The Unconscious Empire Final: Benevolent Totalitarianism

In the last post, I made the claim that the anti-Semitism in 19th century continental Europe was driven by a psychological complex, a tangled web of mental trauma that had ultimately been set in motion by the fact that Europeans had begun to turn into the Other which for centuries had been embodied in the archetype of “the Jew”. These days, we are familiar with this psychology through the cliched example which has been used numerous times in film: the man who is homosexual but due to deep shame around the issue caused by his upbringing not only can’t express his homosexuality but puts on a façade of extreme anti-gay bigotry. This is the closet homosexual; the man who cannot admit he is gay just like 19th century Germans could not admit that, in the words of Karl Marx, they had “become Jewish”.

If we follow the same pattern, we can hypothesise that the exact same psychology sits behind the modern West’s Hitler Complex. That is, our obsession with denouncing Hitler and anybody who we suspect of remotely being like Hitler is a cover for the fact that we are becoming like Hitler. On the face of it, this is a ridiculous claim. There are no concentration camps (sort of), no bloody wars (sort of) and no uniforms and silly social rituals (sort of).

When Marx claimed the Christians were becoming Jews, he didn’t mean they were converting to Judaism or practicing the rituals or social customs of the Jews. He meant, they were taking on the underlying function formerly held by the Jews; what I would call the archetype. And that’s exactly what the modern West is doing. We are taking on the archetype, the underlying form, and the archetype in this case is the political system known as totalitarianism.

Hannah Arendt has provided us with the most comprehensive account of totalitarianism in her book aptly titled The Origins of Totalitarianism. There is a key point she made in that book which relates to our Hitler Complex. The implication of the Hitler Complex is that totalitarianism can only arise in the form of an evil tyrant. That is not true. As Arendt brilliantly observed, totalitarianism is a new form of political system, one that does not require a leader at all. The fact that the two men who ushered in totalitarianism, Hitler and Stalin, were both evil tyrants is merely a historical accident.  

What’s more, the socio-cultural conditions for totalitarianism were present before Hitler and Stalin could do what they did. Those conditions were not unique to Germany and Russia. They were shared by all modern nations and were brought into being mostly by the industrial revolution and certain ideologies of the 19th century. Thus, there never was any reason to believe that totalitarianism would die out with Hitler and Stalin. Arendt warned of exactly that potential in her book written in the 1950s. Sadly, her warnings have come true. The West has become totalitarian all while shrieking ever louder about Hitler and “Nazis”. That shrieking exists to hide what is really going on.

Because it does not have strong man leaders and because it claims to be a force for good, I call the form that our political system has evolved towards Benevolent Totalitarianism and I’ll explain how it works in this post.

Anything is possible through organisation

The core tenet of totalitarianism is that anything is possible through organisation. Note that this is distinct from the moral issue explored by Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov that anything is permissible. It’s also different from the idea that God works in mysterious ways, as in, if we organise correctly we will get lucky. There is no luck in totalitarianism. The whole concept is predicated on the removal of luck, randomness and spontaneity of any kind.

Totalitarianism states that anything is possible if only humans can organise themselves in accordance with the laws of nature (or history). For the Nazis, these “laws” were the supposed laws of racial science. For the Soviets, they were laws of history as elaborated in dialectical materialism. Of course, nowadays we write Hitler off as a mad racist. But it’s a historical fact that almost every educated person of that time would have believed the basic precepts of racial theory just like every educated person of our time believes in the precepts of what I like to call naïve germ theory. (I predict that naïve germ theory will have as much credibility in 50 years as racial theory has today).

Herein lies the first problem of totalitarianism: how do you know you have discovered a “law” of nature? These “laws of nature” are what modern science claims to uncover and thus totalitarianism has always been tied up with “science” although we really should call it scientism for it is at base nothing more than ideology. What complicates the matter substantially, however, is that the kind of “science” we are talking about here was widely regarded as not just true but cutting edge in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Let’s take the most famous example: the law of natural selection.

No empirical research can disprove the law of natural selection. There is random variation in species. That variation will either persist or will die out. If it persists, it is fit. If it dies out, it is unfit. There are no other alternatives. If a variation persisted for a while and then died out, that just meant the environment changed so that it no longer fitted. You can go out into the jungle and find the most seemingly useless adaptation, one that seems actively harmful to the organism which has it, that finding or any other one like it does not and can not disprove the law of natural selection.

(Yes, I’m aware that there are those who claim that natural selection is testable and empirically falsifiable. Even if that is technically true, which I doubt, the main point here is how such “laws” are viewed in the general culture and how totalitarianism as a political system makes use of them. Whether Darwin wanted it or not, Darwinism became tied up with politics right from the start).

Totalitarianism takes such “laws” of science and rearranges society according to them. In the Nazi racial ideology, if the Jews could be eliminated, that proved they were unfit. The same goes for every other race, including “the Germans”. From the Nazi point of view, if “the Germans” lost the war, that was simply evidence that they were not up to the task of becoming the master race. Only the strongest survive. If the Germans did not survive, then they were not the strongest. This tautological aspect is a key attribute of totalitarian ideology. It’s like a logical straightjacket that you can’t get out of.

