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Nederlog

November 11, 2015
Crisis: My site exists 19 years + On Inverted Totalitarianism
 "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
 
 
  -- Benjamin Franklin
  "All governments lie and nothing
   they say should be believed.
"
   -- I.F. Stone

  "Power tends to corrupt, and   
   absolute power corrupts
   absolutely. Great men are        
   almost always bad men."
   -- Lord Acton

















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Sections
Introduction

1. My site exists 19 years

     A. How much did I write?
    
B. Why did I not publish on paper?
2. On inverted totalitarianism


Introduction

This is a Nederlog of Wednesday, November 11, 2015.

It is a bit special, because the site started 19 years ago. That is item 1. And there is just one other item, not surprisingly called item 2, which also made this Nederlog a crisis item, for there I reflect on inverted totalitarianism, which is an idea and a term from Sheldon Wolin, who died a few weeks ago. There are 5 dotted links in item 2, which provide links to the eightfold series of interviews with him that Chris Hedges made in 2014, and that are all well
worth (re-)reading.


1. My site exists 19 years 

The title is quite true, but it also needs a few corrections and elucidations. I'll give them below.

But first a little jollification:


I did this before, and I also left it out before. It also doesn't mean much, I'd say, but then again it is also true that the site does exist 19 years now; it is the fruit of the main work I've done over the last 19 years; and I have produced a serious, well-written site (without any advertisements) that is currently over 500 MB, which means that on average I added about 25 MB per year.

A. How much did I write?

This may not look like much, but in fact that consists, if written out as txt and not as html (which is what it nearly all is) 25 books of ca. 350 pages each. Every year.

Now it is not as much as that. First, the site isn't txt but is mostly hml, which probably diminishes it by about 20% or more (for html formatting, that is part of the source) but if I subtract that, I did write something like 20 books a year.

But that is also not quite correct.

First, since ca. 2009 - when I first heard about XMRV (that was later classified as spurious contamination: see here, in case you care) - I wrote most in NL, and what I wrote there also contained quite a few quotations (mostly from journalists).

And second, most the rest of my site is in the philosophy-section, where I write philosophy in a way that I think other philosophers should follow but don't: I quote complete texts (of many famous philosophers) and annotate these, in separate files. (This is possible with html, and it is by far the fairest way of explaining and criticizing philosophers, but even so it is hardly used. [1])

If I subtract these bits and books that I did not write, but that are available on my site, it still seems as if I wrote about 10 books a year, simply measured as text, and that seems a fair estimate. (I write every day, and have too little health to be able to do much else. And it may be a bit less, but not very much.)

B. Why did I not publish on paper?

Actually I did, but indeed not much: Two pieces in a daily in 1971; a booklet ("Publiceren in de psychologie") as a student in 1980 [2]; and 8 columns in Spiegeloog in 1988-1989.

The main reasons are that (1) I was in the dole from 1984-2015, that absolutely
refused to say I was ill, which created many problems for me, and (2) forbids publising on paper. Or at least: I think it does, and if formally it doesn't, it would have in my case, for which I did not have the health. Besides, the stuff I did want to publish on paper was extremely unlikely to give me any money, and extremely likely to cause me much harm, by way of the Amsterdam dole, and therefore I didn't.

I may now, since I turned 65 half a year ago, which finally liberated me from the dole, but  haven't done anything so far, which is mainly caused by the twin facts that it still is quite unlikely to bring me any money, while I still do not have much health. (Besides, Holland is a very small country, and my opinions are not popular.)

2. On inverted totalitarianism

The rest of today's Nederlog is given to a somewhat serious consideration of the meaning of the phrase "inverted totalitarianism".

First, here are some links to Sheldon Wolin, who died recently, but who also made a series of interesting interviews with Chris Hedges. The first is here (I link to my Nederlog) and the rest (there were 8) folllow:
I think these all bear (re-)reading: It is an interesting series of interviews with an interesting man.

