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The Backstory (Actually important)

From the current day to an unspecified number of decades in the future, a brutally efficient, totalitarian dystopia-state rises and runs basically all of humanity under its empire. It's not a conventional dystopia, nor is it actually that bad to its people. I drew inspiration from china and their social credit system, and many other of their surveillance/control systems.

It is run by a small council of leaders called the overseers, which are sort of appointed by some selection method, designed to find the best candidates possible out of the government organization, the 'state'. Not a dictatorship, but not a democracy either, the people shouldn't even know they exist. Beside them and their government, the 'state', a black box which runs society, are the massive corporate entities that support the overseers and provide the people with jobs.

They are the science and research firms that created the phase-gates, keidran, exoskeletons and accompanying military/terraforming equipment, and built the starships and dyson swarm. There is a digital, government controlled cash system, which is linked to a social credit system, which is linked to a worldwide surveillance and biometric tracking network.

There is no concept of privacy or opinion, and you are always watched. Maybe not maliciously, but the police can preemptively know when someone might commit a crime, and prevent it, for example. It is slow and insidious, taking control of the top of foreign governments with its corporate partners, and then slowly implement its systems without the people ever batting an eye, until they realize that they don't have any freedom, they self-censor as there are consequences for free speech, and they don't know who it is they are run by.

But the point is that they are brutally efficient, the people suffer in the sort term, but the long term is the bettering of society. With such efficiency, theres no need for the support of the free market to make interstellar travel possible, or for crime and war to impede progress. The 'free market' is really just run by the state, and so scientific progress is for them to pursue, regardless of needing incentive for the public.

They are cruel, but they have a point and a moral, and most importantly, you can't really hate them, they aren't a cardboard cutout villain, and they see themselves as righteous.

The Question

How long would it reasonably take for such an empire to gain full control of humanity, fast enough that the plot isn't too far into the future, but not so quickly that people catch on and rebellion and genocide ensues.

It's basically coercion, slow, imperceptible moves towards gaining control of all world governments enough to install themselves as a de-facto government. Of course you could argue that this is an opinion based question, but I'm not asking you to build my society for me.

But the question this post centers on is this:

When in history has a change this drastic ever happened? Where can I draw comparisons in history to this?

This is closer to a fact than an opinion. History is finitely large, and I cut out a very specific criteria for what the question refers to. I want to know when something like this happened, so I can gauge what the future should look like.

I know of two obvious transitions that I can compare to. The Informational Revolution, and the Chinese Communist Party. The information revolution is ongoing, right now.

Sixty years ago, you could tell someone they'd have a supercomputer more powerful than every IBM machine of the time put together and they'd say you're full of hot air. What will the world look like sixty years from today? Will things keep on picking up steam?

And another example is the CCP. A generation ago, under Mao, China was a third world country, but today, basically everything can and is manufactured there. They are approaching the bleeding edge and facing off titans that have never been challenged in recent history, like the United States.

Where else in history has something like this happened? If at all?

After Note (Skip if desired)

Before you berate me on how this system could never work properly, I know that already. The thing is that you're listening to the plot of a book a fourteen-year-old author dreamed up, me, and I am trying to fix the problems it had and organize the mess I left myself, but before I do that, I need to know how far in the future, and thus what kind of tech, they would have access to, to plan out this society.

I kind of did it backwards, setting the aesthetic and feel of the world and then setting up a society based on how I want it to feel, instead of the other way around.

I originally had it as a vague "cashless-society social-credit-system dark-cloudy-concrete-skylines and cold-heartless-megacorporations" society, paraphrasing myself from a year ago.

I remember listening to this, this, and this, and being inspired for the tone of this world. Even though we never see it (this empire proper) through the series of books I planned.

If you noticed they aren't that old, then you can guess that I only abandoned my ambitions for a few months, and am coming back to add the science and logic it didn't have.

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Jan 25, 2023 at 15:31
  • $\begingroup$ Does Covid count as violence? $\endgroup$ Jan 25, 2023 at 17:16
  • $\begingroup$ @candied_orange - Two years later everyone's sick of the changes and we're basically back to where we were before, at least in most places. $\endgroup$
    – Richard
    Jan 25, 2023 at 19:18

15 Answers 15

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Ray Dalio, a famous investor and fantastic original thinker, has done a lot of this research in this area, at least as far as how economic factors contribute to these changes and on what range of timelines they occur (at least historically) with some predictions for the future (namely the decline of the USA and rise of China). It's in his 2021 book Principles for Dealing with the Changing World Order: Why Nations Succeed and Fail (#1 Best Seller in Macroeconomics).

For realistic but fictional purposes, you could throw in a natural disaster or climactic event that shifts the power dramatically when people are in a desperate or vulnerable situation.

