2016 WORLD LUX 3A. SENSING THE UNSEEN WORLD LUXURY Issue 2016 - Demagogues- Leaders of Collective Madness Near JPGPhotography and Text By Alan Briskin



Demagogues: Leaders Of Collective Madness




The word demagogue is derived from the Greek words “demos” and “ago”. Demos means populace, referring to the common folk of the ancient Greek state. You will recognize the same root in our cherished word democracy, meaning the rule of the common people. Ago is a verb meaning to lead or guide. As it was first used in ancient Greece, demagogue had no negative connotation. Only after the cracks and shadows of democratic rule became more apparent did we grasp a particular kind of leadership that encourages group hatreds and violent polarization.


Today we see the seeds of this form of pathologic leadership rising again, an intensification of personal attacks and the stigmatization of an “other”. At first it can seem almost whimsical, a bit of fiery rhetoric here, an insinuation there, an exaggeration for good measure. Political aspirants are all prone to these behaviors, but they are not the problem. They are symptoms of a much larger dis-ease, a splitting in the collective, both locally and globally, moving us toward a justification for violence. We are seeing this today with the fear and anger directed at Muslims and the reciprocal hatreds directed toward the West.


But we don’t have to go along.


Here is the salient point. Demagogues are creations of the collective as much as they lead groups into warfare and hatred. They exist as a funnel for existential fears and frustrated longings. By reducing complexity down to simple answers, they make themselves into emotional magnets for dis-ease. How do we resist such temptations?


First and foremost, we resist by not becoming part of the madness. We combat the literalness of polarizing oratory by becoming more nuanced in our own thinking. We battle the externalization of an enemy by addressing our own inner conflicts. And we go beyond solely the personal by calling out the mis-direction of leaders who advocate only for their own group or ideology. Finally, we join with others to become organs of change. 


There are so many of us desiring to be healthy cells of a global, interdependent body. The demagogue’s cry for polarization must be our call to honor what we value. We seek change not because the world must forcibly be repaired but because life is sacred and collaboration is the best means to achieve genuine transformation. 


And if we do that, we will see the emergence of transformational leaders, ones who transmit an understanding of an interconnected world.


The lesson is that we are all capable of this kind of leadership, and the destination we travel toward will emerge from our collective imagination. Let it be a destination that is worthy of our courage and compassion.






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