The Tao of Dictatorship

Builds Upon: Fairness Is Irrelevant On The Macroscale: A Truth of Human Nature

We look at history and at the present and what pattern do we see? Millennia of dominance of the most aggressive, ruthless, and pragmatic individuals. Idealists and moralists have triumphed on occasion only to discover that their ideas don’t actually work in real life. In a frenzied attempt to make the world fit their vision, they sometimes become worse than the tyrants they replaced.

We also see:
Benevolent rulers tend to be assassinated and betrayed, tyrants more often die in their sleep. In our times, even third world dictators who get deposed end up living a horrible life in exile on the French Riviera with mountains of cash embezzled from their own people.

Why do the most ruthless people tend to succeed while idealists usually fail miserably?

The answer is fairly simple. As horrible as tyrants may be, they are much more in tune with the true nature of things.

Idealists live off of theory and dreams.
Tyrants face the world in terms of stark realities.

The successful ruler stays safe from his own followers through fear. If the risk of an attempt to grab power outweighs potential benefits the system stays stable.

The common people? If kept on the bare brink of survival, they have no time or energy to organize and rebel. The slightest concession to the commoners will only enable them to engage in civil unrest.

So many successful rulers have been tyrants for a reason. They are what the system selects for. If not already a tyrannical, corrupt person at their accession to power, the ruler must get in tune with the Tao of Dictatorship if they want to survive for long.

In such a world, what is a person of benevolent intentions to do? Engage in more moral theory? Create more fictions in which the bad guy is easily winning until an improbable plot twist at the very end?

Clearly staying within the cocoon of idealism is a recipe for failure. Yet the persistence of idealists is summed up by the good guy who fails to take advantage of the bad guy’s moment of weakness with the rationalization: “If I did that, I would be just like you.”
Every time, the bad guy responds by taking advantage of the hero’s moment of hesitation. Every time the bad guy dies, often by some ridiculous self-inflicted accident in order to keep the hero’s hands clean to the end.

In real life, the hero would die while prevaricating. The bad guy wins.

The fictional hero always rejects the Way of the world, preferring to live on a mythical Olympus.
The real hero ends up dead or disenfranchised.
Or worse, the idealists actually end up in power. A month of Thermidor, Puritan England, Calvinist Geneva, or Bolshevik Russia fueled by righteous frenzy ensues.

Are we to despair of any good in our world then?

Well, what about embracing instead of eschewing the Way of the universe?

Is the universe such a bad place or do the benevolent insist on keeping their hands clean while leaving the ruthless as unchallenged kings of the hill?

Could the benevolent person get further by focusing on the way things work before the way they should work?

As a teenager, I was inspired when I came across the ‘Art of Worldly Wisdom’ by a 17th century Jesuit monk named Baltasar Gracian. No other source I’d read offered such a gentle, benevolent, and insightful alternative to a ruthless Machiavellian approach.
He was the first writer I encountered who showed me that the benevolent person need not, must not be willfully ignorant of the ways of society and human nature.

I also remember being blown away when I first read about a Bangladeshi banker named Muhammad Yunus. This man had come up with the idea of jumpstarting commerce in impoverished communities through a system of microloans. The idea proved to be self-sustaining and even profitable. It remains for me a great example of intelligent benevolence.
This man showed himself superior in every way to the simplistic idealists who perpetuate and exacerbate the root problems they’re fighting by continuously throwing donations at dysfunctional countries and keeping their populations locked in increasingly desperate, poverty-stricken cycles of unsustainable population growth.

If benevolence can be in harmony with the Way, why does it seem to be the exception rather than the rule?

Perhaps because humans still operate on impulses of morality and justice that worked in tribal sized groups but which lead to a dysfunctional dynamic in a mass society?
When one’s loved ones are people and the faceless millions of others are a statistic, perhaps the result is a system that selects for those who divide and conquer through the most brutal of tyranny.

One who strives to observe intelligent benevolence would first cultivate an understanding of the underlying problems and then harness a certain Tao of things just as the dictators have. In this perhaps lies hope of breaking the same old cycles that pervade the human story thus far.

