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Letters from Proxima Thule

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Everybody Wants to Rule the World
monsters
catvalente
Would you say you knew a lot of people who wanted to take over the world when you were young?

Because I knew a lot. At least five, two of which had serious plans for doing so. I cannot tell if this is a function of the particular hyper-intelligent, low-empathy men I used to hang with, or drama students, or frustrated middle class white boys or what. What demographic meant that I had so many friends who were essentially Junior Dr. Horribles, chanting The world is a mess and I just need to rule it.

One of them had and probably still does have an impressively SFnal plan for world domination involving a pseudo Plato's Republic (I did not always quite get how totalitarian the Republic really is, and I assure you none of my friends had any intention of giving up pastries or knowing which children were theirs or the kind of films not covered under Plato's Guide to Poetry/Theatre Approved for Your Republic) and an artificial island and somehow, with an underpants gnomes style leap of logic, mass drivers.

Thing is, he was totally serious. So was the other guy with a less exciting but more manageable plan involving slow political games. And so were the other boys who just had vague dreams of rule and power and heirs and women and Setting Things Right. Sometimes these involved Ayn Rand, I'm not gonna lie. I cannot be the only one who knew these guys. And they were always guys--I never knew any women who thought they had literally every single answer.

I'll confess that at age 18 or whatever I must have found this attractive to some extent--grandiose bombast can be pretty hot, and we were all kind of dumb about the books we read that just seemed So Much Smarter Than Anything Ever. Certainly, at 31, it all seems pretty completely hilarious to me. And if I met someone my age with these ideas I would laugh FOREVER and then TWEET ABOUT IT and then LAUGH MOAR. But somehow I did not laugh then, even when they said risible, stupid, and often quite sexist things about their plans. (Obviously one needs a Marilyn Monroe type as consort to communicate one's virility to the masses, but for actual childbirthing, someone like me is more desirable due to my smart, smart brainz. Insulting, misogynist, and insulting again on the flipside. Triple douche score.) In many ways I really have nothing to say about my ability to make quality decisions/seek out quality people at age 18. Look at your life, as Sassy Gay Friend says. Look at your choices.

It was a funny kind of privilege/not privilege at play, too. These were all white men from affluent but not rich families--raised to think they were special and right all the time and entitled to a certain amount of largesse from the universe. But at the same time? We were all in community college, yo. These guys had already made the choices that would lead them to never rule much of anything beyond the men's wear department at Sears. Our Beloved Leader did not go to ITT Tech, you know? Maybe they were planning to have that erased from history when the time came, I don't know. There was such a lack of empathy or care for other humans, a conviction about being right, about being the smartest, about no one knowing better or more or being remotely as awesome as they were. When I think back on it it seems like a fantasy of being able to make any difference at all in the world, a fantasy made of Dune and Atlas Shrugged and Lord of the Rings, of wanting to impress girls in a primate sort of way, an I Will be King of the Jungle sort of way, a fantasy of narrative, of a life that no one could ignore. I knew many more than five people who were certain they were going to write the Great American Novel, and I suspect that comes from a similar place of needing to be seen. To be unforgotten. To express ubermale primate authority in front of all the cutest gorillas.

Because of course a lot of that was always about getting laid, about being the kind of ubermensch that would bring all the girls to the yard--or at least that political wonk geek kids thought would bring them to said yard. Never about sleeping with me, though--with me they only wanted me to admit they were the very smartestest. That was enough. Almost as good as sex. I was always one of the guys, because a girl who talks back is either one of the guys or out of the group. You wouldn't want to date someone like that. Who would look at you adoringly and ask you to teach them, you who are so wise and handsome?

It should be fairly obvious that none of them have actually taken over the world, since their faces are not on any mountains, nor on gold coins, nor have we made it to the stars on the power of their awesome. Even then I did wonder what the boy who wants to take over the world at 17 does at 30 when he's still just a dude like the rest of us. I think the post 9/11 festivities put the kibosh on many of the reindeer games they played loudly and often back then. But I cannot be the only person who knew these folks. If I ever write about supervillains I will have no dearth of experience to draw on. I suspect a number of them are Tea Party members now, though I have nothing to back that up, just an observation that the anti-government and conservative anti-empathy attitudes they had then were, well, before their time, so to speak.

We were all very young and very naive. We did not have the first idea how the actual world worked. In retrospect it seems almost cute, the way babies hit each other with their little hands and it's just adorable. It's not like grown ups, it's just a dumb game for kids to play before they learn fine motor skills. Of course, fine motor skills of the heart take a lot longer, and some people never develop them.

I'm curious, deeply so, whether any of you knew That Guy. Or if there was some other Improbable Demographic you saw all around you--or see around you now. Tell me of your secret cabals, o internet.

