New Totalitarianism

So I’m teaching a course on totalitarianism, right? And I kept thinking how outdated it all is. It’s still important to learn because it’s history but the material feels more antiquated and irrelevant than anything discussed in the course on Cervantes.

The repressive state apparatus that polices people into compliance is no longer needed. At the behest and with the aid of corporate giants people police each other into the kind of ideological compliance that traditional totalitarian regimes could only dream of.

In a recent article, a student at Yale unwittingly mimicks the speech patterns and ideas of her peers in the Stalinist USSR. The difference, though, is that she isn’t living in a police state that is conducting a genocide. She isn’t trying to survive in the midst of Stalinist purges. She isn’t coerced into this stance by the fear of being dragged off to a concentration camp in the middle of the night.

The vigilance that this student proposes to exercise isn’t based on the waning power of the neutered state. The surveillance apparatus she wants to use is corporate. And the ultimate goal is to ensure that corporate interests are never opposed.

The wall-to-wall propaganda that characterizes this new totalitarianism isn’t state-sponsored either. It’s disseminated solely through corporate channels. Traditional politicians are squeezed out by TV and social media stars who represent this new form of power. The complete dependence of their popularity on Twitter and Instagram means they will do absolutely anything to avoid being deplatformed. It’s no longer about courting rich donors to donate to your campaign. Now it’s all about being a funny enough clown that attracts hits and likes to enrich the owners of these platforms.

Every day, the power of these giant corporations to unearth a tweet or a like on a tweet that can sink absolutely anybody grows. There is no need for a state to keep a dossier of kompromat (compromising material) on each citizen. This process has been completely corporatized. And the worst part is that people who are wielding this sort of coercive power honestly see themselves as powerless victims who have to defend themselves from coersion.

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18 thoughts on “New Totalitarianism”

  1. The three things which stood out for me:

    The description of “a white boy with shiny brown hair and a saccharine smile that conceals his great ambitions” could stand for absolutely anyone male and white. You know, throw out the word “white” and it could be used to describe Obama. I heard he smoked pot at high school; surely he has made some unintentional utterance about women or undocumented workers or some other group in all his years on Earth.
    The paragraph talking about “an unintentional utterance that he made when he had one drink too many at a frat party” reminded me of parody genre since one ‘unintentional’ sentence made in a drunk state to other (probably also) drunk students who only vaguely (mis?)remember what happened is presented as sufficient grounds for not having a career 15 years later .
    // The problem isn’t just the Yale administration; it’s Yale students. We allow things to skate by. […] No questions are asked when our friends accept job offers from companies that manufacture weapons or contribute to gentrification in cities.

    Just like with an unintentional utterance, there is great vagueness regarding which companies contribute to something negative. Actually, don’t practically all companies contribute to consumer culture and to the destruction of environment? If global warming is The Problem of our age, Yale students may have to decline any and all job offers to remain ideologically pure.

    You say the goal is to “ensure that corporate interests are never opposed,” while the student tries to use corporate surveillance apparatus to oppose corporate interests. That’s why I predict her offer won’t be successful.

    Now had a vision of the future in which businesses pay protection money to the social media Mafia in order not to be vilified and thus destroyed on Twitter and Instagram. The ones who try to refuse paying will experience being presented as contributing to gentrification in cities, racist environments or trans-erasing culture.

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    1. Companies already pay protection. I’m sure you have heard about the recent Gillette commercial. Or the companies that defeated the bathroom bill. This is their protection payment. Force every worker to wear a rainbow pin, and you are free from scrutiny. Or force everybody to sign a diversity statement. Or force all workers to watch and re-post a diversity video or a woke meme on their social media. And you’ll get a pass from the progressive crowd on exploiting workers, gentrifying, polluting, outsourcing, or union-busting. It’s cheap, it’s effective, what’s not to like?

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  2. Found this interpretation:

    На мой взгляд, речь идет о продолжающейся третий год русско-украинской войне, река между Мордором и Русью-Украиной – это Днепр. Беларусь, действительно, еще далека от свободы, на Крым и Донбасс пришли каннибалы славян. Архитектор сталинизма – Путин.
    “Храмы стали тиранией либо харчевней” – об РПЦ Гундяева. “Искусство продалось за гроши и рукоплескания” – всеобщий одобрямс киселевской геббельсовщины и списки подписантов. “Цари тонули в роскоши” – кооператив “Озеро” и пр. “остальные жрали отраву – иначе их травили, как зверей” – дело Литвиненко и Ко.
    Действия путина равнозначны суициду, самоубийц на кладбище не хоронят, поэтому, бес, интуитивно, просит свой поверженный прах принести в Украину.
    Россия падет в смертельной петле, когда в Беларуси изменения еще не начнутся. Все грехи и преступления Московии вернутся ей бумерангом – “предали закланию неповинную деву И теперь дом ваш – пустошь, Без хлеба и воды”. В общем, ничего нового, если бы не одно НО: пророчество было спето за двадцать лет до судьбоносной войны и начала агонии Раши

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  3. I sent you an email. Will be very grateful, if you may suggest something I can use since you are the one expert I know on this topic and I have first discovered it here on your blog.

