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.