Bottlenecks and the Levers of Power
On the surface, it seems impossible to control a sizable population. Any group of people beyond a certain threshold becomes unwieldy. There are too many individuals with too many combined resources acting independently and not nearly enough manpower or time to be able to monitor them all effectively. How precisely does one bend 1.4 billion people to their will, regardless of how genocidal and psychopathic it is? Similarly, how does one corral and control 330 million who have comparatively far more individual freedoms and power than most, considering the fact that they are also incredibly well armed? The problem here is limited resources being applied to a large group of expanding and varying people all acting at seemingly random intervals.
The key is found in bottlenecks or, more appropriately, chokepoints. These are key avenues that virtually all people need to pass through in order to access basic services or participate in society. Controlling them is essentially controlling the means by which individuals live their lives. This grants incredible power in an efficient manner. One may opt out or refuse but their alternative is living outside of society. And while that can be tempting for some it goes against our communal nature as human beings. Those in power know and understand this well, meaning they begin with a distinct advantage: you do not want to be alone. More importantly, you likely will not survive alone. If you would like to participate in society, sign here. If not you may take your chances without support and without the comforts or conveniences of modern life. And in a digital age where a great deal of our lives is conducted online, you can now be isolated even if you refuse to physically move to the outskirts of the land.
Leaving or entering a country is generally easy enough, especially if your destination has a land border. Even guarded borders are often too vast to effectively patrol. So the issue is simply moving from point A to B which should only be a matter of logistics. Yet our destinations are rarely so close as to require only a sustained effort to arrive. Most journeys of this kind are perilous. If we need to go to the towns, we need to first arrive in the cities. If we need to arrive in the cities, we generally require passage aboard a vehicle going by air or sea. And if we need to go through the cities, we need to pass through customs after making use of one of these vehicles. These are two chokepoints which are highly controlled and inaccessible to most, meaning they will need to coordinate with a larger body or organization in order to make use of the resource. Therein lies the opportunity to deny movement to anyone deemed unsuitable. Anyone who has taken a flight or booked passage on a ship in the past few decades knows the many layers of screening and security that they need to pass through. These are only the ones that are visible.
With a few keystrokes a person can be labeled ineligible to fly or use train services which effectively maroons them in an area of a few hundred kilometers. Beyond that requires resources few can muster in order to travel effectively or safely, be they time, funds, or access to the type of vehicle that can facilitate this. A few more can make them incapable of financing such a vehicle and the circle grows smaller. A simple edict can alert both law enforcement and residents in all directions as to one’s approximate whereabouts, description, means of transportation and any other feature needed to track down an individual. One cannot travel without a government-issued document or operate a small business without a government-issued license or even frequent certain events or areas without government-issued ID.
In order to work a person needs a social insurance number or its equivalent, meaning all income is reviewed and scrutinized and taxed. Without provable (re: taxed) income and an associated credit rating, one cannot qualify to purchase a home or vehicle or even something as basic as a mobile phone (which is in and of itself another powerful tool of monitoring and control that requires little explanation). Even money, the most basic of resources that grants access to virtually everything, is becoming more tightly controlled as untraceable cash is disincentivized (in some cases, viewed with suspicion) and payments are increasingly digital only. With more transactions passing through databases and payment processors they are regularly reviewed by outside actors. Spending can be analyzed, predicted, and most importantly, prevented at the source to render one’s financial resources useless. Interest rates are controlled to restrict access to cash which can ensure millions remain living on the brink of financial collapse and therefore beholden to their work. It can also mean that millions can instantly lose the ability to own a home and therefore remain without private property and indebted to landlords in perpetuity.
There is no need to control every facet of society and commodity directly to ensure compliance. Movement, business, entertainment, and basic subsistence can all be thwarted quickly and efficiently. Even those who have entered a country illegally and without the government’s knowledge can scarcely gain access to what is required to live in a modern society. One can still be on the outside while on the inside.
