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I am creating a semi-dystopic sci-fi world in which the government is - surprise, surprise - corrupt and needs to be replaced.

In books, this is often done via warfare and violence, but I would love to find a way to do it without war and yet not have the story devolve into a series of political debates or "get out the vote" rallies.

Similarly, I can't afford the time span (or cast) required for slow-moving revolutions like the Enlightenment or the Industrial Revolution.

Any other ideas for replacing a government?

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    $\begingroup$ I recommend reading the Foundation series by Asmiov. This comes up a couple times in the series, and Haldane uses extreme cleverness to do it. $\endgroup$ – user3294068 Mar 13 '15 at 22:02
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    $\begingroup$ @user3294068 I seem to recall that series spanning millennia. Why not post the method used as an answer? $\endgroup$ – Samuel Mar 13 '15 at 22:34
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    $\begingroup$ How dystopic is it? A government can be thought of as a business that is 'owned' by the people it taxes...if a competing entity came to be where people voluntarily gave their taxes to the new entity instead of the old one, you might get a violence free take over from a competing gov't. Not worthy of an answer, but an idea $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Mar 13 '15 at 22:46
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    $\begingroup$ The whole circa 1989 collapse of most Communist governments. Very little violence, other than disposing of a few dictators and their cliques - Ceaucescu of Romania comes to mind. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Mar 14 '15 at 4:31
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf : the 1989 collapse of Communist governments is a good example as it happened without violence in most of the countries. But Romania was an exception, there was shooting on the streets and more than a thousand people died. $\endgroup$ – vsz Mar 14 '15 at 9:34

12 Answers 12

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A few ideas:

  • Use the judicial system. Somehow get a critical number of the main politicians all arrested and/or evicted from office, all at a critical time that isn't anticipated, so that enough non-corrupt leaders can end up taking their places.

  • Use non-corrupt media, and/or infiltrate corrupt media, and suddenly make enough people agree that things have to change. Drama, music, and comedy may be some of the most effective media.

  • Convince the string-pullers to change their minds. I.e. if your politicians are corporate pawns, you might be able to get your ideas to make sense to enough corporate heads so that they issue amended instructions to their bought politicians.

  • Convince the spy-masters and intriguers to change their agendas. If elections are rigged farces, if you can convince the people rigging the elections to rig them in favor of a new group of opposition leaders, you could break the corrupt block's control of the government that way.

  • Infrastructure collapse. If power and/or information systems shut down for long enough, a new reorganization might happen as people are forced to recover from the crisis everywhere locally. If it lasts long enough, once things are restored, the old government and power-structure may have lost dominance, relevance, or have fled or disappeared in the chaos.

  • Out-corrupt them. An organized campaign to scandalize, blackmail, implicate, threaten, or otherwise manipulate many corrupt high officials at once, might be able to get enough of them replaced.

  • Out-intrigue them. If the corrupt governors are dangerous paranoid scheming types, infiltrate their confidants and get them to scheme against each other. Replace a few of them with people who are actually on your side, and have them eventually be the survivors of the political backstabbing.

  • Turn the police and military. Perhaps the corrupt authorities have instructed the police and military to murderously crack down on civilians in times of unrest, and it looks like there are enough protests that it may come to that, but you've generated enough sympathy in the police and military leadership and culture, that they refuse to attack civilians and instead demand the corrupt politicians resign.

  • Cyber campaign. Gain control of the media, communications, utility, and/or financial computer systems, in such a way as to get rid of the corrupt officials. Many options here. If you can control any or all of those types of systems to enough of a degree, there are many possible ways to effect a political revolution.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for your answer. There are a lot of good suggestions here and well presented. I'm not sure how my world's revolution will unfold yet, but you and the others have given me a lot of good ideas to work from. $\endgroup$ – The Chad Mar 15 '15 at 15:54
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Although not always entirely without violence, there are plenty of examples in real-world history — enough that there is a whole Nonviolent revolutions category on Wikipedia, and a page on the topic. For example, read about Velvet Revolution which took place in (then) Czechoslovakia over about a month and a half in 1989. In this case, and I think in general, there are two common themes:

  • Civil disobedience as a tactic
  • World politics as an important factor — collapse of supporting governments (as for example totalitarian/communist Warsaw Pact states)

Another common aspect is unwillingness of the military to act against their own people — sometimes extending up to the military leadership and leading to a bloodless coup (or nearly so). In a future dystopian story, this could be the techs responsible for maintaining combat drones — or hackers taking over their control.

All of these real-world stories feature strong personalities, intrigue, and high-stakes tension — the possibility of collapsing into violence or tragedy is always there. I don't think you need to rely on dry political speeches at all.

