There’s a saying out there, which I’ve come to agree with, which states that people get the government they deserve. A common response to this is that it only applies in a democracy, and I used to agree with this, but nowadays I don’t. Something people often overlook is that even dictators are drawn from the population, as are the people who support and enable them. That a dictator can come to power and run things as he sees fit is itself a reflection, to some degree, of the people over which he rules.
This ties in to what I was saying last week:
The root cause of a country being a shithole is the prevailing culture, and what else is culture but the aggregate behaviour, attitude, and customs of a population?
The reason Hugo Chavez came to power, imposed bone-headed socialism, and ruined Venezuela is because enough Venezuelans were stupid enough to be wooed by the promise of socialist economics. You can’t separate this decision from the general population, as if he was some foreigner imposed by outside forces. Venezuelans allowed this to happen and therefore they must take responsibility for it. This is true even if, which is surely the case, a huge percentage of the population didn’t want it: on aggregate they did.
One of the things which once amused me was the way Russians would speak of the Soviet Union as if it were some outside force imposed on them. The fact that the USSR was largely made up of Russians, many of whom bought into the idea and happily went along with implementing it’s worst aspects, never seemed to occur to them. I’m not willing to give the non-Russian Soviet States a free pass, either. Enough of them went along with the programme to keep it in place; not that this is necessarily wrong – I wouldn’t want to fight a guerrilla war or become a martyr either – but we can’t ignore the fact that, on aggregate, the population chose to cooperate.
What I’m saying is not so much to heap blame on a population for the state of their government, but rather to stop ourselves absolving the people of any responsibility whatsoever. To varying degrees, the people are responsible for how they are governed. There might be some exceptions – perhaps Iran under the Ayatollahs? – but I’m struggling to think of a single case where the government of the day was vastly, unrecognisably different from the collective population. I’m not talking about individuals, they can and do differ wildly from the government, I’m talking again about the aggregate.
Actually, I can think of exceptions: countries under colonial rule. It’s hard to argue that colonial governments were reflective of the populations they ruled over, which is why the countries changed so drastically once the colonialists left. Then again, a lot of the locals went along with that programme, too.
In summary, I find it rather too easy to claim governments and people are entirely separate, absolving the latter of any responsibility whatsoever. We might find things improve if we stop giving out free passes to whole populations, even if they live under dictators. Individuals, however, we should still take as we find them.