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Every totalitarian power dominates and exploits its subjects as masters do with slaves. Slave owners have denied, deny, and will continue to deny the very humanity of their slaves. The key to dehumanization is to convince the slaves of the need to have a master “for their own good” regardless of the combination of subtle and brutal means in each case.
Totalitarianism dehumanizes those it declares enemies. Its ultimate purpose is to exterminate them. In the meantime, it will not cease to enslave them. For it sees all its ruled, both those whom it declares collectively oppressed and those whom it declares “enemies of the people” as slaves.
Censorship in the real world
Whether censorship is exclusively an act of state is debatable. But it is indisputable that totalitarian censorship would fail if it did not force widespread, and indisputably private, censorship and self-censorship throughout society. Successful censorship depends on the support of majorities — or at least of a large part of the population — for the pursuit of certain ideas. Censorship depends on fear, but not so much fear of the state as fear of one’s neighbor, colleague, friends, and one’s own family.
As we are beginning to understand in the West, establishing a social environment of censorship and persecution may be a private, rather than a governmental initiative, although it will end up demanding and obtaining the full power of the state. Of course, totalitarianism can be imposed in the Soviet manner, from the state and on a society that resists without success. But it can also be imposed from a society that has adopted it as a political culture, due to private efforts, to finally conquer the state apparatus and close the circle.
The question is whether there is in the West, where there are not yet institutionalized totalitarianisms, a totalitarian political culture imposing itself on society. The answer is yes. It has advanced enough to fight for the control of the state and the closing of the circle. And not only in the underdeveloped periphery or decadent Western Europe, but in the United States of America.
The parallels between Beijing’s techno-totalitarian censorship and persecution and the techno-totalitarian practices of large private technologists in the West are overwhelming. The phenomenon seems recent and diffuse. It is not. It has been decades since these big tech companies adopted the totalitarian political culture of cancellation as their own — they are woke capitalists and managers, trained in universities that have institutionalized that ideology — and they have been imposing it indoors for a long time.
It took them a long time to openly impose it on users — and clients, which are not the same thing — because they were creating the right conditions. They patiently closed the Overton window of cancellation in the networks. Today, they dare to proclaim their “right” to censor ideas and people through vague and changing contracts, including secret rules, not expressed in the contract. Rules they refuse to disclose, in the name of the Second Amendment, no less. To call it Orwellian is an understatement.
Fear is the key
To know if a society is on the verge of totalitarianism or if the totalitarian threat is real, it’s enough to see the degree of fear of the people to express ideas contrary to the establishment’s dogmas. Is that the atmosphere of the great universities of the United States decades ago? Is that the atmosphere of most of the press? Of the great technological corporations? And of the bulk of the entertainment industry? Because if it is -and let’s not kid ourselves, it is- it has to spread throughout society like the metastasis of an ideological cancer.
The key is internalized fear. Fear of social rejection, fear of losing one’s job, fear of being canceled, expelled from the internet, persecuted, and transformed into a pariah -and yes, we have not yet reached the worst, but how far away is it? For much of the population, activities, and professions, it has long since taken hold. In that environment, a single blocked account, a single deleted video or a single deleted book sends shockwaves of increasing self-censorship. Great debates do not happen, certain news are no longer exposed in the media and certain topics are no longer discussed in the entertainment industry. Certain books are not proposed because they will not be published. Proposing them is enough for no other book by the author to be published. They will eventually cease to be written. The long-term goal is that certain ideas disappear. No one even gets to think about them.
How self-censorship spreads
Let me give you an example prior to what we are experiencing. The Johnson Amendment prohibits non-profit, tax-exempt organizations, such as religious organizations, from endorsing or opposing political candidates. It certainly does not prohibit discussion of political issues in churches. But it is no less true that many pastors avoid political topics in their sermons, for fear of being accused of violating it.
Within the traditional American political culture of open debate of all ideas, this was problematic. But where the culture of cancellation prevails, it is a powerful legal threat within reach of the worst hands. Now, my conservative friend, before you wonder if I exaggerate, ask yourself if you have self-censored to avoid trouble. If you know anyone of like mind who has. Ask yourself how many you know who feel compelled to hide their conservative views in their jobs. I’m not exaggerating. It’s gone too far already.
It is difficult, though not impossible, to defeat the totalitarian threat that grew within the United States of America. One that was the product of private efforts, rather than of the State itself. But it has already reached political power and will hastily seek to impose itself by law, over everything and everyone.
Guillermo Rodríguez is a professor of Political Economy in the extension area of the Faculty of Economic and Administrative Sciences at Universidad Monteávila, in Caracas. A researcher at the Juan de Mariana Center and author of several books // Guillermo es profesor de Economía Política en el área de extensión de la Facultad de Ciencias Económicas y Administrativas de la Universidad Monteávila, en Caracas, investigador en el Centro Juan de Mariana y autor de varios libros