Snollygoster is an archaic term for, “A fellow who wants office, regardless of party, platform or principles, and who, whenever he wins, gets there by the sheer force monumental talknophical assumnancy.”
All right, that’s a rather antiquated definition, but then, “snollygoster” is a very antiquated term. It hasn’t been in use since the mid-1800’s.
Another definition is, “A shrewd, unprincipled person, especially a politician.”
So, of what interest is this bygone nomenclature to us today?
Well, the definitions are exactly in keeping with our present-day politicians. When we look at our senators, parliamentarians, presidents and prime ministers, we see that, even with the passage of considerable time, the term snollygoster is applicable today.
And, we, the constituents, could be referred to as “grumbletonians,” a word common in England in the 1600’s for those who are angry or unhappy with their government.
And we’re just as likely to be so exasperated with our political leaders that we resort to a “whipmegmorum” – a Scottish word from the 1700’s for a noisy quarrel about politics.
These ancient and forgotten terms may be entertaining, but they may additionally raise a question in modern minds. We may ask ourselves, “Do you mean that it isn’t just that our present leaders are virtual cartoons – and destructive ones at that? Do you mean that (gulp) it’s always been this way?
But, how is this possible? How is it that, regardless of the times we’re in, and regardless of whether we have literally hundreds of millions of citizens to choose from (in the larger countries), we end up with literal cartoon characters as leaders? Is it that we’re so bad at making a selection that we always choose the worst person?
Well, actually, there, the answer would be, “No.”
Voters don’t actively seek out the worst. The problem is that they’re presented with the worst. In the UK, we can complain about how useless Theresa May is; that she continually drops the ball and repeatedly acts with foolhardy overconfidence. But, if asked, “Would you rather have Jeremy Corbin?” those of us who grumble are likely to respond vehemently in the negative. (We don’t wish to jump from the pan into the fire.)
Similarly, across the pond in the US, Americans, including republicans, cannot help but laugh at their president as being an arrogant and petulant buffoon. (For the record, those of us outside the US also regard him as a source of perverse entertainment). Still, I expect that most of those same people, if asked whether they think Hillary Clinton would be closer to their ideal of the perfect leader, they’d emphatically say, “No.”
So, the problem is not that the voters “get the leader they deserve.” The problem is that the game is rigged – that there are no good choices. In a small country, it’s easy to introduce a candidate whom the electorate actually believe in, then to push him forward to victory. But, the larger the country, the more impossible it is for anyone who deserves a leadership position, to actually achieve it. (The system promotes its own kind.)
But, this notion presupposes that the majority of people within the political structure are already “contaminated,” that they, too are, for all practical purposes, undesirable. Can this actually be the case?
Again… ‘fraid so… But how is this possible?
Well, as long as we’re discussing definitions, there are two more that we might want to investigate. Let’s look at this one:
“A long-term pattern of abnormal behavior characterized by exaggerated feelings of self-importance, an excessive need for admiration, and a lack of understanding of others' feelings. People affected by it often spend a lot of time thinking about achieving power or success.”
Well, that certainly fits virtually all political leaders and political hopefuls. This definition is used to describe “narcissistic personality disorder.” A fuller description is:
“Persistent grandiosity, excessive need for admiration, and a personal disdain for, and lack of empathy for other people… Arrogance, a sense of superiority… actively seeks to establish abusive power and control over other people… openly disregards the feelings and wishes of others, and expects to be treated as superior, regardless of their actual status or achievements... usually exhibits a fragile ego, an inability to tolerate criticism, and a tendency to belittle others in order to validate their own superiority.”
Take a moment and ask yourself whether the above describes a leader near you.
And, here’s another interesting definition:
“A pervasive and persistent disregard for morals, social norms, and the rights and feelings of others. Individuals with this personality disorder will typically have no compunction in exploiting others in harmful ways for their own gain or pleasure and frequently manipulate and deceive other people, achieving this through wit and a facade of superficial charm.”
This is a definition for sociopathy, or “antisocial personality disorder.” To expand, sociopaths demonstrate a
“Disregard for right and wrong, persistent lying or deceit to exploit others, callous, cynical and disrespectful of others, using charm or wit to manipulate others for personal gain or personal pleasure, arrogance, a sense of superiority and being extremely opinionated… repeatedly violating the rights of others through intimidation and dishonesty, impulsiveness or failure to plan ahead, hostility, significant irritability, agitation… lack of empathy for others and lack of remorse about harming others, unnecessary risk-taking or dangerous behavior with no regard for the safety of self or others… failure to consider the negative consequences of behavior or learn from them.”
Initially, we may be tempted to say to ourselves, “Surely, it’s not as bad as all that.” But, if we really want to get an accurate picture, a useful exercise might be to picture a specific leader whose behaviour we’ve witnessed repeatedly and then read the above descriptions once again, whilst picturing his face.
The surprising truth is that many political leaders and political hopefuls display these characteristics exactly. Many are clearly narcissists, sociopaths, or both.
But, why should this be? Well, the easy answer is “obsessive behaviour.” Those who have the above disorders will literally do anything to achieve superiority over others and will have no remorse or regret whatever. Therefore, it’s perfectly predictable that, over time, any government will become populated by pathological individuals.
This is not a new occurrence. ‘Twas ever thus. The snollygosters have been a chronic dominant presence in governments for millennia. And they’ll continue to be dominant.
However, there is a positive takeaway here. If we recognise that this syndrome is in fact the norm, in any age, in any country, we can stop hoping for a hero to arise and save us from the parasitical dominance of governments. We can accept that, if we’re to thrive, this may only be accomplished through our own independence of mind and action, not through the empty promises of pathological leaders.
Reprinted with permission.