketed himself as having absolute and executive control. He didn’t, of course, there were checks and balances on him through Pence and the courts and Congress and expected norms and ultimately the Constitution. Prime Minister Johnson is in a similar situation: he markets himself as an aggressive, forward thinking, tell-it-like-it-is jovial chap. It appears he’s actually a sad, cowardly, humourless man pretty much hamstrung by the situations he created.

But, the actual shortcomings of this person aren’t the point. They are powerful, many people want to be powerful; they are divorced (sometime in heartless ways), I’d wager many people feel stuck in relationship they want to escape; they are with people more attractive than them, no doubt other people want to do the same; they say outrageous things with no apparent consequences, you don’t seem to need to spend long on social media to notice many people want that; they’re racists, it appears we have more closet racists than we want to acknowledge; they’re rich, people want to be rich.

Trump and Johnson have achieved things personally that others want to achieve. And so people emulate what they see. But they only see the marketed features. They don’t see the influential and wealthy parents, the education and the strings of failures. They create a myth of the leader: if they’ve achieved the things I want to achieve they must be good people (because I’m a good person). But they’re more than just ‘good’; they’re the leaders, they are some sort of archetype of what goodness is. And they have enemies: the media, the EU. So, they must be bad. The story and the myth and the idolatry are all built up.

In addition to people who have built a sincere idol out of these “strong man” leaders, the unpleasantness of the two men in question result in unpleasantness to those who don’t agree; that mimicry is part of the adulation. And so there may also be those who, not wanting to be in the out-group, mimic the group and go along more broadly with the movement without ever really giving much of a thought to the icon of the worship.

So, the idea of pointing out the grotesque incompetence of either man unravels the entire way some people have used this story to organise the world and the very difference between good and bad. That’s why Johnson apologists say “he’s doing his best” oblivious to the damning indictment that is, and why Trump apologists go full QAnon Trump against a major evil conspiracy and Covid isn’t real and is part of the evil conspiracy.

If I’m right, then having one scale fall from one’s eyes will result in all the scales falling from their eyes.

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