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The version of That Guy I knew was the leftie permutation. My mother was in the SDS, and my sister had joined some Maoist group in college- so I, aged 14, thought it made sense to join the Young Communist League. I mean, my parents' friends tended to be card-carrying members of the Communist Party! Adults were reds! I feel adult! I'm 14!

The experience was almost exactly like my sister's foray into Maoism: we lucky ladies were allowed to make photocopies for the revolution while the Menfolk plotted it. I have no idea what happened to the Menfolk later- it took me about a month to figure out that leftists can be misogynists too, and sneaky, insidious ones, at that, and then I quit showing up at meetings- but I'm a lawyer and I don't see any of them at professional dos...


In reading Emma Goldman's biography, I was struck by how often she came back to her boyfriends and told their stories and how many of them were utter douchebags.

Huh.

I must have been the one weird young woman who planned to take over the world.

Of course, I was being facetious.

Mostly.

that makes two of us. when i am queen, mondays will be banned. and failure to use turn signals will be punishable by banishment. and the official drink of the globe-encompassing queendom will be coffee. and popelizbet will actually be the Pope. (join me, won't you?)

Does having had a serious plan to decimate the population of the earth count? Humans being too evil and numerous and all. A moral imperative, you stop and think about it. (Think David Morsein 12 Monkeys.) —He got better. But still. All the answers in one cold little equation.

Well, the word decimate is interesting because it took the Romans to come up with a word that means "kill every tenth person".

Oh, yes. Yes, I knew a number of That Guys. Ohhh, yes.

OK, so I *did* have a whole group of those guys, it's true. But in our group, my friend Megan and I had our own plans, too. And we giggled about them and made fun of the boys and their plans and they rolled their eyes but also really, we all took each other about the same level of serious.

I mean not always, I'm not going to pretend the dudes I knew didn't have some issues with misogyny and all, but they were at least willing to entertain our fantasies of taking over the world as much as they were each others.

I never really had any interest in taking over the world, I guess. I was always going to write books and teach kids Greek.

Very regrettably I dated That Guy - the one who had dropped out of high school and was still living with mom and dad yet somehow convinced himself that if we'd had a UK-style dole he could have drawn on it until one of his Fantastic ThinkyThoughts panned out.

Man, he was a douche.

Oh I totally knew a guy just like that! And he was into big band music and Ayn Rand...

My college boyfriend was That Guy. And he introduced me to his circle of gaming friends, who had this whole collaborative plan for what they were going to do when they took over the world. I'll get Australia, you get North America, I'm going to institute my Only Good TV Gets To Be On The Air program in Europe... It made for a lot of fun joking around. Hey, you can choose what movie we watch tonight, but only if you cede Moscow to me.

And then one time I joked about that stuff when in public, and my boyfriend took me aside afterwards and told me very seriously that I shouldn't, because it was a private thing, and it would ruin it if other people knew about the Plans. Which somehow seemed...no less ludicrous, but a lot less like jokes.

We broke up not long after that, which I am thinking was for the best. And, yes. White guy from an affluent but not rich family. Last I knew he was doing cell phone video games.

...oh, and to be fair, the guy who would speak longingly of converting all the stupid people in the world into food was someone else entirely. And...facetious. I'm pretty sure. Mostly.

The only person I knew who wanted to rule the world was a girl. A middle class white girl to be fair but a girl nonetheless.

I've never gotten the appeal of ruling the world. It's so big, and full of people, and they all want something. Food, democracy, lower taxes, health care. You know. Stupid stuff like that. And sure you could be any run of the mill dictator and ignore them and just take all their resources and grow fat and happy until some new jerk comes along to kill you but that's not the kind of long and comfy life you dream about when you dream about ruling the world. Because really, no one's ever happy with what you're doing, whether you're a good leader or a bad leader. Worse if you're a bad leader. People were pissed at George Bush Jr. but the crazy things they'll do to Mubarak when they finally get their hands on him.... Mussolini comes to mind.

So logically in order to stay alive I'd have to fulfill some kind of responsibility to the people of earth. Or else one of those 6 billion individuals will figure out a way to assassinate me and in the most human, and thus gruesome, of ways. But if I try and be a good world leader and fix the problems (or at least address them), well, I'm not sure if there is a single person on this planet that can juggle the hundreds of cultures, viewpoints, belief systems, environmental factors, languages, and so on and so forth involved with whatever causes conflicts and misery all over the planet.

Man, just considering the breath of that task makes my head hurt. No way I want to rule the world.

