People all across the world follow personalities. There’s something in the human psyche that makes this particular failing so prevalent. Perhaps it confers some selective survival advantage to groups that follow personalities instead of principles. Maybe principles-based thinking is hard for people and there are gains from “outsourcing” the thinking to some chosen person who is believed to be wiser. It shows up everywhere, from messiahs (Jesus is the prototypical example), to gurus (the Pope and other charlatans come to mind), to politicians (Mohandas Gandhi, Hitler, Stalin, etc are exemplars of this breed).
The cult of personality is ubiquitous because humans are susceptible to the superstitious worship of authority. What or who is imbued with authority differs from people to people, and changes with time. Old gods and leaders are replaced with some frequency but never entirely dispensed with by the majority.
However, there is always a tiny minority that doesn’t bow before the putative superiority of the chosen authority or cult figure because this minority has the intellectual and moral strength to do the heavy lifting of principles-based thinking and acting.
I have a particular abhorrence for personality cults. In my view, anyone who enjoys a cult status and is the object of the groveling adoration of the superstitious masses is immediately suspect, and his or her motives and methods must be most skeptically scrutinized.
Thus to me, all leaders and authority figures that are “elected” by the masses — politicians, religious leaders and movie stars — are, precisely because of their mass appeal, not very good or wise. The masses, as the followers of these personality cults, are pitiable. But because much of the misery they suffer flows from the stupidity of those leaders, they are ultimately responsible for it. As I say, “It’s all karma, neh?”
All this sounds dismal. But I am optimistic about the future. I believe that the average intelligence (broadly defined) is going up. All sorts of factors make that positive trend possible — better nutrition, better science and technology, better institutions, broader access to education and information, etc. Higher intelligence correlates with less superstition. That implies greater independence and therefore reduced reliance on leaders.
The signs are good. Already the voice of the discerning minority is being heard above the noise of the popular media, and that will lead to some weakening of the monopoly power of the personality cults. When the popular demand for personalities decreases, as I believe it will, the world will be a better place.
And now for something somewhat funny. I say somewhat funny because there is a nugget of truth in it that is not funny at all. It’s a Soviet-era joke.
Khrushchev is denouncing the cult of personality.
‘Atrocious crimes took place under Comrade Stalin,’ he says. ‘Many innocent people suffered. There were terrible breaches of socialist legality.’
‘And where were you when this was going on?’ comes a voice from the back.
‘Who said that?’ snaps Khrushchev. Dead silence. You could hear a pin drop.
Khrushchev nods. ‘That’s where I was,’ he says. [Source.]
Speak up. Because the evils of socialism will not go away by your silence.