The Aesthetic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy

On episode 18 of the Loopcast, Sina and his guest discuss fashion and national security. Around 23:00 comes the money quote: “There’s a lot of black hair dye involved being a dictator.” Here’s the logic:

[I]n a democracy, your hair turns grey very quickly in a four year term…. But in a dictatorship, the hair gets oddly darker: it just turns to an eerie shade of black…. [Dictators] want to remain relevant. They didn’t want to get old…. They didn’t want it to seem like they had been getting old and getting crushed by the responsibility of their job.

While a random sample of hair shades and a thorough hypothesis test is beyond the scope of this post, I’ll let the readers judge for themselves based on the photos below. Note that one source of bias may be that US presidents try to look young and vital for the election but let their hair go after that.

Democratic Leaders:

Bill Clinton, 1993 and 1999

Bill Clinton, 1993 and 1999


George W. Bush, 2001 and 2008


Barack Obama, 2009 and 2011

(More US president before/after photos here.)


Hosni Mubarak in 2012: Imprisoned and hospitalized but not grey

Hosni Mubarak in 2012: Imprisoned and hospitalized but not grey

Muammar Qaddafi ruled Libya for 42 years

Muammar Qaddafi ruled Libya for 42 years

Hugo Chavez not letting grey get the best of him

Hugo Chavez kept grey at bay until the very end

Internet Policing in Syria and Around the World

A while back I tweeted Fred Benenson’s chart of the Syrian internet shutdown. His post also included a video, which I share below.

It turns out there are about 61 countries around the world that could be “unplugged” pretty easily by governments. On the private side, Google regularly receives takedown requests for specific websites from authorities. Slate mapped these across the world:

Google received nearly 2,000 requests from more than 50 countries to strike content from its websites in the first half of this year. Turkey is the most vigorous meddler. Among other efforts, Turkey requested that Google strike more than 400 YouTube videos that criticized the Turkish government.

The U.S. ranks second. Most of its 273 requests are court orders, many of which relate to defamation lawsuits against individuals or organizations.

Because Google is beholden to the laws of each country, Google’s legal constraints determine its compliance. According to Google’s website, it does not always comply with a request. Some orders are falsified. In other cases, it can’t find the described content to take it down.

The map is kind of terrible–circles are a notoriously bad way of comparing information when they require comparison by area–but I did not want to go to the trouble (for this post at least) of getting the underlying data and mapping it myself. If any brave souls want to try, please do. The underlying point is important–internet politics is becoming more and more relevant to everyday life.

How to Be a Dictator in the Age of the Internet

Having taken a look at electronic voting in Friday’s post, today we look at the other side of the coin: how can dictators use the internet to stay in power? Laurier Rochon has a few answers in a free e-book, The Dictator’s Practical Internet Guide to Power Retention.

A dictator’s goals for the internet are to destroy security and anonymity. The three essential conditions for achieving these goals are:

  1. Relative political stability (no protests in the streets)
  2. Centralized telecommunications infrastructure (one ISP)
  3. Non-democratic selection of officials

Once you have done this, you can begin to exert control over the populace and will be well on your way to lifelong control. As dictator, you will get to make the following decisions:

  1. What is the right trade-off between economic prosperity and tight regulation? (the Dictator’s Dilemma)
  2. How much entertainment will you allow? (more cat videos, less protest)
  3. What will be the punishment for violating your rules? (breaking kneecaps of violators, taking it out on the populace at large)

Being a dictator is not easy, but with a few key decisions on internet policy your life can be a lot simpler. Laurier also shares his tips below:

This short, partly tongue-in-cheek book is worth a read if you like the talk. I also look forward to some winter break reading on this topic with The Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy and possibly Consent of the Networked.