In this piece, Matejdescribes how a system that appears democratic, participatory, and free can actually conceal a profound totalitarianism.
His argument has similarities to Sheldon Wolin’s conception of “inverted totalitarianism,” which Wolin described as being “all politics all of the time but 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.”
We’ve included a video in this post that discusses the concept of inverted totalitarianism in some detail. Part I of this essay can be found here.
“The bargain we are being asked to ratify takes the form of a magnificent bribe. Under the democratic-authoritarian social contract, each member of the community may claim every material advantage, every intellectual and emotional stimulus he may desire, in quantities hardly available hitherto even for a restricted minority … Once one opts for the system no further choice remains.” — Lewis Mumford
It is no great secret that freedom and capitalism are incompatible and that we’re dancing painfully on the line between complete societal insanity and dreadful mental slavery, the enslavement of consumerism. In other words, we are more dependent on the will of corporations than on our own. Therefore we’re in a state where no freedom is possible.¹
Consumerism is based on tricking individuals into affirmation of pleasure, all while imposing a false image of the well-being of this world through apparent individual plenitude. This tool works against solidarity with the living and non-living. Solidarity requires a certain amount of renunciation of pleasure. It requires modesty and humility, so that the suffering of the world can be considered equal to the suffering of oneself. When one finds himself in constant “comfort” and no struggle², he hardly relates to the ones who are slowly dying. Without this realization, he lacks not only empathy and love, he lacks his humanity and he sees trenches and barricades in places where they are not.
He may ask: “And how does the extinct species concern us, if it is no use for us?”, because all of his material needs are fulfilled and thus, he’s unable to sympathize with horrors which don’t directly concern him and many times he does not even believe they really are. What he fails to see is that all life concerns him and what consumerism manages to do is to make him addicted to cheap pleasure which he will refuse to give up and may even defend; an addict won’t resist.
Consumerism makes us puppets of cheap pleasure
Yes, consumerism leads to pleasure but specifically only a certain amount of pleasure because this way, a person will always want more. As opposed to providing a person with a great amount of pleasure which would make the person realize the futility of such joy, similar to teasing a dog with a treat, systematically giving him services and trumperies so that he becomes obedient. A mere puppet of cheap pleasure. Overconsumption is a sickness of the spirit and ruthless spit in the face of nature and its resources.
Solidarity, reason, empathy, care and love can’t function solely on their own and each needs the help of others in order to thrive and create a human. Just as a symphony requires attendance of all the instruments and when only one violinist stops playing, the melody loses its magnificence. To an inexperienced ear, it may seem otherwise at first, but listen closely and the gap can’t be unheard. If you dismantle just one of these virtues, you dismantle a person, his humanity. For human isn’t a construction of temporal flesh. Unassailable parts of one’s humanity are his virtues and what’s beyond them. This exploitation of humanity makes capitalism a dehumanizing system. Socialism clearly exploited humanity in great extent, too, since freedom of artistic and intellectual expression are majestic human virtues and every system denying them deserves to die. The method and speed of this dehumanization differs, but both are vicious.
We could argue: it’s only exploitation when one allows his humanity to be exploited and it’s only manipulation when one allows himself to be manipulated — but here comes the problem of masses.
Opiates of the masses
Masses have and always will have a negative character – collective opinion is an error. The dismal reality of people gathering together is that they become subservient to prevalent trends, no matter how ridiculous and absurd they are. Moreover, masses love getting drunk by their leaders, masses enjoy being thrown around, for the majority finds comfort in sloth. Prevalent culture will always seem pleasing to them because it’s easier to be conforming and safer than to fight a hard fight. Because of this, only individuals and small groups are capable of making a difference and proper decisions. As an example, compare any great patriarchal civilization with any small matriarchal community. Furthermore, compare any true revolutionary and his impact with any democratic so-called change voted for by the majority. Or at any rate, compare the greatest true thinkers of history with countless followers of today’s popular world-views. The masses hold uncountable torches, yet never shine light:
The individual and small groups hold just one, yet are capable of enlightening; “Man is distinguished from other animals not only by the advantages which are commonly enumerated, but qualitatively by the fact that the individual is more than the species.” – Søren Kierkegaard
Ceasing from the masses and industrial civilization is the real solution to the catastrophes caused by man. No minor socio-political change as “regulated capitalism” or “socialism” can be sufficient to fix what is broken for this long. All political systems will fail and malevolent tendencies of man will always appear. Thus, the Big Brother has always been present, yet wore a different mask each time and acted with small modifications. Catholic Europe in Middle Ages, where the propaganda had been the word of God and every nonconformity led to burnt bodies at the stake. Stalinist Soviet Union and Nazi Germany had gulags, concentration camps, propaganda, persecution. But the main thing that connects them is distortion of knowledge, truth, love, understanding and solidarity. It’s absurd to serve the interests of the government and leaders. These interests are not the interests of life. They oppose solidarity, they oppose love – it is their nature. And here we are again, wonderfully cloaked: utopistic flyers, posters, advertisement, and distortion of concepts as happiness, love and truth. You are welcome to define happiness as you wish but you are not likely to assume that it is equal to consuming and wealth. In fact, try all the pleasures of this world and see that nothing will make you happy;
“Happiness is not easy to find. It’s very difficult to find it in yourself — and impossible to find anywhere else.” – Nicolas Chamfort
The moral heart
Love is not limited to one species, rather it is a deep connection with all that is living. Implications are being made that economy stands above everything else, including life of animals and breath of trees.
