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Could the 10 Year Illness Be Afflicting Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan?

10/06/2013 22:45 BST | Updated 09/08/2013 10:12 BST

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan has held power for 10 years, during which period his country has experienced unprecedented economic growth and international prestige.

Power and success are two of the biggest brain-changing drugs known to mankind, however, and no human being's brain can survive unchanged such large infusions of these two drugs. Edrogan's response to this week's demonstrations in Turkey show that he may not be an exception.

Power's effects on the brain have many similarities to those of drugs like cocaine: both significantly change brain function by increasing the chemical messenger dopamine's activity in the brain's reward network. These changes also affect the cortex and alter thinking, making people more confident, bolder - and even smarter.

But these same changes also make people egocentric, less self-critical, less anxious and less able to detect errors and dangers. All of these conspire to make leaders impatient with the "messiness" of opposition and contradictory opinions, which we can see clearly in Prime Minister Erdoğan's intransigent and aggressive response to the demonstrators, including his infamous claim that "there is an evil called twitter" and that "social media is the evil called upon societies".

The neurological effects of unconstrained power on the brain also inhibit the very parts of the brain which are crucial for self-awareness and what Erdoğan has to realize for the sake of Turkey's future is actually the hardest thing for any human being to appreciate - that his own judgment is in danger of being distorted by 10 long years in power.

It is my judgment that no leader can survive more than 10 years in power without encountering massive distortion of judgment of the sort we are witnessing in Erdoğan's response to the current unrest. No-one - but no-one - is immune to these neurological effects of power and I do not think it is a coincidence that 10 years is the maximum term in office for leaders of many countries, including USA and even the Republic of China.

It is the neurologically-created conceit of many powerful leaders that - in the words of Louis XV of France - "après moi le déluge" (after me, the flood). Power fosters the delusion of indispensability and many political leaders have created havoc in fighting to stay in post because they genuinely believe their abilities are crucial for the survival of their country and that no-one else can do it.

Former British Foreign Secretary Lord David Owen has proposed the existence of a "Hubris Syndrome" - an acquired personality disorder which arises in some leaders because of the effects of power on their brains. Among others, he diagnosed UK Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher as having succumbed to this disorder, both of whom ingested the power drug for that crucial 10 years.

The symptoms of Owen's 'Hubris Syndrome' include the following:

• A narcissistic preoccupation with one's image (eg, about not being seen to back down and lose 'strong man' image).

• A tendency for the leader to see the nation's interests and his own as identical, including a tendency to talk in the third person about himself.

• An excessive confidence in the leader's own judgment and contempt for the advice or criticism of others, along with a sense of omnipotence.

• A tendency to feel accountable to History or God rather than to more mundane political or legal courts.

• A tendency towards a loss of contact with reality and progressive isolation.

• "Hubristic incompetence", where things go wrong because of over-confidence and impaired judgment

Turkey is a vibrant nation, incredibly important to Europe, the USA and the Middle East and it is of paramount importance that its stability is not threatened by a brain distorted by power: there are enough countries surrounding Turkey which have been brought to their knees by precisely this neuropsychological affliction in their leaders and the world does not need any more.

@ihrobertson