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An introductory guide to operating a draconian regime

04 Aug 2014

Congratulations! You have been elected as the new president. Now, before you get to work, you should read this brief introductory guide that will teach you all the basics of operating a draconian regime. Naturally, your subjects must remain under the impression that they live in a free country; therefore, our focus in this guide will be on retaining that image.

One of the main issues that you might encounter as a new head of state, are those pesky activists. They'll constantly be scrutinizing your every move, and make a fuss over new legislation - "oppressive", they call it. They will attempt to prevent you from favouring your friends and financiers, and will shout "corruption" at the first sight of preferential treatment. Naturally, in your role as draconian head of state, this is undesirable!

Now, keeping such individuals from upsetting your regime is not all that hard. The key thing to understand is that you don't need to influence everybody, just the majority. As long as you can convince most of your subjects that all is fine, you'll be golden. Techniques for defaming dissenters can help with this.

Let's start out with a well-tested and proven long-term technique for suppressing dissent:

The boiling frog.

A true classic, this technique will make the most ferocious lion look like a cute little kitty. It's not hard to pull off either; all you need to do is break up your draconian legislation into little bits, gradually introduced, each of which look mostly harmless. The majority of your subjects will perceive these changes as being perfectly normal, and fail to see the long-term shift.

Let us observe an example.

On September 11, 2001, a number of planes flew into the World Trade Center in New York, in an alleged terrorist attack that has been dubbed "9/11" since. In October of that year, the Patriot Act was signed into effect; a truly deliciously draconian law that allowed for searches without a court order, infinite detention, and many other tools of the perfect police state. The law was criticized by a sizeable group of people, but the 9/11 attacks meant that the general public saw the Patriot Act as a necessary tool for preventing further attacks.

Between 2001 and 2013, many more of such laws were introduced; each of them allowing slightly more than the Patriot Act - in particular spying on citizens was a commonly-justified aspect of these. They were generally ignored and considered reasonable. After all, how could that tiny amendment possibly be misused?

Of course, over time, as discovered during the 2013-2016 leak of NSA documents, it became apparent that a highly effective spying apparatus had been built. It had simply not been obvious to the general public, who had treated each legislation change as an individual, independent unit of legislation. This also had the side-effect of painting so-called "privacy activists" as lunatics - clearly, they were just imagining and exaggerating things!

At this point, it should perhaps have become evident to you why this is called the "boiling frog technique". If one were to place a frog in a pan of hot water, it would almost certainly jump out. However, if one were to place said frog in a pan of cold water and heat it up gradually, the frog would not notice the increase in temperature; it would simply be boiled alive, without ever realizing its fate.

The middle road.

Now, the "boiling frog technique" may not be sufficient. Perhaps you are faced with dissidents that are more observant, and keep track of gradual changes - or, perhaps, even predict them. In such a situation, the "middle road technique" is a useful tool. It can make any proposed change, no matter how draconian, look reasonable.

Let's look at an example.

In 2014, Ben Lawsky, the Superintendent of Financial Services in New York State - quite an influential position, indeed - introduced something called the "BitLicense". The purpose of the BitLicense was to regulate the use of cryptocurrency, so as to make it impossible for individuals to utilize Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies outside the control of New York State.

The initial proposal included quite some draconian restrictions; effectively anybody who used the cryptocurrency would have to register with New York State - even those who weren't physically located in New York State themselves. Now, naturally, such regulations would be unenforceable and unreasonable to the general public.

The goal of this proposal, however, was to simply paint a "worst scenario"; the initial BitLicense proposal shifted the perspective and expectations of the general public, such that any watered down version - the "middle road" - would appear perfectly reasonable.

The final form of the BitLicense, that is still in effect to this day, was significantly less intrusive than the original proposal, but still offered an incredible insight into and control over the cryptocurrency transactions that take place every day. It is now commonly accepted as "the lesser of two evils", and efforts at appealing it have so far been fruitless. A great example of draconian lawmaking, indeed!

The exhaustion.

This is the last-ditch technique. If all else fails - your gradual change has been noticed, your middle road has been rejected - there is always the "exhaustion technique".

Everybody has limited energy to expend; activists, critics, but especially the general population. And let's be honest, aren't there much more exciting things to spend it on, than on legislation? If you've already been found out, then there's no need to be subtle anymore, just push through your new draconian legislation by force!

Again, we will look at a practical example.

Around 2010, a group of lobbyists for the copyright industry approached the government of the United States, and expressed their concern about the increasing unauthorized copying of media. Now, while their problem wasn't very interesting, a significant amount of funding was offered, if only these politicians could make the problem go away - no matter the cost.

In 2011, the SOPA bill was proposed. It provided unprecedented spying and takedown powers, the wet dream of any draconian head of state. However, after an internet-wide "blackout", it was shot down.

Later in 2011, it was attempted again, using the "middle road technique". PIPA was introduced. It was also shot down. Another attempt in 2011 saw the CISPA bill surfacing, which was shot down as well. Finally in 2012 another attempt, ACTA, was widely accepted and signed by many countries. The general public had gotten so tired of all these new "anti-piracy treaties", that they had simply stopped caring and gave the draconian regime free rein.

It is worth nothing that this technique is effective even in the long term; the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, with similar consequences, was passed successfully in 2015.


So far, we've covered some essential information for a new draconian head of state; in the following chapter, we will look into the various methods for defaming activists and critics. It is always easier to attack an individual, than it is to attack their criticism!