Friday, June 18, 2010

Totalitarianism

About 10 years ago I was sitting in my best (Brit) friend's house, drinking tea with her after the kids' school. Both of us were peeling ("éplucher" in French) Brit weekly magazines, and I was reading the Economist, the letters section. And I came across a letter from an American university professor, living in California.
He stated that he was amazed to notice that the kids in his classes looked more and more alike.
More and more of them were wearing the same clothes, had the same haircuts, the same expressions on their faces, the same vocabulary, and intonations even. That they even had... the same ideas...
He said that this phenomenon had been creeping up. That it bothered him, this... uniformization.

In the 1970's, even the 1980's, it was possible to find a variety of women's clothes in the U.S. Not all... one style, or one color. Something for everybody. (In France, it was harder, though. There has always been an autocratic streak in French couture. Like, if it's summer 1990, then the tent skirt HAS to be turquoise blue, and it will exist in no other color. You can walk the streets in winter and see masses of people wearing black polyester coats.) That is not true any more, I think. There is much greater uniformization of clothing, even in the States now. And of course... the stuff looks incredibly cheap, coarse, and tawdry, too. A lot more than in the 1970's.
But I digress...
I don't like this uniformization.
A lot of people think that totalitarianism is a political regime exclusively.
But.. IS it, really ?
Isn't this uniformization that makes our kids and us look alike from one continent to another a form of totalitarianism ?
Can we impute it solely to globalization ?
I'm not sure about this. Globalization has always existed in the form of economic exchange from continent to continent. Even... population migration. Up to and beyond Antiquity, as a matter of fact.
I AM sure that... we have specific ideas about what "globalization" means. These ideas vary, of course.
WE have an idea about globalization that makes it synonym with BIG structures and institutions, whereas it doesn't have to be big. It can be done with lots of small interconnected structures.
And structures that are not identical, that are not perceived as identical and DON'T HAVE TO BE IDENTICAL, carbon copies of each other.
To ensure... DIVERSITY. The biggest antidote to totalitarianism that exists. In my book.
A lot of the way we understand globalization depends on how we understand words like.. "one", "total" "global", right ?
These are really really complicated words, as I said before.
The MOST COMPLICATED words of your language, the ones that... LOTS depends on, are the ones you never bother looking up in the dictionary, because they come up so often you think you KNOW what they mean...
And they mean... a lot more than you think or know they mean, that's for sure...
And they pack in them the history of our civilization, too.


6 comments:

Toby said...

From "One Love" by U2

"We're one
But we're not the same
Well we
Hurt each other
Then we do it again
You say
Love is a temple
Love a higher law
Love is a temple
Love the higher law
You ask me to enter
But then you make me crawl
And I can't be holding on
To what you got
When all you got is hurt"

I adore this song and think the lyrics are wonderful. Being morally high falutin' leads most often, whether on the small scale of a personal relationship, or at the level of society, to a sort of bullying, holier than thou totalitarianism. Fear is obviously what inspires this childish need to control.

I think society at the level of the elite decision makers, when confronted with the popular demands for things like universal suffrage and education, determined to make sure the rabble would be kept in their place. Education was an obvious tool for controlling the minds of the young and 'preparing' them for the ever present possibility of war, as well as for a mindless life in the factory. Television was another tool the status quo has used to its 'advantage.'

A consequence of this elite, or top down control is ever increasing uniformity, driven on by the elite's fear of being washed away by the great unwashed. But diversity is the spice of life, the reason, in balance with some efficiency, ecosystems and other systems endure. The oneness society is going through right now, in both the West and East, is unsustainable, and horrible too.

Please let us wake up from this stupidity before it is too late. We are one species embedded in the complex ecosystems of one planet we do not control. Being at the 'top' of the food chain makes us dependent on the rest, not Lord of All We Survey!

Debra said...

