Do We Live In A Totalitarian State?

Democracy instructs us that we have “freedom,” “liberty,” and “equality,” but all of these seem to be modified definitions. Freedom is subject to forced association, liberty to serving in the jobs of the workers’ state, and equality means that the higher subsidize the lower so that the illusion of cooperation is achieved.

This leads us to wonder what other terms have mutated definitions. In particular, we start to suspect that we are living in a neo-Communist or totalitarian society. A handy resource can be found in one definition of totalitarianism which reveals the structure of the state based on control:

1. An official ideology, consisting of an official body of doctrine covering all vital aspects of man’s existence, to which everyone living in that society is supposed to adhere at least passively; this ideology is characteristically focused in terms of chiliastic claims as to the “perfect” final society of mankind.

2. A single mass party consisting of a relatively small percentage of the total population (up to 10 per cent) of men and women passionately and unquestioningly dedicated to the ideology and prepared to assist in every way in promoting its general acceptance, such party being organized in strictly hierarchical, oligarchical manner, usually under a single leader….

3. A technologically conditioned near-complete monopoly of control (in the hands of the party and its subservient cadres, such as the bureaucracy and the armed forces) of all means of effective armed combat.

4. A similarly technologically conditioned near-complete monopoly of control (in the same hands) of all means of effective mass communication, such as the press, radio, motion pictures, and so on.

5. A system of terroristic police control. depending for its effectiveness upon points 3 and 4 and characteristically directed not only against demonstrable “enemies” of the regime, but also against arbitrarily selected classes of the population, such arbitrary selection turning upon exigencies of the regime’s survival, as well as ideological “implications” and systematically exploiting scientific psychology.
Carl J Friedrich (1954) ‘The unique character of totalitarian society’ in: Totalitarianism. New York: Grossett & Dunlap.

To understand how this applies to our present society, we must understand the nature of decentralized, indirect, and informal control. In these systems, there is no single leader, only a singular idea. There is not even a party. Instead, people collaborate informally to enforce an idea on others, and that idea — more than a manifestation of it — constitutes the core of the totalitarian society.

In this type of system, the “terroristic police control” consists of fear of social consequences which can cause an individual to lose jobs, friends, family, housing, and even services as banks, doctors, attorneys, accountants, and even grocery stores pull away from the controversy.

The control that this system exerts can be seen in enforcement of an idea from people who perceive they are receiving personal benefit from doing so, therefore are fanatical in their search for an excuse to enforce this on others. Each person they destroy gains them greater social status.

At that level, the system has a monopoly through indirect means. Since it is driven by individualistic behavior, people form herds which are dedicated to running away from threats, which means that all it must do is indicate that certain ideas, individuals, or behaviors are threats, and the crowd will destroy them.

This is a form of individualistic herd behavior, sometimes called the “selfish herd theory”:

He suggested that groups of animals as diverse as insects, fish and cattle all react to danger by moving towards the middle of their swarm, school or herd, known as the selfish herd theory. Individuals in a herd benefit from being able to control where they are relative to their group-mates and any potential predator. It also reduces the chances of being the one the predator goes for when it attacks.

Such behavior may be a sub-form of the tragedy of the commons: if safety, or areas where one is safe, are a resource, each individual exploits those to the maximum and social order is sacrificed by the collective selfishness of individuals, as happens in most human organizational failures.

Decentralized totalitarianism exploits the fear-driven nature of human behavior. When humans organize into groups, they rely on external cues — the behavior of others — to identify threats to the herd. If the herd can be induced into constant panic, that panic can be used to target any threat by making that threat into the scapegoat, or by assigning agency for actual threats to the imaginary enemy. Satan is deceptive: we blame him for evils, when really he is merely the symbol of those evils.

Control systems of this nature depend on a dysfunctional codependency between individuals and their manipulators, who have as much in common with salesmen as dictators. The herd depends on the leaders to signal threats and potential rewards, and out of fear and fear of missing out, then depends on those leaders, who also require the power of the masses which are used as a political weapon, or a means to the end of destroying political enemies and thus asserting the power of the controller.

Aldous Huxley predicted that the mob rule brought on by the French Revolution would ultimately end in the rise of cynical controllers who hid their methods through indirect and decentralized means, letting people lead themselves into servitude with their fears and desires. Humans would be defeated by individualism, not outright control.

A system of this nature rules through duality. Individuals are induced into acts which neutralize them, while the same authority that they trust for those inspirations also teaches them to fear anything but the condition under which they find themselves. As Huxley wrote, perfect tyranny appears to be freedom:

The nature of psychological compulsion is such that those who act under constraint remain under the impression that they are acting on their own initiative. The victim of mind-manipulation does not know that he is a victim. To him, the walls of his prison are invisible, and he believes himself to be free. That he is not free is apparent only to other people. His servitude is strictly objective.

