The following guest-essay by Brad Lena was written more than a decade ago, but seems remarkably apropos for the dystopian time we live in — especially the chapter entitled “Scientists like money, too”.
Despotism Made Easy
A Self-Help Guide for the Aspiring Tyrant
by Brad Lena
Copyright © 2010
Modern political visionaries, whether they are global healers or regional thugs, are reformers in a hurry. In their mad dash to perfect the human condition, they tend to overlook issues critical to their careers and longevity. By contrast, an ascendant visionary with a solid grounding in the fundamentals of despotism can extend his legacy for months or even years before being deposed or assassinated.
The reader will find this guide’s carefully selected recommendations equally applicable to run-of-the-mill oligarchies, utopian fantasies, or fascist dictatorships. “Despotism Made Easy” helps pave the way — from the first usurpations all the way to palatial exile. Each topic gets right to the point, enabling a busy reformer with only a few minutes of free time to browse a topic for guidance before working over the financial sector.
I. Job No. 1: Disarm the people
Nothing puts a damper on a reformer’s day like a populace that will not embrace utopia. Of course, once dissenting voices are muzzled, the objections become more like white noise — an irritant but tolerable. But — and this is an important but” — an armed citizenry can really play havoc with your agenda and legacy. Perhaps most disheartening to the reformer is the realization that armed resistance signifies that the people might not totally appreciate all that you’re trying to do for them.
History teaches us that radically altering the social, political, and economic order without first disarming the populace is untidy and risky. Most citizens, given enough incentive, will get with the program. But why chance it? An accelerating program of firearm restriction, registration, taxation, and confiscation will do much to ensure a smooth transition to a new era of social justice, equity, fraternity, and solidarity.
As you’re disarming the populace, it is important that you do not disarm your own people. Easily enough said, but in the hustle and bustle of reform, mix-ups can and do occur. Consider dressing your supporters in colorful uniforms with shiny boots and distinctive armbands. This will avoid confusion as well as foster a sense of unity among those who understand your reforms.
What if the armed forces of the government are staffed by volunteers? The short answer is to co-opt them through economic and medical enticements, which become dramatically more valuable as reform progresses. The real solution takes time. Establish youth schools and get them while they’re young— very young. To make certain that the rising generation thinks the way you do about the relationship between the citizens and the state, you must make their former frame of reference disappear. This is best achieved through indoctrination disguised as education.
Patience is key. Do not be one of those know-it-alls who bets the farm on getting everything corrected all at once. That will only raise expectations among the people. A sullen and lethargic population is the friend of reform.
II. The trains actually do have to run on time
You’d be surprised how many aspiring reformers overlook the fact that, after the soaring rhetoric has faded, the public expects some level of competence in government. Uncorrected, this easy-to-miss oversight can awaken the people from their sleepwalk to servitude. Make no mistake: If Mussolini hadn’t made the trains run on time as promised, the Italians would have shot him much sooner. Fortunately, people in the modern era are much less discerning. The mere perception of competence satisfies them almost as much as the real thing.
Reformers, as we all know, are busy people and the issue of competence may be an academic exercise rather than one derived from actual experience. This potential problem can be worsened when your prescriptions for reform include everything under the sun. Granted, a populace with an irrational sense of entitlement will encourage the chosen one to solve everything, but don’t be fooled by this pandering to omnipotence. At this stage, your job is to ensure they think things are improving — even if it’s only v i a smoke and mirrors.
For example, if the economy is going to hell in a hand basket, toss them some bones — s u c h as expanding their entitlement to the money of the producing segment of the populace. Or print some more money (but make certain you warn your friends in the financial sector before doing so).
These tried-and-true practices will mollify the nonproductive and envious segments while freeing you to bring more of the economy under your direct control.
Also, do not to throw too many of your trusted associates under the bus too early in the game. They have to be trotted out from time to time as living proof that you’re employing the best and the brightest to tackle the problems caused by others. If there are issues of compliance and legality, just rely on their arrogance and contempt for the rule of law to get you through pesky tight spots.
Don’t worry if you haven’t followed through on any of your previous promises or programs. Just keep promising new solutions to other problems or invent problems to which you can offer solutions. The general idea is to keep the improvements and social justice coming. If you do, they’ll never see it coming.