How about the development and perfection of a radically transformative technology, such as nuclear fusion to produce energy cheaply, that is retained in the hands of the few?

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  • $\begingroup$ ARG!! I'm cut between accepting yours or nosajimiki's... well his caused some controversy and your new here, so take some free reputation! $\endgroup$ Jan 28, 2023 at 21:27
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20 - 60 years

There's a truism in the physical sciences that, in order for a new idea to succeed, it doesn't need to convince the old guard - it just needs to wait for them all to retire. It's the same way in society. You can't convince the majority of a radical new idea, and you've disclaimed the usual method of change, which is rounding them up and having them all shot, so you're left with the slow and steady approach.

If your ideas appeal to disaffected college-age youth right now, it'll be mainstream 20 years from now when they're the middle-age adults running the show. If it's more esoteric and further from the mainstream, you might need a couple generations to draw people in.

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    $\begingroup$ I disagree. If an ideology is compelling enough, it can convince the majority. We've seen this in history before. $\endgroup$ Jan 23, 2023 at 17:38
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    $\begingroup$ That truism is actualy untrue. Even relativity and quantum physics were accepted within half a decade - sure, the old guard stuck with the old ideas and still had enough influence to be vocal about it, but their opinions were ignored very quickly. The old guards still had some say on funding and such, but that would just drive away the bright minds, so the institutions overseen by the always-yesterday people lost their talent quickly. (E.g. happened to German science when the Nazis disallowed "Jewish Science", i.e. Einstein...) $\endgroup$
    – toolforger
    Jan 24, 2023 at 12:59
  • $\begingroup$ Science is very different from social movement, though. Once the "fringe" scientists finally found the Chixulub Crater, there was sufficient evidence that yes, the dinosaurs probably fell victim to an asteroid. But for social movements I was taught that large changes like this take about a decade from inception, through persistent support, to legislation. Holds true for the racial justice movement in the US - 60s to 70s - or the environmental movement - 70s to 80s. Obviously there are some exceptions, like the very-fast recall of ozone-depleting compounds to dithering over climate change. $\endgroup$ Jan 25, 2023 at 17:13
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Taking inspiration from Nazi Germany

Germany was transformed from a (somewhat dysfunctional) democracy into a totalitarian dictatorship over the course of 10 years. So this is a piece of history you might want to study for inspiration.

Now this transformation was not completely non-violent. The Schutzstaffel and Sturmabteilung were paramilitary organizations that used intimidation and violence against political opponents. There was quite a lot of violence within the Nazi party itself as well (the Röhm purge, for example). And the final vote for the Enabling Act that officially turned Adolf Hitler into the supreme leader of Germany also happened while the parliament was surrounded by his paramilitaries. But calling it a violent authoritarian revoultion would not be appropriate either. In 1933, the Nazi party was elected as the strongest party in parliament in a mostly free and fair election.

It is very well possible to imagine a similar de-democratization of a state to happen with less violence. What you need is:

  • An enemy that is (or can be presented as) an existential threat.
  • A propaganda machine that convinces the population that only an authoritarian dictatorship is able to deal with this threat.
  • A political party with the agenda to establish such an authoritarian dictatorship.
  • A weak democracy that is unable to launch an appropriate counter-propaganda campaign.

When you have all that, then you can plausibly put the authoritarian party in charge through a regular democratic election.

Now, that the party is in power, it can start its work to dismantle personal liberties and democracy. But changing everything at once might be too dangerous. It could result in a counter-revolution before the state created all the authoritarian tools of oppression it needs to deal with one. So it's far smarter to use salami tactics.

Slowly remove one personal liberty after another, use propaganda to convince people that it was necessary to deal with the existential threat, and when people accepted the new status quo, tackle the next piece of civil liberty. Same with tolerating political opposition. Create laws which criminalize the democratic opposition, so it can be persecuted. Take control of the media to control public opinion. Take control of the election infrastructure so it can be manipulated. Give the leading party more and more special privileges until all other parties become irrelevant. Then you can abandon them altogether as an obsolete relic of a forgotten time. Now the party is de-facto "the state".