Yes, I knew several of these guys, but they usually stopped talking to me when I said things like "THAT'S your plan?". Underpants gnomes, indeed. But they were far more attached to the idea of effortless proof of their own awesomeness than they were to actually doing any of the work required to approach the goal. The best (by which I mean most effective) of them had a group of about 20 people viewing them as a leader... most never made it that far. They felt impotent and hated it, so it was a fantasy of projected control.

Totalitarianism is, of course, only cool if you get to be the dictator.

I had various of them magnanimously offer me cabinet positions as Minister of Does All The Work or some such, or assign roles of rulership to all their various friends as if it were remotely possible. At times it took on a creepy air of collective delusion. It was insightful as far as "oh, this is how cults work!", but clearly it was never gonna happen.

They were uninterested in dating me or having kids with me, which was mutual. I would have gone all Clytemnestra on their asses and they knew it, so there was a tacit "we won't go down that road, you can't challenge my power if I don't give you a reason".

I am terribly reminded of the guy I knew in grad school who essentially used eugenics as a pick up line, approaching me with the declaration that he was the smartest man he knew and I was the smartest woman, so CLEARLY we should be together, and would I like to go for coffee?

o.O

(Laughing forever was pretty much my response, yes.)

Eugenics as a pick up line, oh man, lol, I am sharing that with my mom who teaches a course on the history of the eugenics movement in the US.

Oh, yeah. I was acquainted with Those Guys. Thats Guy? I don't know how this plurals.

I'm curious, deeply so, whether any of you knew That Guy.

Oh, did I ever. Same demographic - white, middle-class dudes - but who'd "made it" into a good university's philosophy/sociology/IT department. Which obviously meant they knew THINGS. ALL OF THEM, in fact, and if you disagreed, well, that was either because 1. you were emotional (i.e. code word for "woman", or "of colour", etc or 2. didn't actually "get it" (where "it" was the absolute, scintillating brilliance of their Plan).

These dudes planned to rule the world through socialism or anarchy (...yeah, I don't see how that works either - even in theory), not actually having had much experience with either. Some of them also called themselves "feminist", which apparently have them licence to point out how horrible and "bitchy" women are to one another and in general. Because, you know, since men and women are equal, women must be just as MEAN, amirite? Add to this liberal amounts of mansplaining and other shitty behaviour.

This is all in Australia, btw. As a non-Anglo immigrant female (who has some first-hand experience with Eastern European communist/totalitarian fuck-uppery), this got old fast.

Unfortunately some of the things I like (geeky stuff: roleplaying, comics, SF, fantasy, cons, etc) seem to attract these kinds of dudes like a magnet, so I can't totally avoid them, even now.

Of course, none of these dudes has yet managed to take over the world, but I think that they could potentially get into politics and eventually have some sort of say - which is a scary thought.

I doubt it. They seem to suffer from a permanent case of "I know more than the rest of the world and let me impart the knowledge that's spilling out from my big big brain" condition.

THat usually doesn't gibe with a political career. Unless making people want to see you punched in the face is a viable route to political office these days, these guys don't have a chance.

From 1999-2001, one of my best friends had a plan for taking over the world. She made charts, wrote plans and came up with codes that we would write to each other in. During this time we were between the ages of 12-15. Taking over the world was all her idea, but I thought it sounded super awesome, and I was developing a crush on her, so I joined . It wasn't until September 11th when she started making jokes about what had happened and talking about how those who took over the airplanes were so smart that I blew up, and told her I was bored with the taking over the world game.

Wow, I must have lead a sheltered life.

Most of the people I grew up with were more obsessed with plotting how were were going to escape a dying steel town.

I'm female, but I spent a lot of time in that age range plotting how, once I was elected benevolent dictator for life through mass popular appeal (I certainly had no more concrete plan for taking power!) I was gonna put birth control in the water supply.

The cure was going to be really easy to get. Parenting licenses would be easy to come by--twenty bucks, sign a couple forms, I had no intent of doing anything eugenics-y, I just wanted to make sure that people only had kids when they were willing to undergo a day at the DMV to do so.

...come to think of it, while I don't particularly want to rule anything these days, I still kinda think that would be a good idea. Except for the fact that traces of birth control in the water NOW makes fish change gender and things, so we need better chemicals to put this into effect.

elected benevolent dictator for life through mass popular appeal

this was pretty much my plan, too. and i am in total agreement about parental licensing.

the first boy i ever kissed was one of these. i wonder where he is these days? that was a bazillion years ago.

My "that guy" was a somewhat less obnoxious model it seems. I dated a guy senior year of college who was (is really) brilliant and thoughtful but emotionally somewhat stunted due to childhood neglect. His plan was always to rule the world indirectly as a puppet master. We drafted plots together to fix all the worlds problems. Parenting licenses were definitely in there. We were also pretty sure the government was hiding Yog Sothoth.

