Dictators and straightening dogs’ tails

There is this story from Hindu mythology I remember reading when I was a kid. I don’t remember the source but I remember the story really well. It basically goes like this.

A man wishes for a servant and gets one. The servant tells the master, “I’ll do anything you ask me to do. But I’ll serve you under one condition. If at any point in time I don’t have work, I’ll eat you up”. Given the amount of work the master has, he thinks this is a pretty good deal, and hires the servant.

The servant turns out to be super efficient. All the tasks the master gives are completed in a jiffy, and the master is hard-pressed to give more tasks, let he be eaten up. Finally the master pleads with the servant, that he has no more work to give, and that he will “free” him, and the servant to spare him.

The servant doesn’t agree. “This is not according to the terms of the contract”, he says, and threatens to eat up the master. Just then, the master sees this dog, with a crooked tail. The master tasks the servant with straightening out the dog’s tail. Legend goes that the servant is trying to straighten a dog’s tail until this day.

So why did I tell this story? Because I saw this tweet from former chess world champion Garry Kasparov, and found it pertinent.

A powerful and efficient dictator is like the servant in the above tale. Once he is done with “getting the trains to run on time”, he uses his power to come after you. And the only way you can prevent him from coming after you then is to give him some nonsensical work like straightening a dog’s tail.

Notice that the servant in the above story does only one job at a time. So once he started trying to straighten the dog’s tail (a task assigned to him so that the master survives), he wasn’t able to do any other task. In other words, he became useless!

So the moral of this story and Kasparov’s analogy is that a dictator, even if he works for you, will do so only for a short period of time.


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