Evil abstraction: the psychology of totalitarianism


How do we begin to make sense of the mentality of a person, even an entire political regime, that equates complete annihilation with 'liberation'? How do we make sense of an attempt to save and protect a people by raping, torturing, massacring and utterly destroying this people? Are these claims to 'liberation' and 'protection' just cynical public relations messaging meant to mask good-old economic interests, or is the essence of the situation a lot more complex, involved and nuanced than that? And what do these claims reveal about totalitarianism as a form of government?

Many philosophers have had sympathies for, flirted with, or even flat-out subscribed to, totalitarian regimes. Nazi party member Martin Heidegger was just a particularly prominent and relatively recent example. This isn't too hard to understand: democracy is messy, slow to come to solutions, and equates the self-perceived intellectual elite with the masses when it comes to political power, for every vote counts the same. Many philosophers may see this as a kind of levelling at the bottom, which wastes human potential.

And here I must humbly make a confession; a confession mostly to myself, made in the form of a public acknowledgment: I, too, have had limited sympathies for certain forms of totalitarianism. If you continue to read this essay from this point on, please read it through to the end, otherwise you will be left with the impression that the point I am trying to make is the opposite of what I intend.

For 15 years I was married to a Russian originally from the Donbas (we've been divorced for a decade now, but are still friends and I still consider her family—some of whom are still in the Donbas—my family). As such, I've had the opportunity to share in the lives of a typical Russian family from the late 90s up until deep into the Putin era. And it is a fact that the lives of average Russians (except, of course, those in Chechnya) significantly improved in the first years of Putin's rule. He brought back a degree of stability, limited economic security and a healthy sense of pride in being Russian. Compared to the drunken Yeltsin years, those were welcome changes.

And so I was willing, for a long time, to overlook the obvious shortcomings of Putin's government: the cynical assassination of dozens of political opponents, growing corruption that increasingly reminded me of the plundering of Russian wealth by the original Yeltsin oligarchs, press censorship, etc.; all the hallmarks of totalitarianism. Perhaps because of its history—or so I reasoned in my own internal apologetics—Russian society needs a strong hand to be stable; maybe it's just part of the national character and psychology, and we shouldn't be arrogant to the point of thinking that our chosen form of government in the West should apply to everybody.

I've worked in the high-tech industry for well over two decades. During that time, I've had the opportunity to visit China repeatedly, and to work with Chinese both inside and outside China. Indeed, some of the Chinese I know are the smartest people I've ever met (you know who you are, if you are reading this). And it is undeniable that the lives of the average Chinese have improved markedly over the past two decades. Perhaps—I thought—a strong hand is what the Chinese culture and society, given their history, need to be stable and foment economic progress. For even though I am a philosopher, I am very keenly aware that philosophy is irrelevant if one doesn't have a roof over one's head, food on the plate, security for one's family, and healthcare. And many more Chinese have those things today than did in the late 1990s.

Then came COVID, which laid bare the shortcomings of consensus-seeking democracies: while China reacted promptly and took all necessary (and hard) measures, we, in the West, were initially paralysed by discord, marred in nonsensical conspiracy theories and entertaining hysterical fake news on social media; what a circus that was. That caused me to have doubts about the long-term viability of Western democracy: if the vote of a thoughtful and responsible citizen counts the same as those of hysterical idiots out to create havoc just for the heck of it (yes, these people exist), where are we going to end up? If fringe nonsense amasses popular support comparable to that of hard science, what are we to expect of our future?

But Russia's invasion of Ukraine has sobered me up and brought into sharp focus the fundamental difference between the admittedly semi-dysfunctional Western democracies and totalitarian regimes: the latter create an environment extraordinarily conducive to the replacement of human empathy and compassion with ego-inflated geopolitical abstraction; an environment liable to losing touch with human reality and, thereby, turning into an instrument of great suffering.

