Inverted totalitarianism and neoliberalism

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One particularly successful way of neutralising opposition to an ideology is to ensure that only those ideas that are consistent with that ideology saturate the media and are presented as orthodoxy. The Conservative election campaign was a thoroughly dispiriting and ruthless masterclass in media control.

Communication in the media is geared towards establishing a dominant paradigm and maintaining an illusion of a consensus. This ultimately serves to reduce democratic choices. Such tactics are nothing less than a political micro-management of your beliefs and are ultimately aimed at nudging your voting decisions and maintaining a profoundly unbalanced, pathological status quo.

Presenting an alternative narrative is difficult because the Tories have not only framed all of the issues to be given public priority – they set and stage-manage the media agenda – they have also dominated the narrative; they constructed and manage the political lexicon and now treat words associated with the Left, such as welfare, like semantic landmines, generating explosions of right-wing scorn, derision and ridicule. Words like cooperation, inclusion, mutual aid, reciprocity, equality, nationalisation, redistribution – collective values – are simply dismissed as mere anachronisms that need to be stricken from public conversation and exiled from our collective consciousness, whilst all the time enforcing their own bland language of an anti-democratic political doxa. The political manufacturing of a culture of anti-intellectualism extends this aim, too.

Words like competition, market place, small state, efficiency, responsibility and so on, now crowd out any opportunity of even a fleeting glance of another way of socio-economic organisation.

Anything presented that contradicts the consensus – a convincing, coherent, viable alternative perspective – is treated to a heavily staged editing via meta-coverage by the media. Anyone would think that the media regards the UK as a one-party state.

And here, people tend to take the Daily Mail with totalitarianism and tea …

“There’s something happening here
  But what it is ain’t exactly clear …”

Such tactics deployed in manufacturing consensus are widely used, and combined, they serve to reduce public expectation of opposition and in doing so establish diktats: it’s a way of mandating acceptance of ideology, policies or laws by presenting them as if they are the only viable alternative.

Adam Curtis explores themes of “power and how it works in society” in depth, and his works draw on areas of sociology, psychology, philosophy and political history.

Curtis points out, in his Oh-Dearism documentary, that there is an emerging “strategy of power that keeps any opposition constantly confused, a ceaseless shapeshifting that is unstoppable because it’s indefinable.” 

Adam Curtis’s Oh-Dearism on Charlie Brooker’s 2014 ScreenWipe show.

I have been reading about totalitarianism recently. You know when you have an itching recognition of something and need clarification of what it is precisely? I’ve felt for a long time that our own Tory government has totalitarian tendencies.

Totalitarianism is the name given to a political system that aims to mobilise entire populations in support of an official state ideology, and to exercise a repressive, absolute control over society, seeking to micro-manage all aspects of public and private life.

However, Sheldon Wolin has outlined an alternative form – inverted totalitarianism  – as not only signaling the political demobilization of the citizenry, but goes on to say that because it isn’t clearly evident in neoliberal ideology or policy, and it isn’t named, this makes recognition, reflection and challenging it very difficult. It is inverted because it does not require the use of overt coercion, police power and a messianic ideology as in the classical Nazi, Fascist and Stalinist versions of totalitarianism.

It’s true that dominant ideologies tend to become naturalised epistemology – acquiring an illusory consensus – and so become embedded and disguised as “common sense.” This makes it very difficult to identify and articulate the doxa, and even more difficult to present coherent challenges to it. See: Manufacturing consensus: the end of history and the partisan man.

Wolin writes:

“Our thesis is this: it is possible for a form of totalitarianism, different from the classical one, to evolve from a putatively “strong democracy” instead of a “failed” one.

Democracy is about the conditions that make it possible for ordinary people to better their lives by becoming political beings and by making power responsive to their hopes and needs. It depends on the existence of a demos – a politically engaged and empowered citizenry, one that voted, deliberated, and occupied all branches of public office.”

Wolin proposes that the United States on occasion came close to genuine democracy, but it was because citizens struggled against and momentarily defeated the elitism that was written into the Constitution.

He sees the New Deal as perhaps the only period of American history in which rule by a true demos prevailed. That is comparable with the rise of welfare states elsewhere in European democracies. Here in the UK, the welfare state arose in part because of the enfranchisement of the working class. The welfare state may be considered a fundamental part of the foundations for democracy.