The older dictators fell because they could never supply their subjects with enough bread, enough circuses, enough miracles and mysteries. Nor did they possess a really effective system of mind-manipulation. In the past, free-thinkers and revolutionaries were often the products of the most piously orthodox education. This is not surprising. The methods employed by orthodox educators were and still are extremely inefficient. Under a scientific dictator education will really work — with the result that most men and women will grow up to love their servitude and will never dream of revolution. There seems to be no good reason why a thoroughly scientific dictatorship should ever be overthrown.

This inverts the unduly famous statement from 1984, “Freedom is Slavery.” In the Brave New World of Huxley, he shows how what people think of as freedom becomes a form of slavery. This damages not so much the individual as a civilization because control methods lead to oblivious and inept societies because they create an internal backlash and encourage people to ignore important details that could indicate systemic problems. We saw that in both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.

Control causes a loss of civilization. The inner-directed populace that works together toward the goal of having an excellent existence is replaced by a bickering crowd of monkeys who take civilization for granted, lower their standards, and are interested, carnie-style, in what immediate benefits they can receive right now. They would not pass the marshmallow test:

In the 1960s, Stanford University Professor Walter Mischel gave young children a simple proposition. They sat with a marshmallow in front of them for fifteen minutes – and if they could hold off from eating it, they would be given two treats at the end of the time period. Some of them ate the treat straight away – but others succeeded in overcoming temptation.

Subsequent research found that the children from the original experiment who could delay gratification had scored better academic results, earned higher salaries, and been less prone to obesity.

In this way, totalitarianism — like democracy — makes people less capable because they become accustomed to being outer-directed, and lose the ability to conceive and formulate their own direction. This appears similar to the case of children who watch too much television and then, are unable to figure out what to do with themselves when the television is off.

Decentralized control triumphs by creating this codependent relationship. It enforces its will upon the citizens, who then come to lean on it for guidance because it regulates what is rewarded, and end up becoming entirely defined by it. People lose the ability to understand their world and respond to it in a way that maximizes their position, and see the world entirely through the filter of government and social pressure. This way, reality is forgotten and abilities are lost.

Its decentralized nature allows control — which, as you recall, arises from individualistic fear — to remain invisible. It camouflages itself in social chaos and by maintaining internal debate and competition, both of which take the place of normal healthy functions and distract from the decay. As Mario Vargas Llosa opined:

It may not seem to be a dictatorship, but it has all of the characteristics of a dictatorship; the perpetuation, not of one person, but of an irremovable party, a party that allows sufficient space for criticism, provided such criticism serves to maintain the appearance of a democratic party, but which suppresses by all means, including the worst, whatever criticism may threaten its perpetuation in power.

In theory, the group we cannot criticize is the group that rules us, but what about a group that we cannot identify? If the group is fully decentralized, it has no membership list, official rules, hierarchy, or even headquarters. Its members may not even be aware that they are members, and will be spread among every industry, institution, and social role. They are united only by one thing: that they are infected by the same idea, and so are pathologically driven toward it, despite its eventual destructiveness.

Huxley again, this time from the 1947 introduction to Brave New World:

The greatest triumphs of propaganda have been accomplished, not by doing something, but by refraining from doing. Great is truth, but still greater, from a practical point of view, is silence about truth. By simply not mentioning certain subjects, by lowering what Mr. Churchill calls an “iron curtain” between the masses and such facts or arguments as the local political bosses regard as undesirable, totalitarian propagandists have influenced opinion much more effectively than they could have done by the most eloquent denunciations, the most compelling of logical rebuttals. But silence is not enough. If persecution, liquidation and the other symptoms of social friction are to be avoided, the positive sides of propaganda must be made as effective as the negative. The most important Manhattan Projects of the future will be vast government-sponsored enquiries into what the politicians and the participating scientists will call “the problem of happiness” — in other words, the problem of making people love their servitude.

An empire based on distraction proves more powerful than one based on commands. When truth is obscured by a simpler but less realistic symbolic view of the world, then people will ignore the important issues and pursue the scapegoats and their positive counterpart, trends which lead to rewards through socializing, because those who ride the trends are the ones who become popular and get rich, which enables them to escape the disaster created by lack of social order.

