The leader is not the architect of the system but its product.
August 16, 2009 2:20 PM   Subscribe

"This is an America that has transferred its allegiance to spectacle, to pseudo-events, that no longer can determine what is real and what is illusion, that confuses how they’re made to feel with knowledge, that confuses propaganda with ideology, and that’s exceedingly dangerous. All totalitarian societies are image-based societies, and that’s what our society has become."
posted by plexi (127 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
Whatya mean "has" ?
posted by The Whelk at 2:39 PM on August 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Is that a actual TV show, or just some guy with a huge desk in his basement and video camera?

If it is a real show, everyone involved in the production needs to be fired. Immediately.
posted by FfejL at 2:42 PM on August 16, 2009


I think it's a radio show, and they just happened to have a camera for Youtubery.

Guy definitely has a Radio Voice, anyway.
posted by rokusan at 2:43 PM on August 16, 2009


Ignorance is louder and easier than care and deliberation. This is not new, and has nothing to do with the technologies at our disposal. Spectacles are as old as politics, and predate representative media. A major voice in American politics is self-righteous ignorance, a self conscious and proud stupidity. This dates back at least as far as the Know-Nothing party, the ideological forefather to the modern Republicans.
posted by idiopath at 2:49 PM on August 16, 2009 [9 favorites]


Wait, haven't I heard this before? Granted, the man didn't see anyway out of it.
posted by zabuni at 2:53 PM on August 16, 2009


I cannot tell whether FfejL is making a Metajoke about the visual aesthetics of a Thom Hartmann's radio show's studio.

and, Chris Hedges, is there ANY book you can write that won't make me despair?

I respect him immensely, and appreciate what he's doing, but grim, GRIM stuff.
posted by Busithoth at 2:53 PM on August 16, 2009


Here's an excerpt of the Hedges book as well.
posted by zabuni at 2:54 PM on August 16, 2009


Or you could watch Glenn Beck. He exemplifies all of the above.

Man I hope that dirtball dies of a major myocardial infarction on air soon.
posted by fourcheesemac at 2:55 PM on August 16, 2009


Man I hope that dirtball dies of a major myocardial infarction on air soon.

What, and make him a saint? Naw. he needs to be caught fucking a dog on air.

And only if it's a dude dog. A lady dog is just ol' fashioned foolin' around, just so much as he makes an honest mutt outta her.
posted by The Whelk at 2:59 PM on August 16, 2009 [7 favorites]


Never heard of Thom Hartmann until this post, so no Meta-joke intended.

Unless you think it was funny. Then that was my point all along.
posted by FfejL at 3:00 PM on August 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


All totalitarian societies don't have free elections or term limits or free speech or a free press.

Sooooo close to having a coherent point, though.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:04 PM on August 16, 2009 [1 favorite]



All totalitarian societies don't have free elections or term limits or free speech or a free press.


Instead, totalitarian societies have lies and illusions.
posted by fuq at 3:10 PM on August 16, 2009 [11 favorites]


Is the fact that this is on YouTube and not just an MP3 an ironic meta-commentary?
posted by odinsdream at 3:14 PM on August 16, 2009


Mix equal parts Guy Debord and Neil Postman; add sprinkle of relevant internet-age details and upload.

Yes, yes, he's right. People have been pointing this out loudly and eloquently for decades. What's different and original about this analysis?
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 3:21 PM on August 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


What, and make him a saint?

Actually Glenn Beck became a saint ten years ago
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 3:22 PM on August 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


What's different and original about this analysis?

If it's the analysis that actually cracks the collective haze that hangs over so much American "thinking" and actually gets heard, comprehended and acted upon, who cares if it's different and/or original? I'm not saying that this is so, but here's hoping.
posted by philip-random at 3:29 PM on August 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


foxy_hedgehog: decades? Try centuries, or millenia. Some of the oldest known writing about politics was about how people these days are becoming stupider and lack the wisdom of the wiser and better educated previous generations.
posted by idiopath at 3:30 PM on August 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


All totalitarian societies don't have free elections or term limits or free speech or a free press.

Since WWII or thereabouts, critics in free societies have come up with more and more metaphysical ways to define totalitarianism. The project is interesting -- what is it totalitarian socieites have in common, other than the obvious? -- but it has a tendency to stray into the absurd. No, it's not about the secret police, the bombings on opposition newspapers, the labor camps. It's about foundationalist thinking, or it's about an obsession with image.

It's almost as though some people are jealous they didn't get to live in Nazi Germany.
posted by grobstein at 3:32 PM on August 16, 2009 [16 favorites]


I would wager a guess that more people are reading and writing now than at any time in history.
posted by empath at 3:42 PM on August 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


All totalitarian societies don't have free elections or term limits or free speech or a free press.

Most free societies don't have term limits.

Many totalitarian societies claim to have free elections and free speech and a free press.

And when the regime-supported press is bigger than the dissident press by a large enough margin, you can let the press be as free as you want.
posted by wendell at 3:44 PM on August 16, 2009 [6 favorites]


And is it a Free Society if the people being repressed are a small enough percentage of the population? If so, what's the maximum percent?

And is it a Free Society if most of the repression is done by non-governmental organizations (Corporations, Religions) only to their own 'members', but the total numbers represent an overwhelming majority of the population?
posted by wendell at 3:50 PM on August 16, 2009


14 Ways Of Looking At A Blackshirt, Umberto Eco.
posted by The Whelk at 3:56 PM on August 16, 2009 [16 favorites]


Notable pull quote :

"That is why one of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups. In our time, when the old "proletarians" are becoming petty bourgeois (and the lumpen are largely excluded from the political scene), the fascism of tomorrow will find its audience in this new majority."
posted by The Whelk at 4:00 PM on August 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


Really much obliged. I'm afraid the post may be a little too mystery meat, and that a ten-minute YT video of vague origins may go unwatched. That would be too bad, because this is very interesting, and the book sounds good and worthwhile.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:39 PM on August 16, 2009


I think historians have identified the term your seeking as totalitarian democracy, except I'm not sure this holds for the U.S. It seems educated left-wing Americans are simply happy & lazy with their $100k per year jobs, while the vast unwashed uneducated religious masses listen whenever some snake oil salesmen pretends he represents them.

I adore how America functions far more meritocratically than Europe, China, etc. but maybe there are unpleasant side effects. Or maybe the corporations just exploit Americans more effectively because American consumers are more profitable to exploit.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:05 PM on August 16, 2009


Even though I agree with the general premise, I found this book very frustrating. Repeatedly, the author strings together tenuous relationships between forces at work in present-day American culture and does very little to shore up his arguments. Arguments that include:
posted by the jam at 5:07 PM on August 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


This is not news. Decline and fall of an empire, love it or leave it, all that. See ya, USA.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:17 PM on August 16, 2009


grrr. my mousing fingers betray me.

It seems educated left-wing Americans are simply happy & lazy with their $100k per year jobs, while the vast unwashed uneducated religious masses listen whenever some snake oil salesmen pretends he represents them.


I think you're leaving out a hell of a lot of people there. Say, everyone who comes from the left side of the spectrum and makes under $100K a year. Which is, well, pretty much most of us.
posted by hippybear at 5:33 PM on August 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


totalitarianism and fascism can actually be exclusive.
too bad people confuse one with the other.
posted by liza at 5:33 PM on August 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Then came the moment Glenn knew he was going to become a member. “I was sitting in Priesthood, and a guy who I had dubbed ‘The Amazing Mr. Plastic Man’—because he was the happiest guy on the planet—was teaching the concept of Zion. It wasn’t a concept that I had really seriously considered before. He asked, ‘How can it happen?’ Tears started to roll down his cheeks and he said, ‘It can only happen if I truly love you and you love me.’”