Some pundits say that Putin does what he does just so he can steal more money. I don't think this holds water. I think Putin, who is now turning 70, is in a desperate search for meaning in his life. He has bought into certain historical, sociological and geopolitical abstractions about Russianness, about the glory and role of the Russian Empire, fantasies about land powers like Russia—in contrast to maritime powers such as the UK—being the guarantors of family values and traditions. As someone deeply anchored in the so-called maritime powers (Portugal, Denmark and the Netherlands are all maritime powers), I know from empirical experience that family and traditional values are as much a part of maritime cultures as they are of land powers. But as nonsensical a fantasy as this stuff may be, I do believe Putin has bought into it, so to place the meaning and purpose of his existence in a greater historical context. His desperate attempt to cement the meaning of his life before his personal death is as intrinsically human as it is dangerous, when it unfolds within a totalitarian context.

Under totalitarianism, the head of state begins to identify with the nation, including its historical past and its fantasized future. This is an exacerbated form of ego inflation that robs one of one's own humanity: after all, one is now a historical figure larger than life, an abstract immortal, something more akin to a slick marble statue than a mere human who must sit on the toilette bowl, every day, to do the stinky business of moist, warm biology.

The problem is that, if one loses one's anchor in humanity, one becomes a great danger to humanity. For human life is now expendable, a means to an end. The warm and moist character of life becomes insignificant before the abstract, slick, sanitized, mythological greatness of Mother Russia, its historical significance and role in the geopolitics of the planet.

This way, the state acquires a standalone ontological status that, in reality, it can't possibly have: after all, there is nothing to the state but the warm, moist, suffering lives of its citizens. There is nothing to the state but the lives of its citizens. Warm, moist, conscious human life is the only carrier of reality any state can ever have. But in the mind of an ego-inflated totalitarian ruler, the state becomes a thing unto itself, its people being merely its servants, means to an end. Not only that, the ruler becomes the very embodiment of the state, no longer a mere mortal. In this grandiose mythological narrative, the suffering of the people is an unfortunate but necessary sacrifice for the glory and transcendence of the state.

At this point, pure abstraction—groundless fantasy, story, made-up nonsense—replaces a faculty almost every person is born with: the ability to empathize with another human being, to feel compassion for people's suffering, to recognize the conscious inner lives of people as the only human reality that there can ever be. Totalitarian rulers lose their humanity—their humanness—and become an instrument for the destruction of the very thing they swore to defend: their own people, who are the nation. And so Putin, by annihilating Mariupol, has 'liberated' the Slavic nation: a fantasy of his pathological mind is liberated within the confines of his pathological mind, while the reality of human life is barbarized. In his mind, Putin is 'saving' an entirely abstract Ukraine by turning the real thing to rubble, raping its women, killing its children. Contact with reality—the reality of conscious suffering—is lost in the name of de-humanized, ego-inflated fantasies of grandeur. This is what evil is.

Indeed, many of us seem to have a very naive understanding of evil: we think evil is deliberate sadism, the felt delight of inflicting pain. This is not what real evil is, for sadism loses its appeal when the suffering of another becomes a statistic, as opposed to a very personal, very intimate experience one-on-one. Sadism doesn't thrive on large numbers, on industrial scales, but real evil does, for it is precisely the de-personalization entailed by large numbers that foments a departure from reality and into fantasized abstraction. The greatest evil-doers are precisely those who believe, sincerely, that they are the ones with the guts to do what is necessary for the greater (totally abstract) good, despite the costs. Hitler did. Stalin did. Putin undoubtedly does.

Make no mistake, it is now patently clear that Putin is evil. He is destroying not only the real Ukraine, but also the real Russia. He is bringing devastating, incomprehensible suffering into the only reality of any people, any state: the experienced reality of its individuals. For the sake of impersonal geopolitical abstractions, he has lost sight of the fact that individual experience is the only carrier of reality we can ever have.

Now, as dysfunctional and slow to act as democracies may be, they do not offer fertile ground for this extraordinarily dangerous form of madness. Democratic leaders are, by and large, not given the (psychological) chance to identify with the state. Whatever ego-inflation they may be predisposed to, the system's checks and balances... well, check and balance the leader's view of themselves. The rotation of power and the social scope of debate prevents the type of myopia and limited view of reality that leads autocratic rulers to take their mere opinions for 'The Truth.' The shadow we all carry inside gets less chance to dominate a democratic system.

