Creating Enthusiastic Obedience in a Context of Terror

Despite suppressing human dignity and freedom, some oppressive regimes have managed not only to impose obedience, but to foster a degree of zealous compliance.  How is this possible within the framework of Malevolent Star — a model recently introduced by the author as the “evil counterpart” to the 4D Star paradigm, which guides decision-making and analysis in free societies? How can this seemingly-strange phenomenon — serving tyranny not just fearfully, but enthusiastically — deepen our understanding of 4D Star?

January 2024

Nord Kivu, RD Congo: An entertainer and supporter of a local warlord at his birthday celebration.  Click on any photo to enlarge.

L’Afrique

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As outlined in the author’s introductory essay on his strategic framework, tyrannies use a sinister counterpart to 4D Star — the “Malevolent Star” model — to impose obedience and secure power. 

Each of the five foundations of 4D Star thus has a dark reflection:

“Human” is substituted by Regime, because the tyrant prioritizes expanding his power and disregards concerns for human dignity and human development.

“Freedom” cedes its place to Oppression and fear, since generally the regime forbids others to make important decisions. Systematized terror is used to repress freedom. Physical restrictions and societal constraints also suppress liberty.

“Commitment” (Loyalty + Élan) is replaced by Obedience, given that unfree subjects have not developed themselves and their society in a blossoming of citizenship that culminates in loyalty to the state. Any fealty in this context has a skein of limitations and remains unpredictable, since it is based on deceptions and fear.  Deception is uncertain because subjects might learn about reality — or even worse, (from the point of view of a despot), subjects could learn that the truth has entered into general awareness. As for fear, it can be redirected based on changing perceptions of credible threats.

The void left by “Innovation” is taken by Stagnation, since reforms are forbidden and contributions tightly restricted.  Narrow research programs or procedural modifications are framed by the existing beliefs, power-hunger, and dysfunctions of the regime.

In the place of “Organization” marked by effective teamwork and efficient deployment of resources, one finds Segmentation, from the top of the regime all the way down to the mind of the subject.  The dictator cultivates multiple lieutenants and factions, which he balances against each other.  Social and economic groups are encouraged to distrust each other.  Separate sets of rules apply to officials and everyone else.  People compartmentalize their cognition and have distinct mental areas for traditional human-centered morality and “obeying well.”

The 2D Level of 4D Star:  Five Foundations

3D LevelSustainability Through Time.  A Malevolent Star regime will consider durability only through the prism of maintaining and expanding its power. Unlike the responsible stewardship of a well-prepared free society, the despotism of the tyrant will sacrifice sub-elements of this dimension, e.g., the natural environment, social cohesiveness, and fiscal soundness.

4D LevelEnduring Realities.  An oppressive dictatorship will study background factors / enduring realities, but only with the aim of maintaining and expanding its power.  Where a free society would learn about long-term truths with a view to elevating human dignity and empowerment, the Malevolent Star regime disregards these aspirations.

Ring of Disharmony*A corroded and jagged ring. It symbolizes the synergy of negative elements; i.e., the interplay of oppressive features. These create a vicious cycle that sustains the regime’s power and control over society. As opposed to its harmonious counterpart in the 4D Star model, the Ring of Disharmony represents enforced interdependence and manipulated interactivity, marked by the breakdown of healthy social and emotional bonds. It reflects the perversion of human relationships and thus epitomizes the Malevolent Star’s departure from nature.

* The Ring of Disharmony was a later revision and was not included in the original version of this essay. 
Likewise, the Ring of Harmony was added later and was not in the original version of the author’s introductory essay on 4D Star.

A representation of a political activist of the Viet Cong or Khmer Rouge, speaking to villagers in the 1960s or early 1970s.

In terms of the nature of fealty in a tyrannical system, by default, it is obedience through fear, with the exception of regime officials and any others who benefit from corruption and oppression, who are motivated by greed and power.

But what about examples such as Imperial Japan (1933 – 1945), when vast numbers of the Japanese military fought to the death, with very few choosing to surrender, thereby demonstrating determined zealotry? 