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    $\begingroup$ In the US, they don't even have to convince anyone that removing a liberty was necessary to deal with any existential threat. Rather, just that the party that removed it was playing by the rules and that the idea of rejecting the outcome of those rules (e.g. the supremacy of the Supreme Court) is unacceptable. It doesn't even have to be morally unacceptable, just mechanically unacceptable, in the sense that no party has means to reject it. $\endgroup$ Jan 24, 2023 at 14:44
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    $\begingroup$ And of course, after the war Germany transformed again into what is is today. $\endgroup$
    – RedSonja
    Jan 25, 2023 at 11:49
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    $\begingroup$ @RedSonja Curiously, the Federal Republic of Germany was basically the only example in history I can think of where a country under an authoritarian dictatorship was defeated in a war was then successfully reformed into a stable democracy. Any other attempts I can think of, like Iraq or Afghanistan, failed. But that's really a different topic than the one this question is about. $\endgroup$
    – Philipp
    Jan 25, 2023 at 11:52
  • $\begingroup$ @Philipp: As I recall, technically France also fits in that, if you consider the French Revolution as a Civil War, that led to them becoming a stable democracy, even if it wasn't exactly without violence, could fit the same required. $\endgroup$ Jan 29, 2023 at 23:22
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexanderThe1st Who was that "Napoleon" guy again? $\endgroup$
    – Philipp
    Jan 30, 2023 at 9:02
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America and Russia are examples right?

America didnt do exactly what you describe, but it is an example of a gradual shift to a more dystopian society without (part of) the populace noticing too much to do anything about it. Russia does do similar, but both Russia do it mostly through one tool: information.

With control over information you can create cultural and behavioural changes. In America this often shows in all local news outlets being controlled by one media group who pushes an agenda. This can lead to people voting and protesting for something not in their own or the public interest. If this was done to all news outlets in America you can change what people value enough within one or two generations to align with your wants and needs. After all if all information your populace gets is “this is good for you” then the populace will try to achieve it. With only a few individuals able to understand the full topic and able to contradict it, but without a way to spread that information far and wide easily. Not to mention that those people would be the one’s who have to censor themselves or risk arrests.

And your idea is basically in progress in China. My brother married a chinese woman and she says that basically a culture exists of “if you dont clash with the government you can have a full life”. And for most Han chinese this is true so there is not really a problem for them. Why bother trying to change something if it seems no problem or even good for most people? Keep in mind that as draconian as China is (at least I think it is) it does control the media enough for people to get a sense of progress being made because of the government and their systems. And in a way that is true, the question would be if other governments couldnt have done the same or better but with less draconian measures.

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  • $\begingroup$ EXACTLY! This is basically what I am trying to describe. It's slow and progressive, and no one really notices or tries to fight back except for a tiny minority. Hmm... $\endgroup$ Jan 23, 2023 at 13:21
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    $\begingroup$ All news outlets in America are owned by something like 5 people, right? and all Russian news outlets by 1 person (Vladimir Putin) $\endgroup$
    – user253751
    Jan 23, 2023 at 21:10
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    $\begingroup$ An important note is also that peoples see progress for themselves. The random Chinese person's prospect 50y ago was to end up in a factory, building things for a far out country. Nowadays, the same random person have just as much chances and prospect to go to university and end up in a management position than an equivalent person in europe or north america. If the price for that is a bit of privacy, and being careful when wording grievance about the state, most peoples would agree to that deal. $\endgroup$
    – DrakaSAN
    Jan 24, 2023 at 10:20
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    $\begingroup$ @DrakaSAN the problem is that while democracies can and do visibly fail in many small things all the time, a single-opinion state like the Chinese and the author's will do so rarely but then catastropically so. E.g. right now China is risking a massive superspreader event, because they found themselves forced to abruptly reverse gear (a massive vaccination campaign before stopping the lockdown would have been smarter, but obviously they didn't dare delay relieving the lockdown). $\endgroup$
    – toolforger
    Jan 24, 2023 at 13:06
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    $\begingroup$ @toolforger Sure, my point was that for the violenceless quick regime change, you can also rely on things going mainly upward, and as long as the downsides are seen as the price for those improvements, you can go quite far. For another example, in the US, the social destruction brought by McCarthyism and the red scare was mainly glossed by the economic boom and the victories in the space race. $\endgroup$
    – DrakaSAN
    Jan 24, 2023 at 14:53
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First to counter your opinion that such system is impossible: it is not. If a system improves the lives of population (or convince them it did), people will ignore any decrease of personal freedoms. Just look at the COVID situation. Practically everywhere on the planet governments decreased people's freedoms. And except of small minorities nobody even complained about it. Even more, the general population was more discriminatory against people complaining then against immigrants (in EU, I think that study was published in Nature?)! So with modern propaganda you only have to explain/convince people that sacrificing personal freedoms is worth it, and you won't have any issues.

Now, to answer your question:

20 years or less

If you show your population the need for such a system it could be done in far less time: 5-10 years. Just look at China with their social credit score. Sure not everyone would be happy by the change, but if you control the information, and you have the backing of the elite, it would be practically impossible for a resistance to form. And sooner or later (judging by the COVID sooner) people would get used to the new normal.

