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INFORMATION AS A FACTOR IN TOTALITARIANISM PDF Print E-mail
Democracy-Totalitarianism

Pliroforia Polyhedron commonOn information as a factor in totalitarianism, we have a very traditional picture which fits military dictatorships or those of the former socialism in practice. In this picture, the 'information' is minimal and controlled, and so man's need for the extension of knowledge and for contact cannot be satisfied.

Today, however, there is a totalitarianism - of another kind - which uses a great mass of information in order to satiate man's need for contact and knowledge, but this information is useless and misleading. What has changed is the quantity, but not the control.

This is roughly what Aldous Huxley foresaw. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.[1]
The result, then, is twofold:
first, a sickening satiation of human need occurs, so that what is true is no longer sought after;
second, the incoming potential of information is such that, on the one hand, it cultivates models which are passive and competing in their passivity, and, on the other, gives rise to the illusion that the fact of the sheer volume of information is a guarantee of truth. Consequently, there continues to be concealment, but there are more ways in which it is achieved.

Contemporary methods of concealing important information
But how can important information be hushed up today? In the following ways:
1. By totalitarian direct concealment, its non-coverage - what Orwell feared. This continues to happen at the present day, but not as concerns the whole mass of information.
2. By the skewing of the proportions of quantity between the various items of information. This inevitably creates in an ignorant or inert person a subconscious sense of the importance or unimportance of each piece of information, depending upon the quantity of its appearances.
Let us take the example of the accident in 2011 at Fukushima: if the accident is mentioned, let us say, ten times in the media, but events at celebrity parties, in sport, and elsewhere are reported a thousand times, the information about Fukushima is inevitably covered over by the noise of entertainment, and, furthermore, the impression is created of an uninterrupted normality which reassures people and leads them to forget.
3. By the direct skewing of the proportions of quality or importance between the various items of information which directly or indirectly influences human consciousness. If a crime is given prominence as the first item in the news, with the accident we spoke of above and its implications second or third, these items are automatically ranked in importance, in favour of the crime.
4. By the distortion of the information itself by the mass media, by means of obscurities, the suggestion of doubts, and other methods - and sometimes directly. Here a significant role is played by the 'experts', who can inspire doubt on any subject by relying on their supposed authority. But authority is not only a matter of knowledge, but also of an intention of serving the truth. Of course, it is not only the experts, but a host of others involved. A typical example is that of those responsible giving assurances that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, whereas this did not prove to be true.
A dramatic conclusion is unavoidable: that lies have as their purpose to conceal facts, in order, in the end, to conceal the motives of the interested parties.

Differences from the past
All the above methods are being implemented in the age in which we live, often one after the other in connection with the same information, or all simultaneously, but each as regards a different part of it. For instance, the fact of the accident at Fukushima is accepted, but its seriousness and its implications are disputed. The difference from the past lies in cases 2 and 3 above, in which the competing plethora of information facilitates a mere imitation of democracy and freedom. Naturally, Orwell was not entirely wrong, because direct concealments of such a kind occur today in the West, but what he had exclusively in mind was the traditional model of totalitarianism, without perceiving, perhaps, the inert psychological background of man, ready for exploitation, and regarding the error as one-sided, committed, that is, mainly by those in power. The model of concealment has now acquired new forms by adaptation to the new conditions in which man is smarter and better informed; economic practice has necessarily linked together various centres of information of every kind; technology has developed with the greatest rapidity, making communications easier. This has made direct concealment much more difficult than it was in the past, aided by the need for a simulation of democracy. Thus, other methods of indirect concealment and of the speedy defusing of people's psychological reaction by an attempt to dissociate the information from the time of the event which it concerns have been devised.

Inertness of the consciousness and totalitarianism
All this constitutes, without doubt, a factor leading towards totalitarianism; but it can no longer be maintained that man is innocent, because knowledge should activate within him both responsibility and the instinct of self-preservation, even when he receives information when it is no longer up to date, as was the case with the Fukushima accident. Here the information that it was much more serious than had initially been reported was only given some months after the accident when society's interest had already waned. In the last analysis, it is fear which prompts man to action, but after the first shock of fear, what prevails is inertia. This inertia needs special attention, and has no connection with physical inertia, but rather with the inactivity of the consciousness. It is exceptionally dangerous and it is on this that those in power rely; they themselves are also inert in terms of consciousness, but with a very strong ambition as regards the world outside themselves.

Science and the totalitarian use of information
Today's misuse of information is, then, made easier by science, which has arrived at the point, on general lines, of providing a new priesthood in place of the one which in previous centuries it drove out.[2] The difference, however, was that at that time, to be a scientist could be to risk one's life, as Galileo and others did, and scholars were not subject to the vested interests of the age.
A typical example of the manipulation of information is again provided by the nuclear accident at Fukushima, where the concealment of a part of the relevant information or its distortion was for some time attempted, so that the accident should not appear to be comparable with that of Chernobyl. After that, the news item disappeared, and it was only much later that it was revealed that in some of the reactors the nuclear material had been melted down in the very first week because of the explosions followed the tsunami, with a dangerous escape of toxic substances. This was discovered by the scientists - or so it is said - months later, when - purely coincidentally - an enquiry by an independent committee of scientists was about to begin!
One might reasonably ask:
• Did the scientists not have the necessary knowledge and experience in order to understand what was happening in the reactors, or did they in fact know and were serving the interests of the nuclear technology companies and others? What is their responsibility in the latter eventuality?
• If they did not have this knowledge, then they are probably incompetent as scientists, and there is, therefore, a problem as to how reliable their decisions are as to whether and where nuclear energy should be installed, and a problem as to how we can be sure that the safety rules which they, as scientists, propose are adequate.

