Ordeals of Power
The relationship between rulers and the ruled has always been contentious at best. Who gets to be in charge? Why them, and not someone else? Is power a burdensome responsibility, or is it just another perk for the elite with few actual downsides?
More and more it appears that power is indeed just another perk to be enjoyed by the elite, with no actual downsides. The people who are in charge have been at the top their entire lives, and never had to suffer for it. Don’t let them tell you any different. If a person has the power to set policies and make decisions that affect other people, then it is almost certainly a power they are used to and take for granted.
It might seem difficult to shake hands, raise money, and stoke up popular support. But it’s not as hard as working in a mine or on a farm. It’s not even as difficult as working as a cashier in a gas station. People toiling at the bottom look up and see powerful people acting without restraint or consequence. Or even common sense! Sure, they might say we’re all in this together. But somehow that message just doesn’t stick.
So now everyone wants to be on the top. You might say this is a natural desire, but believe it or not, things haven’t always been this way. People used to be happier in their place. Regular folks didn’t want to be part of the elite. This is because, in the past, the elite used to have to suffer, publicly, for their position.
How do you become the leader of a modern nation? With money and influence. How did people become leaders in the past? Through money, influence, and acts of public suffering. There are always anomalies, but most peasants gave up on aspirations of power when they saw their monarch ride off to war and never come back. Going off to gruesome battle is not even the worst of kingship rituals. In many cultures, a person had to go through literal torture before they got to be in charge.
Forcing leaders to undergo painful rituals or participate in battle does not fix the inherent problems of the ruler/ruled dichotomy. This will only be fixed when we are all ruled by aliens or machines. But seeing their leaders sweat a bit does make the ruled feel better. When the elites have to suffer publicly for their position, it helps to ease the private suffering of all their subjects. The person on top can say, “We’re all in this together,” and the people below will actually believe it.
So I say we should take a lesson from our ancestors, and experiment with some of the old ways. We don’t need to do anything radical, like rid ourselves of democracy. But when governments declare war, especially democracies, the politicians should be required to serve on the front lines. Sure, they might die, but doesn’t everyone? Those that return would be more capable leaders. Those that don’t would leave a space open for new voices in government. Somehow, I don’t see greedy narcissists looking to fill those empty seats when they might actually have to do something scary. Good, courageous, responsible people would fill those seats. Or crazy people. But sometimes crazy can be good, too.
Presently the United States of America is preparing for a presidential election. I don’t know if you noticed. Maybe we should look to slightly alter the requirements for becoming president. You still have to be 35 years old and a U.S. citizen. Once the candidate is elected, though, he is given a choice. On inauguration day, after all the speeches and swearing in in front of everyone, the president-elect is required to pierce their genitals with a stingray barb, just like the ancient Mayans. Either that, or run a string of thorns through a hole in their lip. Their choice. Either way, blood and pain would serve as a visible commitment to the people and the state.
It probably wouldn’t actually fix any problems. But if the people in power have to bleed for it, maybe everyone else will be glad not to be in charge.