Trust Me (I’m Not a Leader)

Many people suspect our leaders cannot be trusted – but it’s a sort of half-hearted suspicion; you can see them thinking: “Well I do trust them really, but because (insert this week’s leadership media scandal) has made me very cross I’m just going to say they’re all very naughty just to show I was never really taken in. But mark these words well, and think for a moment about their implications: our leaders really cannot be trusted.

You want proof? Of course you do; and quite right too. I’ll give you a little proof – little not because only a little exists, but because there is so much proof that even if I were to write a whole book on the subject I would still only be scratching the surface; and that’s if we only talk about the proven cases of deliberate outright lies our trusted leaders tell us; if we included the full catalogue of half truths, omissions and deceptions we could fill entire bookcases.

Try visiting your favourite on-line book store and typing the words “lies and history” into the search engine. When I did it 690 books were listed. O.K., some of them are duplicated or out of stock, and others are irrelevant to this subject, but you get the point.

Leaders cannot be trusted. The importance of this fact cannot be understated, as our entire society is founded upon the bedrock of trustworthy leadership. Now this is not to say that all leaders are untrustworthy, and certainly not that they are untrustworthy all of the time – but this just makes the problem worse, because we seldom know for certain when we’re being lied to, or intentionally deceived, until it’s too late.

When ordinary people are sacked from their jobs for misconduct – or even just a sniff of misconduct, it’s almost impossible for them to find re-employment in similar work on the assumption that they cannot fully be trusted. But when it happens in public office or corporate boardrooms it seems to serve as an important examination that’s been passed, an essential rite of passage confirming one’s suitability not only for re-employment, but promotion to properly high office. The biggest prizes are reserved for those special rising stars where misconduct is strongly suspected, but cannot be absolutely proven. Ideally these examinations should not attract too much public attention, but even if they do it doesn’t present anything like the same obstacle to one’s career as it would for millions of lesser mortals.

Once properly schooled our public and private sector leaders then assume their rightful places as master puppeteers. Many lead quite uneventful lives and may remain as sleepers throughout their careers and never be called upon to seriously betray the nation’s trust. However, sometimes they are required to exercise the skills for which they’ve already shown a talent, and which won for them their exalted position. They could be required to lead a largely unwilling nation into an illegal war, say – a task requiring reasonable acting abilities, a total disregard for the truth, and psychopathic quantities of inhumanity.

Such is the situation in which we find ourselves. It’s not a new situation – a brief examination of history from the people’s perspective quickly shows that our leaders have nearly always proven themselves completely worthy of total mistrust. So what can be done about it?

First, and most important of all, is simply recognising that basic truth: leaders cannot be trusted. This is not an easy step to take, because the implications are truly immense, but it is an essential step: we can only fix a problem once we actually realise we have a problem.

It’s worth repeating that very few leaders are untrustworthy all of the time. Many, perhaps most, don’t even know themselves they cannot be trusted. These comprise the junior and middle ranking leaders who form the essential glue to keep the whole rotten edifice standing upright. Most of the time this very substantial group sincerely believe in the rightness of what they’re doing for no better reason than they’ve been told to do it by someone who they suppose knows what’s going on. “Just following orders” – that famous defence that was rightly blown out of the water at Nuremberg. How many ordinary soldiers in how many wars would have gone “over the top” to their certain deaths for absolutely no reason whatsoever except for the fact that some poor brainwashed fool of a junior leader went over first shouting: “follow me chaps”?

Next, after accepting that leaders cannot be trusted, we need to think about a very important question: what do we actually need leaders for? What ‘value added’ to our lives do they supply? In all the time I’ve thought about this subject (and that’s quite a lot), the only answer I can come up with is that in times of crisis it’s pretty useful to have someone who knows what they’re doing directing or co-ordinating the actions of others. But how often do such crises occur? Unless you work in the emergency services, how often does a real crisis affect your daily life so badly that you actually need a leader telling you what to do? Providing you’ve been properly trained for your job, have the appropriate resources to hand, and have good lines of communication with equally well-provided colleagues, how much do you actually need to be led? Even in times of national emergencies it’s not actually leaders we need, but organisation. Even the greatest leader can achieve nothing without an organisation; but an organisation may function perfectly well without a leader in sight – it only needs well trained, properly resourced people with efficient lines of communication.