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9 responses to “The Tao of Dictatorship

  1. Interesting stuff! “So many successful rulers have been tyrants for a reason. They are what the system selects for. If not already a tyrannical, corrupt person at their accession to power, the ruler must get in tune with the Tao of Dictatorship if they want to survive for long.” Admirably stated.

    A few suggestions for poking this further: How many millennia of the dominance of the ruthless? And what existed before that? Are tyrants truly in tune with the “nature of things” or merely with the nature of this particular system?

    • Systems arise from the nature of things.
      However, nature is always changing and subject to changes.
      I believe there could be different circumstances in which dictators aren’t selected for.

      I see the American democracy with its fractured power structure as a system calculated to change the standard pattern of selection. Ruthless unscrupulous people still seem to end up in power but this system pits society’s top egos against one another in a way that makes it difficult for a single ruler to rise to the top. American democracy hasn’t really changed the system, but it has helped mitigate some of its worst shortcomings. At the very least no single leader can build gulags in Alaska without having to answer to someone else first.

      I would like to believe that at some point humans were ‘noble savages’ but many modern day hunter gatherers have been found to be quite violent. Intertribal warfare tends to be a regular part of life and the probability of dying a violent death is quite high.
      What can be said is that a chieftain on the tribal level deals with followers face to face. He can’t hide in a palace while a few thousand well paid cronies in tanks hold a nation of millions in thrall.
      One couldn’t imagine that a chieftain who became an outright despot to his own people would live for very long.
      In fact, I’ve read about the ‘big man’ phenomenon that occurs in lots of tribes across the world. Would be leaders work hard to be able to provide their followers with regular feasts. To become the big man and then keep the position they have to outdo the competition. A big man is obligated to meet the needs of his followers rather than vice versa.

      It would seem that agriculture in particular results in a system that gives big men a huge advantage in leverage. Any incentive for obligation is lost when the big man controls the land and means of production. The followers must bow down in submission in order to feed their families for another day.
      This trend has only increased as big men have more, better means of control and require fewer and fewer pampered allies to keep the populace under control. With modern technology, a single man is very capable of turning an entire nation into an entity that serves the interests of only him and a few top accomplices.

      The relationship: As incentives and necessity for obligation towards one’s subjects decreases the incentives and necessity for tyranny increase.

      • “I believe there could be different circumstances in which dictators aren’t selected for.” Indeed. And I think it behooves us to tap into these circumstances, sooner than later. 🙂

        I wasn’t talking about “noble savages.” Look, we have a puzzle. 195,000 years or so of rather pronounced equality and sharing. (There was violence in the sense of interpersonal and tribal skirmishing, but let’s not confuse domination and violence.) And: quite right… a despot would not live long then.

        Then, a few thousand years ago, we have a profound break, and domination and tyrants become ascendant. WTF?

        Are you saying you blame ag? But then how do you explain the historic tribes who practiced ag and were nevertheless egalitarian sharers?

        “The relationship: As incentives and necessity for obligation towards one’s subjects decreases the incentives and necessity for tyranny increase.” Yes. But here we are well into civ.

      • Agriculture in itself doesn’t automatically mean a pyramid hierarchy. This occurs when a society becomes predominantly reliant on agriculture. Even then there’s not really any problem with it until a few families acquire all the land over several generations through strategic marriages, savvy purchases, and conquest.
        The pyramid comes into existence at the moment a minority control the majority of the resources everyone else needs to survive.

        Because the population grows well above the carrying capacity of the natural environment in an agricultural society, going out and living off the land is not much of an option. Nor does a lifetime farmer have the skills to survive any place but the farm. He is completely under the power of the land owner and will soon call him ‘king.’

        Farming doesn’t start out as domination but its mature equilibrium is epitomized by the pyramid.

