A demagogue is like a train, not stopped by things that would stop other people. Take care. In due time, he can go harder and faster.
A resemblance strikes me with the Pied Piper of Hamelin, luring children away into a cave, to never be seen again. The tale’s pied piper did so out of revenge. The story of a demagogue frequently reveals revenge for personal humiliation.
So what is a demagogue? Shortly put:
A demagogue abuses a group’s vulnerability, anxious in desperate circumstances, to readily put faith in any person who plays a tune of false promises.
Anxiety makes people more suggestible. The underlying mechanism can thus be compared to group hypnosis. Not surprisingly, demagogues like rallies with group-hypnotizing effect: emotional drama, lots of repetition of easy slogans and ‘memes’… Frequently, there is an uncommon bodily characteristic of the demagogue – hair style for instance – that sets him apart from the crowd, drawing attention to himself and away from his hidden hypnotic schemes.
A demagogue doesn’t need much insight in this process.
Demagogy may require a lot of work, but the principle is easy. A driven fool can with some good luck easily become a demagogue. In a way, intelligence may even hinder. The demagogue doesn’t think too much. Thus he comes forward as ‘strong and decisive’, like a heavy train, seemingly unstoppable… for a while. Unfortunately, this may take years.
A demagogue primarily needs a sufficient dose of not-caring.
Usually, he tries out different ways and then simply follows the easiest route towards his goals, not-caring for anyone. Precisely through not-caring, he is able to always choose the direction that suits him most towards success. That’s the really dangerous part, in which the demagogue may gain efficiency over the years. People meanwhile are deceived by the shiny stuff.
So how can we deal with demagogy?
As a physician, I look at it as a ‘symptom,’ an indicator of some underlying societal ailment. Let’s try to understand why the followers are prone to the abuse. Really listening to people is not easy. In the end, a demagogue’s rise is by itself an indication that any other kind of listening has been flawed.
A countermeasure against demagogy is to look for people’s desperation.
Of course economic hardship doesn’t positively add to the equation but nowadays, many people are mainly culturally desperate. Listen to the values they hold dear. Apparently, even having a Big Bully in power is better than losing those values. Culture needs nurturing. If things go too quickly, there is no time for nurturing. Then culture gets shaky. People stick to the remains and try to defend them the hard way: aggression towards ‘the enemy.’ Such a threat occasionally calls for a Big Wall. The real purpose of the wall, of course, is symbolic. The real enemy lies within.
Thus, it is mandatory that people find their inner strength.
If attained in a nice way, the result of this may be a lot more and deeper friendliness to oneself and to others. There are positive consequences in work, life, health and play. If we don’t practice this deep kind of friendliness however, then the demagogues of the future may be worse than ever.
So what is the answer to the demagogue of the day?