Holy cow, are all of these cults just covers for sublimated homoeroticism?
posted by blucevalo at 5:42 PM on August 16, 2009


I would wager a guess that more people are reading and writing now than at any time in history.

Well, sure, but on the other hand, the population of the planet has more than doubled in the past 50 years.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:11 PM on August 16, 2009


Even though I agree with the general premise, I found this book very frustrating. Repeatedly, the author strings together tenuous relationships between forces at work in present-day American culture and does very little to shore up his arguments.

Oh, so the rest of the book is like that? I got tired of that just reading the excerpt I had found. It sounded like Thomas Friedman yelling "WAKE UP SHEEPLE" over and over.

The jam: did he ever have any solution for this in his book? Guy Debord didn't, and ended up killing himself over it.
posted by zabuni at 6:17 PM on August 16, 2009


The shift from simple storylines in professional wrestling (USA vs Russia) to more soap-opera-style plotlines (family betrayal, backstabbing, ambiguous "good guys") is due to societal breakdown (rather than a shrewd effort to expand wrestling's audience)

I'm actually reading this section right now, and I think maybe you should read it again. There is much more happening here, in Hedges's view, than anything as simple as a move away from appeals to jingoism. Hedges is more interested in the shifting identities and (maybe more importantly) moral stances of the characters the wrestlers portray. The lack of clear-cut good and evil in the soap opera, and what that says about the culture of its audience, seems to be his point: If that's more appealing than good guys vs. bad guys, then why?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:25 PM on August 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would wager a guess that more people are reading and writing now than at any time in history.

sur but uc tr writtg lk this k?
posted by rokusan at 7:01 PM on August 16, 2009


I'd think it's a sign of increasing sophistication in the wresting audience. Simple good vs evil dichotomies would seem to be more appealing to children, idiots and republicans.
posted by empath at 7:03 PM on August 16, 2009


The lack of clear-cut good and evil in the soap opera, and what that says about the culture of its audience, seems to be his point: If that's more appealing than good guys vs. bad guys, then why?

It seems pretty obvious to me that its a sign of increasing sophistication in the audience. Wresting in the 80s was primarily for children and idiots.
posted by empath at 7:10 PM on August 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


errr--- i dunno what happened there, i thought my first post didn't get saved (i reloaded the page and everything)..
posted by empath at 7:10 PM on August 16, 2009


Understood in its totality, the spectacle is both the result and the project of the dominant mode of production. It is not a mere decoration added to the real world. It is the very heart of this real society’s unreality.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 7:17 PM on August 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


i'm not seeing this as anything new either - was there ever a time when middle americans weren't more prone to be manipulated by symbols than by education and thought? - there was a time, of course, when corporations didn't have the influence on government they do now - that was before the civil war

whatever democracy we've had in this country has been in spite of the ruling classes - in fact many would argue that our constitution was designed with the manipulation of the people by an elite in mind

it's good of him to remind us of all this, but he's doing us a disservice by saying that we're headed towards a quasi-totalitarian society - no, we've been on the cusp of that for at least 100 years and it could be argued that we've actually gotten further from it - but not by much
posted by pyramid termite at 7:20 PM on August 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


I am amused that the clip is talking about a country "that no longer can determine what is real and what is illusion" while the host is sitting in front of what is obviously a badly-done green-screen.
posted by fungible at 7:26 PM on August 16, 2009 [5 favorites]


in fact many would argue that our constitution was designed with the manipulation of the people by an elite in mind

"A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy or perhaps both." — James Madison
posted by @troy at 7:33 PM on August 16, 2009


I'd think it's a sign of increasing sophistication in the wresting audience. Simple good vs evil dichotomies would seem to be more appealing to children, idiots and republicans.

Well, sure (although I don't know that wrestling is now intended for ivory tower intellectuals or anything), but...well, anyway, I'm on the phone and can't really expand on this, but he goes on at some length about why he thinks it's taken on the particular form it has, as opposed to any other equally sophisticated form, and it's not much to do with what was noted above, is my point.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:40 PM on August 16, 2009


Of all the writers cited, you're forgetting Daniel Boorstin, who invented the term "pseudo event." He's not as well known for his well-knowness among me-fi denizens as Neil Postman and such, apparently.
posted by raysmj at 7:40 PM on August 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


well-knownnes, I suppose, with two n's. Not sure. Thankfully, someone shortened that to "famous for being famous" later.
posted by raysmj at 7:41 PM on August 16, 2009


You guys do spectacle well. When Aussies try and copy it, it always comes across as cheesy.

Like, there'll be a VERY IMPORTANT NEWS CONFERENCE type deal... important dignitaries present looking important, important backdrop there, official important looking faux metal government seals in the background… so far so good... then we'll see a long shot and realise they're using fold up outdoor picnic furniture or something.

Gotta love Australia!
posted by uncanny hengeman at 7:45 PM on August 16, 2009


Here's a transcript of the linked video, for those of you who'd rather not wallow in the bankrupt culture of radio / internet culture culture and prefer the purity of cultural print culture.
posted by koeselitz at 8:13 PM on August 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


No argument here. Although one poster far above decried this as a rehash of Postman/Debord, I'm not sure that a) either was referenced here or b) that most readers here are deeply familiar with the arguments of these two writers. I watched the ten-minute video, and appreciated the potpourri of links. I, too, think the USA is in big trouble, and this general analysis of our way of processing information is part of the problem.
posted by kozad at 8:42 PM on August 16, 2009


I had to reach for my revolver five times in a single sentence there, koeselitz - are you trying to give me RSI?
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:50 PM on August 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


Just puttin' them gun control laws to the test.
posted by koeselitz at 9:05 PM on August 16, 2009


GAH I can't listen to this stuff

It's like I'm back in graduate school

Someone please shoot me
posted by koeselitz at 9:06 PM on August 16, 2009


I. Am. Your singing telegram!

BANG!
posted by The Whelk at 9:08 PM on August 16, 2009 [4 favorites]


Is the world dying? Is our culture dying? Is this mess one that we have created ourselves? Is this something that is unique to the United States? Is it planet wide? What’s going on here?

All good questions, I don't see any answers anywhere
posted by koeselitz at 9:22 PM on August 16, 2009


Tho yer radio has been jammed
I hear talk about by chance

You educated kids know what you're on about
You've been oppressed for years

posted by koeselitz at 9:37 PM on August 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just puttin' them gun control laws to the test.

Well, that's the problem - the government confiscated my revolver, so I keep compulsively shoving my hand into my empty pocket. I think my workmates suspect I might have crabs.

posted by UbuRoivas at 9:40 PM on August 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


"Give me convenience or give me death" -- Dead Kennedys

People used to dismiss thermal and acoustic pollution as alarmist and unnecessary. What about psychological pollution ? It's not something that has been addessed and really should. In terms of unwanted images, jingles, barked orders and such vomit as the unrestrained marketing / advertising industries have unleashed on us, each waking moment is the equivalent of being stranded in the soggiest, smelliest dead centre of a city waste dump. From the moment you open your eyes in the morning you are under assault. It even permeates our dreams. Many of us have to travel hours to have any chance of a moments peace where our senses aren't being raped by advertising. What are the true costs to a society of that ?
posted by felch at 9:45 PM on August 16, 2009 [6 favorites]


What about psychological pollution ? It's not something that has been addessed and really should.