What about extremist movements associated with the mass murder of Jews, such as Nazi Germany or the jihadist groups bordering Israel?  In those examples too, many true believers fight to the bitter end, despite the destruction of their own societies and overwhelming evidence that their ideologies do not lead to positive outcomes.

Perhaps most surprising of all, Joseph Stalin lived to old age, remaining in power for approximately 30 years until dying in 1953, probably of natural causes. He never even faced a serious assassination attempt, even though he regularly murdered his close associates and their family members, as well as tens of millions of inhabitants of the USSR.

Left: In Zimbabwe (2005), an activist of Zanu-PF speaks to starving villagers who were forcibly evicted from their homes during the regime’s “Move the Rubbish” campaign. She is nevertheless trying to convince them to support the dictator, Robert Mugabe.  Right: In 1957, a cadre of Castro’s Communist rebellion encourages a local militia to join the rebellion, promising rapid elections and moderate economic policies. Both promises were subsequently disregarded after the seizure of power.

Masters of Illusion

How do tyrannical regimes sometimes benefit from fanatical obedience, despite state betrayal in terms of freedom and human dignity? 

In short — although they would not articulate it in these terms — they seek to harness the power of 4D Star without actually adopting that model. While imposing a Malevolent Star tyranny, they try to convince inhabitants that they are living in a free society.

These regimes tightly control access to information and try to create the illusion that an innovative state is organized to meet human needs and uphold freedom. 

“Freedom” is redefined.  The term no longer denotes genuine choices, nor the ability to make contributions in one’s own way. Since the only “logical” choice is to support the program of the regime, the concept now equates with submission to state power.

In the 1980s, in a jungle base in an indeterminate location, a Soviet advisor encourages insurgents to be ruthless as they struggle to impose a totalitarian regime. 

Examples of Trickery

Many tomes could be written describing the tricks that tyrannical regimes deploy as they seek to tap into some of the power of 4D Star while actually imposing the tyranny of the Malevolent Star model. 

There is no space in this article for a comprehensive examination of the issue, but to give the reader a general idea of this phenomenon, the author cites several examples below.  

These examples are organized according to sub-elements enumerated by the author under the “Human” foundation of 4D Star, which illustrates that the paradigm helps to makes sense of the phenomenon.

Community & Belonging + Sense of Purpose

Autocratic regimes have often used the cult tactic of harnessing the human need for a sense of belonging to a community, in conjunction with the need for a sense of purpose. This is the supposed community-family striving heroically for a humanity-saving or nation-saving cause.

Without the common genetics of an actual family, it is the noble struggle that unites the collective as a pseudo-family.  Thus the linkage between the two needs must be understood in this context.

Probably almost everyone has some vulnerability to this ploy, although risk factors would include an unstable childhood and recent stressful life transitions.

Even if the individual himself does not believe in the ideology of the cult-regime, if he does sense that others may truly believe, he has cause to hesitate to organize any resistance, lest a true believer denounce him.

Stalin refined deployment of this technique, marrying it to the fear-based foundation of the Malevolent Star.  By periodically shifting ideologically to the right or the left, he kept his followers guessing about the idéologie du jour, heightening terror-based anxiety and thereby undermining the psychological resources for any potential regime-threatening centers of power.  (Purging top lieutenants and their entourages every now and then served a similar purpose.)

For example, as Stephen Kotkin relates in the biography Stalin, the dictator first supported the rightward shift of the New Economic Policy (NEP), purging communists who clung to strict Marxism.  The Georgian strongman shifted leftward in the late 1920s, abolishing NEP and imposing brutal collectivization across Soviet Eurasia.  He then destroyed the “right deviationists” who failed to shift quickly enough — or who were too closely associated with the former policy.

In other words, the sheep were made to nervously focus on shifting their direction as soon as the first signals of a change would emerge. Thus, they lacked the attention or psychological health to consider bigger questions that might threaten the leader.