The mass media, equality, and the Constitution
Do the mass media, or do they not, make any distinction between what is truly serious and what is trivial? We are not speaking, in any circumstances, about censorship; nevertheless, whether some celebrity attended a party or has been admired for having a beautiful figure should not displace for a long period news of the scale of the accident at Fukushima, or even be news.
What, in the last analysis, is the meaning of 'topicality'? Is a problem topical because it affects us in the present, or merely because the most recent 'new' information should interest us more? Is the continuing nuclear threat not a topical issue? Or, on the contrary, is the exposure given to artists, eccentric or otherwise, to celebrities, princes and others, with every silly detail of their lives - when the details in question are about as important as nothing at all - topical? Does information not have a development over time, or is it only the beginning of the event that is important? The Fukushima accident occurred in March 2011, but the threat developed for months afterwards, and is still developing. Is this, then, the same information, or different information stemming from the same initial happening, which, however, is developing and giving rise to new events?
However, the Greek mass media (with the collaboration of the state) are forgetting that the radio and television frequencies are a public good, protected by the Constitution, Article 15, para. 2, which reads as follows:
"2. - Radio and television shall be under the direct control of the State. The control and imposition of administrative sanctions belong within the exclusive competence of the National Radio and Television Council, which is an independent authority, as specified by law. The direct control of the State, which may also assume the form of a prior permission status,
shall aim at the objective transmission on equal terms of information and news reports, as well as of works of literature and art, at ensuring the quality level of programmes mandated by the social mission of radio and television and by the cultural development of the Country, as well as at  respect for the value of the human being and the protection of childhood and youth."
Consequently, it is reasonable that we should not be able to understand how the value of the human being was protected in our example by the concealment of the Fukushima accident, when, moreover, his health, independence - in fact, everything - was very seriously imperilled. The disturbance of the peace of society which some may have feared is an unfounded pretext, because peace cannot be founded upon ignorance and death. What can the ordinary citizen do? Not, of course, to deal completely with the radio-activity which has already been released - that is impossible. But he/she can, quite simply, seek persistently the banning - on certain conditions, at least - of the installation of nuclear power-stations.
The question which arises here is what the meaning of 'equality' is in the case of the mass media. We must, logically, suppose that it has to do with:
-- first, not only individuals who wish to voice their views (it is not clear whether this is something which is observed);
-- second, areas of life, sources of information, strata of the population, and other categories of information. This second question which arises in relation to equality is whether this is level, quantitative, equating all information, or whether its promotion depends upon the seriousness of a piece of news. This principle is sometimes observed, not as a principle, however, but as an option dictated by economic interests, since spectacle attracts the public's attention, which means, conversely, that when a news item affects power, it is restricted. And the truth is that there are issues of enormous importance which are not alluded to or are alluded to only fleetingly. This is a major problem.

Statism, neo-liberalism, and the freedom of movement of ideas
But how are the media to remember the public good when the state forgets it? The frequencies are supposed to be awarded first and foremost so that society can be informed of developments in any area of the present age, and not in order to enrich those in possession of them and in order to direct society, nor to serve the government of then day or the 'state' when that is identified with certain elites.
In the end, on the question of freedom (which quite clearly includes freedom of information as a central issue), both the model of statism and that of the 'free' economy have failed. And this is because both have explained the concept of freedom in a totally erroneous way. Both have seen freedom as a potential for suppression; statism has restricted it directly, in spite of its concern for welfare, while neo-liberalism has regarded it as a field of conflict between the strong and the weak in which the outcome of the battle has been decided from the outset in favour of the strong.
The fact that neo-liberalism consciously distorts the concept of freedom in no way means that its champions and its principal proponents are in a position to understand the concept of it, because their very choice reveals this defect. The person who distorts does not understand what he is distorting, and, consequently, the distortion does not give him any superiority, but only the amount of power which he seeks. We point this out because the human subconscious is in awe of power, and this awe is erroneously translated as knowledge and competence. It was no accident that Nietzsche said that what we should be interested in is the amount of power and not realisation of it. But a great many people, thinkers and otherwise, have been blinded to him.[3] What is pursued in full awareness in the end has to do with the distortion of the image of their motives and freedom as that is perceived in man's everyday life, which, it should be said, is very impoverished and moving in a direction opposite to true freedom. They have also concealed their power and their intentions.

