2009.03.16: March 16, 2009: Headlines: COS - Thailand: Speaking Out: Dissident Voice: Thailand RPCV Henry Pelifian writes: The Sycophantic Culture

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Thailand: Peace Corps Thailand: Peace Corps Thailand: Newest Stories: 2009.03.16: March 16, 2009: Headlines: COS - Thailand: Speaking Out: Dissident Voice: Thailand RPCV Henry Pelifian writes: The Sycophantic Culture

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Thailand RPCV Henry Pelifian writes: The Sycophantic Culture

Thailand RPCV Henry Pelifian writes: The Sycophantic Culture

"A sycophant will never criticize or correct his superiors, being careful to be fawningly pleasant. The stakes are high: paychecks, pay raises and promotions. Government itself easily makes the people subservient with its power of force always at the ready. George Washington said government was not reason or logic, but force. The threat of a police state which is often denied or rejected by the mainstream media is nonetheless a real prospect given ever more stringent laws and immense resources allocated for security at the state and national levels, fostering sycophancy and subservience. Too often Americans may confuse criticism with impoliteness."

Thailand RPCV Henry Pelifian writes: The Sycophantic Culture

The Sycophantic Culture

by Henry Pelifian / March 16th, 2009

Caption: donkey by rowanseamus Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic

Have American culture, two political party government and institutions become sycophantic?

Once an adult takes his or her place within an organization, public or private, the dynamics of human interaction and reaction begin based as much on human emotions, weaknesses and biases than on fairness, objectivity and merit. The expression, “go along to get along” is almost an unsaid national slogan for many Americans. A sycophant is “a person who seeks favor by flattering people of wealth or influence” according to Webster’s New World Dictionary. Sycophants do not make waves or criticisms.

A sycophant will never criticize or correct his superiors, being careful to be fawningly pleasant. The stakes are high: paychecks, pay raises and promotions. Government itself easily makes the people subservient with its power of force always at the ready. George Washington said government was not reason or logic, but force. The threat of a police state which is often denied or rejected by the mainstream media is nonetheless a real prospect given ever more stringent laws and immense resources allocated for security at the state and national levels, fostering sycophancy and subservience. Too often Americans may confuse criticism with impoliteness.

A military officer and author Colonel Douglas Macgregor blames the military for a sycophantic culture for failures in Iraq and wasteful spending in dubious weapons systems has said, “It’s a very sycophantic culture. The biggest problem we have inside the United States Army today - and in the Department of Defense at the senior level, but also within the officer corps - is that there are no arguments. Arguments are [seen as] a sign of dissent. Dissent equates to disloyalty.”

It is becomingly increasingly clear sycophantic culture embraces both the military and civilian sectors of society. Its depth and pervasiveness may well be an indicator of political and managerial leadership more interested in gluing itself to influential groups having access to wealth and power than to the real interests of the American people. The institution of our national government, the U.S. Congress, has clearly abdicated its role of checks and balances and has frequently become a cheerleader for the executive branch in the country’s wars from Vietnam to Iraq.

A whistle blower may save millions of dollars in government expenditures or expose malfeasance in government but more often than not higher levels in the government bureaucracy try to retaliate through performance reviews, unreasonable work schedules or harassment of a million cuts. The bureaucracy rarely embraces a whistle blower’s criticisms, for the status quo is primary. The status quo of management is paramount. Real change or reform may well mean a diminution of power in lower budgets or paychecks and a change in personnel.

In his book Another Century of War? Gabriel Kolko wrote, “Those who become leaders of states are ultimately conformists on most crucial issues, and individuals who evaluate information in a rational manner-and therefore frequently criticize traditional premises-are weeded out early in their careers.” Perpetual conformity creates failure. Is maintaining the status quo more about power and privileges than effective, fair and efficient government, and education? Are educational institutions fostering sycophancy? The American government plays enormous favorites with legislation often providing resources for those who play the game as dictated by political leaders. Those politicians who defy their leaders by criticizing adverse legislation face being ostracized or undercut in the political process.

