The UX of Being a Toppled Dictator

Years ago, Bill Mirbach suggested I read the book When Prophecy Fails:A Social and Psychological Study of A Modern Group that Predicted the Destruction of the World.  The book was about a group in the 50’s that predicted the end of the world.  Several academics joined the group and studied it from the inside.  The basic story is that when people’s predictions completely failed to materialize, they became MORE convinced they were right, not less.

In Iraq when the US was invading, or in Egypt recently and even Libya now, there is a particular psychological phenomenon happening in the minds of those in power.  They are in complete and utter denial. Muammar el-Qaddafi told ABC News today that there were no protesters in Libya. [source]  He is quoted as saying, “They love me. All my people with me, they love me,” he said. “They will die to protect me, my people.”

How could someone be so out of touch?  I think the answer is cognitive dissonance.  One can not hold two opposing ideas as correct at the same time.  One can not believe they are the supreme ruler of a nation and also believe they are being toppled.  The reality of the situation is completely in conflict with their world view.

I would love to see a study on the psychology of dictators in their final hours of rule.  I imagine they all would be in denial up until the final moments.  It’s been fascinating watching the middle east change so rapidly over the past few months.

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  1. I don’t know how Qaddafi runs his little empire, but if look back at dictators in history, the people closest to them, who give them information, are those who have learned how to make the dictator feel great. If you look back at the Roman emperors, you see this all the time. When Caligula said he was a god, what was everyone do to? So they started calling divine (or else they would risk execution). Same probably hold true in Libya. Who is going to deliver the bad news? There is nothing to gain to tell him the truth. So they tell him that it is all a conspiracy and they will take care of it.

    (and since my blog is broken…) Have we noticed that there are only several thousand protesters, in a country of 6.4 million. And I’m just asking here, but would our government do 10,000 armed protesters headed towards the White House, intent on overthrowing the government. It’s not out the question and it would be hard to arrest that many people coming at once.