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March 07, 2005

"Preference Cascades" and the Fall of Tyrants

In a comment I mentioned Glenn Reynolds' interesting, and quite old, article on "preference cascades" and how they applied to displays of patriotism... and the sometimes astonishingly-quick fall of authoritarian regimes.

No fool he, he's cannibalized his old essay and sold it a second time to TechCentralStation (no slam on him-- any writer who only wants to sell his work once is just daft).

Definitely worth reading, although I think the original article (linked in the new article) is better:

Such regimes have little legitimacy, but they spend a lot of effort making sure that citizens don't realize the extent to which their fellow-citizens dislike the regime. If the secret police and the censors are doing their job, 99% of the populace can hate the regime and be ready to revolt against it - but no revolt will occur because no one realizes that everyone else feels the same way.

"This works until something breaks the spell, and the discontented realize that their feelings are widely shared, at which point the collapse of the regime may seem very sudden to outside observers - or even to the citizens themselves. Claims after the fact that many people who seemed like loyal apparatchiks really loathed the regime are often self-serving, of course. But they're also often true: Even if one loathes the regime, few people have the force of will to stage one-man revolutions, and when preferences are sufficiently falsified, each dissident may feel that he or she is the only one, or at least part of a minority too small to make any difference.

Or, as Morpheus could tell you: The Matrix can only imprison you so long as you believe it's real. When enough people begin to realize there is no spoon, the system of deceit and intimidation fails, catastrophically.*

* I think I've decided that I'm going to try to hit every major geek erogenous zone in today's postings.

Next up: How Bush's call for freedom is much alike the wave-motion cannon in Star Blazers. And then an essay I'm especially proud of: George Soros: Decipticon?



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posted by Ace at 04:04 PM

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