The correlation of Nazism with pan-German nationalism misses the central point of Nazi ideology and was a big part of the reason why outsiders did not comprehend either Hitler or Nazism in the 1930s and why we still don’t understand to this day. The Nazis used the pan-German nationalist movement, which had been around for decades prior, to get themselves into power. Once that was achieved, they were able to govern according to ideology. That ideology had nothing to do with nationalism. It was a racial ideology and “the Germans” were just as dispensable as any other “race”.

This is another crucial attribute of totalitarianism. Totalitarianism aims at total, global domination. Its “science” purports to have found universally applicable laws that transcend all national boundaries and it is through this universality that it lays claim to total domination. The nation-state where totalitarianism happens to manifest is just as arbitrary as any other nation-state from the point of view of ideology. Thus, huge numbers of people in Russia especially, but also in Germany, were killed by the ideology of the Soviets and Nazis respectively. Neither racial theory nor dialectical materialism cared about Germans or Russians either as a people or as a nation.

Because of that, the Nazis (and Soviets) did things that defied all common sense, all pragmatism, all utilitarian considerations. While they were fighting a war on multiple fronts, the Nazis diverted significant resources to the running of the concentration camps even when those activities were actively harming the war effort. Party officials who pointed this out were removed.

Similarly, even when it was clear that the war was lost, the ideological activities continued. If the Nazis really had been true nationalists, they would have done whatever was best for the German nation. But they weren’t. They were racial ideologues. They didn’t care about Germany.

It is the unyielding devotion to the laws of an ideology that characterises totalitarianism. To understand totalitarianism, we must dissociate it from the historical accidents of Nazism and Soviet ideology. We must get rid of the idea that it is always murderous and violent. We must separate it from the similar but fundamentally different political form called tyranny. It is to Hannah Arendt’s eternal credit that she was able to do that even though she was personally tied up with the history of Nazism.

In some sense, we have it easier because we have all now lived through a real-world example. With corona, we experienced totalitarianism dissociated from the historical parallels of violence and murder. We are now able to understand in both an intellectual and intuitive sense what totalitarianism really is.

Corona as Benevolent Totalitarianism

To reiterate: Totalitarianism is the belief that anything is possible when society is re-organised according to the “laws of nature”.

When western societies decided to lockdown in March of 2020, we entered into a totalitarian world: we re-organised our society according to the supposed “laws” of viral disease. All pragmatic, common sense and utilitarian considerations were discarded. The economic effects, the effects on the education of children, the effects of cutting off the elderly from human contact or of disrupting access to medical care, any other consideration was tossed aside for the cold hard logic of “stopping the spread”. That was the only thing that mattered. This singled-minded fixation on one thing to the exclusion of all else is a key component of the psychology of totalitarianism.

Note that one of the main things that was thrown overboard was compassion. I’m talking about genuine compassion for other human beings not the faux compassion of people who claim to want to save grandma. Benevolent Totalitarianism is totalitarianism in the guise of compassion. This form of totalitarianism pretends to have your best interests at heart. It pretends to want to keep you “safe” and “protect” you. You’re free to believe that in the same way you might believe that dictators can be benevolent. But a dictator is still a dictator and totalitarianism is still totalitarianism, even when it’s cloaked in compassion.

During corona, all the core ceremonies which give meaning to life – the birth of a child, marriage and funeral rites – were abandoned during the lockdowns. That is not a coincidence because those ceremonies are concerned with individuals. Totalitarianism, by contrast, is always and only concerned with the aggregate. The “laws of nature” are always about aggregates. The species, the race, the class, the nation, these are collective terms in which the individual plays no role except as a homogeneous and uninteresting exemplar.

This attitude did not come out of nowhere. The de-prioritising of the individual in favour of the collective had begun in earnest in the 19th century. With industrialisation, the production of goods and services was re-worked according to the laws of the machine. This won some nations an accumulation (in fact, an oversupply) of goods but the price was that it created a population of superfluous people who were duly thrown on the scrapheap via unemployment. There was no welfare system in the 19th century. The streets of London were filled with people who took on the form of one giant human sacrifice; the sacrifice to the greater good.

This sacrifice created the initial conditions of terror which preceded the totalitarianism of the 20th century. People realised they now lived in a society which would allow them to die in the gutter. The same society talked about abstract “rights” but what is the point in having rights if you are starving? The hypocrisy of such a society lead to disillusionment and desperation.

Totalitarianism took these trends and added to them the horrors of WW1. The Nazis were full of men who had not only felt the humiliation of unemployment, they had been in the meatgrinder of the trenches of WW1. Their hearts were full of hatred and many of them really wanted to see everything burn.

Because totalitarianism originated in such hatred, we assume that totalitarianism requires hatred in order to manifest. That is another thing our Hitler Complex implies. But this is not true. There is nothing in the concept of re-organising society according to the laws of nature that implies any emotional content. On the contrary, the possession of laws of nature and an understanding of their logical implications requires nothing more than cold, hard logic. This was another brilliant insight of Arendt’s. We think of both Hitler and Stalin as raging madmen. But their peers thought of them as clear-minded rationalists. It is the absence of empathy – genuine empathy not fake compassion – that is the problem with totalitarianism.

