Analyzing totalitarian regimes
I happened to watch one of the scenes from a video called Last Speech where Hannah Arendt, the famous philosopher, and political theorist speaks of two attitudes: resistance and co-operation. The image below shows different attitudes in the face of any power. I think a huge chunk of the population won’t belong to the extremes, but to the three groups in the middle. As long as it is a functional democracy, things are still okay. But the case becomes severe when democracy is moving towards totalitarianism or when the leaders try to imitate some characteristics of totalitarianism. Arendt calls the rule of Hitler and Stalin examples of totalitarian regimes.
Propaganda and Terror
Two powerful characteristics of totalitarian governments are the use of propaganda and terror. Propaganda may be used to convert the vast majority to their side and terror is used against those who can’t understand the propaganda. One without the other is not sufficient enough to sustain such a system unless everybody has accepted the propaganda or the experience of terror is extremely severe. These dynamics are used so that people make the downward journey (1st image). Regimes are happy when people are either in the neutral mode or somewhere in the co-operation mode.
Being neutral may be an acceptable option in a perfectly functional democracy. (Whether we have one such anywhere in the world is something we can think of). As it starts moving towards totalitarianism, being neutral becomes a pathology. How the thinking is changed, and how we look at evil is given by the image below.
What can be our responses?
I just put down some of my responses.
1. Continue to think. Thinking is not just an intellectual activity for the lazy, but authentical thinking will lead to action in some form. Thinking doesn’t mean having degrees or writing articles/books. A quote attributed to Einstein would say, “The most practical solution is a good theory”. And probably summarizing one of the last major works of Martin Heidegger, someone says,
Heidegger’s What is Called Thinking? asks us to reconsider ourselves, to engage in discourse about what it means to think, and to slow down, take a breath, and just think.
2. Stop trusting generalizations easily. One of the generalizations commonly made is, “Hindus/Muslims/Christians are in danger”. There may be some persecutions in some parts of the words; a few practitioners of any of these religions may be involved in terrorism. But that is not sufficient justification for this generalization. Trust generalizations very slowly.
Another of my favorites (or the most-disliked one) is “All politicians are corrupt”. I don’t have statistics on honest politicians, which is not the point here too. Can someone stealing 10% be compared with someone selling the country to the crony-capitalists? The latter is intelligent enough to do corruption tactfully.
3. Start Critiquing ‘Your Idols’: It is very much normal that we have idols (role-models) in various domains. But none of our idols are perfect. So the first simple task to check is, Do I know some negative qualities of them? Have I ever critiqued anything done by them? Can I listen to someone critiquing them non-violently and judge the case on its merits?