Other features of inverted totalitarianism are the same as the ones that formal definitions of classical totalitarianism identify: the mass media is the first mechanism of control that tyrants generally seek, which is used to erect fact-proof screens from reality.

The regime attempts to control virtually all aspects of social life, including the economy, education, art, science, private life, psychology, morals and the perceptions of citizens. And decision-making.

I had already linked the government Behavioural Insights Team (the Nudge Unit) with behaviourism and totalitarian thinking last year.

To influence the decision-making of the public without their knowledge and consent, using techniques of persuasion – usually associated with advertising – is profoundly anti-democratic. As is the underpinning assumption that the public are generally irrational and fallible, but the government are somehow infallible, formulating a theory of human nature as if from some impossible, mind-independent, species-independent, “objective,” external vantage point.

It’s like saying: “That’s your human nature, but not ours. We are somehow miraculously exempted from it.”

This is a government that is encroaching at an existential level and surreptitiously imposing instructions about how we must be. And how we must be is ultimately confined to accommodating neoliberalism.

Edward Bernays, amongst others, has contributed significantly to the rise and perpetuation of inverted totalitarianism through the imported methods and practice of techniques of persuasion drawn from knowledge of social psychology and sociology, from advertising, and the rule of “market forces” to many other contexts than markets, including politics and the media. The ultimate purpose for the use of such techniques is to subvert and obscure the truth.

Of course history showed that Bernays’ identification of the “manipulation of the masses” as a “natural and necessary feature of a democratic society” was a flawed theory when the rise to power of the totalitarian Nazis demonstrated that propaganda could be used to subvert democracy and generate social conflicts. In his autobiography – Biography of an Idea – Bernays recalls a dinner at his home in 1933 where:

“Karl von Weigand, foreign correspondent of the Hearst newspapers, an old hand at interpreting Europe and just returned from Germany, was telling us about Goebbels and his propaganda plans to consolidate Nazi power. Goebbels had shown Weigand his propaganda library, the best Weigand had ever seen. Goebbels, said Weigand, was using my book ‘Crystallizing Public Opinion’ as a basis for his destructive campaign against the Jews of Germany. This shocked me. … Obviously the attack on the Jews of Germany was no emotional outburst of the Nazis, but a deliberate, planned campaign.”

In Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco, inverted totalitarianism is described as a system where corporations have corrupted and subverted democracy and where economics trumps politics. Inverted totalitarianism is a system where 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.

Although this is a critique aimed at the US, we have the same social conservatism and neoliberal ideology here in the UK, and to me, it’s as plain as day. One of the main objectives of managed democracy is to increase the profits of large corporations and dismantle the institutions of social democracy – our social security, trade unions, public health services, social housing, access to legal aid, human rights and so forth, and roll back the social and political ideals of the post-war settlement here in the UK, and the New deal in the US. The primary tool is privatisation.

Managed democracy aims at the abdication of governmental responsibility for the well-being of most citizens, under the cover of improving “efficiency,” reducing small state “intrusion” and cost-cutting. Over recent years, austerity has been used as a front to accelerate this process, increasing economic inequality, redistributing public funds to increasingly wealthy individual’s private bank accounts.

Another feature of managed democracy is the need to keep citizens preoccupied with the peripheral and the private conditions of human life so that they fail to focus on the widespread corruption and betrayal of public trust. The political function of this is to divide the public whilst obscuring class differences and diverting the voters’ attention from the social and economic concerns (and interests) of the general population.

Neoliberalism is a system of economic arrangements that greatly benefits a few powerful and wealthy people and impoverishes the majority of the public incrementally. As each social group reaches a crisis – struggling to survive – scapegoating narratives are constructed and disseminated via the media that blame them for their insolvency, creating socially divisive and politically managed categories of “others,” which serve to de-empathise the rest of the population and divert them from the fundamental fact that it isn’t the poor that create poverty: it is the neoliberal decision-makers and those who are steadily removing and privatising our public funds and ebulliently shrinking state responsibility towards citizens, leaving many at the mercy of “market forces” without a state safety net – it’s economic Darwinism.

The Nazis openly mocked democracy, the UK and United States maintain the conceit that they serve as the model of democracy for the whole world. Instead, we have become a showcase for how to reduce democracy to just a brand, displaying how it can be managed without appearing to be suppressed. Democracy has been reduced to a flimsy façade, obscuring its antithesis. 

