Re: [xmca] Totalitarianism as a Totalizing Construct

From: David Preiss <davidpreiss who-is-at>
Date: Fri Apr 13 2007 - 15:55:52 PDT the us customs officer interrogating me when I arrived here cause I
had "too many suitcases", and like my suitcases' locks missing or broke
anytime I came her to the US, and like my eyes' shot anytime I cross
immigration, and like the need for me to report to the campus international
office when I visted UCSD, and so, and so...

Mike Cole escribió:
> Odd, Paul. I was thinking about the term, hegemony along with musing about
> totalitarianism. Thinking that the former fit the case of US in 1962-63, the
> academic year I was a post doc in moscow, but that totalitarianism was a
> pretty good chacterization of the situation in Moscow;. The problem is that
> it does not, in that context, derive from capitalism if one wishes to grant
> the USSR the status of a socialist country, which seems at least plausible.
> And I thought, of course, of Orwell, who was so influenced by the betrayals
> and mixtures of fascism and Stalinism in Spain.
> For me, totalitarianism (this my personal musings set off by the Davids) is
> associated with deep, direct, life-threatening invasion of the state in the
> everyday lives of people. It is illustrated with chilling accuracy in the
> recent film, "the lives of others." One of my first experiences in Moscow
> was someone knocking on the door of our room, walking in,
> not introducing himself, walking into the shower, turning it on, bringing us
> into the shower
> and there whispering that he was a friend of a colleague of mine who had
> been there the
> previous year.... by way of introduction.
> Or, a few years later, visiting the Institute of Psychology where I had many
> former colleagues, and having a woman I had worked with shake with fear
> because I had walked down the hall and knocked on her lab door without it
> being cleared.
> Or knowing that the large cupboard at the end of the large seminar room was
> a fake piece
> of furniture which the KGB agent assigned to the institute sat in to
> overhear conversations,
> his office being next door.
> Or getting very sick and having a friend who was also a speech writer for
> Brezhnev shake with fear because I had stayed overnight at her and her
> husband's apartment with a high fever while they fed me aspirin and chicken
> soup and this same KGB guy had called and threatened her for allowing me to
> stay overnight.
> Or.........
> When I wrote earlier that what scares me about the US today is that it CAN
> and IS
> happening here, those are the kinds of experiences I had in mind. And the
> genuine if misguide thouht that totalitarian is a very polysemic word.
> mike
> On 4/12/07, Paul Dillon <> wrote:
>> Davids and Mike, timid lurkers:
>> There is a serious problem with the word "totalitarianism".. I found
>> the following quick quote in Wikipedia:
>> The original meaning of the word [totaltianism] as described by
>> Mussolini and Gentile (G. Gentile & B. Mussolini in "La dottrina del
>> fascismo" 1932) was a society in which the main ideology of the state had
>> influence, if not power, over most of its citizens.
>> Admittedly, "most" is a very inaccurate word. Many would assume it is
>> 50%+1 or more(legacy of Rousseau?) but in fact, most highway patrol
>> officers will attest that when 30% of the "citizens" don't follow a law, it
>> can't be enforced. Grounds: speed limits.
>> And, if we delve further, or even think about it a little, we will find
>> that the term has been employed as David K. has so correctly directed us to
>> see, is a product of capitalist ideology. After all, Mussolini and Hitler
>> had no problems with capitalist economy, in fact their main supporters were
>> capitalist and their main opponents (including FDR) came from the other
>> camp, with all its varied flags.
>> I think it is much more useful to talk of "hegemony" in its original
>> formulation: Antonio Gramsci. A great thinker who Mussolini imprisoned
>> quickly.
>> Last night I spent a "smashing" time with a friend who told me he hates
>> all Americans. He himself has no nationality, his father was a Serbian
>> landlord who stuggled against the Nazis during WWII and then had to flee the
>> Red Army because he was a "People's Enemy" being basically a neo-feudal
>> latifundista. He went from Italy (where my friend was born) to Peru, where
>> the great landlord ended up as a miner in the cold barren and poisoned
>> Andean highlands.
>> When Yugoslavia disappeared beneath Clinton's bombs, my friend became a
>> stranded Tom Hanks, change airport for Peru, but the same deal: he can't
>> leave, his passport means nothing.
>> We spent many beers last night during which I tried to convince him it
>> isn't "Americans" he should be hating (also that hate damages him more than
>> its object) but, it is the fact that capitalism grew freely, unrestrained by
>> previous feudal or Asiatic elites, in the current USA political entity, and
>> that one does need to distinguish the people from the government (another
>> term that should be examined critically), As I argued (for example
>> pointing out that his sister, a native Peruvian, can't stand Peru now and is
>> much happier in Long Beach CA, a destiny she defends by simply ignoring what