Sycophantic behavior begins early in the educational system. Criticism is usually unwanted by institutions. The perks, benefits and privileges of power are too important to tolerate criticism, especially anything that diminishes budgets and power. People who criticize are often disparaged, for they are labeled complainers or whiners. Intolerance of the views of others, including critics of the status quo is an indicator that sycophancy is alive, well and possibly pervasive. Is there a link between sycophantic behavior and dishonesty? In trying to please or gratify someone a sycophant may be untruthful or deceitful. Too often criticism is not tolerated because those in charge do not want change or it appears their authority is being undermined, breeding sycophancy among subordinates and co-workers. Change is often anathema to those in power and those who are subservient and unquestioning are most desired and hired in bureaucracies.

Many major U.S. cities have been labeled “drop out factories” because they have high school graduation rates of less than 60%. Are educators and elected officials unable to solve this ticking time bomb of increasing high school dropouts? Or do they really want to solve the problem? Or will they just allow the ever expanding criminal justice system take care of potential miscreants leading us closer to a police state in order to protect us all? How long will it be before another problem morphs into a major disaster, like the Iraq war, lack of supervision within the financial industry and lack of a national high speed rail system?

Group think is a cousin to sycophancy. Generally in employment process those who are perceived to think similarly or the same, evince similar gestures or use like-minded terminology to the hiring authority are usually employed. The recent almost criminal irony in the current financial system is that average citizens who have poor credit ratings are sometimes denied employment because it adversely affects their character profile for employers while the credit worthiness of tens of thousands of unreliable mortgage assets were labeled highly credit worthy by credit rating agencies. Now, if there were a semblance of justice those financial managers involved in these fraudulent credit ratings would be disbarred from employment in financial industry.

Max Horkhemier in his book Eclipse of Reason wrote that most people in society need to “identify themselves with its more powerful surrogates—the race, fatherland, leader, cliques, and tradition. For them, all these words mean the same thing—the irresistible reality that must be honored and obeyed.” Fear is engendered and taught by institutions and family from childhood to adulthood to conform and in doing so a critical measure of rationality and objectivity is submerged or in some cases obliterated.

A glaring example is the Iraq war approved by the United States Congress. The United States Senate also became a rubber stamp for the President of the United States. Instead of independently using its enormous powers to confirm the dire predicament of the threat against us, the Congress sycophantically accepted the judgment of the executive branch without question violated the system of checks and balances that is an integral and essential component of the Unites States government. The Congressional “debate” on the war was brief and rapid approval to use force against Iraq was provided in a resolution. The so-called free press was unable to question adequately the quest for war, for many believed it was unpatriotic to do so, an example of sycophancy, not patriotism.

In his article “Five Years and Counting: Ten Unpleasant Truths About the Iraq War,” Stephen M. Walt writes, “Congress never debated the war in a serious way and it continued to back Bush’s policies long after their failure was apparent. Mainstream media institutions like the New York Times and Washington Post smoothed the path to war by parroting the administration’s sales pitch and giving abundant space to pro-war cheerleaders.” He concludes, “The implication is deeply troubling: if Americans do not learn from this experience and hold those responsible accountable, the Iraq debacle will not be our last.” In a government that spends hundreds of billions of dollars annually for security and intelligence the dissenting voices among elected and appointed officials appear to be absent all adding to the sycophantic culture for those in elected office whose duty is to uphold and apply our system of checks and balances.

The current economic crisis in the country is a the result of group think including a lack of financial oversight over the Stock Market and banking industries. Another example of group think sycophancy was granting the executive branch the authority to invade Iraq by the Congress. The lack of progress on a high speed rail network in the Unites States by the national government is another example of group think. Europe and Asia have had high speed rail systems for decades, while the United States as one of the wealthiest countries in the world neglected this vital transportation system by subsidizing through myriad ways the airline and automobile industries for political purposes. Both the Congress and the Presidency have worked in group think unison to deprive the country of a high speed train system. They have worked in unison in being the cause of the financial meltdown through either lack of oversight and regulation of financial markets, chronic and immense national debt and annual deficits. The legislative and executive branches have been unable and unwilling to reverse this ominous and irresponsible financial trend.