It is - by Adbusters, the Journal of the Mental Environment.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:00 PM on August 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I keep trying to muster something cohesive an' cogent to say about all of this, but at the moment I don't think I can until one of these Edwin Droods actually defines one of these undefined, shifting, vague words which I have a stinking suspicion can't really be defined at all given the prattling emptiness of the whole proceedings:

  • culture [oh dear satan below how I hate that hideous, meaningless word]

  • totalitarianism

  • fascism

  • ur-fascism

  • spectacle

  • illusion

  • ideology

  • 'the cultural mainstream'

  • propaganda

  • literacy

  • values

  • corporatocracy

  • commodification

  • inverted totalitarianism

  • the sacred [grrrrr...]

  • celebrity culture

  • consumer culture

  • junk culture

  • ideals

  • Seriously, you, me, none of us have any idea what the fuck we mean when we use these words. No, mentioning another 'really pioneering thinker' from the 70s does not constitute a definition of the ridiculous term you're using that they supposedly invented. In fact, how's this for an idea? Speak plainly. Make an effort - like a normal fucking human being - to make yourself understood by other people. Don't go on about de Tocqueville just to be heard! Don't mention yet another guy I've never heard of before blasting off with some new 'inverted totalitarianism!' catchphrase which may as well mean 'clotted cream from northern Wales!' as far as I know - if the dude really came up with ideas that I'm supposed to be able to intuit after barely hearing you utter half a sentence about them, then he's not much of a thinker, is he? And if he is an interesting thinker, why the hell are you clomping all over him with those boots of yours as if you haven't a care in the world, you gobbing jackanapes?

    Scrape off the obnoxious graduate-school veneer, the constant impulse to quote someone I've never heard of to impress me, and all we have here is another isolationist libertarian crank [see his seminal 'OBAMA AND THE RISE OF FASCISM' interview] . I swear, if my grandfather'd heard how many times this man utters the words 'totalitarianism' and 'fascism' when he seems to mean 'the will to make people conform' or something equally vague, he'd-a smacked him over the head with a full Martini glass and then made him pay for a replacement. And I would've laughed my ass off the whole way. And I didn't even like my grandfather that much, to tell you the truth.
    posted by koeselitz at 10:12 PM on August 16, 2009 [11 favorites]


    From the moment you open your eyes in the morning you are under assault. It even permeates our dreams. Many of us have to travel hours to have any chance of a moments peace where our senses aren't being raped by advertising. What are the true costs to a society of that ?

    I assume that you've stopped participating in the channels that deliver that advertising? You've gotten rid of your TV. You turn off the radio. You run AdBlockPlus. You don't click on unidentified links on webpages.

    I must conclude that the only advertising that's raping you these days is billboards. It sucks that you live in such a billboard-dominated area.

    Because, unlike all the other forms of pollution you might consider, only "advertising pollution", with the exception of billboards and skywriting, is coming to you through a totally voluntary channel that is under your control. You. Can. Turn. It. Off.
    posted by Netzapper at 10:19 PM on August 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


    Netzapper: You. Can. Turn. It. Off.

    This.
    posted by koeselitz at 10:22 PM on August 16, 2009


    UbuRoivas: It is - by Adbusters, the Journal of the Mental Environment.

    see I was gonna say Mental Floss

    posted by koeselitz at 10:24 PM on August 16, 2009


    I remember when I was 14 years old, and Kurt Vonnegut seemed really, really profound.
    posted by Sidhedevil at 10:45 PM on August 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Netzapper: You. Can. Turn. It. Off.

    Not always. Telescreens continuously blaring advertisements have begun appearing in grocery stores and at gas pumps. Similar devices are used in aiport terminals. Blimps and airplanes carry ad banners through the sky. Ad emails arrive constantly from this corporation or that from which you once bought something.

    I guess one could stop shopping for groceries or gasoline, never go to airports. never look up, and not use email.
    posted by Maximian at 11:05 PM on August 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


    No, mentioning another 'really pioneering thinker' from the 70s does not constitute a definition of the ridiculous term you're using that they supposedly invented.

    You know, that's my usual reaction to people talking about The Gaze.

    (even if i sometimes use it myself)
    posted by UbuRoivas at 11:10 PM on August 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


    or free speech or a free press.

    Really? The 1880's have a telegraph for you.


    The following remarks were apparently made by John Swinton in 1880, then the preeminent New York journalist, probably one night in during that same year. Swinton was the guest of honour at a banquet given him by the leaders of his craft. Someone who knew neither the press nor Swinton offered a toast to the independent press. Swinton outraged his colleagues by replying:

    "There is no such thing, at this date of the world's history, in America, as an independent press. You know it and I know it.

    "There is not one of you who dares to write your honest opinions, and if you did, you know beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinion out of the paper I am connected with. Others of you are paid similar salaries for similar things, and any of you who would be so foolish as to write honest opinions would be out on the streets looking for another job. If I allowed my honest opinions to appear in one issue of my paper, before twenty-four hours my occupation would be gone.

    "The business of the journalists is to destroy the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilify, to fawn at the feet of mammon, and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread. You know it and I know it, and what folly is this toasting an independent press?

    "We are the tools and vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks, they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes."

    posted by rough ashlar at 11:19 PM on August 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Tedious, predictable garbage from an obvious hack. Debord was a great man, but he made it fantastically easy for nimrods of all kinds to appropriate his argument, misread it, and turn it into "get off my lawn" pseudo-conservatism. And people without a sense of perspective--particularly self-styled radicals--will always be flattered by the perceived intersection with their own causes and eagerly lap up the bullshit like it's a fucking White Russian.
    posted by nasreddin at 11:43 PM on August 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


    Intellectual prostitutes fucking White Russians & lapping up shit - makes for a very debauched sounding script. We'd just need to get Pasolini to direct it.
    posted by UbuRoivas at 12:04 AM on August 17, 2009


    rough ashlar, while I appreciate the quote, I'm sure we can all agree that there is a difference between journalists censoring what they write (1) for fear of losing their job, versus (2) fear of jail/torture/murder. So, while a theoretically perfect and free press is, in reality, so unlikely to exist as to be impossible, a functionally free press (one where journalists do not fear jail/torture/murder for expressing their opinion) is entirely possible and, so far as I can tell, exists in the US and many other countries around the world. And now that we got blogs and all that, you can be a pseudo-journalist beholden to no corporate sponsor - truly free!! Imagine that.
    posted by molecicco at 12:36 AM on August 17, 2009


    To summarize: "There are people out there who don't believe everything I do! Therefore they are brainwashed sheep!"
    posted by happyroach at 12:59 AM on August 17, 2009


    Speak plainly. Make an effort - like a normal fucking human being - to make yourself understood by other people. Don't go on about de Tocqueville just to be heard!

    Amen. This is, perhaps not coincidentally, the same kind of gibberish namedropping I hear from LaRouchites, who will drop Nicholas of Cusa, Leibniz, Kepler and Plato while discussing the stock market.

    There are three possibilities when you say vaguely portentous things larded with cryptic namedropping. One is that you're very bad at explaining yourself. Another is that you don't fully understand the ideas that you're trying to explain. And the third is that what you're trying to explain is complete horseshit.
    posted by fleetmouse at 5:13 AM on August 17, 2009 [3 favorites]



    "Contemporary industrial society tends to be totalitarian. For 'totalitarian' is not only a terroristic political coordination of society, but also a non-terroristic economic-technical coordination which operates through the manipulation of needs by vested interests. It thus precludes the emergence of an effective opposition against the whole. Not only a specific form of government or party rule makes for totalitarianism, but also a specific system of production and distribution which may well be compatible with a 'pluralism' of parties, newspapers, 'countervailing powers,' etc."

    - Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man p. 5
    posted by bukharin at 5:31 AM on August 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


    Re advertising ubiquity, I just returned from a conference at a Famous Chain Hotel. They have advertising-laden "news" displays in the ELEVATORS. The news consists of context-free headlines from MSNBC, so it forms a sort of surrealistic poetry rather than actual information.

    But for more fun, it is some sort of badly-written Windows app, and 50% of the time we were treated to a basic black command shell, slowly executing batch scripts. I found this oddly soothing.
    posted by Ella Fynoe at 5:34 AM on August 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


    functionally free press...pseudo-journalist... - truly free!!

    So either one is not free to say what they will as part of the jouralistic corporate media, (and therefore is no freedom of press) or one is not a journalist (pseudo-journalist) and therefore free.

    Lets test the blogger is free claim this week, shall we?

    Now I have no idea if what
    Elisha Strom has done is illegal/unconstitutional - but if all she did was use public information and take pictures from public places - the comment by a "journalist" It should not be a crime to annoy the cops, whose raid on Ms. Strom's house looks more like a fit of pique than an act of law enforcement. may be right on the money.
    posted by rough ashlar at 5:45 AM on August 17, 2009


    I remember when I was 14 years old, and Kurt Vonnegut seemed really, really profound.

    Welcome to America, where everyone is savvier than you, and the entirety of western literature and intellectual culture is dismissed as high school fare.

    Chumps.
    posted by saulgoodman at 6:14 AM on August 17, 2009


    So either one is not free to say what they will as part of the jouralistic corporate media, (and therefore is no freedom of press) or one is not a journalist (pseudo-journalist) and therefore free.

    There do exist shades of grey. The key point is that people who voice dissent (I'm not interested in nitpicking over the definition of 'journalist') need not fear torture or murder. That has not been the case for most of human history. Big media journalists in the "free world" may fear being fired, but to equate that with knowing that you will be sent to prison and/or tortured and/or be killed for questioning the government is a gigantic leap of logic.

    Can you please explain to me how your anecdote supports the argument that there is no free press? Because it sounds more to me like the police have broken the law, and that corporate media is reporting on it. You let me know if the uncredited editorial writer from the Washington Post goes mysteriously missing.
    posted by molecicco at 6:14 AM on August 17, 2009


    The jam: did he ever have any solution for this in his book? Guy Debord didn't, and ended up killing himself over it.

    He ended up killing himself over intense chronic pain from polyneuritis. Now, you might say he drank himself to death. And you might say he drank so much from despair or loathing. But his suicide has been repeatedly reflected upon as just so much commodity (e.g. murdered by French intelligence, revolutionary performance art, betrayed by members of a bank-robbing plot, etc.). There's enough drama in his life that his death need not be mythologized as any more than it was: a man who got bored. That's spectacle enough.
    posted by 3.2.3 at 6:42 AM on August 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


    Did none of you read the second link about the concept of "Inverted Totalitarianism," in which not government, or the voting public, but corporations and industrial interests are the real locus of political power?

    As for what "Totalitarianism" is, just break it down, and it's simple. Totalitarianism, crudely, is a system in which all political, cultural, and social power--essentially, the totality of power--is under the control of a particular set of interests. It doesn't matter if the control is maintained through force, manipulation of mass media, or a combination of both. What matters is the exclusivity of the control a particular set of ideological or other interests have over a society, how totalizing those interests are. It's hard to deny that increasingly, American people have embraced the totalizing logic of the market--profit above all else--even in their personal lives. Principles like self-sacrifice, the common good and public interest, while we still pay lip-service to them, ring hollow in an age when despite economic crisis, wars being waged on multiple fronts, and myriad other historically unprecedented challenges, the ruling elite in our society still demand more tax cuts.
    posted by saulgoodman at 6:42 AM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


    It sucks that you live in such a billboard-dominated area.

    Billboards are illegal in Maine. I have to say, I pretty much don't see any advertising anymore, besides the brand names which appear on pretty much everything. I'm not quite to the point of manually removing all brand names from my environment, but I'm pretty close. I do it when it's easy.
    posted by rusty at 7:10 AM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Oh, man... and here i was really hoping this would be a discussion of Simulacra - (or, as I define it... how evolving western culture finds the simulated event more important/significant/real than the actual event)... oh well... guess I'll just RTFP and go on my merry way.
    posted by Jiff_and_theChoosyMuthers at 7:22 AM on August 17, 2009


    Oh, man... and here i was really hoping this would be a discussion of Simulacra - (or, as I define it... how evolving western culture finds the simulated event more important/significant/real than the actual event)... oh well... guess I'll just RTFP and go on my merry way.

    The technical definition of "simulacrum" in this context is a copy for which there is no original. So there's no "actual event" there for the simulated event to compete with.

    As for what "Totalitarianism" is, just break it down, and it's simple. Totalitarianism, crudely, is a system in which all political, cultural, and social power--essentially, the totality of power--is under the control of a particular set of interests.


    That's a pretty self-serving and arbitrary definition, designed to facilitate your axe-grinding in this thread. Not to mention the fact that it already assumes what you're trying to prove.
    posted by nasreddin at 8:21 AM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


    It's hard to deny that increasingly, American people have embraced the totalizing logic of the market--profit above all else--even in their personal lives.

    This is all so first eight months of 2008.
    posted by philip-random at 8:42 AM on August 17, 2009


    That's a pretty self-serving and arbitrary definition, designed to facilitate your axe-grinding in this thread. Not to mention the fact that it already assumes what you're trying to prove.

    No it's not. Terms aren't limited to a single denotative meaning, you know. Most terms in the English language in fact have at least two meanings: A more general sense that encompasses the uses of the term in its broadest sense, and the more particular senses of the term in its narrower, more context specific senses.

    The root concept of totalitarianism has always been of a totalizing political ideology. It's perfectly consistent with long-established secondary meanings of the term to extend it's use in a qualified sense the way Wolin does. And the key point is that Wolin is explicitly arguing about the potential threat of a new kind of totalitarianism.

    It's as if I said, "There's a threat of a completely new kind of fraud in the insurance industry, here's how it might work," and you stopped me before I could continue to say, "That's impossible. It couldn't possibly be a form of fraud because it's never been classified or regulated as fraud in the past."
    posted by saulgoodman at 9:06 AM on August 17, 2009



    It's as if I said, "There's a threat of a completely new kind of fraud in the insurance industry, here's how it might work," and you stopped me before I could continue to say, "That's impossible. It couldn't possibly be a form of fraud because it's never been classified or regulated as fraud in the past."


    Look, the whole point of your argument is that you're trying to appeal to the emotional resonance of a word like "totalitarianism" and stretching that definition to mean, really, just about every political and social system since the development of agriculture. The way you're using "totalizing" is an example of one of the sounds-cool-means-nothing words koeselitz cited upthread.
    posted by nasreddin at 9:12 AM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


    The way you're using "totalizing" is an example of one of the sounds-cool-means-nothing words koeselitz cited upthread.

    Not at all. If all political power is concentrated in the hands of political elite with a single, all encompassing political philosophy, that's the text book meaning of the word "totalizing." How is that meaningless? What's not to understand? If a political ideology sees itself as the only acceptable political ideology, excluding all others, that ideology is a totalizing ideology. Would a diagram be instructive, or do you follow now how "totalizing" both means something and does have relevance in the current American political environment?
    posted by saulgoodman at 9:38 AM on August 17, 2009


    Not at all. If all political power is concentrated in the hands of political elite with a single, all encompassing political philosophy, that's the text book meaning of the word "totalizing." How is that meaningless? What's not to understand? If a political ideology sees itself as the only acceptable political ideology, excluding all others, that ideology is a totalizing ideology. Would a diagram be instructive, or do you follow now how "totalizing" both means something and does have relevance in the current American political environment?

