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Could the 10 year illness be afflicting Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan?

June 9, 2013

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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan has held power for 10 years, during which period his country has experienced unprecedented economic growth and international prestige.

Power and success are two of the biggest brain-changing drugs known to mankind, however, and no human being’s brain can survive unchanged such large infusions of these two drugs. Edrogan’s response to this week’s demonstrations in Turkey show that he may not be an exception.

Power’s effects on the brain have many similarities to those of drugs like cocaine: both significantly change brain function by increasing the chemical messenger dopamine’s activity in the brain’s reward network. These changes also affect the cortex  and alter thinking, making people more confident, bolder – and even smarter.

But these same changes also make people egocentric, less self-critical, less anxious and less able to detect errors and dangers. All of these conspire to make leaders impatient with the “messiness” of opposition and contradictory opinions, which we can see clearly in Prime Minister Erdoğan’s  intransigent and aggressive response to the demonstrators, including his infamous claim that “there is an evil called twitter” and that “social media is the evil called upon societies”.

The neurological effects of unconstrained power on the brain also inhibit the very parts of the brain which are crucial for self-awareness and what Erdoğan has to realize for the sake of Turkey’s future is actually the hardest thing for any human being to appreciate – that his own judgment is being distorted by 10 long years in power.

It is my judgment that no leader can survive more than 10 years in power without encountering massive distortion of judgment of the sort we are witnessing in Erdoğan’s response to the current unrest. No-one – but no-one – is immune to these neurological effects of power and I do not think it is a coincidence that 10 years is the maximum term in office for leaders of many countries, including USA and even the Republic of China.

It is the neurologically-created conceit of many powerful leaders that – in the words of Louis XV of France –  “après moi le déluge” (after me, the flood). Power fosters the delusion of indispensability and many political leaders have created havoc in fighting to stay in post because they genuinely believe their abilities are crucial for the survival of their country and that no-one else can do it.

Former British Foreign Secretary Lord David Owen has proposed the existence of a “Hubris Syndrome” – an acquired personality disorder which arises in some leaders because of the effects of power on their brains. Among others, he diagnosed UK Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher  as having succumbed to this disorder, both of whom ingested the power drug for that crucial 10 years.

The symptoms of Owen’s ‘Hubris Syndrome’ include the following:

  • A narcissistic preoccupation with one’s image (eg, about not being seen to back down and lose ‘strong man’ image).
  • A tendency for the leader to see the nation’s interests and his own as identical, including a tendency to talk in the third person about himself.
  • An  excessive confidence in the leader’s own judgment and contempt for the advice or criticism of others, along with a sense of omnipotence.
  • A tendency to feel accountable to History or God rather than to more mundane political or legal courts.
  • A tendency towards a loss of contact with reality and progressive isolation.
  • “Hubristic incompetence”, where things go wrong because of over-confidence and impaired judgment

Turkey is a vibrant nation, incredibly important to Europe, the USA and the Middle East and it is of paramount importance that its stability is not threatened by a brain distorted by power: there are enough countries surrounding Turkey which have been brought to their knees by precisely this neuropsychological affliction in their leaders and the world does not need any more.

@ihrobertson

34 Comments leave one →
  1. June 12, 2013 8:13 am

    Reblogged this on denizduygu and commented:
    My blog post will follow shortly but I do believe Prof Ian Robertson has hit the nail on its head with this article

  2. June 12, 2013 12:19 pm

    a perfect determination in many ways.. but in the other hand when you are evaluating these persons as test subjects,you may be missing some important points originating from these people’s personalities ( I am assuming most of them have exceptionally strong personalities) Characters, world views, ideologies….

    In Erdogan example, an important part of the problem is occuring from the individuals character, experiences, the success that Turkey achieved in last years (Erdogan can never be the only reason of the success.. If your car is old and broken you can win any race with your driving skills.. There are many differentiators in this sucess .. I’d be more than happy to discuss) and the surrender of the people around him and the lack of dissident )… Erdogan’s radical roots, dominant and conservative character, his hate to the basic principles of Turkish Republic, especially secularism are very important factors.

    But, the power he has been exposed in last 11 years has stopped his ability to hide this hate and radical character.. I did not experienced any of these leaders you mentioned above, but unfortunately taking of from Erdogan subject I am in a great suspect about ”the disease is already inside the brain of these persons, maybe most of the people, being exposed to a great power for a long time is just making them feel overmuch comfortable and stop hiding their extereme thoughts and behaviours.

