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Joe, an average citizen, decides to take over the world (for various reasons). He's an average person, with an average job and average resources.

Does Joe have a realistic shot at his dream?

Some clarifications:

  • By "take over the world", I mean - at the very least - control the United States, Russia, the European Union, the United Nations, China, and India.
  • Joe must, at the end, be able to manipulate all the governments of the aforementioned nations, although he does not have to be a visible leader - being a puppet master behind the scenes is okay.
  • "Average" refers to the average of something in a first-world country.
  • Joe must rise to power within 50 years. He is currently 25-ish.
  • There is no world-controlling position or secret society already in existence, so Joe cannot simply join that group and become its leader.

If so, how can Joe rise to power?


Note: In response to the various comments/answers, I am not Joe!

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closed as off-topic by Brythan, HDE 226868, Green, bilbo_pingouin, Magic-Mouse Oct 5 '15 at 10:07

  • This question does not appear to be about worldbuilding, within the scope defined in the help center.
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Vincent Aug 25 '15 at 21:17
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    $\begingroup$ If you want to request clarification, please comment. If you want to discuss this question, please go to the chat room linked above. Thank you. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Aug 27 '15 at 2:53
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    $\begingroup$ An important fact to consider would be that no one has ever taken over the world. Ever. In the history of the world. So not only is this unrealistic for average Joe, it's unrealistic for billionaires with charisma, intelligence, and nearly unlimited resources. $\endgroup$ – Davor Aug 27 '15 at 11:42
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    $\begingroup$ @Davor so they would have you believe. $\endgroup$ – njzk2 Aug 27 '15 at 17:52
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    $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it involves the decisions of a single individual. As per the standard in the comment on this question, such questions are off-topic here. $\endgroup$ – Brythan Oct 5 '15 at 0:53

19 Answers 19

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Powerful leaders tend to have a couple things in common:

  1. Means
  2. Intelligence
  3. Opportunity
  4. Desire for power
  5. Charisma

Given the weight of history I do not believe that Joe Average could (or would) take over the world. Thank goodness! But let's give our Joe Average better than average intelligence (maybe a lot better), a charismatic personality, a psychopathic desire for power and a bit of luck and see how far he can go starting from average means/education.

In the early 90s Joe is at University, where he is learning programming and computer science in the earliest days of the internet. Being rather bright he cottons on early and develops a plan to make himself extremely wealthy and powerful. He drops out of school and starts an international consulting company targeting contracts with companies and governments that are switching to electronic payroll and communications. His software products contain hidden code that give him back doors into the computer networks of every company and agency that he works for. Within 10 years he has installations in place in almost every major government and Fortune 500 company. He uses these connections to skim very small percentages off of payrolls, and to tap high level communications. He can use internal emails between executives to pursue insider trading. He can sell secrets to competitors or other governments. He will have to be very careful not to tip his hand and it will make a thrilling story of how he manages to continue to grow and operate without being detected. But with a bit of luck he will soon have amassed a very large amount of wealth in a complicated scattering of accounts and have more intelligence than any spy agency on Earth.

During this time he is also slowly building an organization. One thing about ruling the world is you really can't do it alone. There are just too many things to worry about. Even if you are going to leverage the existing infrastructure it will take more than one person just to pull the puppet strings. Joe needs an organization. So he begins recruiting individuals. He is a charismatic personality so finding followers is easy. The hard part is finding people who will follow without challenging him, but are still intelligent and ruthless enough to be useful. Joe uses his consortium of consulting companies to identify and train up promising individuals.

What he does next is target officials in governments around the world. He uses blackmail, bribes, and forged computer records to slowly move into place people that are loyal to him. He can control vote tallies, criminal and health records, even rewrite laws in subtle but powerful ways. As more and more of Joe's minions take positions of power the pace of the take over can accelerate. Joe has the good fortune of operating in time of rapidly increasing globalization and computer connectivity. This gives him many opportunities to establish his secret back doors in ever more critical pieces of infrastructure.

Finally Joe for all intents and purposes controls the world. He has the leader of every major power in his pocket, either by directly placing them in the job, or blackmailing/bribing them into submission.

What does he do with this power? I think this is the critical question. He can't just start making wild demands or he is going have insurrection on his hands. He is going to have move slowly and subtly affect public opinion to shift it in his desired direction. His reasons for wanting power and how he uses the power to affect his desired results is a whole other story.

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    $\begingroup$ @HDE226868 and yet, that is exactly what happens... $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Aug 25 '15 at 19:20
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    $\begingroup$ @HDE226868, I'm a programmer, and that really doesn't happen much, unless something is obviously wrong. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Aug 25 '15 at 23:31
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    $\begingroup$ @HDE226868 Do you run Windows? How do you know Windows is free from (deliberately) nasty things? $\endgroup$ – immibis Aug 26 '15 at 11:15
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    $\begingroup$ this is what would have happened if Bill Gates and his friends would have been alone, if there haven't been Steve Jobs and his clique, Linus Torvald and the other GNU Hackers..if there wasn't mistrust in China, Russia and other countries to only rely on American operating systems, if there wasn't an active open source and hacker scene...and if Bill Gates were the power hungry ultra capitalist some thought he is $\endgroup$ – cypherabe Aug 26 '15 at 13:46
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    $\begingroup$ Obligatory XKCD reference: xkcd.com/792 $\endgroup$ – Thane Brimhall Aug 26 '15 at 22:14
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You will have to forgive the crude stereotyping which occurs in this answer. Joe is taking over the world on a budget, and frankly he couldn't pay me enough to figure out how to do it without national stereotypes, so the plan is what it is. The details are available in my book, Taking Over Third World Nations for Fun and Profit.