    There is no political ideology that is not totalizing, including liberalism and anarchism. Using "totalizing" to define "totalitarianism" dilutes the concept so much that it becomes meaningless.
    posted by nasreddin at 10:07 AM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


    There is no political ideology that is not totalizing

    That's not true. Social democracy, anarcho-socialism, and any number of other political ideologies that attempt to find nuanced, compromise positions between competing ideological frameworks represent alternatives to political puritanism.

    What is social democracy if not an ideology that tries to balance various aspects of social liberalism, statism, and economic liberalism?
    posted by saulgoodman at 10:22 AM on August 17, 2009


    That's not true. Social democracy, anarcho-socialism, and any number of other political ideologies that attempt to find nuanced, compromise positions between competing ideological frameworks represent alternatives to political puritanism.

    What is social democracy if not an ideology that tries to balance various aspects of social liberalism, statism, and economic liberalism?


    An ideology based on compromise is still totalizing. Classical liberalism in the democratic framework was envisioned as a compromise between democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy--which did not mean that it was any more tolerant of pure-democratic or pure-monarchical systems. "Anarcho-socialism" is intolerant of anarcho-capitalism or statism.

    (By the way, Stalinism and fascism also represent examples of compromise. Stalinism combined economic statism and centralization with constitutional-democratic political forms and great-power nationalism, none of which was part of the Leninist template as it was interpreted in, say, 1918. Nazi Germany maintained continuity with the political trappings of Weimar; Mussolini was formally endorsed by a constitutional monarch (Victor Emmanuel III) who later moved against him, and also sacrificed many of the political assumptions of fascism in maintaining a bilateral alliance with the Church.)

    And in any case, for the vast majority of post-agriculture human history people have lived under much more "totalitarian" systems than we do today. Go ahead and grind your axe against global capital--I don't disagree with you that it's a pretty bad thing--but do it without bullshit emotional appeals to boo-words like "totalitarianism."
    posted by nasreddin at 10:51 AM on August 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


    Social democracies like Britain are governed by coalitions of political parties, each of which represent particular issues orientations or political ideologies. Social Democracy accommodates a diversity of political orientations by definition.

    You can call that "totalizing" if you like, but that seems like cheap sophistry to me. Modern American Movement Conservativism, in contrast, expressly demonizes all other political orientations.

    If you can't see the qualitative distinction, you're just being obtuse out of personal pique.
    posted by saulgoodman at 11:10 AM on August 17, 2009


    Social democracies like Britain are governed by coalitions of political parties, each of which represent particular issues orientations or political ideologies. Social Democracy accommodates a diversity of political orientations by definition.

    You can call that "totalizing" if you like, but that seems like cheap sophistry to me. Modern American Movement Conservativism, in contrast, expressly demonizes all other political orientations.

    If you can't see the qualitative distinction, you're just being obtuse out of personal pique.


    Oh, give me a break. The British Parliament contains a number of political parties--just like the American Congress does. "Movement conservatism" is one wing of one political party in America and has its counterparts in Britain as well. Your blind, impulsive desire to lash out at your political enemies in any way you can is destroying your ability to think analytically about politics.
    posted by nasreddin at 11:14 AM on August 17, 2009


    Oh, you give me a break, because as far as I can tell, that's all your argument amounts to: a disaffected air of superiority, accompanied by an apparent dearth of real-world experience to guide your overly-confident intuitions.

    There are very real reasons to be concerned about movement conservatism taking hold and fomenting into a dangerous political movement in the US. After all, the ideological roots of American movement conservatism are literally of a piece with those of European fascism, which the earliest progenitors of movement conservatism in the US (Prescott Bush, Henry Ford, etc.) supported both financially and politically even after the US's engagement in WWII.
    posted by saulgoodman at 11:22 AM on August 17, 2009


    your overly-confident intuitions.

    Uh-huh. Right back atcha.

    There are very real reasons to be concerned about movement conservatism taking hold and fomenting into a dangerous political movement in the US. After all, the ideological roots of American movement conservatism are literally of a piece with those of European fascism, which the earliest progenitors of movement conservatism in the US (Prescott Bush, Henry Ford, etc.) supported both financially and politically even after the US's engagement in WWII.

    None of that has anything to do with your claims about "totalitarianism" earlier in this thread. (And you're ignoring the BNP and its ilk, which are not only handwavingly "descended" from European fascism but actually are European fascism pure and simple.)
    posted by nasreddin at 11:28 AM on August 17, 2009


    Sure it does. The threat of totalitarianism lies with these movement conservatives, who would like nothing more than the power to impose their particular brand of corporate interest driven political puritanism (a sort of rule by Chamber of Commerce) on the rest of us for the next 100 years. And they've made massive strides in that direction over the last few decades.

    Consider recent data on economic diversity, social mobility and income inequality in the US as compared to other post-industrial nations. By every measure, the US ranks at or near the bottom in terms of actual economic freedom and equality. Some analysts have even gone so far recently as to argue that America should be reclassified as an "Emerging Economy."

    Couple these facts with other facts, like the US's having the largest percentage of its own citizens incarcerated in the world (even surpassing China), and it's hard to see how there's any objective evidence of the US being anything other than a de facto totalitarianist state, under the control of an increasingly convergent economic and political elite. Sure, you can argue all day that the data are just misleading, but in terms of hard facts to defend America as a free nation, what can you actually point to? You feel freer than you think you would if our system were trending the wrong way, is that it?
    posted by saulgoodman at 11:48 AM on August 17, 2009


    There's a great scene in "Name of the Rose" (since we've already brought up Umberto Eco and we're talking Hermeneutics) when one of the monks interprets one of the deaths as a sign of the apocalypse and some of the monks freak right the fuck out.
    Which always makes me chortle.
    This stuff is only dangerous if they try to forcibly include you in the charade.
    I mean, you couldn't stand there next to monks talking about Eschatology and laugh and say "You bloody idiots!" as long as the military and other secular forces would listen to them.

    But today, some places, you can.
    Now I'll grant there are a bunch of folks trying to convince people to use force to get people to go along (Glenn Beck among them), so it's not completely harmless.
    That doesn't mean they're not delusional idiots though. Or that they shouldn't be pointed to and laughed at as buffoons.
    I mean, ok, we've got big brother looking at us 24/7, all that - so?
    What was scary about 1984 was that the goons would bust in and take you to room 101. Without that, big brother is just watching me take a crap. Maybe making note that I use Charmin.
    And too - the U.S. collapses - so?
    Gosh, no one's ever survived the collapse of an empire before. Oh, it's no cakewalk. Europe post-Rome was a pretty nasty place for a bit.
    But one guy or another gets in charge and for the people who just want to do their business, life goes on.
    Same deal here.
    If we became a totalitarian state, that would fall eventually too. Might suck for a while - granted. And we should take pains to undo it, which to some degree this is a warning of.
    But if it all goes to hell, meh, life goes on and we put stuff back together and try to get the bastards who started all the trouble.
    Hopefully we learn from it. But we're going to make mistakes. We've made plenty in the past. And hopefully we heed the warnings beforehand. If not - well, yeah, it's going to hurt. But they'll buy into their own b.s. more and more and the symbols will become more self-referential and the organizational ties more incestuous (or in the case of aristocracy literally incestuous - which, really, proves how corrosive taking a conceptual power relationship as more valid than a real genetic relationship - or any other real empirical phenomenon. "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." - P.K. Dick) until they'll mistake, critically, the map for the reality and spin off into irrelevancy like every other imaginary construct or sect or whatever that's failed (Ottomans, Rome, Cathars, Heaven's Gate, etc.)
    Not to say they might not do a lot of real damage. But the potential of real effects have to be considered, cos I agree this is a type of totalitarianism. And really, any powerful constriction of the scope and diversity of thought can be dangerous.