The simple truth is almost cliché: unchecked power corrupts. Democracies are less conducive to this kind of moral corruption, for democratic leaders are constantly being confronted by the opposition, the press and the people. Inefficient as it may be, this factor alone renders democracy the form of government least prone to the catastrophic effects of grandiose geopolitical abstraction—that is, to real evil.

In hindsight, the ostensive inefficiency and dysfunction of democratic governments turns out not to be as bad as I originally thought: ultimately, the West did do what was necessary to curtail the pandemic, despite all the hysteria and nonsense. Who would have guessed, prior to 2020, that we could adapt our way of life so dramatically, and so quickly, to address the problem? Working productively from home became our normal modus operandi within mere weeks; not traveling didn't prevent us from doing business and carrying on with life; effective vaccines were developed, tested and deployed to entire populations within months; the wearing of face masks in public became very matter-of-fact in our culture within weeks. It is almost incredible that we could adapt so much so quickly, and to consider these enormous changes all pretty normal in almost no time at all. Prior to the pandemic, these adaptations would have seemed unthinkable. Yet, here we are, with the pandemic more or less under control, while Shanghai is in total lockdown. The dysfunction of democracies may be more superficial than I, and other philosophers before me, thought.

Don't get me wrong: I don't think the West should become some kind of police of the world, and impose our own preferred form of government on peoples with different values and history. The more distinct from ours the history and values of a culture or society are, the more unreliable are our value judgments about how they should live and organize themselves. But when a totalitarian regime gains ground in the midst of our own world, our own culture and value systems, I believe we have the moral and practical obligation to defend our way of life. In this context, the Western reaction to Russia's invasion of Ukraine is inappropriate only in the sense that it may be more restrained than it should have been. Once compassion is replaced with abstraction in a well-armed government, our way of life is threatened and we need to defend it, should we want to continue to live as we have thus far.

In Europe—if not everywhere—totalitarianism is a committal step towards evil. History has shown this again and again, and I feel embarrassed for having overlooked and relativized such a fact. While I admire the nonviolent approaches of a Gandhi or a Luther King, if they are coming to rape my partner, torture my cats, destroy my house and kill me, I will do whatever is necessary to defend myself, my loved ones, and my hard-earned property.

I am surprised when I see some of my readers concluding that such a forceful approach contradicts the oneness of a universal mind. Analytic idealism isn't romantic; in my mind, it isn't at all contradictory with the recognition that, although evil is intrinsic to nature and, as such, to universal consciousness itself, it is still not okay or tolerable; that humans have the moral obligation to pass value judgments and act accordingly, so to deter evil; and that sometimes only force stops it. You will never hear me say that, since the rapist, too, is an aspect of universal consciousness, we should in some sense—any sense at all—tolerate the rape; absolutely not.

My views here should not be taken for naïveté about geopolitics in the West. I am keenly aware that Western powers prop up, finance and protect totalitarian regimes across the world because of economic interests. I am keenly aware that Western militaries have treated some places in the world in ways comparable to how the Russian military is treating Ukraine today. And I am keenly aware that the country that passes for the greatest defender of democracy in the world today operates according to a political and economic system that, technically, doesn't even qualify as democratic. Our hypocrisy is far reaching and abominable.

Yet, the principles I have tried to outline above do not become invalid because of that hypocrisy. We may have a long way to go, but to progress we must have mature clarity about which path to take. Despite my past misgivings, it is clear to me, today, that the path to pursue is one of democracy, press freedom, open political debate, and the protection of individual freedoms and human rights. Totalitarianism, even when it starts well, invariably leads to catastrophe, with unfathomable costs not only for its own people, but its neighbors too.

My vote shall thus never go to anyone who, more or less like a past version of me, engages in apologetics towards totalitarianism, cosies up and schmoozes with autocratic rulers beyond the demands of diplomatic courtesy, offers admiring remarks to criminal governments, or betrays ambitions towards totalitarianism themselves. Alluring as the efficiency and speed of autocracies may be, they are a slippery slope towards geopolitical abstraction, ego inflation, the devaluing of human life, and therefore flat-out evil. And I shall never collaborate with, offer justifications for, or even tolerate, evil.
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47 comments:

  1. Excellent thoughts. Typos, though: "totaliarism" instead of "totalitarianism" and "myst" instead of "midst".

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  2. Good article. Maybe it is just me, but I noticed that you use the word naive very often. Is there a context to this?

