Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

I have to say, very clearly at the outset, that I am very afraid indeed. In fact, I am terrified at the prospect of what will happen in the United States, in the aftermath of the November elections. I am even more full of fright since Donald Trump’s failure to affirm, like any other leader in the Western democracies would, that he will accept defeat at the polls and ensure a smooth and peaceful transfer of power. What had been mere conjecture is now crystalizing into certainty, there may very well be turmoil in America in the near future. Dire turmoil at that!

The origins of my fear are multifold. What happens across the Atlantic tends to be reflected, here in Europe, particularly in Britain. And, we do have a government, at present, whose methods are a mimicry of Trump’s and whose willingness to use falsehood, even spoken from the sacred centre of power, to achieve its aims, is apparent for all to see. You could say ‘mendacity’ is its middle name. Thus, any abrogation of the usual conventions might simply embolden our “masters of the universe”. But, perhaps most important is the will to autocratic power that is fuelling the ambitions of the Great Leader. 

What can be wrong with autocratic rule, I hear you say? I had erroneously fancied that anyone born within the precincts of democratic principles, anyone suckled on it and raised within its values, would automatically recognise its benefits. But alas I have been revealed to be thoroughly mistaken. There are many, yearning to be led and mis-led, many seeking a master to govern them with a firm grip, with threats of punishment if not torture, many more whose inner chaos requires, no, demands a dictator to quell the existential anxiety that troubles their sleep, their dread of annihilation.

Let me begin, by first reminding myself of what was most abhorrent in Hitler’s Nazism and you might be surprised that it is not the extraordinary atrocities that they carried out, but something mundane and possibly trivial- it was the belief that only one person had the answers, that this one person was served by others to enact his terror on millions of others, and the populace at large submitted to the rule of the one:

It nearly always takes some stimulus to bring the genius on the scene,” [Hitler] remarks. The world then resists and does not want to believe that the type, which apparently is identical with it, is suddenly a very different being; a process which is repeated with every eminent son of man… The spark of a genius, he declares, exists in the brain of the truly creative man from the hour of his birth. True genius is always inborn and never cultivated, let alone learned. 

The Great Leader is already veering in this direction, he has talked about his hereditary claim to intelligence, and being a ‘stable genius’, and questioned the intellect of people like Rex Tillerson. Then, too there are those whose own ambitions cohere with the Great Leader’s and who cleave to him, limpets to rock and those hypnotised and slavish, who are sleepwalking into his nightmare. William L Shirer describes Hitler’s effects on his followers

Now the six hundred deputies, personal appointees all of Hitler, little men with big bodies and bulging necks and cropped hair and pouched bellies and brown uniforms and heavy boots… leap to their feet like automatons, their right arms upstretched in the Nazi salute, and scream “Heils”… Hitler raises his hand for silence…. He says in a deep, resonant voice, “Men of the German Reichstag!” The silence is utter […]

They spring, yelling and crying, to their feet… Their hands are raised in slavish salute, their faces now contorted with hysteria, their mouths wide open, shouting, shouting, their eyes, burning with fanaticism, glued on the new god, the Messiah. The Messiah plays his role superbly. His head lowered, as if in all humbleness, he waits patiently for silence.

So, we are seeing in real time, the self-same drama, the same enactment of slavish self-abnegation, the preparatory grounds for fascism, for darkness and the utter destruction of the common weald. Perhaps this is what the decline of an empire looks like and it is not a pretty sight, in truth it is ugly.

What would it be like to live in Trump’s imagined world? We have to go to literature and to who else but the master himself, Franz Kafka. In The Trial and The Castle, Kafka delves into the nature of arbitrary power, the absurdity of unpredictable and imponderable law. But he excels himself in The Castle, because here the authorities live in the castle and we never meet them or hear from them but their power, their omnipresence, their capacity to invoke dread, and the deep assault on reason by the ridiculousness of the laws and statutes is felt and understood. But it is both the compliance of the populace, with the systems of oppression and the casual callousness of the participating administrative organs that are most troubling.

The remoteness of the castle is not in doubt. The centre of power in the democracies is accessible, not remote, not encircled by barbwire or a wall as the Great Leader has recently erected. Kafka’s castle, however, is remote and distant

Now he could see the castle up above, sharply outlined in the clear air and made even sharper by the thin layer of snow that covered everything, duplicating every shape.


