Letters to a Dictator: The art of control

A deadly smallpox virus known as “The Red” has swept the world and wiped out a significant portion of the population. Society as we know it crumbled, but from its ashes new city states and even small nations began to arise. Some in the North American areas attempted to resurrect the old ways and rebuild a democracy in the new world; others sought control, security, and power at any cost.

The Singular State of Liberty (SSL) thrived off of control. Off of subservience and a strict class system. They prized power over all else.

The following is a series of letters sent approximately 50 years after “The Red.” Former Minister of Propaganda (ret.) Silas Kent seeks to mentor the newly inducted dictator of the SSL, Representative Rufus Conway…

~ ~ ~ ~

Representative Rufus Conway,

Congratulations on your new position. Through your sweat and blood you have seized power for yourself, and only through more sweat and blood can you retain it. Prefect Ramirez asked me to write you to give you some tips on the various facets of leadership, the spread of information, and how the latter affects the prior. She apparently thinks a weathered mind like mine still has some wisdom to be squeezed out. Mind you, my days of tact and social navigation are long gone, so forgive an old man if I seem a bit blunt at times.

I’m not sure if you young folks are still interested in history, but in case you were not aware, I was the Minister of Propaganda for the SSL for 25 years. Prior to that, I was the Secretary of Information for five years, and held various high level positions in government in informational capacities before that. I was twenty years old during The Red, long before you entered this new world. Needless to say, I have seen many-a Representative or President like yourself rise and fall. I have seen strong leaders buckle and break, and though I believe you are spirited and willing to do what is necessary, I fear you may take the path of some of your predecessors if you are not careful. After all, once you reach the top of the ladder, you typically reside there until you are flung off in pieces, or you pass of old age while still seated on the throne.

As the Minister of Propaganda for the Singular State of Liberty, it was my duty to use information to control the people. While I’m not so confident in the current Minister Hopper’s ability to do the same, I must say that you seem to have a knack for controlling voices of dissent. That business in southern Pennsylvania with the smuggler families was particularly brutal and theatrical, and you presented yourself as a strong, uncompromising leader. I commend you for that.

What my job boiled down to is exactly what your job boils down to: control. Control is the cornerstone of any successful leader (though it is not to be confused with micromanagement within your own ranks).

Throughout history, people have gone through changes that have upended the very fabric of their society, and they always seem to have the audacity to think that each “apocalyptic” change is the end of the world. Their minds become frantic, and things swiftly devolve into chaos. When the dam of routine and comfort breaks, blood floods the streets.

Unless it is controlled.

You cannot think of “the people” as a collective group of individuals who have their own individual worth. We all have our senses of empathy and understanding, but as we have been charged with caring for the SSL, we do not have the luxury of going around and treating each person as if they are the king of their own mini-empire.

Instead, think of the SSL (which you have taken charge of) as a human body, and you are the brain. Some parts need to be nurtured, like the muscles or the mind. Certain types of nutrition are necessary for proper functioning. And yet sometimes proper care to the whole means a little merciless destruction — the nails and hair must be periodically cut, and toxic substances must be expelled by whatever means necessary. In more extreme circumstances, cancer must be carved from the body. Of course, healthy cells will be destroyed with any surgical operation – one must cut through healthy skin in order to reach the cancerous tumor – but that is to be expected, not mourned. The scars left behind are not the fault of the surgeon, they are the fault of the cancer.

And like with the human body, you must do what is necessary to ensure the survival of the whole, first and foremost. What good is the body without the mind?

But why control? Why treat the Singular State of Liberty like a body, when each and every cell has its own mind? Surely freedom is a more moral and justifiable position?

Freedom. The word is overused, and has been said more times than the hollow “I love you”s you hear from a couple who drifted apart decades ago.

Of course, even the “freest” of nations do not allow for complete freedom. Complete freedom is laughable – the freedom to murder or the freedom to steal? That’s anarchy, and by definition a system of government will restrict certain freedoms.

Nations to the west may look at us and accuse us of restricting various freedoms too much, as they draw an arbitrary line in the sand and say “this much freedom is the correct amount.” And yet their rates of crime are higher, their successful suicide attempt rates are much higher, and their militaries have suffered greatly in their lethality and effectiveness. Yes, good job neighbors, you have successfully given people the freedom to ruin their own lives and hurt one another.

The fact remains: the safest place in the world is a well-regulated prison. People can’t handle the freedoms these other nations are giving them. If you give one thousand people the freedom to do as they please, a handful of them will willfully ruin it for the whole bunch, so why bother at all? Of course, we cannot build an actual prison for the people – as much as I might like to at times – but we can build walls and bars of different sorts. For example, a healthy fear of the outside world will keep someone in a prison of their own making, and it is arguably more effective than any barbed wire fence.

Strong, intelligent, and effective leaders use control as a way to keep their citizens safe from themselves and each other. To keep them in a prison, but one that is warm and safe and that seems unchanging.

But what does that control look like?

The trick of leadership is to control the people yourself, on your own terms. Religion is always a tempting path to take, but unless you are the god of your invented religion, I would recommend you stay away from it. You don’t want the idea of people deferring to a power higher than yourself. Similarly, painting yourself as an ethical cornerstone of society (the “moral backbone” of the SSL) can work temporarily, but again will cause people to defer to something higher than yourself. When you inevitably have to act in a way that doesn’t satiate the daily, fickle desires of the people, they will cry “immoral!”, call you a hypocrite, and move to usurp you.

To be perfectly clear: don’t make yourself subservient to the same ethical code as the people; be the one who defines the ethical code for them. Don’t make yourself subservient to the same god of the people; make yourself the god of them.

There are a whole host of methods of control, but any “catch-all” gimmick is going to turn around and bite you where it hurts the most. A campaign of control is always more effective than a quick grab at it. This is what I have tried to communicate to Minister Hopper, but I fear that my advice has fallen on deaf ears. He would have you react to a rebel organization with brutal strikes here and there as mere punishment; I would have you react with a campaign of brutality that redefines the way people perceive rebellion.

Control is the name of the game, Representative Conway. In subsequent letters I will attempt to show you what gears to turn and what fuel to inject into the minds of the people in order to gain that control. You have mounted a horse, and I know it took you a great deal of effort to get there, but now is the time to learn how to properly ride it.


Silas Kent


Featured image courtesy of Adobe Stock.
For the love of god, if you think these views are expressed by the author then you aren’t quite picking up what I’m putting down.
Inspired by C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters”

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Susan B
Susan B
2 years ago

Wow…Luke. That speaks on many, many levels. What a genuine talent you have for expressing large ideas in understandable format…and to make your audience want to continue reading. Your lifetime experiences have given you wonderful, as well as unimaginably distressing, experiences to pull from as you write. You have a balanced nature and it shows. Thanks for continuing to share that with us.

2 years ago

Great start to the series, seems to be a perfect modern day mix between The Screwtape letters and Machiavelli’s The Prince! (Feel a sudden urge to re-read both of them now) Looking forward to the next part!

Susan B
Susan B
2 years ago
Reply to  Annica

I had the same feeling regarding the Screwtape Letters, Annica, though I haven’t had the pleasure of reading The Prince, yet. I have a long list of books I want to get through before I shuffle off this earth. lol

2 years ago

Alright!! Glad to see this post “The Red” universe developing. Keep it up Luke.

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