    Maybe that’s why we need democracy and autocontrol in the systems…

  3. June 13, 2013 6:24 pm

    You’re right. Although we, ordinary people are not pyschologs we used to know that he was sick and we are sick of him as well:) He sued many facebook users and had many twitter users arrested by the police. (last week but they were released later.) so take care of yourself:)

  4. ali keskiner,MD permalink
    June 14, 2013 12:11 am

    This is a very accurate evaluation.Eventully grandiosity and denial fail. the dictators cannot see themselves vulnerable thanks to the people surrounding them blindly and for their own interest. Turkey and Turkish people deserves a secular republic founded by the great Ataturk and self sacrificing real Muslims.

  5. ikarahasanoglu permalink
    June 14, 2013 9:31 am

    The surest cure for this affliction is to loose an election or be ousted by people. The problem in Turkey is there is no party with adequate followership or political savvy to win an election. Maybe he will be deposed by a rebellion in his own party. However, the Turkish election system that makes voters to vote for a party rather than a candidate (There are no single candidate electtion districts in Turkey, voters vote for a party in a wide region, sometimes consisting of 30+ repersentatives). The party (and therefore the leader) makes a list ofhis preference in decending order, 1 to 30+ and those in the top of the list get elected. This is a rather anti-democratic election system that adds to the power of the party boss. Most people do not know who repersents them in the parlieament. In the recent election, Erdogan did not put about 167 of his own party’s repersentatives who were neot in accord with him on top ogf his parties. candidates list.
    Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely

    • Ahmet permalink
      June 27, 2013 2:59 pm

      AKP does not have 50% of the votes; it has probably around 30%. The rest comes from the fact that many voters did not bother to vote, many votes were disqualified, and some went to parties which failed to beat the 10% barrier. The combined effect of these resulted in a landslide win for AKP, but their claim that they have 50 % of the people supporting them is totally false. There is also serious allegations of election rigging.

  6. June 14, 2013 5:51 pm

    Reblogged this on photographyofnia.

  7. June 14, 2013 6:58 pm

    This assessment seems to me both accurate and brilliant. It would also explain the disastrous Bush years in the White House. George W. didn’t take ten years to reach any turning point, however. He came into the White House already affected by the Hubris Syndrome, perhaps because all his life he’d had rich and powerful cronies and family members pulling strings for him, breaking the rules, and never making him be responsible for his crimes–including a stolen election.

  8. Julie Witford permalink
    June 14, 2013 7:02 pm

    Historian Prof Norman Stone follows the same thread here: http://www.cornucopia.net/blog/norman-stone-and-the-ten-year-itch

  9. Idil Rumilly permalink
    June 15, 2013 12:47 am

    There’s always an exception to the rule: that exception was Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who was in power for more than 10 years and certainly did not exhibit any neurological effects nor suffer from the “hubris syndrome”.

    • Lale permalink
      June 17, 2013 12:36 pm

      perfect!

    • Mert permalink
      June 18, 2013 5:59 am

      Idil, that’s what I was going to say. Thank you.

    • dilay permalink
      June 23, 2013 7:27 pm

      Ataturk did not just hasn’t suffered from Hubris Syndrome, also he even refused extra powers like being a king or a caliphate. Which is a very rare incident amongst leaders in any time interval.

      • A passing Turk permalink
        November 22, 2014 1:29 pm

        Power corrupts, great power corrupts greatly. You are a fool to fully believe in the stories of ANY national hero, not just Atatürk. As brilliant as he is, As much as I love his anti-theistic tendencies, that were later covered up to not cause unrest.. He was susceptible to power as much as the next guy, as he was a true authoritarian. Try to see both sides, I love the guy, But I know why many people would consider him as a dictator.

  10. bob minnery permalink
    June 15, 2013 5:23 am

    Would this also apply to police chiefs, local politicians and teachers?
    What about parents and those in a 10 year relationship or relationships that feel like 10 years?

    • June 16, 2013 11:11 am

      Yes indeed, it can do, and I cover exactly this in my book The Winner Effect

      • ferhat keles permalink
        June 16, 2013 12:26 pm

        After the wild attack and the absolute power show off yesterday night, our comments are unfortunately so naif. Erdogan is not loosing his mind because of his absolute power. With his all his comments, actions and behaviours he created poles in Turkey and now He is trying to increase the gap between two poles and secure his authority on his pole (50% with his speech). He is very sensitive about this.50 % and obviously, his plan is to isolate two poles before a mind share or any conversation begin. His attitude is driving Turkey to civil war but he is so keen to show that he is able to create a civil war if his authority is threathened by any domestic or international entity or group.

  11. Nazmiye Bitik permalink
    June 16, 2013 12:51 am

    Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

  12. Ahmet permalink
    June 17, 2013 6:53 am

    There are a few exceptions to the hubris syndrome : Mustafa Kemal Ataturk is the most prominent exception, but we can add FD Roosevelt and George Washington, whose 8-year presidency was preceded by six years of leadership of the American Revolution, to the list.