III. Subvert the language: The rest is easy
Words that have a specific meaning are not reform-friendly. A specific meaning can lead to benchmarks in which an action or concept is assessed for its connection to reality or productivity. Real reformers know that the real action resides in the process, not in the results. Words that have a universally accepted meaning enable the public to make determinations that are independent of the reformer’s vision. Worse yet, they can foreshadow the emergence of unauthorized solutions. Don’t allow your reforms to be compromised by viable alternatives.
The name of the game is to replace the national dialogue with incoherence. Once you establish conflict between the former meaning of a word and the new and improved meaning, it’s a relatively short step to subverting the rule of law. A people unable to agree on the meaning of words cannot offer unified resistance.
Replacing the existing meaning of a word with a definition subservient to your reform objectives takes time. Fortunately, there are ready, able and willing allies.
The greatest helpers are those in the education and media cartels. Their ability to shape the public mindset, as well as their willingness to be co— opted into the reform agenda, ensures a steady erosion of language as a societal bond.
It is important to provide these allies with appropriate levels of financial and regulatory support. Also, utilize their sense of moral superiority by parroting everything they say and value. This way, they will think you are one of them and cooperate fully. Eventually, you won’t need them and that will be that, but in the meantime they are useful and malleable.
Remember, commonly shared values and understanding are not conducive to reform. A collective memory of the former relationship between the rulers and the ruled can foment questions that are better left unasked. These impediments can be overcome, but they can be a drain on coercive and financial resources that will undoubtedly be needed when push comes to shove.
IV. Funny money: Make sure you’re the one laughing
Imposing monetary policies that erode financial and societal underpinnings is a surefire way to get everybody’s attention. Initially, they simply create uncertainty, but with continued reform, it becomes full-blown public panic. Those who can add and subtract in the various industrial and financial segments soon figure out the end game and get with the program rather enthusiastically.
Monetary reform is no different from any other con. The trick is not to be left holding the bag (that’s the public’s job). If the reformer and the insiders are going to be able to plunder the treasury at will, it is important to disguise it by flooding the communication channels with stories that good times are right around the corner, the worst is over, etc. It also helps to put out some misleading statistics and count on public ignorance. It’s like money in the bank.
Printing money and legislating unfunded mandates are fine for the masses, but hoodwinking foreign creditors will require at least a veneer of coherence. What concerns creditors most is ensuring that consumer demand for products made back home is sufficient to keep the natives from getting restless. Therefore, it’s important to maintain the illusion of consumer demand — right up until you stick them with treasury notes not worth the paper they’re printed on.
Fortunately, creditors are as easily assuaged as the rest of the public and will look for a silver lining in the darkest of storm clouds. Simply gin up some demand from time to time or herald that inventory replenishment signifies a sustainable increase in demand. It is true that an economic implosion is the reformer’s best friend. It is also true that timing is everything. Both friend and foe will seek a safe harbor in stormy times.
Just make sure you own the harbor and never forget: When you owe creditors billions, it’s your problem, but when you owe them trillions it’s their problem.
It also helps if you can sell reduced economic activity and living standards as essential for the sustainability of human life or the planet. Some blowhards will point out that increased prosperity means fewer material demands on the planet than poverty, but they can be shouted down with the usual slurs and slanders.
V. Keep the peasants at each other’s throats, not yours
Some say that the “divide and conquer” strategy is old hat and ill-suited to the modern era. But, after spending billions to engender a tribal mindset among previously unified societies who is to say this is not the modern era? People who identify with a specific set of governing principles defining the relationship between the individual and the state are not pliable. On the other hand, those who identify with their ethnicity, race, sexuality, diet, recreation, fashion, body art, or entertainment are your kind of people: easily influenced and manipulated.
As your reforms pick up speed, the neo-tribes will squabble over the crumbs of the former system. With a little bit of luck, they’ll turn violent. The reformer can play peacemaker by coming down on these perpetrators like a ton of bricks to restore order. Your cover story should emphasize that these troubles have been forming for a long time. Call them foundational flaws and add that, once your reforms become the law of the land, social harmony will return.
Selective enforcement of the “law,” based upon its usefulness to your agenda, grants protection to the client neo-tribes while threatening the reform-resistant.
