Twitter: Malicious Compliance

Let's talk about what "malicious compliance" means under an oppressive government entity. This could be a historical entity (example: Nazi Germany or the American Confederacy) or a fictional one for my writer mutuals. Malicious Compliance is the act of complying with a law or rule in the worst possible way, out of protest for the unjustness of the law. The idea is to:

- slow down the process
- protect or hide a victim from harm
- inconvenience others
- tie up valuable time and resources

Many people were saved in Nazi Germany because certain people made a big fuss about the paperwork not being 100% correct. There are also outright acts of strategic disobedience applied in these situations. Slave populations have often "accidentally" broken critical tools.

Let's say you're writing a fictional dystopia wherein the government requires teachers and nurses to register all known queer children with the state, or with their parents, for discriminatory purposes. What can your characters do to stymie this process? Well, first, they're going to need to have a plan in place. Most people aren't good at coming up with malicious compliance on the spot, especially if they've been steeped in a dystopic environment that beats into them that their value is defined by their productivity as a worker.

Plans they could make include:

- Is the registration filled out in a paper form or letter? Can it be filled out and "lost" in a drawer?

- If computerized, can the character "forget" to fill out the relevant notes section on the child?
Can the character warn the child?

- Maybe tell the child about the rule and ask if they meant their "friend" is queer and they need advice for their "friend"?

- Maybe they meant queer as in strange, or gay as in happy. Kids don't always know the meanings of the words they say.

- Can the system itself be tampered with? Can the database be safely loaded with false data to waste the authorities' time?

- Can the child's data be lost in the system by using the wrong name or spelling or address?

- Is there a time limit by which the character has to turn in the child? Can they just wait indefinitely? Or leave it until the last minute, then take a vacation, and forget? These things happen.

A good fictional example of bureaucratic stalling is "Will Save The Galaxy For Food" wherein a Lawful character buys time by insisting that a squadron of soldiers are NOT allowed to "redecorate" the place they're invading and therefore MUST put on little paper booties.

Writers need to understand that if they want readers to like a character, that will NOT be accomplished by making them an efficient worker bee for fascists. You might think a "good" character would just quit rather than be complicit in a bad system, but there are other ways to do good: slowing the bad guys down, obfuscating the truth, redirecting their energies: Chaotic Good Trolls for the cause.

Let's say your fictional government entity is requiring "gender passports" so people can work and play and go to school. Your character is a doctor:

- Can you just sign the patient's paperwork and take their word for it? Will anyone really know if you didn't do an exam?

- The rule may say to perform certain tests, but may not specify HOW or ON WHAT (there's lab samples around here somewhere) or how to INTERPRET the results.

It is your character's ethical responsibility to protect the patient, not to follow an unjust law that puts them at risk.

Now, I know what you're thinking: "Ana, I'm not a writer so I don't need to research this." But you do consume fiction, yes? You watch shows or movies or play games? This is a very common trope and it's important to understand it fully so you can appreciate the nuances. I think it's important to understand certain tropes so you can appreciate what's happening in fiction--otherwise you might not understand why a hero is "cooperating" with fascists rather than just passionately quitting in an act of useless defiance.

It's also very important to be able to tell the difference between characters who are complying willingly (collaborators) and characters who are complying maliciously (resistors). You need to be able to tell the good guys from the bad guys in your movie, right? So I'm going to strongly recommend that everyone, writers and readers and viewers alike, put some real thought and research into what malicious compliance and bureaucratic stalling mean to you personally.

Feel free to drop fictional or historical examples in the comments, for writing inspiration!

I want to expand some thoughts on this thread that I couldn't get to last night. We talked about malicious compliance: following the letter of the law, rather than the spirit, in order to slow fascism and help the innocent. Let's talk about fictional sabotage now. If you've seen a lot of action movies, you're probably familiar with the concept of, like, the Star Rebels blowing up the Death Factory where all the killdroids are made. But sabotage comes in all kinds of forms!

For example, did you know that most slave societies that we have records for were often deliberately "clumsy" and would break tools that would require the entire workforce to halt for a day or more. The sabotage was focused and directed, not willy-nilly, and it worked because the ruling classes wanted to believe that the slaves weren't smart. Especially if a tool was considered complicated or complex. Nothing takes me out of a story faster than an oppressed workforce that is working at peak efficiency. Even good workforces have accidents; your oppressed surly fictional District 12 or whatever should have plenty of accidents to their name!

Does your hero work with computers? Can he slow down the network with accidental Reply Alls to internal memos? Can he lose key patient data by restarting his machine before saving? Can he reboot his machine during an OS upgrade and ruin the entire image? Your character doesn't need to be a super hacker to do basic stuff like this; even computer experts make basic mistakes like these.

If your hero is a manager, she could confuse and stall cases by randomly reassigning workloads. Like, in the case above where the dystopian government is investigating all queer children, she could reassign their cases internally every week, bringing progress to a halt. Or by having assignments consolidated into a morning stack that everyone just works off of as they come in, sorted by priority, but she keeps changing the priorities. Maybe she uses the chaos as an excuse to create more chaos: daily progress meetings that last 2-3 hours at a time. Requirements for status updates that take an hour to fill out and are needed every day for every case.

Readers love to hear about creative ways someone mucked with someone else's progress; lean into that desire because it's a great source of entertainment. Well placed comedy can help leaven the bread of tragedy, if you will. Think of all those Shakespearean bumbling fools who were ever getting in the way of the other characters. They're audience-favorites for a reason!


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