I have been stirring up a lot of trouble on naked capitalism because I think that the problem of pinning the uniformization problem on the elites eludes one of the forces that really makes us tick : mimetism.
We copy each other, without anybody telling us what to do.
I think that probably the more of us there are, in the greater density, the greater this mimetism force will kick in, and make us really function like a school of fish.
Resisting mimetism is well nigh impossible, Toby.
We learn through mimetism. Which is a part of identification in shrink jargon.
It enables us to survive.
And most of it is really unconscious. (Psychoanalysis can shed some light on it, but imperfectly, of course.)
A couple of nights ago, I crossed paths with one of our musical friends. And.. it was truly AWESOME seeing how much she had expressions, intonations, facial mimics like the choir director we both sang under.
You could SEE the choir director in her.
It can be really eery, Toby.
And... of course she was not conscious of all of this, and would have been really surprised if anyone brought it to her attention.

Toby said...

“For a species which thrives on friendship and enjoys co-operation and trust, which has a strong sense of fairness, which is equipped with mirror neurons allowing us to learn our way of life through a process of identification, it is clear that social structures which create relationships based on inequality, inferiority and social exclusion must inflict a great deal of social pain.” [My emphasis]
The Spirit Level, Wilkinson and Pickett, p213

Very good point about mimicry. We learn by copying, but we do create unique versions by so doing. We are NOT carbon copies of the people we mimic -- how could we be? That would of course be ridiculous. In a freer situation or socioeconomic model, we would find ourselves via a process of mimicry, find Not-Them in this way. All well and good. Currently however, we increasingly fail to discover our 'uniqueness' in the groupthink fostered and encouraged by the elite to prevent us, e.g. from asking difficult questions, or to keep us dumbed down and immature. Check out John Taylor Gatto on this point.

I don't like the blame game either, but looking for root causes is perfectly justified. And considering the power ratio, the access to information ratio, blame, although not altogether constructive, is not unhelpful.

In terms of the press of numbers forcing yet more mimicry I have no comment; it is not something I've looked into. Although it does remind me of the unlikelihood of someone stepping forward to help, when say a large number of people are passive bystanders as a woman is being beaten up on a train. For reasons such as these, I think the future would benefit from smaller cities, smaller communities etc. Unchecked, the processes of money-making tend to draw people to the 'successful' cities and so on. Money encourages unbalanced and uneven distribution of resources.

Debra said...

Toby, this morning I'm laughing about the World Cup.
I've never liked team sports in any shape or form.
I'm an agressive person, but I don't channel it into watching or playing team sports...
Listening to the tempest in a teapot over the World Cup really gives me a belly laugh...
All the talk about insubordination when "we" have basically become ungovernable at any level, anyway...(me too..)
I've heard that the French coach has been rather... arbitrary in his exercise of absolute power over the team. Maybe it's true. Maybe it's not. But.. if he was picking and choosing his players the way French employers pick and choose their employees, well.. I can understand how that might create a bit of... TENSION, shall we say ?
The French employee shuts up, endures, and commits suicide when he feels too put upon... Now... those football (soccer) players, well, maybe they don't feel like shutting up, enduring, etc etc ALL IN THE NAME OF THE FRENCH NATION ?? LOL I can understand them...
And as far as shitting on them because they act like prima donnas, I say... WHO INVESTS FOOTBALL TO THE POINT THAT THEY BECOME PRIMA DONNAS ??
Not me... Careful, all those finger pointers out there...
In our days and times...
NOBODY wants to recognize and accept arbitrary authority. That's the LOGICAL conclusion of our understanding of the word "democracy" these days...
And the press's titillating coverage of all this ?
LOL. The end of the world (and Europe...) because of the World Cup ?
I am a wacko (I guess...). I don't understand how people can get so excited about all this...

Toby said...

Football:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/video/2010/jun/21/world-cup-2010-england-algeria-brick

Say it with lego!

Debra said...

Good job, Toby, that was FUN !!
Now, that's football I LIKE (and it was SHORT, too...).
What about the guys who have no hair ?
Are they bald in real life ??
I'm glad you're such a cheery person ! It's a change from me, right ? ;-)
Have a good day !