There’s one thing you can say for totalitarianism: the coolest people will all be Outlaws.
They’ll import and export goods without government controls. They’ll provide free-market services. They’ll operate free communication networks. They’ll make unregulated products and sell them in unregulated ways. They’ll barter, use cash, use gold or silver, develop and use new forms of cryptocurrencies.
It’ll be just like Libertopia. Except, you know, with the ever-present threat of death or long, harsh imprisonment. But that’s what Outlaws are about.
Since totalitarianism is the direction we’re going, hey we might as well enjoy a few silver linings.
I say that’s the direction we’re going because everybody seems to have a slightly different definition of what totalitarianism encompasses and very few people would say that we are actually living in a totalitarian society right now.
After all, this is “the land of the free.” This is “the freest country on earth.” Totalitarian? Hey, we fought those guys — and we won!
But the truth is we are actually living in a totalitarian society right now. And we’d better recognize that so we can deal with reality.
Is it as fully developed as Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Soviet Union, or North Korea’s socialist paradise? Of course not. But do you have to wait for the day-long bread lines or the boxcars full of doomed Deplorables to recognize the nature of a thing? Most people probably will wait — until it’s too late. But Western society — led by the Five Eyes countries of the U.S., Canada, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand, and trailed faithfully by most of Europe — has already gone totalitarian with dizzying speed.
Totalitarianism is not “down the road.” It’s not merely in politicians’ dreams. It’s not merely something one administration wants that can be undone by v*ting in a different bunch of liars, thieves, con artists, and slave-masters. It’s not merely a temporary condition that will be lifted once the current crisis (whichever current crisis is being used as the excuse) has abated. It’s here. It’s the new nature of our society and the everyday practice of our ruling class.
The Encyclopedia Britannica (which I’m always surprised to find still exists) gives the cleanest, most straightforward definition of totalitarianism. It is a “form of government that theoretically permits no individual freedom and that seeks to subordinate all aspects of individual life to the authority of the state.”
Benito Mussolini invented the term in the early 1920s, and further defined it as “all within the state, none outside the state, none against the state.”
Read the whole Britannica entry. It’s short and very worthwhile. Its only great shortcoming (and it’s a doozy) is that it focuses solely on historic totalitarianisms. It doesn’t touch contemporary realities. It doesn’t address the role that technology plays in enabling total control.
Still, as quaintly old-fashioned as it is, I found only one aspect of its description of totalitarianism that doesn’t in some way apply to us. Says Britannica: “The totalitarian state pursues some special goal, such as industrialization or conquest, to the exclusion of all others. All resources are directed toward its attainment, regardless of the cost.”
I don’t see that in the U.S. or anywhere in the Five Eyes. On the contrary, any goals we have seem muddled. Or ephemeral. Today the state’s goal is “jabs for all.” Twenty years ago it was “fighting terrorism.” The state tries to rally us around “climate change” or “diversity” or “equity” or whatever its newest war in the Middle East is. We’ve been ludicrously asked by the state to “Whip Inflation Now (WIN)” and “Just say no.” But all this nonsense comes and goes. Yes, the state gains power with every one of these efforts (well, maybe not WIN which quickly got laughed off the national stage back in the day). But we certainly aren’t being driven toward one overriding goal like “New Soviet Man” or a workers paradise or “The Thousand-Year Reich” or building the master race.
In that way we differ from twentieth-century totalitarian states. But then, virtually every article on the subject carefully notes that every totalitarian state looks different but operates on similar principles.
Going through multiple sites’ definitions and my own knowledge of history, I come up with these bullet points for totalitarianism.
- Strong central rule by a single interconnected cadre or class
- An elite corps of managerial “experts” attemping to shape society
- Extensive surveillance networks, both directly run by government and consisting of volunteers eager to report on neighbors, family members, co-workers, and strangers
- An obsession with keeping the elite’s own secrets while taking away everyone else’s privacy
- Sweeping away of legal, social, religious, and political traditions
- Iron control over the economy; government either owns the major means of production is in clubby collaboration with those who do
- Control over the means of communication; constant barrage of propaganda
- Censorship of any dissenting views, even when such views are based on facts
- Increasing misery for the people it claims to represent
- Police using arbitrary violence and terror as a control tactic
- The law is whatever those in charge say it is
- Tragically laughable elections (if any) with unashamedly absurd outcomes
- All dissent is branded evil and harshly punished
- Dissenters are accused of being agents of foreign agitators or other mysterious malign forces
- Goals can never be achieved because having the goal and not achieving it is the thing that holds public loyalty
- Individualism is scorned, downplayed, and punished
- The population is disarmed, except perhaps certain favored groups
- Every aspect of life becomes political; personal choices are judged by how well they fit the state’s ideology
- Large-scale violence by favored groups is first permissible, then necessary and encouraged
- Those who align themselves with the state’s ideology are rewarded; those who fail to align themselves properly (even if they don’t intentionally oppose it) are made example of
One key aspect of totalitarianism is that “truth” is whatever the government says it is. Furthermore, “truth” that changes from day to day, week to week, and year to year is not a bug of the system. Ever-changing “truth” is a feature of totalitarianism — and a vital one for those keeping control.
Now, given the endless pronouncements and laughable mispronouncements we’ve seen from the likes of St. Fauci and other “experts” for the last 18 months, you might just think I made that up to fit our current circumstances. But in fact, keeping the populace constantly off-balance by promoting ever-changing “truths” is among the chief ways totalitarians maintain power. They keep people too terrified to form or state firm convictions. They make cognitive dissonance a permanent part of life, leading people to doubt their own perceptions. These confused and terrified people no longer think. They just go with the flow, wherever the flow carries them — and strike out furiously at others who don’t.
