A guest of Mephisto – What distinguishes chimpanzees from alpha males?

HIM: At times, I like to hear The Ancient’s word!

Me: God’s word – but why the subjunctive?

HIM: Such question betrays the unaware. Don’t the enlightened know for quite a time already that HE is dead, while I am pretty much alive? Nobody still believes in God and heaven’s work, but all can see that I still get dirt on my hands… Just think of Darwin’s glorious theory of descent.

Please, I object, man did not evolve from apes! I hope you do accept this basic truth.

And, nevertheless, the lines run strictly parallel. Hierarchy is an iron rule among your brethren chimpanzees. The alpha male invariably sets the tone. And woe to those who do not understand! That’s how it has remained with you, but you use bombs when fighting with each other – not stones, sticks and a biting jaw.

Aha, I concede with hesitation. You’re trying to convince me that our alpha males – now and then even some alpha female – are just some other naked monkeys?

HIM: Don’t worry, I don’t want to be impolite. I would rather like to have more respect for primates who like to call themselves sapiens, but then I take a glance at all those Kims, the Khomeinis, those Putins and Trumps of your world, and immediately I have a hard time seeing any difference with your hairy relatives. Certainly, things are different down below. There, I see people teeming with daily life, gathering and sifting, mating and multiplying, crying and laughing, some even enjoying their life, but above them the scene always remains the same. There I see the chief monkey sitting on top his throne, baring his teeth, waving his bombs.

What a sad vision, I say, and one that certainly only occurs to the devil. Has life no better meaning than to threaten and destroy ones neighbor? Aren’t we all human beings? Besides, the most advanced states have long adopted democracy, it tames our atavistic lust for power.

HIM: My friend, you make me laugh! Power cannot be tamed, it comes to being wherever weakness reigns – and of weakness you have more than enough. For the time being, the US is still the strongest power on earth. It can afford democracy and a constant wrangling for power of two rivalling parties, but China would continue to be as powerless as it has been for the past two hundred years if it allowed its citizens democratic diversity and dissent. After all, the leading power would readily exploit any internal weakness. Against the strong, the weak tend to defend themselves by means of autocracy or even dictatorship. You see, Putin and Xi have turned their states into dictatorships because they cannot afford democratic diversity without crumbling under external and internal pressure. And what is more, they form alliances against the leading power. These are – if I may humbly call it by that name – those potent elixirs of the devil, which you like to call by the name of “realpolitik”.

No, I say, that’s what we call lies. Nowhere are words and deeds so far apart as among the weak. Listen to president Xi’s lofty announcements when he describes the coming world order. According to him it will be free of hegemonic powers as it will consist of nations with equal rights, none of which aspires to rule over others. China’s concern is nothing but peace and harmony. But now please take a look at reality behind the imposing facade. Xi’s regime is demonizing the Dalai Lama, “re-educating” millions of Uighurs, trampling on political freedom in Hong Kong, wanting to do the same to Taiwan rather sooner than later, and seeking dominion over the entire South China Sea – all this in the name of peace and harmony.

HIM: Right. That’s what alpha males do all over the world. For an additional strip of land and a few more tax-paying subjects, they bite and bomb, and after the act is done, they want to be celebrated as the immortal heroes of history.

Me: On this point, I agree. The Russian president too has proven to be an expert in this art. At every opportunity he complains about the merciless persecution by a russophobic West. But that did not prevent him from occupying Crimea and effectively carving out the eastern part of Ukraine.

HIM: Putin mourns Stalin’s tyranny, for in the collapse of the Soviet Union he sees the greatest catastrophe of the twentieth century. How I admire this master of dissimulation! Like his colleague Xi, he is intent on spreading the fable that his government is only concerned with cooperation and peace. He even pretends that it was the Soviet Union that has rendered a unique service to humanity: According to him, it liberated the world from fascism.

What a falsification of history! I protest. The Russians have repelled the insidious, brutal invasion of Hitler. In the “great patriotic war” they liberated their country from a merciless aggressor at the most terrible sacrifices – this is a historical victory of which they can be proud, especially since they dealt the death blow to the Third Reich. But by no means did they liberate Europe, because in the place of German totalitarianism they only put Russian totalitarianism of the no less merciless Stalinist type. At the beginning they were welcomed with open arms by the subjugated peoples. But what did they bring them? A new kind of enslavement. Putin should not be surprised that Eastern Europe to this day harbors a panic fear of this kind of liberation.

