Thinking Like a Tyrant

The Monster Society: How the Unconscious Cruelty of Some Elites Helps us to Understand the Thought Processes of Tyrants.

by Naomi Wolf


I wrote recently here about the fact that we find ourselves in an historical moment involving monumental evil — the kind of evil that we, as a human race, have not seen on a global scale for eighty years. And I argued that we can’t fully understand where we are in this thicket of darkness and unknowing, unless we are willing to understand and face the nature of evil. I’ve witnessed an example of evil personally, and it is a global example, that shows how the current cruelty has a context.


I’ll explore here, evil achieved by metanational corporations; and in a later essay, evil achieved by nonprofits; and in a final essay, evil done by compartmentalization and contractors.


Something that is slowing down many people from fully grasping what is upon us, is that they are making mistakes in their reasoning about events because they are engaged, naturally enough, in what intelligence analysts call “mirror imaging.”


That is, because most of us are decent people with basic compassion at our cores, and are not sociopaths or psychopaths, we tend to “mirror image” in assuming that others are also driven by basic human motivations such as empathy, altruism, and kindness — or even just by the basic notion that other human beings are also deserving of life, self-determination and dignity.

But this assumption, that those currently influencing events and making certain key decisions, are “like us” — is a fatal error.


To understand this moment, in which a brutal tyranny is being enacted upon us in lockstep globally, by many otherwise familiar and formerly benign-seeming Western leaders and philanthropists and investors — men and women we thought we knew — we have to begin to “think like a tyrant.”


I am not talking about anything arcane or occult. I am not talking about a Q-Anon fantasy of a few elites running the world.


I am talking here, rather, about the global elites whom I know and among whom I have lived for forty years, and about events that I have witnessed.


I am talking about what the German-Jewish philosopher of totalitarianism Hannah Arendt called “the Banality of Evil.”


To understand what is happening in the current global lockstep of tyranny (I until recently would say, “toward tyranny”), we have to understand that certain subcultures, certain leaders and certain ideologies simply don’t have these core values at heart; and we must face the fact that these monsters are not just Nazis long dead, or members of the CCP far away, taking out their brutality on their own distant, silenced populations. Some monsters are very near to us; some monsters are wearing lovely suits and chatting away about their kids, or about their renovation hurdles, at dinner parties; and some kinds of monstrosity and sociopathy are actively cultivated by the norms and networks that are all around us, albeit half-hidden at elite levels, and systematized and accepted at very high levels.


In my next few essays I’ll share some examples of “thinking like a Tyrant”: I’ll show how a modern sociopathy of elites has manifested, and how otherwise normal-seeming elites can justify making appalling decisions to enslave, surveil, or brutalize others in ways that you or I could not — I hope — imagine.


Meta-National Postwar Organizations


Here is a global example.


Paradoxically, meta-national organizations such as the European Union and the United Nations, agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and global corporate and investment communities, founded after the carnage of the Second World War, have served to create a class of global elite policymakers, nonprofit leaders, and bureaucrats, who are able to engage in cruel and oppressive policymaking precisely because they are no longer part of the communities whose lives are affected by what they have done.


All these meta-national organizations purported to foster a more peaceful, cooperative world — one that would blunt enmity between historical adversaries (such as France and Germany). Most made the case that this meta-national organizational structure would far more greatly benefit ordinary men and women in the street, than did the poor, battered, dysfunctional nation-state, with its rotten history and its bloody impulses.


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