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To the illustrious President Snow:

What dictator has time for books? This is the most frequent complaint that we at the SfID hear when we send out our reading list. It’s true that dictatorship leaves little time for leisure - heavy is the head that wears the crown! - but even the busiest dictator needs to carve out some quality alone time for reflection and self-improvement. And what could be a more fruitful topic for reflection than the theory and practice of dictatorship?

One note of caution: don’t read too many memoirs or other works actually written by dictators themselves. Many of them have the obvious drawback of being written by deposed leaders, like Nikita Khrushchev, who are clearly poor role models. But even those written by dictators at the peak of their powers are suspect: they’re writing to burnish their own images, not to give a nitty-gritty how-to guide to other budding dictators. Why help the competition?

Fortunately, however, there are plenty of students of human nature who have provided reams of helpful work. Anything with a title like “cult brainwashing” or “emotional abuse” is likely to be full of wonderful tips. They tend to be couched in terms that suggest that they aim to help their readers foil such strategies, not make use of them, but any clever dictator can figure out how to turn their advice to his own ends.

If, however, you don’t want to suffer through the headache-inducing task of doubling advice back on itself, there’s always C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. Told as a series of letters from a demon to his apprentice, a novice in the ways of tempting humans, this book is a must-read for any dictator - for temptation is one of the pillars of any long-running dictatorship. If you want people to work their hearts out for you, then you can’t just give them something to fear; you need to offer them something they want.

Now of course base bribery has its place. The loyal should be rewarded with good food, fancy cars, trips abroad, etc. But Lewis’s chief insight for the dictator is that the strongest and most binding temptation is that of self-righteousness, particularly when it is paired with an ideological commitment to judge oneself not by one’s actions, but by the intended effects of those actions. Minions can forgive themselves any atrocity if they believe they performed it in the name of some far-future utopia - especially if someone in authority tells them so. (Stanley Milgram’s Obedience to Authority is also a key text here. Humans are beautifully receptive to the blandishments of authority figures.)

Solzhenitsyn makes a similar point when he discusses ideology in The Gulag Archipelago, but the SfID realizes that three thousand pages is too much reading to heap on any dictator’s head. The early sections about the secret police, however, are well worth a look. They point out the heartening fact that a totally incompetent secret police force is just as terrifying than a competent one - and perhaps even more so, because the randomness of their arrests fills the populace with superstitious dread.

Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil is similarly a godsend to any dictator with staffing problems. We can’t count the number of dictators who have come to us despondent over their difficulty in finding good minions. We invariably find that their standards are too high: they want active malice, mustache-twirling, the whole shebang from their rank and file.

But Eichmann in Jerusalem has good news! It turns out that you don’t need any of that. In fact, the best minions are absolutely average types. You want utterly unimaginative nose-to-the-grindstone company man types, the kind who join every organization that comes their way but never lead anything. These people are a dime a dozen. Their consciences may flinch at the first atrocities they’re ordered to carry out, but in most cases their consciences will be too weak to exert any control over their actual behavior - and after the first atrocity is hurdled, habit is a great salve.

In any case, you can turn that flinching of conscience to your own advantage. Focus on your minions’ heroism in overcoming their inner scruples to commit atrocities for the greater good. They still have nightmares about the bloodshed they caused! How heroic they are, overcoming their inner suffering to continue fighting the good fight! Their feelings about their actions are far more important than the actions in themselves.

However, when you’re filling key staffing positions, it’s best to get someone a little more colorful. Stalin liked to hire non-Russians to head his secret police, crescendoing with N. I. Yezhov, a bisexual Jewish dwarf, whose status as a triple outsider made him the perfect scapegoat when Stalin wanted to distance himself from the mass arrests. Find yourself a hunchbacked albino with a foot fetish to place in a highly visible role in your regime. You’ll thank yourself later.

Yours,
The Society for Improved Dictatorship
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To the illustrious President Snow:

We can neither confirm nor deny that we became aware of District 13’s existence because President Coin enrolled in our correspondence course. Our student list in confidential, and frankly, we’re embarrassed that you even asked. Surely your District 13 spies can uncover that information for you.

Surely you have spies in District 13? This is Dictatorship 101 stuff, President Snow. We’re growing weary of spelling it out for you.