HIM: Bravo for so much insight. So it was and so it is, because Homo sapiens is simply a naked monkey. In this atavistic capacity you even find your way completely without my assistance. You will bring about your own demise all by yourselves.

Demise? I ask. What do you mean by such apocalyptic insinuation?

HIM: How slow-witted you know-it-all romantics. Yes, from time to time I’d really like to see the late Allmighty. My modest powers are not quite up to the new era. I can no longer save you, you all already learned all my arts. Only the Old Man would still be able…

No, I shout, knocking over the cup on the garden table that separates me from my counterpart. As I do so, I spill all the coffee and have to watch helplessly how the brown liquid pours over the tablecloth, that just before was still immaculately white.

No, only the devil can talk of doom. Humans are much too intelligent, that’s precisely what distinguishes us from stupid apes.

HIM: Grotesque mistake. It is precisely your intelligence that makes you so dangerous. I admire the great president of the Russian Federation almost as much as I admire myself. Certainly, we must revere him as the smartest living politician. About everything he is informed to the letter, nothing escapes his vigilance. He even knows exactly what his end-time bombs can do – unlike that dismissed liar and genius moron from the White House in Washington, D.C., who could not distinguish between fantasy and reality.*1* I had taken lying Donald to my heart, as he would have sent the world to its doom out of sheer stupidity, but Vladimir Putin has a right to my admiration. He is the naked alpha monkey, as usually only to be found in fairy tales. He could wreck the world thanks to his superior intelligence.

Here you go, I object to the cynic. Let me try to understand the man. Mustn’t he be infinitely pained that, seen from Obama or Biden, he only represents “a third-rate regional power”? That’s why he has filled his house to the brim with ultra-sonic missiles and the world’s largest nuclear arsenal. And tell me, who among his Western counterparts could compete with him in judo, in ice hockey, on a motorcycle, or even in the size of his biceps? Putin is Superman incarnate, demanding recognition and submission from the world. This goal he already achieved in Russia itself. All dissenting voices have been exterminated one by one as traitors, any real opposition has been destroyed, everyone is talking after the Lord’s mouth. In Russia, sepulchral silence reigns supreme with the Russian military ready to follow the new tsar to the death.

HIM: I see that you are capable of learning. Yes, this man can’t stand contradiction. He is not merely intelligent (and, at times, even charming). Like so many people small in stature, he is also very sensitive. In his dreams, he is haunted by the one and only desire to show his proud rivals across the Atlantic and in Europe that you can’t insult someone like him with impunity. He will bring nuclear winter to the globe, he will sacrifice his soul and his whole country with all its inhabitants to me if you should hurt him too much in his vanity. And you will see, as soon as the first shot is fired in Europe, your whole society of old men and of fun will desert on the spot.

Oh, I object, do you expect me to show pity for a dictator, since you are so concerned with his vanity? I would say this one-sidedness does you no honor. Or do you want to deny that this regime lies with a brazenness that only Donald Trump surpassed? One dissident after another was killed, but the regime denied any guilt. No evidence! was the only answer. As if verdicts are only valid when accepted by the accused. Trump never cared about lying because for him there was no truth anyway but only successful statements and their opposite. But Putin and his people know the truth very well – the Russians always had a very fine sense for it. Anyone familiar with the intellectual giants of this country, with great writers like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, knows that they struggled for nothing so much as for truth. When a Russian foreign minister like Sergey Lavrov infamously blames the Germans for Nawalny’s poisoning, he knows exactly what he is doing. He openly demonstrates that he does not care about deliberately mocking the Germans and the world public. You only do so if you want to burn bridges – if necessary at the gruesome price of war.