With this in mind, let us revisit those five traits of totalitarianism:

  1. An official ideology, consisting of an official body of doctrine covering all vital aspects of man’s existence. This doctrine must cover all aspects of human existence and have Utopian overtones. In our distributed totalitarian society, egalitarianism — the idea that all people are equal, or should be, in varying economic, social, legal, and political ways — serves this role. It explains our purpose, lack of social order, morality, and method of control all in one.
  2. A single mass party consisting of a relatively small percentage of the total population (up to 10 per cent). Since it is decentralized, this group does not form a party, but a mob. They join together in ad hoc, informal, and tacit demonstrations of their belief and destruction of those who do not agree, like a lynch mob or witch hunt.
  3. A…near-complete monopoly of control…of all means of effective armed combat. This one proves more complex: self-defense is justified only when defending an individual and its right to pursue its desires, but it is viewed as illegitimate in defense of anything at a level broader than the individual, such as civilization, culture, heritage, values, or faith. This gives the power for violence exclusively to egalitarians.
  4. A…near-complete monopoly of control…of all means of effective mass communication. When everyone who becomes popular agrees on the same ideas, and only those who exhibit these ideas become popular, then a de facto monopoly exists not just among media, but entertainment and academia as well.
  5. A system of…control…against arbitrarily selected classes of the population…systematically exploiting scientific psychology. I have removed the term “police” because any form of control will do, and this describes the “struggle sessions” that happen whenever someone accidentally says something that is not politically correct, and must have their career and interpersonal relationships destroyed by the threat of ostracism.

Viewed from this angle, totalitarianism ably adapts to a decentralized format. What is more, it represents the crossover between totalitarianism and a cult, combining the socializing-based nature of a cult with the control-based agenda of tyranny:

Some aspects of the mind control methods of cults are inherent to Leftism when it occurs in a social setting (excerpted partially):

  • Isolation of the person and manipulation of his or her environment.
  • Control of information going in and out of the group environment.
  • Separation and/or alienation from family and friends.
  • Induced dissociation and other altered states by putting person in mild form of trance (through speaking in tongues, chanting, repeating affirmations, extended periods of meditation or prayer, lengthy denunciation sessions, long hours of lectures or study, public trials or group humiliation, about seat criticisms focusing on one individual, sexual abuse, torture, etc.)
  • Degradation of the person’s sense of self, through confession, self-reporting, rebuking, criticism and self-criticism, humiliation, and so on, in individual or group sessions.
  • Peer and leadership pressure, especially using powerful guilt mechanisms.
  • Induced anxiety, fear, and confusion, with joy and certainty being offered through surrender to the group; instilling the belief that the person’s survival physical, emotional, spiritual depends on remaining with the group; also induced crises, so that the person must submit to symbolic (or real) acts of submission to the group via betrayal and renunciation of self, family, and previously held values.
  • Extensive indoctrination sessions (through Bible lessons, political training, sales training, self-awareness lessons, lectures by leaders).
  • Alternation of harshness and leniency in a context of necessary discipline.

These describe complete methods of control, but distill to a few central methods of cults:

Psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, who once taught at Harvard Medical School, wrote a paper titled Cult Formation in the early 1980s. He delineated three primary characteristics, which are the most common features shared by destructive cults.

  1. A charismatic leader, who increasingly becomes an object of worship as the general principles that may have originally sustained the group lose power. That is a living leader, who has no meaningful accountability and becomes the single most defining element of the group and its source of power and authority.
  2. A process [of indoctrination or education is in use that can be seen as] coercive persuasion or thought reform [commonly called “brainwashing”].
  3. Economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader and the ruling coterie.

Other descriptions of cults outline similar pathologies.

In the decentralized totalitarian state, the charismatic leader is replaced by a series of behaviors which signal charisma and social success, such as wearing black sweaters and jeans to flaunt the rules or inserting obscenity into mundane conversation, which enables members of the crowd to become leaders in turn for their fifteen minutes of fame.

The crowd then enforces its process of indoctrination through trends and norms, encouraging conformity to the same values by using the same terms, whose meanings have been edited to make them suggest an obvious conclusion. Those who step out of line are excluded, and since connections and friend nepotism are how most people get ahead, to fail to conform is to fail.

Finally, the herd exploits itself. In the view of someone infected with ideology, all people and things are means to an end, which is achieving that ideological Utopia. This conflicts with the natural human impulse toward ends-over-means thinking, such as that which insists that there be good results in reality by any means necessary.

A feedback loop between the individualists and the tyrant thus arises. They depend on strong leadership to reduce life to a narrow set of options so that the individual need focus only on the social, therefore using ideology as a means of gaining acceptance and then achieving wealth and power within the system.

In this way, we see that individualism and tyranny are one and the same, much like individualism and collectivism/egalitarianism are one and the same, because they are designed by individuals to enable them to succeed. This occurs at the expense of social order, and creates a death spiral where society must become more totalitarian as it becomes more chaotic.

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