And speaking of Dictatorship 101, President Snow, your obsession with Katniss Everdeen is complete amateur hour. At least when Stalin obsessed about Trotsky, he was obsessing over an enemy with a proven track record of rallying the masses to revolution and penning scathing denunciations. Katniss, on the other hand, has a proven track record as a poacher. Not very threatening, President Snow.

In fact, you’ve been obsessing about the wrong tribute: Peeta is the real threat. Katniss’s flamboyant gestures may be more eye-catching, but if Peeta hadn’t laid the groundwork for their tale of star-crossed love, she never would have had the chance to show such defiance.

That star-crossed love is the cornerstone of their power, President Snow. Break them up!

Or, at least, make them appear broken up. Given that you have total control of the media and all of their public appearances, that shouldn’t be too difficult.

In our last letter, we suggested framing Gale Hawthorne as a spy, but if you persist in refusing to tell your people about District 13’s existence, there is a much more obvious use for him: he’s Katniss’s illicit pre-Games lover, the man she ran back to the moment she returned to District 13. They’ve been meeting clandestinely in the woods for years! Clearly they’ve been banging for ages. We’re smelling an investigative report right now.

The fact that your news crews earlier portrayed Hawthorne as Katniss’s cousin will only strengthen this smear campaign. There’s no reason to correct this misapprehension. Let your people recoil from those District 12ers and their incestuous ways!

But there’s no reason to stop by linking Katniss with just one lover. No, you’d better portray her as an ungrateful slut who doesn’t give a damn about Peeta, despite all the sacrifices he made for her in the arena. He lost his leg for her! And how is she repaying him? By sleeping with every eligible bachelor in Panem.

It doesn’t matter if she’s actually sleeping with any of them or not. All you need is some photographs of her arm-in-arm with other men and you’re set. At very least, we’re sure that you can maneuver Finnick Odair into a clinch with Katniss: his reputation is so scandalous that all you need is a picture of the two of them standing side by side and a smutty headline and people will assume the worst.

Peeta may be too canny to repudiate Katniss on television, but surely there are Panem gossip rags that could invent an interview. “Peeta Opens Up” - we’re seeing the headline now, preferably accompanied by a photo of Peeta with his head drooping in exhaustion - accompanied by an interview with a sympathetic reporter whose kindly listening at last gives him the chance to share his grief and pain over Katniss’s defection.

If you’re lucky - and canny enough yourself to keep the supposed lovebirds apart - you’ll get a real interview from Katniss in return. And then perhaps a response from Peeta! Dueling interviews across the issues of Panem’s premier gossip magazine! It will make them both look petty and malicious and altogether unsuitable as symbols for a rebellion.

Peeta is the real prize here, President Snow. Your obsession with Katniss has blinded you to the fact that he’s the real mastermind behind their star-crossed lovers act. He’s the one who needs to be neutralized. Could you hook him up with Johanna Mason? Or how about linking him to FInnick Odair too? How do people in Panem feel about homosexuality? We’re guessing a gay scandal will blow Peeta out of the water. If nothing else, it will suggest that his feelings for Katniss are nothing more than an angle.

And that, President Snow, is the killing stroke. Peeta is the one carrying this star-crossed lovers story; if you want to kill it, you need to convince people that he made it all up from the start to manipulate the audience. Hell hath no fury like a populace deceived by someone they consider beneath them.

Yours,
The Society for Improved Dictatorship
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To the illustrious President Snow:

It is with some pain that we find ourselves forced to broach this topic. We had hoped that as the course continued you would realize the necessity of coming clean to us, but alas, we have reached the point where we can prevaricate no longer, and still you have not confessed, so we are forced to say: we know that you lied to us about District 13.

We confess ourselves baffled, President Snow. Not baffled that you lied to us - any good dictator lies - but baffled that you told this particular lie, not only to us, but to your people as well. District 13 could be so very useful to you, President Snow!

Oh, sure, we know you think they’re useful to you now - a warning to your other districts what will happen if they rebel. Nuked out of existence, like District 13! But this is simply one more example of your wrong-headed attitude toward fear. You subscribe - forgive us for our bluntness - to the one-dimensional cod-Machiavellian belief that it is better to be feared than loved.