Leaders affect almost every aspect of our lives, and the first realisation that they cannot be trusted comes as something of a shock. However, this is more than compensated for with the realisation that we don’t actually need them anyway. Anarchists have been telling the world this for many years, but have singularly failed to get the message across. Not that it’s entirely their fault. Our leaders, some of whom are not very stupid, fully understand the considerable danger to their positions of a world that suddenly comprehends it no longer needs them. Consequently they employ the awesome forces at their disposal to poison the minds of the people to the powerful messages of anarchy. Indeed, the very mention of the word conjures up to most people images of mindless wild-eyed fanatics smashing up anything and everything in their way (individuals who are often paid agents rather than real anarchists anyway), not something that prizes noble virtues such as peace, freedom and equality.

Perhaps the most traditional “essential” function of leadership is decision-making. We are encouraged to believe that our leaders have two very special qualities to enable them to undertake this vital function. Firstly we’re conditioned to believing that our leaders have particular natural gifts that enable them to make extraordinarily inspired decisions – decisions that no ordinary person could ever hope to make. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, we’re led to believe that our leaders always place our interests far above their own (the fact they must suffer lives of pampered luxury while the rest of humanity rubs along as best they can is no doubt some sort of penance they must endure for their noble self-sacrifice).

So let’s examine a little more closely this special duty of leaders: decision-making.

Firstly, consider the notion that they might have particular natural gifts and abilities. Undoubtedly there have been one or two leaders in the past with quite extraordinary personal abilities – but usually these talents have manifested themselves in the form of awesome ruthlessness and inhumanity. Upon closer examination, about the only notable quality of your average national leader, like some of Britain’s monarchs and certain American presidents for example, seems to be a quite spectacular lack of intelligence. Even the really bright ones seem unable to demonstrate an original thought they might once have had. How could such people possibly glide effortlessly from one inspirational decision to the next?

Then there’s the notion of self-sacrifice – the view that our leaders are driven only by the purest of ideals: to serve the greater good, a noble desire to do what’s best for us, the lowly mortals who gaze up with misty-eyed trusting awe at our saintly protectors. In other words we are conditioned to believing that the decision-making of our leaders can be wholly trusted because they always act in our best interests.

Armies are quite a good place to look for examples of leadership in practice; after all, they do epitomise the rigid hierarchical control model that is mirrored almost everywhere else in society. But there’s a bit of a problem. If military leaders (or their political masters) are so selfless in all their decision-making, why do they always locate themselves behind expensive desks in comfortable offices at very safe distances from any real danger? Why does their self-sacrifice on our behalf confine itself to sending ordinary people to distant deserts and frozen wastelands to kill and die for their own good? Why do our trusted leaders never lead from the front, or send their own sons and daughters to have a turn at getting up close and personal with death?

Directly related to the principle of self-sacrifice is what I call the payola-paradox. The private sector is the best exemplar of this (although the public sector is not far behind). The payola-paradox says that whilst all the best leaders will naturally be fully committed to self sacrifice, the best way for all that selflessness to be demonstrated is for them to accept top dollar – but the best way for workers to demonstrate their own self sacrifice is by working for nothing. So the greater a leader’s wealth, and the greater the workers’ poverty, the greater must be purity of decision-making and sacrifices everyone is making for the common good.

It’s cruel I know, but sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind, and mocking such high-principled self sacrifice just has to be done in order to make a pretty valid point: the only people our leaders truly serve, and have ever truly served, are themselves.

Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with a little self interest; after all, it’s directly related to the survival instinct that’s common to every living thing. The real problems occur when the self interest of some individual, or class of individuals, is awarded grossly preferential weighting to the self interest of others (as it always has been).

So where are we? We’ve established that leaders cannot be trusted, and we’ve established the myth of perfect decision-making by self-sacrificing leaders; but the most significant point to take on board is that we don’t actually need leaders anyway. We’re perfectly capable of making our own decisions.

This is scary stuff; but consider it for a moment. What goes into making a good decision?

There are just three basic components: information, information and information.

First off, you need just the right amount of background information about any situation that requires a decision. This is best provided not by dozens of experts all repeating each other, but simply by two experts – who disagree with each other. Then you need the right consequential information about the possible results of any decision you might make – no chess player worth her salt ever makes a move without thinking about all the possible consequences; and finally you need a reliable means of informing relevant people about what the decision is. None of these components are, of themselves, difficult; but they are often made extremely difficult by devious people serving their own self-interested agendas.

It isn’t difficult to grasp the essential requirements of a good decision – it’s only taken me one paragraph to write it. So instead of being conditioned to rely on people we can never fully trust to make our decisions for us, why can’t we instead be conditioned to just make our own? And the decisions of government should be OUR decisions to make. After all, we pay for them – often with our lives.