HIM: And if it were so? Didn’t you, I mean first and foremost the Americans, hit Russia to the core with the humiliation of the nineties? At that time, Gorbachev was ready to renounce Russia’s past and make glasnost and perestroika, i.e. accountability and democratic restructuring, the program of the future. For this courage, you in the West revered the man like a saint, but you did not give him any help. Russia experienced a terrible collapse both economic and spiritual. With the blessing of Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs, who with usual American naiveté simply prescribed the gospel of privatization, Russia was open to plunder by profit-mongering oligarchs. Just in time before these managed to sell off Russia’s oil wells to Western investors, Putin came to power to end the national sellout. But as late as 2001, the new ruler still wanted closer ties with the West, especially with Europe. At that time, however, Russia was on its knees, and rapprochement would have meant help – but no one in the West was prepared to help. Thus, bitter resentment grew out of Russia’s humiliation, and Putin gradually assumed a new face. Its pride wounded, Russia now began to ferret out the West’s many faults – especially its often shameless lies. In 1953, President Eisenhower had allowed himself to be misled by the British into overthrowing the Mossadegh regime in Iran, which had emerged from democratic elections. He did so simply because Iran dared to nationalize oil exploitation, its only wealth. Much later, Madeleine Albright, then Secretary of State, at least had the courage to describe this intervention as a serious mistake. In 1973, with the help of the CIA, the likewise democratically elected government of Salvador Allende was overthrown in Chile. It could not be accused of having connections to America’s rival, the Soviet Union; it was enough that economic interests of the US seemed to be endangered. And how should we assess a war based from the outset on Fake News, namely weapons of mass destruction, which Saddam Hussein, this former ally of the United States, allegedly possessed? Hussein had attracted the superpower’s suspicion because he was toying with the idea of becoming independent of the dollar. In this case, America’s war was not merely based on a lie, it was moreover unforgivably stupid, because the Sunni minority around Saddam Hussein had successfully kept Iran in check. After his fall, Iran was to become the United States’ nemesis, its constant challenger.

You see, my dear friend, there is a reason why the Russians, whom you rightly consider to be very sensitive to lies, suddenly use this instrument with complete shamelessness. They just copied this art from you in the West. Let me teach you one lesson: Enemies become increasingly similar the more intensely they fight each other. In the end, they even cultivate the same style and commit the same crimes. The Arab Spring, for example…

I immediately interrupt the zealous man.

The Arab Spring, I say, is a good example to refute your cold objectivity. When, first, in Tunisia, then in Egypt, and finally in Libya and in Syria, the people went to the barricades to overthrow their inhumanly corrupt regimes, the West felt sympathy and was on their side. And this time there was nothing to gain (except in Libya). Western governments and people simply had a heart for the oppressed and granted them the freedom and democracy they so longed for. Barack Obama gave one of his great speeches in Cairo at that time.

HIM: Oh yes, he was quite good at speeches. But his and other speeches did not improve anything. The spring turned into a winter of chaos and mass exodus, of hundreds of thousands of dead and still greater poverty. The Russians are quite right when they describe the destruction of the Middle East as one of the greatest crimes in recent history and hold the West responsible because it not only supported the uprisings but also added fuel to the fire. For the first time, Putin had a chance to position himself as a savior before the world public. At least in Syria, he ended chaos and civil war thanks to his determination. Since then, Russia has distinguished itself to the West as a moral authority.

Me: But that is pure cynicism! How can you morally defend Russia keeping alive one of the most repressive, brutal, bloody regimes? Putin has established graveyard silence at the expense of humanity.

HIM: Graveyard silence certainly. But such silence is still better than chaos and never-ending war. Or are you going to absolve the West of its guilt, even though it allowed so much of this injustice to come about in the first place with its reckless support of the Arab uprisings?

Me: No. It was history-blind stupidity that determined Western actions. There had been a population explosion throughout the Middle East. For every four young people who wanted to start a family, there was on average no more than a single vacancy. So, three young people were doomed to unemployment from the start, crying out for revolution. The terrible dictators in these countries had a sad function: They had to keep the lid on the boiling cauldron. It was not understood in the West nor by the protesting masses, that no change of regime can improve a situation where there are too many people in a country with too few resources. Therefore – and not because of the encouraging shouts from the West – the whole revolution fizzled out miserably or ended in blood and tears. As the only result, a new generation of dictators took the place of their predecessors.

HE: Bravo, my dear, at last you are ready to learn some wisdom from people like me. Just make sure that you don’t proclaim such findings too loudly. You’ll make yourself unpopular with all your starry-eyed idealists who offer a patent solution for everything on earth. Your do-gooders don’t want to know that too many people in a country – or on the entire globe for that matter – will lead to ruin. Even the most beautiful speech of democracy and freedom held by a convincing president like Barack Obama remaines impotent against this elementary fact. You just don’t want to understand that you are biological beings like your ancestors, the chimpanzees, with whom you share much more than the cult of alpha males.