Next to "inverted totalitarianism". The Wikipedia lemma on
"inverted totalitarianism", which is my main source, starts as follows:
Inverted totalitarianism is a term coined by political philosopher Sheldon Wolin in 2003 to describe the emerging form of government of the United States. Wolin believes that the United States is increasingly turning into an illiberal democracy, and uses the term "inverted totalitarianism" to illustrate similarities and differences between the United States governmental system and totalitarian regimes such as Nazi Germany and the Stalinist Soviet Union.
That is not much help. I know quite well what "totalitarianism" is (here is my own take on it, and this is the Wikipedia's) and indeed it is one of the main reasons I broke with communism (in which I was educated) aged 20 (in 1970), but how that can be "inverted" (and still be "totalitarian") is a bit of a riddle.

Besides, I have another problem: There is the concept of "repressive tolerance", that was coined by Herbert Marcuse. This is explained as follows on the Wikipedia:
Marcuse argues that the ideal of tolerance belongs to a liberal, democratic tradition that has become exhausted. Liberal society is based on a form of domination so subtle that the majority accept and even will their servitude. Marcuse believes that under such conditions tolerance as traditionally understood serves the cause of domination and that a new kind of tolerance is therefore needed: tolerance of the Left, subversion, and revolutionary violence, combined with intolerance of the Right, existing institutions, and opposition to socialism. (...) Revolutionary minorities hold the truth and the majority has to be liberated from error by being re-educated in the truth by this minority. The revolutionary minority are entitled, Marcuse claims, to suppress rival and harmful opinions.
That term and idea I know since the second half of the 1960ies, but I disagreed with it, and still do: Tolerance of another's ideas is always good in my opinion, and intolerance of another's ideas is always wrong (speaking broadly and a bit vaguely). [3]

There seems to be some sort of linkage between "repressive tolerance" and "inverted totalitarianism", but I did not get it. Here is some more on the meaning of "inverted totalitarianism":
In inverted totalitarianism, every natural resource and every living being is commodified and exploited to collapse as the citizenry is lulled and manipulated into surrendering their liberties and their participation in government through excess consumerism and sensationalism.

The problem with this is that the three linked terms in the last quotation are all Marxist or Leftist, and that they tend to be not well explained. I will give here an explanation of commodification.

As I understand it, "commodification" comes down to three theses:
(1) everything of human interest has and should have a price, in money;
(2) everything that has a price, embodies some profit;
(3) for the sellers of priced things, all that matters is the profit they make.

The first means that things like freedom, welfare, tolerance, knowledge, education, truth, love, honesty, fairness, integrity, religion, and science (and many more) all have their prices, like toilet paper, washing powder and bread (which seems a gross and false simplification of most human ends); the second means that all things that are sold realize some profit (which is false, but this may be saved by stipulating that losses are "negative profits" - which is done by banks, for example); and the third makes profits the main end of any economy (which again seems a gross and false simplification, that is mostly of service to the richest people, who profited the most from all the others).

But then nothing like this is given in the "inverted totalitarianism" lemma. That continues with a quote from Wolin - and by "Superpower" he means in fact the United States:

While the versions of totalitarianism represented by Nazism and Fascism consolidated power by suppressing liberal political practices that had sunk only shallow cultural roots, Superpower represents a drive towards totality that draws from the setting where liberalism and democracy have been established for more than two centuries. It is Nazism turned upside-down, “inverted totalitarianism.” While it is a system that aspires to totality, it is driven by an ideology of the cost-effective rather than of a “master race” (Herrenvolk), by the material rather than the “ideal.”

This does give some clarification, but not much, at least to me, for this mostly introduces questions:

Why is it totalitarian if it is based (to some extent, that also may be partially falsified) on "liberalism and democracy"; why is it more like Nazism than like other forms of totalitarianism; while also American Exceptionalism and the still rather repressed position of many blacks suggests there is something like a master race - specifically: the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant - that is still active in the United States (amidst a lot of lies, is also true).

I merely listed these questions here, and will not answer them. Instead, I go on with the text of the lemma:

According to Wolin, there are three main ways in which inverted totalitarianism is the inverted form of classical totalitarianism.

