external enemies and totalitarianism

Every totalitarian regime need enemies. As Orwell realised in the 1940s they need both external and internal enemies. It’s as true of our present-day western soft totalitarianism a it has been of every previous totalitarian state.
In Orwell’s novel the external enemy is provided by the never-ending wars against either Eurasia or Eastasia. Orwell brilliantly realised that it would be useful if the external enemy changed from time to time. It adds to the atmosphere of paranoia, of uncertainty. Most importantly it makes foreign policy confusing for the average person. For a totalitarian regime that is a very desirable feature. If ordinary people do not understand foreign policy they can be frightened all the more effectively – and made to feel that the safest thing is to trust the government foreign policy “experts” who presumably know what is best. Switching enemies from time to time is of course also useful in training people to believe things that they know to be untrue. We have always been at war with Eurasia. Except when we have always been at war with Eastasia.
Our present-day leaders have absorbed Orwell’s lessons. In fact today we have the same  “enemies” – Eurasia (Russia) and Eastasia (China). We also have an extra enemy – Islam. This makes things more confusing, which is of course the whole idea. These are very useful enemies because the threat they represent is so vague and mysterious. It’s difficult for the person in the street to understand how incredibly important it is to stop China from controlling a few islands in the South China Sea. So Americans (and Australians) assume it must be part of some nefarious Inscrutable Oriental Masterplan. It’s basically the Yellow Peril of a hundred years ago dusted off and re-used.
The menace of Russia is also delightfully vague and incomprehensible. Russia must not be allowed to control the Crimea, even though the Crimea has been Russian for centuries. The Ukraine is a vital national security interest for the US and the entire world. Nobody knows why because nobody is capable of disentangling the intricacies of eastern European history and politics. Obviously the Crimea and the Ukraine are vital to the defence of the United States – you have only to look at a map to see that. If the Russians got the Ukraine they’d be in Nebraska within a week.
Islam is even better. Ordinary people don’t know the difference between Shi’a Moslems and Sunni Moslems. They certainly don’t know anything about the Wahhabi sect. Ordinary people don’t know the difference between a secular Moslem state like Syria and an Islamic state like Iran. The fact that the Moslems in the Middle East belong to at least three different distinct ethnic and cultural groups – Turks, Arabs and Persians – adds to the confusion. And who the hell are the Kurds? Where did these ISIS guys come from? How come lots of Syrians are actually Christians? We’d better leave all this to the foreign policy experts. All we need to know is that Russia, China and Islam are all enemies.

exposing the crybullies

One of the more sinister developments of the past couple of years is the rise of the crybully. The crybullies are people who pretend to have been victimised and pretend to have been traumatised by this victimisation when in fact they themselves are the actual bullies.
We’re all familiar with this phenomenon from recent events on American university campuses, with students claiming to have been reduced to tears and claiming to have suffered damage to their mental health by having to listen to the opinions of evil white right-wingers. A recent post on OzConservative details one of the more extreme recent examples.
In fact of course these students (most of whom spend more time indulging in “activism” than actually studying) have not been the least bit traumatised. They have discovered a new and powerful weapon with which to crush dissent and silence any remaining vestiges of freedom of speech. All they have to do is burst into tears or claim to have suffered post-traumatic stress disorder or some such nonsense and they know that cowardly university authorities will cave in to their demands and prevent anyone from expressing opposing views on campuses. They are not victims. They are liars and they are bullies and they are determined to impose absolute uniformity of thought and speech.
If this was something that only happened on university campuses it would be bad enough but similar tactics are being employed in workplaces in the real world, in the mainstream media and in social media. It is a tactic being used to impose even more draconian limitations on freedom of speech on social media in particular. 
Of course the argument is often made, especially in the US, that social media is run by private companies so any protections in regard to freedom of speech do not apply. This is nonsense. If you run a social network you are establishing a public space and if you impose controls on freedom of speech then you are practising censorship. The internet is a public space. Those who control social media effectively control the internet. For such companies to impose censorship is in practice no different from the government imposing censorship.
The Social Justice Warriors are determined to control all public discourse. The crybully tactic is a terrifyingly effective tool that they are using with a great deal of ruthlessness.
To some extent this applies to the modern anti-bullying hysteria in general which can be employed for the same ends. It is a convenient cover for ever more sweeping hate speech legislation which means ever further limits on freedom of speech.
The crybully tactic needs to be exposed for what it is – another weapon with which to suppress any expression of dissent.

Emmanuel Goldstein lives!

