Hear my Evil Overlord Plan:

  1. Start personality cult and proclaim self as prophet of God or a divine being
  2. Gather about 3000 followers of my religion (big enough to sustain population)
  3. Develop ultra deadly virus which spreads really fast
  4. Develop vaccine against such virus
  5. Vaccinate self and all devotees against such virus
  6. Release virus into the wild, effectively killing about 90 % of all humankind on Earth
  7. Proclaim self as the divine healer and start getting devote followers from the common crowd by healing them (using the vaccine)
  8. Start new religious culture

Such culture would worship me and my family as the "holy ones," while the first followers of my personality cult would be "the clergy," keeping the literacy and knowledge about the technology. Because I am out of good names, they would be called "The Brotherhood of Steel." (There would be no one to claim copyright infringement, so I would be probably fine here)

Now, the most important: Using the fact that all mankind would drop to "dark ages," I couldn't teach people to read and write, using the knowledge only among "the clergy." Meaning, only members of clergy would be allowed to learn how to read and write. I think I could refuse to teach literacy to almost everyone, because everyone would be too busy rebuilding society. So having no time for school could help me in raising the first generation to be illiterate.

I don't really care about "normal" people dropping back to medieval state of mind, as long as they worship me and my family as the kings (or the Gods).

The question is: How long would such setup be sustainable? How long could my offspring use the fact that I designed such setup? Will humankind eventually go back to the "post-modern era"?

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    $\begingroup$ Not all your successors might agree that illiteracy is the best tool for this. They might get the idea that educating people will make them more productive workers and make it easier to spread their wisdom through scriptures. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Feb 24 '15 at 9:16
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    $\begingroup$ Not to rain on your parade, but a vaccine and a cure are very different things. Generally, once a person is sick, their bodies are already producing antibodies, which is exactly what the vaccine does: help your immune system produce antibodies. You cannot cure people with vaccines. $\endgroup$ – Nick2253 Feb 24 '15 at 16:00
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    $\begingroup$ How about you build a city underground for them and make them believe that there is a contamination outside. While they are inside, with proper protection, you can wipe the human population. Sometimes, once in a while, you could go search for more humans. Those would be treated and their memory almost entirely wiped. So they don't remember you released it. If those memories stay, kill. This is similar to the movie "The island" from 2010(?). $\endgroup$ – Ismael Miguel Feb 24 '15 at 16:02
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    $\begingroup$ Keeping the majority of the population functionally illiterate is quite simple: invent televison. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Feb 24 '15 at 18:21
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    $\begingroup$ If you "only" kill 90% of the population, what are you going to do with the other 10% that are still literate enough to realize that you're not a god? That's 30 million alone in the USA, 700 million worldwide. Not everyone is going to look at someone who holds the "cure" as their savior, some may see you as the one that brought the downfall... or may want to take your position of 'authority' by force. 3000 insiders is not a lot of people to hold onto the entire country, there will be pockets of non-believers... perhaps some very large and powerful pockets. $\endgroup$ – Johnny Feb 24 '15 at 22:50

It could be sustained for a long time. The Pharaohs went for millennia being worshiped as gods. If the people are kept ignorant, and the 'gods' perform periodic miracles (with the continued help of the 'clergy,') they can stay in power for a long time.

The Mayans sacrificed other humans for almost 1000 years.

L. Ron Hubbard, a rather mediocre to poor science fiction writer, announced that he should give up his day job and start a religion, because that is where the real money was. So in 1953, that is exactly what he did. Scientology was born, and a fleecing of the 'faithful' began in earnest. It's a legalized pyramid scheme (and tax exempt!) and people still flock to them, often even well educated.

So done well, things could go very long indeed. If you can make them believe what you and they are doing is for the good of every body, you have it made in the shade.