>> the U.S. government has done since Hamilton and the Monroe Doctrine. His
>> sister simply turns a deaf ear when her brother points out that the US
>> freely bombed Yugoslavia, land of their papa, defending their actions
>> beneath the pretext that they were fighting whom>?? Oh yeah, those guys the
>> US govt paid to fight the Russians in Afghanistan and who (by some
>> accounts) later turned around
>> and bit the master's hand. This is a much more complex situation than
>> what Orwell and Arendt were critiquing when they developed the notion of
>> "totalitarianism".
>> (No jaybirds sing in these forests, and any crow like sound should
>> simply be controlled)
>> But the bottom line is this: "totalitarian" is an anachronistic
>> term. The recent thread on using security/credit searches for anyone who
>> receives federal money should reveal that Orwell's jacboot and truncheon are
>> no longer the force that blinds and subjects people to interests that
>> control the society. A much more serious term is "hegemony". Read Gramsci,
>> but read Dante and Croce first.
>> Paul Dillon
>> David Preiss <> wrote:
>> David Kellogg,
>> It seems to me that by your note you are implying I am making a contrast
>> between good and evil. I don't doubt the russians' abilities to perform
>> gigantic instrumental advances in science as their counterpart westerners
>> did
>> (however the collapse of their whole political endeavours). What I am just
>> saying is that I certainly doubt Vygotsy built his career against those
>> standards.
>> I haven't made any claim also about the nature of the USSR science. I also
>> share your questioning of western ethnocentricism, which by chance I have
>> been
>> able to revisit here in many talks in AERA, supposedly global, but
>> performed
>> by only american or americanized academics.
>> What I don't have any doubt, though, is that life under Stalin was
>> anything
>> but good (as it is living under the war on terror). If you think the USSR
>> was
>> a nice place to think about human nature, well, that's your take on this
>> issue. We think different and so be it.
>> Best,
>> David Preiss
>> Mike Cole escribió:
>> > For an interesting book on Science in the USSR that covers the Stalinist
>> > period, I highly recommend Loren Graham's work. It ranges very widely
>> > across the sciences including physics, biology, and even psychology.
>> >
>> > Fascinating discussion of the polysemy of totalitarianism.
>> >
>> > mike
>> >
>> > On 4/11/07, David Kellogg wrote:
>> >>
>> >> Dear David (Preiss):
>> >>
>> >> Thanks for your note from busy AERA. Hope you are staying out of the
>> >> Chicago wind!
>> >>
>> >> I went to school in "anti-totalitarian" Chicago when it was a training
>> >> ground for "los chicago boys", the men who served as quartermasters for
>> >> General Pinochet. So I guess I don't find the word "totalitarian"
>> >> particularly helpful, except possibly as a description of how the
>> private
>> >> sector has laid its clammy hand on every aspect of public life under
>> >> capitalism or the way in which North Americans assume that their
>> America is
>> >> America and the way that Westerners assume that their world is the
>> whole
>> >> world.
>> >>
>> >> As a young adult I lived through the "anti-spiritual pollution
>> campaign"
>> >> and the "campaign against bourgeois liberalization" and of course the
>> >> movement which is incorrectly described by the totalitarian media in
>> the
>> >> West as the "Tiananmen Square Democracy movement" (because that is what
>> >> Western TV screens showed). My wife grew up during the Cultural
>> Revolution
>> >> (and was a militant participant at age seven). It was not a different
>> world;
>> >> it was the same one, and people made decisions (including life and
>> death
>> >> decisions) in much the same way as you do.
>> >>
>> >> I also think that the USSR, even under Stalin, can hardly be considered
>> >> a second or third rate science power (they led the world in space, for
>> >> example, and were a very close second in atomic energy). When my father
>> >> visited the USSR in the early sixties, he was astonished to discover
>> that
>> >> the Russian physicists had read all of his work, and highly embarrassed
>> to
>> >> admit that he had read none of theirs, even though theirs was available
>> in
>> >> English and his was not available in Russian. This shouldn't have been
>> so
>> >> astonishing, given the totalitarian nature of Western intellectual
>> life.
>> >>
>> >> David (Kellogg)
>> >>
>> >>
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>> --
>> David D. Preiss Ph.D.
>> Profesor Auxiliar / Assistant Professor
>> Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile
>> Escuela de Psicología.
>> Av. Vicuña Mackenna 4860.
>> Macul, Santiago de Chile.
>> Chile
>> Teléfono: (56-2) 354-4605
>> Fax: (56-2) 354-4844.
>> Web:
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David D. Preiss Ph.D.
Profesor Auxiliar / Assistant Professor
Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile
Escuela de Psicología.
Av. Vicuña Mackenna 4860.
Macul, Santiago de Chile.
Teléfono: (56-2) 354-4605
Fax: (56-2) 354-4844.
xmca mailing list
Received on Fri Apr 13 16:59 PDT 2007

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