How Dictators Control Public Opinion

group of people walking on the stairs


Park Yeon-mi, a North Korean defector, had once said in her TED Talk, “Growing up in North Korea, we truly believed that our Dear Leader is an almighty God who can even read my thoughts. I was even afraid to think in North Korea.”

How did this happen? How did a single person exercise so much power over an entire country, an entire society? How can dictators have so much power over a huge mass of people?

The answer to this question is a dictator’s most precious possession, the mute button.What is the mute button?

To understand what the mute button is we must first understand how thoughts are formed and how they work in a society.


How Are Thoughts Formed Within an Individual?

An individual has an inner and outer self. The inner self is the product of the struggle between the primitive and the higher mind. The morals and values, thoughts and feelings of a person is a result of the struggle between these two components of the inner self.

The primitive mind is our natural instincts and the higher mind represents the rational part of our mind that keeps the primitive side in check.

The outer self is the human body. All actions of the outer shell are controlled by the inner self, the brain.The brain is made of neurons which communicate with each other for the body’s proper functioning.The neuron sends information through their axons and gets information through their dendrites.


How Do These Thoughts Work in an Ideal Society?

Let’s take the example of a group of people gathered together. When this group of people do not communicate, they are but a group of individual brains in the same place. But when they communicate, with the help language, it allows individual brains to connect.

Individual brains connect as the neuron from one brain connect with the neurons from another brain and form a huge colossal thinking body.If the inner self is a neuron then outer self’s ability to express itself is the axon and the ability of the human body to listen or see the expression of others is the dendrites.

Depending on the number of people communicating, humans can form brains of all sizes. By employing the use of the tools of mass broadcast, massively interconnected gossip networks, allow many communal brains to quickly connect thus turning huge sections of a society into giant thinking systems.

Theoretically speaking, with enough communication an entire country can turn into a colossal national brain.


So How Does Though Process Take Place in a Society?

We will see this with the help of tools like idea spectrum, thought pile and speech curve.


Idea Spectrum:

Let’s use the example of a thousand-person country called Hypothetica to understand the idea spectrum. The citizens of the country are pondering over a topic—let’s call it topic X.

The idea spectrum gives us a visual representation of the Inner Self of each Hypothetican’s standing on the topic X.On any given idea spectrum, what a person thinks or believes or hypothesizes is where their Inner Self is “standing” on the spectrum.

To understand what the Hypotheticans really think about Topic X, let’s turn these brains into little colour coded dots and organize them by stacking them on top of the Idea Spectrum.


The Thought Pile:

This disorganized clutter of colour coded dots that makes up the Idea spectrum is then organised by stacking similar coloured dots on top of each other to form the Thought pile.

The Thought Pile gives us a visual way to depict how the country feels about Topic X. But it is still not a communal brain. The Thought Pile reflects a large group of individual opinions.

To further understand this concept lets discuss the phenomenon of emergence. This concept is a bunch of smaller things joining together to form a giant that can function as more than the sum of its parts. 

To become a larger thinking system, neurons have to communicate with each other. This is where the Outer Self comes in.The Outer Self represents what a person says on the outside about what they think about the topic. When a collective group of people all say what they are thinking, their brains connect like communicating neurons.

Once they consciously express their thoughts on a topic their inner self wire together into a giant network of thought.But for people to think as one giant brain they need a system-wide coordinated thought. This is where mass broadcast comes into play.

Consider that discussions start in various small circles and it propagates to the point that it reaches larger spectrum's. These thoughts are explained through commonly used platforms and the attention it receives from various spheres of society differs.

Attention is a limited resource. So to achieve attention various ideas are used on media platforms. Some people like to listen to a wide variety of viewpoints. But most tend to be interested in hearing from people with similar opinions.

So the thought pile can serve as a pretty good substitute for the amount of attention available to each viewpoint across topic X.The higher the level, the more the distributors need to appeal to a large audience, so the more they’ll seek out ideas with widespread interest.

In this way most commonly held viewpoints can get much airtime in a national newspaper and TV.Less common ideas don’t draw national attention but they might draw attention in a local newspaper. Some ideas might not even get that attention. Still, they may be discussed in smaller groups or one to one talks.

This phenomenon means that all ideas along the spectrum have an expression ceiling—the largest stage that can support it, given the interest it generates.



The Speech Curve:

The Speech Curve is formed by connecting the dots with these ceilings which would form a line that matches up pretty well with the top of the Thought Pile.

The Speech Curve is called so because it shows us the upper limit on how “loudly” each opinion is being expressed along a given idea spectrum. The shape of the Speech Curve for any topic sits neatly on top of the Thought Pile.

While the Thought Pile shows the opinions of individuals, the Speech Curve shows us what the giant or the communal brain is thinking. And when the two are combined, the giant is thinking extremely clearly.



How Does the Dictator Use the Mute Button to Silence the Giant?

When the individual brains in a human giant interact freely with one another, the giant itself wakes up, developing the ability to think for itself.

This situation would result in being quite problematic for a Dictator. Previously, the dictator had control over the story the giant believed.

But when the giant regains the ability to think for itself, it will revolt throwing the dictator off the power. This is where the dictator employs the use of his mute button or as we know it, censorship. The mute button prevents the giant from having the wrong thoughts by subduing certain ideas.

When the dictator can control a giant’s thoughts, they can control the giant’s actions.But to do this they must first eliminate any speech that is against their reign. He can’t control what people think—but he can do something about what they say. This is censorship.

On an individual level, it is control over what people can say. To the giant, on the other hand, it is control over what the giant can think.To ensure that certain opinions are not expressed publicly, the dictator would issue a rigid set of rules that would lead to the imprisonment or execution of the violator.

These opinions could be those that would adversely affect the dictator’s rule. A few public executions or punishments dished out to the lawbreakers would be all it would take to silence a huge population.

Also beyond prohibiting what cannot be said these laws emphasize what should be said. Especially on huge public platforms the dictator’s preferred thoughts and viewpoints are repeated.

The absence of banned ideas in public platforms makes it easy to brainwash children and impressionable adults into actually believing the dictator’s preferred viewpoints.

Still, censorship isn’t an airtight policy. But it doesn’t have to be. As long as the censored ideas don’t reach the higher tier expression platforms and remain quarantined within small isolated pockets. These ideas, though widespread, could be shared on a private platform.

But they will not evolve or develop or gain any traction on a public platform.In most cases, the only way for a population to reclaim the power of collective free thought is to try to out-smart the dictator. The only options they have is to either suffer in silence or to revolt/resort to violence.


Written by: Christeena George

Edited by: Adrija Saha

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