None of these levers require a great deal of effort to pull. The penalty for infractions, attempting to circumvent the system or remain anonymous for certain dealings, is state sanctioned violence and the revocation of basic rights. Prisons regularly house those who have refused to pay taxes they disagree with or protested a bill in a non-demarcated zone. Nonviolent and arguably victimless crimes. And they were taken there by police who are meant to enforce and secure their individual rights. Some particularly oppressive regimes are actively pursuing measures to control behaviour by making travel and purchase nearly impossible for infractions deemed distasteful, not necessarily illegal, effectively transforming their entire society from a police state into an open air prison.
Despite these levers and the havoc they can cause to one’s life, there is no shortage of people who are skeptical at best and hostile at worst toward our increasingly controlled society. Even in the face of this overwhelming power there is a greater power still in numbers. Keeping in mind the fact that power needs to be maintained at these chokepoints as attempting to do so en masse is impossible. So the ongoing accumulation of power needs to address the ever present issue of like-minded people.
The solution is to ensure there are few like-minded people.
Like-minded dissenters fall into two categories: those who dissent today and those who may dissent tomorrow. The former are solidified and can rarely be coaxed into a different pattern of thinking, particularly when that line of thought is by and large against their own best interests. This group can only be dealt with by restraining their ability to spread their message and undermining their will to force change. The usual levers are implemented here. Restricting telecommunications to slow the spread of a message, monitoring Internet Service Providers to find signs of dissent, obstructing access to basic banking and payment services to suffocate a burgeoning organization, and so on. While a group’s ability to grow or reach others can be stymied, that does not necessarily lower its existing membership. This is handled by fostering divisions between its members and increasing resources being distributed to their ideological opposites. In some extreme cases where the organization has grown too powerful, we see a direct attack on these groups. A society divided, whether along political, racial, ideological, or socioeconomic lines, is far more easily controlled as scattered groups with varying goals cannot become a cohesive force to overthrow an incumbent power. A cursory review of modern society will confirm that this strategy is providing healthy returns for those employing it.
The latter category, those who may dissent tomorrow, are always an ineffectual group who threaten to become an overwhelming force in the future. This one demands the most resources to combat as their size and scope are intrinsically unknown. The tools here are fewer than for those who already dissent but those few are incredibly effective. Primarily, the chokepoint here is education. The period that sees young people forming their core beliefs that generally remain with them for the entirety of their lives is a period that sees them spending the vast majority of their time in their place of education. These institutions are invaluable tools of control as they have the power to shape a mind while it is still malleable. It lacks experience, judgement, and a general skepticism of authority because it is not fully formed and it is currently attending an institution whose primary goal is supposedly to provide it with these things. A future dissenter can be preemptively turned into a ravenous supporter, eliminating the need for so many other levers to be controlled and maintained. This is likely the most potent chokepoint and powerful instrument one can wield in the pursuit of power.
Some of this may sound perfectly acceptable. Services and resources are concentrated in order to be efficient. Who would want to live in a society where anyone could operate a vehicle or that did not have access to education? Can anyone truly say that they would prefer a government that allows any group, regardless of how insane or violent their belief structure, to operate with impunity within their borders? Likely not, but examine these levers and how they are operated. You may see your own society making fair and reasonable use of them in a manner with which you are comfortable. In that case, you are incredibly fortunate. Other societies that you would likely never wish to visit have the same structures with different values and goals operating the levers. They are unable to follow certain religions, they cannot leave the nation, their children are taught hate in the classroom, and they could neither read nor write this article without fear of brutal reprisal. Consider then how easily these levers can be pulled and how little effort is required to make a bottleneck into a dead end. The difference between the two is paltry and tenuous.
Anyone in power or in search of it, government or otherwise, does not need to monitor every square inch of territory or watch each individual at all times of the day to maintain control. They need only to exert influence at key junctions and focal points which are already firmly under their grip.