The Idiot’s Guide to Becoming a Lovable Tyrant

ty·rant \ˈtī-rənt\. One who obtains absolute executive power by appeals to factions of the people. Originally made with no reference to character

Tyrants, like viruses, come in many kinds. As with viruses that attack the immune system, the most dangerous tyrants disable the human bullshit detection system. Such tyrants remain beloved by their people long after the stick has been repeatedly applied. The hobby of studying lovable tyrants, born of some necessity, produces a manual for how to become one.

First, you must have a grand goal, a destination so far away, and so enticing, that followers will want to endure the brutal journey to the paradise at the end. A lovable tyrant should not seek a 4% GDP growth, but the total elimination of poverty and suffering. In such a fashion, after all ills are tallied, people can still say “he meant well”. The long harangues and repeated beatings are made bearable, even justifiable, by warnings and promises of devils and angels.  It is not works, but the inscrutable grace of the people that redeems lovable tyrants.

Second, you must acquire powerful enemies. This may seem counterintuitive, but the reality is that the people you beat will feel uplifted in watching you get battered by the powerful. This is an evident truth in one of the most profound intellectual works about oppression and resistance, the 1967 movie “ Cool Hand Luke” starring Paul Newman. Never ever let on that you are coming at ‘em with nothin’.

Third, and this is also a lesson from that film, look sharp while at it. Politics is theater, and tyranny is the grandest of theater. But you must look sharp in a new and original way, one that reveals in an off-handed fashion how little you care for convention. Once you break one convention, you can break them all. Lovable tyranny is a bit like a drunken party, it never ends with breaking just one glass. The people you oppress invariably come in two genders. One must swoon and the other must turn green with envy at that swoon. You are now lodged in their brain, they can no more eject you than they can perform a self-lobotomy.

Fourth, get yourself a Boswell, a scrivener, a Heikal or a Marquez, who will sing great epics in exchange for crumbs of approval. This will guarantee that some tweedy academics in far and free lands will mine your shit for pearls, because contrary theses generate the requisite publicity. Again seek ye guidance in “Cool Hand Luke”. The loser and small time con man, Paul Newman, became the celebrated leader of the downtrodden prisoners only after George Kennedy sang of him.

Above all, be on the lookout for Andersen’s little boy. He comes in many varieties, including the one who, when assigned an art class project to draw you in all your glory, did so featuring you, factually, in a tank top with a cigarette.

— Maged Atiya


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