But society cannot eliminate the problems by moving in the same direction as theirs - that is, by acting competitively. Because even if it 'wins', in the end it will lose, in that fields of competition will continue to exist or new ones will be created, and society will always be the loser. It is only by a total change of direction of desire and perception that society can really be victorious - and, moreover, without losers. The absence of competition should not mean passive acceptance of all the desires of others, which would be unpardonable naivety. But the intention, the basic direction, will colour the whole handling of the situation, as well as the direction of the solutions proposed.

Governments, on the other hand, in order to ensure the unhindered exercise of power on their part, set up obstacles to the correct flow of information. So do all those players who attempt to control an area of human activity or an electoral body. And, naturally, there is an abundance of pretexts, and all of these can be summed up in that vague and general term 'the public interest', which even the courts do not go to the trouble of analysing and ensuring that it is this that is served in every case. Governments are under an obligation to inform society and to concern themselves with promoting solutions to issues, just as they have an obligation not only towards their country, but also towards global society when events in their country affect others. The ineffectiveness of governments is exceptionally marked when it comes to all serious matters. They attempt to exercise their power without disruptions, without difficult dilemmas posed by pressure from their peoples, and for this purpose the concealment of information is necessary for them.

In the end, those in power maintain that everything should be kept secret, so that people are not loud in their protests. Is this politics and political responsibility? Is this a correct supply of information? Is this the true science which drove out religious authority?
In this way, both statism and religious fundamentalism have failed through an absence of freedom; but so has private enterprise in every field through its supposed freedom, because everyone has forgotten the anthropological factor which were operating in the depths behind phenomena and which has turned this 'freedom' into the power of the strong few - thus again eliminating, in the end, even the most elementary freedom. Perhaps they have also wanted this factor to be forgotten on purpose, so that they can employ it irresponsibly and selfishly. When we speak of the 'strong', we mean all those who have been, are, and will in the future be powerful, as well as the tendency of every human being to seek supremacy over others, because he/she may not be powerful in society in a specific place and at a specific time, but may nevertheless desire and admire strength, so that this becomes a background for power.

Institutional and extra-institutional power and totalitarianism
As is apparent from their practice, it is probable that none of today's forms of institutional or extra-institutional power is going to help people to emerge from this crisis - a crisis which is world-wide and is not only economic. Those who possess these powers are lost in their efforts at or in the self-indulgence of the control of situations and of consciences, but they forget that they too are human and that their value does not lie in the amount of power which they handle, but in how they handle it. Any accumulation of means, for example, of money, of scientific knowledge, of information accords power, and, as we have said, according to Nietzsche what matters is the amount of power, and not its quality. But is such power what people really need in order to survive, to evolve, and, indeed, to be happy? Or have we perhaps decided in a mindless and self-destructive way to reduce life to a simplicity which is, however, a primitive simplicity, because only that can remain after the end of the crisis which, overall, shows every sign of being worse than that brought about by Nazism.

On civil society and information
Special care is called for over the flow of information because this is a potential for evolution which characterises democracy and contributes to the synthesis of civil society becoming attainable. Civil society must be relieved both of the burden of a collective sense of inferiority, which leads to passivity or aggressiveness, and of the burden of arrogance, which can lead to great evils - from nationalisms to excessive negativity, foolish types of radicalism, ideals unsuited to the times, propositions incapable of implementation in time and place, an excessively critical approach, and a lack of understanding in depth. These two usually co-exist and it is difficult to distinguish between them, but, in the last analysis, they put a brake on positive developments in society. The Germans chose the Nazis and went on to the acceptance and application of the 'ideal' of their superiority, after having previously felt humiliated by the onerous terms of the peace treaty which followed their defeat in the First World War and their reduction to wretched economic conditions. Fichte argued for German superiority when he believed that the German populace was extremely fragmented and debilitated - as in fact it was. And thus a sense of inferiority was converted into a feeling of 'superiority', and, moreover, with such a successful implementation in the first years of the Second World War as to bring the whole of Europe into incredible peril and to the verge of total destruction. And one of the first things that the Nazis did was the burning of books - of information, that is.

Epilogue
Society, completely to the contrary, when it is relatively balanced, should concern itself with a true freedom which should be beneficial both to the individual and to society. The peaceful co-existence of the individual and society is true democracy. In spite of the fact that this is theory, it is, nonetheless, the first basic understanding which can help, on the one hand, in the efforts for the finding of right solutions in time and place, and, on the other, in avoiding the destruction of the potentialities by their being at the mercy of a supposedly predestined conflict and choice between the individual and society as a whole. But balance has always been an unknown word to human beings and to their ideologies, and the attraction of politics has always been based on a total refusal to accept the 'other', and on competitiveness. Consequently, times of crisis have one good thing about them: they impel us forcibly towards changes in mistaken perceptions and models.

__________________
[1] Postman, Neil, Amusing Ourselves to Death [Greek edition], 1998, publ. Dromeas.
[2] Zisis, Ioannis, 'The unified theory of historical development and the phenomenon of reversal'.
[3] Zisis, Ioannis, Moutsopoulou, Ioanna, 'The Nietzschean core of evil'.

Ioanna Moutsopoulou, Lawyer
Member of the Secretariat of Solon NGO

Photo from wikimedia

 
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