  • Whereas in Nazi Germany the state dominated economic actors, in inverted totalitarianism, corporations through political contributions and lobbying, dominate the United States, with the government acting as the servant of large corporations. This is considered "normal" rather than corrupt.
  • While the Nazi regime aimed at the constant political mobilization of the populace, with its Nuremberg rallies, Hitler Youth, and so on, inverted totalitarianism aims for the mass of the populace to be in a persistent state of political apathy. The only type of political activity expected or desired from the citizenry is voting. Low electoral turnouts are favorably received as an indication that the bulk of the populace has given up hope that the government will ever help them.
  • While the Nazis openly mocked democracy, the United States maintains the conceit that it is the model of democracy for the whole world.
This - at last - gives specific grounds for the term "inverted totalitarianism", and I indeed agree with the first point (and I also agree with the suggestion that this is in fact corruption, and is not normal).

The other two points are associated with the first one, but are not logically implied by it. My problem with them is that, while I agree both points seem true of the United States between 2001 and 2010, I see no real reason why they should last.

I may be mistaken, and we have found some sense for "inverted totalitarianism": The corporations dominate the state, rather than that the state dominates the corporations, and besides the population is made apathic, while at the same time is supposed to be democratic.

Then there is this:

Inverted totalitarianism reverses things. It is all politics all of the time but a politics largely untempered by the political. Party squabbles are occasionally on public display, and there is a frantic and continuous politics among factions of the party, interest groups, competing corporate powers, and rival media concerns. And there is, of course, the culminating moment of national elections when the attention of the nation is required to make a choice of personalities rather than a choice between alternatives. What is absent is the political, the commitment to finding where the common good lies amidst the welter of well-financed, highly organized, single-minded interests rabidly seeking governmental favors and overwhelming the practices of representative government and public administration by a sea of cash.

That is much too vague.

I think what should have been said - rather than using two senses of "the political" - is that under inverted totalitarianism almost all politics is trivialized, as if it is about different persons, or their different interests, and not about matters of life and death, health and happiness; honesty and dishonesty; science and bullshit; fairness and fraud; richness and poverty, and so on - which indeed is what real politics are about.

That would (or could) have been a lot clearer, and indeed I agree that almost all politics is trivialized.

Then there is this:

Wolin believes the democracy of the United States is sanitized of political participation, and describes it as managed democracy: "a political form in which governments are legitimated by elections that they have learned to control". Under managed democracy, the electorate is prevented from having a significant impact on policies adopted by the state through the continuous employment of public relations techniques.

That seems to be mostly true: "governments are legitimated by elections that they have learned to control", indeed also if it is not so much "they" who do the controlling, but the public relations corporations, that are dedicated to spreading the falsehoods that serve the corporate rich (including advertisements).

And there is this:

Wolin believes the United States resembles Nazi Germany in one major way without an inversion: the essential role propaganda plays in the system. According to Wolin, whereas the production of propaganda was crudely centralized in Nazi Germany, in the United States it is left to highly concentrated media corporations, thus maintaining the illusion of a "free press".  According to this model, dissent is allowed, though the corporate media serve as a filter, allowing most people, with limited time available to keep themselves apprised of current events, to hear only points of view that the corporate media deem "serious".

I think that is mostly true as well, but it should also be said that the modern propaganda is quite different from the Nazi-propaganda:

Nazi-propaganda was explicitly political and authoritarian, whereas public-relations propaganda mostly is a-political and economical: "We are bettter because we make better more satisfying products that are non-expensive - look: an i-phone for $500! Isn't it beautiful? Aren't you proud of that ex-cep-tio-nal American genius Steve Jobs?!"

Also, this kind of propaganda depends on there being enough money available to most to buy these things, and that seems to grow less and less (and see the second point in the next and last quotation).

Again, Wolin seems to have been mostly right about the "free press", though I question how long this will last.

Here is the last of the points I quote from "inverted totalitarianism":

According to Wolin, the United States has two main totalizing dynamics:

  • The first, directed outward, finds its expression in the Global War on Terror and in the Bush Doctrine that the United States has the right to launch preemptive wars. This amounts to the United States seeing as illegitimate the attempt by any state to resist its domination.
  • The second dynamic, directed inward, involves the subjection of the mass of the populace to economic "rationalization", with continual "downsizing" and "outsourcing" of jobs abroad and dismantling of what remains of the welfare state created by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal and President Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society. Thus neoliberalism is an integral component of inverted totalitarianism. The state of insecurity in which this places the public serves the useful function of making people feel helpless, thus making it less likely they will become politically active, and thus helping maintain the first dynamic.
I agree both are facts (mostly) and indeed both are totalitarian (in some sense), but I don't know how they support "inverted totalitarianism", and especially not the second point, which implies that the majority of Americans are growing more and more poor, and thus cannot buy most of the articles that advertisers put forward. And while I agree this may make them "feel helpless", it seems to me that there must be an end to this impoverishment of the majority of the American population: they will not swallow this forever (I hope).