Thus, we were told the corona measures were there to save grandma while grandma herself was locked up in a nursing home unable to see any family members and surrounded by people in hazmat suits. That is not empathy. That is terror.

We see the exact same dynamic in the climate debate (it’s not really a “debate”, is it?). It’s all about saving the planet and preventing a climate apocalypse. We want to save the planet by combatting climate change and we want to save grandma by combatting viral disease. What lies beneath both of these is the core tenet of totalitarianism: the re-organising of society in accordance with the “laws” of climate and viruses.

Although politicians are drawn to totalitarianism like moths to the flame because it gives them far more (perceived) power than even a dictator, we must acknowledge that the underlying belief system which gives rise to totalitarianism is prevalent in the general culture including and especially by people who would probably consider themselves apolitical. Let’s look at a prime example.

The Totalitarian Mindset

I can think of no better example of the Benevolent Totalitarian mindset than the above cartoon published early on in the corona hysteria on the well-known website XKCD. XKDC is particularly popular with people who are proponents of science and technology. They are the ones who work at Google, Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, Tesla and SpaceX, so this gives us an insight especially into our “tech elites”.

The cleverness of the cartoon is that it presents the whole thing from the point of view of the virus. The virus is apparently self-aware. It understands the “law of nature” which governs its own existence, which is that it must spread. In the cartoon, the virus is playing the role of the scientific “law”. From the point of view of the “law”, humans are a single, homogeneous entity. Any specific characteristics that individuals might have such as immunity via prior infection, general health, lifestyle, age or whatever are irrelevant (of course, this is not scientifically true, which is why I call it the naive germ theory).

The cartoon shows what happens when the humans figure out the “law” and then re-organise society according to it by staying home and eating pasta. The cunning virus looks defeated. Its last chance is that the humans will “give up”.

In the mentality of this cartoon and the people who think this way, there is no question of being right or wrong. They know they are right. They have discovered a law of nature. The job of the humans is simply to follow the “law” (if this sounds quasi-religious, that’s because it is).

I find it highly amusing that, because the cartoon was drawn in March 2020, the “law” did not yet include mandatory face masks. This was the time when the “law” told us that compulsive hand washing was the way to eliminate the virus.

Another reason why the cartoon is a valuable piece of historical evidence is because it reveals the underlying mindset as well as the political reality. This was not a piece of deliberate propaganda. The author was not acting on instructions from a central authority. This was the honest expression of a viewpoint held by an individual. Numerous other people at the same time expressed the same viewpoint, especially those from the science and tech communities.

This demonstrates the second key attribute of Benevolent Totalitarianism: it is decentralised. There is no leader. The Hitler Complex tells us to look for a strong man leader whenever we look for totalitarianism. But as Arendt had already pointed out, a leader is not required for totalitarianism to manifest. What is required is an ideology.

This is one of the key attributes that separates totalitarianism from tyranny. So, let’s do a thought experiment to clarify further.

Everybody knows that you shouldn’t yell “fire!” in a crowded theatre. But should you yell “fire!” in a crowded theatre if there really is a fire and people need to get out?

Let’s pretend for the sake of the argument that this is an old-fashioned theatre with no fire escape. As the philosopher kings in this story, we are given the task of saving as many people as possible. By definition, we are concerned with an aggregate of people, not a series of individuals. We are not considering the individual circumstances of anybody who is in the theatre. We just want to save the highest percentage of the crowd.

We create a mathematical model which says that if we yell “fire!” in the theatre more people will die than if we get each person to leave individually. Using this method, we can get those nearest the door out quickly before the rest of the people realise what is going on and panic. With this strategy, the people who are furthest from the door will die, but we will save the greatest number of people.

This is the very definition of a Benevolent Dictatorship (philosopher kings were always benevolent dictators). As benevolent dictators, we organise society according to a model that gives the greatest good for the greatest number. The difference between the benevolent dictator and the tyrant is that the later does not care about the people and probably wouldn’t bother to save them from a fire.

In order to modify the thought experiment so that it represents the political system of totalitarianism, we have to do something counter-intuitive. We must remove ourselves as philosopher kings.

This was Hannah Arendt’s brilliant insight. Totalitarianism does not require leaders at all. It requires an agreement on the part of society to follow the “law” but not in the form of rules (more on that shortly). The agreement to follow the “law” is not explicit and exoteric. Rather, it is achieved through the promulgation of an ideology. It also requires a certain psychological profile.

One of the defining characteristics of the Nazi true believers was the complete lack of an instinct of self-preservation. On the contrary, they willingly went to their deaths in service to the Nazi ideology believing it was for the greater good (the creation of a master race). When somebody yells “fire!” in a crowded theatre, it is exactly that instinct of self-preservation that kicks in. People go into fight or flight mode which leads to a chaos.

In totalitarianism, chaos is avoided by the allegiance of every individual to the greater good via ideology. Benevolent Totalitarianism requires a society of people who will no longer pursue their own self-interest (this is a huge change from the ethic of the bourgeoisie which was all about self-interest – greed is good).