All totalitarian regimes need enemies. More importantly, they need both external and internal enemies. They cannot survive without them. That was one of George Orwell’s many crucially important insights in 1984. It’s been true of every totalitarian regime and it’s true of our present-day soft totalitarianism in the West.
I’ll speak about external enemies in another post. For the moment I’ll concentrate on the question of internal enemies.
Internal enemies are just as important. In 1984 the internal enemy is embodied in one chief villain, the dastardly Emmanuel Goldstein. This was useful for artistic reasons in a novel but in practice the internal enemies in a totalitarian state are more amorphous and more mysterious. For the Soviet communists in the Stalinist era the enemies were revisionists and (especially) Trotskyists. For the Chinese communists the enemies were capitalist roaders. For those who rule us today the enemies are racists, sexists and homophobes. Trotskyists were useful because anybody could turn out to be a Trotskyist. Just as anyone could turn out to be a capitalist roader. You might be a Trotskyist and not even know it! Just as today you might be a racist or a sexist and not know it until suddenly you find yourself the victim of a Two Minute Hate.
The vital thing for the rulers of a totalitarian state is that these enemies should continue to exist. In fact the few remaining dissenters today could easily be silenced completely. They could be suddenly vanished as effectively as the victims of Stalin’s Purges. They would not need to be liquidated – it would be more than sufficient simply to destroy their livelihoods and deny them any means of expressing their dissent, and this could be achieved very easily. But it won’t happen. They will be harassed mercilessly but not destroyed. Emmanuel Goldsteins are much too useful to totalitarians.
At the moment the chief Emmanuel Goldstein is Donald Trump. Trump has been a godsend to our rulers. He has virtually zero chance of gaining the Republican nomination. He presents zero threat to the establishment. But he is so incredibly useful as a focus for hysteria. The kind of hysteria that will justify further repression – more hate speech laws, more restrictions on freedom of speech, more control of the internet. The fact that Trump is a liberal and strongly pro-immigration doesn’t matter. It makes no difference what Emmanuel Goldstein or Donald Trump actually stands for. What matters is what the public can be told that he stands for.
In 1984 the government doesn’t much care what the proles believe. What matters is maintaining discipline in the Party. The Inner Party can be controlled fairly easily, but a small clique is not enough to run a country. Fairly large numbers of bureaucrats, technicians and other functionaries are needed – these make up the Outer Party. People like poor Winston Smith. These are the people who need to be watched. The situation today is similar. Our rulers don’t care too much what the poor think, or what the remnants of working class think. They do care very much what the equivalent of the Outer Party thinks. The equivalent of the Outer Party being journalists, academics, teachers, bureaucrats. These people today can be relied on to a fairly large degree to hold the correct views, but they can’t be trusted completely. Discipline has to be exercised regularly and strictly. Any of these people who display any deviation from the ruling ideology must be brought into line. Show trials (these days usually conducted via Twitter) and purges are necessary. Our form of totalitarianism has now advanced to the point where the main targets of the SJWs (Social Justice Warriors) are other SJWs who are insufficiently zealous or display any sign of independent thought.
This is where a regular supply of Emmanuel Goldsteins is so useful. As long as there exists a handful of evil villainous cishet racist sexist homophobes it is easy to justify ongoing draconian measures of repression and it is easy to maintain iron discipline over the Outer Party members. A small amount of genuine dissent is needed in order to make the threat plausible enough to justify the repression. This genuine dissent is in reality no threat at all – it can be crushed if it ever starts to become dangerous. It’s effectively controlled opposition.
That’s why we still have more than one political party. There’s no real difference between the mainstream political parties in western countries today. One-party rule would scarcely make any difference but a one-party state is obviously totalitarian, so the illusion of multi-party systems must be maintained. That’s controlled opposition. Totalitarianism has become more subtle than it was in Orwell’s day. It is much more effectively cloaked in the outward trappings of democracy. In our society Emmanuel Goldstein would be permitted to run for the highest office in the land. His defeat would be an absolutely certainty but the illusion of freedom and democracy is maintained. 
Our leaders have not only absorbed Orwell’s lessons – they have made improvements to the blueprint laid out in 1984. Isn’t progress wonderful?

thoughts on Huxley’s Brave New World

The two most famous anti-utopian novels ever written are of course George Orwell’s 1984 (published in 1948) and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (published in 1932). There are many similarities, especially in the structure. Looking deeper however there are striking differences in both the tone and in the ideas being put forward.

In both cases you have a totalitarian society in which there appears to be no dissent, in both cases you have a hero who rebels, in both cases we discover there are actually quite a few hidden dissenters although they have no hope of changing things, in both cases someone at the top reveals the actual workings and motivations behind the societies. Clearly 1984 was influenced by Brave New World. But the two writers, while they may have shared some of the same fears, had radically different agendas.

You can understand 1984 without knowing anything about Orwell or about the time at which it was written. You have no chance at all of comprehending what Huxley is on about without knowing at least something of the man and of the era in which he wrote it.

Brave New World was a response to the First World War, the Great Depression and what seemed to many people at the time to be the threat of imminent social collapse. The chaos of war followed by economic chaos scared people badly. Democratic institutions appeared powerless to avoid catastrophe.

