The Smiles of Dictators

by Margaret Anna Alice | Real Left | Oct 8, 2023

“Where are the smiles of the European dictators? … We are not indulging in idle fooling now, discussing the smiles of dictators, it is terribly serious when our rulers do not smile, because they have got all the guns.”
—Ling Yutang, The Importance of Living

There is perhaps no more reliable barometer for measuring the degree to which a society has become entrenched in totalitarianism than humor, which bears an inverse relationship to tyranny. Nations governed by fear, paranoia, rage, and conformity have lost their sense of humor; by the same token, humor may be our most potent weapon for defusing that rigid, dehumanizing authoritarian structure.

In his 1937 book The Importance of LivingLin Yutang outlines a “pseudo-scientific formula” “by which the mechanism of human progress and historical change can be expressed”:


He then goes on to apply this formula to various nations on a scale of one to four. (He even scores famous writers, which I’ll include below for bonus delight.)


With his characteristic dry humor, Yutang notes these formulas are “entirely personal and completely incapable of proof or verification,” having just explained:

“I distrust all dead and mechanical formulas for expressing anything connected with human affairs or human personalities. Putting human affairs in exact formulas shows in itself a lack of the sense of humor and therefore a lack of wisdom.…


“That is why we get so much pseudo-science today.… and specialists have risen to usurp humanized scholarship. But if we recognize that these formulas are no more than handy, graphic ways of expressing certain opinions, and so long as we don’t drag in the sacred name of science to help advertise our goods, no harm is done.”

To Reality (R), Dreams (D), and Humor (H), he adds Sensitivity (S), and the formulas can be read as, “3 grains of Realism, 2 grains of Dreams, 2 grains of Humor and 1 grain of Sensitivity make an Englishman.”

At that particular moment in history, fascism was crescendoing in Germany, Italy, and Japan, but war had not yet broken out; it wasn’t until the following year that Anschluss was to occur, with World War II kicking off the year after that.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at his rating for 1937 Germany: R₃D₄H₁S₂. Dreams (idealism) is high, while Humor is virtually nil, a recipe for “Fanaticism” according to Yutang’s key.

We see the same disproportionate D₄H₁ ratio between Dreams and Humor in Russia, itself having just embarked on the Great Terror (a.k.a. the Great Purge) under Stalin: R₂D₄H₁S₁.

Like Germany and Russia, Japan has one grain of Humor, which is overshadowed by three grains of Dreams: R₂D₃H₁S₁.

Yutang’s warning regarding the volatile combination of high idealism with low humor reminds me of today’s transhumanism and the religion of Scientism in which “logical necessity” trumps individual rights and humanity itself:

“I do believe that the Japanese and the Germans suffer politically at present, and have suffered in the past, for lacking a better sense of humor.… A certain belief in ‘logical necessity’ (often ‘holy’ or ‘sacred’), a tendency to fly too straight at a goal instead of circling around it, often carries one too far. It is not so much what you believe in that matters, as the way in which you believe it and proceed to translate that belief into action.”

Interestingly, Yutang ranks China as R₄D₁H₃S₃, giving it the highest score out of all the countries on both Humor and Sensitivity, which perhaps betrays his own cultural bias. I find it curious that the Dreams-to-Humor ratio is inverted from those of the totalitarian regimes and wonder if he would have reversed that score by 1949 when the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) founded the People’s Republic of China.

Coincidentally, 1937 was the year that launched the Second Sino-Japanese War (known as the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression in China and what some consider the beginning of World War II), and it was the Nationalist government’s decision under Chiang Kai-shek to unite with the Communist Party against Japan that led to the Nationalists’ eventual defeat by the Communists a dozen years later.