Well, maybe. But what’s best of all, President Snow, is for your subjects to love and fear you in equal measure, as if you were an overbearing father who nonetheless occasionally doles out a few crumbs of love. They may cower from you when they’ve done something wrong, but when there are enemies at the gate, nonetheless they’ll run to you for protection.

But to protect your people from outside enemies, you need to have some outside enemies in the first place, and District 13 seems to be your only option. But what an option it is! District 13 is a truly top-notch enemy, President Snow, exactly the kind of rival we would have designed for you if someone had given us the chance.

They are weaker than you - always a plus in an enemy - but nonetheless truly terrifying because of their nuclear capacity. Simply mentioning the threats of nuclear annihilation they have leveled against Panem ought to be enough to bring your terrified subjects in line.

We realize these threats are the reason why you haven’t told your people of District 13’s existence, but frankly, those threats are clearly a bluff and we’re embarrassed that you haven’t had the guts to call it. District 13 is small, resource-poor, and all in all much more easily wiped off the map than sprawling Panem. It is not going to risk its own annihilation just because you tell your people of its continued existence.

And they make such a delightful contrast to Panem! No need to exaggerate imaginary differences between your two nations: District 13’s militarized, highly mechanized society could hardly be a greater contrast to free-wheeling, fun-loving, Games-running Panem. They’re Sparta to Panem’s Athens - and a starving Sparta at that. They’re stodgy gray East Berlin to Panem’s decadent West. We bet some of them are just dying to defect.

Think of the intelligence coup you’ll score when they do! You just have to make defection a bit easier for them, and step one is simply admitting they exist.

This Cold War metaphor gives us another thought: spies! What better way to keep your people in line than a good spy scare? And it will be especially easy to whip one up because District 13 still has so much in common with the rest of Panem. They look like you, speak like you, could be sneaking among you even as we speak, soaking up information, looking for weak points, pretending to be your friends and neighbors and all the while plotting your destruction.

You might want your spy agency to look into this for real - quietly, of course. Spy scares are good for social control but poor at flushing out actual spies.

And a spy scare would be a wonderful distraction from the tiresome antics of Katniss Everdeen and her supposed lover, that Peeta fellow. Perhaps you could arrange to arrest Katniss’s friend Gale Hawthorne as a spy? He’s certainly spent enough time outside of District 12: everyone’s seen those bags of game he brought back. Little did they know that this was merely a blind to cover for his real purpose out in the wilds: meeting his spymaster from District 13!

At very least, arresting one of Katniss’s friends ought to make her take you seriously. And if you’re lucky, she’ll unwisely try to fight the arrest - not only connecting herself with a known spy, but making herself look unfaithful to Peeta in the process. We have no doubt that the people will turn on her in a heartbeat if she destroys the love story they’ve enjoyed so much.

Yours,
The Society for Improved Dictatorship
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To the illustrious President Snow:

We’ve been following Katniss Everdeen’s tour through Panem with interest and concern. Concern because you don’t seem to have followed our advice to present her as a lunatic - did our letter not arrive in time? - but interest, also, because the tour has given us a fascinating view of the political organization of Panem. We hadn’t realized that each district was in charge of one industry or that the districts had so little contact with each other. What an excellent system for sowing distrust between districts! Pity you haven’t done more with it.

In our last letter, we urged you to try to convince people to blame themselves for their malcontent. This is fine advice as far as it goes, but let’s face it, self-blame only goes so far. Few people are such delusional depressives that they can blame themselves for all their ills when not only they but everyone else they know is slowly succumbing to malnutrition despite working twelve hour days. They need an outside force to blame, and the Victory Tour has made it clear that they’ve picked you.

This is unfortunate, but never fear! All is not lost. You simply need to provide them with a new target at which to direct their blame, and the district system provides an excellent opportunity. You simply need to convince your subjects to direct their fear and anger and hatred at people in the other districts, rather than the Capitol.

Admittedly, you face an uphill battle. Currently, the residents of the districts seem to feel a deplorable level of empathy toward each other. They may hate the districts that field Career tributes to the Hunger Games, but their hearts clearly bleed for the families in non-Career districts who have had their children torn away from them by this bloody spectacle.

But there’s an easy fix, President Snow. All your tributes need to become Careers.