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    1. I just wanted to mention this.Personally,I have a complex to this word because when I finished my Phd in philosophy, materialists always called me naive and stupid also because of my intelligence quotient. It was just a question.

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    2. There is nothing special about my use of this word. Just like with any other word, I use it when I feel it is the most appropriate one. And it so happens that there's a lot of naïveté in the world today, particularly among committed materialists. So I find it delightfully ironic that materialists would accuse you of being naive or unintelligent!

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  3. The replacement of concrete reality with abstraction is possibly the largest cause of our problems today.

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  4. Another great piece Bernardo, this is wonderful. A very thoughtful and insightful analysis that lucidly gets to the heart of the matter.
    But, I must say, for whatever it’s worth, this fan was rather disappointed by your comments on COVID and the national responses to it. I disagree strongly with the views you express there. Perhaps we’ve been getting our information from different sources.

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    1. Thanks Bernardo for you insights and thoughts. I second Bob's comment and encourage you to research the global COVID response to better familiarise yourself with the overwhelming evidence that national governments of all persuasions (enacted through their regulatory authorities) promoted the agenda of global corporations to advance their interests in vaccine development and global vaccine mandates at the expense of more scientifically rigorous, and clinically safer treatment and prevention protocols developed to address the pandemic. In the end, the omicron strain has managed to circumvent all simplistic strategies to successfully stimulating natural immunity on a global scale, despite the efforts of vested interests who argued the superiority of vaccine immunity. I'd be happy to share the evidence if you'd like but want to end by acknowledging how much I've appreciated taking Bernardo's course in Analytical Idealism. As a health professional and specialist in natural medicine, I see how the AI metaphysics - that's analytical idealist not artificial intelligence - supports an integral approach not only to health but to so many other contentious issues. Thanks again Bob for your post.

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  5. I have long thought this was one of your key insights. That some people can come to give precedence to abstraction over life or at least experience, itself. A very slippery slope into the pit of unlimited collateral damage. Certainly this applies to Putin's identification with mythical Mother Russia as you say. What's terrifying is that at Putin's level of mental disfunction, abstraction and reality possibly become fully transposed. Why feel compassion for other people if they are abstractions, when the "real" myth of Russia and needs defending above all else? Even weirder and more terrifying, is that Putin's egoic experience of self might be literally inseparable from his abstract delusions.

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  6. Volledig eens!! Zo denk ik er precies ook over. Hoe kunnen we verklaren dat een idealist als Bernardo op dezelfde wijze naar de wereld, het kwaad en de ethiek kijkt als een fervente materialist als ikzelf ben??

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  7. Very good article!! I consent completly.
    How can we explain that an idealist like Bernardo looks at the same way at the world, politics, ethics, psychology and human suffering as a fervent materialist as I am??

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  8. Excellent identification of the greater evil (as opposed to the greater good). My sense is though that human evolution is on a slow trajectory. Has much changed since the Buddha or Christ? Doesn't look that way. The nore technologically advanced we get the greater the harm comes from our weak ability to see beyond our ego.

    Theoden: So much death. What can men do against such reckless hate?
    Aragorn: Ride out with me. Ride out and meet them.

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  9. When I think of Putin and his actions several things come to mind. One of them is a subject at it's not really been very well studied and that is the psychology of shame. Putin we know is a rather small man for a Russian at 5'7 and is always involving himself in hunting and riding, playing hockey and other things that magnify his masculinity. His background growing up in Stalinist and post Stalinist Soviet Union would have inculcated the amoral utilitarianism of "you show me the man I'll show you the crime as Beria would say. For a man like Putin his entire sense of self is wrapped around his image as a man, which I don't think can be extracted from his identity as a KGB officer in the past. The fall of the Soviet Union with eviscerating to his sense of self and I am sure that he like many other Russians are full of shame and the rage that often comes with it.
    I'm inclined to believe that this kind of shame, national shame leads in many cases inevitably into a kind of national rage, the kind we saw in the rise of the Third Reich. Although he may color it as justified buy some historical identity the real cause of his actions lying the pathology of narcissism and shame. By restoring some part of the national glory he's restoring something missing in himself. Beyond that the constant raging about Putin during the entire Trump presidency led me to believe that he would do something horrid sooner or later. It is no coincidence that the samurai culture where some imbued with Zen Buddhism (although of course they were also Christian Samurai). There is a Zen saying that compassion can be taking care of a stray dog or cat or cutting the evil man in two.

