I would be the worst dictator ever

Being a dictator is fun! Look at my cool stick.
After decades of living in and associating with Africa, I've gotten to see to some talented dictators do their thing.  It looks pretty fun (for them).  I remember the first time I saw Kenya's President Moi ride by in his motorcade.  I was sitting there minding my own business in 4th grade, when all of a sudden, our teachers ushered us outside and down the road to the main highway.  "President Moi will be coming by soon," they said. "You must wave and smile and shout 'Nyayo' [his nickname, which means something like peace and unity. So cute and inspiring and ironic]." OK, I thought, I can do that.  A few minutes later, there he was, standing up through the sun roof in his limo, waving his super fancy, extremely official ceremonial stick at us while we cheered.

That's got to feel good.  Especially giving yourself a flattering nickname that pretty much denies the whole reality surrounding you and pretending everyone has gotten together and decided to call you that.  I think mine would be a made-up word like Transcendanklia (because why not) that means, "Every little thing she does is magic and her nose is also not that big and her ankles are thin."  Also fun must be having a bunch of houses and staff and food and "dispatching" with anyone who annoys you.  If you see something you like that someone else has--money, land, cars, women, men, dogs, candy, ankles--you just take it.  Easy right?

WRONG. While dictator-ing might be somewhat enjoyable after it is a well-established lifestyle, setting up that whole system and maintaining it is a lot of work.   Just getting into power is really an accomplishment, requiring years of conniving, backstabbing, bullying, and in many cases, some good weaponry. A raging, untreatable personality disorder that keeps everyone off balance helps.

Once in power, you have to keep the authoritarianism going, and in fact, usually, you gotta up your game every year lest you be overthrown.  There's a few hard and fast rules of dictator-ing:
1) Keep the people with the weapons on your side.
2) Keep everyone else on your side.
3) Do this by bribing people with money and bennies (which you steal, obviously), and through some strategic murdering.
4) Keep the ordinary people scared and/or in your imaginary debt and without means of expression or organization.
5) Control all the information, very important, and tell everyone, all the time how awesome you are.
6) If you have institutions, that's too bad, but if you can just control all of them through loyal and preferably scary henchmen, that works too.

So, all this control and violence and strategizing and being scary is a lot of work.  Think about it. You gotta be on your dictator game all the time.  Even when you sleep, you must ensure no one murders you in the night, maybe set up a bunch of booby traps around your bed. Or just don't sleep.  But if you don't put in the work, you're in big trouble.  And once you embark on a life of dictatorship, you kind of have no choice but to keep it going.  Unless you are Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe.  Then, you can become a barely lucid, very frail 90-something-year-old presiding over a completely ruined economy and with a sociopathic wife, and you still manage to stay in power until she pisses off some of the people with guns and they take over.  But then you can live your remaining years in peace with a full security detail, houses, cars and money.  Not a bad retirement.

So parenting is kind of like dictator-ing.  But parenting is even harder because violence is not an acceptable practice, nor is terrorizing people psychologically. Unmitigated personality disorders aren't ideal either. I mean, those things work like gold for a time, but not if you actually want to raise a decent human being.  It's like being a dictator but actually wanting your country to succeed.  Only Rwanda's Paul Kagame could even attempt that, and he still has killed a lot of people in the process.  As a parent, you have to maintain some control through "soft power."  Any kind of control is exhausting, but "soft power" is even worse.  It's like threading a needle with an elephant's tail, while it is still attached to its owner who is also alive. You have to be feared a little bit, but still loved.  You have to be flexible but structured.  You have to set limits and serve vegetables and have rules without any security forces to back you up and or an agreed upon constitution.

Based on my parenting, I can say pretty confidently that dictator-ing is on the list of professions I should never attempt.  The others are: waitressing, barista-ing, chef-ing, personal assistant-ing, race car driving, crime-ing, brain surgery, or anything that requires multi-tasking, attention to detail, and not panicking.  In addition to lacking in those skills, I am very lazy about control.  I like self-control--I find it weirdly fun to discipline myself--but I'm at a loss about how to get anyone else in my orbit to do anything. When I try, it's extremely graceless and ends with me standing in the middle of a room yelling, "I AM LEAVING IN 5 MINUTES AND THE REST OF YOU CAN SCROUNGE FOR FOOD."  I can't enforce a rule or maintain order to save my life.  And unlike normal dictators, who are bolstered by failing institutions, I completely fall apart in their face, for instance during summer break, when the schools inexplicably close (Does no one care about civilization? confusing).

If I ran a small, undemocratic country, this is what it would look like.  First of all, my ascent would have to be completely accidental, because I am completely without ambition.  My parent or husband would have to be the existing dictator, and they would leave me the country in their will.  But right off the bat, the people would sense an opportunity to throw off oppression and stretch their democratic legs.  Perhaps they would start protesting. The security services would come to me and say, We got to crack down. What's the plan? Should we put them in time out? And I would say Man, are you serious? I just got in bed and started a new series on Netflix.  I already have my PJs on.  Just tell the people they can have a free press BUT THAT'S IT so I can watch the next episode of The Crown in peace.

But then the people would protest again, and this time, they would ask for representation in parliament, and I would say, We already talked about this! Why do you keep bothering me? Don't you know how tiring it is running the government all day and now THIS?!  And then I would give them representation.  Then some people in my inner circle would be all like, Dude, she isn't looking very authoritarian right now.  Let's just take over.  Then I would get wind of this.  Dammit! I had planned to read my novel this afternoon. Whatever.  What do you want, I can't be bothered.  Sure, you can take over the country, but JUST FOR THIS AFTERNOON. OK? After that, we are totally starting a new system. See, I've written it right here on the refrigerator.  Every day you don't kill or usurp me, you get a mine or something.  After a few months of this, my country would be a complete democracy, and (but?) all the elites would own mines.

I guess there are worse things.


Popular Posts