Once the tributes are no longer innocents but highly trained warriors who chose this life for personal advancement, their suffering will cease to bridge chasms between districts. Instead, each district will loathe the tributes of all other districts, and through that loathing, learn to loathe the other districts as well. You simply need to reframe the Games so that your people see them not as a punishment, but as their one and only providential chance for their children to escape this life of drudgery.

You shouldn’t have to pick the tributes by lottery. Parents should be lining up to send their children to the Games! Every district ought to follow Districts 1, 2, and 4 in having a tribute training program. You’re already spending money on schools - a sterling example of your general benevolence, by the way. Perhaps a little too much benevolence? Literacy only stirs up trouble.

But, as you’ve already set up the schools, you might as well spend just a little bit extra so each district can have a training program, too.

Moreover, district training programs offer a beautiful opportunity to expand the bread-and-circuses side of your reign. How should a program pick which of its highly trained students wins the honor of representing their district in the Hunger Games? You’ll need some kind of exam. And what exam could be better than a Hunger Game in miniature?

Of course, the candidates shouldn’t actually kill each other in the Mini Games. Actual killing should be preserved for the Hunger Games proper to give them a special level of excitement. Moreover, these highly trained children are an excellent resource that shouldn’t be wasted. The losers of the Mini Games can be easily drafted as district Peacekeepers.

(As a side note, we hear you’re currently getting all your Peacekeepers from the Capitol. No wonder they’re all a bunch of incompetents; with all the opportunities the Capitol affords, only the very dregs must be signing up to slog their lives away out in the districts. The districts, on the other hand, offer no other method of social advancement, and therefore will send you the cream of their youth.)

Winning the opportunity to be the district tribute through the Mini Games will only enhance the honor and prestige of this position.

Not only will the Mini Games enhance the honor of being chosen as tribute, but they will provide an important lesser holiday during the slow season between Hunger Games. (Initial selection for the training program may provide another such occasion.)

Moreover, the Mini Games will offer a golden opportunity to carve deep community rifts. Encourage betting. Stoke up the animosity between different segments of the community as they root for their own candidates. With luck, some of these rivalries will last for decades after the chosen tribute went off and died in the Games proper. Such petty grudges provide people a safe outlet for anger they might otherwise direct at the Capitol.

When parents start fighting each other to place their children in the training program, willing to risk their children’s lives for the slim hope that their children might better their social status - well, when that moment comes, you can rest secure in the strength of your system. There are few chains as strong as hope.

Once your districts take proper pride in their own tributes, then a commensurate loathing of other districts’ tributes – and with it, the other districts themselves – will naturally follow. When they hear of suffering in another district, their response will not be sympathy, but contempt and pleasure: this misfortune will only make it easier for their own tribute to triumph in the next Games.

Moreover, true animosity between districts can only make future Hunger Games more exciting. If there’s a food shortage, say, nothing would be more natural than a few jocular comments from Caesar Flickerman about appropriate ways to dispatch the District 11 tributes in punishment for their district’s crimes. Disemboweling seems like an appropriate response, don’t you think?

Yours,
The Society for Improved Dictatorship

***

Next week's installment is currently entitled "Do You Want to Build an Empire?" but the focus has changed somewhat from purely empire to relations with outside powers in general, so I may have to come up with a new title.

And that will be the last week, although I have a few ideas for supplementary materials, if anyone donates $10+ to the ACLU. Possibilities include:

Food as a Tool for Empire
The Smart Dictator's Reading List
Sex and the Single Dictator (President Snow isn't married, is he? I guess that's a strike against the idea that the Presidency of Panem might be heritable: you'd think he'd be a bit more concerned about providing an heir.)

And, for something a bit different, an article/advertisement for the course, presumably published in Dictators Today. Possibly with testimonials for other dictators, fictional and factual.
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To the illustrious President Snow:

Thank you for laying out your Katniss Everdeen problem for us in your last letter. Annoying though she sounds, we see no reason for alarm; her upcoming appearances on her Hunger Games victory tour should give you ample opportunity to discredit her. Simply convince the populace that she’s tragically insane, and they may very well realize that their rebellious rumblings are unhinged as well without any more effort on your part.

Given her family history, it might be tempting to present her illness as depression, but we advise against it. Depression has some unfortunate positive folkloric connotations among the uneducated masses: artistic talent, deep emotional sensitivity, even leadership qualities, if they’ve spent too much time imbibing Abraham Lincoln biographies. At very least, the people may latch on to the idea that “She’s miserable, and we are too,” which will only strengthen their sense of identification with her.

