• “The Boss” Complex

    Margaret Thatcher once said – famously, or, perhaps, notoriously, that – “there is no such thing as society”.

    Would-be political leaders from the political right – and, perhaps, especially the male ones – often share a similar view and, in addition, tend to suffer a major disadvantage. In their personal lives, they have usually been accustomed to telling people what to do and to having them “jump to it”. They have accordingly developed a somewhat mechanistic view of what life is about and of how society works; for them, individual people are merely “operatives” which must be pre-programmed so that they do what is required of them.

    Such operatives, they believe, are not individual humans, with their own human goals, their own sentiments and emotions, hopes and fears and ambitions, nor do they see any need to co-exist with their fellow-citizens and take account of their interests. Like pieces of equipment or machinery, they will each react automatically and predictably to whatever stimulus or instruction is applied to them by “the boss”.

    For this kind of political leader, leadership is not about taking people with you, but is simply a matter of issuing commands and instructions. The possibility that one person’s rights and interests might have to be tempered or modified to take account of the fact that we share our lives with others in society simply does not occur to them.

    Indeed, the very concept that we are all social animals, and that we must necessarily work together, is seen as “woke” (or whatever other pejorative term might be coined); hard-headed “individualism” is lauded as the correct approach, and society (like nature) is assumed to be “red in tooth and claw” – a place where everyone pursues their own self-interest and looks out for “number one”.

    These reflections come to mind in light of the evidence repeatedly provided that National leader, Christopher Luxon, has difficulty in relating to the ordinary citizens of our country. He constantly reveals his belief that getting things right and solving problems is just a matter of pressing the right buttons and that, once the right button is pressed, that will be enough to set in motion the relevant mechanism or process so that it automatically and predictably produces the desired outcomes.

    The deficiency of this approach is that it assumes that every such outcome has effect only in respect of the one agent or agents for whom it is intended and is finite in effect. It takes no account of the reality that – in society – a change for one person or some people has knock-on consequences for many others and will go on reverberating throughout society in perhaps many unforeseen ways. We all, in other words, inevitably interact with and are affected by each other.

    We see Luxon’s attitudes on such matters exemplified in his supposed solution to the problem of crime in our society. For him, crime must be restrained by increasing the penalties imposed on the perpetrators. In his mechanistic view, higher penalties are the right button, whatever their other downsides, such as their financial or social cost, (which he doesn’t bother to define or calculate); they will unerringly produce the desired outcome by deterring those who might otherwise go on a criminal rampage.

    It simply does not occur to him that crime is, in part at least, a social phenomenon – that it is not simply a matter of individual wrong-doing but reflects a range of varied responses to society’s failure to meet the needs and interests of all our citizens. A political leader who is accustomed to seeing himself as “the boss” will focus on issuing what he sees as the correct instruction and pressing the right button; he will then sit back, confident that the job is done and that the mechanism – whatever it may be – will do what is required of it; all that is needed is to set it in motion.

    Those experts, especially our judges, who understand crime as a social phenomenon and as a manifestation of a social malaise, will know that he will have to wait a long time. In the meantime, his mis-applied “remedy” will produce a number of further social ills. We cannot afford a leader with such a mechanistic view of how our society works – we are people, not machines.

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