Some would rightly argue that oftentimes group decisions need to be made; and that if a group of people is involved in anything it must be led. Not so. Groups need organised systems with a few key individuals providing specific communication functions, not leadership. Ah, but you need a leader to create the organisation. No you don’t. Groups are more than capable of organising themselves when there’s a real need to do so, as tens of thousands of rebel groups throughout history can testify.

But perhaps the most compelling argument for the failure of the principle of leadership, and why we have to abandon it, is this: the world is full of leaders, and look at the state of it. We have permanent war, ecological catastrophe, and a global economy that institutionalises massive poverty and obscene wealth for tiny all-powerful elites who, coincidentally, are the most strident advocates of leadership. Leadership is a failed experiment. The people, properly informed, must be free to manage the governments they pay for.

John Andrews is a writer and political activist based in England. Check out John's books: Fiction: The Road to Emily Bay; Non Fiction: The School of Kindness; The People’s Constitution. Read other articles by John.

14 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Don Hawkins said on July 11th, 2009 at 8:06am #

    John very true your witting and if we can’t see on this day in the twenty first century what these people are clowns we never will. Watch the Senate or the House on c-span and the arguments for this or that and then the little problems we face on this day if they are not clowns I’d like to know what is. I am sorry but the decision has been made by some to not try just go out in style so to speak. Style is the wrong word very sad clowns is much better. Two million to start Capital as the clowns inside those hall’s of power on this path will take us all down the drain in not such slow motion.

    Three clowns at the gates of heaven
    Three clowns died and are at the pearly gates of heaven. St. Peter tells them that they can enter the gates if they can answer one simple question.
    St. Peter asks the first clown, “WHAT IS EASTER?”
    The clown replies, “Oh, that’s easy, it’s the holiday in November when everybody gets together, eats turkey, and is thankful…”
    “WRONG,” replies St. Peter, and proceeds to ask the second clown the same question, “WHAT IS EASTER?”
    The second clown replies, “No, Easter is the holiday in December when we put up a nice tree, exchange presents, and celebrate the birth of Jesus.”
    St. Peter looks at the second clown, shakes his head in disgust, looks at the third clown and asks, “WHAT IS EASTER?”
    The third clown smiles and looks St. Pete in the eye.

    “I know what Easter is. Easter is the Christian holiday that coincides with the Jewish celebration of Passover. Jesus and his disciples were eating at the last supper and He was later deceived and turned over to the Romans by one of his disciples. The Romans took Him to be crucified and was stabbed in the side, made Him wear a crown of thorns, and He was hung on a cross. He was buried in a nearby cave which was sealed off by a large boulder. Every year the boulder is moved aside so that Jesus can come out, and if He sees his shadow there will be six more weeks of winter.”

    Watch the Senate on just health care then of course climate change and the third clown said it well and these people think of themselves as leaders of man, ok.

  2. bozhidar balkas vancouver said on July 11th, 2009 at 9:51am #

    john andrews,
    with respect,
    as far as i can ascertain, it’s not just leaders who cannot be trusted. Priests, educators, media people, entertainment, advertising, constitution, generals, and pols lie.

    of course, the biggest lyiars/oppressors/usurpers were always the clergy.
    at one time we had to be, i educe, very trusting/trustworthy/egalitarian to have adapted for survival. Not lying about where the deer, fish, cabbage is was essential for our ancestors’ survival.
    but then came shamans [psychos]; followed by ‘religions’ [read:cults] and our pristine, fair, gregarious life had been destroyed; possibly for ever.

    john, in your next piece on whatever subject, cats the widest look possible, please.
    sorry to bring you up. And i sincerely hope you are not in any way smitten by my words. tnx

  3. David said on July 11th, 2009 at 2:04pm #

    Mr. Andrews;

    Thank you for the sweeping generalties. Your essay lacks “just three basic components: information, information and information.”

    Let me suggest just one reason that we need the worthless tripe that has and continues to become our world’s leaders. Without these self-serving, self-entitled connivers, we would have an absolute dictatorship on this planet.

    You see, there is nothing but the wistful dreams of five-year-olds that thinks that most of humanity wants much more than to get from one day to the next, whether that is defined as food, shelter, and a loin cloth or Mickey D’s, a 1200 square foot ranch house, and underpants from Wal Mart.

