Dreams of Totality


Totality Becomes Totalitarian

Most collective dreams of totality answer the call for solutions to social ills and end up having coercive effects, usually as a result of emotional or political terrorism by agencies that seek to stabilize, that is, enforce them. Totality often becomes totalitarian. Trying to understand why this is so, Christopher Hitchens, for example, concluded in God is Not Great that, “all that the totalitarians have demonstrated is that the religious impulse—the need to worship—can take even more monstrous form if repressed.” It’s not however just about a need to worship or repression of the religious impulse. The push for consistency and stabilization that characterizes the second phase of dreaming of totality requires that the fringe elements that are constantly appearing (Jews, the poor, immigrants, etc.) be done away with, and once totalitarian thinking seizes hold, the sacrifices exacted become more and more severe as less and less is felt to belong inside the purity of totality’s magic circle. Privacy, sexual freedom, and individuality are driven underground, giving rise to the bizarre adaptations and compartmentalization that also characterize totalitarian systems—like the pairing of extreme moralism with sentimentality, abusive sexuality, or exhibitionism.

The closed magic circle character of totalitarianism is not limited to the obviously horrendous or genocidal. The insidious intertwining of democracy with corporate capitalism that reigns supreme in the global marketplace of contemporary culture is a subtler example. There is no intrinsic reason that democracy should be driven by corporate capitalism; they are discrete systems. But capitalism has colonized democracy, and there is an increasingly monocular focus on the profit motive disguised as the unbridled free market. Under the umbrella of capitalism, universal human rights tend to be sacrificed and the social dimensions of life find limited expression only as an interconnected telecommunications network, its users floating freely through shopping malls in a sea of denim.

Corporate culture has become its own ideology—housing and restricting the flow of money and power, trying to stabilize and control it, convincing people that the dream of capitalism will make them happy and that the dream of socialism will destroy them—and all the while curtailing the rights of individuals. In service to the gods of commerce, individual needs are subsumed for the sake of the whole system. As a result of the 2010 United States Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, for example, corporations have the right to contribute unlimited amounts of money from their general treasuries in order to finance the elections of public officials, these being, of course, the ones who are sympathetic to corporate interests. The majority Court decision argued that corporate personhood is a legitimate, non-metaphorical entity entitled to the protection of its political and civil rights—just like a person—including the First Amendment right to free speech.

From Chapter 4 Society’s Dreams, pages 143-144