Elected officials en mass have not wanted to buck the system, go against conventional thinking and prevailing governing policies among their political party leaders. They generally practice “go along to get along” in group think as their foremost trait within their political parties, generally obeying the leadership unflinchingly, for they dare not risk the consequences. In the case of our Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, she advocated “obliterating Iran” in the defense of Israel when she was a U.S. Senator. Her admonition did not apply to any other country and her controversial and reckless statement was not challenged by her colleagues in the Senate, for they overwhelming agreed with her. What would Americans think if a high ranking official of China had said their country would obliterate the United States if it interfered with its actions against Taiwan? Would such a statement by a Chinese official be considered controversial and reckless? Of course it would. Would that Chinese official be held in high regard and would we want to negotiate with that official if she became their Foreign Minister?

The foreign policy of the United States, especially in the Middle East, has been mired in group think and obsequiousness for many decades by failing to be a neutral partner in negotiations. Presidents G. W. Bush and Bill Clinton declared one country to be our greatest and favorite ally, something one of our greatest presidents, George Washington, warned at length against making any country a favorite in his Farewell Address. The modern misperception is that George Washington’s views are anachronistic, outmoded and obsolete. The opposite is true. George Washington’s views break with traditional and age old traits of endless chicanery, subterfuge and double dealing in order to create a more balanced, even-handed and tempered foreign policy. It is our current foreign policies that are old, reverting to the ancient ways which often lead to ever more conflict and war.

In an article in Foreign Policy Stephen M. Walt wrote “… we are in trouble today because we have allowed a culture of corruption and dishonesty to permeate our institutions and pollute our public discourse.” Fear, subservience and sycophancy allowed a culture of corruption and dishonesty to flourish.

The voices of American neutrality and objectivity in the mainstream press have either been silenced through censorship or intimidated into sycophancy. Self-censorship has been evident in the so-called public airwaves of television networks where the majority of the American people receive their news. Only recently has there been vocal criticism from professional academics that our policy in the Middle East has been studded with missteps and perpetual disappointment. Where has the vigor of democratic debate been for several generations? Has it been stifled, muffled and muted? In a democracy why are there not alternative views presented in the public airwaves? Are alternative points of view less valid? Or are points of view that contradict the mainstream media’s opinions or views often being blocked and obstructed?

Group think and a Stepford style democracy have marked this era of American national political life in most domestic and foreign policies. New ideas, new ways of solving old problems have seldom emerged in a country which claims to be a citadel and fortress of democracy. The fact that the two major political parties without competition are cementing themselves to the government and the Constitution despite their failures in economically managing the country demonstrates a somnolent populace obediently sycophantic to the two party system. The U.S. Constitution does not mention political parties, therefore, there is no prohibition to other political parties, unless the current parties prevent it or make it extremely difficult which is the case today.

Do government and the educational system consciously remove critics and embrace sycophants? Has group think become a euphemism for sycophancy? Are our strongest potential leaders removed early in the educational process in order to maintain the status quo? Is society often left with those whose skills include sycophancy and pandering? Politicians excel in pandering by constantly telling the American people how great a country they have without creating and establishing meaningful and beneficial change in government programs, for example, in forestalling the current economic meltdown now confronting the nation.

Any society and its military is as only as good as its ability to not only perceive the truth but also use it as its basis for action. A nation of sheep is bred by sycophants. The sycophants are more a danger to society by creating failure than critics who often point the way to human progress and understanding.

Critics, not sycophants, will lead us away from dead ends to the reality of the world we desperately need to comprehend.

Henry Pilfian lived overseas for many years primarily in Thailand but also in Malaysia and Iran, including two years in the U.S. Peace Corps in Thailand teaching at a university. He can be reached at: pelifian@earthlink.net. Read other articles by Henry, or visit Henry's website.

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