    No. We need the swells if for no other reason than that each wants the biggest yacht, the most gold, and the latest suit from Brioni’s all for themselves. And they have and always will commit fratricide to get what they see as theirs and theirs alone.

  4. Don Hawkins said on July 11th, 2009 at 4:10pm #

    David thanks for sharing. Right now today we need to sort of start the process of learning well relearning what we thought we knew. We have 96 months to make some major that’s major changes in the way we look at ourselves and the Earth or the rest is academic. Can it be done sure as what we do now is much harder don’t you think. Brioni’s what is that as I have a pair of levi’s that I have had now for two years and patch. Anyway I like to think of myself as a Earthling and sometimes go fishing. Keep reading and witting on DV and get a pair of levi’s and some boots now don’t get ten pairs of levi’s just one pair and when they get dirty wash them in a washing machine say that three times washing machine, washing machine, washing machine or the sink if you like. Don’t eat to much bad for the heart. Anyway that’s it well one more a good book is always’ a good thing. Grapes of Wrath is always’ good a second or third time. Hang in there boring the coming years it will not be.

  5. Don Hawkins said on July 11th, 2009 at 4:32pm #

    Fear the time when the strikes stop while the great owners live – for every little beaten strike is proof that the step is being taken … fear the time when Manself will not suffer and die for a concept, for this one quality is the foundation of Manself, and this one quality is man, distinctive in the universe.

    The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It’s the monster. Men made it, but they can’t control it.

    They breathe profits; they eat the interest on money. If they don’t get it, they die the way you die without air, without side-meat. [referring to the banks]

    Before I knowed it, I was sayin’ out loud, ‘The hell with it! There ain’t no sin and there ain’t no virtue. There’s just stuff people do. It’s all part of the same thing.’ . . . . I says, ‘What’s this call, this sperit?’ An’ I says, ‘It’s love. I love people so much I’m fit to bust, sometimes.’ . . . . I figgered, ‘Why do we got to hang it on God or Jesus? Maybe,’ I figgered, ‘maybe it’s all men an’ all women we love; maybe that’s the Holy Sperit-the human sperit-the whole shebang. Maybe all men got one big soul ever’body’s a part of.’ Now I sat there thinkin’ it, an’ all of a suddent-I knew it. I knew it so deep down that it was true, and I still know it.

    The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck

  6. Don Hawkins said on July 11th, 2009 at 4:50pm #

    http://www.giss.nasa.gov/research/news/20090121/

    If you live on the coast read this and use your mind. Boring it will not be.

  7. Don Hawkins said on July 11th, 2009 at 6:27pm #

    If you live on Planet Earth this is the forecast for ocean temperatures.

    http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/analysis_monitoring/lanina/images/glbSSTSeaNorm.gif

    Still time if we act now.

  8. john andrews said on July 11th, 2009 at 10:20pm #

    Boz,

    I mostly agree with you, and tried to say so in my piece. By the word ‘leaders’, I meant all leaders, be they political leaders, military ones, bosses of all descriptions, pop stars who turn to saving the planet – anyone at all who would insist that others must follow their lead; they ALL cannot be trusted. What I think they CAN do, and are indeed welcome to do, is put across their point of view – try and persuade me with the power of their argument; and providing they allow me to also hear the counter-argument I will think about what they have to say.

    You’re right about the priests too who, as a class, are no different to any other type of leader. Throughout history they have colluded and conspired with tyrants, lying to the people to achieve their common purpose – personal power and fortune.

    David,

    Thankyou for your input – I haven’t got a clue what you’re talking about. How can you not have leaders AND an absolute dictatorship?

  9. Don Hawkins said on July 12th, 2009 at 5:27am #

    That’s the second comment that Michael Jackson is dominating the headlines instead. Funny how that works. The whole point of Capitalism is to keep people consuming and it looks like it worked better than many thought. Michael lived in neverland oh yes he was there alright and now as the system fall’s apart people want more of it and or the system gives the people more of it amazing.

  10. bozhidar balkas vancouver said on July 12th, 2009 at 6:32am #

    john andrews,
    thank for your eluciadation.
    remember please also teachers who are probably even more responsible for spreading lies.
    i do realize that many of them wanted to teach because of love for truth but curiculla set by ruling class mainly misteaches!

  11. Don Hawkins said on July 12th, 2009 at 6:53am #

    Well Bozh the fight is on.
    Many are trying to continue killing the truth’s in the twenty first century and this time the lies that are immortal brings us to the truth’s. We need to use the truth and the knowledge and soon. What an age the begining or the end. Did I go to far? With only one third of a brain rather easy to see. These dumb ass speech’s and dumb ass thinking is tiring to say the least. Most people I think know what’s up and could be helpful if these so called leaders could get there head out of there ass but I guess they like the dark.