What is the sum-up of this brief investigation of the concept of "inverted totalitarianism"?

I did my best, but I did not fully clarify it. As is (I may change my opinion later) I think Wolin was right in stressing that the United States is growing totalitarian, corporatist, and indeed in some senses fascist - which was also acknowledged by Wolin, for in the same year that he published about inverted totalitarianism, he published about a new kind of fascism that he saw arising in the United States. [4]

I think now that the concept of "inverted totalitarianism" may be right to describe the transition from what I call capitalism-with-a-human-face (that lasted from 1946-1980, roughly) to capitalism-with-an-inhuman-face (that started around 1980 and is still continuing), but I guess it is merely true of the transition, and not of the end, which is simply that the corporations take full power, and tell everybody what to do, or else.

But we will see - and perhaps Wolin saw it correctly, and the American population may be constantly bamboozled and deceived by the hope that they too will be rich.

---------------------------------------------
P.S. Nov 14, 2015: Reformatted.
Notes

[1] The basic reason why academic philosophers do not put philosophical classics on their own sites and comment these is that they are academic philosophers: They are being well-fed academics, very much rather than real philosophers.

Also, I think myself philosophy is dead, except as a very small discipline (which it is anyway) that is mostly concerned with the history of ideas. It is very unlikely that real academic philosophers will write anything that is of scientific, ethical or moral value: They usually lack the science for doing real science, and they lack the talents for writing interesting literature about ethical or moral subjects.

This doesn't mean such works are not written anymore - it only means that other people (mathematicians, physicists, artistic writers) write these works.

By the way, here is what modern academic philosophers do do:

There is an enormous project that exists since 20 years now, that is called the "Encyclopedia of Philosophy" that to this day
has no article about socialism, no item "communism", and no item "Marxism" (though a brief lemma on "Karl Marx").

There also is no item "fascism", nor "nazism", which means that none of the philosophies of the major social systems that comprised more than 2 billion people in the 20th Century has any lemma.

"Capitalism" also does not exist in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy while there are currently a mere 37 items on various aspects of "feminism"....

That is a very good indication what philosophy is really like, in the 21st Century: Totally irrelevant, and - I definitely think - intentionally so: They really try to avoid having to write about painful moral and factual issues (apart from feminism, of course).


[2]
This was made part of a university series, and not by me. It is very likely that the whole series was disappeared around 2000. I may have a copy, but not even that is certain.

In any case, here is the main lesson on psychologists of 1980:

The average Dutch psychologist (with an M.A. degree) published in a working life of ca. 40 years slightly more than ... 2 academic papers, nearly all of which were published in little read (and now almost all completely disappeared) Dutch "academic journals" (which generally published everything they received for publication).

I do not know what is the case today, but my guess is - with very many more Dutch psychologists, that on average are rather more dumb and considerably less well educated (they study half as much as I had to do, and all had a much worse school education) than their predecessors who were educated before 1980 - that it is not better now than in 1980 (when it was pretty frightful, in my opinion, at least).

[3] I definitely do not say that you ought to like what you tolerate, and I also do not mean that you ought to tolerate what the law forbids (e.g. pedophilia). First, real toleration does require you to tolerate quite a few things that you believe should not be the case (whatever they are), but which you tolerate rather than forbid (say: other religions or other  religious practices than those of your own). Second, you don't need to tolerate what the law forbids, though indeed you may, in case the law is wrong. Third, there is a proviso in my statement that tolerance is always good, which is easy to illlustrate but difficult to draw clearly: You do not need to tolerate ideas according to which it is good that anybody can do as he likes, also if he is in some sense crazy. (And these were merely brief clarifications.)

[4] I have the - quite brief - article, from Common Dreams. But it disappeared there, and I do not know for which reason, so I merely mention it here.

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