Totalitarianism is a condition whereby the various apparatus of the state and its accomplices are literally in full control of our day-to-day lives. In the recent past the word ‘totalitarianism’ was associated with the ideologies/policies of fascism/Nazism or even socialism/communism. After WWII totalitarianism was linked rather prominently with the USSR and its satellite states. Ironically, today’s Russia is considered one of those places where social/individual rights, (including freedom of speech, etc.,) are better protected under the law (though the laws are still lacking in some areas) compared to a number of countries! For example, according to various studies (conducted by reputable global institutions), RT (Russia Today) is now the most trusted global broadcasting media in the world, (not the BBC nor any of the west’s media networks.) What a difference a generation makes!
Modern communication based on ICT (information, communication technology) is a massive network of infrastructure, physical and institutional. To set up an effective ICT across a country, let alone the world, requires the active involvement of states and quasi-state operators. Herein lies the catch. Because of this humongous set up that is effectively monopolized by the big entities of the world system, all our modern communications (potentially/actually) are under the continuous surveillance of the power that be. In this regard, all sorts of service providers (private) collaborate with the states, either under their own volition or coerced by the proliferating exigency laws. All states now leverage this new technology in their attempt to monitor the activities of each and every individual, group, corporations, etc.
Currently, states within the core of empire are our leading totalitarians. The reason is obvious. Whenever there is a dominant state in a given world system controlling (directly/indirectly) the major material inputs/outputs (commodity chains) making it a hegemony, there is an explicit resolve (on its part) to keep the status quo going as long as possible and by all means necessary, including wars, hot/cold! This requires the continuous monitoring of ascending nations as well as revolutionary/disruptive/subversive tendencies both within the state itself and outside of it. The imperial need to frustrate/control the strategies of arising competitors, ultimately renders governance & rights, civil or otherwise, (in the country and outside) frighteningly ‘totalitarian.’ The case of USA today is just one of those examples in the annals of history! See Greenwald’s article next column.
Smaller countries with less sophisticated technological setup cannot afford to implement their totalitarian ambitions in full. For instance, the average individual in such a weak state is actually more ‘freer’ than her counterparts in the most advanced industrial countries. Imagine someone in an OECD (rich countries) trying to live outside of the system. From the very first activity in the morning until the last one in the day, the person has to follow prearranged routines that trace her finger/footprint all over the place, as these activities continuously register on the networked setups. Payments/purchases, (credit cards), communications (telephone, Internet, etc.,), transportation (airplanes, trains, etc.,), travel/entertainment (driver’s license, hotel bookings, cable/magazine subscriptions, media/movie/sports, etc.), places of residences, work/conference venues and so-called economic well being (debt slavery, etc.,) etc., etc., all systemically tie the person to the networked system from which escape becomes impossible. Granted, the beast (human mass) in the most advanced industrial countries is free to elect its leaders/politicians from amongst the rigidly established political parties, (usually numbering two/three.) Nonetheless, whomever the beast elects, the elected few will not be able to change the basics of life as indicated above, including the polarizing economic foundation under which the beast continues to suffer!
On the other hand, imagine someone living in a remote place in Africa. In this case the above ‘conveniences’ hardly enter the person’s life and consequently, real freedom (with all its manifestations/repercussions–not all positive) is genuinely approximated on this virgin land! The totalitarian nature of many of our so-called advanced technological systems must be realistically recognized/appreciated for what they really are rather than what entrenched interests preach! What is the antidote for such a totalitarian system? Surprisingly it is those whose subjugation is almost total/complete who think they are the freest of us all. Because of this distorted conception of reality, the critic/considered opinion is rendered mute. Also not surprisingly, plenty of our learned idiots in Africa, whose defining characteristic/trademark is ‘monkey see monkey do’ seem to think we are also the un-freest creatures in the world, because, amongst other things, we have not yet been completely subjugated by the totalizing/suffocating/ polarizing technological trap. Such misconceptions further compound the critic’s challenges! When the most enslaved earnestly think they are the freest, and the most free crave for total enslavement, the absurdity is not easy to disentangle!
Enter emancipation/liberation philosophy, which we encourage our more astute readers to follow on their own (see for example, Herbert Marcuse’s ‘One Dimensional Man,’ etc.)! See also Hedge’s article on page 50 and others on page 51. As one who was involved in such matters (Frankfurt school) reminded us a while back: “A theory is critical insofar as it seeks to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them.” Max Horkheimer. Good Day!