No, if you’re going to discredit her, you’d better fake a full psychotic break. Start a whisper campaign: the girl sees things, she’s got voices in her head. For extra verisimilitude, pretend to try to stamp out the rumors: that will make them spread like wildfire.

Then all you’ll need from Miss Everdeen is bizarre behavior at a couple of public appearances, and that can be induced easily enough with drugs. Perhaps she could claw Claudius Templesmith’s face on live television? She’s got an impulsive streak that can be easily turned to your advantage here.

Oh, but for maximum impact, it ought to be Peeta’s face that she claws on camera. Think what a beautiful addition this would be to their love story! The saintly Peeta, his cheek still bleeding from her attack, cradles a weeping Katniss in his arms as she sobs out disjointed words that only make her insanity tragically obvious. Oh, we’re wiping away a tear just imagining the propaganda coup. There won’t be a dry eye in Panem when you broadcast it.

This will solve your current problem. But this is only the beginning of what greater mental health awareness can do for your reign! We urge you to commit to an extensive effort to educate your people about the dangers of Rebellious Emotive Disorder (RED). This disease has been recognized as far back as antiquity. In the antebellum American south, where RED was recognized under the name drapetomania, they considered the sovereign treatment whipping and hard labor. It wasn’t until Soviet times that RED came under the proper care of psychiatry.

Sufferers may exhibit sullenness, lethargy, a distrust of authority, an aversion to work (often coupled with the fatalistic belief that hard work will not improve their lot in life), and dissatisfaction with the current state of society. Their hallmark delusion is that it is society’s flaws, not their own defective brain chemistry, that causes their unhappiness. People who suffer from RED later in life often display a tendency toward the disorder even in early childhood, when they are drawn to legends about “heroic” outlaws and pirates. Robin Hood is an oft-mentioned favorite.

As the disease grows more severe, sufferers begin to experience suicide ideation, particularly in the form of a suicidal desire to fight the government. They may believe that going out dramatically in their paranoid fight against the government would be preferable to living a quiet, orderly life.

In the most severe cases, sufferers act on their impulses. Because RED is highly contagious, this can result not merely in lone suicidal terrorist attacks, but full-scale rebellion.

RED requires prompt and extensive treatment if there is to be any hope for remission. Although some sufferers prove incurable and must be kept in permanent quarantine, many can be treated successfully and sent back to their districts to live useful lives if their illness is identified soon enough. All your subjects should be encouraged to help their friends and loved ones by telling a trusted authority figure as soon as soon as they notice signs of RED.

Ideally, however, this kindly intervention should prove unnecessary. Once mental health awareness has really taken root, your patients will start presenting themselves for treatment as soon as they recognize symptoms of their own mental disintegration. It is so much easier to help patients who already accept their own insanity: they are far more amenable to replacing their bad thoughts (“I’m unhappy because society is so unfair; only revolution can make me happy”) with good ones (“I’m unhappy because my brain chemistry is broken; I know this must be true because only a person with a defective brain could be unhappy in a society as wonderful as the one I live in. Only submitting completely to treatment will make me happy”).

But resistance is the hallmark symptom of RED, and therefore most patients do prove resistant to treatment. The infectious nature of the disease often proves the practitioners’ friend in this regard: once RED patients fully understand that their loved ones may be infected, which would force the authorities to bring them in for treatment as well, they often become much more cooperative. The power of love is truly impressive.

However, for a serious mental health disorder like RED, one can’t depend on love alone for the solution. We urge you to consider transporting the most severe RED cases to the Capitol so they can receive top of the line treatment. The mere glimpse of the Capitol’s wealth, splendor, and vast, glittering military parades is often enough to lift the clouds of rebellion from all but the sickest of sufferers. It may be tempting to terminate treatment then, but it’s important to continue treatment to completion. Early termination often leads to relapse.

There will doubtless be some grumbling among your subjects that the regimen used to combat this disease turns patients into zombies, even heightens the risk of suicide. This is simply a sign that your subjects are deeply prejudiced against mental illness and would prefer for their mentally ill brethren to suffer indefinitely rather than receive the help they need. More education should set them straight. If it does not, their persistent grumblings may very well indicate that they themselves suffer from RED, and deserve prompt, compassionate, and comprehensive treatment.

