Small Wars Journal

Volodymyr Zelensky and The Dangers of Worship Culture

Tue, 03/29/2022 - 10:24pm

Volodymyr Zelensky and The Dangers of Worship Culture

By John Mac Ghlionn


Lede: Cancel culture is bad. This is not a controversial statement to make. It’s the antithesis of everything a free and open society stands for. As the author Steve Maroboli so accurately noted, cancel culture flourishes “because we accept (and gluttonously consume) social violence. We no longer seek truth or both sides of a story. Whichever side is loudest, wins… regardless of its relationship to the truth.” In this climate, to paraphrase a well-known motto, " the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.” Absolutely nothing good comes from cancel culture. The same, though, is true for worship culture. In this particular environment, mere mortals are deified, venerated, and idolized. When it comes to the dangers of worship culture, China provides a valuable lesson.

Although Mao Zedong, arguably the vilest man to have ever walked the planet, died in 1976, he's still worshiped like a god. This is especially true in Shaoshan, the city in which the dictator was born. Journalist Brian Kelly previously discussed the ways in which “Buddhist and Taoist temples often have a statue of the Great Helmsman, covered with yellow cloth (the color of the emperor and the Buddha).” Here, “incense, fruit, paper money (false) are offered as if to a god or the spirit of an ancestor.”

Before the Chinese Communist Party imposed the strictest of COVID lockdowns imaginable, it was common practice for people – thousands of them from all across the country- to congregate, form a vigil, and remember their former president.  For the uninitiated, Mao was responsible for the Great Leap Forward, a brutal campaign that attempted to rapidly transform the country from an agrarian economy into an industrial one. A disaster of epic proportions, it led to the deadliest famine in the history of mankind, with at least 45 million people dying in the space of just 4 years (1958-1962). Mao Zedong was a monster, yet, in the eyes of so many Chinese, he was (and still is) a hero. A man worthy of adulation and extreme devotion.

Which brings us onto Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, a man who is most definitely worthy of adulation. Now, before proceeding, I must state the following clearly: this is not a comparison between Mao and Zelensky; this is to highlight the dangers of worshipping any man (or woman) like a god. Nothing good comes from the deification of human beings. Right now, Zelensky, a comedian-turned-politician, is one of the most, if not the most, discussed people on the planet. Rightly praised for his bravery, Zelensky has become an international sex-symbol, with The New York Post referring to him as a “thirst trap,” a “smoking hot macho head honcho.” Many readers, I'm sure, will find this amusing. It's just a bit of fun. Right? Wrong. By focusing so much on one man, we risk losing sight of the bigger picture. In Ukraine, as I type this, women and children are being killed. Towns and cities are being blown to smithereens. There are fears that Putin will use chemical weapons on the people of Ukraine. Some are rightly concerned that Russia’s president is ready to quite literally go nuclear. By focusing so much on Zelensky, and painting him as some sort of god, we risk ignoring the fact that World War III may be just around the corner. It is possible to praise Ukraine’s president without worshipping him. We are fast becoming the silliest of societies, with journalists being paid to write glowing articles about Zelensky’s green t-shirt. Sometimes, as Freud never quite said, a t-shirt is just a t-shirt. Contrary to popular belief, Zelensky did not transform the meaning of a piece of cotton. However, by writing such pieces, journalists appear to have transformed the meaning of journalism. 

As I have written previously, hubris syndrome is very real. It doesn’t just affect brutal dictators. It also affects decent people, and it appears to be affecting Mr. Zelensky. How else do you explain his request – no, demand – for a place at this year’s Oscars? Zelensky, who recently organized a video call with Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher, is clearly enjoying the limelight. Perhaps a little too much, I argue. There is a time and place for Zoom calls with celebrities. Right now, however, there are more important issues to address, like preventing more innocent people from being slaughtered by Russian forces. Perhaps, just perhaps, Mr. Zelensky should get his priorities in order. The media has played a major role in turning Zelensky into something that he is not: a god among men. Yes, he is brave. And yes, he is most definitely a respectable politician. But Zelensky appears to have gotten carried away by the fanfare, as well as the gushing articles praising his fashion IQ and virile potency. We must remember that this is not a game, and Mr. Zelensky is not an actor in some Hollywood blockbuster. He is the president of a country currently being destroyed. This is real life; it's very much a matter of life and death. The longer the war persists, the further Ukraine slips into the abyss.  


About the Author(s)

John Mac Ghlionn is a researcher and essayist. His work has been published by the New York Post, The Sydney Morning Herald, Newsweek, National Review, and The Spectator US, among others. He covers psychology and social relations, and has a keen interest in social dysfunction and media manipulation. Follow him on Twitter, @ghlionn.