To capture the essence of Benevolent Totalitarianism in our thought experiment, we must remove ourselves as the benevolent dictators. Instead, we will educate the people in the theatre so that when the fire starts, they do not follow their self-interest but they follow the “law”. How does the “law” get promulgated? It doesn’t really matter. There might be a central authority to tell people that a fire has started or the message may propagate through the crowd just like the internet propagates a message, node-to-node (just like that XKCD cartoon). The mechanism is not crucial. What is crucial is that the people will follow the “law”, the ideology.

The people farthest from the door will die. But those people do not object because, like the Nazi true believers, they are not pursuing self-interest. They are completely subservient to the “law”. They die in full consciousness that they are doing the right thing by acting in accordance with the ideology. This is not a theoretical conjecture. It’s really what happened in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. The true believers willingly sacrificed and even died for the cause when the ideology required it. (We saw the same psychology during the last 3 years).

Whether you think this is a good idea or not depends on whether you think the “law” really is infallible. Nobody in the modern west would accept any “law” pertaining to race theory or dialectical materialism (except for a few hardcore communists and fascists in dark rooms). We look at the Nazis and Soviets and think how stupid and bigoted they were to follow such “pseudoscience”. Yet we will happily follow a different “law” and a different “science” because we believe it to be true. The underlying form is the same. If you accept that society should be re-organised according to an ideology, you believe in Benevolent Totalitarianism.

With this we re-join another of key intellectual currents that began in the 19th century: the idea that there could be theories of everything and the notion that everything followed deterministically and mechanically from premises. This idea lives on to this day whenever somebody talks about machine learning, or AI or quantum computing. All we need is more computing power and then we can calculate everything and our models will be infallible. This is why Benevolent Totalitarianism has a lot of support among people who work with computers.

Of course, it’s all arrogance and hubris coupled with an unwillingness to investigate and question your assumptions, a failure of imagination and the lack of real-world experience in the domain of empirical science to believe that just because you can’t think of any way you might be wrong, therefore you cannot be wrong and just because you have good intentions, everything you do must be good.

Benevolent Totalitarianism is the belief that if we only use totalitarianism for good instead of evil, everything will work out fine in just the same way that everybody thinks they would be a benevolent dictator if given the chance.

How Benevolent Totalitarianism arranges modern politics

The underlying ideologies that justify Benevolent Totalitarianism are shared widely in our society but, as Arendt noted, totalitarianism is primarily a new form of political organisation and that is where it is most relevant to all of us, especially now that that system has revealed itself.

When thinking of how totalitarianism fits into modern political systems, I think a good analogy is the onion. The core of the onion is the centre of power while each ring is successively further away from power. At the outer layers, people (and nations!) can be completely oblivious to both the operation of power or the core ideology that is being followed.

Arendt called this outer layer the “sympathisers”. They are the ones who passively follow along. At the core are the True Believers. The Sympathisers are shielded from the True Believers by a variety of “front organisations” who simplify the ideology, which the average Sympathiser would find too confronting, into terms that the Sympathisers can deal with. Trust the science. Stop the spread. 14 days to flatten the curve. These were all propagated through the Front organisations for consumption by the Sympathisers.

What follows from this is another counter-intuitive idea: the leaders of national and state governments and the MSM in each country are really Front Organisations. They are not the centre of power. Rather, they sit between the centre of power and translate its requirements in terms that the citizens of the respective nations can understand. Thus, the citizens of the nation-states are mostly Sympathisers; they are made to passively follow along.

Meanwhile, the True Believers form an inner network that is truly global in nature. It includes members of each nation’s public service, academics, certain MSM journalists, high-ranking employees of multi-national corporations, NGOs, financiers and billionaires. The people who worked at FTX and the people who were censoring Twitter are prime examples of the inner network of True Believers.

Arendt provided us with a detailed account of how this system works in her description of the Nazis and Soviets as having as organisational structures which seemed incredibly chaotic and inefficient including duplication of function so that there were often two or more agencies who seemed to have the same job. This seeming chaos was actually there to neuter those organisations because bureaucracies have structure, they run on rules and hierarchy. But Totalitarianism must run on ideology.

Thus, totalitarianism not only does not require leaders, it actively subverts them. It breaks down traditional authority structures and hierarchies. The Nazis simply ignored the constitution of the Weimar Republic and built their own system around it.

When you subvert the bureaucracy in this way, you create a system where the rules can change at the drop of a hat. In a traditional bureaucracy, changing the rules is really hard; so hard, in fact, that an entire profession called “change management” has been created whose only purpose is to facilitate the changing of rules. The Nazis and Soviets got around that by deliberately making the bureaucracy redundant. People were still following orders but those orders could come from anywhere including outside the bureaucracy.

The people who work in the organisations, therefore, become conditioned to await instructions which can come at any time and from anywhere, a far more dynamic system than traditional bureaucracy. The breakdown of chains of command in both the Nazi and Soviet systems created a network organisational structure. You didn’t just follow orders from your immediate superior. You followed orders from anywhere.