Ultimately, the individual follower is always disappointed in the satisfaction of these needs.  In terms of the community-family, no such thing really exists when the parental figure does not care about the human dignity of the flock. (The cultist may even have abandoned a real family in the pursuit of the pseudo-family.) Likewise, in terms of the need for a sense of purpose, the cult promise falls short; after all, few things could be worse than sacrificing oneself for a tyranny.

Family

While dictatorships see the family as a dangerous alternative locus of power that can escape state control, sometimes tyrants pretend to defend and promote the family, to try to co-opt natural loyalty to family while positioning the dictator as Pater Patriae.

Hitler for example promoted the idea of the Aryan family’s key role in the construction of a thousand-year ReichThe Nazi regime portrayed itself as a defender of traditional values and of the mother’s central role in family life. 

However, this “protection” was an ersatz shell, since the dictator ultimately made the important decisions about the meaning of family and the destiny of family members. Not trusting parents to indoctrinate sufficiently, the regime organized the Hitler Youth to brainwash children. (In this context, the Hitler Youth engaged the human needs for Community & Belonging, Sense of Purpose, and Enjoyment of Nature.)

At the end, of course, the tyrant called on the children and the elderly alike to sacrifice themselves to delay his downfall.  

Spirituality

Some regimes use an existing religion or create a new religion to try to cement their power.  Iran (after 1979), the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell, and the Muslim Brotherhood (Mohamed Morsi) government in Egypt are three examples of theocratic regimes.

In all of these cases, the promised glorious golden age of spirituality never materialized.  On the contrary, mixing state power with religious intolerance actually turned people away from intense identification with religion. In Iran, for example, about half of respondents to a recent poll reported losing their religion

Security

Many malevolent regimes have used people’s need for security and public order to try to generate enthusiastic obedience.  This can involve a legitimate concern, or the encouraging of paranoia and of exaggerated ideas of omnipresent enemies.

A recent example of this is provided by Kais Saied, the strongman of Tunisia, who in 2021 suspended parliament and assumed all executive powers.  Seizing upon migration from sub-Saharan Africa — which does raise many legitimate concerns for every country involved — he sought to whip up a frenzied sense of imminent crisis.

In Tunis, a young supporter of the strongman Kais Saied cheers his suspension of the democratically-elected parliament.

Toluca is the capital city of the State of Mexico, the largest state in the country, with a population of over 17 million.

Without citing any evidence or offering any specifics, Saied proclaimed that trans-Saharan migration reflected the work of a vast conspiracy involving unnamed actors.  He asserted that the phenomenon posed a fast-approaching danger to the Arab and Islamic character of Tunisia.  He falsely asserted that most of the crime in Tunisia was caused by migrants. 

In the context of a society that already held deeply racist and xenophobic attitudes, Saied’s statements triggered mob violence targeting black foreigners.

As in other Malevolent Star regimes, the strongman’s promises to satisfy human needs proved to be hollow. Saied closed down the anti-corruption agency and put its director under house-arrest.  This renders the population insecure in relation to abuses of state power, demands for bribes, and loss of business to competitors willing to participate in a corrupt system. 

What this phenomenon reveals about 4D Star

If Malevolent Star tyrannies need to disguise themselves as 4D Star societies to obtain the enthusiastic obedience of their subjects, this underlines certain truths:

It underscores the inseparable links between the foundations of the 4D Star paradigm, especially those between “Human” and “Commitment.” 

It shows that, without deception, these regimes really have nothing more than fear with which to impose compliance.  This demonstrates inherent inferiority vis-à-vis the 4D Star model. 

That these falsehoods all correspond to sub-elements enumerated under the rubric of the “Human” foundation highlights the predictive utility of 4D Star.

Stakeholders should anticipate that dictatorships will continue to falsely present themselves as defenders of human dignity. Citizens already familiar with 4D Star and the Malevolent Star will expect this subterfuge and will recognize that it merely reflects the inferiority of tyrannical systems.

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