Yutang also understands the horseshoe theory of authoritarianism, writing:

“The state can be easily transformed into a monster, as it already is in some countries, swallowing up the individual’s liberty of speech, his freedom of religious conscience and belief, his personal honor, and even the last and final goal of individual happiness. The theoretical consequences of such a collectivistic view are quite apparent in both Fascism and Communism, and in fact have been already logically worked out by Karl Marx. A total annihilation of the parental instinct seems to be aimed at by the Marxian state, in which family affection and loyalty are openly denounced as bourgeois sentiments, sure to become extinct in a different material surrounding. How Karl Marx was quite so cocksure about this point in biology, I do not know. Wise in his economics, perhaps he was a moron in common sense. An American schoolboy would have guessed that five thousand years were too short for the atrophy of an instinct which had the momentum of a million years of development behind it. But such an argument, strange as it may seem, could appeal to a Western intellect as strictly logical. It is, in the words of the writer of the New York Times’ ‘Topics,’ ‘consistency gone mad.’ The conception of man waging a class war in obedience to certain mechanistic laws naturally deprives man of individual freedom of belief and action.”

He recognizes how grave a threat fanaticism poses, an insight that rings chillingly true today:

“In the sphere of politics, there is something terribly inhuman in the logic of the minds of men and conduct of affairs in certain states of Europe. And I am less terrified by the theories of Fascism and Communism than by the fanatical spirit which infuses them and the method by which men push their theories doggedly to logical absurdities. The result is a confusion of values, a weird mixing-up of politics with anthropology, art with propaganda, patriotism with science, government with religion, and above all an entire upset of the proper relationship between the claims of the state and the claims of the individual. Only an insane type of mind can erect the state into a god and make of it a fetish to swallow up the individual’s right of thinking, feeling and the pursuit of happiness.


“Communism and Fascism are both products of the same mind. As Albert Pauphilet says, ‘No type of mind is so like the extreme right as the extreme left.’ Characteristic of both regimes and ideologies are, firstly, the sheer belief in force and power, which I regard as the most stupid and shallow manifestation of the Western mind, and secondly, the belief in logical necessity, for after all Fascism, as much as Communism, is based on the Marxian dialectic, which ultimately is based on the logic of Hegel. Would that someone realized how man in the second quarter of the twentieth century is suffering for the sins in logic of his father committed some hundred years ago!


“In a sense we may say that today Europe is not ruled by the reasonable spirit, nor even by the spirit of reason, but rather by the spirit of fanaticism. Looking at the picture of Europe today gives one a feeling of nervousness, a nervousness which comes not so much from the mere presence of conflicts of national aims and state boundaries and colonial claims, which the spirit of reason should be amply able to deal with, but rather from the condition of mind of the men who are the rulers of Europe. It is like getting into a taxicab in a strange city and being suddenly overcome by a distrust of the driver. It is not so bad that the driver doesn’t seem to be acquainted with the map of the city and cannot take one to his destination by the proper route, it is more alarming when the passenger in the back seat hears the driver talk incoherently and begins to suspect his sobriety. That nervousness is decidedly heightened when the inebriate driver is armed with a gun and the passenger has no chance of getting out. One has reason to believe that this caricature of the human mind is not the human mind itself, that these are mere aberrations, mere stages of temporary insanity, which will burn themselves out like all waves of pestilence. One has reason to express a reassurance in the capacities of the human mind, to believe that the human mortal mind, limited as it is, is something infinitely higher than the intellect of the reckless drivers of Europe, and that eventually we shall be able to live peaceably because we shall have learned to think reasonably.”

Again, I repeat, Yutang was writing this breathtakingly prescient analysis in 1937.

And what is the antidote to this drunken fanaticism? Why, humor, naturally:

“Therein lies the danger of Utopian liberals as well as of Fascist propaganda chiefs, and as a very necessary corrective, they can have nothing better than a sense of humor.”

Yutang—who, incidentally, founded China’s first humor magazine, The Analects Fortnightly, in 1932—explains that humor counterbalances the dangers of runaway idealism:

“A vague, uncritical idealism always lends itself to ridicule and too much of it might be a danger to mankind, leading it round in a futile wild-goose chase for imaginary ideals. If there were too many of these visionary idealists in any society or people, revolutions would be the order of the day. Human society would be like an idealistic couple forever getting tired of one place and changing their residence regularly once every three months, for the simple reason that no one place is ideal and the place where one is not seems always better because one is not there. Very fortunately, man is also gifted with a sense of humor, whose function, as I conceive it, is to exercise criticism of man’s dreams, and bring them in touch with the world of reality. It is important that man dreams, but it is perhaps equally important that he can laugh at his own dreams.”