So, to the ill minds, it seems that it doesn’t matter how many species go extinct as long as the financial gain keeps going. That might sound appealing to ill minds, but that’s not love, that’s self-centred greed.
“The assumption that animals are without rights and the illusion that our treatment of them has no moral significance is a positively outrageous example of Western crudity and barbarity. Universal compassion is the only guarantee of morality.” – Arthur Schopenhauer
And how could a culture in which the lives of animals mean less than money be moral? Industrial civilization cannot coalesce with life, nor with humanity. Today, we witness similar totalitarian patterns, yet with a different face and more hidden: one of the points of every totalitarian regime is to infect the individual so that even the mind restricts itself, whether in speech, art, work, or even thoughts. Therefore, totalitarianism chains the mind, infects it and imposes such infection precisely when one cannot really defend oneself or overcome such a folly, usually during his childhood. Dependence on technology and consumerism chain the mind, numb it and since they’re imposed by the regime, they are totalitarian techniques. By regime, I don’t mean government, for the government is only a puppet of the richest. No law restricting the richest could be ever approved and everything the government does is constructed in a way in which the corporations don’t get harmed.³
Consumerism is a totalitarian technique, imposed in a way that it’s unnoticed, by the highest leaders, imposed at the most vulnerable period of one’s life. Distorting one’s perception of important concepts and exploiting his humanity.
Modern capitalism is totalitarianism perfected
Never have the malevolent and destructive tendencies been so hidden as in capitalism – to protect an unhealthy economy, we burn forests and let ourselves be dependent on over-consumption. Capitalism is the ultimate totalitarian regime, closest to perfection [editor’s note: see Sheldon Wolin’s Inverted Totalitarianism]. That’s because it managed to soothe and blind the population with so-called liberty and freedom so that it’s completely unaware of all mental exploitation and chains. Other totalitarian systems weren’t better, less cruel, or more humane. All of them deserve to be eradicated, dismantled, burned down. But capitalism managed to put a fancy theatre in front of its audience, that’s why it will be supported and praised even by its victims. That is why a revolutionary will have to fight the masses as well as the system. Even when the facts are too obvious. What a great screenplay!
To cease from industrial civilization is to cease from this enslavement. Of course, a man will struggle with himself anyway, and utopistic concepts such as a “just and free society” should not be considered as the absolute goal.⁴ This does not mean that a biophilic and loving society is pure fiction, rather that modern civilization cannot convert to biophilia. There cannot be any real freedom in this civilization, for it necessarily implies dependence on the will of another and that another is based on selfish greed and destructiveness. It’s clear that we have to be dependent on another in some extent and thus only a life spent in complete solitude can be called “truly free”. Being dependent on another is in itself not detrimental and is even required. However, it’s also clear that spending a life dependent on a destructive another is extremely similar to a prison cell. On another who burns, murders and enslaves even you.
The fact that industrial civilization cannot coalesce with life does not mean that you cannot coalesce with life. It does not matter as much that you have built a wall between the birds and trees and
yourself: what matters more is that you must destroy it. Coalesce with life once again. Preserve love by preserving what you love. By preserving what you love, you show that the screams of burning trees strike your heart and make it weep, thus you can’t just hear but you must listen.
1 Purely in the context of society. So, this is not a place for denying the truthfulness of optimistic views as “an individual can reach freedom by finding it within himself and overcoming his environment” and neither
pessimistic views as “an individual can never be truly free, for he is jailed by his own desires and inner struggle”.
2 Which is impossible because all are struggling with something, but consumerism has the ability to blind an individual – apparent plenitude; “we have everything we need and even more, so what’s your problem with this system? Never have we been so rich!” Yes, but you can’t have both material wealth and spiritual wealth – these two are incompatible: that’s one of the main reasons why religions like Buddhism and Christianity (religions, not churches) and many great philosophical systems put renunciation of earthly pleasures in their core for the sake of spirit and intellect.
3 Look at the COVID-19 restrictions and see that the richest got even richer during lockdown, while small businessmen went out of business.
4 Post-Soviet countries can tell you why.