How to Win at Democracy

This is probably the most important article you will ever read: it will teach you how to conquer a democracy. Not in the traditional supervillainous sense–the people you conquer probably won’t even realize what you’ve done to them–but you will rule them nonetheless. The method is very simple; it has only two steps, and everyone already knows them. They are expressed in two famous aphorisms: Nothing unifies like a common enemy. If this aphorism is true, then it follows that an effective strategy for unifying people is to convince them that they share an enemy. History shows that this works very well, even with groups who would otherwise be at each other’s throats. It works when the enemy is a serious threat, but is also works when the enemy really isn’t. As long as people believe that the enemy is real, they will pull together to fight it.

Divide and conquer. This is a history-tested strategy for defeating powerful enemies. If the enemy is strong, split it into subgroups, then defeat them one at a time. These two strategies dovetail: if you want to conquer a group (say, the Red Group), split it into subgroups, and also unite the surrounding groups by convincing them that red is their common enemy. Divide, unite, conquer. Even if Red was the strongest group initially, it will be a pushover once this uniting and dividing is done. segregate-unite-conquer-democracyBut what if there is only one group? How to conquer Red if there are no outsiders to pit against it? Somewhat counterintuitively, the same method will still work: divide, unite, conquer. The difference is that, instead of convincing outside groups that Red is a threat, you’ll convince the Red subgroups that one of them is a threat to the others. Divide, unite, then use Red to conquer itself. To conquer a group in a democracy, divide it, then alienate one of the subgroups and unite the others against it. Now, it isn’t necessary for the groups to fight each other. (It’s actually better if they don’t, since fighting will destroy some of the people and wealth that you are trying to control.) It is enough that they oppose each other. Convince the groups that they have incompatible interests, that if one group gets what it wants, then the others cannot get what they want. Do this, and the factions can be pitted against each other to control the whole. You might think that doing this would be quite complicated and time-consuming, but it’s actually quick and simple once you understand the method. Suppose that a river flows through a county. One third of the people live to the East of the river, one third to the West, and one third live directly on its banks, in the Middle. To conquer, simply point out that the Middle people have “unfair” access to the water and could, if they wanted to, prevent the East and West from getting any. Present this as a conflict of interest: insinuate that the Middle would benefit from controlling the water, while the East and West would benefit from water being freely accessible. (This doesn’t need to be true; you just need to speak confidently as though it is, and people will believe it.) Now, promise that if the people will accept you as their ruler, you will ensure that the Middle never deprives the East or the West of water. “Water is a right!” could be your slogan. “Down with unfair water access!” With a little luck, that is all it will take. East and West will unite against the enemy you have convinced them that they share. You have promised to protect them from that enemy, so they will acclaim you as their new ruler in order to get that protection. Conquest complete. Then, if the public ever murmurs against you, just remind them that your leadership is what stops Middle from hoarding all the water. (They don’t want their children to go thirsty, do they?) If this seems too simple, it’s because I’ve left out one factor: the current ruler. No matter how effective you are at painting the Middle as an imminent threat, the sword of the current ruler will be more imminent. You need a power vacuum in order for divide, unite, conquer to work. You need to get rid of the current ruler. But (lucky you!) there is already a system in place for getting rid of rulers: democracy. In democracy, the ruler is automatically deposed every 1-6 years and can be replaced without fear of retribution. This is your chance to conquer:

  1. Divide the electorate into groups. (The differences between the groups can be trivial. The important thing is that it’s obvious to each person which group they belong in.)
  2. Identify a group (the target) that is large or influential enough that it will seem like a plausible threat to the others, but that is smaller than the sum of the other groups.
  3. Convince the other groups that the target’s interests are incompatible with theirs.
  4. Promise that, if you are elected, you will prevent the target from hurting the other groups.
  5. Repeat as necessary.

A great thing about this method is that you can apply it recursively: You can divide the subgroups into further subgroups and so on, right down to groups of three. You can also divide the same group in more than one way so that, by addressing different subgroups at different times, you can appeal to virtually everyone. If you are persistent, you can convince the whole electorate that they need you to protect them… from themselves. What you do once you are ruler is, of course, up to you.

Here’s a tool to help you practice conquering. Press “Populate” to generate an electorate of 100 people with random race, sex, and wealth characteristics. Press “Segregate” to divide the group into exploitable subgroups. Click on one of the subgroups and press “Segregate” again to see how the group can be further divided. The instructions for how to manipulate the subgroups are only examples, as are the delimiters by which the groups are divided. In a real conquest, you will need to discern yourself what tactics to employ against each group. Shapes show sex: square = male, round = female. Borders show wealth class: white = rich, black = poor, gray = middle. Colors show race: red, blue, or green.


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