The castle, its outlines already beginning to dissolve, lay still as ever, K. had yet to see the least sign of life there, maybe it was impossible to make out anything at all from this distance, but the eyes kept wanting to, they refused to accept the stillness. Looking at the castle, K. felt at times as if he was watching a person who was sitting there quietly, staring straight ahead, not so much lost in thought and hence cut off from everything as free and unconcerned; as if the person had been alone, with no one watching him; he must be aware that he was being watched, but it did not affect his calm in the least and in fact–there was no telling whether this was cause or effect–the watcher’s gaze found no purchase and kept sliding away.

And the power coming from the castle was immense, both metaphorically and in reality

In an authority as large as the count’s, it can sometimes happen that one department arranges this, another that, neither is aware of the other, and although overall control is most precise, by its very nature it comes too late, so that a degree of confusion may arise none the less.

Despite this omniscient power, there is chaos but this does not invalidate the reach of the power of the castle. We all know how the Great Leader’s chaos, the instability of his decision making, the absolute desperation of the results of his malfeasance and his ignorance and incompetence, how these have neither blunted his reach nor the fervour with which his rule is applauded. And the more there is patent unreason, the more one either withdraws from participating in the irrationality of the dance, to inure one’s own sanity from the extending collapse of reason or one tries to ameliorate it by normalising what is so obviously foolish.

Hear the discussion below

He’s admitted to offices, but that’s only part of it, then come barriers and beyond them there are other offices. He’s not actually forbidden to proceed farther but he can’t proceed any farther, can he, once he’s found his superiors and they have dealt with him and dismiss him. Besides, you’re under constant observation there, at least you have that impression. And even if he did proceed farther, what would be the use when he has no official business there and would be an intruder. And you mustn’t think of the barriers as a definite dividing-line, that’s something Barnabas is always drawing my attention to. There are barriers in the offices he enters too, so some barriers he passes and they look no different from the ones he’s yet to surmount, which is another reason for not assuming from the outset that beyond those latter barriers lie fundamentally different offices from the ones Barnabas has already been in. Except that, when times are bad, that’s just what you do think. And then the doubts go further, you can’t help yourself. Barnabas talks to officials, Barnabas receives messages. But what sorts of official, what sorts of message are they.

The constant questioning, the disbelief, the suspension of judgment, the incredulity, this constant vacillation, the weariness of the whole thing, the absolute incomprehensibility of the absence of system and of the failure of regulatory control.

I was taught by Charles Lund, as a young psychiatrist, that the physical world that somebody creates around them is itself a manifestation of their inner world. If you come into my study and look round, you are essentially entering into my inner world. The disposition of books, clutter, the paintings and sculptures all point inwards, all reveal without necessarily intending to. And Bill Brough another of my supervisors remarked once that when you meet a person’s spouse, you’re also being shown something of their inner self. These instructive ideas tell me that the physical world that the Great Leader has created around himself, a world of turmoil, of chaos, of division, of intense rage and anger, of hatred too and vengefulness, that this world will only degenerate over time, that the unwholesomeness that we are all witnessing will intensify if not constrained, not reined in. But worse still, that rejection at the polls, will be a cut so deep and unbearable, that he might just simply pull the temple down with himself. 

Be very afraid!

Photos by Jan Oyebode

6 thoughts on “Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

  1. I recall that when we were driving across the USA on the Lincoln Highway in 2016 after the EU referendum and a few months before the US election, I said that my worst nightmare was Boris Johnson our prime minister and Trump in the Whitehouse; now here we are.

  2. As an adolescent, I felt the West had a better crop of leaders than we do here in Nigeria, now as a young man I am not sure if it is the times that have changed or the lack of quality leadership has always been a world-wide problem.

    1. Ayomipo
      I agree that Trump & Johnson have both shown that poor leadership is not the preserve of Africa or Asia, indeed that the fragile resilience of institutions to the assault by corrupt leaders is worldwide. We live in hope.

  3. Prof!
    What clairvoyance!
    The recent events in America especially tonight is a fulfilled prophecy!
    May God have mercy on us all!

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