Occasionally, though not often enough, I connect with an author: the way they write, think, imagine. Their prose style.
Over the last year or so, one of the writers I’ve connected with is British science fiction author Adrian Tchaikovsky. He’s prolific, brilliant and always entertaining, and his education in zoology often shines through in fascinating ways.
In one of his books, Bear Head, he was riffing on our current unsavory age of political demagoguery.
I should say this isn’t his usual style. I got the feeling that he was venting about recent political trends in Great Britain, the U.S. and elsewhere.
As I write this on a Saturday morning, the news is filled with the election of Giorgia Meloni, who has come to power in Italy. That made me think of Tchaikovsky’s riffs, which I had highlighted in my Kindle. Here are some categories I’ve applied to them.
On hate, fear and politics
- [H]ate was not just a fire to destroy, not just an excuse to panhandle donations. Hate was an attractive force.
- [T]he generation that held those chains are yesterday’s men, trying to hold on to power by whipping up fear of the other, just like always.
On authority, virtue and the metagame
- [T]here’s a metagame…[Y]our worker who ‘kisses ass’ is seen as management material not because they give their all to the company, but because they spend that effort they would otherwise give to the company on looking like they give it all to the company. They spend it on all the little social games instead, and because effort spent on the metagame is focused entirely about the appearance of virtue, it overshadows those who are actually performing the primary task, it overshadows actual virtue.
- [T]he people who end up in authority are generally not those focused on whatever the purpose of the community is, but are focused on achieving positions of authority.
- [T]hat meant the people who achieved status and power were by definition the least qualified to have it
- [M]etagamers could hack organisational structures and procedures to promote themselves without needing to be good at the primary task of the organisation
On leader parasites
- He was an ingeniously evolved parasite, the scion of a strain honed over generations to fool wider humanity into following his orders and tending to his needs.
- [My] mind kept coming back to that insect in the ant’s nest that convinces the ants it’s more ant than they are, so that they serve up their own larvae for its delectation.
- There was nothing to engage behind those eyes, barely anything more than a voracious id, a sense that was all me me me….a pattern of behavior that could be as mindless as some insect’s mimicry of an ant, that let it into the nest to eat the young.
- [T]here’s a predatory bug that releases the pheromones of its prey more strongly than ever the females do, so that the witless wooers come from miles around to be devoured. …And yet there’s nothing true within it, nothing at all.
- A parasite that prospers because it presents an exaggerated performance of its host species’ salient characteristics. Not just passing for human, but passing for superhuman: putting out all the tells so that you think they’re super-confident, super-dynamic, super-inspiring, exactly the man to follow to the end of the earth. Far more so than anyone who actually has reason to be confident, or to be worth following….more human than human, a colossus, possessing all the virtues the viewer might want to see.
- [He] wasn’t about being loyal to underlings, he was about taking their loyalty and wringing every last drop of use from it before discarding them.
There’s clearly more to be said about the role that parasites play in ecosystems–and that demagogues play within the complex reticula of political economies and human limbic systems–but we’ll leave it here for now.
Featured image by José Clemente Orozco:The Demagogue