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  10. Totally agree. The view of the oneness of universal mind substrate is ok, but the actions are there too. In Buddhism we say that there are two truths. Relative and ultimate. Holding the latter we should not trash the first. It is about distinction between view and conduct. Padmasambhava said: "Do not lose the view in the conduct, neither lose the conduct in the view." Also he said: "Though the view should be as vast as the sky, keep your conduct as fine as barley flour." Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, a great 20th century Dzogchen master explained these words like this: "Don’t confuse one with the other. When training in the view, you can be as unbiased, as impartial, as vast, immense, and unlimited as the sky. Your behavior, on the other hand, should be as careful as possible in discriminating what is beneficial or harmful, what is good or evil. One can combine the view and conduct, but don’t mix them or lose one in the other. That is very important." Also: "To lose the conduct in the view means that the view, which is emptiness, is superimposed upon all one’s actions. One might say, “Good is empty, evil is also empty, everything is emptiness, so what does it matter.” Then one becomes uncaring and frivolous and doesn’t discriminate between help and harm, good and evil. That is called losing the conduct in the view. Please be careful to avoid this mistake!
    "The other extreme is to lose the view in the conduct, to only think in terms of good and evil, what is virtuous and unvirtuous. Padmasambhava also said, 'If you lose the view in the conduct, you will never have the chance to be liberated.' It is through the view that one is liberated. If you lose the view in the conduct, you will never have the opportunity to be free. If you lose the conduct in the view, then you ignore the difference between good and evil. It’s very important to keep view and conduct distinct. Please discriminate carefully between these two!"

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    1. Yes, the teaching of Nagarjuna and the doctrine of Shunyata or emptiness is easily misunderstood. Emptiness is identical to Pratītyasamutpāda interdependent origination, it is not existential phenomenology. Which once agin is expressed in the tow truths.

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  11. "...and that sometimes only force stops it." ~ BK ... And so what is this 'force' you are suggesting, beyond some eloquent blog post? The force of sanctions that ordinary Russians will surely feel the brunt of, who, as you say, Putin could not care less about? Should it be the force of those ordinary Russians rising up in mass resistance and revolt, willing to be arrested and imprisoned, even shot, in hope of bringing down the regime. Should it be the force of NATO-aligned troops, our sons and daughters, being sent to fight in Ukraine to force an end to it—if need be, ending in a nuclear missile showdown? What other 'force' will truly make a difference, in offering some actual lasting redemption from this evil?

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    1. What should be done instead? Nothing? Should the Ukrainians go into meditation while the Russians destroy their country, steal their property and rape their women? Should they allow the hoards of hell to do whatever they please with them, in their own home? The "force" in question is not meant as aggression, but as defence: if someone is bombing you, you try to neutralize the people and platforms doing the bombing, so you don't get killed or mangled. That's the force in question; the desperate force of defence. This is so basic it amazes me people find it polemical.

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    2. Of course, it's obvious that they are compelled to fight. I didn't suggest or expect otherwise. Yet somehow that doesn't seem the force that will bring some truly lasting redemption from this evil. I was genuinely interested in knowing what that might be.

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    3. The impulses that lead to Evil are archetypal in nature, part of the Universal mindstuff, so redemption from them is unlikely in the near future. We metaconscious alters somehow have to find a way to separate those who associate themselves with these impulses from gaining power. I suggest a "veto vote" - (can't have him because he has no kindness and too much unpleasant plotting on his record. Try again).

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    4. @Duhh ... In which case we're in store for yet more eons whereby humankind is haplessly and helplessly fated to await the next inevitable all-too-familiar confrontation with the same tragic result, while Universal mindstuff evolves out of this apparently m@ladaptive state ... Oh joy!

