Scott Alexander decribes the uncanny valley of dictatorship:
Any 19th century European aristocrat looking at the Palestinian Territories would note that Israel is being a terrible colonizer, not in a moral sense but in a purely observational sense. It’s not getting any money or resources out of its colony at all! It’s letting people totally just protest it and get away with it! They’ve even handed most of it over to a government of natives! Queen Victoria would not be amused.
Suppose a psychopath became Prime Minister of Israel (yes, obvious joke is obvious). He declares: “Today we are annexing the Palestinian territories. All Palestinians become Israeli residents with most of the rights of citizens except they can’t vote. If anyone speaks out against Israel, we’ll shoot them. If anyone commits a crime, we’ll shoot them.” What would happen?
Well, first, a lot of people would get shot. After that? The Palestinians would be in about the same position as Israeli Arabs are today, except without the right to vote, plus they get shot if they protest. This is vastly better than the position they’re in now, and better than the position of say the people of Syria who are poorer, also lack the right to vote, and also empirically get shot if they protest.
No more worries about roadblocks. No more worries about passports. No more worries about sanctions. No more worries about economic depression. The only worry is getting shot, and you can avoid that by never speaking out against Israel. Optimal? Probably not. A heck of a lot better than what the Palestinians have today? Seems possible.
It seems like there’s an uncanny valley of dictatorship. Having no dictator at all, the way it is here in America, is very good. Having a really really dictatorial dictator who controls everything, like the czar or this hypothetical Israeli psychopath, kinda sucks but it’s peaceful and you know exactly where you stand. Being somewhere in the middle, where it’s dictatorial enough to hurt, but not dictatorial enough for the dictator to feel secure enough to mostly leave you alone except when he wants something, is worse than either extreme.
Mencius Moldbug uses the fable of Fnargl, an omnipotent and invulnerable alien who becomes dictator of Earth. Fnargl is an old-fashioned greedy colonizer: he just wants to exploit Earth for as much gold as possible. He considers turning humans into slaves to work in gold mines, except some would have to be a special class of geologist slaves to plan the gold mines, and there would have to be other slaves to grow food to support the first two classes of slaves, and other slaves to be managers to coordinate all these other slaves, and so on. Eventually he realizes this is kind of dumb and there’s already a perfectly good economy. So he levies a 20% tax on every transaction (higher might hurt the economy) and uses the money to buy gold. Aside from this he just hangs out.
Fnargl has no reason to ban free speech: let people plot against him. He’s omnipotent and invulnerable; it’s not going to work. Banning free speech would just force him to spend money on jackbooted thugs which he could otherwise be spending on precious, precious gold. He has no reason to torture dissidents. What are they going to do if left unmolested? Overthrow him?
Moldbug claims that Fnargl’s government would not only be better than that of a less powerful human dictator like Mao, but that it would be literally better than the government we have today. Many real countries do restrict free speech or torture dissidents. And if you’re a libertarian, Fnargl’s “if it doesn’t disrupt gold production, I’m okay with it” line is a dream come true.
So if the Israelis want to improve the Palestinian Territories’ plight, they can do one of two things. First, they can grant it full independence. Second, they do exactly the opposite: can take away all of its independence and go full Fnargl.
We already know Israel doesn’t want to just grant full independence, which leaves “problem continues forever” or “crazy psychopath alien solution”. Could the latter really work?
Well, no. Why not? Because the Palestinians would probably freak out and start protesting en masse and the Israelis would have to shoot all of them and that would be horrible.
But it’s worth noting this is not just a natural state of the world. The British successfully colonized Palestine for several decades. They certainly tried the Fnargl approach: “No way you’re getting independence, so just sit here and deal with it or we shoot you.” It worked pretty well then. I would hazard a guess to say the average Palestinian did much better under British rule than they’re doing now. So why wouldn’t it work again?
In a word, progressivism. For fifty years, progressives have been telling the colonized people of the world “If anyone colonizes you, this is the worst thing in the world, and if you have any pride in yourself you must start a rebellion, even a futile rebellion, immediately.” This was non-obvious to people a hundred years ago, which is why people rarely did it. It was only after progressivism basically told colonized peoples “You’re not revolting yet? What are you, chicken?” that the modern difficulties in colonialism took hold. And it’s only after progressivism gained clout in the countries that rule foreign policy that it became politically impossible for a less progressive country to try colonialism.
If not for progressivism, Israel would have been able to peacefully annex the Palestinian territories as a colony with no more of a humanitarian crisis than Britain annexing New Zealand or somewhere. Everything would have been solved and everyone could have gone home in time for tea.