JANUARY 01, 1968 by LEONARD E. READ
We think of a puppeteer as an unseen person who manipulates and sometimes supplies voices for small figures of people or animals on a miniature stage.
Puppetry goes back to at least 500 B.C. The art, often highly developed, has occupied and entertained millions of people all over this earth.
A first-rate puppeteer excites our admiration. His is a singular skill made manifest through small, inanimate, man-created characters. The uniqueness portrayed by the small figures is transmitted to them by the God-created character, the puppeteer. And we marvel at what is seen and heard precisely as we stand in awe of inanimate paint and canvas given form and beauty by a God-created Raphael.
Unworthy of admiration are the pseudo puppeteers, among us by the millions. These persons, for the most part, have no demonstrated competency to give form and beauty even to inanimate objects. Yet, undaunted, they proceed to impose their notions of form and beauty on other human beings. They dangle and pull the strings, not of inanimate little figures, but of living individuals. And they’ll throw in the dialogue at no extra charge!
Pseudo puppeteering is easy to identify but to refer to a person as a pseudo puppeteer may be the truth one day and a falsehood the next. The explanation for this variation is that pseudo puppeteering is the will to power over others, an urge that rises and falls. On occasion an individual’s will to power lies dormant; at times it rages. In some persons it rages most of the time; in others it rarely flares up. But none of us seems to be wholly immune to the urge, convinced as we are of our own goodness: "Why can’t you be like me?" Unfortunately, there is a bit of the pseudo puppeteer in everyone who cares at all about what goes on around him.
Ruled by Inferiors
My hypothesis is that this tendency or nagging proclivity—the will to power over others — in whomever it shows forth, is no more than an unconscious, non-rational assertion of ignorance or, to be more charitable, a blindness as to the nature of a human being, regardless of how lowly his position on life’s totem pole. In brief, I am suggesting that those who would pull the strings of other human beings are—by virtue of this fact alone, if for no other—mentally and morally unfitted to the task. The pseudo puppeteer, when putting on his act, is intellectually inferior, not superior, to his human puppets.
"Do you mean to suggest, Mr. Read, that the head of state or his appointees, when dictating wages, hours, rents, prices, and other terms and conditions relating to the peaceful and nondestructive aspects of ownership and trade, are inferior intellectually to those who are the objects of this regimentation?’
"Just a minute, Sir! Are you claiming that a wealthy plantation owner, when dictating the activities of his slaves, was manifesting a greater blindness than theirs? That the same can be said of the great Plato and his slaves? That Stalin, when relegating a Muscovite to dishwashing, regardless of how lowly that fellow may have been, was nonetheless his inferior?
"Why, if your hypothesis is valid, the business leader who serves on the Board of the local chamber of commerce and votes for the hometown plaza at the expense of taxpayers all over the nation is displaying an ignorance greater than the millions whose pittances gratify his wishes. This would even be true of the clergyman who preaches or the academician who teaches this doctrine. You can’t possibly mean all of this!"
Incredible as it seems, this is precisely what I mean!
Such charges cannot be leveled against the true puppeteer, the one who controls man-created, inanimate objects. His ignorance could not possibly match that of his wholly unintelligent and lifeless marionettes. But it is possible for the greatest intellect ever born to have a blind spot, an area of ignorance more pronounced than to be found in a slave.
Think about this pseudo puppeteer. Regardless of how great his attainments relative to the rest of us, he really knows next to nothing. This is especially true if he is unaware of how little he knows. No living person has more than a superficial knowledge of himself; he knows even less about his intimate acquaintances; and still less about those he does not know.
Each Man’s Emergence Depends Upon Himself
Consider next the individual, any one of the several billion human beings who, in one way or another, dangles as a marionette to the pleasure of the pseudo puppeteers.
While all of us, in varying degrees, are victims of puppeteering, let us not pose a Socrates or some other brilliant notable in the role of puppet; that would make it too easy to prove the inferiority of the puppeteer. Instead, let us take someone far down the scale in our rating systems, a Negro slave, for instance—no schooling, unable to read or write or even to talk intelligibly. My claim is that any puppeteer, when performing his act, is inferior even to this lowly fellow.
This slave is a human being! He is neither inanimate nor animal. Examined physically, genetically, chemically, atomistically, there is nothing to distinguish him from Booker T. Washington. Or from your own ancestors a short while ago. Doubtless, his brain is as large as yours and has as many nerve cells.
I am only trying to establish the point that this slave is as much a human being as you or I; like us, he is endowed with unrealized potentialities. To say that his potentialities have not as yet been realized to the same degree as yours and mine and, therefore, he would be better off were he our puppet, is to assume not only that we have it made but, far worse, that there is no such thing as human progress, emergence, evolution.
The realization of potentialities is man’s purpose; this is human destiny. And the human being, as complex in one stage of development as another, can grow, emerge, "hatch," only as he is free to do so. The developmental forces and mechanisms—the soul, psyche, call the generative processes what you will—are within him, and his germinal forces are not to be found in any other person. It is stressing the obvious to insist that I cannot manage these forces in you, for you are unique, extraordinary, and unlike me in every respect.’ This claim can safely be generalized.
I am not the Creator. Failing to realize that no one of us can mastermind the creative release and growth of another is an utter blindness. And no matter how slight the intellectual attainments of the manipulated human being, the ignorance of the pseudo puppeteer, when puppeteering, is greater than that of the puppet. The puppet, no matter how dim his glimmer, sees more than can a blind puppeteer.
Is there any remedy for man imposing his will by force on other men? Can we curb this puppeteer-puppet relationship?
Pseudo puppeteering might diminish with a realization that it is nothing more than an assertion of ignorance. This is a shunned, not a sought-after, category.
Resistance to puppeteering might increase with the realization that most of us are being used as puppets. What self-respecting person wants to be someone else’s marionette?
And the whole nonsensical relationship would evaporate were enough of us (1) to evaluate properly the uniqueness of the individual, (2) to understand that the germinal forces for individual growth are exclusively self-possessed, and (3) to appreciate that these forces can do their work only when free to function, not when on either end of a string or a chain.
Whenever any of us feel the puppeteering urge coming on, we should heed the counsel, "Mind your own business." And whenever we sense that others are using us as puppets, we should make it plain that we are not of the slave mentality by simply demonstrating that we can think and speak for ourselves.