Such a totalitarian system rewards obedience to the overarching ideology whether it be race theory in Nazi Germany, dialectical materialism in Soviet Russia or any of the ideologies that exist in our society. The primary type of employee in the system is no longer the bureaucrat but the ideologue. The obedience of the ideologue to the ideology transcends any allegiance they have to the organisation. Although the Nazis taught absolute allegiance to the Führer, the Führer himself was simply the carrier of the ideology. The Nazis and the Soviets started out as old-fashioned tyrannies, but they transitioned over a period of years into this kind of totalitarian system.

Over time, the people who end up at the centre of the totalitarian system are not the ones who are best at organising things. They are not bureaucrats or managers. They are ideologues. Such ideologues can be moved effortlessly between organisations and still be good servants of “the system”. By comparison, the bureaucrat who is just “doing their job”, is hopelessly inefficient.

The ideologues who can navigate effortlessly between all organisations form themselves into a matrix surrounding the core centre of power. You increase your power as you get closer to the “centre” and the entry to the centre depends on your allegiance to the ideology and your proven willingness to re-organise society according to its “laws”.

This duplication of function in the totalitarian system, which looks highly inefficient to an outsider, creates confusion and serves to hide the real structure from those outside, where “outside” also includes citizens of nation states. Thus, we get the shadowy, secretive nature of totalitarianism which makes it really hard to figure out what’s going on (Exhibit A: the secret contracts governments signed with Pfizer and the other vaccine manufacturers).

The constant confusion also prevents people from getting comfortable. It prevents bureaucracies doing what they always do which is atrophying and becoming incapable of change. Confusion creates dynamism. The totalitarian system transmits a constant and ever-changing stream of ideology which serves to keep people on their toes. Those who fail to keep up-to-date will be knifed by those seeking to get closer to the centre of power, providing incentives for obedience to the ideology while also creating a flat organisational structure where seniority and experience count for little.

Benevolent Totalitarianism is, in some sense, an “improvement” on the system which first appeared in Germany and Russia. Both the Nazis and Soviets started out as tyrannies and, although they managed for a brief time to implement true totalitarianism, neither system could survive the loss of the leader which created it. There were still too many people caught up in the cult of personality that got Hitler to power in the first place. By removing the need for a leader, Benevolent Totalitarianism can propagate itself endlessly and invisibly. This is why Benevolent Totalitarianism is the Unconscious Empire; an empire without an emperor.

Freed from the constraints of the old bureaucracies and hierarchical structures, Benevolent Totalitarianism has generated a dizzying array of ideologies. Whereas the Nazis and Soviets were tied to a single ideology, we see multiple ideologies at play whose unifying thread is that they take an everyday concept and turn it into an ideological battleground. To paraphrase Arendt, it’s the banality of ideology.

Ideologies now cover all the most basic elements of existence: the weather, catching a cold, your gender, your occupation, your race (ironic, eh?), your country. All of these are generic enough to be universally applicable and flexible enough to be tailored to any specific context. Thus, Benevolent Totalitarianism is a global system and, although it is true that the centre of power mostly resides in the United States, its power can be distributed anywhere.

Remember the freak out when Trump was elected because he was going to become a “dictator”? What happened instead was that the entire system, the inner network and the Front Organisations, turned against him. They tried Russigate. They tried impeachment. They tried everything.

Ironically, the network attacked Trump in exactly the same way that a body defends itself from a virus. The fact that it was corona that finally brought Trump down is a level of meta-irony that makes your head spin. From the point of view of “the system”, Trump was the virus. Corona was the antibody.

Conclusion

Totalitarianism cannot abide by the spontaneous, the emergent, the novel (another meta-irony: the corona hysteria was triggered by the idea of a “novel” virus, an almost meaningless concept). To re-organise society according to the “law” means that everything from conception til death simply fulfils its law-abiding, predetermined function. All individuality is stripped away and you become nothing more than a particle obeying the laws of nature. Totalitarianism is the determinist philosophy of the 19th century made into a political reality.

For that reason, I think it’s accurate to say that totalitarianism is the embodiment of the anti-Christ and it seems rather synchronous that this series of posts has come to an end in the week before Christmas (I swear I didn’t plan it that way!)  

Christmas is about the individual embodied in Christ. The “-mas” at the end relates to the word mission. Christ’s birth begins his mission, his life. What that mission is, nobody can say. It can only be revealed. It cannot be known by logic or dialectic or calculated by a computer. Consider the following painting by renaissance artist Giovanni di Paolo.

The wise men bow down before the Christ child. The King also visits to pay his respects. The worldly power, the laws of man and all the knowledge of the world bow down before the child who carries with him the promise to overturn everything we thought we knew about the world. It is the celebration of the new, the spontaneous, the individual.

We can only love each other as individuals. A society which separates the natural bonds between individuals is a society where love cannot exist and no amount of fake compassion and Benevolent Totalitarianism can ever put it back.

On that note, I’d like to wish everybody a Merry Christmas. I hope you connect with those you love.