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    $\begingroup$ As a Czech native, I was about to recommend the velvet revolution. But you've already done so: +1. $\endgroup$ – Angew Mar 14 '15 at 11:03
  • $\begingroup$ Hm excellent idea but how much does it depend on the unique characteristics of Czech people! For example, their peaceful split with Slovaks is the only example of such a split that I can think of. $\endgroup$ – მამუკა ჯიბლაძე Mar 14 '15 at 17:59
  • $\begingroup$ Great answer, and a useful link to the nonviolent revolutions. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – The Chad Mar 15 '15 at 15:56
  • $\begingroup$ @მამუკაჯიბლაძე well, the USSR disgregation could be considered as peaceful as that one, couldn't it? $\endgroup$ – o0'. Mar 15 '15 at 17:27
  • $\begingroup$ As the recent developments show, it is far from finished $\endgroup$ – მამუკა ჯიბლაძე Mar 15 '15 at 18:00
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If the people have motivation and cooperation then an easy solution would be a march on the capital. Something similar to the MLKJ march on Washington. If the government is corrupt, it is likely they would use the army to prevent this from happening, even going so far as to kill citizens. Harmless protests such as the Hong Kong protests, where the Chinese government gassed its own citizens.

In situations like this, if the population really believed in its dream, they would over power the government in sheer numbers. Generally, the army is not big enough to fight off thousands of people pushing their way -- without fear of death -- to the capital to fight the oligarchy. Generally speaking, a government would not want to slaughter its citizens, no matter how corrupt. Being in places of power over people is only useful if those people are around, so if they are dead it will be hard to have the power. In addition, there are many political problems with mass slaughtering citizens; if there were another country like America in your world, it would most likely go to war with this man-slaughtering government. I digress, if the people have a spokesman who can rally them, it is usually game over for the government.

If some politicians aren't corrupt then those politicians could influence governmental decisions by voting for or against certain actions. This is assuming it is a democracy, or some form of dictatorship in which more than one person is in charge. If it is only one person, politicians could over throw the president/chancellor/general by disobeying orders, whatever that entails. Not passing on information, causing the Commander and Chief to fall into a trap, perhaps.

If a company has money then the company could buy out the politicians. Assuming they are corrupt, more money would be welcome. If the tech giant did not completely control the government (directly make decisions, such as "I pledge allegiance to the United States of Walmart"), then they would be able to manipulate the politicians to cast votes, or to not pass on information to their Commander and Chief, etc. If you're thinking the government would shut the business down, you're wrong. The business would be sensible enough to hire its own mercenaries and fight its way to the capital if need be, or at least defend its operations, factories/plants, and HQ.

If there are immigrants then the new population could influence the votes in just a generation or two. This may seem racist, but flooding a country with new citizens has a huge impact. Once those citizens' children are of voting age, they could easily be 20% of the voting group, which is a big deal in politics. Such groups could even make their way into political offices, and get voted up the chain of command. In this case it would be best for each family to have four or five children to adequately increase the votes.

If necessities are held hostage, such as water sources, food sources, and power sources, then those can be used as bargaining chips. If these are controlled by a company, a mass of citizens, or armed troops opposed to the government they can threaten the government by limiting access. Taking out Hoover Dam or a nuclear reactor would certainly slow things down and get attention.

Notes

Most of these situations assume that the population of each group act as one entity, like an ant colony. This is dire for the operations to work. One person in the group with information could leave the cause and foil all the plans, even get people killed. There needs to be trust, motivation, and leadership in any of these overthrowing parties.

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    $\begingroup$ About the HK events, use of tear gas (the term "gassed" makes it appear as if they used poison gas) against unauthorized massive protests is not that unusual. The difference with, say, USA, is not in the use of tear gas, but in what constitutes an "authorized protest". $\endgroup$ – SJuan76 Mar 14 '15 at 10:48
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    $\begingroup$ politicians are not corrupt ? this is worth a whole question on its own... "what if politicians were not corrupt ?" $\endgroup$ – Jorge Aldo Mar 15 '15 at 20:33
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Dissolve large amounts of LSD on the water supply. While everyone is having a trip, destroy all military equipment besides your own, now wait for everyone to return from hallucination and force your way to the government. As the military has no weapons to fight and the population is, hopefully, not mad about the collective drugging and angry at the dystopian government failures, the balance of power will shift towards you.