Totalitarianism isn’t simply a feature of a dystopian novel by George Orwell: it’s become entrenched and naturalised. Alternatives to social conservatism and neoliberalism are either edited out in advance of reaching public attention, or meta-edited, distorted and presented as “all the same” or straw man fallacies to buttress the status quo.

I’ve been saying since 2012 that democracy is being subverted. The welfare “reforms” were hammered through parliament despite widespread and strong opposition, when Cameron used “financial privilege” as a justification to sidestep democratic process. Then came the widely opposed Health and Social Care Bill, and the Conservative’s refusal to release the details of the risk register to the public. It has remained unreleased.

But mostly, the recognition starts as an uneasy feeling, an indefinable something being not quite right, like a fleeting glimpse from the corner of your eye that triggers an adrenaline trickle of unease. Then comes the discovery that laws are being edited quietly, protective policies are eroded and some have been secretly repealed. Our human rights are being disregarded, and there’s a clearly expressed intention to heavily edit the existing legislation. Human rights are the bedrock of democracy, and observation of them separates democrats from despots.

It’s so essential that we don’t disengage from politics, but rather, we need to organise, we need to construct a cogent narrative of resistance and transformation, formulating an alternative vocabulary that helps to raise awareness; to motivate; to inspire; to change public perceptions and directly challenge the tyrants. We need to fight to reclaim our democracy; to collectively insist on the re-population of increasingly dehumanising public and economic policies; to re-assert human needs and rights over and above the absurd, anti-humanist and socially fatal demands of desolating, pathological and ever-escalating neoliberalism.

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37 thoughts on “Inverted totalitarianism and neoliberalism

  1. Another brilliant article. Perfectly explains how the Tories manage to consistently dictate the political and social agenda in the media… Of course they own the media so it’s easy for them to do. We don’t have to let them of course!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Pam. Economic Darwinism struck me as a truth, since we don’t really have public policies any more, unless they are to enforce the over-riding neoliberal economic one.

      Like

  2. Put them out of our misery ..

    I guess we push hard for an alternative. Lobby and campaign. Corbyn is anti-austerity and isn’t a neoliberal. There’s a few like him amidst the centrists-that-moved-right-coz-of-UKIP and old Blairites. We need a media platform to reach the public. We need to seriously organise.

    Thanks very much for feedback, too .

    Like

  3. Firstly, thanks for writing this well-thought out piece and giving *definition* to observations on my radar for quite some time! The policies, the social engineering tactics, the twisted psychological justification for pushing this agenda is comparable to an earlier era -that we seem not have learned from. Sometimes, I read things and just get a migraine trying to see through the intentional distortion (or outright misrepresentation or falsifying) facts and statistics. Pick any one from ethicsalarms.com, and the Tories have resorted to using it as a justification into turning life in the UK into hell for millions.
    The Conservatives are really uncomfortable with Corbyn, and more so that so many voters agree that his views are not only correct, but good for GB; the same change in public perception and alternative government is mirrored by Sanders growing popularity across the pond. It seems that Corbyn is the only light on the horizon; hopefully many will be drawn to that glimmer of sanity and help to form an alternative vision of what society can be for everyone, not a select few.
    Organising and giving a hard push back is vital, as you say; the difficulty is keyboard warriors aren’t that effective in changing policy or the tidal wave of neo-liberalism, and many who oppose austerity and the Neo-liberal agenda are constrained by disability or access to tools that would enable them to participate beyond a virtual presence. That’s not to say that there’s no will or incentive or that people should submit to defeatism at the starting gate, but how to organise, what to specifically tackle, and how to create an environment of inclusion for those faced with barriers to participation is unclear.
    I learn a lot from your blog articles, thanks for writing speaking your mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Sally, and very well said. Yes, Corbyn does present an alternative and when people hear it, they recognise what we are in danger of still losing, and hopefully they also see what the Tories have already taken away from us.

      Yes, organising is difficult, but I think people need an inspiring leader to spearhead. Not only does Corbyn inspire, but he does to such an extent that people are already seeing the alternative to Corbyn’s vision is now untenable. Like you said, it’s a light of hope on the horizon, and sun rise is now inevitable, it’s the summer of malcontent. I hope I’m not being overly optimistic here.