    All of these men were great leaders, wise enough to resist succumbing to the basic human greed to deify himself after achieviung ten years of success and popularity. Adnan Menderes was another victim of the hubris syndrome, as those who are old enough to remember 1960 will attest.

    The common thread between Menderes and Erdogan is that both were raised in very hierarchical and culturally disadvantaged surroundings with a patriarch wielding absolute power over the family, the clan or the neighborhood. The illusion of adequacy overcomes people from modest cultural surroundings faster than it does with people of true wisdom and culture. The current president of the famous Turkish sports club, Fenerbahce, can be cited as another example of a victim of the Hubris Syndrome.

    My hat off to the founding fathers of the USA, who saw the negative effects of Hubris back in the 18th century, to limit presidency to two terms. We would not have had a Hitler, Stalin, Saddam, Humeini, nor Erdogan if that wisdom had been available to the people of the old world..

  13. June 17, 2013 8:06 am

    He brain has always been this way since childhood.
    He is determind to revenge his unhappy childhood
    from anyone who criticize him.As he said he does not change.
    That is the only truth he said during all these years.

  14. June 17, 2013 1:45 pm

    Reblogged this on nomblog.

  15. Mert permalink
    June 18, 2013 5:53 am

    Dear Professor, I really do not understand what unprecedented economic growth means. Do you mean the national deficit increasing from $120 Billion to $337 Billion?

  16. gul tnyeri permalink
    June 21, 2013 8:40 am

    Unfortunately, people around him, the higher ups in his party, have started to suffer from the same syndrome as well as they have been under his wings since the brginning.

  17. June 22, 2013 6:46 am

    Well.. unfortunately Erdogan has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. He reflects his own brain disorder onto his people. He always blames others. Never have I heard him say he could have handled anything any better. He keeps stating that he is EVERYONE’s prime minister including those who didn’t and would NEVER vote for him but his actions do not support these statements. He keeps polarizing the nation by referring to us as ”them” ”those looters” ”those drunkards”.. Just because we believe that anyone who prefers to do so should be able to purchase alcohol as long as s/he is of age. He is trying to make it look like it is over a few trees and a few cans of beer at wee hours in the morning. Then he switches original theory of who could have started this ”Gezi BS” then he figures it could be CHP ( rival party) or America, or any country that is not muslim and therefore not a true friend to Turkey.
    We also are afraid that the PM has some secret agenda when it comes to the PKK Terror Organization tdue to what we have lost thousands of Turkish soldiers fighting against. How could you take a terror organization that seriously that Turkey’s PM could sit with them for a secret cause his nation doesn’t know about…. There are also secretly recorded phone conversations and some of them are coded… But it is obvious that he is trying to ask for a ”favor” at the expense of the taxpayer’s money.
    Erdogan does not give off a trustworthy vibe. It is really hard to believe a PM could be both deaf and blind to his own people’s outcry. 3 Turkish citizens died and all deaths are police and state violence related but a mayor who is close to the PM puts up a banner at the park where a protester got killed by a policeman that read ”Thank you the Turkish police. We are proud of you”.
    This government announced, anyone who is at the Park when the cops arrive will be considered a terrorist and treated as such and they actually did treat us like terrorists while having a secret agenda with the real terrorists.
    At this point, Erdogan does not have his people’s full trust. Only his supports do support him for fear that there will be a left-wing party that will be governing wwhich they believe automatically a less religious Turkey which they are against. But what they are missing here is that not everyone who has participated in the resistance are CHP supporters. You got all kinds of people from all kinds of walks of life and still feels that PM polarizes Turkish people and make us enemies within our communities. I do believe he has great TYRANT qualities. He ould be a great Sultan somewhere where democracy is not practiced. However, Ataturk is the true eternal leader of Modern Turkey and we are his followers, students, kids and soldiers, Modern Turkey is what Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded and wanted for us and his wish is our ultimate command.

  18. T. Ozgur permalink
    June 22, 2013 6:57 am

    Unprecedented economic growth? For his family and friends for sure. He literally sold every single pruduction tool in the country. We don’t even have the right to run our own mine fields and seaports. Under his brilliant administration even our springs are sold to int. Corps. You know what? yeah yeah he is ill and up until now we were rich and happy and well educated and lucky and blessed under his democratic highness. We are ready for the next genius. Bring it on.

  19. Mike permalink
    June 22, 2013 11:40 am

    OBAMA has an early case of this affliction – 5 years instead of 10!

  20. September 16, 2013 9:59 am

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