Hayek, in “The Road to Serfdom” predicted the welfare regulatory state must inevitably become the totalitarian terror state.
Observe: We have arrived. America is now a totalitarian terror state.
In 1992 I visited Cuba. Thereafter, I argued it was a totalitarian state, because when I asked certain questions some people fled, fearing that merely hearing the question would result in them being punished for the thoughts it might elicit, and others answered furtively.
Yesterday, I asked someone very close to me a question apt to have a politically incorrect answer (I cannot identify him further, for he swore me to secrecy)
He looked around furtively. We were on top of a hill overlooking the Coral Sea in a semi rural area, the other side of the world from his workplace. He lowered his voice. He then proceeded to utter a series of politically correct platitudes, with gestures and grimaces reversing their meaning, his grimaces implying the opposite of the ostensible meaning, the same sort of communication coded against possible eavesdroppers and hidden microphones that I encountered in Cuba, where they would swear loyalty to communism, while making a gesture of their throats being cut.
Like Havel’s green grocer, the truth would destroy his career.
This is the behavior that in 1992 I saw in Cuba and thereafter used as evidence that Cuba was a totalitarian state, a state of omnipresent fear.
So if Cuba was totalitarian in 1992, America is totalitarian in 2010. We have arrived at the end of Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom”.
In America, unlike Soviet Russia, we don’t send dissidents to Alaska, and although lots of American psychiatrists are eager to diagnose political deviation as mental illness and treat it with electroshock and lobotomy as they do in Cuba, government has as yet declined to employ them in this capacity. But what government does do is ensure that political deviation blights your career. If a company knowingly employs political deviants, it is apt to be sued by quasi governmental organization for a “hostile work environment”, in which lawsuit, no evidence will be presented of anyone saying unkind things to those for which the work environment was supposedly hostile, but evidence will be presented that employees had subversive thoughts – often evidence that they expressed subversive thoughts far from their workplace, as perhaps on a hill overlooking the Coral sea the other side of the world from his workplace – so the company will be punished, for failure to punish subversive thoughts.
Hayek, in “The Road to Serfdom”, argued that regulatory welfare state must inevitably become totalitarian. Lo and behold, totalitarianism has arrived. Most people, everyone with some position in society, everyone with something that could be taken away from them, are very, very frightened.
And what is totalitarianism? Hayek’s totalitarianism seems to be pretty much Havel’s totalitarianism, and here is Havel on totalitarianism:
The manager of a fruit-and-vegetable shop places in his window, among the onions and carrots, the slogan: “Workers of the world, unite!”
Why does he do it? What is he trying to communicate to the world? Is he genuinely enthusiastic about the idea of unity among the workers of the world? Is his enthusiasm so great that he feels an irrepressible impulse to acquaint the public with his ideals? Has he really given more than a moment’s thought to how such a unification might occur and what it would mean?
I think I can safely assume that the overwhelming majority of shopkeepers never think about the slogans they put in their windows, nor do they use them to express their real opinions. That poster was delivered to our greengrocer from the enterprise headquarters along with the onions and the carrots. He put them all into the window simply because it has been done that way for years, because everyone does it, and because that is the way it has to be.
If he were to refuse, there could be trouble. He could be reproached for not having the proper decoration in his window; someone might even accuse him of disloyalty. He does it because these things must be done if one is to get along in life. It is one of the thousands of details that guarantee him a relatively tranquil life “in harmony with society,” as they say.
Obviously the greengrocer is indifferent to the semantic content of the slogan on exhibit; he does not put the slogan in his window from any personal desire to acquaint the public with the ideal it expresses. This, of course, does not mean that his action has no motive or significance at all, or that the slogan communicates nothing to anyone.
The slogan is really a sign, and as such it contains a subliminal but very definite message. Verbally, it might be expressed this way: “I, the greengrocer XY, live here and I know what I must do. I behave in the manner expected of me. I can be depended upon and am beyond reproach. I am obedient and therefore I have the right to be left in peace.”
This message, of course, has an addressee: it is directed above, to the greengrocer’s superior, and at the same time is a shield that protects the greengrocer from potential informers. The slogan’s real meaning, therefore, is rooted firmly in the greengrocer’s existence. It reflects his vital interests. But what are those vital interests?
Let us take note: if the greengrocer had been instructed to display the slogan ‘I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient,’ he would not be nearly as indifferent to its semantics, even though the statement would reflect the truth.
The greengrocer would be embarrassed and ashamed to put such an unequivocal statement of his own degradation in the shop window, and quite naturally so, for he is a human being and thus has a sense of his own dignity. To overcome this complication, his expression of loyalty must take the form of a sign which, at least on its textual surface, indicates a level of disinterested conviction. It must allow the greengrocer to say, “What’s wrong with the workers of the world uniting?”
Thus the sign helps the greengrocer to conceal from himself the low foundations of his obedience, at the same time concealing the low foundations of power. It hides them behind the façade of something high. And that something is ideology.
As Bruce Charlton points out:
If you go into an institutional environment – a government office, a school or college, a hospital or doctor’s surgery, a museum, public transportation – and you observe posters adorning the walls on politically-correct topics such as diversity, fair trade, global warming, approved victim groups, third world aid – remember Havel’s essay, and that the correct translation of such posters is as follows:
“I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient”
Such posters are a coded admission of submission to ideology – except in the rare instance where they advertise genuine corruption by ideology.
The frequency of such posters nowadays, compared with a generation ago, is a quantitative measure of the progress of totalitarian government.