EDIT: I had another idea. "Save the children". When 'deciding' which 'heathens' to save, offer to save their children, bring them in, inoculate them and 'keep them safe' by brainwashing them into the cult. Leave the parents (who are dubious) to fate, give them a placebo for the cure or even infect them. Then, blame their death on lack of faith, etc.

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    $\begingroup$ Ooohhh, now you've done it. The lawyers are coming for you. You cannot escape. $\endgroup$ – KSmarts Feb 24 '15 at 15:37
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    $\begingroup$ @KSmarts I must be suffering from too many bad 'thetans'... $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Feb 24 '15 at 15:53
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    $\begingroup$ It's L. Ron, and I agree with your points as stated, but this does nothing to address how a population goes from today's tech to ignorance and as a society agrees to stay there. $\endgroup$ – IchabodE Feb 24 '15 at 17:42
  • $\begingroup$ Well it's starts with Pavel's virus which is an apocalypse scenario. He already has a group of loyal brainwashed followers and they get to choose who is 'safe' from the plague. The rest is time and continual brain washing. $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Feb 24 '15 at 17:46
  • $\begingroup$ I second @MBurke, the examples you gave were societies that did not start with a whole wealth of written information around them and then get people not to read it. Additionally, the vast majority of Scientologists are, very likely, not illiterate. $\endgroup$ – Samuel Feb 24 '15 at 22:22

Stamping out Literacy

(as in 'eliminate' vs. 'reproduce rapidly in great quantity.', thanks UseNet)

Stamping out literacy will require more than just not teaching 'em. Especially if you're not forcibly taking over the world, O Most Evil Overlord.

You should start by torching every library, and every book.

You should make a new language, so your holy books are in a special script.

Of course, you've also created a huge problem in getting orders sent out, and getting information back to your hot little hands to/from your minions. Expect a lot of he said/she said, if you don't tech up and make everyone have tape-recorders for orders and reports.

You also need to stamp out anyone who's not of your religion, who might want to teach their children how to read.

Then you're going to have to go after the Fahrenheit 451 memory-book people.

If you can manage all that, then you're going to have to put together some cultural memes: that writing is the work of the devil, corrupting God's language is a mortal sin, that clergy must only faithfully recreate the Holy Book and never use their writing script for anything else, that reporting a den of Satan-worshiping book lovers will win a person bonus points in heaven.

EDIT: I've been mentioning how literate parents are a problem all over this thread, so I'm definitely in favor of bowlturner's suggestion for 'save the children'. Get 'em while they're young, and wipe out any of the older generation.

  • $\begingroup$ Do not forget, that I plan to ease a lot of this by killing almost all people on Earth by using my super virus $\endgroup$ – Pavel Janicek Feb 24 '15 at 9:09
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    $\begingroup$ Almost all, is not all. Literacy rates are high, you've still got 600 million (-3K) people running around, I suspect some of them will be literate and might want to teach their kids. $\endgroup$ – user3082 Feb 24 '15 at 9:59
  • $\begingroup$ Now I get the comments about need to burn the books. When I said "I will kill 90 percent of people" I immediately imagined, that the survivors will be mostly people living without attachment to real world. And it was obviously false assumption. +1 $\endgroup$ – Pavel Janicek Feb 24 '15 at 11:01
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    $\begingroup$ Indeed, you are never going to stop people from reading as long as the knowledge of the benefits of reading stays around, which will remain so with all the current paperwork lying around. Promoting your own texts and destoying others are your best options. You need an 'Orwell 1984' style of indoctrination with a 'Fahrenheit 451' style destruction of old texts (and Bradbury described how difficult that is). You would still have to stop critical thinking, that's a tough nut to crack (even with the many conspiracy theorists nowadays), but in a fictional world you can maybe make that believable. $\endgroup$ – user3106 Feb 24 '15 at 13:40
  • $\begingroup$ +1 I like the tape recorder idea. Technology is already making kids illiterate today, amirite? $\endgroup$ – Samuel Feb 24 '15 at 16:24

One of the key advantages of using a biological weapon is that it decimates a population while leaving it's wealth and infrastructure largely intact, but in your scenario this advantage may be a disadvantage.