    Although I take slight exception with saulgoodman's example of a new kind of fraud in the insurance industry - not because there could not be a form of fraud that has not already been classified, but because I believe the insurance industry is inherently already pretty fraudulent.
    posted by Smedleyman at 11:55 AM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


    "which, really, proves how corrosive taking a conceptual power relationship as more valid than a real genetic relationship - or any other real empirical phenomenon" - can be
    (sorry)
    posted by Smedleyman at 11:57 AM on August 17, 2009


    bukharin: Herbert Marcuse

    ALL HAIL THE KING OF THE POMPOUS INTELLECTUALS
    posted by koeselitz at 2:45 PM on August 17, 2009


    nasreddin: The way you're using "totalizing" is an example of one of the sounds-cool-means-nothing words koeselitz cited upthread.

    saulgoodman: Not at all. If all political power is concentrated in the hands of political elite with a single, all encompassing political philosophy, that's the text book meaning of the word "totalizing." How is that meaningless? What's not to understand? If a political ideology sees itself as the only acceptable political ideology, excluding all others, that ideology is a totalizing ideology. Would a diagram be instructive, or do you follow now how "totalizing" both means something and does have relevance in the current American political environment?

    No, it is. Here, let me explain it to you:

    When you or anybody else uses a sentence like

    The root concept of totalitarianism has always been of a totalizing political ideology.

    what is any normal English speaker supposed to do? How many people do you know who haven't been to college who use the word "totalizing"? How many people do you know who have been to college who use the word "totalizing"? Heck, for that matter, when was the last time you used the word "totalizing" outside of a discussion about political theory?

    Yes, fine: it means something to you. But the word "totalizing" doesn't mean anything to anybody else who hasn't studied such stuff. Hell, I was subjected to years of poli sci, and I've never heard that word before. But most people, when faced with your comments, are too daunted by the put-on grandeur of academic political theory; they just nod and pretend to know what you're talking about. 'Totalizing political ideology? Ah yes. Precisely. You're absolutely correct. I was thinking exactly the same thing.' This is what I sat through for two years in grad school: a bunch of people who pretend to understand what's being talked about because they're afraid of being seen as stupid.

    And the worst part - the dubious punchline to it all - is that when you actually go look "totalize" up in a dictionary, it apparently is supposed to mean "To make into a total." [ 1 2 ] (Well, apparently it really was that obvious.) Now, I have no problem with the essential mutability of language, and I don't mind the fact that language is always changing and that there are lots of words which average people don't know and couldn't be expected to know; but observe the purpose and provenance of this word. It means, apparently: "to add things up." Like, say "add up," "conglomerate," "concatenate," "merge," "join," "group," "accumulate," "accrue," et cetera. We have a whole fucking load of words for this very simple concept which every single human being is faced with every single day: the putting of various things together. A basic notion, an important notion, one well worth investigating but one which we appear to have some common experience with, since we have so many common words for it. So please tell me, professor: why is it we need a whole new word which hardly anybody has heard before outside of these lauded academic halls?

    No, wait, sit back down: I think I've got it.

    We need a whole new word because otherwise we can't enforce our position of intellectual superiority on the next generation of students. And if we can't enforce our position of intellectual superiority on a crowd of students, then how will we survive? We all know that our only known source of power is wide-eyed admiration and esteem; that's the only thing that can power our Dalek ships and allow us to exterminate intelligent life everywhere.

    So we obscure everything as much as possible, even from ourselves. Though we could quite easily say

    Lots of people have thought that "totalitarianism" means that the people in the political body want to accumulate everything and possess the "total."

    we don't, because then people would understand what we're saying and see that it's actually pretty simple-minded, if not ridiculous. And we wouldn't want that, because then we would lose the innocent genuflection which we so crave. So instead we say something like

    The root concept of totalitarianism has always been of a totalizing political ideology.

    - and a hush falls over the crowd, there's some whispering, and everyone nods as if they know what we're talking about even though they have no idea because the sentence is so twisted as to mean almost nothing to more than a few thousand of our elect within the university system.

    The vast and giggle-inducing irony of it all is that while you lot are prattling on about oppression and all that, what you're really trying to do without even being conscious that you're doing it is inflict your superiority on other people and subjugate them to your supposed intelligence.
    posted by koeselitz at 3:48 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


    saulgoodman: You can call that "totalizing" if you like, but that seems like cheap sophistry to me.

    No, my friend. What seems like cheap sophistry to me is using the word in the first place.
    posted by koeselitz at 3:59 PM on August 17, 2009


    My definition of totalitarianism is when all power -- economic, political and military -- rests in the hands of a single political entity. If you have multiple viable political parties, functional branches of government, and a federalist system, you almost by definition do not have a totalitarian system. You can call those divisions illusory if you like, but losing the political debate doesn't mean that you're the victim of a totalitarian regime.
    posted by empath at 4:24 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


    I don't get the urge to call the American system totalitarian, fascist, socialist or communist. The American system is bad enough for what it actually is. Trying to make it something it isn't just so people will agree with you that it's bad obscures the actual problems that really do exist and could be improved.

    I do think it is sometimes useful to say that a particular policy would slide us closer to fascism or communism, etc, but only when it actually would. I think it's fine, for example to talk about nationalizing GM as being movement toward a socialist system, because anytime the government takes over industry that is a danger. But to say that because the government took over GM that we are now a socialist government or that Obama is a secret socialist is hyperbole and not particularly useful.
    posted by empath at 4:28 PM on August 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


    The root concept of totalitarianism has always been of a totalizing political ideology.

    I don't think ideology has anything to do with totalitarianism, it has to do with power.

    Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. -- 1984.

    And I'm still not sure what you mean by 'totalizing' -- do you mean that everyone agrees to certain principles? I think if that's the definition, than any functioning government MUST be totalitarian. You can't have a functioning society where everyone questions the foundations of government and the economic system.
    posted by empath at 4:38 PM on August 17, 2009


    Consider recent data on economic diversity, social mobility and income inequality in the US as compared to other post-industrial nations. By every measure, the US ranks at or near the bottom in terms of actual economic freedom and equality. Some analysts have even gone so far recently as to argue that America should be reclassified as an "Emerging Economy."

    Couple these facts with other facts, like the US's having the largest percentage of its own citizens incarcerated in the world (even surpassing China), and it's hard to see how there's any objective evidence of the US being anything other than a de facto totalitarianist state, under the control of an increasingly convergent economic and political elite.


