By and large, humans tend to be verbal in our dislike for being told what to do. I don’t know many people who like their bosses, and I’ve had an array of supervisors I’ve either appreciated and despised. We all too often complain about those in authority over us for any number of reasons. If we were just to take our sentiment at face value, one might wonder why it is that we have anyone in control of anything anywhere, particularly in a ‘free’ society.
In observing recent events, though, I dare suggest that the exact opposite is true: Everyone loves a tyrant.
We don’t moan and groan over those in charge because we think we could do a better job than the boss, we don’t whine about those in government because we have fundamental disagreements with regard to a philosophy of government, we don’t call for the head of a head coach or general manager because we’re better at selecting players for our teams. (And, given how bad people–read: men–are at fantasy sports, history is not exactly on the side of the masses.) We do so because we, regardless of whether or not we are aware of it, want to be under the control of a leader who exudes control and competence.
To be sure, we may well have disagreements in philosophy or engage in well-informed (or otherwise) criticism of hot stove decisions, but the reality of the matter is that we prefer to be dominated, because we’ve lost the taste for being responsible for ourselves a long time ago.
Some might read that as a political statement, and I would understand that reaction, but I would remind you that there is no partisan preference for philosophical integrity. Republicans in Washington first offered the idea of a mandate for health insurance, President Bush pushed through massive increases in government scope and spending, and Democrats were all for Vietnam at the outset and the filibuster…until it was used against them by the minority in the Senate. The special pleading that permeates all these instances indicates a deeper, more troubling reality: we’re all too willing to throw away collegial affiliations in the name of devotion to a figurehead.
In previous posts here, I’ve referred to a professor of religious studies, David Chidester. Chidester argues that religion is the negotiation toward a fully-human identity. This, of course, resonates with my commitment to Tillich’s idea of faith being that which is a person’s ultimate concern. Frankly, the removal of the explicitly sacred or religious from the fore of public life hasn’t made us an atheistic or secular people, it has, rather, made a potential idol of everything and everyone. And we’ve embraced the fact that any noun can be our personal golden calf.
Incidentally, this is seldom more true than in the supposedly sacred spaces: is there any more glaring example of our embrace of tyrants than in the church? Whether it’s a blind allegiance to a theological commitment (calvinus delenda est.), or a pastor or speaker, or *gag*, a particular ‘worship leader’, or denomination, the last thing adherents are particularly interested in is exploring the liberty of Christian salvation. Quoth Michael Knott, ‘We throw off all the shackles, then we wear the chains.’ In failing to realize how poisonous our religious commitments are–and this is especially true in the radical sector of pseudo-Christian anarchy that makes up much of the postmodern church fixated on grace for grace’s sake–we offer nothing substantively different from what is already present. Why should I switch tyrants, when I’m perfectly under control as it is?
A few years ago, music journalist Jim DeRogatis edited a book entitled Kill Your Idols, in which a varied number of contributors revisited–and largely savaged–works that make up part of the rock and roll canon. From Patti Smith’s ‘Horses’ to Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ to The Beach Boys’ ‘Pet Sounds’ to Radiohead’s ‘OK Computer’, writers lined up and took their shots at some of the revered albums from the past 50 years. It was a wildly enjoyable read, though I did not necessarily agree with everything argued therein, and I think we all could stand to step away from that which we hold sacred and reexamine their merits.
The hopeful part of our situation is that we are only dominated because we allow ourselves to be. It’s not too late for things to turn around. And, with a fair critical eye, we can begin to tear down the high places we’ve set up throughout American culture (and, with a nod to a now intercontinental audience, I’m sure this is true to varying degrees elsewhere in the world.) We need not adore our tyrants, political or otherwise. They are only given power because we’ve given it to them. Mark Driscoll doesn’t have to be listened to and not everything Barack Obama does is for the good of the people (or partisans.) Face it, U2 hasn’t had a good record in over ten years. Paul Krugman stopped making any sense at all as soon as he (inexplicably) won his Nobel prize. Michael Savage is a caricature of himself. The NFL is boring. There isn’t a single show on CBS worth watching right now. The largest church in Mecca is an ugly steel building full of self-important blowhard whose leadership should have their credentials taken away because of their doctrinal shift away from their denomination, and their 501 status investigated for all the business that goes on within its property.
I could just be contrarian, but the reality is that I refuse to be dominated by anything or anyone who isn’t wife (or the beans. I love my tyrants!)
Nothing is sacred, save for the truth. And when nothing is sacred, then we can make principled decisions toward figuring out exactly what is, and demand accountability from that which is not.