The first three steps are the standard approach to becoming a multi-national force.

Step 1: Buy a set of Lego Mindstorms robots, a plane ticket to Djibouti, and materials for pipe bombs. Djibouti's capital, Djibouti has only one railroad track going into it, so you should be able to create a pipe bomb wielding mindstorm robot that triggers when you enter the switching station. Their per-capita income is only $1600, so it should not take much to convince them to surrender to your nefarious schemes. Congratulations, you are now a sovereign power.

Step 2: Now that you are a sovereign nation, fly to France, and proclaim a declaration of war. They should surrender without a fight.

Step 3: Take the French Foreign Legion, walk them backwards into Poland, tell them you're leaving, and they'll never see it coming until you control Poland as well.

Step 4: Go back to France and go to BIPM, the International Bureau of Weights and Measures. Stored at BIPM is the International Prototype Kilogram (IPK), the definitive measure of what a kilogram actually is. Did you know Troy Ounces are defined to be 480 grains, and a grain is defined to be 0.00006479891 kilograms? You define the mass of a kilogram now. Through clever manipulation of the IPK, and thus the value of gold, corner the gold market.

Step 5: Buy up as much Greek debt as you can. With your corner on gold, you should be able to buy up most, if not all of it. Use your financial power to encourage them to vote you into power.

Step 6: You should now have enough world power to do something about Britain. However, they will be too proud to be taken over, so we're going to have to make friends with them instead. Use your control of the world-wide Patrick Stewart fandom to organize his rise to a seat of power. Then use that power to give Ian McKellen a seat as well.

Step 7: The mere fact that you managed to get Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen to rule Britain should be more than enough show of awesomeness to get Joe elected President of the US, free and clear. If it isn't, Joe should rethink whether he's actually awesome enough to rule the world. Maybe he was just Joe below-average.

Step 8: Look, taking over Russia is hard. There's snow... and the snow. But they do have a weakness: vodka. If we could get them hooked on something that has more flavor, but can still leave you with a pounding headache, we could get them in a better mood. As President of the USA, you could probably swing a deal with Mexico to do some immigration reform in exchange for massive government funded transport of tequila into Russia. Once they're hooked, the French Foreign Legion might be able to pull Napoleon's March 2.0 (this time, in the spring!), and the Russians may forget to burn their fields while they retreat with newspapers to protect their hungover heads from the light!

Step 9: Okay, enough dirty work. Now we can go back into doing this with style. Broker an arranged marriage with the daughter of an influential Indian politician to gain power. Then, ship all the Poles to India. Give them government roles, and let the Indian bureaucrats teach them how to take bribes. They'll get it backwards, offering better services for those who do not bribe, leading to the most rapid reform ever recorded in a country.

Step 10: China is under attack because their market is being eroded by cheaper sources of labor, like India. Use control of India and the Chinese market, the USA, to broker a deal for power in exchange for not crushing the Chinese economy. If they're not biting, you can engage in psychological warfare by having the call centers of India all spamming the phones of the Chinese leading party, day and night.

Step 11: Now we need some more power in the EU. You have control of several influential atomic clocks in France, begin skewing the time to make the Spanish siesta take longer than usual, while you manage your invasion. By this time, from all your manipulation of the IPK and time, German engineering is going to have lost its precision. You should be able to waltz past several legions, all suffering from components whose insane tolerances are no longer being met. That, along with the wise visages of Patrick and Ian in Britain should be enough to take over the EU.

Step 12: Australia. Leave it alone. Seriously. Who would want to try to take over Australia? Bunch of descendants from convicts, kangaroos, and convicted kangaroos! We'll leave Australia off of world domination for now. Mostly dominated is good enough, right? Also, nearly every animal over there has some deadly poison. It's simply safer this way.

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    $\begingroup$ "You will have to forgive the crude stereotyping..." Nope, it turns out that I do not have to. $\endgroup$ – RBarryYoung Aug 25 '15 at 22:35
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    $\begingroup$ This is amusing, but hardly realistic. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Aug 25 '15 at 22:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre As far as realism goes, I thought I did pretty good for "realistic way for average-Joe takes over the world" without relying on luck. Given that the average Joe's best chances of taking over the world are 7 billion to 1, some leeway has to be given. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Aug 25 '15 at 22:52
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    $\begingroup$ As an Australian, I am ok with your assessment of Australia. Though if you could knock our current prime minister out of power, that'd be nice. :P $\endgroup$ – AlbeyAmakiir Aug 26 '15 at 2:25
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    $\begingroup$ I like how Joe essentially becomes master of time and space. $\endgroup$ – Arturo Torres Sánchez Aug 26 '15 at 6:39
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No.

