Nice Dictator

kim il sung

Poor dictators. They always get so much hate. If only we took the time to get to know them, if only we looked beneath all the theft, oppression, and killing of their own people, then we might see them for the gentle souls that they really are deep down.

At least that’s what Dennis Rodman would have us believe. Returning from a visit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, Rodman has come to the enlightening conclusion that Kim is a peaceful, humble, and all around good guy. Who would have known? All this time he was putting hundreds of thousands of his own people in death camps and starving the rest, when he really just wanted people to see his softer side.

And who could forget the recently-expired president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez? After a courageous (or cowardly, who can tell?) battle with cancer, the poor old dictator passed on, leaving countless supporters grief-stricken. Apparently, a massive expansion of state power and destruction of the most basic liberties is a surefire ticket to popularity.

But beyond all the sarcastic comments, there are a couple of lessons to be learned from this. First off, there’s nothing about being a brutal dictator that precludes one from being charming and personable. In fact, such personality traits can actually help a ruler gain, and secure, power. Second, maybe totalitarian rulers aren’t violent psychopaths by nature, and would actually be decent folk were they living a normal life. Maybe it’s not the person that’s evil. Maybe it’s the power. Maybe giving a human being godlike control over the fate and fortunes of millions can make a man into a monster, and turn even the most mild-mannered Jekyll into a beast like Hyde. Maybe a truly saintlike and benevolent person, upon inheriting power, would have to choose between becoming a monster and completely dismantling the dictatorial apparatus of his or her country, truly setting the people free.

Don’t hate the player. Hate the game of playing with human beings’ lives like a cat toying with a rodent’s limp and helpless body.

Pyramid of the Oppressor

Try this: open up a business, and then proceed to shoot your customers.

Okay, how did it turn out? No, I don’t mean the fact that you’re probably now in jail awaiting trial for murder. I’m talking about your business. What happened to your revenue? Did business absolutely take off? No? Awww… how come?

Maybe because you rely on your customers for your own survival. They pay your bills. It is only through serving them and keeping them as customers that you can succeed. It’s a total no-brainer.

If only dictators could see that…

In some ways the relationship between a dictator and his subjects and a business owner and her customers aren’t the same. For example, citizens don’t have the choice of leaving the service of their oppressor. But the correlation is true in this sense: both the political leader and the entrepreneur need the financial support of the people to survive.

Squashing your subjects just doesn’t make sense. The worse off they are, the worse off you are by proxy. Why do you think abusive dictatorships are never as prosperous as democracies, even though the tyrant takes a larger percentage of what the people earn? Destroy enough of your poor citizens and you won’t even be able to survive.

But it can get even worse. Irk your subjects enough, and they can rise up and kill you. No matter how strong your military or your control over the people, you will always lose if they rise up against you. That’s because every victory you secure only makes your financial base weaker. No matter how mighty your military, they produce nothing by themselves, and can only be paid and supported by the very people you’re employing them to squash. Your only hope is to stamp out a rebellion so quickly and so mercilessly that the people are too terrified to continue. But if they aren’t, then it’s as good as over.

A better strategy? Treat your subjects well. The happier and wealthier they get under your watch, the more likely they are to see you as benevolent, and support you completely. It’s better to reign in Heaven than reign brutally in Hell…