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Other Voices: As long as there are humans, there will be tyrants

Thousands of years ago when the Romans ruled much of the planet, people observed a strange phenomenon. Whenever there was a parade riding through the city with a hero or a powerful figure out in the lead, there would be a slave next to him on the cart whispering into his ear. The slave saying, in effect, remember, you are not a God, you are only a human.

These early people had learned something that we must learn again and again because we keep forgetting it and so have to learn it repeatedly.

Each of us, including our leaders, cannot do whatever we want without respect to ethics and laws because we become arrogant and feel we are above the common man.



“Power corrupts.” Even as these words trickle through our minds, humans with power become corrupted and these people harm everything from the family to the state – worse, they alter our faith in the goodness of human nature.

Every war we have ends with people saying, “This is the war to end all wars.” But still, each time a new powerful tyrant appears, there is another war with atrocities committed on both sides, atrocities committed by what at first seem like normal, nice people who then became arrogant and commit crimes. We wonder how this can happen.




Actually, when powerful, nice people commit atrocities, it is natural.

A few years ago an experiment was done in which college students were divided into two groups to each play prisoners or guards. These nice college boys, raised in good homes, became so vicious that the experiment had to be discontinued. There was nothing abnormal about these students – if one of us had been there, we, too, would have been corrupted by the power that goes with being a guard.

Prison camp guards in Japan, a country where the people are usually kind, committed such crimes against American prisoners that to this day Japan is hated by those who still survive. Young American boys and girls who ran the prison camp in Abu Ghraib entered as good people and left as criminals.

Presidential hopefuls and even presidents with past acceptable records commit crimes that shame them for the rest of their lives when they gain power and then can’t control their arrogance or their behavior.

We find people in all walks of life are capable of being turned into tyrants when they get power – we see it in the way humans treat animals, their children, the animals in slaughterhouses, their servants and employees. It is the way humans and all animals become when they get power.

As long as there are humans, there will be tyrants. Somewhere there will always be a war. Before we can try to mitigate this behavior, we need to admit that it exists. It is naive for those who say, “Why can’t we just get along with each other or let us get rid of the army and spend the money on poor people.” These are dreams of a distant place, dreams which will take us nowhere but the same path we travel over and over.

One might ask as to how we humans reached this state of affairs. Our ancestors, and in fact most alpha vertebrates, use their power cruelly.

As terrible as this seems, this behavior is necessary in order to save the best genes for reproduction and the survival of the species. But there is an inequality here because the other animals don’t have our power. Instead of claws, we have tanks; instead of fangs, we have bombers; instead of paws, we have guns and knives. So even though human behavior is natural, it can still tear us apart.

This is not our only problem, we have others such as we are weakening not only ourselves but all the animals and plants we like best. Many of our animals can’t reproduce alone anymore; many of our plants grow only with special treatment. We and our most loved plants and animals are losing our hardiness, for it is surely true we are the weakest animal pound for pound on Earth. We did this to ourselves.

There is much for us to look at and accept or change. But at the end of the day, most of us should just try to do our best, do as little harm as possible, enjoy our lives and leave our part of the planet better than we found it.

Andrea Heyser lives in Rough and Ready.


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