And you can easily take a pandemic for your reason. Or economic crisis. Or transition to green industry. Or external enemy. Or exctinction level danger from space - potential comet on a colision course/near (super)nova candidate.

In fact, your timeline is not that dependant on social changes, but on technological ones. Especially if you want to include orbital infrastructure needed for dyson sphere construction. For that level if infrastructure I doubt you could go earlier than 100 years from now. Even if we have the technology to start building such projects (and we kinda do), we don't have the infrastructure and industrial capacity to do so at the moment. And stuff like that cannot change in a year or two.

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    $\begingroup$ "5-10 years. Just look at China with their social credit score" – the example disproves the point. China has been experimenting with that since 2014 and now in 2023 it's still just a few pilot projects etc., doesn't affect people's lives in any way. Most Chinese people have not heard of it. The question was about a major overhaul of society, not a little project. $\endgroup$
    – wokopa
    Jan 23, 2023 at 15:01
  • $\begingroup$ Where have you got the idea that majority of Chinese people haven't heard of it? And considering that Chinese abroad (for example students) tend to be very careful about what they post online I wouldn't exactly bet on your point that it doesn't affect people's lives. $\endgroup$
    – Negdo
    Jan 23, 2023 at 15:21
  • $\begingroup$ Can you explain what you think the 社会信用体系 does and is? $\endgroup$
    – wokopa
    Jan 23, 2023 at 15:25
  • $\begingroup$ @wokopa I am gonna make an accurate guess as to around 30 to 40 years, as the point of the system isn't to be dystopian, but to "improve" society. I see it as closer to the modern day than to something like 1984. It's kind of scary because the point is that we aren't actually that far from something like it. Just something radical or some disaster, and someone with lots of ambition and not much morality. $\endgroup$ Jan 23, 2023 at 23:12
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    $\begingroup$ @SamKitsune – you have a 'wisdom of crowd' answer at this point: everyone is saying a few decades. (I'm doing similar worldbuilding, btw, a dictator seizes power and builds up a bureaucracy/consolidates for a few decades) $\endgroup$
    – wokopa
    Jan 24, 2023 at 14:32
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About Negative Five Years

The overthrow has already happened. The fact that most people missed it actually amplifies the idea that they can effectively move behind the scenes to manipulate power.

As others have pointed out, the key is control of the media, but how quickly and subversively one can usurp power with that kind of control has been vastly underestimated by other answers. Especially considering the power of modern social media to control the flow of inter-personal communication. The trick is not to tell people what to believe, but to make everyone believe that the usurper's will is the will of the People.

6 years ago, Cancel Culture was a very frowned upon idea. Nearly every American believed that freedom of speech was good, and censorship was bad, but within a single year, massive parts of the American power structure was overturned as record numbers of CEOs and influencers were literally forced out of thier positions of influence and replaced with a regime of people sympathetic to Cancel Culture's objectives. Through the use of algorithms designed from the ground up to identify individual values and manipulate them, key personnel in social media companies had a kind of power that was never before seen. The "Media" was no longer a single narrative that had to raise up a new generation with new values, it was a thing that was placed between the seemingly private and honest conversations we have on a daily basis, and changed the narrative of our individual lives.

The way it worked

If you say a thing that is against the values of your social media platform it can be censored, but if you support thier values, your message is amplified. So, people seeking the opinions of friends, family, and experts suddenly started getting a heavily filtered version of those people's opinions... and no one's opinions hold more weight that those of the people you choose to put a personal trust in.

In a world where there are thousands of influencers saying one thing, and millions saying something else, algorithms can drown out those millions of voices in favor of the thousands and make it look like the collective voice of a nation is rising up to demand a given change. This was made even more effective by the rise of chatbots/AI. Not only could your feed be manipulated, but the weak messages contained in that feed could be propped up in favor of the weaker argument by creating the illusion that the weaker arguments have a lot of support. Suddenly, people seeking truth started having that truth decided for them, and fed to them in a manner that it FELT like we were discovering it for ourselves. Politicians, investors, and CEOs who never faced this style of information warfare before were all easily manipulated by these controlled narratives leading to a massive overthrow in power that only took a few years to cement.

Sure the US government still stands and major American corporations still have all the same names, but the choices being made at every level of society from school board policies, to HR choices, to legislation are all now being driven by the personal story we each receive every day in our Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube feeds... and that story is controlled by the esoteric whims put in place by a small handful of tech leaders who have thier own vision of how to make the world a better place.

Because information has become so easy to control, there is no need to murder millions of people to usurp power anymore because it is so easy to just tuck those dissenters into little black-hole echo chambers away from society at large where they can yell and scream all they want... because no one who matters will ever hear them.

