You have all seen it in old films: man in a trenchcoat, running from thugs in dark uniforms, a pasty-looking informant at the fore, a noisy fusillade, the seep of dark liquid on the cobblestones. Yes, there are many individual elements to come up with a convincing atmosphere, but it turns out that running a sinister terror regime isn't as complicated as you might think. It is true that these have lots of moving parts, but the internal structure of your average totalitarian state is actually much simpler than modern democracies with all their messy loose ends and open markets. The choices you make toward putting your own stamp on your fascist government determine how the lives of millions or billions will play out over generations in a way which can be both personally rewarding and, in a larger sense, inhumanly psychopathic.
- Your Father- or Motherland. The easiest case is if you have an existing police state at your command which you simply want to perpetuate. The most difficult is when you don't already have power over any state at all to start with. In either case, your first step is to take a look at your soon to be subjugated population and ask yourself a number of questions about their characteristics. Are they hardworking and long-suffering, or complaining layabouts? Are they a relatively homogeneous group or are they split into combative factions? And if it is the former, do they look on their history with pride or with shame? You can mold your country to a certain extent, but almost always it is much more efficient to lead them down the path they are already headed, and if it gets to the same destination in the end, so much the better.
- Public spectacles. The destruction of would-be heroes is a never-ending chore in any society no matter how beaten down, and it is best done in full view of your non-heroic populace to tamp down any bright ideas which might emerge on their part. It helps to ease the tedium and low-grade depression that makes up the daily fare for your ordinary rank-and-file scum while at the same time instilling in them a suite of expectations which serves your purposes well: resistance is absurd, it is best not to stand out as an individual, one's fate is wholly in your hands.
- Divide and conquer. If you have done your research well you will have identified the faultlines separating the major groups making up your society. Instruct your secret police in the best ways to provoke conflict along these divisions and to madden each group with the hope that they can achieve ascendancy by collaborating with your master plan.
- Crush the holdouts. If you do not enjoy whacking the inevitable moles scattered among the faceless ciphers you might think of reconsidering your aspirations of running a police state. The pitched battles between your field agents and the resistance cells, the identification of foreign conduits of aid, the skullduggery and backstabbing that is the stock in trade for your intelligence operatives and counterintelligence operatives, and the high drama of armed sweeps through the countryside to drive the secret cadres into the open is indeed the stuff of suspense fiction turned into real life; to grow tired of this is in a real way to grow tired of evil itself, which is unthinkable. So extend your might over your hapless subjects and exult in it as a rare gift not given to most mortals.
Strokes of genius
- Sleep deprivation. Nine out of ten college students will tell you how effective chronic lack of rest is in combating the urge to do anything heroic or creative. Nighttime sweeps through residential neighborhoods, the din of helicopters, unexplained random siren wails, and sporadic explosions will all help to disrupt the sleep patterns of a large number of your subjects and transform them into shambling zombies by day.
- Good change and bad change. We speak not here of coinage but about whether it is desirable to keep the population off balance by introducing a steady diet of the unfamiliar and foreign.
- Famine and its uses. You may have the good fortune of having a productive farm sector and a modern food processing supply chain. Good for you. This has nothing to do with whether the food being produced actually makes it to your people in any quantity, as there is always the opportunity for export and waste to keep them starving and helpless if that suits your needs. This can be taken too far, of course, but if you keep your deep famines short and your periods of general food shortage extended, you can still benefit from the way this instills a sense of dependency so useful to your bigger mission.
- Language. Communication is something which no one has found a way to wipe out among humans, so the best thing to do when you are running a terror state is to control it as well, starting with the mass media. By introducing a vocabulary of your own that debases the meanings of ordinary words you inflict damage on people as surely as you would by lashing them, and if you repeat these terms enough times you will gradually be able to influence the way they express their own thoughts. Do not overlook the role of the new media, if your populace has any access to technology at all, where you can exert your power through slightly different, but equally insidious, means.
Traps for mere fools
- Unwholesome thoughts. You do not want images or phrases which would tend to spark independent thinking or individual action on the part of your masses. You can try blocking them out, though in this day and age that is a daunting proposition. It may be better to blunt or deflect the effect by maintaining your own psyops campaign which denigrates these unwanted elements, with a dismissive tone if you can manage it.
- Wars. Especially bad are any kind of conflicts which have to be waged on two or more fronts, whether the geographic kind or the metaphoric. Distraction is deadly when it comes to keeping your bootheel firmly on the napes of the neck of everyone in your realm, and nothing is more distracting than someone lobbing bits of metal or elementary particles your way when you are trying to attend to something else.
Precious and needful
- How to become invulnerable to bullets
- How to clone an army
- How to get rid of a corpse
- How to lie to someone's face
- How to make the voices of your victims stop
- How to serve man
- How to plan a mass grave
- How to conceal weapons
- How to issue an ultimatum
- How to send secret transmissions
- How to get started with giant robots
- How to rule men's minds through sex
- How to control the governments of the world
- How to oppress the meek
- How to pillage a city
- How to reign over love slaves
- How to grow a mighty brain
- How to read minds
- How to give everyone their heart's desire
- Image credit Razorwire by John Wardell (Netinho)
- Image credit Screaming Pain by Stuck in Customs
- Image credit DNC 08 by vet for peace