Intellectuals and Social Sycophancy [Archives:1998/18/Focus]

May 4 1998

Dr. Fouad Al-Salahi,
Department of Sociology,
Sanaa University

Anti-Success League
One of the main features of value-blurring in a given society is the prevalence of social sycophancy in daily behavior. This phenomenon has its justification in politics within the Machiavellian framework, it is increasingly becoming common among non-politicians in society?
This is the case in many communities worldwide, including our own.
When a society is afflicted by a distortion in its cultural development, i.e., the general trend of its economic development is not fully clear where the old and the modern are mixed in terms of establishments, values, and behavior, a state of non-conformism to the legal and customary standards will then exist. Such standards determine the types of behavior and social relationships.
Not conforming to standards leads to the preponderance of selfishness and narcism, when everybody considers the achievement of his or her narrow personal interests without regard to legitimate means of the general welfare. The main goal of such individuals would become, first and foremost, the attainment of material and status gains for themselves.
A common unstable psychology is then formed, which perpetually reproduces non-conformism and law breaking. This phenomenon would then become prevalent to the extent of creating a new social value embodying such traits as lying, unlawful gains, hypocrisy and sycophancy. Through the practices of a social group comprising people from all walks of life, this new social value is then imposed on society. This social group is what can be called an anti-success league corrupting society.
Intellectuals in Yemen
Instead of being critical observers with a creative mind for the development of the state and society, Yemeni intellectuals have become part of the anti-success league. They are only “creative” in inciting tribal and sectarian antagonism, which are further fueled by political-party activities. These intellectuals align themselves with different parties to form tribal and clique groupings within the establishment. Instead of developing the political parties and creating modern civil relationships, they become part of the problem.
Intellectuals in their daily practices produce and reproduce the phenomenon of social sycophancy. Each individual or group pursues self-interest according to his/her goals – usually meaning to make material or status gains or to settle old scores, thus leading to a socially irresponsible role.
The tactics they use are simple. They depend on lying and exploiting differences in positions to denigrate other individuals or groups, in addition to kissing up to top government or party officials in order to climb the social ladder.
Since the main goal is to obtain personal gains, then clique, tribal and partisan groupings become the most important approach to achieve their goals. As the Yemeni society is in a process of democratization and promoting the establishment of democracy, the anti-success league often exploit this situation to express their sycophancy in the media. They aim is to demonstrate their loyalty to one side or another.
The sycophantic intellectual expresses his or her support for one political party or another, but especially for the ruling party, with the full knowledge that such a stand would earn him or her favor. The existence of like-minded people in the political parties and the state institutions provides positive response and supports to the process of kissing up.
But kissing up is only part of the damage. Such intellectuals also use their ability to express logical and ideological justification for any wrong policies or decisions in return for abundant material rewards.
These sycophants also render an additional service. They would engage in mud-slinging to defame their friends who are not in good terms with the authorities, ruin their reputation, rat on them, expose them, and do whatever is required to please their patrons in authority. Finally, such people try to place numerous obstacles in the ways of others.
Plagiarism & Other Ills
In addition to the previously mentioned characteristics, sycophantic intellectuals also resort to plagiarism in the books they write and the research they do. For they lack creative abilities and do not follow the developments in their respective fields of activity. Even the simple articles they write are often ‘borrowed’. Their interest in developing their skills is weakened as they rush to achieve quick material gains.
Daily gossip and back-stabbing in qat-chewing sessions is another feature distinguishing sycophantic intellectuals. If one of them asks a colleague for a favor, and the latter apologizes due to his personal circumstances, then various malicious rumors and explanations are made up. Last week, I saw many cases in which some individuals asked for scholarships for their kids. Once told that exceptions cannot be made, and that their kids have to compete with others in an open system, they resort to back-biting.
Some of these intellectuals even belong to more than one political party. They have ready justifications for each opportunistic stand they take, which are usually based on more lying and sycophancy. All of this leads to the creation of a sick mentality characterized by opportunism that casts doubt on the intellectual abilities of others.
Part of this mentality and psyche can be attributed to upbringing as well as the social context and the political system in later stages of life.
These sycophantic personalities are generally unproductive and their presence halts and impedes the development of the people and institutions with which they come into contact. If a large segment of intellectuals is in such a bad situation, what is the fate of other sectors of society? How can society then satisfy the conditions required for cultural and civil development, in the absence of achievement and creativity? Added to that the absence of positive role models.
The absence of open and frank relationships in our society and the lack of respect for the law lead to more social sycophancy and further deterioration and regression.
There is one key factor for the prevalence of this phenomenon in our country today. Lack of accountability. People get away with murder, as the saying goes, as there are no checks and balances.