I am glad you again pronounce our keyword: Alpha male. How do you explain that “Sleepy Joe”, the naked ape at the head of the American state, this stumbling and sometimes helplessly stuttering old man *2*, within the first hundred days of his administration set more in motion and effected more for the reputation of his country than his Russian counterpart, who so much surpasses him in intelligence, presence of mind and sheer knowledge? How is it possible that after the terrible Trump, the world is once again looking to America with confidence because of Joe Biden’s moral greatness, while Russia, once so powerful in spirit, has been so committed to common lies by its undoubtedly charismatic leader that one who, like Nawalny, objects to pervasive corruption becomes the umpteenth victim of assassination? Biden admits to all the world that the United States suffers from terrible ills: racism, a profit-obsessed National Rifle Organization, and glaring social inequality. Putin, on the other hand, kills or jails people who doubt his infallibility. He cannot tolerate a man like Nawalny in his country, although – or rather because – the latter is his faithful mirror image. Nawalny is just as ardent a nationalist (because you can’t get anywhere in Russia without that quality), but he fights against the corruption tolerated by Putin as an instrument of political control. In Western fun society, a toothache is enough to make people doubt the meaning of life. They have no sympathy for a hero who sticks unswervingly to his convictions and deliberately enters the lion’s den, even if this means risking death. This Russia of holy fanatics may seem strange to us, but it reconciles me with the sad fact that the only thing with which the once great intellectual power Russia impresses the world today are its multiple supersonic zircon missiles and its modernized nuclear weapons and, of course, the Russian president’s announcement that Russia will respond to a serious challenge (i.e. to a conventional attack, where NATO remains superior) in an asymmetrical way, i.e. with nuclear bombs. 

HIM: The Russian leader knows he is not loved, so at least he wants to be feared. That’s the understandable reaction of a recklessly humiliated power, and that’s why Russia and China have agreed to join forces to fight back against the West.

Me: Which brings us back to chimpanzees, where the little ones gang up on the ruling alpha male.

HIM: That’s right. Compared to Putin and Xi, Joe Biden may be much more morally honest and almost a shining light, but as an American alpha male he leaves as little doubt about his chimpanzee propensities as did Trump and all other American presidents of the past hundred years. America and its leadership are destined by providence to show the world its way. Yet Biden should really be aware that neither of his two rivals accepts this claim assuming the role of subordinates. You see, how the heritage of the chimpanzees reappears in its full strength even in a very old man. The advance of one demands a yielding of the other – an eternal zero-sum game.

No, I disagree, that is an overly primitive worldview. This our earth is big enough to offer to all the desired expansion and development. Whether I may be big or must remain small does not depend on the well-being or the oppression of my neighbor.

HIM: Dear friend, nothing against idealism, but this is Sancta Simplicitas! The world is big enough for all little people, but it is much too narrow for alpha males, because at the very top there can be just one of them. You see, an advance of the former Warsaw Pact invariably amounted to a weakening of NATO, while an expansion of NATO just as inevitably led to a weakening of the Warsaw Pact – or, in our time, to the weakening of the Russian Union and China. West Germany and South Korea retained their freedom only because they sided with the U.S. that offered them protection against the Soviet Union. Vassalage in exchange for protection, that is the price paid by the small to the big. But sometimes small countries are simply ground down between the big ones, like the ill-fated Vietnam or in our days the whole Middle East. The bloody Vietnam War only left the United States with their greatest defeat because they had supported a corrupt regime hated by the Vietnamese themselves. Russians and Chinese were able to watch in peace as the Americans bled to death. That’s another way to expand your own influence.

Me: Fortunately, your nefarious view of history is made absurd by the better insight of American students then protesting against the war. They and finally even repentant politicians stopped the killing. Surely this shows that we are quite capable of overcoming our chimpanzee heritage.

HIM: My dear friend, your simplicity does you little credit. I know you are a romantic. You want to call upon great philosophy, the inspirations of poets, the intelligence of great natural scientists. Keeping such greatness in mind, you want to prove, that you are vastly superior to the old ape. No, I tell you, all this dwindles to nothing as soon as it gets into the hands of an alpha male. Then you always hear one and the same mantra: We, the Russians, or we, the Americans, or we, the Chinese, are ultimately the best and greatest (and you Germans have imagined that for centuries anyway). They hold that there is something in the nature of a Russian, Chinese, or American that makes him superior to all others and entitles him to prescribe their respective worldviews: American democracy or Russian love for the great fatherland or Chinese socialism with a unique Chinese tinge. Look at the naked monkey in Peking, in Moscow or in Washington. With equal fervor, each proclaims to his own following that he is the better, if not the very best.