(P.S. – I’ll be on holiday for the next few weeks doing my usual trick of trying to enjoy the summer weather while also trying not to let the Australian sun burn my lily-white skin to a crisp. I won’t be writing anything new during that time but I will be responding to any comments. Otherwise, see ya next year).

All posts in this series:-

Philosopher Kings vs Networks
The Unconscious Empire
The Unconscious Empire Pt 2: The Hitler Complex
The Unconscious Empire Pt 3: A Prison for your Mind
The Unconscious Empire Pt 4: Becoming the Other
The Unconscious Empire Final: Benevolent Totalitarianism

26 thoughts on “The Unconscious Empire Final: Benevolent Totalitarianism”

  1. Merry Christmas and thank you very much for all the awesome articles that you have published this year. While some of my favourite bloggers at some point started sounding like a broken record, you always come around the corner with some thought inducing and inspiring text.

    I have only one objection to your current article. I don’t think that the Corona totalitarianism was without violence and murder. It was psychological warfare on a global level. It doesn’t have to get physical, mental damage can be also crippling. In addition, using a dubious medication on the public could be considered mass murder.

    Would a Christian revival be a solution for the current situation?

  2. Secretface – good point. Totalitarianism always requires terror. With modern technology, the terror can be transmitted electronically and so it takes a less physical form. But, yes, there was definitely some violence involved for those who didn’t get the memo. That was especially true in my city.

    cops

    I could see the attraction of a christian revival. I thought it was interesting during corona how there seemed to be quite a lot of stories about Christians getting arrested (usually the priest) but I didn’t hear anything about any other religion. Very coincidental.

  3. Great essay series, Simon! I appreciate the time and effort you put into this very much, especially the Cliff notes to Hannah Arendt. It’s a very useful summary, especially for us here in Germany where the Hitler Complex is alive and well.

    Synchronistically, Charles Eisenstein has only now been publishing an older essay series of his about the novel “1984” and today’s essay (https://charleseisenstein.substack.com/p/handfuls-of-dust-and-splinters-of-40a) talks about the exact same thing: how the “greater good” is at the center of the society described in “1984” (which is basically ours now) and leads to the tyranny of the Party.

    I’m a recovering Utilitarian and it’s hery helpful to see how judging an action to be taken by its end, instead of its means, leads to barbarism. I’m getting better at acting virtuously instead of efficiently but boy, is it hard to let go of my former calculating approach.

  4. I have to concur with Secretface, I am always impressed by the fresh, sparkling insights you consistently bring to the table. You have given me plenty of soul food this year, particularly in this series of posts and your earlier series on the Eternal Feminine. Merry Christmas!

    As to the idea of a Christian revival, I see it already underway, particularly among young men of the Petersonite clan. However, personally, while I think traditional Christianity contains plenty of virtues worth salvaging and which can certainly counteract some of the present chaos – hence the success of figures like Peterson – as a total package it is fatally blighted by its patriarchal bias.

    The ‘Eternal Feminine’ series solidified this for me. Like it or not, The Divine Feminine is in the ascendant, and we have to somehow integrate it. Whether this occurs through a reimagined form of Christianity fully incorporating the hitherto unconscious feminine archetypes (again, tip of the hat to ‘The Eternal Feminine’), an adaptation of the old paganism (though it must be said that the contemporary neopagan movement skews to the insane end of the left), or something that emerges completely unexpected out of some other quarter, fundamentally it needs to be something NEW. A synthesis.

    Because if we try to fight the present with the past, all we will be doing is continuously regenerating the present, which emerged in the first place as a reaction to the past. Hence why the lefties and the righties are locked in their interminable culture war/death spiral, generating endless ‘content’ and endless clicks. A great commercial enterprise, not so much as a spiritual solution.

  5. Nice one.
    I guess when we started seeing the world as nothing but a collection of machines a lot of things seemed to become inevitable.
    “Science finds, Industry applies Man conforms” does not leave any freedom of choice and it could well be the scariest sentence one can imagine.
    The thought behind it is certainly anti Christian and deeply evil.

    Merry Christmas, Happy New year.
    Could be an interesting one.

  6. Bendith : thanks for the Eisenstein link. I’ll check that out over the break. You’re right about the efficiency thing. It’s so hard-wired we don’t even know we’re doing it. On that subject, I recommend this book if you haven’t seen it out yet. It’s a kind of training manual in learning to see the world with fresh eyes – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3090109-how-to-be-an-explorer-of-the-world

    Tres Blah: so we need a female Peterson 😛 Actually, I’ve seen a few women doing a kind of “return to traditional” values thing. It seems a bit silly to me and, like you said, very clickbaity. One of the things that surprised me is the clear correlation between Devouring Mother as a cultural phenomenon and unconscious empire/benevolent totalitarianism as political phenomenon. I think Jung and Gebser were right that archetypes do structure reality. So, if that’s true, what would a political system look like that was based on the positive feminine archetype? I’ll ponder that over the break 😉

    Roland: I think Descartes is normally credited with being the first to come up with the man-as-machine thought experiment. Pretty sure he’d be horrified where it led.

