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Sunday, November 25, 2018


DISCLAIMER: My faith in democracy is resolute and unshakable and I am prepared to go with it down the drain with my democratic faith undiminished. I am not a fascist, I do not believe in violence, I abhor the idea of people’s heads being chopped off, even of their own accord. This fantasy was not woven by me; Blame it on Italo Calvino, and I am presenting this as piece of fiction - not as utopian draft for future.
If you are too close to the thing, you don’t notice the tree for the woods. Like living in the most debauched version of democracy, we have not even noticed that elections have become merely a state procedure and getting elected nothing but a plebicitarian manipulation of the base sectarian loyalties of people. In my version of the Modest Proposal I had suggested that the aspirants run a race to infinity, the one who stays till the last automatically inherits power. But I found this proposal by Italo Calvino - “Beheading the Heads” - much more acceptable, and it comes with its philosophical explanation. I have abridged and summarised the story to the purpose stated above.
In Italo Calvino’s fable, “Beheading the Heads”, they have devised a very effective system for transfer of power. Anyone who offers to be the head of the state must voluntarily submit to his head being chopped off at the end of his term, in a massive public ceremony attended by the citizens. The scaffolds are made to exact specifications, so that the citizens get the best possible view of the neatly cut head jumping into the basket.
The citizens remembered with surprise that during barbarian interregnums, “Someone rules, commands, then, as if nothing had happened, stops and goes back home.' And dies in bed.
The arrangement proved to be a very effective way of stopping non-serious and undeserving candidates running for office. The logic is very simple. “Authority over others is indivisible from the right of those others to have you climb the scaffold and do away with you, one day in the not too distant future ... What authority would a leader have without the aura of this destiny around him, if you couldn't read it in his eyes, his sense of his end, for every second of his mandate? Civil institutions depend on this dual aspect of authority; no civilization has ever used any other system.”
A citizen explains, “The head commands so long as it's attached to the neck.”
“What do you mean?”, the others asked. “Do you mean that if for example a leader went beyond his term and, just for the sake of argument, didn't get his head cut off, he'd stay there ruling, his whole life long?”
"That's how things used to be”, the old man agreed, “in the times before it was clear that whoever chose to be leader chose to be beheaded in the not too distant future. Those who had power hung on to it...” .....
“So? What did people do?”, they asked the old man.
“They had to cut their heads off willy-nilly, with brute force, against their wishes! That's what used to happen before things were organized, before the leaders accepted... “
“It's not true that the leaders are forced to undergo execution. Say that and you miss the real meaning of our statutes, the real relationship that binds our leaders to the rest of the people. Only heads of state can be beheaded, hence you can't wish to be a head without also wishing for the chop. Only those who feel they have this vocation can become heads of state, only those who already feel themselves beheaded the moment they take up a position of authority.” ......
"That's what power is,” he went on, “this waiting for the end. All the authority one has is no more than advance notice of the blade hissing through the air, crashing down in a clean cut, all the applause you get is no more than the beginning of that last applause that greets your head as it rolls down the waxed surface of the scaffold.”
The visitor was told that the man making this small little speech was the man likely to succeed: “Tomorrow he'll be watching the executions as if they were already his own. They're all like that, the first days; they get upset, excited, they make a big deal of it.”
"Vocation: what pompous words they come out with!”
“And afterwards?”
“He'll get used to it, like everybody else. They have so much to do, they don't think about it anymore, until their day comes around. But then: who can see into a leader's mind? They give the impression they're not thinking about it.

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