A magician is someone pretends not to have what they have: a trick, a method, a sleight of hand or some sophisticated logical ploy intended to deceive an audience. A charlatan is someone who pretends to have what they do not: competency, knowledge, skill, authority or substantive and sufficient intellect for whatever masquerade they seek to successfully construct. Which is worse – to pretend not to have what you possess or to pretend to possess what you in fact do not?
Extend this principle a little further – consider national leadership in politics and quite agnostic of any specific country or ideological context. The primary and unacknowledged purpose of political leadership is not, actually and counter-intuitively, to lead – it is to recursively reinforce a normative belief in the ascendant necessity of political systems. This is not a qualitative assertion regarding either the value or inevitability of any and all flavours of political system. It is a general observation regarding the core functional mechanisms and feedback loops of autonomously self-propagating information and energy-processing systems that we inhabit and viscerally experience as minds, languages, cultures and the shared histories and painful birth pangs of an integrated Global civilisation. Political leadership is the emergent pattern of systemic self-replication that we perhaps quite naturally assume is an inevitability but is really just an emergent consequence of utterly unplanned (and plausibly unplannable) large-scale self-organisational system dynamics.
So – and beyond decompressing that above mini-thesis into a more elaborate apolitical manifesto, several books and some cool internet memes as bumper stickers or assorted commercial fashion-brand merchandising – political leadership is on the whole the central organisational pivot that we perhaps neither need or want but that we must – as a consequence of large scale system dynamics – inevitably inherit. Much is made of the moral necessity of this or that, left or right, political orientation and of the ascendant significance of the political figures that spruik those positions. What we rarely if ever acknowledge here is that the pinning of leadership and authorial ethical responsibility upon particular individuals, parties or ideological concepts is neither inevitable or necessary.
While tribal difference is probably what has always fuelled most innovation and the development of material technologies over human history, the capitalisation and seeking of leverage and advantage from the sum total of those differences is itself just a natural occurrence of system dynamics like the patterns of breaking waves on a beach that are shaped by underlying the topography of the rising ocean floor. Political leadership is, in other words, just a property of system dynamics and the particular people or parties that find themselves in power are mere transient fluctuations against the complex dynamical backdrop of a history much deeper than they know or care.
So, politicians, “great leaders” and the like are not necessary or inevitable – they are just probabilistic, transient historical occurrences that more often than not assert (as great banners of redundant stupidity) their own psychological insecurities as strengths and drag entire nations or worlds into fictional narratives of hollow self-importance that inevitably, and perennially, collapse under the untenable weight of their own effective insubstantiality. In this sense and as a consequence of the rank unprovability (hence fictional essence) of most if not all ideological frameworks – politicians as political leaders inhabit vast and sprawling labyrinths of half-mirrored tautology and emotionally comforting narcissistic fantasy.
Does this mean that a political leader is a magician or a charlatan? Do they pretend not to have what they in fact do possess – transience and insubstantiality as a function of blind historical and dynamical forces which just happened to percolate this one particular hominid through the ranks of stratified hierarchy into ascendancy and leadership? Or do they pretend to have what they do not – inevitability, moral and social or economic certainty?
The deeply and eternally turbulent, contested information spaces of political life reveals (at least) two primary revelations:
1) Those who ascend to power are generally those who by wit or by luck learn to successfully navigate the complex information-processing systems of power and influence associated with political systems and through this – they are successful precisely and directly as a function of the extent to which their actions and assertions of national caretaking or wilful manipulation serve to recursively regenerate the political information-processing system itself, above and beyond their individual or asserted national and Global aspirations; and,
2) The degree of insecurity manifest in or as political and (let’s be brutally honest) geostrategic posturing is a direct measure of the insubstantiality of a position. All political systems are expansive as a function of autonomously self-propagating dynamical processes endemic in matter and biology but the degree to which competition becomes biases towards saber-rattling and conflict indicates the extent to which aggression is rounded upon political fear, itself based much less in the actual facts than it is in a profoundly self-interested psychological myopia that – being perhaps quite native to brains and minds – drags us all along for the roller-coaster ride and recurring catastrophes of human history.
A key reason that political (and cultural) narratives are rarely sufficiently questioned or analysed to a point of doubting their sum and aggregate validity is that the unhappiness and uncertainty we all find ourselves inhabiting has a tendency to recreate itself, without direction and through us. We just assume that the facts we encounter are quite normative and necessary, despite the fact that they are not. We are all living inside effective fictions as though optical illusions of necessity which we can not escape. Political leaders, equally trapped by the myths they make can only ever and also just go along with this accelerating, evolving game of human sociotechnical and political confusion. The thing we neither hide nor possess is that this is a game that plays itself through us much more than we exist through it and for this reason alone, we can expect the great banners of ideological incompetency to continue waving above our heads and leading us all – in part and in whole – into utterly stupid collective actions, assertions and conclusions.