Monday, December 21, 2015

Chaos Leadership

There was an absolutely fascinating article about the GOP frontrunner in the Washington Post recently, in which a journalist simply observed the dynamics of the crowd at an Arizona rally.

What was most intriguing was the utterly counterintuitive character of the interaction between the candidate and the throngs that had gathered to hear him.

Demagoguery, as we know, has very particular dynamics.  You gather a crowd, and work them into a frenzy.  You use music, shared symbol, and increasingly passionate oratory in equal parts, manipulating emotion until you have shaped the crowd into a single unitary frenzy.

Individuation slips away, and what you have is a mob.  Or an army.  Or a movement.  The masses, stirred towards a collective end.  The people, roaring, ready to rise up.

Demagogues create their own order out of the chaotic energy of crowds, shaping and bending them to a particular will.  That is the order and energy of the human social animal, when we gather in our mobs and throngs.

Only, if you read the report, that was not the method.  The method was different.

It began as all crowd-events begin.  There was a coalescence, a gathering of thousands.  They were worked into a heat of anticipation, with signs and music and semiotics designed to heighten their sense of collective outrage.

And then the candidate arrived, and...did nothing.

He did an interview, his back to the crowd.  It was as if the thousands gathered were a sideshow, a prop.  All of the tools used to motivate a collective were set aside, and the energies were not focused.  Those who gathered to hear the powerful, famous man they'd seen on TV were not galvanized or forged into one.

They were allowed, instead, to fragment and drift away, their frustrations and yearnings stirred but unmet.  The candidate simply talked about himself, about how wonderful he was, and while poking and teasing at them occasionally to stir the pot, seemed mostly disinterested in their presence.   From other accounts I've read, this is a consistent modus operandi.  His crowds are treated, frankly, like they are dirt, just a gathering of orcs, fresh birthed from the mud.

And I wonder at the method of it, as there is likely a method to it.

Having studied leadership in my doctoral program, I know there are ways to be a leader and embrace chaos.  You can lead both an organization and a movement in ways that embrace generative energies.  You stir particular newness, disrupt areas that are dying, and keep a community from calcifying and becoming a closed and dead system.  But that form of leadership is not evident in this candidate's efforts.

Perhaps the goal is not to create a movement, or to rally the energies of a frustrated throng.  The goal may be to simply leave those frustrated souls frustrated.  If they find a purpose for their anger, they'll become a different thing.  They will have expectations.  The fierce bright emptiness of the mob-mind may not be the best thing in the world, but it at least gives a strange form of fulfillment.

But if those who gather arrive angry and directionless and hopeless, and are left that way, they're more likely to vote for someone who stirs but willfully refuses to shape the chaos of their souls.

What is being fomented is not chaos as creativity turned towards change, but chaos serving chaos, the self-annihilating and recursive feedback loop of energy turned in on itself.