a blog about philosophy in public affairs

How to kill a democracy in 10 easy steps (spoiler alert: exhaust your citizens)

This month we will be publishing a series of posts on the topic of fatigue. Two years after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, constant fatigue characterises the lives of too many of us. Here we think about some of the political and social consequences of fatigue. In this first post, Lisa Herzog writes about the dangers of fatigue for democracy.

How to kill a democracy in 10 easy steps
(spoiler alert: exhaust your citizens)

1) Make sure people work hard, so that there is time for little else in their lives. For the poor, that’s simple: low wages mean more hours. For the rich, make sure people desperate seek status. Let them think that to be respectable, they need to have an expensive house, an expensive car, that fancy holiday far away. By the way: don’t allow long holidays. It helps if people think that their God dislikes idleness. Time spent working is time not spent on politics!

2) Deny childcare. In fact, deny any form of support, for any form of care! It’s better for children to be with their mothers, isn’t it? Make childcare so expensive that people understand that. And for the elderly, it’s so much better if they are looked after by family members! Make sure any affordable homes for the elderly are just gross – put them in ugly concrete buildings with leaking roofs, somewhere near motorways. Time spent caring for children and the elderly is time not spent protesting.

3) Make all forms as complicated as possible. No matter whether it’s taxes or health insurance or an application for a driving license. You can rely on businesses to help you with this: let them include pages and pages to prevent liability. Keep people anxious about making mistakes in forms, so they will spend more time on them – that’s time they won’t spend calling their representatives!

4) Divide people into ideological camps early on. Make education competitive, so that people internalize that competitive gaze onto others that undermines solidarity. Keep them busy with competitive bickering in all areas of life, to the point of exhaustion. That will distract them from any questions of how the system should change!

5) Provide distraction. Endless, inexhaustible distraction, of the kind that makes people spend their free time in that strange zone where you can switch off from work, but not really relax. You wouldn’t want people to come to work truly rested and with fresh ideas, let alone an urge to ask deeper questions, would you? If you give them too much time to think, they just realize how shitty their working conditions are. You friends, the business owners, wouldn’t like that!

6) Abolish all institutions to which people could turn for help. Even better: convince them that it’s shameful to turn to them. Consumer associations, tenants’ associations, unions – those are socialist institutions, for losers not winners! Winners fight only for themselves! Don’t tell them that fighting only for themselves will just leave them more exhausted. For you, it means: divide and conquer!

7) You can do more to divide and conquer. Reduce social contact at work. Or better, abolish the workplace. Give people gig work, or home office (didn’t they want that “flexibility” all along?). They won’t trust colleagues whom they only know as little heads on screens. And they will be too tired to socialize with them anyway.

8) Destroy any habits of serious reading of news. Isn’t it much easier to just swipe through a “feed”? Reading a newspaper while having two coffees in the morning? Make sure the commute is too long to allow that, and that trains and subways are so crammed that nobody in their right mind would dare to unfold a real, paper newspaper. Also, if the news continues to be bad, that’s good for you. Your citizens get tired of reading the same old crap all the time. At some point they’ll just stop. Good for you!

9) Tell people protest is clicking on a link. Discourage any form of more sustained protest or engagement. Make sure that followers of social movements will be quickly exhausted, by following steps 1)-8) above. If followers are exhausted, so will be the leaders. It’s just too hard to keep going, isn’t it?

10) Always remember: exhausted citizens are submissive citizens. Or no citizens at all – at some point of sleep deprivation, they turn into subjects. That’s when you know you’ve won.

Essay by  Lisa Herzog

My current research interest is in ethical issues related to mental illness and psychiatry. In the past I have written on democratic theory and deliberative democracy. Currently I am a Visiting Researcher at the Sowerby Project on Philosophy and Medicine, King’s College London.


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  1. Pierre-Etienne Vandamme

    Nice one, Lisa!

  2. Eric O'Neil

    Excellent article, so true. If only the people in the United States realized how bad the government is screwing them over. It’s time to destroy capitalism. Capitalism is the same as Darwinism. You would think that by now we would have evolved beyond that. Get the he’ll out out of the United States while you can. It’s not the Roman Empire. The United States will not exist anywhere close to that length of time. It’s on its way out now, thank God.

  3. All you said makes sense. Nice post!

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