Am I revealing a secret if I call to your mind that even such a great scholar as your Max Weber, who carried all cultures from China via India to Israel in his head, that even this man, I say, when he flirted with a political career at the end of his life, soon turned out to be an ardent German nationalist? After having looked around the whole world and absorbing all its wonders, the only wisdom that was suitable for him as a politician turned out to be the atavistic one of a chimpanzee chief.

My guest provokes me to indignation. This is a diabolical view of things, I exclaim, and it contradicts historical truth. Herder, Goethe, Schiller, Heine and so many of our greatest poets and thinkers had professed cosmopolitanism and condemned all national narrow-mindedness. Yes, and are you blind to the fact that the young and educated people amidst us are in the majority decided opponents of nationalism?

With your supposed wisdom, I counter, you are nothing more than a puny reactionary who does not understand the new enlightened times.

HIM: The new enlightened times. You really make me laugh. Not for a moment have your great cosmopolitans been able to prevent alpha men from staging their power games. If they were lucky, they survived the invasion of the enemies, like Goethe, who was saved by his Christiane at the last moment when Napoleon’s soldiery was invading his house in the Frauenplan. Plato was less fortuneate, he was sold into slavery, but how many others were simply slaughtered! In Germany you are allowed to criticize the hegemon, the United States, and you can make fun of Russia and China. This makes you cling to the illusion as if Germany and Europe were so to speak on another star, far away from the power games of the superpowers. In reality, missile bases on this side and on the other side of the Russian border stand ready 24 hours and every day to fire against each other. Any false signal threatens to trigger war. I know you want to embrace the world in brotherhood, but your cosmopolitanism is a fantasy born of pure ignorance and guilelessness.

Me: Do you have nothing but black bile to pour out around you? It is true that we threaten each other not only with ever more deadly, ever more unerringly, ever more extensively destructive weapons but at the same time we are threatening nature with ever greater demands. Not only do the vanities of alpha men clash, but all citizens of all countries demand a greater share of earth’s wealth, i.e. of nature’s resouces. Thus, the race for dwindling resources pits not only governments against each other, but also the people, each of whom wants to increase their current standard of living as much as possible – no word of renunciation.

HIM: At last I hear the realist speak. People are pretty much like their masters.

Me: And yet there is a great hope, and it is clearly before the eyes of every sensible person. The alpha males need to sit down at the same table, they need to realize that history has reached an end point where our only choice is between mutual annihilation and understanding.

HIM: I’m listening intently. I almost feel as if the Old Man is speaking. Yes, he has always been a fantasist. He believed that the animal heritage could be overcome. He liked to imagine himself in front of a table in the Garden of Eden, where Xi, Putin and Biden sit together in a relaxed atmosphere. The angels hover around them so seductively that they suddenly forget their chimpanzee nature. I may be unique, each says to the other, but so are you, my dear rivals. Therefore, from now on, let us definitely resolve to end the struggle against each other. We will abolish weapons of mass destruction, share resources and rule together.

How beautiful. It makes me feel all wistful. Yes, I can really hear the Old Man talking. He could fantasize so beautifully. Just imagine, he even stubbornly denied the doctrine of descent. I can well remember how he sometimes boasted about having created you separately on the sixth day. He just wasn’t quite up to it. Oh yes, from time to time…

*1* Mephisto had better be careful not to be dragged before the cadi for insulting an ex-president. Can his statement still be justified as artistic freedom? Well, I think that someone who recommends drinking a disinfectant as a medicine against covid may very well be called a fool. As for the accusation of lying, Trump was elected because he saw the truth that no one among the supposedly grassroots Democrats wanted to take care of the “white trash” in the rust belts. However, even this truth served the shrewd wheeler-dealer only as a means to an end, namely to gain political power. Empathy with the poor is as foreign to this man as empathy for the mouse is to the cat.

*2* In the political show “Vremya pakazhet” on Russian tv 1 kanal,” all these weaknesses are mercilessly exposed and ridiculed. In contrast, attacks on Chinese state television (CCTV-4) are aimed less ad personam. Instead they show the daily protests against police assaults and racial discriminiation, armed robberies and everything that can be understood as an internal disintegration of American society.

Strong Men, Weak Peoples – the Uncertain Future of Democracy

A critical reviewer would probably have to accompany this essay in the manner of Wikipedia: “additional evidence required”. Nevertheless, I dare to publish it, because I fear that there will never be enough evidence on this topic – but instead lots of different opinions. What I may offer the reader are mere impressions, everyone may supplement them in his own way and with his – hopefully better – knowledge. Continue reading Strong Men, Weak Peoples – the Uncertain Future of Democracy