The logical answer to your question is "no" for the simple reason that the average person is not a world leader. By the time someone has got even a little way along the path that would end up with them taking over the world, they have ceased to be average by any meaningful criterion.

I realise that isn't what you mean by your question - and I'm sure someone from an average background might - but they would be far from average by the time they had taken over. In fact they would be extraordinary and unique in human history.

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    $\begingroup$ And furthermore, getting along the path requires competing against other average people who also want the same power (even if they're not aiming for quite so much of it). Therefore you have to be or become above-average at whatever criteria you end up competing on, it's not just that the world leader is atypical and therefore non-average by definition. Joe is not the first or only person to have this idea. $\endgroup$ – Steve Jessop Aug 27 '15 at 12:02
  • $\begingroup$ Which of course leads us each to ask "what's above-average about our national leaders?", and often come up empty ;-) But there certainly are things they're unusually good at achieving, even if we don't quite see how. You can say they're lucky, which is also true, but it's not literally the case that whatever average person happens to be at a particular place at a certain time will end up head of government... $\endgroup$ – Steve Jessop Aug 27 '15 at 12:03
  • $\begingroup$ Depends where you are, but in countries like the UK and the US most of our leaders tend to come from a place of privilege and already belong to a n established political community ( see how many politicians are nth generation in their party ) so they have not had to travel far from where they started to rise in that field. So I guess an above-average amount of privilege and a political network would be one starting point. $\endgroup$ – glenatron Aug 27 '15 at 13:48
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A series of (un)lucky events

Joe is on holiday in Saudi Arabia where he accidentally saves the life of the Sheik who nominates Joe his sole heir. He marries the daughters of his rich neighbours and become sovereign of good part of the middle east.

While celebrating his marriage with the King of England in Las Vegas (hey, it's legal now), he manages to double his fortunes. The King convinces Joe to use the money to concur for American presidency (his dream has always been to re-acquire the old colonies). Joe wins.

During a visit to the Norad, Joe falls on a button and starts a nuclear attack. Trying to help the technicians to stop the launch Joe actually hampers them. It's a disaster. Half the world is destroyed in the nuclear holocaust. The people in the Norad (including Joe) survive.

Joe is still King of Arabia and with the available resources manages to buy/conquer the rest of the world (there is not much left), in a bid to destroy any nuclear weapons left and prevent a second tragedy (the world is full of idiots after all).

Edit: a variation of the (un)lucky promotion is narrated in the movie Idiocracy (which I discourage you from watching): an average Joe is hibernated for a military experiment. The project is shut down in a hurry so they forget to wake Joe up. He ends up in a distant future where everybody is an idiot because they spend all time watching TV. At the end the protagonist becomes president of the world because he's now the most intelligent person...

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I think Stalin is probably the closest you would see anyone in history having come to this. He was born into a working class family in a large empire. When the tables turned he was able to make his way up the new power structure eventually becoming the president. WW2 provided expansion to his empire where the soviets didn't so much liberate eastern Europe as counter-invade it. Had a few things gone a bit differently the USSR could have claimed more of Europe and possibly even Japan. The Cold War stymied some of the Soviet's expansion plans, but if the USSR had become the only nuclear power Stalin could have expanded much more.

TL;DR Someone with an average background can gain power when a revolution overthrows the ruling classes.

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    $\begingroup$ That is a pretty good example. and his primary talent that helped him get there is his clean and neat penmenship. $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Aug 27 '15 at 13:31
  • $\begingroup$ Very nice. Stalin is a great example. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Aug 27 '15 at 15:17
  • $\begingroup$ He was certainly a good propagandist, but his willingness to take part in violent crime to raise funds for the Bolsheviks helped too. $\endgroup$ – Dave Halsall Aug 27 '15 at 15:17
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How to Become Dictator of the World in Five (not so) Easy Steps

Step 1) Get the right background.

I'll assume John Q. Public (Joe Public is more fitting, but is the British equivalent) is an American citizen by birth (I won't go into demographics). He should spend a few years studying governance and politics. Around the age of 30, he should run for office or hold a high position in a company (e.g., CEO). From there, he can build the right political connections as he prepares for...

Step 2) Become President of the United States (POTUS).

Starting at the age of 35, an American citizen is eligible to become POTUS. John will still be a far cry from controlling the entire world, but he's well on his way. The United States and, more specifically, the POTUS, is considered to be the leader of the free world. Regardless of whether that's true, the U.S. does have significant impact on the world's other countries, which John will need for...

Step 3) Take control of the United Nations.

This seems like a daunting task (and it is), but John's position as POTUS gives him an excellent position from which to influence the world's other nations. Small nations always need assistance, and John should be ready and willing to apply appropriate resources to local issues, such as disaster relief and other humanitarian pursuits. Help often enough and in the right ways, and John can push other nations into line. From here, John just needs to deal with...

Step 4) Silence the dissenters.

Nations like North Korea are unlikely to go along willingly with a single world leader. Now that John controls both the United States and the United Nations, he has nearly unlimited ability to remove North Korea from the rest of the world through ultimate sanctions. (China will still be a problem, but John can always use leverage against them, through the UN.) Repeat this effort for all opposition until no country is willing to oppose your voice on the world stage. Now John just needs to work on...

