Short Report

Power is a parasite that burrows into brains and hearts

17 November 2017 - 12:59
Perhaps Robert Mugabe is not negotiating his exit. Perhaps Jacob Zuma isn’t fighting for his political life. Perhaps all that’s happening is that power is looking for a new host.
Perhaps Robert Mugabe is not negotiating his exit. Perhaps Jacob Zuma isn’t fighting for his political life. Perhaps all that’s happening is that power is looking for a new host.
Image: AFP PHOTO / MUJAHID SAFODIEN

Power‚ I’m starting to believe‚ is a parasite.

I don’t mean this metaphorically. I’m talking about a very literal biological entity. Medical science hasn’t found it yet but I suspect that in ten or twenty years it’s going to be confirmed: power is a microscopic critter that burrows into brains and hearts‚ and‚ once there‚ sets about replicating itself.

We already know the symptoms. Nature is full of examples of parasites that change the behaviour of their hosts‚ and so it is with the power parasite. The infected begin to develop a paradoxical personality‚ being bold‚ even rash‚ while simultaneously developing anxieties that slowly fester into paranoia.

A single host‚ however‚ is of no use to the parasite. It must spread. And so it accesses the deepest reaches of its host’s brain and decodes exactly what the human heart most wants to hear‚ and it puts those words in the mouth of its host‚ and the multitudes come.

Inevitably‚ some come too close and the parasite slips into them and begins to dismantle their humanity and agency. They begin to call themselves virile‚ brave names like “Commander” or “Commissar” but in purely biological terms they are simply fresh meat; an opportunity to start the whole process again.

In the coming weeks we will discuss events in Zimbabwe in terms of motivations and actions: who wants what; who has decided to act in what way; who is taking power and who is giving it up. When the Zuma regime falls apart completely‚ we will use the same passionate terminology.

But perhaps these “human” dramas are simply a biological inevitability‚ as impersonal as an instinct‚ as dispassionate as a gene doing its job. Perhaps Robert Mugabe is not negotiating his exit. Perhaps Jacob Zuma isn’t fighting for his political life. Perhaps all that’s happening is that power is looking for a new host.

Because that’s how it works‚ every time. When the parasite stays in the human brain and heart for too long‚ unchecked by regular doses of humility‚ it sucks them dry and the host shrivels. Oh‚ it might still be called “President” and sit on a gilded chair‚ but the parasite can taste the dust in its blood.

And so it slips away to the younger host‚ to the fresher meat‚ and the fresh meat puts on a shiny uniform or suit and believes it is the master of its universe. And on we go.

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