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  12. On a less despairing note, how about a word from the wise on Blake's vision, here expressed via Vernon, on forging Gorgonooza?https://youtu.be/woGS7qKfpJ4

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  13. I read this and feel kind of sorry for Bernardo. I too have worked in high tech industry and worked with many mainland Chinese engineers and technicians in Honk Kong in the middle of the handover from 95 to 97. My experience is that humanity does not change. Circumstances change but not humanity. As an Indian shaman once said "Humans either make themselves miserable or happy. The effort is the same." If one can't make themselves happy in this present reality it is the problem of the individual. That is just a statement in fact not a value judgment. And people such as yourself that take positions based on the promise of technology fool yourself. We are but the blink of an eye from a hell on earth due to the loss of that technology from an emp either man made or otherwise.

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  14. It seems to me that the use of the word 'totalitarianism' here is disputable. A totalitarian regime never 'starts well' and one can seriously doubt that you had 'sympathies for certain forms of totalitarianism'. In a totalitarian regime, there could not have been a Navalny yesterday, or a journalist holding a no-war sign on state television today. Totalitarianism entails a sort of collective psychosis that is thankfully not quite happening in present-day Russia. Even if repressed, protest and opposition do exist. No matter how evil a dictator is, it takes a whole, congruent societal dynamics for a totalitarian regime to materialize. Arguably, this piece is about the psychology of dictatorship, or the psychology of a dictator.

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    1. You're hear-splitting words, which is silly and, worse, dangerous. A regime that has assassinated dozens of journalists, opposition politicians and critics in general (including Navalny, who they've tried to poison just a few months ago), is a totalitarian regime. As for your questioning the sincerity/honesty of my statements, if you seriously think I am not sincere, why are you here? I'll not further entertain commentary questioning my honesty.

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  15. My comment - what you call having had sympathies for certain forms of totalitarianism is rather a sympathy for certain forms of authoritarian government - was to your advantage. I do think you are sincere and relevant, and that's why I am here. When it comes to hair-splitting, I am not doing it for the mere sake of it. The regime can be as evil as to assassinate dozens, or thousands, of people, and this one certainly is, but what makes a system totalitarian is the adhesion of the population. So in my opinion, calling this one a totalitarianism does not do justice to the Russian people. Because they are clearly not collectively under the spell of this regime.

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    1. You are saying that, to qualify as totalitarian, a regime needs to have the support of the people. Are you serious? This is the very opposite of the meaning of the word 'totalitarianism.' A totalitarian regime is precisely one that deceives and oppresses its own people in order to remain in power, which is what Russia is doing: the government controls the press precisely to deceive the people; laws have been passed to throw people in jail for up to 15 years if they protest the war; and so on. No totalitarian regime has the support of the people, otherwise we would call it a democracy. This is so obvious I wonder why I am even bothering to clarify.
      Now, do I think the Russian people support what Russia is doing in Ukraine? Of course not. I blame the Kremlin, not the Russian people. Even the ones who do support the war are likely victims of Russian internal propaganda and deception.

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  16. I can now certainly see that there is a different spin to be put on this tragedy, one of them being that player Z and his cohorts knew exactly what player P and his cohorts could be capable of, if player P's buttons were pushed in just a certain way, and how that was quite likely to play out, and what the costly consequences would be. And sure enough player P walked right into the trap, giving the opposing war mongers just the rationale they needed to justify installing their state-of-the-art weaponry in the region, while coming across as the good guys jumping to the rescue in fighting the evil-doers, rather than the provocateurs—all seeming like a dangerous high-stakes poker game being played by the respective players, with human lives as the chips. One still finds it very difficult to parse out where precisely the more or lesser evil lies, given that a case can be made that none of the players can be fully absolved of culpability. If one is looking for wise choices, it seems pretty much like a choice between coke zero and orange crush ... choose your poison.

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    1. The geopolitical dynamics involved with the creation of "evil" are always open to much debate. What I don't think is in doubt is that it has and probably always will exist. If one looks at the present state of the world it appears to me it is going to get far worse before it gets better. And sitting on the sidelines hurling spears made of opinion and virtue may be entertaining but not very effective. What
      has always fascinated me is the behavior of the people in the "game".
      I had the opportunity to go to work for a company that employed many WWII vets just as they were reaching retirement age. Many of these guys had fought in the worst battles in the worst theaters. They had been ripped out of their peaceful existence to be sent halfway around the world to be slaughtered in a totally alien place. I always was amazed by the perception they had of their experience. Having spent many hours picking their brains I am not completely surprised by the bravery or the brutality shown by the participants in Ukraine. I do however wonder how I would perform in that same environment and who I would be, the tyrant or the hero.

