This topic has come up tangentially in other threads, but perhaps it deserves to be addressed more directly. It certainly seems to have become common lately, including on this board to dismiss Saddam and Kim with words such as “insane” and “crazy”; words often applied to other dictators who were perhaps only “eccentric” until they armed themselves sufficiently.
But it seems to me that there are 2 main problems with casual use of such words:
- It isn’t necessarily derived from facts, but confuses simple brutality and thirst for power with separation from reality and unpredictable behavior,
- It narrowly constrains the range of options and assessments of criticality when deciding how to deal with him,
- It leaves no room for Opal in a world gone mad.
It certainly hasn’t seemed to me that the actions of Kim and Saddam, as well as the governing elites that surround them, cannot be explained by simple desire to maintain power and its perquisites, at any cost to anyone else. They have tried to consolidate and expand their power, yes, but hardly unpredictably or irrationally. Perhaps some of you disagree and will be willing to explain how. But to characterize brutality and power-hunger as actual, clinical insanity, beyond being simply intellectually lazy, is itself a separation from reality and an invitation to act toward that person in ways with unnecessarily disastrous consequences.
Why? Because, when you have declared a dictator insane, you have dismissed any possibility that his behavior can be modified or even necessarily contained. You have shut out any possibility for action toward him other than his removal (regardless of its desirability) at some not-too-distant point. You have made any assessment of his threat to you automatically grave and, to some extent, imminent. You have dismissed any possibility of his military power being intended for defensive, even domestic, purposes, since of course madmen are aggressive. You have made military action of some degree not only necessary, but of the bluntest possible form (since “force is the only language he understands” is part of the character assessment). You have made it necessary for people to die. And all because you haven’t been willing to use enough intellectual humility to realize that the world and its people are complicated, and that an effort to “know your enemy” at the very least is absolutely required.
So what good does using such a glib characterization do? Make you feel good and moral and evolved?