It was a time when intellectuals were giving way to despair, and were tempted by various panaceas. Intellectuals were throwing themselves at the feet of totalitarian dictators like Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin. Many put their faith in illusions like world disarmament, pacifism, eugenics, the League of Nations, world government. Intellectuals, being intellectuals, believed that only they could see what needed to be done. If world government was needed, it would clearly need to be a world government run by intellectuals. Some even deluded themselves that people like Stalin were just itching to put intellectuals into positions of power. In fact of course the only place Stalin was going to put intellectuals was in front of a wall to be shot.

Aldous Huxley was not immune to all this. He flirted with various loopy ideas from pacifism to eugenics. And not just flirted. He took this sort of stuff seriously.

Huxley saw other dire threats to civilisation as well. In 1926 he had visited the United States and had been extremely distressed by what he saw. America was apparently full of people who were enjoying the fruits of material prosperity, buying fancy clothes and cars, going to speakeasies, dancing the Charleston, listening to jazz, going to the movies and generally having fun. For Huxley this was a glimpse of a nightmare future world.

Like most intellectuals Huxley was horrified by the lower orders. Given the choice they’d prefer dancing to reading Aldous Huxley novels. Huxley had been hanging around with the Bloomsbury set where being part of the artistic avant-garde was far more important than having fun.

Huxley was also prone to spiritual yearnings. He saw modern life as meaningless, and this he could not accept. Of course an ordinary person would have simply gone to church but intellectuals find such simple solutions deeply unsatisfying. Huxley needed a Spiritual Quest. It would eventually lead him into the foetid swamp of new age mysticism and drug-induced visionary silliness (and make him a hero to the drug-addled hippies of the 60s).

All of this accounts for the ambivalent tone of Brave New World. Yes, he does think the future world of the Year of Our Ford 632 is a nightmare. But he doesn’t see it as a nightmare because it’s a totalitarian state in which dissent is not permitted. He sees it as a nightmare because there’s no room for God or for suffering. Huxley was suspicious of both communism and capitalism because they seemed to leave no room for God. It’s not the lack of freedom that bothers him so much as the excess of fun. And it’s the wrong sort of fun. The people of the future are busily playing games like centrifugal bumble-puppy and electro-magnetic golf. Instead of reading Aldous Huxley novels. It’s too much like the horrors of jazz and the movies and the Charleston. It’s hideous lower-class fun. The novel is saturated with snobbery and anti-Americanism.

It might sound like I’m doing a thorough hatchet job on both Huxley and Brave New World. That’s not my intention. It’s simply that this is not a straightforward condemnation of totalitarianism in the sense that 1984 is. It’s a complex book and it contains many profound insights. It’s just that they’re mixed in with some very dubious ideas and a certain amount of arrant nonsense.

Like so many intellectuals Huxley was tempted by the idea of a kind of soft totalitarianism, a totalitarianism with a smiling face, a totalitarianism for our own good. The Controller, Mustapha Mond, is not a bad man. He genuinely cares about the happiness of his people and he honesty believes that stability is more important than freedom. He’s a benevolent dictator, a concept that many intellectuals find irresistibly attractive. Most of them are convinced that they personally would make excellent benevolent dictators.

One gets the feeling that the book is not so much a warning of a horrific future as a warning that this is a future that might become necessary if we don’t behave. If we don’t listen to Nanny she will force us to listen. In a kind and caring way of course.

A horrifying number of Orwell’s predictions have already come true. We already have Newspeak and Thought Crime in the form of Political Correctness. History is routinely rewritten to make it more politically correct. We already have a constant series of manufactured crises to justify restrictions of our freedoms. In Orwell’s novels the crises came in the form of never-ending wars. In our case they come in the form of never-ending threats of environmental catastrophes to which intellectuals react in the way intellectuals reacted to the crises of Huxley’s day – they call for world government run by intellectuals. Democracy can’t be trusted to deal with such grave matters. We should let the Experts take over.

Huxley’s predictions are coming true as well, although perhaps in less immediately obvious ways. One of the most interesting and most penetrating of his insights was that sexual freedom could be used as a means of social control. Sexual freedom in effect becomes a prison. By undermining marriage and the family (in the Year of Our Ford 632 supplanting those things altogether) people are left with only one loyalty, one source of emotional comfort – the state. Today we confronting the same situation as the Nanny State takes over from the family and we are experiencing the paradox that the more sexually free we are, the less free we are in every other way.

That’s really the great strength of this novel – it predicted soft totalitarianism long before anyone else had even considered the idea. It’s the first appearance in print of the now-ubiquitous Nanny State. Huxley was also prescient in seeing that a world without God could only survive by becoming a world of children. The infantilising of the population, the avoidance of any responsibility, the obsession with immediate gratification, all of which are now almost universal, was a major insight. The idea that a population could be infantilised by offering them unlimited sexual gratification was an exceptionally brilliant prediction.

So despite its ambiguity, its ambivalence, its woolly-minded mysticism, Brave New Worldis essential to an understanding of the nightmare world of the modern west.