How much of this is facts

Considering the comments section, I think I really need to take a moment to unwind fact from fiction here, because this accidently came off as a conspiracy theory manifesto instead of a Worldbuilding thought experiment. It is a matter of fact that many tech companies implemented programs like Google's Fake News Initiative and YouTube's Misinformation Policies that have attempted to use algorithms to weed out fact from fiction. These algorithms are often the targets of controversy because there is no real way for the outside world to confirm that they are bias free or actually delivering truth at all.

It is also true that the AI technologies now exists that someone in control of a social media platform could choose to do all of the things I've described above, but very little proof that I know of that anyone has or that the social media platforms are working together in a single conspiracy to control the narrative.

The point of my answer was not that this narrative is true, only that it has enough truth in it that you could convince an audience that your story's takeover has already happened, we just don't know it yet, thus making the shortest time frame a negative number of years.

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    $\begingroup$ Whoah... that... t-that is [insert expletive] terrifying. Because it's true. Fantastic point, it would be so easy to manipulate the world into building such a dystopia themselves. Its almost like a cult in how they indoctrinate the people into believing what the leaders want... but these 'cults' have hundreds of millions, if not billions of people in them. $\endgroup$ Jan 23, 2023 at 23:25
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    $\begingroup$ I have to disagree that cancel culture is some kind of new phenomenon. The period of McCarthyism is arguably an example of cancel culture. Here's another example: A little while after the 2003 invasion if Iraq began, the conservative music band Dixie Chicks made a remark that spoke unfavorably about the war and, as a result, their sales plummeted and some of their venues even had bomb threats made. $\endgroup$
    – user73910
    Jan 24, 2023 at 1:52
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    $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki Nope, Cancel Culture has always been there, as "what any honest person should abhor". Some groups worked on cancelling white suprematist ideas, others on cancelling the exact opposite (universal human rights regardless of race). There was Christianity canceling Paganism, feudalist cancelling freedom (Karlsbad Decress), bourgeouis cancelling communism and communism cancelling bourgeois ideas. All these movements and their opposites had support from agenda groups, Big Money, and even State. $\endgroup$
    – toolforger
    Jan 24, 2023 at 13:26
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    $\begingroup$ @SamKitsune A more prevalent example of cancel culture is the Western acceptance of capitalism. Because neoclassical/capitalist/neoliberal economics has poised itself as the only economics; the study of something natural; etc. and the media never says anything contrary (because it is owned by people who the system rewards heavily) very few people conceive of the idea that life could possibly be any other way. Heck, you're probably reading this thinking "what's he on about?" and that means it is deeply ingrained into your brain, too. $\endgroup$
    – user253751
    Jan 25, 2023 at 17:33
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    $\begingroup$ i.e. People used to think that people created products by doing things. Now it's widely accepted that entrepreneurs create products by taking risks - the rest of the production process being an afterthought. This "fact" is mainstream economic and political thought. Most of the economic thought that is put into practice (e.g. by central banks) concerns themselves with keeping the entrepreneurs happy because they are thought to be the ones creating the products. For some reason we're OK with this. You can read "The Capital Order: How Economists invented Austerity and Paved the Way to Fascism" $\endgroup$
    – user253751
    Jan 25, 2023 at 17:36
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Isolate individuals by replacing society of humans with technology controlled by Big Brother*.

  1. Introduce technology. This should be seductive and engaging and should be a substitute for interpersonal interactions.

  2. Introduce personalized version of technology. Persons accustomed to interacting with technology (and everyone interacting with the same technology) will now interact with their own personalized version of the technology.

  3. Now separated from the larger herd, each individual can be provided a "virtual herd" of simulated interaction.

  4. Individuals can now be recombined into smaller silos of like minded individuals (this in some respects using prior grouping like age, place, sociocultural background) who are fed the same simulated interactions. Virtual AI individuals will be part of each smaller silo. These silos will be under your control although the precise methods of control will differ according to the individuals in each silo.

This took about 70 years in real life but it was slow because of limitations in technology. I think with all tech in place it could be done in 2 generations or 40 years. The first generation to get them hooked on the tech (TV in our world; step 1) and then 2,3, and 4 (using cell phones) will be in the second generation.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is also describing the rise of social media in the real world. $\endgroup$
    – user253751
    Jan 23, 2023 at 21:06
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    $\begingroup$ I take your 2 generations/40 years and raise you 10 years. Just get everyone hooked onto the equivalent of cell phones and social media and make them essential to live in the modern world. TV is an unnecessary precursor. $\endgroup$ Jan 23, 2023 at 21:37
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20 years from a single unknown person to ruling an entire country

1,400 years ago the Prophet Muhammed drastically united hundreds of disparate and disconnected tribal and pagan groups into a single, monotheistic nation state that took and overcame part of the Eastern Byzantine empire and the Persian Empire.