Additionally, this will stir up all sorts of neo-tribal resentment. In no time, they will b e spending so much time and energy clawing at each other’s throats, they’ll pay no heed to your political and economic enhancements.
Just as even the blind squirrel finds a nut now and again, so, too, the neo— tribes can notice that your reform policies are contributing to their woes.
This possibility is more likely to occur during the accelerating collapse of the existing economic infrastructure and before the institution of your new and improved system. It is critically important to provide culprits to which this rising and potentially unifying anger can be directed. Painting various viable and well-established industries as rapacious criminal enterprises will accelerate the desired financial implosion and provide an outlet for neo-tribal frustrations.
All in all, it’s important to keep stirring the pot of resentment, suspicion, and blame. If you act aggressively the resultant societal stew will be so unpalatable that your reforms will seem wise and desirable in comparison.
VI. Scientists like money, too
History shows us that just about every person has his price when it comes to buying their loyalty. But for some reason, scientists are overlooked in regards to purchasing their personal/professional debasement. But don’t be fooled — scientists can be persuaded, coerced, and enriched just like the usual suspects.
Depending on the scale of your reform, (regional, national, or global,) scientific collusion adds credibility and gravitas to your agenda. The ability to impress scientific illiterates in the political, business, and entertainment classes with scientific smoke and mirrors is invaluable. In turn, these influencers cajole others in the populace into accepting the new wisdom.
In economic terms, this is called the multiplier effect. In a reform environment it’s called survival.
The robust vanities within the scientific community facilitate the co-opting of its members. These vanities, harnessed to an imaginative use of scientific data and computer modeling, mean the science supporting your agenda quickly becomes “ settled.”
You will find it encouraging to note the rapidity in which the scientific community self— censors and represses dissent once the prevailing wind of reform has been determined. This good fortune should be fertilized by becoming the preferred source (i.e. the only source) for funding. While it is always true that money wins friends and influences people, it is especially true during the ascendancy of reform. Money will be the glue that binds scientific inquiry to social justice.
While the term reverse engineering is usually associated with manufacturing and high technology, it has applications to scientific inquiry as well. When a scientific truth would prove useful to your reform agenda, do not be deterred by the fact that it doesn’t exist or isn’t supported by the evidence.
With enough money and the right kind of research, it’s not difficult to find the evidence to support the desired conclusion.
It is a given that neither you nor your helpers will be scientifically literate. This is a net positive rather than a negative, for it empowers you to think out of the box when it comes to implementing your vision for an improved human condition. Finally, make sure to use an anthropomorphic perspective. After all, why consider the bigger scientific picture when a small constrained interpretation will further your reform?
VII. How to disguise mob rule as representative democracy
The general perception of mob rule (i.e. the clamoring unwashed masses) calling the shots is an enduring historical myth. “Power to the people” slogans and other such nonsense are nothing more than smiley faces for the gullible. True mob rule is a small group of people dominating an economic and/or political system for their exclusive benefit. While some in the private sector have achieved mob rule, the real experts are in the public sector — primarily at the national level.
The operative term when migrating from a representative democracy to mob rule is evolution: a myriad of small, incremental adaptations. High levels of patience and sensitivity are required on the part of the reformer. While the usual enticements of money, more money, and even more money work fine, carving out exemptions from the more pronounced effects of reform for those in the political, business, and labor classes helps speed up the process.
During this evolution, it is important to keep up the illusion of deliberation, flexibility, and public participation. This bit of hocus-pocus achieves two important objectives. First, your opposition will continue to play by the now— ineffectual old rules. Second, the populace will not be alerted to the new system until it is a fait accompli.
There is a diversionary role for the masses to play. Drive them into the streets as often as possible to rant about almost anything. This will unsettle others in the populace and make the shenanigans mentioned above seem reassuring. You’ll get the benefit of the doubt.
A quick glance at contemporary global politics offers reassurances that democratic elections are not an impediment to mob rule — but with this caveat: You must have the right kind of voters — the voters who vote for you. The good news is that gathering votes has never been easier. You can import them, buy them, bribe them, and redistrict them without being impeded by law or legal precedent. This enables you to play fast and loose with all the civic institutions and, in no time at all, you’ll have the votes to win every election.