    None of that points to totalitarianism. Economic "freedom," whatever that is, is neither necessary nor sufficient for a totalitarian state. Neither is economic equality. I don't see any direct line from the percentage of incarcerated people to totalitarianism, either. When the government starts rounding up political prisoners, let me know.

    saulgoodman, you're normally a very cogent and reasonable guy. But this simply isn't a reasonable line of argument, and it negatively colors other arguments you might make about real, serious problems with our state and society. Words like totalitarianism and fascism have pretty specific and narrow meanings, and you're using them like Humpty Dumpty might.
    posted by me & my monkey at 5:14 PM on August 17, 2009


    The way "totalitarianism" and "fascism" tend to be used on the Left these days (perhaps this has been going on for a while, I've only really been aware of the discussion since the 1990s) reminds me a great deal of how the Right Wing uses "socialism". That is to say, it means whatever it needs to mean to scare the hell (and in election years, the donations, political allegiance and votes) out of people.
    posted by AdamCSnider at 6:39 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Hey, I dunno if anyone still cares about the actual subject of this post, but I read a big chunk of this book last night and this evening, and...uhhhhh...you know, it's interesting, and he makes some points, has some solid information, but it is AWFULLY fucking screedy and chockloaded with absolute statements that are about as verifiable as they are demonstrably true, which is to say, not at all. It's just barely journalism; it pretty much just reads like a very long op-ed, and it gets old fast. It's not even that he's wrong about anything, it's just that...well...a little goes a long way. I'd like a little less hit-you-over-the-head opinion and a lot more info vis a vis the subjects he touches upon. Like, for instance, the wrestling chapter kinda goes like:

    15% Recaps and transcripts of WWE episodes
    5% Background info on the real lives of the wrestlers
    70% This-is-the-death-of-western-civilization-OMG-WTF
    10% Stern headshaking

    But if it went a little more like:

    15% Recaps and transcripts of WWE episodes
    15% Background info on the real lives of the wrestlers
    15% Background info on the business of WWE (i.e., how it reaches its audience)
    15% Interpretation of actual findings (as opposed to sweeping generalizations)
    And what the hell:
    40% Shame-shame-shame

    That'd be fine. But what actually happens is he presents you with detailed accounts of media pseudo-events (wrestling matches, a particularly cringeworthy episode of Jerry Springer, etc.), just barely interprets them, and then starts ranting about how dehumanizing the media is which actually you only need to do once, not like every fifth paragraph of your apparently unedited book. It's really too bad, because there's a great book in this book -- or at least a few great articles -- but it's buried in...junk.
    posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:57 PM on August 17, 2009


    The vast and giggle-inducing irony of it all is that while you lot are prattling on about oppression and all that, what you're really trying to do without even being conscious that you're doing it is inflict your superiority on other people and subjugate them to your supposed intelligence.

    Jesus, you've morphed into a patronizing and condescending ass since my earliest interactions with you, which used to actually be rewarding sometimes.

    Anyway, I understand the urge to reject sensationalist, politically partisan claims and to derail chicken-little-ism and all that, but you're still missing a very fucking simple point: The totalitarian political movements in Europe that we all agree did meet your narrow definition of the term took much of their inspiration from and owed their continued existence to wealthy patrons in the US, patrons whose support is known to have continued long after America's entry into WWII.

    Those patrons later went on to attempt (unsuccessfully) to stage a coup to impose extra-constitutional military rule here in the US.

    The power dynamics in America have not changed in any significant way in the years since, and there's considerable evidence of continuing fascist sympathies among those in the upper economic strata of our society (it's a fair point that I'm not providing cites, but you can easily dig up plenty of credible sources on your own with only a little digging into the subject; I also have personal anecdotal evidence that leads me to this view, as I've described in other threads but won't go into here again).

    The danger is that with our political processes and media increasingly under the influence of a shrinking economic elite we end up with a kind of soft dictatorship--a system that, in effect, permits only one political ideology by shutting out any unorthodox political expression from the public discourse. That ideology--yes, that's what "totalizing ideology" means--is one that privileges the political goals of wealthier business interests to the exclusion of all others.

    Just because you don't want to acknowledge the legitimacy of drawing distinctions between political ideologies defined by their ability to accommodate a multiplicity of political viewpoints and interests (non-totalizing) and ideologies that permit only the expression of a narrow political orthodoxy (totalizing) doesn't mean such a distinction isn't valid. It just reveals your own thinking as rigid and prejudiced, because the meaning of the distinction, and why it's a substantive one to make couldn't be clearer unless you assume that all political ideologies share the quality of dogmatically excluding alternative viewpoints, which is a pretty obvious example of question begging.

    And FWIW, the argument here, as I understand it, isn't that we've already reached a totalitarian state in the US, only that there are signs that a risk of reaching such a state in the foreseeable future exists. It's either wishful thinking or arrogant to believe our society is uniquely temperamentally or institutionally resistant to the risks of falling into such a state, given the historical record.
    posted by saulgoodman at 8:52 PM on August 17, 2009


    The danger is that with our political processes and media increasingly under the influence of a shrinking economic elite we end up with a kind of soft dictatorship--a system that, in effect, permits only one political ideology by shutting out any unorthodox political expression from the public discourse. That ideology--yes, that's what "totalizing ideology" means--is one that privileges the political goals of wealthier business interests to the exclusion of all others.

    This is the flaw right here. We don't shut out unorthodox political expression. People are free to express any opinion they want. Just because unorthodox ideas are unpopular (almost by definition), that doesn't imply totalitarianism.
    posted by empath at 9:00 PM on August 17, 2009


    Or in plainer speak, European fascism was originally an export of wealthy interests in the US. If the modern-day successors to those wealthy interests control the American political process now through their substantially superior political fund-raising abilities and their control over major media outlets, there's a risk--just a risk--we end up with a system that only superficially resembles a functioning democracy, but that obviates any political outcomes that don't conform to the orthodoxy defined by the wealthy interests who control the political processes and media.

    This is the flaw right here. We don't shut out unorthodox political expression.

    Sorry about the confusing use of terminology. I didn't mean "expression" in the sense of "freedom of expression." I meant the expression of alternative political viewpoints in actual policy.
    posted by saulgoodman at 9:08 PM on August 17, 2009


    And I don't mean "unorthodox" in the sense of unconventional; I mean it in its original sense of defying the established dogma of some central authority.
    posted by saulgoodman at 9:10 PM on August 17, 2009


    I meant the expression of alternative political viewpoints in actual policy.

    Is there a reason you're being non-specific about which alternative viewpoints are allowed? Because I have a feeling you'll find that it's no worse now than it's ever been in American history.
    posted by empath at 9:18 PM on August 17, 2009


    On review, I did also write:

    a system that, in effect, permits only one political ideology by shutting out any unorthodox political expression from the public discourse.

    I should qualify this point. This is where we could end up, as we internalize the dominant political orthodoxy more and more over time, leading us to self-select against any political thought that fails to pass the ideological purity test. This often happens in totalitarian states. By all credible accounts, Kim Jong-Il remains enormously popular among the people of North Korea, despite economic hardship and international isolation. That's understandable: The state exercises rigid control over the media. Few in NK even know or can imagine that conditions are better elsewhere. If NK is typical of totalitarian systems, the few North Korean dissidents who peak behind the curtain are as likely to be turned in by their own friends and families as entrapped by the state.
    posted by saulgoodman at 9:23 PM on August 17, 2009


    Care to cite any legitimate academic sources for your absolutely unbelievable assertions about Prescott Bush et al, saulgoodman? I mean, I don't doubt that they had some financial contribution to make to European fascism, but I've studied the subject and have encountered no references to fascism being a "US export." Even among leftists and Marxists.
    posted by nasreddin at 9:29 PM on August 17, 2009


    Because I have a feeling you'll find that it's no worse now than it's ever been in American history.

    The process must have worked at least a little better in the past, because we were once able to enact laws that prohibited employers from penalizing workers for attempts to organize, we were once able to tax our wealthiest citizens at a nominal tax rate in excess of 90%, and it was once within the realm of political possibility for what many considered our most conservative Republican president to establish and fund the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. Consider how much the range of political possibilities each party represents have narrowed since the days when Teddy Roosevelt promoted progressive taxation and FDR ushered in the New Deal.
    posted by saulgoodman at 9:32 PM on August 17, 2009


    Yes, it's called politics. When you lose, policies you don't like get enacted. This has nothing to do with totalitarianism.
    posted by empath at 9:39 PM on August 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


    Most of this doesn't count as "scholarship," but here's one cite. Here's another.

    Here's one about Henry Ford's role as a financial backer during the rise of the Nazi movement.