He was a lone man who preached to his tribe in Makkah, and when persecuted and after avoiding multiple assassination attempts, emigrated to an enclave of his followers in Madina, and from there the message spread. A treaty was enacted with his home tribe once his followers' numbers grew significantly, and that enabled peace and the majority of the spread of the message. Within 20 years, the entire Arabian continent had followed his message.

He taught a simple and intuitive theology that described to people their Creator, and the path to Him, in a way that spread like wildfire across the globe. Islamic monotheism became the religion of Arabia in just twenty years of preaching, in stark contrast to the Roman Empire needing about three centuries to become majority Christian. This attests to Muhammad ﷺ coming with a unique proposal, one that struck such a deep chord in humanity that it effectively stripped them of some of their most hindering tendencies—such as the blind conformity that cultures at times perpetuate, and the idolization of ancestors that has occurred in so many civilizations.

Alphonse de Lamartine says on this point,

Never has a man proposed for himself, voluntarily or involuntarily, a goal more sublime, since this goal was beyond measure: undermine the superstitions placed between the creature and the Creator, give back God to man and man to God, reinstate the rational and saintly idea of divinity in the midst of this prevailing chaos of material and disfigured gods of idolatry... Never has a man accomplished in such short time such an immense and long-lasting revolution in the world, since less than two centuries after his prediction, Islam, preaching and armed, ruled over three Arabias and conquered to God’s unity Persia, the Khorasan of Transoxania, Western India, Syria, Egypt, Abyssinia, and all the known continent of Northern Africa, many islands of the Mediterranean, Spain, and part of Gaul.

Source, and further information: https://yaqeeninstitute.org/read/paper/the-accomplishments-of-prophet-muhammad

As for the argument of violence, it's recorded that the battles that occurred in the establishment of this nation state occurred as an evolving consequence of persecution, torture and abuse that the Prophet Muhammed and his followers encountered throughout the establishment and growth of the state.

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  • $\begingroup$ There was a fair amount of violence involved in that story, whatever the reasons, ultimately significant violence occured. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Jan 24, 2023 at 12:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Separatrix The violence that occurred resulted in a few hundred dead at maximum, given the battles consisted of armies numbering in the low thousands. Also, this is insignificant compared to OP's example of China, if you want to consider The Great Leap Forward and the mass persecution of the Uyghurs. $\endgroup$ Jan 24, 2023 at 13:01
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    $\begingroup$ peace be upon him $\endgroup$
    – wokopa
    Jan 24, 2023 at 14:30
  • $\begingroup$ @AhmedTawfik, Estimated average casualty rate was around 5% for premodern combat, a few hundred dead for a few thousand combatants is pretty much on the money for any war in that period. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Jan 27, 2023 at 16:07
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for letting me know @Separatrix! $\endgroup$ Jan 27, 2023 at 17:01
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Depending on a bunch of factors, I argue that it could be as low as a few months to 5-20 years.

Here are the examples upon which I base this assertion:

The PATRIOT Act got signed into law in just a little over a month after 9/11, and we have since seen expansion of state surveillance and US military involvement abroad following the attacks. Now, one could say that US military interventions abroad and erosion of civil liberties are simply part of the 20+ year change that was marked by 9/11.

The Pearl Harbor attack took place in December of 1941. In February of 1942, Executive Order 9066 was signed, leading to the internment of Japanese Americans.

The Russian Apartment bombings, theorized by some to have been orchestrated by the Russian security services, killed around 300 and injured around 1000 and allowed Vladimir Putin to gain power a little under a year later.

Before the United States entered the First World War, public opinion was largely in favor of isolationism, but, due to a combination of factors such as propaganda in favor of intervention, the Zimmerman telegram, and German attacks on American ships, the US entered the war in 1917. What is of interest is that the Espionage Act of 1917 was amended in 1918 to make it illegal to incite resistance to the war effort. This was upheld by a Supreme Court decision in 1919 (Abrams v. United States).

It would seem that, given the right pressures, people are a lot more willing to give up their (Or other people's) freedoms than many would like to think. So, if your government can create the perception, founded or otherwise, that there is a great threat looming, or take advantage of societal attitudes regarding those perceived as "others", it's entirely plausible that they can restrict personal freedoms in a short amount of time.

Thomas Sankara, President of Upper Volta (Renamed to Burkina Faso under his administration), managed to dramatically improve his country of 7 million people in just 4 years before his assassination as a result of a coup backed by France.