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    $\begingroup$ Heh, interesting idea. But unless the cities drinking water is extremely purified, this won't work. LSD isn't the most stable and degrades pretty quickly in the presence of oxygen and near instant in Chlorine, which most cities drinking water contains...even a good section of purified / bottled water still has enough chlorine to degrade the LSD dropped in. $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Mar 13 '15 at 23:15
  • $\begingroup$ replace LSD for haloperidol $\endgroup$ – Jorge Aldo Mar 13 '15 at 23:24
  • $\begingroup$ @JorgeAldo haloperidol will never give you trips. At most it will make you sleepy/calm. But most likely it will have no visible effect - maybe shaky hands on long term. $\endgroup$ – Hello Lili Mar 22 '18 at 11:15
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The world doesn't need another political manifesto. And it seems you don't want to write one.

...not have the story devolve into a series of political debates or "get out the vote" rallies.

So, why not have a complete and total deux-ex-machina? Some magical character or magical artifact that causes the reversal of fortunes you seek to bring about?

For example, the Narnia series features a witch who sets herself up as queen and brings a century-long winter to the realm. This is brought to an end when a magical lion, and four children teleported into their universe from a magical closet, confront the queen's forces in battle (yes, some violence there). Make a non-violent version. In the previous volume, Aslan created the world by singing. Create a version where the Aslan stand-in character ends the winter and melts the queen's cold heart with song. (Is that the plot to Disney's Frozen?)

Also consider some magical artifacts. Arthur had a sword that only he could pull from the stone. He also had a magical scabbard that would prevent him from dying in battle, no matter how badly injured. Even more impressive the the Point of View Gun from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Anybody fired at with this device is immediately able to consider the merits of another person's opinions, no matter how close-minded before. Wow!

Another plot device you can use is dreams, or some other means of psychological epiphany (preferably unbidden and unwanted for the recipient, as dreams are). In Robinson Crusoe, the protagonist sees a deity eponymously named "Defoe" (after the author) in a frightening apparition in a dream. In the New Testament, it is said that Pilate was reluctant to crucify Jesus because his wife had a bad dream and warned him. This seems quite unlikely for a number of reasons, but it works in fiction.

Have somebody appear from our universe into the fictional world to intervene, like the kids in Narnia.

Maybe have the universe itself correct the situation. Signs and messages from the stars and planets, maybe messages from insects, talking animals, and sentient plants, a la the movie Avatar.

I've got it. Perhaps the head honcho has some illness or physical affliction, so he starts experimenting with smelling, or eating, a mysterious plant. This unknown, mysterious plant magically makes him calm, a little bit absent minded, and empathetic--and less prone towards violence and tyranny. He no longer forbids this plant to his subjects, and others start eating and smelling the plant as well. Meanwhile, the hardliners of the government are displeased. They try to enslave innocent young men to become goons for the war machine, but they escape to the Magical Wintery Kingdom of the North. At the same time, some strange messengers appear from a faraway land, and start talking about their dreams and singing songs about imagining things and foretelling the coming of a new age. The masses worship and honor the new messengers and their songs become known for generations.

That would make for some pretty interesting fiction, in my opinion.

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In Eric Frank Russell's Late Night Final story (PDF available on web in Google search) Earth is invaded by a squadron of ships and the people don't resist. But they also don't cooperate and eventually absorb the invaders into their society, because it is the better one.

"They brought with them weapons of considerable might, not knowing that we have a weapon truly invincible." Waving one hand, he indicated the world at large. "It took us thousands of years to learn about the sheer invincibility of an idea. That's what we've got—a way of life, an idea. Nothing can blast that to shreds. Nothing can defeat an idea—except a better one." He put the pipe hack in his mouth. "So far, we have failed to find a better one. "They came at the wrong time," Meredith went on. "Ten thousand years too late." He glanced sidewise at his listener. "Our history covers a long, long day. It was so lurid that it came out in a new edition every minute. But this one's the late night final."

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  • $\begingroup$ I recall a similar sci-fi book, where a mighty Terran fleet is crushed by a single small enemy ship (while we were sailing up to attempt to strong-arm their homeworld. Ooops.) The aliens declared war, and the Terrans surrendered instantly. But our lives were much easier than theirs, and eventually they became like us. They were assimilated. Net result was that the Terrans ultimately got what they wanted though perhaps not exactly in the way they wanted it. $\endgroup$ – Tony Ennis Mar 14 '15 at 15:25
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What came to my mind is Heinlein's "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress". Of course you cannot steal the plot right away but the core idea is that the very central computer which is involved in everything (if you can have such a character) must be at the same time (a) the most sensitive spot of the ruling system (b) one of the best computers around, so on the verge of becoming really independently thinking and (c) by the nature of computing specifics, influenced by pure logic and reason more than by anything else.