  2. ‘Clearly staying within the cocoon of idealism is a recipe for failure. Yet the persistence of idealists is summed up by the good guy who fails to take advantage of the bad guy’s moment of weakness with the rationalization: “If I did that, I would be just like you.” ‘

    >>I have never, ever understood this point of view. Invariably these characters keep their hands clean by getting them dirty- for example, the villain takes advantage of the hero’s hesitation only for one of the hero’s sidekicks to take the fatal blow in the hero’s place, which then all of a sudden makes it ethical for the hero to “drop down to the villain’s level.” Never mind the fact that killing a tyrant is completely different from regularly oppressing the populace- killing is killing, and the hero is an absolutist. When that absolutism is selfishly maintained at the cost of others’ lives, the hero is no longer a hero to me. When the villain is imprisoned, unsurprisingly escapes, and commits more atrocities, I blame the hero-turned-scrub, who, playing the game by her/his own set of mental rules, unwittingly makes the populace suffer.

    To me, a true hero is someone like Citan Uzuki, who once again dons his sword saying, “This is no time for morals,” referring to his promise never to wield a sword again. Quite the opposite of Kenshin, whose absolutism and self-handicapping is portrayed as admirable, even romantic, despite the fact that it regularly places everyone else (and eventually all of Japan) in greater danger than they would face otherwise.

    Apparently we’re being trained to believe there is no grey area between saints and tyrants, only binaries, just as mass society is unjustifiably infatuated with a gender binary. If you make but one “slip,” you’re no longer a saint, but merely a tyrant. It’s as much a garbage concept as “maintaining your virginity.” As Obi-Wan says, “Only a Sith deals in absolutes,”- and then he leaves Anakin not very dead at all, allowing him to later exterminate the majority of the Jedi and usher in a new world order under Palpatine. Congratulations, Obi-Wan- you are now a scrub as well, not to mention a self-deluded hypocrite.

    I believe in the Grey.

    • I think they call it ‘deontology’ in acadamese.

      The whole idea is that you can’t put a price on a human life or your principles.

      There’s the popular trolley thought experiment where you do nothing and 5 people die or you actively murder someone to save them.

      A pragmatist saves the five, soiling his hands in the process.

      A deontologist(most heroes) does nothing.

      In fact, Batman is choosing to let the trolley go off the cliff each time he hands the Joker over to the police instead of killing him. We all know the Joker will go on to kill more people.

      A deontologist is concerned with setting a bad precedent.
      Once it’s OK to take other people’s lives to achieve your objectives, the sky’s the limit.
      If your premise is ‘greatest good for the greatest many’ then you’ve created justification for tyrannical majorities everywhere.
      A deontologist assumes a slippery slope(deals in absolutes) in all cases.
      Thus the ‘noble’ sacrifice of letting the bad guy live, knowing he may kill again.

      I recall Spiderman being forced by the Green Goblin to choose between a trolley(maybe the screenwriter had read philosophy) full of people and his girlfriend.
      How often have we seen.
      “HA HA HA HA! You can’t save both, *hero name*”
      And the typical writer’s response is to avoid the question.
      Somehow, the hero always manages to save both.

      I used to enjoy pondering over the trolley puzzle but I’ve since understood it is irrelevant.
      In real life we must make value judgments.

      And the stuff about the value of life being priceless is nonsense. In truth, the value of human life is largely determined by supply and demand just like any other commodity.
      To profess otherwise is to be willfully ignorant of how societies actually work.(hint for Superman: the ‘important’ people aren’t sent to charge the trenches)

      The good person who is ignorant will always be defeated by an evil person who is wise in the ways of the world.

  3. Beginning with my twenties, I started to feel so away and different from leftists while I live in the center of their neighbourhood. Their great ideas are always in theory. It reminds me of Prometheus, the titan who steals the light from the tyrannic gods in Olympos and brings it to mankind who lives in darkness only to be punished by being tied and having his lungs eaten alive by birds. The word “enlightened” is how they usually describe themselves. The ultimate in selflessness but only in mythology. Also, the funny character of Don Quixote who declares windmills as evil mosnters and himself a noble knight of virtue. Real life really works different.

    • Ideas that sound great in theory are great for social proof. It’s a way to advertise that you’re good and that you care without having to really put anything of any consequence on the line.
      So you will always find socialites to be full of idealistic talk that sounds pretty.
      Just watch their actual behavior concerning things they truly care about and you will know them for who they are.

      “Enlightened” is one of those words they like to say, and it’s actually pretty appropriate.
      They buy into into a lot of assumptions that have their roots in enlightenment thought.

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