  7. Simon, funny you should say that, I just read this book ‘The Case Against the Sexual Revolution’ by a woman called Louise Perry, whom I’ve heard tipped to be ‘the female Jordan Peterson’. She’s basically arguing from a classic second-wave feminist position, although she differs in being pro-marriage, on the grounds that it is the best technology we have ever devised to channel men and women’s natural inclinations towards a mutual interest – women naturally seeking a sexual partner who is emotionally involved, because they instinctually associate sex with the extremely labour-intensive process of having a baby, while men are capable of either monogamy or polygamy, with only the social pressure of something like marriage tipping them towards the former.

    Interestingly a lot of her stances (pro-marriage, anti-porn, anti-Tinder) end up aligning with the conservatives, minus the Christianity, which opens up some interesting possibilities. She is definitely an engaging personality, though it remains to be seen whether young women will respond to her or a similar figure in the same way young men magnetised to Peterson. Based on my own observations of young women in my life I see a lot who are deeply disaffected by the sexual culture and may be ready for a different message.

  8. Tres Bla – I saw an interview with Perry a while ago. She spoke well but I thought she was perhaps a little too intellectual. The thing about Peterson is that he’s got the fire in the belly. Plus, he’s also suffered significant personal hardship as a result of standing up for what he believes in (which makes him rather Christ-like).

    Another interview I saw recently was with a woman called Brigid Phetasy. Phetasy is now also speaking out against hookup culture, which apparently she was fully into it as a younger woman. One thing she said was particularly interesting, which was that she now thinks she was doing it as a power play i.e. to feel power over the men. Makes sense to me. We’ve created a society where everything is a power play.

  9. I’m aware of Bridget Phetasy as well, yeah, she’s maybe a little warmer and more relatable. I imagine that the types of qualities a woman would need to ‘do a Peterson’ would be quite different than the qualities of Peterson himself, since they would need to be a vessel for a feminine rather than a masculine archetype. It occurs to me that Mary Magdalene, apocryphally the bride of Christ, might be a model. She has a story of overcoming personal hardship, being possessed by seven devils, which is often taken to imply that she was formerly a prostitute; which, archetypally speaking, is also Phetasy’s backstory. The Magdalene also represents a hitherto largely unconscious force within the Christian myth, her closeness to Christ, (and to her namesake the Virgin, the two of them together representing dual aspects of a single entity, esoterically speaking) being purely apocryphal up till now. So her ascendancy at this time would align with Jung’s forecast in Answer to Job.

  10. Hmmm, interesting. So, maybe it will be a woman who renounces her wicked ways and embraces something more meaningful. Perhaps a Megan Markle or a Kardashian going to live in a nunnery 😛

  11. Simon – love the fire-in-crowded-theatre analogy. In fact, you’re on fire in this latest series of posts, you’ve drawn your various threads together in very satisfying ways, & I only wish I could read faster. Your lucid analysis of benevolent totalitarianism is pretty much identical to big-picture explanations I’ve heard from a number of folk who seem to think I need enlightening, but w/ ‘Satan’ or ‘Satanism’ accounting for what you call ‘ideology’, & references to degrees of Masonic initiation where you refer to ‘allegiance to the ideology’. As a fan of demystification, I prefer your version. 🙂 Season’s greetings, btw.

  12. Shane – it’s one of those ironies of history that the Nazis railed against The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and then proceeded to imitate it to the letter including with all kinds of secret society gestures and rituals and plans to take over the world. I don’t think ideology and initiation are necessarily bad. The “satanic” part comes when you aren’t doing it consciously and let your whole psyche get overwhelmed.

  13. Simon, do you think that intentional Satanic rituals – or Christian rituals, for that matter – have the same transformative power today as they must have had in previous ages, before the ascendancy of science?

  14. I like Gebser’s explanation there which is that the development of the Ego, which came with the arrival of the Mental Consciousness, put an end to the transformative power of magic. Not that magic can’t work anymore. But its effectiveness is hugely attenuated. In that sense, I find it fascinating to note that society has become more Satanic (Unconscious in the Jungian sense) in direct proportion to the amount of energy we use (via fossil fuels). In that way, it seems we have accidentally re-invented Magic through technological means. This also fits with the idea of the US as the Unconscious Empire especially given that empire is maintained by the petro-dollar which is nothing more or less than energy itself.

  15. Accidental reinvention of magic via technology makes sense! During the ’80s & ’90s, when computers were starting to become integral to the domestic as well as the work sphere, the New Age, w/ its magical thinking, still anticipated enlightenment via ascension or the Mayan calendar ending or whatever, but it was all very low-tech, totem plants & animals, rainbow auras & white light, more of an ancient-myth than a sci-fi aesthetic, & folk were on about telepathy, clairvoyance, visions etc. And, well, then tech development accelerated & now magic happens artificially, & just the basic five human senses (forget the sixth), are losing their edge & we hear a lot of hype about technological augmentation etc.

  16. Yes. But the problem seems to be that nobody thinks of it as magic and therefore nobody takes any precautions or pays attention to correct usage. So, now it’s the magic using you rather than the other way around i.e. Satanic.