  12. bozhidar balkas vancouver said on July 12th, 2009 at 10:31am #

    don, i got bad news for us people: I am selling my house and looking for best lyiar to sell it for me. So, as u can see, i am as crooked as al capone, obama, st.paul.
    actually it is not so much me but my wife; she made me do it!
    but what can u expect from a guy who finshed last in his class ;cldn’t say no to my mom till i was 30 and now am 77 and still can’t say no to my wife.
    you know the one; the one that asks what’s zionism, rome?

  13. john andrews said on July 12th, 2009 at 10:37am #

    Boz,

    Don’t get me started on teachers… It’s not a pretty sight.

  14. ajohnstone said on July 13th, 2009 at 10:50am #

    One so often overlooked American once said :-
    “I never had much faith in leaders. I am willing to be charged with almost anything, rather than to be charged with being a leader. I am suspicious of leaders, and especially of the intellectual variety. Give me the rank and file every day in the week. If you go to the city of Washington, and you examine the pages of the Congressional Directory, you will find that almost all of those corporation lawyers and cowardly politicians, members of Congress, and mis-representatives of the masses — you will find that almost all of them claim, in glowing terms, that they have risen from the ranks to places of eminence and distinction. I am very glad I cannot make that claim for myself. I would be ashamed to admit that I had risen from the ranks. When I rise it will be with the ranks, and not from the ranks.”

    And another time he said :-
    “I am not a labor leader. I don’t want you to follow me or anyone else. If you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of the capitalist wilderness you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into this promised land if I could, because if I could lead you in, someone else could lead you out.”

    There is one political party that does take the issue of leadership seriously and since its formation over a hundred years ago , it has had no leader !!
    Working class emancipation necessarily excludes the role of political leadership. Even if it could be conceived of a leader-ridden working class displacing the capitalist class from power such an immature class would be helpless to undertake the responsibilities of democratic socialist society. The SPGB is a leader-less political party where its executive committee is solely for housekeeping admin duties and cannot determine policy or even submit resolutions to conference (and all the EC minutes available for public scrutiny access on the web as proof of our commitment to openness and democracy ) . All conference decisions have to be ratified by a referendum of the whole membership . Even our General Secretary has no position of poweror authority over any other member . Despite some very charismatic writers and speakers in the past , no personality has held undue influence over the the SPGB .

    It is NOT the party’s task to lead the workers in struggle or to instruct its members on what to do in trade unions, tenants’ associations or whatever , because we believe that class conscious workers and socialists are quite capable of making decisions for themselves. For the Trotskyist Lenininist Left, all activity should be mediated by the Party (union activity, neighbourhood community struggles , etc.) , whereas for us, the Party is just one mode of activity available to the working class to use in their struggles, a tail to be wagged by the dog.
    The SPGB is like no other political party in Britain. It is made up of people who have joined together because we want to get rid of the profit system and establish real socialism. Our aim is to persuade others to become socialist and act for themselves, organizing democratically and without leaders, to bring about the kind of society that we advocate. We reject the idea that people can be led into socialism. Socialism will not be established by good leaders but by thinking men, women and children. There can be no socialism without socialists.
    Democracy and majority decision-making must be the basic principle of both the movement to establish socialism and of socialist society itself.
    If a majority of workers really were as incapable of understanding socialism as many on the Left maintain , then socialism would be impossible since, by its very nature as a society based on voluntary cooperation, it can only come into being and work with the conscious consent and participation of the majority. Socialism just could not be imposed from above by an elite as envisaged by the Left . Democracy is not the mere counting of noses; it is the only principle of organisation compatible with a classless society.

    A real democracy is fundamentally incompatible with the idea of leadership. It is about all of us having a direct say in the decisions that affect us. Leadership means handing over the right to make those decisions to someone else. We don’t vote for leaders to implement this or that decision; we vote according to our ideological inclinations to give them a “free hand” to make decisions. The point is that the very mechanism of decision-making we have today is a product of the social system we live under. The market economy, with its built-in contradictions and conflicting interests, has massively complicated the process of decision-making itself. It has moved it further and further from the ambit of “ordinary people” as the system itself has become more and more globalised. It is this that has made the paper pledges of our elected leaders seem increasingly irrelevant and ineffectual