Besides, suicide (as distinct from suicidal terrorist attacks) is far from the worst outcome in cases of RED. Better dead than RED, as they say.

And that’s another way to deal with the Katniss Everdeen problem, if worst comes to worst. If she won’t commit suicide for you, once you’ve set up convincing evidence of her instability, you can always fake it. Perhaps a double suicide with Peeta, even? He finds her dead body and kills himself in despair. There’s nothing more romantic than the excesses of young love.

Your friends,
The Society for Improved Dictatorship
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The Society for Improved Dictatorship having definitively washed their hands of President Snow, I can’t exactly write up my impressions of Mockingjay in letter format, but I do want to record a few things to weave into the Society’s future letters (which will, in fact, be past letters, written before President Snow’s disastrous dictatorship-destroying decisions. If I ever post these elsewhere I will have to clean them up & sort out the timeline.)

Mild spoilers? World-building spoilers, not storyline spoilers. )
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To the illustrious President Snow:

Many thanks for the cake replica of the Capitol that you sent us. It’s rare for a cake to be as delicious as it is beautiful - a repulsive layer of fondant often seems to be the price for elegance - but your chef exquisitely balanced the demands of the tongue and the eye. Please relay our compliments.

We’re especially glad to have received this token of your esteem because we know our next lesson is going to be hard to swallow. And that masticatory metaphor is intentional, President Snow, because if we had to pick one thing that worries us about your reign, it’s the food situation.

We know that in our last epistle we told you to focus on abstract concepts. But frankly, President Snow, we didn’t mean you. You should keep your people stuffed full of nonsense about freedom and glory, but you yourself need to keep your eyes always on nitty-gritty reality, and the nitty-gritty reality is that starving people are hopeless people - and therefore free people, people who have lost everything and are ripe for rebellion.

You’ve surely heard the phrase “bread and circuses”? You’ve got the circuses part down, but there’s a reason the bread is listed first. It’s hard to focus on even the most spectacular bloodbath at the circus when your stomach is so empty that it’s trying to eat your spleen.

Well-fed philosophers don’t spark revolts. It’s hardly even worth repressing them; that only brings attention to their work. No, it’s hungry women in bread lines that you need to watch out for, President Snow. Heed the examples of King Louis XVI and Tsar Nicholas II. No dictator can be called successful who ends up executed by his own subjects.

It’s not a bad idea to have a pair of listening ears at every bakery. Shoppers love to indulge a good grumble, and a good listener can become an invaluable barometer of social mood. When the mumbles turn to shouts, that’s a sign that the women have had enough, and you’re done for if you don’t ship in some bread pronto.

We suspect that you’ve kept your subjects hungry on the grounds that a hungry populace will be too tired and busy scouting for food to even think about revolt. This is true as far as it goes. But when the people get too hungry - when they reach the grim conclusion that there is nothing left but to watch their children starve to death - they’ll skip right over thinking about revolt to doing it.

By no means do we think that you should utterly reverse your policy and begin providing plentiful food year round. Keep the populace hungry. But don’t push them to the point of starvation. Ensure that even in their hungriest moments they always have a feast to look forward to - a feast that is, of course, provided by the bounteous generosity of the Capitol.

You know what would make the Hunger Games even better? Feasts. After seventy-five years it’s probably too late to rename the Hunger Games, but you can certainly change the associations people have with the name. No more mandatory standing in the village square, stomachs growling, staring sullenly at the screen. No! Now when people think of the Games, they’ll think of the one good time of the year when they aren’t hungry.

(We also strongly suggesting cultivating special seasonal Hunger Games dishes. For more information, please consider purchasing our expansion pack, Food as an Aid to Empire. Remember, There’s No Price Too Great for a Great Dictatorship! (™))

A supplementary feast when the victorious tribute visits each district may also be in order. An entire year between feasts is too taxing for both the human memory and the human stomach.

Here’s some next-level dictatorship for you: never mandate if you can make people do something of their own supposedly free will. Lay out vast feasts at the screenings of the Hunger Games, and the people will flock to watch. Their hungry children with demand it.

