Dark Helmet: Who is he?
Colonel Sandurz: He’s an Asshole, sir.
Dark Helmet: I know that! What’s his name?
Colonel Sandurz: That is his name, sir. Asshole. Major Asshole.
Have I mentioned that the No Asshole Rule has profound geopolitical implications? It’s an idea that’s been rattling around my head for a while.
In Egypt earlier this year, the cops refused to attack the people. East Germany and then the whole Iron Curtain collapsed when the local cops wouldn’t smash heads when Erich Honecker ordered it. What about America? Where are the cops who walked off the job rather than attack their neighbors drowning in debt and despair?
And so that brings me to a useful piece of advice for any readers who are aspiring dictators, one that the Communists knew, Suharto knew, but that some modern day tyrants seem to have forgotten. There is always a level of civil unrest that outstrips the capability of even the most loyal and largest regular armed forces to deal with. In all likelihood, as a medium sized emerging market, you will have a capital city with a population of about five or six million, meaning potentially as many as three million adults on the streets in the worst case. Your total active-duty armed forces are unlikely to be a tenth of that. When it becomes a numbers game, there is only one thing that can save you.
And that is, a reactionary citizens’ militia, to combat the revolutionary citizens’ militia. Former socialist republics always used to be fond of buses full of coal miners from way out the back of beyond, but the Iranian basijis are the same sort of thing. Basically, what you need is a large population who are a few rungs up from the bottom of society, who aren’t interested in freedom and who hate young people. In other words, arseholes. Arseholes, considered as a strategic entity, have the one useful characteristic that is the only useful characteristic in the context of an Egyptian-style popular uprising – there are f—ing millions of them.
This is my advice to any aspiring dictator; early on in your career, identify and inventory all the self-pitying, bullying shitheads your country has to offer. Anyone with a grievance, a beer belly and enough strength to swing a pickaxe handle will do. You don’t need to bother with military training or discipline because they’re hopefully never going to be used as a proper military force – just concentrate on nurturing their sense that they, despite appearances, are the backbone of the country, and allowing them to understand that although rules are rules, there are some people who just need a slap. The bigger and burlier the better, but when the time comes they’ll be fighting in groups against people weaker than themselves, often under cover of darkness, so numbers are more important than anything else. The extractive industries are indeed often a good source, as are demobbed veterans (Zimbabwe) or the laity of an established religion.
I think this is my new rule for assessing the stability of any dictatorship around the world, and I am on the lookout for any Francis Fukuyama-style book contracts. The key factor in determining the survival of repressive regimes isn’t economics, religion or military success. It’s arseholes.
If you’ve been reading the news lately, this may sound familiar. It’s that sentence near the end there – “The bigger and burlier the better, but when the time comes they’ll be fighting in groups against people weaker than themselves, often under cover of darkness, so numbers are more important than anything else” – that makes it so horribly prescient.