If you’re like me, you’re probably thinking the wild-goose chase he’s describing sounds much like the past decade, during which we’ve witnessed the rise of dogmatic idealism detached from both reality and a grounding sense of humor.

That shouldn’t be surprising, however, because, as Dr. James Lindsay explains, Wokeism is little more than Marxism rebranded in packaging palatable to Western audiences, so the cultural and totalitarian tumult that was rocking Yutang’s world shares the same roots as our own:

Published in Current Psychology in March 2023, a paper titled Understanding Left-Wing Authoritarianism: Relations to the Dark Personality Traits, Altruism, and Social Justice Commitment presents empirical evidence of a relationship between left-wing authoritarianism (LWA) and narcissism with a specific focus on Dark Triad personality traits.

The authors introduce the concept of the dark-ego-vehicle principle in which they suggest that people with dark personality traits such as narcissism and psychopathy are attracted to particular ideologies and forms of political activism (using the example of BLM protests) that enable them to “meet their own aggressive motives and thrills” and enjoy “opportunities for positive self-presentation (e.g., virtue signaling).”

This reminds me of the Aldous Huxley quote:

“The surest way to work up a crusade in favor of some good cause is to promise people they will have a chance of maltreating someone. To be able to destroy with good conscience, to be able to behave badly and call your bad behavior ‘righteous indignation’—this is the height of psychological luxury, the most delicious of moral treats.”

We saw this horseshoe convergence of petty tyranny in Covidianism, as described in the December 2020 Personality and Individual Differences paper Right-Wing Authoritarianism, Left-Wing Authoritarianism, and Pandemic-Mitigation Authoritarianism.

The author, Joseph H. Manson, found that authoritarianism—whether left or right—strongly correlated with “endorsement of putatively authoritarian responses to COVID-19” such as “would report to police, need threat of punishment, certificate of immunity, mandatory tracking app, restrict right to protest, ban nonessential items, government-run economy, restrict right to trial by jury, restrictions by executive decree, emergency-enhanced punishment, and mandatory COVID-19 testing.”

Manson found left-wing authoritarians endorsed some policies right-wing ones did not, such as “must follow distancing orders and prohibit misinformation,” indicating that left-wing authoritarians are willing to go further in stripping people of their civil rights than their right-wing counterparts.

A government that claims the right to infringe upon a person’s private life is by definition “totalitarian” according to Milton Mayer’s They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933–45:

“Every private act—a telephone call, the use of an electric light, the service of a physician—becomes a public act. Every private right—to take a walk, to attend a meeting, to operate a printing press—becomes a public right. Every private institution—the hospital, the church, the club—becomes a public institution. Here, although we never think to call it by any name but pressure of necessity, we have the whole formula of totalitarianism.” (see longer excerpt and additional quotes in my first Recommendations Roundup)

Once a society slides into totalitarianism, it is only a hop, skip, and jump away from establishing itself as the rightful arbiter of life and death. It’s called the 10 Stages of Genocide, and I demonstrated how we are already at number ten in my November 2021 piece Letter to a Holocaust Denier.

When people are in the midst of a genocide—or in this case, a democide—it is extremely difficult for them to see much less believe what is occurring. Most people prefer to live in denial as facing the worldview-shattering reality that governments, corporations, agencies, and colluders are intentionally orchestrating a mostly peaceful depopulation is too painful to accept—even though tens of thousands of scientists, physicians, researchers, data analysts, attorneys, writers, and other diligent individuals have compiled enough evidence to prove the case for crimes against humanity in a fair court of law if one could be found.

As I have repeatedly stated, Mistakes Were NOT Made.

Those of us who are attuned to the signs of genocide and totalitarianism have been jumping up and down trying to alert others, but they have been conditioned to dismiss us as far-right-wing–extremist science-denying conspiracy theorists to shut down their critical thinking, intellectual curiosity, intuition, and self-preservation instincts so they will be afraid to look behind the curtain for themselves. Pride, contempt, and willful blindness keep them enslaved to the narrative thanks to the continuous reinforcement of behavioral-psychologist–formulated propagandizing.