True, the viewers will be too busy chewing to notice some of the finer points of the games, but they’ll still get the highlights. Get them relaxed, let them drink a little beer (maybe a lot of beer), and their natural human propensity to root for their own and loathe their enemies will come out. Entice the people in with cakes and ale, and they won’t just be sullen bodies wishing they were somewhere else as they try not to watch the show. They’ll get engaged. They’ll get invested. They’ll become complicit.

Soon they’ll love the Games just as much as the denizens of the Capitol do - and for a far lower price tag, to boot. By all means, President Snow, let them eat cake.

Your replete friends,
The Society for Improved Dictatorship
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To the soon-to-be-ex President Snow:

We wash our hands of you. Had you heeded our advice in our last urgent letter, your reign might yet have been saved, but instead you stubbornly continued down your wrong-headed path. Everything you’ve ever built is about to tumble down around you and we want you to know that it is 100% your fault.

The faults in your governing style are too manifold for us to enumerate them all in a single epistle, but in the end, they can all be boiled down to two words: Katniss Everdeen.

Spoilers for Catching Fire )

We are ashamed that we allowed you to purchase our course. Your name is a blot on our list of alumni.

The Society for Improved Dictatorship
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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.
osprey_archer: (kitty)
To the illustrious President Snow:

We here at the Society for Improved Dictatorship have read part two of Catching Fire received news of your latest innovation in the Hunger Games, and we grew so alarmed that we had no choice but to send this urgent communique.

Spoilers for Catching Fire )

Please forgive us for speaking bluntly. We would hate to see your promising dictatorship come to the ignoble end, especially when it is so easily avoided because it is entirely of your own making. Katniss Everdeen may be annoying, but we assure you, President Snow, she is a spark that will soon flicker out if you don’t fan the flames.

Can you encourage her to follow her mentor Haymitch’s sterling example into an alcohol addiction? A drunken tumble off the stage will make her infinitely less inspiring. And given her family history of depression, doubtless the alcohol (aided perhaps by some other depressant drugs) will send her into a crushing nervous breakdown. Peeta’s adoring support for his fragile wreck of a partner would make a touching continuation to their love story, don’t you think?

Also, please do not behead our messenger. Good messengers are hard to find. We’re sure you understand.

Your concerned friends,
The Society for Improved Dictatorship

***

(Because a couple of people asked last entry: Yes! I am still doing fics for $10+ ACLU donations, so if you'd like to sponsor a dispatch from The Society for Improved Dictatorship, just email me a screenshot of your donation receipt. I'll PM you my email if you need it. We've reached $430! Go us! Let's trek on to the wilds of $500!)
osprey_archer: (Default)
To the illustrious President Snow:

Thank you for joining our correspondence course, How to Be a Better Dictator! As usual when someone buys our How to Be a Better Dictator course (Platinum Pack), we sent an observer to tour your domains, and we just wanted to let you know how impressive we find your already existing dictatorship.

Your luxurious Capitol is a stunning monument to your nation’s greatness, as well as your own modest refusal to create a cult of personality. We didn’t see a single statue of you in the place, let alone a chorus of schoolchildren singing your praises.

Your brilliant strategic thinking is also on full display in your wise decision to separate different industries between the districts, forcing each district into dependency to all the others - and, of course, to the Capitol, the hub through which all this bounty flows. Divide and conquer, President Snow! Divide and conquer.

And nowhere is your adherence to this important maxim more evident than in the crowning stroke of genius in your reign: the Hunger Games. We swooned at the beautiful marriage of ancient tradition and modern technological advances in your gorgeous update on the Roman gladiatorial games.

Given the excellence you’ve already achieved, we applaud you for deciding to sign up for our course. Although your loyal aides are doubtless to dazzled by your genius to see any room for improvement, you in your wisdom and modesty realized that even the greatest of dictators always have more to learn.

Your first lesson will arrive next week in a discreetly wrapped package, designed to obscure its true nature from the simple folk of the realm, who derive great solace for their belief in their leader’s omniscience. We look forward to working with you!

Yours ever,
The Society for Improved Dictatorship

ETA: This is the beginning of a series, building off this post, which [livejournal.com profile] asakiyume asked me to expand in return for her donation to the ACLU.

I'm going to try to update it every Sunday till it's done. Next week is going to be either "People Are Sheep" or "Freedom('s Just Another Word)," depending on how many sheep comparisons I come up with. (The sheep def. come out of this better than the people.)

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