Now, these examples aren't non-violent, but you did say "without a genocide. As long as millions aren't left dead or in concentration camps, then it works". These examples happened as a result of war, coup, or terrorism, and Sankara's government engaged in political repression and execution of political opponents, but, in the US and Burkina Faso themselves, the death toll wasn't in the millions (Now, as for all of the countries affected by the "War on Terror", that's another story. Millions were killed or displaced, economic damage is in the trillions of dollars, and unforeseen consequences). In the far future, it would be plausible, say, for a faction within the government to stage a false flag attack of some kind and use the ensuing panic as an excuse to grab power.

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About the rest of the question's body

When in history has a change this drastic ever happened? Where can I draw comparisons in history to this?

I'd look into all "communist" revolutions, mainly the USSR creation and Mao's China (that you spoke of already). You can more broadly look at the industrial revolution of all industrialized countries, as while they weren't always short or accompanied by political changes, they always had their fair share of political instabilities, cultural shock and economic transformations.

Sixty years ago, you could tell someone they'd have a supercomputer more powerful than every IBM machine of the time put together and they'd say you're full of hot air. What will the world look like sixty years from today? Will things keep on picking up steam?

For what possible technologies will exist, I'd refer you to modern sci-fi, as they inspire our research, and are themselves influenced back by technological advances.

For pure computing, you have more miniaturization and quantum computing (and the death of current day cryptography, which combined with programs like PRISM, could serve as a basis for your overseer's rise in power)

And another example is the CCP. A generation ago, under Mao, China was a third world country, but today, basically everything can and is manufactured there. They are approaching the bleeding edge and facing off titans that have never been challenged in recent history, like the United States. Where else in history has something like this happened? If at all?

Definitely the 1910's Russia / USSR, that went from bona-fide middle age backwater country to a industrial titan in a decade

1920's Japan, that went from middle age almost colony to challenging European powers in a decade too.

WW2 USA, that got out of recession and became the major political power for basically all of modern time in less than a decade.

You will also want to look deeply into the industrial revolution, how it changed the economic powers, and how it triggered cultural and political changes and revolutions

There's also probably similar stories all other central and south america, and south and east asia in the Cold War period, with the political and economical regimes being changed in both ways.

There is no concept of privacy or opinion, and you are always watched. Maybe not maliciously, but the police can preemptively know when someone might commit a crime, and prevent it, for example. It is slow and insidious, taking control of the top of foreign governments with its corporate partners, and then slowly implement its systems without the people ever batting an eye, until they realize that they don't have any freedom, they self-censor as there are consequences for free speech, and they don't know who it is they are run by.

You should look at Facebook's rise, more specifically how its founder talks (talked ?) about privacy no longer being a "social norm", and the companies fluctuating stance on privacy, as it will give you a good indicator on how fast culture about security and privacy can change.

The 'free market' is really just run by the state

You'll want to look up state capitalism and how it works, in good and bad ways, as this is straight up what you are describing.

About the question's title

How fast can you radically change society without violence? (And when has it happened?)

You'll have an economic regime change, a political regime change, and some form of world conquest to do.

The economic regime change can be quick to placate if your overseer regime is as efficient as you describe it, but it will also need a political change at some point, and historically this almost always meant revolution, one of the only counter examples I can think of being Industrial Revolution Britain, that at that point already gave political power to those having economic power, and as such didn't needed a revolution for that.

We can look at the USSR for an example of a complete upheaval of economic, political and cultural shift, it means that revolution could be done as shortly as a decade, with lot of blood spilled.

Your overseers would need to do that all across the world, with varying degrees of change to be done depending on the region

This part however, could be done more peacefully with modern equivalent of the Marshall Plan, Warsaw Pact, European Union and/or NATO. The theory behind communism global revolution may also interest you for this part. Historically they were pushed forward because of the Cold War and the consequences of two World Wars, but as seen with communism, it could be prioritized as a political conquest for the sake of it.

If we were to say the Marshall Plan "conquered" western europe in half a century, it wouldn't look out of touch to say your overseers could engineer a similar feat, and some decades added for the rest of the world.

As such, to me, you if your overseer started their revolution today (2023) in an country that is already an economic power and not at war, it wouldn't look too far fetched to see 2030~2040 have the first overseer regime country, and 2080~2100 having most / all of the world either directly controlled by the overseers, or either allied or too closely dependent on the overseer-directed country to say your regime is global.

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To add another example to some great answers, I present: Meiji restoration.

Japan went from a semi-feudal state to an industrialized nation in mere decades. So, 10-50 years?

Some notes that could help your worldbuilding:

  1. This was a time of rampant colonialism. China had recently been defeated in the Second Opium War, which helped foster a climate of "either we modernize or the same shall happen here". A common threat is a great unifier.
  2. This transformation was more about incorporating methods from abroad at first, rather than creating a system from scratch.