Step 5) Enjoy the fruits of your labor.

John only has 4 or 8 years (unless he can get that pesky rule out of the way) to get all this done (this is why Step 1 is critical), but the influence that comes from being POTUS doesn't end when one stops being POTUS. John can now retire comfortably, sure of his world reign. All he has to do is weigh in on worldwide elections, attend a few UN meetings, and the like; with his power and influence, a simple nod leads to success...for the world, of course.

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    $\begingroup$ Wouldn't other large countries (e.g. Russia) object to the United States - a nation they might not be on cordial terms with - taking such a huge position of power? $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Aug 25 '15 at 17:49
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    $\begingroup$ @HDE226868 Do they not already? During Step 3, start small rather than large. Get enough small nations backing you and the big nations won't have as great a standing. Then you can leverage peer pressure (that's the whole idea of controlling the UN). $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Aug 25 '15 at 17:53
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    $\begingroup$ I think you're overlooking a major stumbling block here, namely the UN Security Council, the 5 permanent members thereof each having veto power over any sanctions -- meaning Russia or China could very easily block your ability to sanction the dissenters (step 4) as simply as raising a finger, something they'd surely do before allowing you to sanction their allies (especially once it becomes clear what you're doing). It's otherwise a good plan, but I'd need to see how you plan on overcoming that to give it my vote. $\endgroup$ – Kromey Aug 25 '15 at 19:46
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    $\begingroup$ @Kromey Note that I mentioned both US and UN sanction power in Step 4. While John might not be able to get sanctions through the UN, he can still put sanctions in place by going directly to the individual nations he already has in his pocket. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Aug 25 '15 at 20:17
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    $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre Oh sure, any country can say "we won't trade with you" to any other; why would that require UN approval? (Though it might draw UN ire in some cases...) The problem is that without UN backing behind it, the other countries can (and, depending on who they are and how much they like you, very well may) continue to trade with them, making your sanctions pretty ineffectual. Sure, they get more serious the more nations follow suit with you, but with world powers like China and Russia not in your pocket yet, they and their allies will easily undermine you by simply continuing trade. $\endgroup$ – Kromey Aug 25 '15 at 23:18
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Be a billionaire, take over the world. Joe just needs to work his way up to being on the board of directors for several very large companies such as Exxon, Alcoa, Apple, Google, Microsoft, etc and he'll be a very rich man, very quickly. Being in a position of power like this is definitely doable in 25 years or less.

What you want is a plutocracy where the rich people govern either from behind the scenes or in the clear. Plutocracy offers the advantage that political control comes from the control of wealth which may freely cross political borders rather than the assent of people in a given geographic area. Controlling large amounts of wealth also means that you can buy whatever legislation you want to give you further advantages or immunity.

If Joe is a psychopath, then he's well on his way to being CEO.

British journalist Jon Ronson immersed himself in the world of mental health diagnosis and criminal profiling to understand what makes some people psychopaths — dangerous predators who lack the behavioral controls and tender feelings the rest of us take for granted. Among the things he learned while researching his new book, “The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry”: the incidence of psychopathy among CEOs is about 4 percent, four times what it is in the population at large. (source)

A related article but different source on psychopaths in the C-suite.

Because of the political attitudes and histories of the countries listed in the OP, no obvious political union will be possible. Given the animosity between the US and Russia, and the radically different cultures, those two countries will never become a single political entity. Similar animosities exist between all the listed countries. Besides, unifying is an incredibly difficult job and there's better ways to do it.

Note that the United States, in the opinion of many, is already turning into a plutocracy.

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    $\begingroup$ Next question: How can an average person become a billionaire? $\endgroup$ – Samuel Aug 25 '15 at 17:21
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    $\begingroup$ Samuel: Hyperinflation, probably. $\endgroup$ – Erik Aug 25 '15 at 17:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Samuel as a matter of fact I am only interested in the next question, that's why I gave an answer to this one (I'll keep my answer to the billionaire question secret) $\endgroup$ – SJuan76 Aug 25 '15 at 17:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Erik Hyperinflation would devalue currency, though, meaning that a billionaire would have less power. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Aug 25 '15 at 17:32
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    $\begingroup$ "Exxon Valdez" is not a company. It is a ship that was at one time owned by the Exxon Shipping Company and became famous when it ran aground and leaked many tons of oil off the coast of Alaska. It was later sold and has since been renamed the Oriental Nicely. It is no longer in service. $\endgroup$ – Jay Aug 27 '15 at 19:14
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Joe hates his job as a mall rent-a-cop. He doesn't get to carry a weapon, everyone treats him like a joke, and because he is younger than the other mall rent-a-cops, they make him do all the unpleasant jobs.

On a particularly nasty day at work, Joe is cleaning up vomit in the children's play area and muttering about how much he hates his life.

"We have custodians, but who cleans up the puke? That's right, the guard. Because Bob the custodian took the day off, and nobody can find Sally, and of course Sergeant Frank can't do any work, not while he's trying to flirt with the Victoria's Secret manager. Again."