What people today call “conspiracy theorists” people called “alarmists” during WWII. As Mayer’s philologist friend notes:

“In the university community, in your own community, you speak privately to your colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, ‘It’s not so bad’ or ‘You’re seeing things’ or ‘You’re an alarmist.’


And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can’t prove it. These are the beginnings, yes; but how do you know for sure when you don’t know the end, and how do you know, or even surmise, the end? On the one hand, your enemies, the law, the regime, the Party, intimidate you. On the other, your colleagues pooh-pooh you as pessimistic or even neurotic. You are left with your close friends, who are, naturally, people who have always thought as you have.’”

Those engineering the progression to one-world tyranny know they must maintain the illusion of democracy up until the point where the digital prison bars slam down around us. As Frank Zappa cautioned:

“The illusion of freedom will continue as long as it’s profitable to continue the illusion. At the point where the illusion becomes too expensive to maintain, they will just take down the scenery, they will pull back the curtains, they will move the tables and chairs out of the way and you will see the brick wall at the back of the theater.”

The illusion equates to covert totalitarianism. They aren’t going do anything overt that people can point at. Why would they line people in front of a ditch and shoot them when they can terrorize them into volunteering for their own suicide and incarceration?

What we are experiencing at this moment in history is arguably more dangerous than the Holocaust—because it is global, because it is inescapable, because it is bolstered by a technical and scientific infrastructure tin-pot despots would have killed (more) for.

Klaus Schwab muse Yuval Noah Harari understands this perfectly, stating:

“COVID is critical because this is what convinces people to accept, to legitimize, total biometric surveillance. If we want to stop this epidemic, we need not just to monitor people, we need monitor what’s happening under their skin, their body temperature …


“Now you don’t need human agents, you don’t need human analyzers. You just have a lot of sensors and an AI which analyzes it, and that’s it, you have the worst totalitarian regime in history. And COVID is important because COVID legitimizes some of the crucial steps even in democratic countries.”

In our letter exchangeDavid Josef Volodzko suggested I may be performing the role of a heyoka, “essentially contrarians and satirists” who “are trying to get people to question The Truth.”

Returning to Yutang, heyokas are very much like what he describes as the “scamp,” which he views as the only one who can save us from tyranny:

“In this present age of threats to democracy and individual liberty, probably only the scamp and the spirit of the scamp alone will save us from becoming lost as serially numbered units in the masses of disciplined, obedient, regimented and uniformed coolies. The scamp will be the last and most formidable enemy of dictatorships. He will be the champion of human dignity and individual freedom, and will be the last to be conquered. All modern civilization depends entirely upon him.”

Throughout history, heyokas ranging from Jonathan Swift to Bill Hicks, George Carlin to CJ Hopkins have played the noble role of heyoka satirists, and their mercilessly honest humor has punctured the telescreen lining Plato’s Propaganda Cave and helped people spelunk toward the surface of the earth.

In The Narcissist’s Playbook, Dana Morningstar describes a video taken by a tourist in Thailand just as a tsunami was about to engulf them. The tourists didn’t understand what was happening, though, because—unlike the locals, who had begun running—they didn’t recognize the signs. They didn’t understand that the ocean suddenly receding, the air growing eerily quiet, and the boats becoming stranded on the reconfigured shoreline meant danger. They were confused but didn’t have the mental map to make sense of the collection of strange experiences … until it was too late.

Those of us who are screaming and running may appear to be acting hyperbolically to those who don’t recognize the signs of tyranny enveloping us, but we are merely fleeing the tsunami, and those who are humble, brave, and wise enough to listen to the voices being drowned out by the propagandists may just save their lives. And if enough people wake up, we may be able to outrun the tsunami together.

This article was adapted from the first entry in my letter exchange with David Josef Volodzko. Sign up at my Substack to follow our Dissident Dialogue as it progresses.

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