      I also like the point you made about not learning from a previous era – social Darwinism, laissez faire, competitive individualism, thrift, moral judgements and self help but only for the poor, and the work house of course, with its principle of less eligibilty, which is comparable with the Tory mantra “making work pay.” The idea is to ensure that anyone needing support will be forced to take the lowest paid position, no matter how exploitative, insecure or unsafe the work is, it will always be better than claiming benefit. The real horror is that wages have been decreasing, as the reserve army of labor become more desperate, and increased welfare conditionality is robbing us of any collective bargaining power to push back. Many in work are also in poverty. The tories are such cruel and glib despots.

      The Tories have undone a century of social learning, subsequent public policies and progress, much of that learning was driven by various social groups organising and demanding civil rights.

      Now we must do that again.

      Like

    2. Keyboard warriors could participate and contribute a lot more simply by using their keyboards to at least question the actions of their MPs.

      At least the (s)tories would realise that not everyone believes that all their fibs are true. And also, assuming they take the time to answer their constituents, it would leave them less time to plan and plot our downfall with their buddies.

      Right now it seems our masters do what they want with impunity – believing no-one is noticing – what David Ike calls the ‘totalitarian shuffle’. A little bit at a time – so the sheeple aren’t ruffled out of their stupor – but relentless, totally ruthless, and all-consuming, nonetheless.

      People need to use the tools they have and do whatever they are able. There’s more of us than them.

      Like

      1. I agree. That’s why I write. I get out on the protests when I am well enough. But it makes a difference, even the LSE have referenced my articles.

        Icke is right on this, it’s happening incrementally, and love the phrase “totalitarian shuffle”, because it fits so well. But totalitarians usually require a politically disengaged public to start off with to gain power.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I have always questioned and lobbied MPs, I’ve lobbied the Lords, I have submitted evidence to the UN, to the parliamentary committee inquiries where appropriate, and so on. Many of my readers do too

        Liked by 1 person

  4. An excellent article. Theories like Herman and Chomsky’s propaganda model (though it has its faults) do explain very well how the media not only creates propaganda and systemic biases, but also how these biases are used to promote economic, social and political actions which are on the whole wrong.

    I believe that governmental tactics of subjection have become increasingly more covert over the decades as well as become more accepting, due to the discourse that is perpetuated domestically and even internationally. These are worrying times and those who are for justice and fairness must develop strategies which can help combat this.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ohh godammit, I will post this here! I tried to find a personal email for you Kitty, because I am aware of the controversial nature of what I am going to add to these comments, even from some ‘conspiracy theorists’. It is taboo, and is usually met with silence. Most likely because it is beyond many people’s ken. BUT i think why the hell SHOULD this be hidden away. I don’t usually, but I am so loving this article that I was wary of introducing this. What am I on about. Well, as well as the nuts and bolts of what these despots have been doing, and continue doing, they are also part of a secret code which is kinda hidden in plain sight. IE , yes it can be discerned, but those who use this code count on the higher percentage of the populace’s ridicule, and lack of comprehension that such as this could be in ‘this day and age’. I am talking about an occult code. Occult literally means ‘hidden’, and when you realize that many of these despots have and/or still do belong to secret societies. Example, both George W Bush and John Kerry who were standing for presidency had belonged to the secret society of the Skull and Bones. There is a video which has gone viral where you see them asked about the skull and bones by the same journalist and they both have the same body language and quickly change the subject claiming they cannot divulge the secrets!
    Looking into this is not in any way meant to intimidate anyone about the ‘powers that be’ but is rather to expose what they are up to. I see it like this: advertising relies on targeting peoples subconscious subliminally so as to influence their actions. Once we become aware of their tricks however, we can see through them, and don’t buy the shtty product or whatever. We don’t ‘BUY’ it. Likewise with this, to bring this ==admittedly weird stuff–to our own attention and to share this information is to undermine its power over us.
    Their false flag-ship of ‘9/11’ is riddled with this code. This code is both used as a form of communication between those ‘in-the-know’ and as a form of ‘magick’ and/or mindcontrol to further their agenda. The very language they use is involved in this, even headlines from their media can be seen to give up important numbers which is called gematria.
    These people are *ultimate* controlfreaks, and it thus must take great attention on our part to undo their toxic doings by waking the F up. IE it is not just politcal organization we need but the ever deeper uncovering of their whole house of cards, and knck the fker down!
    This guy will reveal the numbers etc they use
    From now on I am going to mention about this, and not worry for others that it will ‘poison the well’. These despots are going to poison ALL the water and air and everything else if not stopped, so let us expose then and not pull any punches: Part 1- The Hoax Death of Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011 & the 9/11 Conspiracy by the Numbers https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iyP25muizvA