VIII. Cross-dressing: From thug to statesperson
It is an unfortunate fact of life that reformers have a past that can retard the acceptance of their vision. Please note that this is not a reference to qualifying real-world, executive experience. Few care about that. What we mean here are the actions and associations that reformers embrace on the way up the political ladder.
Packaging your past into something less than repulsive entails more than the suppression of personal history or fabricating a record of selfless public service. It’s much better if probing questions are never asked in the first place. It is to your advantage if the media are predisposed to laziness and bigotry. You can enhance these tendencies by praising their biases. It doesn’t matter how little you actually agree with them. These attributes preclude them from thinking deeply about much of anything.
Co-opting the biases of various groups (the more elite they are, the better) makes populating various governmental fiefdoms a no-brainer. Just select people who mirror these biases. Overall, possessing the right image ensures that skeletons remain in the closet and that previous legal issues, experience, and competence remain unquestioned and unexplored.
Having the recipients of your reforms see you as their champion or some other fantasy is a necessity. Pander ceaselessly to their cultural, class, or ethnic bigotries, but be sure to change your message according to your audience. When mimicking the biases of your audiences, peruse what groupthink is being disseminated in college classrooms and entertainment channels — almost any contemporary mythology will do. With just modest preparation, you’ll speak like one of them and the audience will think you’re authentic.
One note of caution: It’s easy even for the most adept reformer to get confused when juggling an array of selected villains, useful idolizers, pliable financiers, and fawning media. Make certain to match your persona to the audience of the day.
Also, do not mix up the promises you made to one group with the promises you made to another group. This causes confusion and discomfort among those who would rather not be made aware of their manipulation.
Practice to perfection the essential skills of mimicry, duplicity, and disingenuousness until no one knows the real you, let alone your past. Once you achieve this, you’ll know you’ve arrived.
IX. Know when it’s time to leave
Sometimes the party really is over, and the reformer has to beat a hasty retreat. Do not take it personally. Blame the unworthiness of the people. Say you’re ahead of your time. Point out circumstances beyond your corruption. Or, when all else fails, remember the old standby: S*** Happens. In any case, now is the time to call in your chips. Remember that you let many people in on looting the country during the reform process and now it’s time for them to pony up. Everybody involved knew this wasn’t a free ride. Do not let them dissuade you from what needs to
be done with their begging for mercy or other quaint considerations. If they need encouragement, throw a member of your inner circle to the wolves. This action will get their attention — if you can do this to a high-profile person, you can do it to anybody at will.
A prudent visionary will have previously mandated various fees for reforms that will provide the capital for the lifestyle you have become accustomed to. It is important that your rainy-day fund be liquid and broadly convertible. Additionally, prudence dictates that you — far in advance — identify regimes that, if not eager to have you reside in their country, can at least be “persuaded.” You will be aided in the selection process by remembering that old axiom that reformers of a feather flock together.
The best laid plans can go awry if you don’t have immediate access to suitably armored vehicles and aircraft. Don’t overlook that crucial requirement. The procurement of these getaway vehicles is best kept secret — even from your personal security forces… actually, especially from your personal security forces.
Needless to say, a number of true believers will want to come with you. This is where you’ll need to be firm. Do not let the ties of flesh and blood intrude on your assessments. Carefully determine their usefulness to you. Do they have superlative skills in medicine or munitions or cyber fraud?
Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow.
At the end of the day, remember that inmates of Communist slave— labor camps in Siberia openly wept at the passing of Stalin, so there will always be hope for your legacy.
The recommendations in this brief guide address only the most blatant nuts and bolts of despotism. In actuality, the undermining of a system of governance more closely resembles the working of a virus or other disease on the body politic. Take cancer, for example. What good is it for cancer to be restricted just to an arm or leg? If death is the objective, it really helps to have it metastasize. It is the same principle with despotism. A slow, insidious infection of all limbs and organs of the political body will inevitably bring the collapse of the entire system. Of course, you may get lucky and be helped out by a crisis, but luck is not a strategy. Keep your shoulder to the wheel and your appetite for power unrestrained — in time, you will achieve your goal.
Remember, you may scale the heights of tyranny but you stand on the shoulders of many others who have despised liberty and self— determination as much as you do. Remember the eyes of despots, tyrants, dictators, and absolutists past and present are upon you. Don’t let them down.