    Also unsure whether you missed the link I sent on Dec 19 since you have not replied to that email.

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      1. \ Dec 19 was the day I traveled to Canada and spent the next two weeks with my kid and away from email, so I didn’t see it, I’m sorry.

        It’s OK, I simply thought in case the link may be of use to you, I mentioned it again.

        Today I sent a new email on a different topic.

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  4. Jordan Peterson had a wonderful observation about woke, PC, universities: (paraphrase) “Desperate to determine our privilege level, intersectionality slices us into smaller and smaller groups. But since no two people are exactly alike, each person is an intersectional group of 1 — no one else has my exact privilege level, because no one else is exactly me. The logical conclusion of intersectionality is individuality. The intersectionalists will get there eventually, if they don’t kill us all first.”

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    1. This is spot-on. Isolation and lack of solidarity are the logical consequence of this ideology. It makes workers much more compliant and easy to exploit because nobody will form meaningful links with each other out of fear. When we are lectured about microaggressions at my place of work, the only logical conclusion a reasonable person can draw is that the best thing one can do is avoid any contact with colleagues beyond the absolutely necessary.

      So yeah, Peterson definitely knows what he’s talking about. He’s lucky in that he found a platform and created a following and doesn’t need to sit alone and afraid like so many of us, academics, do.

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  5. “repressive state apparatus that polices people into compliance is no longer needed. At the behest and with the aid of corporate giants”

    This is just about the nastiest thing I’ve heard of (at least this week) I’m predicting that western feminists will mostly remain mute on the topic (just as they were mute on the case of Rahaf Mohammed)

    https://www.thisisinsider.com/apple-google-criticised-for-saudi-government-app-activists-say-fuel-discrimination-2019-2

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    1. Well, if it can’t be blamed on “white men,” nobody cares.

      What I really love are the rants on feminist FB pages about how horribly sexist “white men” are. I often feel like they have to be sarcastic because nobody can write this kind of crap seriously. But no, they are completely earnest.

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      1. Have you heard of Titiana Mcgrath? She (or he, it’s a parody “social justice” twitter account) is a comic genius. And the great part is that only about half of her tweets are obviously parody. The other half could easily be real.

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        1. “Titiana Mcgrath? ”

          That’s Titania….

          Even better (worse?) is Sophie A. Lewis who apparently is serious and makes Titania look like Nancy Reagan.
          She recently wrote something for the NYT lamenting that transwomen and their allies haven’t made life miserable enough for British women who don’t unconditionally accept transwomen… She also wants to unionize birth surrogates (apparently its part of a daft plan to destroy the nuclear family)

          Her twitter feed is like diving into a shallow pool of acidic craziness….

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          1. There are so many very very disturbed people whose mental instability is mistaken for a political stance and lionized to their detriment. Nobody is doing them any favors by refusing gently to direct them in the direction of getting help for their mental health issues.

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  6. Two quotes from Rene Girard:
    “You can forsee the shape of what the anti-Christ is going to be in the future: a super victimary machine that will keep on sacrificing in the name of the victim.”
    and
    “In the affluent West, we live in a world where there is less and less need, therefore, more and more desire.”

    Humans desire (covet) reflexively and they desire what others desire. The memetic rivalry resulting creates unbearable societal tensions that must be released by finding scapegoats. Desire can be physical, for stuff or mates, or metaphysical, for prestiege or recognition. The Yale columnist had no unmet physical needs so she seeks recognition, via corparate media likes and the media mob assembles mindlessly. We can’t physically crucify scapegoats like we used to so we must now kill their careers and reputations. But some resist. Kavanaugh got confirmed in the end and the Va. Governor still resists resignation. This means that tensions will increase and the mob will double down. I don’t know where this is going. God help us. I am a psychologist who have clients who tell me about being social media mobbed and black listed for the most inconsequential slights done years ago and being professionally ruined.

    Thank you Clarissa for your blog. You have been there and can tell us about it. We have not.

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