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Language use matters, “spelling” reminds us of the link with the occult, too. And it’s not “conspiracy theory” to acknowledge that techniques of persuasion are largely designed to bypass rational thought processes and reasoning, aiming for prodding emotional response, stimulating prejudices and all forms of the irrational processes that constitute our psyche. Use of symbols is embedded in our advertising culture, and also throughout the political realm. The US Pentagon, the runic symbolisation of the Nazi SS logo, are some of the more obvious examples.

      Thanks for the comment, will have a look at the video, can’t guarantee I’ll agree with it, but watch it I will

      Liked by 1 person

  6. ‘Love the content Kitty – but the style makes this hard to chew… 124 words in a sentence creates cognitive and short term memory stress that detracts from comprehension. ‘Try no more than 24. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I write articles of various lengths and depths. My view is that the detail matters, and if people had paid more attention to detail, then we wouldn’t have the government that we do, and be in the mess we are in. I have lupus and also suffer from cognitive problems. But I feel that we have become a soundbite, sloganised culture and that needs to be addressed, too. Because details matter. Read it in instalments, break it down, that’s how I tend to write them

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for detail – the more the better. It’s just that most people have very poor reading skills. You’d be surprised by the research that’s been done on this. For example, as a consequence of poor reading skills, the Guardian has a reading age of a 14 year old and the Sun has a reading age of eight, LOL !

        I was a technical writer for a few decades before chemo killed my executive functions. We were taught certain rules of thumb that conformed to various house style guides. For example, numbers up to 9 (or was it 10?) are written as numbers – above that, spell them as words.

        Comprehension is very much related to the number of words in a sentence and complexity of sentence structure. Even smart people are generally only able to hold no more than five to seven pieces of information in their head at a time. So, for example, a good rule of thumb is, limit lists to no more than seven items.

        Complex sentence structure requires that you progressively retain each clause and phrase until you reach the end of the sentence. Then a final analysis of the total allows you to comprehend what you have just read. So another good rule of thumb is to use no more than twenty three words in a sentence and keep sentence structure simple. For example, use subject > verb > object (limit sub clauses and phrases).

        I was trained to write for an audience who might not have English as their first language. One might imagine that simple sentences are easier to write, but, in fact, the reverse is true. Who was it who said “I apologise for the length of this letter but that was all the time that I had”?

        Please understand that I greatly admire your writing. I am only commenting on presentation, not content.

        There is a great tool for foreign students of English that allows you to rate the readability of your text. You may analyse your text according to such things as the SMOG Grade (Simple Measure Of Gobbledygook) for English texts.

        You’ll be unsurprised that in answering my question as to why MPs should be exempt from financial disclosure, my MP (who went to Oxford) scored:

        Overall Sampled Calculated Grading
        Long Words: 27 27
        Lexical Density: 74.32 % 74.32 %
        Gunning Fog Index: 23.99 23.45 Hard
        Coleman-Liau Grade: 22.64 16.28 16th Grade
        Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 19.25 19.25 19th Grade (14 years)
        Flesch Reading Ease: 22.94 22.94 Very Difficult: College Graduate
        ARI (Automated Readability Index): 27.81 22.72 22nd Grade
        SMOG: 18.97 18.49 18 Years (Post-graduate studies)
        LIX (Laesbarhedsindex): 73.49 73.49 Very difficult

        Check it out – sign up for free for the complex tools at:
        http://tinyurl.com/hs9ek

        Like

      2. I write for a mixed audience, and write shorter, more ‘plainspeak’ articles, and the more detailed academic level ones. I also quite often write summaries of the longer ones, but sometimes, the reader should also do a little work to gain something.

        But the important thing and one of the reasons I write is because of the importance of content over style. As I said in another comment, we live in a corrosive political culture of soundbites and glittering generalities, but the murky waters of politics and real life and the infinite scope of human experiences cannot be reduced to simple slogans, nor should they be.

        The articles, regardless of their length, get read. I will, however, take a look at the tool – and thanks. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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