Sunday, February 27, 2011

Keeping the window open

It was widely believed in the Soviet Union that keeping a window open disrupted the acoustics of a room. Therefore, if you thought you were bugged, and you wanted to speak freely, it was a good idea to allow the room as much fresh air as possible.

I have thought of this urban myth on several occasions as Libya has imploded. Presumably, it was just these kind of stories that kept Ghaddafi in power. Dictators, particularly unpopular ones, have to ensure that fear works on every level. Even the most basic form of communication, a private conversation, has to be restrained.

This myth can also help us understand how someone like Ghaddafi could stay in power for so long. Superficially, he seems like a clown. Those preposterous uniforms, those ridiculous outfits, and those crazy statements - how could an intelligent and proud people like the Libyans tolerate such a man for so long?

The primary mechanism, of course, must have been fear of acoustics. Nevertheless, humiliation must have also played its part. Everyday of Ghaddafi's horrific period in office, the people have had to mouth untruths, praising the regime with deceitful phrases. Ultimately, telling lies every day is demeaning. It erodes one sense of self-worth. Taking on a tyrant needs a powerful inner confidence that Ghaddafi carefully destroyed with his grotesque personality cult.

This humiliation explains the extraordinary rage on the streets of liberated Libya today. As he watches power ebb away, Ghadaffi must be cowering in his bunker, knowing that the game is up. Forty years of insulting his people has finally run its course.

When he finally falls, and people no longer need to keep their windows upon before they speak, we will discover the full horror of his regime. We all know that it was bad, but we lack the details of oppression. We should brace ourselves because we are about to hear how depraved some governments can be

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