I'd say that your best bet is to have some embryonic form of this dystopia already working somewhere, and have it expand to the rest of the world as a response to an external threat, either real or fictitious.

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    $\begingroup$ Not violence, but reasonable fear of a repeat of violence that had occured to their neighbours. The classic external enemy, but unusually compared to many other examples, a very real threat. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Jan 24, 2023 at 12:12
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If you want to accelerate it, you need an event.

The event can be violent, WWI/II (Germany) or 9/11 (USA), or technological, moveable type (Europe) or the internet (most of the world). Both of these latter examples significantly changed the way ordinary people gained information, or misinformation.

Fictionally you get technologies like the telescreen (1984) or facial recognition (Minority Report). These technologies allow the level of oversight and monitoring of the population that wasn't possible previously.

The corporations that oversee our every word, Google, Facebook etc, can tie all your internet actions with your physical location (phone (Google)) and the words you say (smart speaker/television (Amazon, Samsung), phone assistant (Google), everything you buy (Amazon, Google) for a level of monitoring of your activities previously inconceivable to the authors of such fictional works without direct government intervention and oversight.

Through the mechanisms by which money controls western democracies, the tech corporations controlling a significant proportion of that money alongside the data, I'd give an estimate of 20 years. From the approximate point when the internet became mainstream, to few years ago when people started noticing, with some exceptions, that we were apparently travelling headlong into a corporate controlled dystopia.

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The real challenge here is the national borders. Within a country, this kind of change can happen almost overnight, as others have said. Rebellion against the full force of the state is immensely difficult, so things can move pretty quick. Even if people do catch on, rebelling is just too hard.

But uniting the planet under one government is very hard. You can get away with putting it in the backstory of something set 60-80 years in the future, but writing a story about how it happens would be a great creative challenge.

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Taking the question at face value - when the USSR and satellites around the world crumbled, a few examples (alas too few) were rather peaceful.

In Czechoslovakia lots of people -- and active politicians in power -- came out to the streets, and eventually agreed not only that the communist-only power is dissolved and democracy will elect new leaders soon, but also that the country has un-reconcilable differences and so splits into Czechia and Slovakia (with both languages as nationally official, and other close ties remaining - but separate budgets and power centers... even though many Czech politicians are originally Slovaks).

So the society did change radically (from authoritarism to democracy, from one country to two) with no blood shed this time. There were a few times too many in earlier decades of attempts.

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You know the answer to your question - because you state it: "Before you berate me on how this system could never work properly".

What you've listed, to me, sounds like my version of personal Hell. You cannot reconcile the removal of all freedom (and therefore autonomy) and "It's not actually bad".

Such a removal of freedom IS the thing that is bad. Freedom is an essential component of Human Nature.

For your system to work, even remotely close to what you've articulated - you have to deal with Human Nature. A good story that somewhat attempts to address this is the Movie Equilibrium - which (TL;DW, no spoilers) seeks to deal with Human Nature/Human Emotion (as the source of all evil in the world) by a drug that renders everyone emotionless.

That is perhaps the best way you start to have such a story - even then though, the history of brutally repressive regimes are generally much shorter than the history of those that are built on mutual co-operation and respecting individual rights/sovereignty.

To answer your question - in your society, you are going to have people like me.

People who look at this sentence:

"nor is it actually that bad to its people. I drew inspiration from china and their social credit system, and many other of their surveillance/control systems."

And say 'No, a Social Credit system and mass surveillance is bad on it's own merits'

It is that element of Humanity that you need to struggle with in your story - not the technological solution.

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    $\begingroup$ The question was how quickly could such changes be made. $\endgroup$
    – wokopa
    Jan 22, 2023 at 22:46
  • $\begingroup$ To which my answer is: You will always get to a point where societal collapse and revolt is inevitable. You cannot fight Human Nature. Focus on the Humanity of the story, and you'll get a better story. If you want to write Pseudo CCP Fanfic - go right ahead, but it will be a crap story - because both the reader and the author know it isn't true. $\endgroup$ Jan 22, 2023 at 23:04
  • $\begingroup$ There are lots of stories that did not lead to revolt and collapse, e.g. 1984 and Brave New World, therefore it is not inevitable $\endgroup$
    – wokopa
    Jan 22, 2023 at 23:06
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    $\begingroup$ @TheDemonLord exactly. Just give me a few weeks and I will be discussing exactly that, human nature. Thanks though, criticism is more helpful than every compliment put together. ^-^ $\endgroup$ Jan 23, 2023 at 0:58
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for listening to my rant. I actually just make progress on my book by talking it over. Thank you, random people on the internet! <3 $\endgroup$ Jan 23, 2023 at 1:49

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