Terry from Derry: The Man Who Would Be King
by Terry Boyle
So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah.5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead[b] us, such as all the other nations have.”
6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. 7 And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. (NIV I Samuel)
The bible, like any ancient text, offers us incredible insights into the human condition. Not satisfied with depending on their God, or reasoning, the people are willing to trade their unique autonomy in favour of a king. It was a decision they would later come to regret.
Saul, their long sought-after king, is an egotist, a narcissist, and obsessed with power. Had he been alive today, his twitter account would list his military, economic, and political prowess. He would claim to predict the weather, become the ‘chosen one’, and ultimately ruin the planet for future generations by lying through his teeth. It did not take the people of Israel long to realize that it’s a case of be careful what you wish for, or, in our case, who you vote for.
Recently, I read an interesting article in Politico in which Shawn Rosenberg, a professor at the University of Irvine, gave a paper that, for me, draws parallels with the biblical story of Saul. Democracy is hard work. When it comes to self-rule, the level of responsibility is greater, and this burden of making the right choices becomes increasingly unfavourable to those who want to be led.
People, Rosenberg speculates, do not want to think too deeply about political topics. When it comes to complicated issues such as international affairs, environmental issues, immigration et al, Rosenberg proposes that voters want simple answers. They do not want to be cajoled into thinking about the complexities of modern life.
His theory is disturbing, and his prediction that democracies will eventually shrink and be extinguished by right-wing policies, is quite chilling. What is even more unsettling is his assumption that the human brain is not capable of sustaining democracy since it is not designed to deal with the many demands a democratic system asks of the individual.
True democracy requires the individual to make informed choices. It requires that we tolerate those who are different from us. We are asked to question supposed facts and determine what is true. All of these things, Rosenberg determines, make it impossible to maintain a vibrant democracy. The human brain, he claims, is not built to meet these responsibilities.
And, the recent moves towards the right-wing polices of exclusion, and racism appear to agree with him. We find ourselves now in a position where ‘we the people’ have been replaced by an administration that follows the whims of a man who would be king. The erosion of our democratic principles has, over the past few decades, has become a reality.
Many of the freedoms that our forefathers gave their lives for, are under threat. The pessimism, engendered by this idea that democracy is dying, does have merit. There are signs all around us that ‘we the people’ have opted to value the whims of a king, and abandon the responsibility of self-rule.
When I read the article on Rosenberg’s paper, I was appalled, but I was also fighting against the horrible feeling that he might be right. Every day we read the complete absurdity of the present administration’s double-dealings and it is becoming less and less disturbing to us. We have become acclimatized to policies that separate families, treat outsiders with complete disrespect, and rules in favour of the rich.
The question of truth does not appear to be of value anymore. What is more important is a protection of the right of some over others. The right to discriminate against those who are not like us is validated by those in power, and it does not rankle our conscience.
When it comes to ‘who’s pulling the strings’, we have given that right over to those who will make us dance to their merry tune. If Rosenberg is right, we, like the people of Israel, will see the end to self-rule. However, since, unlike Rosenberg, I believe that there are enough of us to stand against this trend and fight against the decline of democracy. The human brain can evolve to deal with the demands of a democratic system. If our brains can cope with the numerous demands of new technologies, then, I’m sure it can be trained to reach the lofty goals of fairness and tolerance.
There is no doubt that our society is changing, and the new technologies have, ironically enough, made even greater demands on us as humans. We can allow the truth to be dumbed down and allow ourselves to be treated as if we had half a brain, or we can take seriously the call to be active members of our community. Democracy is not easy to sustain.
There will always be challenges, but the alternative is too ghastly to contemplate. Can we allow ourselves to find another Saul, Hitler, or Stalin? Yes, we can. We have already opened the door to the man who would be king.