The question of the week is: Why would someone who has an entire country to run -- to plan a budget, promote economic and social health
, maintain an army, deal with leaders of other countries -- bother with eliminating the last
remaining park space in a busy area of his county's largest city?
The answer: Because he can. Or, more accurately, because he thinks he can, and, even more accurately, because he wants to and doesn't think anyone else can stop him.
It is, simply, the allure of power
, perhaps the most cunning and pervasive of all addictions. In my limited exposure to the human condition, which includes writing about addictions, I've noticed that few are immune from the euphoria of the perception of absolute power
. Which, of course, does not exist. Nor, as far as I know, does a 12-step program for those addicted to it.
In Turkey, where the power
play over a popular open space area in Istanbul erupted into days of public protests, the demonstration of government power included an extreme overreaction by police
, including widespread use of tear gas, arrests
and efforts to shut down social media sites on the Internet. These are typical 21st
century reactions to civil disobedience, as demonstrators in the United States, home of free speech, have also discovered. Even people who supposedly understand the necessary limits on it often abuse what power they have. Such is the addiction -- do not dare to disagree with me, or else.
As this is written, the conflict persists in Turkey, but the rest of the world is well aware of what is happening, as it was when similar protests erupted in Turkey's neighbors, Tunisia and Egypt, recently. The Turkish protests seem to fall into the "last straw" category. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was elected fair and square, so to speak, in a democratic election. He replaced a military government, which many Turks found to be oppressive. Be careful what you wish for.
Erdogan, who insists on putting a shopping mall and mosque in a popular open area dotted with restaurants and shops (an issue mayors usually deal with), has turned out to be as intractable and authoritarian in his rule as any military type. In fact, perhaps more so because he seems to believe that winning the most votes gives him the right to do whatever he pleases, no matter how many of his countrymen and women it displeases. Compromise with a different viewpoint is not part of his makeup, nor, as events in Egypt suggest, is it part of the understanding of governing of other Islamists. Democracy in its truest sense will likely be slow to come in the Middle East.
But there are two sides to the power equation. Those in power can only remain there as long as those out of power allow. Where power is seized by force, obviously, the resistance and determination to alter the equation takes longer to materialize and succeed. But a tipping point eventually does come and revolutions happen. Turkey may be headed there today. If so, the aid and encouragement of nations that have a better grasp on the just exercise of power should pressure Erdogan to loosen his grip and allow all Turks to express their views without fear of violent repercussions.
It takes physical courage to take to the streets against an oppressive government, to stand in front of a line of tanks, to tear down a wall, to occupy a park, to declare independence. But it's not always necessary to take to the streets to overcome abuse of power. The human voice when summoned and combined into a chorus of dissent can be a powerful weapon.
Today, the Internet makes it possible to martial tens of thousands of voices rather quickly. Find a cause, find a message, find like-minded people. Does Monsanto, the ubiquitous source of the world's genetically modified food, have too much power over how the food is grown and packaged? The Internet is awash with the voices of those who believe so and do not hesitate to tell their elected leaders how they feel. Threaten those in position of political power with loss of their power and they may actually hear you. Complain to your friends and do nothing and the power remains with Monsanto and its money. (Example of success: Connecticut recently became the first state to require labeling of GMOs.)
I do not mean to suggest it is easy to redraw the power equation, that there are not sometimes very real dangers in trying to do so. But I do know that those who have power, however they come by it, seldom give it up willingly. And, like all addictions, it inevitably gives those afflicted a skewed view of the world and their importance in it.
Solidarity with the people of Turkey.
Bob Gaydos is a veteran of 40-plus years in daily newspapers. He began as police reporter with The (Binghamton, N.Y.) Sun-Bulletin, eventually covering government and politics as well as serving as city editor, features editor, sports editor and (more...)