The cruelty and killings going on in our country today under the presidency of Mr Edgar Chagwa Lungu makes me reflect and deeply meditate over the presidency of Levy Patrick Mwanawasa.
It is said that “if you want to find out what a man is to the bottom, give him power. Any man can stand adversity — only a great man can stand prosperity”.
It is the glory of Levy that he never abused power only on the side of mercy. He was a perfectly honest man. When he had power, he used it in mercy.
Nothing discloses real character like the use of power. It is easy for the weak to be gentle. Most people can bear adversity. But if you wish to know what a man really is, give him power. This is the supreme test. It is the glory of Levy that, having almost absolute power, he never abused it, except on the side of mercy.
When early in his presidency Mr Lungu declared that he will “crush like a tonne of bricks anyone who tries to stand in his way ” many of us didn’t seem to pay much attention to what he was saying. Yet the man was revealing something very fundamental about his character and rule – cruelty!
This man has really been very cruel to others. His cruelty is really that of a sadist, psychopath. Look at what he has done to Hakainde Hichilema! Chishimba Kambwili! Harry Kalaba! Kelvin Bwalya Fube! And many others!
Count how many people have been killed by police under his watch for simply assembling to offer solidarity or protest against an injustice!
Humans are the glory and the scum of the universe, concluded the French philosopher, Blaise Pascal, in 1658. When one looks at the conduct of Mr Lungu, little has actually changed. We love and we loathe. We help and we harm. We reach out a hand and we stick in the knife.
We understand if someone lashes out in retaliation or self-defence. But when someone harms the harmless, we ask: “How could you?”
Humans typically do things to get pleasure or avoid pain. For most of us, hurting others causes us to feel their pain. And we don’t like this feeling. This suggests two reasons people may harm the harmless – either they don’t feel the others’ pain or they enjoy feeling the others’ pain.
Another reason people harm the harmless is because they nonetheless see a threat. Someone who doesn’t imperil your body or wallet can still threaten your social status.
Liberal societies assume causing others to suffer means we have harmed them. Yet some philosophers reject this idea. In the 21st Century, can we still conceive of being cruel to be kind?
Someone who gets pleasure from hurting or humiliating others is a sadist. Sadists feel other people’s pain more than is normal. And they enjoy it. At least, they do until it is over, when they may feel bad.
The popular imagination associates sadism with torturers and murderers. Yet there is also the less extreme, but more widespread, phenomenon of everyday sadism.
Most people would flinch from having to torture another human being, mainly because when we inflict harm on others, we share some of that pain.
Everyday sadists get pleasure from hurting others or watching their suffering.
They are rare, but not rare enough.
Unlike sadists, psychopaths don’t harm the harmless simply because they get pleasure from it – though they may. Psychopaths want things. If harming others helps them get what they want, so be it.
Can you ever change a psychopath’s mind? They can act this way because they are less likely to feel pity or remorse or
fear. They can also work out what others are feeling but not get infected by such feelings themselves. Many who harm, torture or kill will be haunted by the experience. Yet psychopathy is a powerful predictor of someone inflicting unprovoked violence.
Italian philosopher and diplomat Niccolò Machiavelli once suggested that “the times, not men, create disorder”. Consistent with this, neuroscience suggests sadism could be a survival tactic triggered by times becoming tough.
Sadism and psychopathy are associated with other traits, such as narcissism and Machiavellianism. Such traits, taken together, are called the “dark factor of personality” or D-factor for short.
We all have a role to play in reducing cruelty.
Sadism involves enjoying another person’s humiliation and hurt. Yet it is often said that dehumanising people is what allows us to be cruel. Potential victims are labelled as dogs, lice or cockroaches, allegedly making it easier for others to hurt them.
There is something to this. Research shows that if someone breaks a social norm, our brains treat their faces as less human. This makes it easier for us to punish people who violate norms of behaviour.
It is a sweet sentiment to think that if we see someone as human then we won’t hurt them. It is also a dangerous delusion. The psychologist Paul Bloom argues our worst cruelties may rest on not dehumanising people. People may hurt others precisely because they recognise them as human beings who don’t want to suffer pain, humiliation or degradation.
Clearly, the exercise of power must be a constant practice of self limitation and modesty.