Earlier that same shift his request for vacation time to attend his parent's funeral was denied, a poodle peed on his shoe, a black kid tried to rob a store and called Joe racist when he intervened, and the crazy lady from that nick-nack shop followed him around for her entire lunch break. So it was understandable that when a six-year-old boy shoved Joe into the vomit he was cleaning up, a little part of Joe called 'self control' broke. The kid actually giggled as Joe stood up, one hand and a knee now covered in curdled vomit-milk. But what really did it was the kid's father, who thought it was so funny, he had to share it with everyone- and started taking pictures with his phone.

Joe vented his rage in a yell and began to storm toward the kid's father. As Joe reached the end of the brightly-lit, padded play area, other on-lookers took notice, and cellphones came out of everywhere to record what was sure to be quite a sight. At that moment, Vick Vickerson happened to back up into Joe's way.

Joe, beyond caring, swears and lays into Vick with all the primal pent-up rage of a 25 year old rent-a-cop with no actual combat training. Wild punches and uncoordinated kicks smashed into Vick, bringing him down and unconscious in moments.

The stunned crowd is motionless. Even the six-year-old boy has stopped flinging puke at other kids as Joe stands panting over the nearly lifeless Vick Vickerson. At this critical moment, a nearby mother asks a very important question.

"Is that Vick Vickerson?" She recognized him from a poster she saw in Walmart just that morning. You know, the ones near the service desk that everyone inspects while waiting for one overworked employee to deal with fifteen angry customers?

The name rings a bell with someone else. With cellphone videos still recording from all directions, Murphy, a retired cop who was sitting on a bench while waiting for his wife to pick out another pair of shoes, exclaims, "That is Vickerson! He's wanted in seventeen states for child molestation and rape!"

Joe becomes an instant media sensation and YouTube celebrity. No less than five different cellphone videos show the pummeling from slightly different angles. His unassuming nature makes him a temporary hit with news crews looking for their one "good story" for the day, and the interview fees and donations from pleased parents across the world enable him to get a 'sick' sports car. After all, Joe is pretty proud of himself now, and certainly not wise enough to keep the money or invest it somewhere.

Only a few weeks later, a sketchy group of business owners decide they need help getting a certain law passed in their state, and the current governor just won't do. Joe's popularity just happens to coincide with the right timing, and these business owners send out Sara, the red-headed seductress, to get Joe on their side. After listening to the "very reasonable" arguments (and a quick marriage to Sara), and with their financial support, Joe runs for state governor. With the behind-the-scenes support of the Business Barons, and with his momentary stardom, Joe wins the election against an unpopular old man accused of corruption.

The Business Barons are no fools, and manage to get Joe a pretty decent group of advisers. Nevermind that Joe unwittingly helps the Barons with their pet projects, the advisers actually do a good job, with Joe reaping the public benefits. When the Barons' coalition falls apart from internal squabbling, Sara sticks it out with Joe, as she has grown used to the perks of being a governor's wife and prefers Joe's honest, if ignorant, personality over the various Barons' manipulative ways.

After a few terms in office, Joe is old enough to run for President. He gets the Republican nomination with his hard stance on crime and successful financial history as governor of his state (despite his advisers doing all the work). Sara's efforts among the rich and powerful to get her husband nominated significantly help his case. Running on a platform of "Just an Average Joe," Joe goes up against a Democrat who, by all rights, should win the election, but in an ironic twist of fate, the Democratic candidate is actually proven to have been born in Cuba, not the USA. Unable to put forward a new candidate in time to drum up sufficient support, Joe wins by a healthy margin.

This book needs to end, so I'll summarize the rest. We now have Joe in his 40s as the American President. Some kind of catastrophe (zombies, alien invasions, nuclear war, polar ice-caps melting...) helps bring the world back together, and Joe is in position to help folks out. Through the clever manipulations of those around him, Joe ends up the nominal leader of just about everything. Something tips Joe off to the questionable activities of his staff, but Sara convinces him to roll with it. A career politician by this point, Joe has learned how to lie well enough when he wants to, and to keep Sara he definitely wants to. Thus Joe controls the world, despite having no real qualifications for the position.

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    $\begingroup$ This is a novel take: Joe Average put in power by chance and the machinations of the "above average". +1 for actually answering the question. $\endgroup$ – intrepidhero Nov 19 '16 at 2:13
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Joe should become a hacker.

Joe needs to focus on learning how to manipulate software programs, intercept and edit data, and hijack computers and related devices using viruses, Trojan horses, and the like.