We're still friends so I actually know where he is and what he's doing: highly paid government contractor with major security clearance. Fortunately he turned into a pretty decent ethical guy so when he does take over, it won't be so bad :D

Does "The End Is Nigh And I'm Gonna Survive It" count as a secret cabal?

I actually knew liberal versions of Those Girls, and was their chosen third-or-fourth-in-command. And I once had a friend tell me that when the revolution came, I would not be eaten. THINK it was a joke, in both cases, but a semiserious thought experiment joke.

I have, however, known lots of people who have told me anecdotes about Those Guys that match up pretty perfectly with your own experiences of them.

My best guy friend in high school had some joke-plan involving atomic bombs and a moon base. But not in a serious, I-know-better way.

Have you read Le Guin's "Very Far Away From Anywhere Else"? It's a tiny little 80-page novella about a high school loner/geek that was sort of a touchstone for me at that age.

My brother is "that guy".

Only, it wasn't take over the world; he picked a French-held island off the coast of Africa (Europa Island), and used satellite imagery to determine the facilities, natural resources, and armaments of the island and wrote (for a school project in powerpoint, no less) the detailed, and perfectly feasible plan for conquering the island with one helicopter and some ex-military specialists (he could tell you the number and their specializations). From there? He explained how the government of the renamed island would be an experiment in Roman tyranny and the Republican virtues of the citizen soldier. Pfft on the world, he said.

My brother currently lives in the basement translating Russian news reports into English for money and studying military history for fun while he waits for some health conditions to clear up before he joins the US Army. He is a very interesting, kind, and compassionate man who says he likes talking about patriarchy, because it's a litmus test of who needs to be punched in the face. He's militantly moderate, interested in international affairs, extremely spiritual person and an all-around well-educated and interesting guy. But Europa Island was an intellectual exercise in answering the question "how would I become the dictator of an island nation", and once answered, no longer interesting.

I, on the other hand, still make plans about how I would take control the government of 12th century England through the exchequer and the royal justices, and raise up my favorite obscure historical figures to the crown. Just build me that time machine. I write a lot of fantasy around the concept of overthrowing (and maintaining) medieval power systems on a local and "national" level. Imaginary practical application makes political theory a lot more salient.

It's worth bearing in mind that many of Those Guys are probably the target markets for games like "Civilization" and "Age of Empires", both of which are very popular in my house.

I was prone to making "when I am dictator" statements (and occasionally still do).

But mostly just as a way to think about things from a position of power, rather than as the (pretty much powerless) peon I am. Or to express frustration at the state of things. Because really, what can I do about war and hunger and women having kids when they don't want to? Not much. But with interesting (non-existant, reversible in an instant) forms of birth control, abortions would be unnecessary. It could be kind-of awesome.

But actually ruling the world.. yeah, I don't want it. Never did. Haven't really known anyone who did, either. Most of my friends were more consumed with getting out of our home town to nearly anywhere else.

When I was younger, I dated an Objectivist, and would go along with him to the Oist "salons" -- philosophical, obvs, not hair-related.

Sooo yeeeah a little bit.

All I've ever wanted was to be a good support strut for a good system, and the freedom to leave if something changes.

Oh. Oh yes. I avoid contact with him. He is not outright abhorrent, but gets on my nerves enough that...

Wait, no.

That is not true.

I will say one thing: "Do you still write those girly stories about Victorian stuff?"

Maybe two: "Roller derby? Doesn't that conflict with your feminist ethics~ of not hurting women and shit like that?" (said in the oh you're so cute tone)

Maybe three: "So you're really a lesbian now? Did I do that?"

No, biology did. And I always was. But you helped.

I never knew Those Guys. I grew up in a dusty Los Angeles suburb and no one read or really thought much of anything in high school. It wasn't until grad school that I met the nerdy neighbor of Those Guys - the angry, skinny white guy who was working on his MA in Philosophy at our state college and wrote his 1999 thesis, "Flame Wars on the Internet: Penaptagon, Cave, or Brave New World?", and thought it would change the world or at the very least prove how much more he knew than everybody else. Those nerdy guys discovered pot late and now adjunct at the community college where they gleefully befriend and mold Those Guys.

The parenting world is full of Those Guys and Those Girls. They know everything about raising children (this is especially amusing when they try to give me advice on raising a teenager when their own kid still shits in his pants) and have an overinflated sense of importance and intelligence because they read babble when it was hip, decorate their houses like dooce, and always buy organic food and toys. At least we won't have to wonder who raised the serial killers.

I wish I could say I was kidding about that thesis.

I never wanted to rule the world, but I had extremely detailed plans on how to kill every single person in my hometown (population 1000) during high school graduation.

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