The Source

Political power grows from the barrel of a gun.
– Mao Zedong

A weapon is a device for making your enemy change his mind.
-Lois McMaster Bujold

If people are strongly motived by convenience, those who can determine whether conditions are inconvenient will often be able to direct and control them; few circumstances are more inconvenient than death. As we might expect, it is those groups dedicated to physical violence who ultimately determine the structure of a society: the military and the police.

The uprisings in Egypt have persisted, and are likely to cause the political environment of the country to change (one way or another) because the police and the military have chosen to tolerate them. Similar attempts at revolution have been crushed because the military chose to support the dictator; in other cases, governments have been overthrown in coups lead by their countries’ militaries. What power does a dictator have if the people with guns will not obey him? But when the military supports the dictator, as was the case in Iraq after the First Gulf War, rebellion is usually obliterated.

As in the Armenian folk tale, political leaders only appear to be powerful because they persuade some people to give them their power; as long as some are obedient, others can be motivated to cooperate through violence and the fear of violence.

I find it darkly amusing that there has been so much talk of “the power of the people” to change the world and control their destiny, when the ability to overthrow the system isn’t really in the hands of “the people” at all. The only real power they possess is that of choice, which is far less palatable, as its consequences are so often unpleasant…

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