Here are some ways Joe could use this to control the world:

  • Rig election vote counts. Joe can run for office, as can anyone else, but if he's as average as the question says he is, then he won't necessarily have as much charisma or know-how as many politicians do. The solution? Run for a low-level office and make a decent stand, then hack into vote-counting systems and change the numbers just enough to win the election. When elected, Joe can do many things to make him popular among the rest of us, and his accession to power can begin. He then needs to implement Phase 2.
  • Take control of weapons systems. Missiles, drones, and other weapons require computers and software, and, therefore, they can be hacked. There is tight security behind them all, of course, but no security system is 100% immune to attacks. If Joe can take control of a major weapons system, he can perhaps hold nations hostage, as Avernium suggested. If Joe couples this with being elected, he can do quite a lot. Hacking into an enemy's weapons systems is a good way to win a war. Plus, if he reaches public office, he can have others work on hacking into the systems, turning a war into a cyberwar.
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  • $\begingroup$ You've just mentioned two of the most visible systems in the world. I doubt the average Joe could pull this off on his own. For example, see the fallout from the recent deflated football (American football) incident; the balls were merely behind locked doors. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Aug 25 '15 at 18:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre Perhaps you're right. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Aug 25 '15 at 18:41
  • $\begingroup$ Being an average coder (and with a little luck), get a job at Microsoft and like the Black Sunday Hack put little bits and pieces of a virus into various parts of the operating system. Just little lines of code that hold say, strings and won't be compiled out but don't do anything. Those strings are actually executable code. Your code golf skills work well here. At some point, a program will put all those pieces together. Do the same thing with Linux and Android. What you do with all those resources is left as an exercise for the reader. $\endgroup$ – Tracy Cramer Aug 25 '15 at 20:13
  • $\begingroup$ @TracyCramer How would an average coder get those bits of code past formal review? (At least, I hope OS code goes through formal review...) $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Aug 25 '15 at 20:33
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    $\begingroup$ I knew a former MSFT developer and he had some really interesting things to say about how they tightened security coding practice in response to that longer period where everyone assumed that Windows == Giant Security Hole. I think it would be very difficult to pull off an attack against the Windows code base. $\endgroup$ – Green Aug 25 '15 at 21:12
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Joe should crawl the media ladder

Yes, the internet is still more and more valid source of news. But most people still use TV. And the internet news sources are owned by media houses. So Joe should start working for one media house ASAP.

In his spare time, while he is less than 30 year old, he should also start some startup business. One awful hand wave here is, that Average Joe will come up with not so average idea, which will bring him some money.

Write compelling stories during the day, start a business during night should get Joe some publicity and money.

Use money to start media house or buy part of media house

Widen your media influence. Write about politics and what politics should do. Widen your circles into politics and search for good candidate with potential of getting really high.

Use your media influence and write even more about such politician. Help him to get to the power. Let him know that such power is because of you. Let him pass laws you need.

Use his connections or your connections to other countries. Sell your stories abroad very cheap. Basically give your compelling stories to other countries. Use money you have or you saved to get you in other countries media.

Repeat with other politicians from more countries. Write awful tabloid stories about their oppponents. Write great leader stories about politicians you picked up. Make sure the politicians know they got to the power because of you.

Let the politicians donate some state money to your media house. You know, for advertising the country, for information systems... Make sure the money you got are more than you need for pulling the needs (aka corruption). Make sure the politicians you got to the power are corrupted too. Make them know that if they stop cooperating, they are done.

Widen your circles even more. At this point you should have enough money to get into Russia or Chinese medias.

Repeat the same: Make sure the politicians know you can make them into Great Leaders or Dumb Idiots. Make sure they follow what you need.

It is awful lot of work, where Joe sacrificed self to be world leader, but I think it is doable (at least the corruption way).

By age 70, Joe should be in possition of Elliot Carver

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  • $\begingroup$ or Rupert Murdoch? $\endgroup$ – Tracy Cramer Aug 25 '15 at 19:53
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Those who are in power (or even two kilometers aware of them) are already under the influence of as many different pressure groups as you may imagine (parties, lobbies, administration officials, financers, family, other nations, even uncondicional supporters need at least to believe they are being heard). As someone said, "an stadist is a politician that stands straight because he has the same pressure coming from all sides".

The average Joe will be just one tiny, tiny voice inside a tropical cyclone, and just by attempting to influence just one leader. Of course, if the average Joe has millions of dollars for donations or investments in the country, or one to ten TV networks, his influence will be way more effective; but at that point he is not "average" anymore.

Even dictators need the support of at least a sizeable fraction of the people under them to keep power; and as long as you need someone's support that someone is in a position that influences the ruler (top officers in dictadures sheldom have low salaries, and usually are as "above the law" as the dictator himself). In a democracy, complexities multiply manifold (think of the USA Congress, Supreme Court, etc.).

If it serves for anything, think that as soon people in charge had learnt that HDE 226868 was influencing all the world's leaders toward a world without corruption, less military expending, and justice and goodwill in general (because that is the idea, right?), your life would have become considerably shorter.

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That’s a pretty tall order. There are a lot of interesting routes on this one that I’ll detail some strategies for.

Power by Force

This is a pretty standard approach historically. From the Mongols, to the Romans, to the Nazis, individuals have often controlled vast empires obtained through sheer militaristic force. Unfortunately, even if Joe was given full control of the militaries of the United States and her allies, forcefully taking control of the remaining major nations would be intractable at best, and totally impossible at worst (never mind maintaining control after seizing it). Poor Joe doesn’t even have an army yet. If you look at current generals in commanding positions of the U.S. military you’ll find that not only are all of these men old, but they’ve spent their entire lives achieving their rank. Likewise, U.S. presidents (and leaders of other countries) often require life-long careers in politics or other areas that can provide the experience to govern. This kind of timeline is a very big problem for Joe, and it only gets him halfway to his goal.

