Down at the local pub, the Voters were having a conversation. “You see, the Problem keeps getting worse. The riots last month showed us that,” said a concerned soul.
“No matter what we do, the Problem crops up again,” said a resigned voice. “Well, I’m off to plow the fields.”
“We need a solution to the Problem,” the other Voters agreed.
Their wives, who they met at the shopping district, thought the Problem of primary importance. “I am afraid for our future,” said a wife while watching television on one of the outdoors screens. “If someone does not get the Problem under control, we are going to have a panic on our hands.”
The television changed. The daytime talk-show host was now discussing her next topic, “The Problem: Doom Of Our Time, Or Doom For All Time?” Her guest, an industry consultant whose book on the topic had just been published, said that the Problem would change life as we know it in every detail. It was possible, she hinted, that Earth could burn.
“We will do anything for a solution to the Problem,” said the wives.
This created a market for discussion about solutions to the Problem. Online sites sold ads by the truckload and books by the pallet. Flagging television shows did episodes on the Problem, which made the workers in those studios feel good about how they were educating the public. Students in school were taught about the Problem and how it would truncate those student lives.
Mass-panic reigned. And then, a voice spoke out of the darkness: “I will fix the Problem,” he said. “I will end your suffering.”
Heads turned like a giant row of dominoes. “Really?” asked the Voters.
“Absolutely,” said the Candidate. “Our quandary is simple: we have not used enough force to fix the Problem. Although it seems to appear naturally, we can smash it down using superior human abilities. We need a War on the Problem.”
An opinion poll — conducted by calling 2,000 people during the daytime and asking them simple questions — revealed that most citizens feared the Problem more than anything else.
One young wife, stopped on the street by a reporter, said that for her the election was simple. “All the candidates are good, but I am going to vote for the Candidate. He is best on the Problem issue.”
Let me tell you, friends, that election was a sight to be seen. The polls were crowded with wives and students. They marched in there with purpose in their gaits and yanked those levers for the Candidate. Records were set. The election was easily decided.
During his acceptance speech, the Candidate declared that soon the Problem would be over.
The Voters were excited. The Problem had dominated their conversation, movies, books, television and fears for so long they could remember nothing else. The entire society, like a magnet, had polarized itself toward the Problem. This was war, and until the Problem was defeated, the good times they all remembered — some from the 50s, some from the 60s — would not return.
The Candidate reminded the Voters of his promise to fix the Problem by force. Where the Problem flared up, he deployed the Army. He changed the way laws were interpreted so that the Problem was written into every area of our legal code, and the solution of force was mandated. The Voters applauded.
Amid high public polls, the Candidate set up financial incentives, which create equal and opposing disincentives, and so any business that did not obey was made weak. He created a federal Agency to take control of all industries affected by or involved with the Problem, and soon they were busily issuing rules, judgments, interpretations and regulations.
“The solution to the Problem is force,” said the Candidate in his weekly televised speech. “Humans have triumphed over nature whenever we, using our superior judgment, have forced order upon the chaos. We are going to smash the Problem down wherever it appears.”
Many fortunes were made during the War on the Problem. New rules meant that products conforming to those new rules were demanded; it also created a market for those with expertise that was compliant with the new War. Hundreds of thousands of people flocked to government agencies and the thousands of consultants and pundits who served them.
The Voters watched avidly. Better than football, this was a war, and they were on the edge of their seats. Would we win? The enemy was terrifying; if our guys are better than it, that will be really cool. If not we are all doomed, and that is far more interesting than our daily lives. People talked about the War constantly.
The Candidate came on television one week and explained that the War was going well, but not well enough. Everyone needed to pitch in, and by the way, Government needed to assume total control in order to really fix the Problem. The Voters thought this was a good idea.
“If we are going to wage total war, we need total control,” one said. “Like when you are going to squash a bug: get the biggest hammer you can, and knock that sucker flat.”
“But I am concerned for our civil rights,” said another. “Government can make do with only semi-total control, and that will make me happy.”
A hairy, drunken, unwashed, hallucinating anarchist walked through the conversation. “No gods, no masters,” he said. “People power can unite to fix the Problem.” Then he passed out.
One of the wives spoke more sensibly. “The Problem is our greatest fear, and all our other problems originate from it, so we need to do whatever we can to solve this problem. Just tell me how much and I’ll write the check.”
Government cashed that check. New rules came out, telling people where they must live, how they must behave, and what ideas were unacceptable if we were to solve this Problem. The schools taught this rigorously, as did the televisions. Those who refused to obey were hounded out of polite society.
People awoke with a start one morning to hear that an Assassin had tried to kill the Candidate! Outrage was massive. New rules were passed. Most importantly, the Candidate was given a private security force over which he had direct control, and police officers were told that if they caught an Assassin, their career trajectory would be straight up.
“It is good this situation is under control,” one of the wives said. “Political violence is bad, and if we make it illegal and arrest the bad people, we will all live in peace.”
Her husband, done with his trivial job for the day and now into his fourth beer and second video game of the night, echoed the sentiment. “Peace…” he giggled. “Groovy. Whatever. Government is just another predator that we have to avoid. Speeding tickets, taxes, rules, I just ignore it all.”
There was no awakening at a specific moment to the changes that had occurred in their society. But at one point, a wife noticed that there were soldiers on every corner, all of the television and radio had started to sound the same as if it were authored by the same hand, and you just could not do a lot of stuff.
You could not leave; that made the Problem worse. You were told who to hire, befriend, live near, work with, and listen to. There was an official right way to do things, an anyone who did not get with the program would never amount to much. Those who acted against this change were Assassins and were shot.
Since it cropped up naturally, the Problem had not been defeated. It merely went underground. Whenever people did anything, the Problem popped up in the details, like a face seen through television static. But now it could not be mentioned because officially, the Problem was defeated. To say it still existed was to become an enemy of the state.
This is how civilizations stumble into tyranny. The Problem can be anything that seems to affect everyone — global warming, race relations, inequality — that galvanizes popular fear. The population does not fall prey to a tyrant, but creates him. This process is happening now in Amerika and the EU.