If Comrade So-and-So is a hero of the regime one day and a wrecker responsible for the failure of the latest five-year plan the next, then no one’s views are safe and the only alternative is to watch TPTB closely for instructions on what to believe. If masks are useless against the plague one day, mandatory the next, doubled up the next, not needed the next, optional for the vaccinated the next, then mandatory again for everybody the next, it’s simply easier to go along with the pronouncements rather than raise a fuss. If we have always been at war with Eurasia one day and have always been at war with Eastasia the next, they you know not to ask questions.
It’s easier, and safer, if you simply consume and regurgitate whatever the latest pronouncement is. The safest course of all is not merely to obey the latest nonsense, but to be the first and loudest to proclaim your loyalty to whatever the new “truth” is at the moment — as long as you stand ready to switch those loyalties and pronouncements on a dime.
(I’m beginning to feel as if I should just stop writing and conclude, “Go read Orwell.”)
It’s important to note that every totalitarian society is merely an attempt to control every aspect of life. None has ever been successful at complete control because society is too complicated and people are messy, uncontrollable creatures (even as the mass of them are wiling to be desperate conformists).
But totalitarianism is not, as Wikipedia mindbendingly styles it, “a proposed concept used in academia and in politics.”
It’s a reality that’s killed hundreds of millions of people, blighted billions of lives, and is currently building up all around us. Covid is the immediate excuse, but it’s been coming on for a long time.
Totalitarianism — unlike its lesser-evil cousins, mere authoritarianism, dictatorships, and police states — is only possible because of modern “scientific” management concepts and modern tech.
I absolutely grant that the totalitarianism of the U.S. and the rest of the Five Eyes isn’t yet as fully developed (and therefore not yet as brutally catastrophic) as previous totalitarianisms. Yet, because our technology is so much more sophisticated and all-pervasive than anything Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Mussolini, or Pol Pot could have dreamed, our totalitarianism is far more dangerous, because it’s not only capable of probing far deeper into our activities and our psyches than any past totalitarianism, but it has our full cooperation.
Our totalitarians haven’t had to impose spy tech on us. We’ve famously paid billions of dollars to put it in our own pockets and homes. Then we’ve stood by uncaringly as it’s been used to probe the most personal aspects of our lives. Unlike the unfortunate souls of the past who’ve tried to resist letting totalitarian control freaks know everything about them, we cheerfully report our location, our medical issues, our finances, our possessions, our purchases, our genetic makeup, our sexual kinks, our driving habits, our relationships, our thoughts, and virtually everything else about us to a network of governmental and pseudo-private interests who jointly use it to exploit us (a system Benito Mussolini would also recognize and proudly claim ownership of).
And they’re only getting started.
For instance: In a brilliant essay, Edward Snowden points out that Apple’s horrific new plan to treat every one of its customers as a suspected child pornster isn’t merely a disaster for all the standard reasons. That is, Apple’s plan to scan all our iPhones for child pornography isn’t merely bad because it creates a backdoor that can be exploited by hackers and governments. It isn’t merely bad because evil actors can fake the “hash” signatures of child porn images, thereby rendering the innocent guilty. It isn’t merely bad because Apple has surrendered its (marketing gimmick of pretending to respect) customers’ privacy. It isn’t merely bad because once you’ve introduced a backdoor to report one type of activity to the state, that backdoor can be used to report any other form of activity — political dissent, ownership of other forms of contraband, unvaccinated status, financial transactions, you name it.
It is bad — catastrophic, foul, outrageous, insane, cruel, stupid, police-statish, dangerous — for all those reasons.
But Snowden finds a deeper reason. Apple isn’t merely scanning their own cloud for child porn images some perv has been stupid enough to upload. It’s planning to implant scanning software directly to your device. So the device itself, by and of itself, now serves TPTB’s purposes, not ours. The ever-changing priorities of totalitarians are now in your pocket, and enforceable from your pocket. You can be reported directly to government, as a criminal, with the device you’ve bought, paid for, and use every day.
You may say, “So what? Our tech already betrays us every day.” True. Or, “If you don’t use iCloud to upload your photos, they won’t bother you.” True. Perhaps. For the moment. Or, “Get a different phone.” Got one in mind that’s ready for prime time and isn’t evil? Or even, “Just don’t own a smart phone,” (which unfortunately many of us find increasingly unrealistic).
But the reality is that this is yet another stunning advance into totalitarian control. It doesn’t even matter if Apple’s doing this on their own or (much more likely) they’ve been recruited into the evil by some federal agency. Do you really care whether the totalitarianism you live under is run by Joe Biden’s puppetmasters or Tim Cook? Nancy Pelosi’s embalmers or Mark Zuckerberg? The FBI or Jack Dorsey? The NSA or Bill Gates?
A commenter on Snowden’s article puts this in perspective: “[T]he pre-digital equivalent of Apple’s plan is this: a police officer enters your home every night, walks to the bookcase, pulls out your family photo albums, looks through page after page and runs comparisons with whatever he has in his database. These are your personal family photos: children playing, intimate moments with your significant other, embarrassing selfies, etc. The police officer keeps copies of all of the photos too. Forever.” Oh, and he doesn’t even have to have a warrant.
Even if the security community and efreedom advocates beat Apple’s perfidy back with a stick, even if some smartphone competitor like the Librem 5 eventually gets good enough to compete with Evil Government-Partnering Apple and Evil Government-Partnering Google, nothing changes.
And even though I’ve gone on rather long about this ONE act of evil, this is just one minor, and all-too-typical example.
We face — one after another, faster than we can keep track of them (especially since so many of them are kept secret from us) — advance after advance into totalitarianism.
And there is very little, almost nothing, we can do to stop the onrush. So the question is how do we live in, cope with, undermine, and ultimately bring down our New Totalitarianism?
Part II soon