Power by Diplomacy and Trade

Since the end of the cold war the spectre of massive violent conflict between major nations has been shrinking. In our global economy there are enormous benefits to cooperation and trade. This presents a different path to control for Joe: ruling an economic powerhouse. There are several corporations today that have a remarkable global reach. Google and Amazon alone not only have a global presence but have also diversified into many different economic verticals. As these and other corporations continue to grow in coming decades, so too will their influence in government the world over. The CEOs of these companies could then be said to wield rather considerable power. This track actually feels suitable for Joe. With his sociopathic traits he could certainly excel in office politics and rise the corporate ladder. He will need talent and expertise in other areas, but ruthlessness and desire for power could get him a long way. Unfortunately, even if Joe becomes CEO of Megacorp, he will only have limited control over his desired countries. Even worse, it will be difficult for him to take manipulative action without public scrutiny.

Power by Terror

When the traditional approaches fail, there’s always the terror option. Since ruling from a public pedestal doesn’t seem feasible for Joe, doing it from the shadows may be his best bet. There are a few ways to do this. For starters, blackmail is an incredibly potent weapon. Rather than attempting to interfere with the sovereignty of these nations, he could simply dig up enough dirt on enough powerful individuals to effectively control them. Unfortunately, finding enough individuals with scary enough skeletons in their closets to control even a single country would be incredibly difficult. Joe’s network of spies would need to be sweeping, dependable, and very, very effective. That doesn’t even take into consideration the limited feasibility of Joe orchestrating hundreds, if not thousands, of government officials across cultures to do his bidding. It’s not looking very promising for Joe.

One final technique would be to essentially take these countries hostage. In classic hollywood fashion, one of the best theoretical ways to do this would be with the threat of nuclear weapons, preferably hidden in highly populated areas. The problem with this, as many movie villains have unfortunately discovered, is that world governments typically despise being taken hostage and have a tendency to devote their entire security force to stopping you. But for Joe to even get to that point, he needs to either acquire nuclear weapons or be able to reasonably convince world governments that he has them. Thankfully for the world’s continued existence, neither of these options are practical for the average Joe.

Alas, the answer to Joe’s question is almost certainly a No. Attempting to control so many heavily populated, culturally diverse, and diplomatically misaligned countries is out of reach for even the most powerful of individuals, let alone the average Joe. To even further cement that point, one needs only to examine powerful figures throughout history. The largest empires were rarely ruled by average people. Poor Joe is probably better off picking up a copy of Civilization.

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I would take a lesson from the

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Mirror_(TV_series)

episode

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Waldo_Moment

Where a Blue Cartoon bear takes over the world. If Waldo can do it so can your hero.

Synopsis: In a UK election a Cartoon bear stands for election to take the mickey out of your stereotypical slimy politicians.

Despite losing - he came close - he is found to have universal appeal across social media and becomes a brand that influences politics everywhere.

Now in the original story our hero - the comedian behind the character eventually quits and is replaced - invisibly to the public by someone with far less social conscience. But if we imagine for a minute that the original comedian had stuck it out we now have a 25 year old thereabouts humble comedian of the sort of background most wanna be comedians have finding himself in a position in which his say dictates all governments all over the world.

In the original version we absurdly have Jackbooted thugs controlling the world dictated by a Blue Cartoon Bear. But hey that's Black Mirror - its meant to be dark.

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The key to resolving this is to understand that nearly everyone else who is influencing from behind the scenes is almost certainly using outdated methods. He needs to get an AI expert (easy to get a geek onside: nobody listens to them - so anybody who does becomes a highly valued friend) and have him build a computer system for influence tactics. Improve the system as you go: what works at Parish Council level won't work at international level. Maybe one route would be to create a team of "grand viziers" (political advisors of great wisdom) to all the most important people, without them all knowing that everyone is getting their advice from the same source. Becoming the advisor to great people is easier than you might think: look at some of the idiots who have done so (e.g. both Hitler and Jack Kennedy had quack doctors who made them feel good by injecting them with amphetamines, and Reagan got advice from an astrologer via his wife).

Edit: I don't approve of Vincent, in locking the thread, describing my answer as "low quality". I sincerely believe that while it probably won't work, it has a better chance than any of the other ideas presented.

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I think pretty much by definition anyone with the ability to take over the world is someone of extraordinary capabilities. Many people with exceptional abilities have tried to take over the world, and despite thousands of years of human history none as succeeded. Taking over the world is not an easy thing to do, or someone would have done it by now.

Your question is like asking, "Could someone of average athletic abilities win an Olympic gold medal?" I think anyone who wins an Olympic gold medal must be one of the best in the world, or he couldn't win.

I suppose if you define "average" narrowly enough, it would be possible. If you mean born to an average middle class family and not inheriting any great power or wealth or otherwise having great power and wealth dropped in his lap, but nevertheless being someone of extraordinary intelligence, charisma, political skill, military leadership abilities, and/or other relevant skills, then it probably is possible. Lots of powerful world leaders throughout history came from humble backgrounds.