In Heinlein's novel this is pushed to the limit in that the computer is so much intelligent that it develops its own sense of humor, quite subtle, and is craving for somebody with whom to communicate in the corresponding mode of communication. One slight inconsistency is that somebody who is willing to overthrow the government turns out to be one of those who have free private access to the guy (some IT technician). The rest is clear - once they become friends, it is just the matter of purely logically explaining to the machine that the government is worth overthrowing.

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  • $\begingroup$ Except that revolution was fairly violent: some in the initial takeover, more when Earth sends troops to put down the Loonies, more when the Loonies start throwing rocks at Earth. And IIRC, didn't Earth use a few nuclear weapons? $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Mar 14 '15 at 18:54
  • $\begingroup$ @jamasqf Right, I just thought this idea can be used for a completely clean operation if the machine is the absolutely main one $\endgroup$ – მამუკა ჯიბლაძე Mar 14 '15 at 20:07
  • $\begingroup$ Oh by the way another version came to my mind along these lines $\endgroup$ – მამუკა ჯიბლაძე Mar 15 '15 at 15:52
  • $\begingroup$ I'll post a separate answer $\endgroup$ – მამუკა ჯიბლაძე Mar 15 '15 at 15:52
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I recommend the idea from David Brin's book "Earth". If the government gets to be too much of a nuisance just unplug them from the Internet and carry on without them.

An interesting example of a real revolution was the Russian revolution in Feb 1917 when the Russian soldiers fighting against Germany in World War 1 decided to leave the war and head home. Not bloodless but surprisingly without much violence. The big problems came later after the Bolsheviks seized control in October. It is an interesting case because as the "first" communist revolution the majority of the violence came after the revolutions when everybody else figured out what was going on.

So if you want a quick (low violence) revolution you have to come up with something that hasn't been done before.

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A centralized charecter, like a prophet who has the capability to convince people to make sacrifices for the greater good. Which will be the first to unravel, the corrupt governments hold on her citizens or the "machine" behind the engineered perception of your prophet?

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  • $\begingroup$ I was about to type a similar answer, nice one. $\endgroup$ – Cem Kalyoncu Jul 16 '16 at 16:36
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Re-reading my answer another closely related plot came to my mind, this time from the first story "The Gargantian trap" of Stanislaw Lem's Cyberiad

According to Lem, this is in fact a classical trick well known to experts (such as the main characters Trurl and Klapaucius).

Encountering a planet with two halves of the population ruled by two tyrants at war with each other, Trurl and Klapaucius split, each offering to his host the same idea: the ideal army is the absolutely unanimous army, so all soldiers must be switched together into a single individual. Both rulers are excited about the idea and start consolidating their armies at high speed. What happens is that after certain critical amount of individual minds joined into a supermind, the latter finds the very concept of war totally meaningless, so on the final battlefield two of these superminds just go for a walk gathering flowers along the way.

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  • $\begingroup$ Didn't the two armies in fact combined to form a single mind? I thought the "trick" was to have both armies plugs and sockets be 100% compatible with each other. $\endgroup$ – slebetman Mar 22 '15 at 13:45
  • $\begingroup$ @slebetman At least in Lem's story it was not so. Also it would be unrealistic to persuade tyrants changing their (obviously different) plug standards. Cf. the universal plugs sold in airports... $\endgroup$ – მამუკა ჯიბლაძე Mar 22 '15 at 14:30
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A General Strike might work.

If a large enough portion of the population simply refused to go to work it would cripple the economy and force the corrupt government to react.

If the government reacts by mobilizing troops against the civilian population there's a reasonable chance that soldiers may have an ethical problem with using force against unarmed civilians in their own country. Soldiers may begin to go on strike as well.

With the workforce and the military on strike the government effectively looses power.

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I would suggest the "Libertarianism as a social movement" idea.

As communications technologies like the internet become ubiquitous and other technologies become cheap and common enough that people can successfully decouple from the various "grids" (electrical, water system, banking system, healthcare etc.) they will discover they can plan and do many things that were formerly the domains of the government due to the government's ability to mass resources. Governments can (and do) try to squash these systems (look at the battles between governments and government supported monopolies like the Taxi system and Uber), but the end result is governments and their clients look corrupt and incompetent, the masses of people who benefited from the new technologies and the people who created the new systems get pissed off and work even harder to bypass the "gatekeepers".

Other changes occur as old market leaders and dominant corporations are simply outcompeted and loose their commanding market positions. The various power structures and systems which support them become increasingly irrelevant, and if/when they eventually collapse, the people who "unplugged" from the system first are able to thrive and prosper.

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protected by L.Dutch Apr 11 at 7:57

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