It is one o’clock in the morning, and I cannot sleep. Ideas keep pouring into my head; I started a new sequence of them in my little note-taking digital recorder. The notes just help me get my thinking started – and writing always follows, when I follow up on my latest burst of creativity. I fire up my computer and write for hours. I have been reading Hannah Arendt recently, and have the book The Portable Hanna Arendt before me now.
Her masterpiece was The Origins of Totalitarianism, a title suggested by her publisher – but which she disliked personally, as being too simplistic. The basic idea is that Totalitarianism is so terrible it cannot be compared to anything else (it cannot be said to come from anywhere else, for example), and has to be considered something new entirely. In the terms of complexity science: it is an emergent quality – something that just shows up when a given level of complexity is reached. In my personal view, it is the horror that is destroying us – so horrible we cannot believe it is happening.
Another book Democracy Inc., by Sheldon S. Wolin, is subtitled Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism. The author does not even mention Arendt, they seem to have been two ships passing each other in the night. Arendt does a better job of expressing The Horror of It All, but it taxes even her considerable powers of description.
When Arendt wrote her book in 1951, the Holocaust was the model of Totalitarianism she had most in mind. She also knew something of Stalinist Russia and its terrors. She knew nothing of the terrors in China and Cambodia that were to come – where antisemitism did not play a role. But where intellectuals were treated just a viciously. Mass movements like these are perhaps over; intellectuals everywhere have been discredited; but brutal dictatorships are now as common as ever.
Inverted Totalitarianism, something bred in America, is the new political model. Previously, mass movements such as Fascism, always had a leader, and he was all-important. The new model needs none, although temporary leaders – such as those in the conservative movements, or the CEOs of large corporations – do come and go. In the inverted model, the dictators are the people themselves, who enforce conformity ruthlessly – as the media directs them. Even in the workplace – which is strictly hierarchical, and where those at the top make most of the money, and all of the decisions (and which function as a new aristocracy) – complete obedience is enforced from the bottom up.
These people do not want to be free, they want to be ruled – but ruled by everybody. Every politician knows this, and is ruled by them also. It is a state of affairs previously unimaginable, but now common. Where everyone is scared to death of everyone else – where the terror is total – and therefore totalitarian.
Only one thing needs to be added: all of this is unconscious, and is denied completely. Everything I have said can be inferred easily from the facts – but these mean nothing to those in its grip. This is something no one, in their wildest dreams, could have imagined (Orwell comes to mind).
What is missing is an explanation for all of this. In one sense, an explanation is impossible: the whole thing is so monstrous, it defies explanation. Some extremely intelligent men have been unable to see it at all – I could give you a long list, if you like. But in another sense, the explanation is easy – and has often been said before. I quote:
Things are in the saddle and ride mankind.
We have become so enamored of our things, we have become like them ourselves. We, as these super-humans (which we take ourselves to be), now attack ordinary humans. The technology that drove us over the tipping-point is the Computer/Software/Internet combination – which has succeeding admirably in becoming like us, and in becoming our new master – by making us like it.
I hope you have not missed the irony of this: this complex is nothing but the latest embodiment of The Machine – which has always included people as one of its parts. We have been captured by something of our own making!
This was brought home to me, in a very dramatic way, when my young emotionally-sensitive wife went to work in an office. They had to call me at work, and ask me to come and get her, because she had freaked out and was screaming at everyone. Looking back at it, I realize she had seen what was really going on in an office, and reacted to it – where normal people simply took it in their stride, and could see nothing wrong happening. Beth was right, and they were wrong.
I had much the same reaction to the office myself – but managed to get out of the whole scene more-or-less intact – and build a new life for myself in Costa Rica. A life so different I now seem to be a different kind of person – one incomprehensible to my former family and associates – and sometimes even to myself.