As to a realistic plan to do it, if I had one, I'd be ruling the world now and I'd sentence you to death as a potential dangerous upstart. :-)

If you want to be realistic, all the creative plans you see in movies and in other posts here are generally impractical. In practice, people who have succeeded in the past in taking over large countries have almost always relied on one of three basic plans: (a) Run for office in a democratic country. Work your way to the top through the existing political system. If being a democratic leader isn't enough for you, then once you get to the top, start changing the system to give yourself more power. (b) Join the military. Work your way to the top. Once you're high enough, get a few like-minded friends and stage a military coup. (c) Form an organization of political dissidents. Wage a guerilla war and overthrow the government.

Fiction writers love plans that involve becoming a billionaire and then using the money from your corporation to build a private army or a super weapon. While I suppose it's not impossible, I'm not aware of any case in history of anyone getting anywhere with this sort of plan. (The Dutch East India Company is the only example I can think of, and they had the backing of the Dutch government, it's not like they were out there totally on their own.) I think a big part of the problem is that convincing people to be willing to fight and die for you is pretty tough. People will risk their lives to defend their home and family. People will risk their lives for a political cause that they are convinced will create a utopia. But risk their lives so that their employer can have more money and power? I might possibly give my life for the cause of freedom. I can't imagine giving my life to help Wal-Mart sell more toasters. You would have to convince these private soldiers you hire that there is some glorious political cause, in which case you're back to building a traditional guerilla army and the mega-corporation is just a means to that end. In which case, it's a very round-about means to that end. Which brings me to the second problem: Building a corporation with resources that rival the major nations is a hugely difficult job in itself. Only a handful of people in history have accomplished it. To say that you're going to do this as a sideline along the way to a totally different plan, that you're going to pull off a feat that few people have achieved when that isn't even your real goal, but just a part-time job that you're doing along the way, is asking a lot. If you want political and military power, it's way easier to pursue it directly, by going into politics or the military, than by such a round-about route.

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There's a bit of a trick to the wording of this question. "Take over the world," to me, implies that this Joe has the ability to decide how the world should work against the wishes of the rest of the population. Needless to say, this creates a Joe vs. The World scenario, that is almost impossible.

However, there are alternatives. What if the only goal is to have the world agree with Joe's wishes. Doors open when Joe is willing to adapt his wishes to the world.

Consider the Dali Lama. They are chosen at a tremendously young age, when they can certainly be considered an "average Joe." They are then raised in a way that puts them into a mindset which wields considerable power. Neilsons polling company found him to be "joint most popular leader in the world," tying with President Obama.

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  • $\begingroup$ That necessitates a tremendous amount of luck, though. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Aug 25 '15 at 17:39
  • $\begingroup$ Well, not 100%. If Joe's overarching wish for the world is "to let the world do what it wants," he'll find he has absolute unyielding ability to make that wish a reality, without requiring any luck at all. The Dali Lama is just an example of something a little less extreme than simply bending over backwards, which did involve some luck. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Aug 25 '15 at 17:43
  • $\begingroup$ So if you order the world to do what it was going to do anyway, it will obey you. Let me try "World, continue orbitting the sun." Hey it WORKED! $\endgroup$ – PyRulez Aug 25 '15 at 18:43
  • $\begingroup$ @PyRulez I felt this case was a necessary mention. So often such puzzles depend upon everyone agreeing on the exact definitions of things, then requiring them to extrapolate out to insanity and not quibble over terms. Pointing out that there's phrasings that are not only likely, but occur on a regular basis helps frame the terminology. Besides, is it not fair to say that you are part of the world, so part of your job is bending yourself to your whims? $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Aug 25 '15 at 20:34
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to be brief and to the point it is quite impossible be cause of religious factions around the globe and as government is the biggest bully on any block you would be eliminated from the equation once you have reached a threat level to them.

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The only way to maintain any control over anything is to have the majority of people of influence also backing the status quo where you are in charge. The only way for this to happen is if the individual was very charismatic, cunning at politics and intrigue, and was seen as the representative of some popular philosophy or policies.

One hacker trying to out hack the entire world is not going to work because the NSA can just trace you and send a small army to your front door.

Also, acting as a revolutionary is not likely to work either, because, if the existing institution does not like you, they can just get rid of you, even if your democratic rights suggest that they can't. There are many de-classified or leaked FBI/CIA documents that show that the US government shuts down up-starting political groups by spreading miss information about them, financially debasing them and many other tactics. In fact, many of the historic groups that are commonly shunned by the mainstream media are quite possibly the targets of Intelligence agencies.

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If you can't be good, be lucky.

There are very many average people, many of whom would accept the role of world leader if it came to them. Therefore, whichever person that opportunity comes to is almost by definition the recipient of freakishly good luck.

Your fiction can then play on this notion to construe the chain of circumstances that brings them to the top. Something like "House of Cards", except that everywhere that above-average skill plays a role, replace it with good luck. Or perhaps the backing of someone skilled who thinks they can gain advantage from Joe's advance, but eventually falls away for some reason, leaving Joe with something for nothing.

Jim Hacker from "Yes Minister" and "Yes, Prime Minister" is an example of a distinctly average person in high office, albeit not as high as you want.

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