    And another and another about the influence of the US eugenics movement on Nazism.

    There's been a lot written on this topic, actually. Granted, the picture isn't quite as simple as I originally put it; but there's little doubt that many of the ideas that later found their most absolute expression in the Nazi movement began with the American Eugenics Movement.
    posted by saulgoodman at 9:53 PM on August 17, 2009


    When you lose, policies you don't like get enacted.

    No, what it's totalitarianism if it's a foregone conclusion you've lost before you ever even have a chance to participate in the political process because the power brokers who control that process only permit a very narrow range of pre-approved ideas to be considered.
    posted by saulgoodman at 10:00 PM on August 17, 2009


    eh, "No, what it's..."
    posted by saulgoodman at 10:01 PM on August 17, 2009


    No, what it's totalitarianism if it's a foregone conclusion you've lost before you ever even have a chance to participate in the political process because the power brokers who control that process only permit a very narrow range of pre-approved ideas to be considered.

    Again, you're being maddeningly non-specific.

    Also, I'm sure you'll be glad to know that Glenn Beck agrees with you, re:america's inevitable slide toward totalitarianism and the connection between American eugenics and Nazism.
    posted by empath at 10:07 PM on August 17, 2009


    "a functionally free press (one where journalists do not fear jail/torture/murder for expressing their opinion) is entirely possible and, so far as I can tell, exists in the US"

    Call it what you want ... I know what I saw in Dan Rathers' eyes.
    posted by Twang at 2:01 AM on August 18, 2009


    Most of this doesn't count as "scholarship," but here's one cite. Here's another.

    Here's one about Henry Ford's role as a financial backer during the rise of the Nazi movement.

    And another and another about the influence of the US eugenics movement on Nazism.

    There's been a lot written on this topic, actually. Granted, the picture isn't quite as simple as I originally put it; but there's little doubt that many of the ideas that later found their most absolute expression in the Nazi movement began with the American Eugenics Movement.


    Link 1 talks about Prescott Bush being on the board of some shady companies, which is tenuous at best. The next two links talk about some American companies making profits out of the Nazi regime (with bonus conspiracy-theory ooga-boogery in the third link), which I don't deny. Link #4 is a badly-written review of a 150-page book that seems to link Nazism and eugenics but hardly derive one from the other. Link #5 is a critical review (the only thing written by an academic out of this whole pile), which attacks a different book for being too US-centric and specifically points out Nazism's links to native German eugenic traditions. Link #6 is a really, really thin timeline (wtf?).

    I have to say that this is an extraordinarily weak case you've presented here.
    posted by nasreddin at 4:45 AM on August 18, 2009


    As far as the role of big business in creating Nazi Germany is concerned, it's been the subject of a huge historiographical debate since the late 1930s. Most historians now agree that although Hitler did receive some support from big business, it was much more favorable to the conservative parties, and German industrialists did not join Hitler's side as a bloc. It's the same way with the American companies that were involved in the German economy. (Given that the US was not at war with Germany until 1942, I'm not sure I see the point in accumulating mounds of evidence of US economic involvement there. I mean, it's just the nature of business that it expands into every market it can.)
    posted by nasreddin at 4:54 AM on August 18, 2009


    Yes, it's called politics. When you lose, policies you don't like get enacted. This has nothing to do with totalitarianism.

    This.

    The complaint that unorthodox views are locked out of mainstream discourse - a complaint which appears both on the far left and the far right of the political spectrum (ask any KKK member about whether his views are being unfairly marginalized) ignores the fact that the right to speak your mind does not imply the right to not be laughed at or ignored by people who think your views are ridiculous or false.
    The insistence that said popular disregard for one's ideas is a product of false consciousness among the populace created by conspiracies from On High, while possibly true in some cases, is also a really, really convenient way to handwave away opposition. Obviously, if the people were unblinkered, they would all come over and agree with me.
    So generally speaking, I'm of the opinion that the burden of evidence is on the person arguing for the conspiracy. Having read through saulgoodman's links, I can't say I'm very impressed.
    posted by AdamCSnider at 8:28 AM on August 18, 2009


    I'm just going to cede the broader argument. Truth is, I never had much stake in it anyway. The only reason I got into it at all is because I think it's absurd to argue there's no meaningful distinction to be drawn between political ideologies that, as a defining feature of the ideology, preclude political viewpoints that fall outside a narrow, pre-determined orthodoxy (in other words, "totalizing" ideologies) and other less rigid political ideologies.

    Whether you like the use of the term "totalizing" in this sense or not, that use is perfectly legitimate and precedes even the use of the term totalitarianism, which was originally coined to mean a totalizing state political ideology.

    I shouldn't have let myself be goaded into the broader argument, because I really only meant to argue the more modest point.
    posted by saulgoodman at 8:32 AM on August 18, 2009


    unorthodox views

    Again, not unorthodox in the sense of "unconventional"; unorthodox in the sense of "forbidden by the church or state authorities."
    posted by saulgoodman at 8:33 AM on August 18, 2009


    Whether you like the use of the term "totalizing" in this sense or not, that use is perfectly legitimate and precedes even the use of the term totalitarianism, which was originally coined to mean a totalizing state political ideology.

    Here is wikipedia on the origins of the word, "totalitarianism" (in 1920s fascist thought):
    The notion of Totalitarianism as "total" political power by state was formulated in 1923 by Giovanni Amendola who described Italian Fascism as a system fundamentally different from conventional dictatorships.[4] The term was later assigned a positive meaning in the writings of Giovanni Gentile, Italy’s most prominent philosopher and leading theorist of fascism. He used the term “totalitario” to refer to the structure and goals of the new state. The new state was to provide the “total representation of the nation and total guidance of national goals.”[5] He described totalitarianism as a society in which the ideology of the state had influence, if not power, over most of its citizens.[6] According to Benito Mussolini, this system politicizes everything spiritual and human:[4]
    “ Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state. ”
    This somewhat resembles the use of "totalizing" you are promoting, though it belies the theory that "totalitarian" comes from "totalizing."
    posted by grobstein at 8:57 AM on August 18, 2009


    Again, not unorthodox in the sense of "unconventional"; unorthodox in the sense of "forbidden by the church or state authorities."

    I think that maybe the major point of contention is this word, then. Because I am not aware that (outside of some very specific hate speech legislation) there are ideas or arguments which are, with the weight of legal or violent sanction, forbidden by the church or state authorities of the United States. Ignored, downplayed, disliked, yes. But you still have the right to express it, to try to convince other individuals of its value, through print, the Internet, word of mouth, soapbox speeches.
    So are you using "forbidden" in some way which does not involve the authoritative use of violence or legal penalty to silence dissent?
    posted by AdamCSnider at 9:22 AM on August 18, 2009


    Because I am not aware that (outside of some very specific hate speech legislation) there are ideas or arguments which are, with the weight of legal or violent sanction, forbidden by the church or state authorities of the United States.

    AdamCSnider: Right. The argument (as I understand it) isn't that this is the current case, but that there are signs of increasing political trends in that direction.
    posted by saulgoodman at 9:27 AM on August 18, 2009


    Thanks for the clarification, saulgoodman.
    posted by AdamCSnider at 9:30 AM on August 18, 2009


    grobstein: it's likely an extension of the same linguistic root is basically what i mean. the core defining feature of totalitarianism isn't the state use of thugs, secret police, brutal supression of dissent, etc.. those are just bi-products. totalitarianism describes a political ideology in which all economic, cultural and political power are unified within the approved ideological framework of the state.
    posted by saulgoodman at 9:34 AM on August 18, 2009


    NP. Thanks for being civil.
    posted by saulgoodman at 9:34 AM on August 18, 2009


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