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Cunning, cruel, flamboyant and eccentric, at times Muammar Gaddafi seemed a parody of the villains that populate James Bond novels. But the colonel, who died Thursday without his battalion of all-female bodyguards but with his gold-plated pistol, doesn't stand alone as a victim of the psychosis of power. He shares a long tradition with fellow dictators who have a penchant for crazy titles, weird philosophies, megalomaniac monuments and arbitrary social strictures.
What was vintage Gaddafi was also classic behaviour for dictators.
They are usually charming, charismatic and intelligent, wrote James Fallon, an American neuroscientist, in Psychology Today.
They brim with self-confidence and independence, and exude sexual energy. They are also extremely self-absorbed, masterful liars, compassionless, often sadistic and possess a boundless appetite for power.
Col. Gaddafi was paranoid, narcissistic, power-hungry and vain, he said.
After studying the behaviour of dictators, Mr. Fallon determined that genes, upbringing, abnormalities in the brain and a lack of empathy all played a role in forming such a person.
And, he concluded, It is no coincidence that all dictators are men.
As a dictator, Col. Gaddafi was both dangerous and eccentric.
You'd have to go back to Nero or Caligula to find someone who was able to impose their own personal eccentricities on a state to the degree that Gaddafi did, Anthony Cordesman of Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies told The Associated Press this week.
The Libyan leader had a hang-up with titles. A jumped-up army captain, who promoted himself to colonel immediately after he carried out a bloodless coup against King Idris in 1969, he later abolished all ranks in his army above colonel to discourage possible coup plotters.
Generally, he liked to be known as Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution.
Many dictators try to create a cult of personality and favour grandiloquent titles and honours.
Idi Amin of Uganda started his working life as a cook's assistant in the Ugandan colonial army, but ended up as His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Dr. Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular and uncrowned King of Scotland.
Among other titles, North Korea's Kim Jong-il boasts of being Guardian Deity of the Planet.
Saparmurat Niyazov, the dictator who ruled Turkmenistan until he died in 2006, renamed himself Turkmenbashi (Head of all Turkmen). He also had a habit of naming things after himself - including streets, a breed of horse, the longest canal in the world, a city, ships, a planet in the constellation Taurus, a crater on the Moon, a mountain and the month of January.
Col. Gaddafi tried to justify his dictatorship by creating a philosophy that denied he was even a ruler.
His Third Universal Theory was a blueprint for a welfare state in which there were would be no laws, no money, no government and no private enterprise. He published his theory in an 83-page volume called The Green Book and made all Libyan school children study it, much as Chinese communists made everyone study Mao Zedong's Little Red Book of sayings during the Cultural Revolution.
Personal dictatorships are riddled with the pathologies of tyranny as individual leaders impose their eccentricities on their countries.
In 1977, Jean-Bedel Bokassa proclaimed himself Emperor of the Central African Empire (now Republic) and modelled his coronation after Napoleon Bonaparte's
Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, decided to launch a campaign of pro-African awareness. He renamed his country Zaire in 1971 and himself Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu waza Banga, which roughly translates as all-conquering warrior who, because of his endurance and will to win, goes from triumph to triumph leaving fire in his wake.
As part of his Africanization campaign, Mobutu regularly wore a distinctive leopard skin cap - and banned everyone else in Zaire from doing the same. He also ordered men not to wear Western suits.
Col. Gaddafi had a similar penchant for peculiar clothing, leaning toward long flowing robes, gaudy military uniforms with gold epaulettes and lots of medals, and distinctive headgear and sunglasses.
The urge for dictators to distinguish themselves through their appearance and by ordering the behaviour of others is almost universal.
Turkmenbashi banned make-up, gold teeth, ballet, recorded music and lip-synching at concerts. He forbade men to have beards and long hair, and ordered schoolgirls to wear their hair in braids.
Hastings Banda, leader of Malawi from 1966 to 1994, ordered men to cut their hair and prohibited women from wearing pants.
Psychologists have sought for decades to explain the dictator's mind. In 1943, the Office of Strategic Services, which developed into the Central Intelligence Agency, commissioned a secret profile called A Psychological Analysis of Adolf Hitler.
Mr. Fallon, who has studied brain-scans of psychopathic serial killers, was asked to plumb the minds of dictators after this year's uprisings in the Arab Spring.
Relationships, the brain, genes and early childhood all contributed to making a dictator, he concluded.
Somewhat predictably, dictators do not relate in a normal manner to other people in a person-to-person, empathetic way. They may associate themselves with "people" as a whole or "people" in a tribal or abstract pan-world sense (as Hitler may have had with pan-Germanism, or Stalin with pan-Slavic sentiments), or even with "the world" - he wrote this year in Psychology Today.
Abnormalities in the lower frontal lobe and the amygdala, the spot that regulates fear, rage, and sexual desire, play a central role.
In some individuals, the amygdala can be so poorly developed that it creates an extreme pattern of dependency.
So what satisfies a normal person - such as reading a good book or watching the sunset - does nothing for someone with an underdeveloped amygdala. For some people, this means a greater tendency toward drug and alcohol addiction, and severe painful withdrawal that gets progressively worse over time, leading to malignant dependent behaviours.
Sadists & become addicted to torture and killing; dictators get high on power, an insatiable drive that gets progressively worse, or malignant with time.
Men are also more likely to carry the warrior gene (MAO-A) associated with aggressive behaviour.
Mr. Fallon added, To develop into a dictator - in addition to theoretically having a hefty percentage of the 12 to 15 particularly aggressive gene variants and a dysfunctional frontal lobe and amygdala - an individual has usually also been seriously abused in childhood, and/or lost important caretakers, such as biological parents.
In an interview, Michael Kraus, a social-personality psychologist at the University of California San Francisco who studies power and domination, said power frees people to be exactly how they are at their core.
That means nice people will be extra nice in power, while aggressive, deceitful people will be uber-aggressive and wildly deceitful.
Our research shows that power gives people the freedom to express their true traits and attributes, Mr. Kraus said.
Nice people are very, very agreeable when they're in power. In the case of a dictator, absolute power allows them to express themselves as more hostile and less pro-socially oriented. Power basically lets you behave how you'd like to behave without fear or external influences.
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