Take a look around. Writing is everywhere. On every product, building, street sign, etc.

Forcing people to not be curious about the symbols that cover their world would be a full time job, requiring an awful lot of "evil over lording". Human nature being what it is, the more you try to suppress curiosity the more curious people will become.

To give a little historical perspective on suppressing literacy:

In the US before slavery was abolished many states passed laws making it illegal to teach slaves to read. Slaves who were caught learning to read were usually given 20-39 lashes. Those that were caught teaching them were fined and/or imprisoned. Now keep in mind this was at a time when the over all literacy rate was a bit lower, slaves were a minority population in most places, and that slaves were usually coming from non-literate cultures. Despite all of that, many slaves still learned to read.

By contrast in your scenario: the people you're trying to enslave would be the majority of your population, they're coming from highly literate cultures, and from much more developed modern societies. Convincing them that reading is a right reserved for the clergy will be a lot more difficult.

Perhaps bowlturner's thought about only "saving the children" would be the most feasible way to accomplish your goal, but then your devotees would have to spend the first few years indoctrinating and babysitting a few hundred million children. 10% of the estimated world population of 6.916 billion would be 691.6 million. If you divide the children equally amongst your 3,000 followers you're looking at more than 230,000 kids per follower... That's a whole heap of kids to take care of.


Your tribe would be powerful but not productive.

Small islands of naturally immune population will survive, in many separate "islands". If they are able to preserve literacy, and rebuild technology using preserved books, in few centuries they should be more technologically advanced that your illiterate tribe.


Without a conscious effort to promote literacy for the masses, it should be sustainable for centuries. Teaching everyone how to read and write is a very new concept in human history. Even though the first written languages were developed thousands of years ago, literacy was always a privilege of the upper class of society. The idea that everyone should be able to read is only a few hundred years old. In some parts of the world it has still not arrived.

When you don't actively try to teach the lower class reading by building public schools and encourage people to visit them (for many households, a child is too valuable as a worker to have them waste their time in school), your subjects will stay illiterate. When you also culturally enforce that only members of a specific caste should be literate, it should be a pretty stable system.

  • $\begingroup$ I don't think any literate people are going to stand by for that plan. You'll have to eliminate the curious, and intellectual kids as well. $\endgroup$ – user3082 Feb 24 '15 at 9:02
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    $\begingroup$ Or draft them into clergy which will be literate $\endgroup$ – Pavel Janicek Feb 24 '15 at 9:12
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    $\begingroup$ You do NOT want the curious, inquisitive, and intellectually adventurous (or adventurous period) in your clergy (nor the ambitious). They might question your legitimacy as God incarnate, and schism your church. You especially don't want word-lovers. They may translate your scripture into the vernacular. Or may decide that everyone should be able to read God's word. Much better to kill them off, or put them to slave labor. $\endgroup$ – user3082 Feb 24 '15 at 10:03

Use a complicated writing system. Something pictoral probably. Alphabets etc are relativley easy to learn. Pictoral systems require learning every symbol, and if you don't know even a few symbols in a phrase, it stops making any sense.

Sure, your clergy will have a hard time reading too.

Mostly though, your situation is going to be the big thing here. With 3k people almost all are going to have to devote their time to food production. Especially as when your stockpiled tools and resources wear out, we're looking at being restricted to wooden and stone tools, no significant mechanisation. You might be king, but king of a rather poor tribe. Writing materials and time to read and write are going to be very hard to come by for everyone.

  • $\begingroup$ Because OP would be too lazy to invent their own system, we could always use 漢字. That's pretty tough to learn ;) Although exactly who and how many are going to die from the virus determines whether this is feasible $\endgroup$ – User that is not a user Oct 30 '19 at 1:05

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