  17. I see the doorway jammed with terrified bodies attempting to flee the fire and I say, “Some organization here is needed.” I see the Nazi’s organizing in the back laying down their lives based on the prevailing rule and say, “This organization is for the best,” but then recoil! My spirit says, “Each situation must have its own rule, it isn’t workable!”
    That is when Bucky’s intuition strikes a chord, “You can’t change peoples behavior. Everyone has tried. But You can change their environment.” So we add another door! Several more! The design science of Buckminster Fuller. Seems workable in the movie theater experiment, but what about defeating the totalitarian mind at large?

  18. Hg – yes. Every thought experiment is a model and all models are wrong (but some are useful). Psychologically, changing your model is easier said than done. In fact, people really hate to change their model. So, in some sense, the totalitarian mentality of claiming you have a single model that explains everything translates psychologically to a deep desire not to change your model at any cost.

    Thus, one of the ways to combat totalitarian impulses is to decentralise and thereby lower the political and psychological cost so that people will be more prepared to change their model. Of course, that would require the “elites” to give up their power.

  19. Agreed Simon. I think the hard part of decentralizing is doing it ourselves and not looking to see who is following our example. It also the beauty of it.

  20. Do you think this sort of totalitarianism is inherently tied up with technology? I just can’t imagine the same level of FOMO and the ability to control narratives without the mass media and information technology. Books are far more open to individual interpretation, whereas the tv, radio and internet seem to be dictate peoples thoughts rather than stimulate them.

    Ellul’s Propaganda is my favourite touchstone for this, as he quite correctly points out that true peasants and wild living people are absolutely immune to propaganda, whereas the urban classes are the source of it and in fact demand it.

    With tech now however, we are all urban middle class as even farmers and wild living people are saturated by mass media. Australian country towns of any size now resemble urban suburbs, physically, spiritually and intellectually, rather than something outside the city.

  21. Skip – no question that technology has massively expanded the scope of propaganda. Why individual people buy into propaganda is one thing I still struggle to understand. I mean, the motivations of the “elites” are obvious. They want power. But I really struggle to see what’s in it for individuals beyond base ego considerations i.e. wanting to appear smart by parroting the party line. That’s why corona is still a psychological problem of the first order because people went well beyond basic egotism and any perceived social reward. Thus, we have to reach into the “demonic” or “spiritual” domain to try and find an explanation.

    Not surprised to hear that farmers are just as exposed to propaganda as city folk. I once visited a remote indigenous community in outback WA. They had satellite internet and the community children had email pen-pals from all parts of the globe. There is no escape!

  22. I think that Elluls insight into how propaganda can’t create something out of nothing might answer your question. It has to tap into currents and prejudices that are already there in the society, and I think Corona did that. One is of course the revulsion at nature and diseases, another is the love of tech and progress. It amplified these things and made everything else retreat into the background. Propaganda works best when it tells people what they already know, but does it in a way that makes everything else insignificant. And there is the added factor that as a complex system perhaps the elites are less in control than a final expression of the system, and the people themselves sustain it.

    I think the tech factor is important because it has the effect of making people feel like they are in a crowd when they are in fact alone in front of a screen. If they were actually in a crowd of people they know (a community) talking to other people they are ironically less able to be influenced. It’s when they are in an imaginary crowd while also alone in the disconnected mass that they are most susceptible.

  23. I think there is an important distinction there between a “community” and a mass. Propaganda seems to require a mass of people, that is, a homogeneous group of people who have lost all their individuality, including in the way they relate to one another. In a (small) community, everybody is an individual and everybody treats others as individuals. A mass of people is more like a football crowd. You either go for Team A or for Team B. That’s as much individuality as you have. We see the same phenomenon in politics. Party A or Party B. Forgetting the fact that there is no meaningful distinction between either party, nevertheless people take it all deadly seriously and really do seem to hate the people from “the other side”. That’s the psychology I’ve never been able to understand (from a subjective point of view). But, then, I seem to be allergic to crowds of all kinds.

  24. Yeah I’ve never understood it either. Perhaps it’s so base as to be merely the primate in/out group thing needing some kind of outlet. There are a few threads there relating to violence, whether it’s Gordon White’s world without sin stuff or the indigenous critique of the outsourcing of violence that happens in modern culture. There seems to be so much existential rage just under the surface of our society. This probably comes from the resentment at how things have gone with our society and culture over the past few decades.

    In interpersonal relationships I’ve always thought the families who argue a lot with resolution seem healthier than those that just get along and let resentment reach boiling point. When the anger bubbles up it’s like a dam wall bursting.

    Are we doing the same thing on a societal level? I know JMG has commented that we treat hate and anger like the Victorians treated sex, with similar unhealthy outcomes.

  25. There’s definitely a control freak element to western culture. We just can’t allow anything bad to happen at all and in doing so we guarantee that when things get bad they get really bad. So, you’re right, you need to be arguing every now and again in relationships, otherwise you just have one big argument and probably never speak to each other again. Same with recessions, bushfires, viral disease and all kinds of other domains. You can either have lots of small problems or one giant problem. We always seems to opt for the latter.

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