Feb. 19th, 2017

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To the illustrious President Snow:

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.

This proverb is a cornerstone of our thought here at the Society for Improved Dictatorship (SfID). It may seem a bit airy-fairy to a solid, plain-speaking, boots-on-the-ground dictator like yourself, but we assure you, it has a very practical application. It means that you must ensure that your people are always aware that they have something to lose.

And we’re not just talking about their lives. The human mind is a delicate mechanism that falls into thoughts of suicide at the slightest setback. There have been sad cases among your Hunger Games victors, have there not? And after they had everything they could ever want handed to them on a silver platter, too. Fame! Adulation! Endless luxury!

But in fact, President Snow, that’s what drove them to despair. They had everything they could imagine wanting, and they were still unhappy, so they lost the one thing that a dictator must ensure his people never lose: hope.

Hope is the cheapest possible method of social control. Unlike decent living standards or a strong police presence, it requires very little initial investment. In fact, it rewards low investment. In order to hope, all people need is to believe that their children’s lives will be better than theirs. If their lives are awful in the first place, then it takes very little improvement to keep that hope burning strong.

But when even that guttering flame is gone, anarchy ensues. When just one person loses hope, they commit suicide. This is awkward in the case of a public personage like a Hunger Games victor, but basically not important. But when whole legions of people lose hope together, they bind their suicidal urges into one great mass and become a rebellious army. Once the people have decided they want to die anyway, it becomes almost impossible to repress their rebellion without killing large numbers of them and creating an inconvenient dent in the labor force.

Repressing rebellion, therefore, is a matter of applying the carrot and the stick. We’re happy to say that you’ve got the stick part down, but the carrot could use some work. (It could, for instance, use some literal carrots. But more on that next week.)

The carrot, in this case, consists of hope. A dictator should always promote hope among his people. The more he’s forced to use the stick to keep potential rebels in line, the more ardently should his speeches paint shining visions of societal harmony and future happiness. A dictator must constantly point out that the glass is half full. In fact, a dictator ought to insist that the glass is fully full at all times. What do you mean, you think some of the water’s missing? How strange that you should see it that way.

Treat the pessimism of others as a sign of encroaching insanity. If you do this right, they will start to doubt their sanity all on their own. The most effective methods of repression are the ones the people begin to apply to themselves.

In your speeches, a brighter day is always dawning. The grass is always greener on the other side of the river. New vistas of happiness are always opening before us!

One word of caution. It is always better to focus these speeches on high-flying abstract principles. Talk about freedom, justice, equality, honor, glory, truth, hope, love - any word that an idealistic young idiot would consider an appropriate final word to shout from his scaffold, in fact. These are all empty signifiers. No one has ever eaten a freedom or been hit over the head with an equality.

Be more circumspect about lying about things that have an actual concrete existence. People will nod along to promises of “glory” and never stop to think what it means precisely. But they will notice instantly if the potato crop is supposedly record-breaking and yet they can’t find a fucking French fry anywhere. No one goes to their death with the word “Potato!” on their lips.

As much as we love the Hunger Games, we do have one concern about them. You, in your plain-spoken frankness, persist in referring to them as “punishment.” Can you imagine anyone shouting “punishment” as a final word of defiance before beheading? Absolutely not.

You could ease away from “punishment” to the warmer and fuzzier “justice,” but frankly we think that still puts too much emphasis on the Hunger Games’ beginnings in a failed rebellion. You don’t want to remind people of a rebellion, even a failed one. People are sheep. Indeed, people are lemmings. If they hear about someone else walking off a cliff, nothing will please them until they’ve walked off one too.

Stop talking about that long-ago rebellion. Don’t teach it in the schools. Let the people exercise their excellent capacity for forgetfulness. The Hunger Games are not a punishment at all. They’re an expression of the Capitol’s benevolence! They’re a shining opportunity for young people to bring glory and honor to their district - and, of course, to lift themselves out of abject poverty in the process.

But don’t trumpet that last part too loudly. Focusing on plain material benefits might make people start to wonder they’re stuck in abject poverty in the first place. It ought to be good form for Hunger Games contestants to fiercely deny any interest in the mere material benefits of winning - for everyone, in fact, to consider discussion of merely material questions like poverty to be in slightly poor taste.

Keep their eyes fixed on bright and shining abstractions; feed them on meaningless words like freedom. If you claim freedom and hope as your own, what will would-be rebels use to rally their troops?

Yours ever,
The Society for Improved Dictatorship

***

[livejournal.com profile] asakiyume's original donation to the ACLU will cover one more installment ("Bread and Circuses," in which the SfID reminds us all of the importance of the bread part); I've got a few more in the pipeline if anyone else wants to donate ($10 to the ACLU for an installment, email me a screenshot of your receipt, etc.)

Also possible plans for the SfID's Recommended Reading List. I can't decide if including The Screwtape Letters is too meta.

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