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    2. Dana Lomas: I think all of your points are valid, and there are no good guys here. But acknowledging all this cannot make us lose sight of one crucial and very simple fact: it was Russia that has chosen to invade Ukraine and now consistently commits atrocities such as knowingly bombing civilian neighbourhoods. Although we can discuss all the politics and abstractions that have led to this, responsibility must be placed squarely on the party that went beyond abstraction and willingly barbarized a people. Everything else, true as it may be, pales and is rendered redundant in face of this practical, real fact. We cannot allow our understanding of the complexity of the situation to obscure this simple burden of responsibility, otherwise we will lose our humanity in a morass of moral relativism.

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    3. Ed Konderla: if "sitting on the sidelines hurling spears made of opinion and virtue may be entertaining but not very effective," then why are you, by repeatedly commenting on this post, repeatedly "sitting on the sidelines hurling spears made of opinion"? As a matter of fact, why are you even bothering to read my "spears made of opinion" instead of picking up a riffle and joining the fight in Ukraine? I don't mind being disagreed with, but hypocrisy with a tone of moral superiority gets on my nerves.

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    4. Do you agree or disagree with my statement? I have no control over what does or doesn't get on your nerves nor do I feel compelled to try to be proactive in avoiding thoughts that incur your wrath. Having said that I love your work. My issues are not Ukraine. My issues are being surrounded by Venezuela, Peru and Columbia and preparing myself mentally and materially for the possible unrest there. Ukraine is just a mental exercise for me. So I work at focusing on the things I can impact in my reality and attempting to be happy in spite of all of the shit.

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    5. @BK and Ed ... points taken. I certainly can't pretend to offer any facile answers, mostly coming from a place of broken-hearted exasperation at the futility of it all. Suffice to say that everyone, if not overtly evil, is capable of evil. I confess that I am, since I've known the personification of 'evil', and suffered greatly at its hands, eventually responding likewise by taking out my rage on some other poor soul—albeit not really comparable to 'evil' as it's defined in the blog article. Nevertheless, no doubt there is no army on earth that doesn't have members capable of committing atrocities a thousandfold if given the opportunity, having become hardened to horrific sights such as some brother-in-arms' head being blown off. So I shudder to think what I could have been capable of as a young man in a similar scenario, given what retaliatory cruelty I was capable of when not having ever been near a war zone. The journey into the heart of darkness is far easier than most care to contemplate.

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    6. Ed Konderla: for me this war is not happening in a far away place, to people that have a totally different set of values and cultural background than mine. For me, this is happening right next door, to people culturally just like me. I was married to someone from the Donbas for 15 years. I'm not hurdling "spears made of opinions" to entertain. As for agreeing with your statement, no, I do not agree with it. I think discourse plays a crucial role in both motivating and discouraging conflict. We don't need to go too far, as Putin's geopolitical views, which motivated this very war, are both derived from discourse or 'opinions' as you put it (specifically, from Aleksandr Dugin's opinions) and anticipated in discourse (cf. Putin's long essay on Ukraine from a year or two ago). So participation in discourse is crucial, and not merely 'entertaining' opinion.

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    7. By the time one has hit my age one has experienced and witnessed much loss and tragedy and being a risk taker I have felt the blade hanging over my head my whole life. So while I can empathize with your situation it is imposible for me to sympathize. Shifting gears, do
      you have impiracle evidence discourse actually changes anything long term or is it faith like the belief prayer can change the course of human events.

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  17. Well, yes I am serious, as you must have suspected (which might very well be why you are bothering to clarify). Only in a loose, common sense are authoritarianism and totalitarianism used synonymously. Looking at the classic work by German Jewish Hannah Ardent 'The origin of totalitarianism', up until the very recent work of Gent University prof. Mattias Desmet, a book that goes by the exact same title as your post: 'The psychology of totalitarianism', the difference is a radical one. So I thought I would point that out, not only for the sake of Russian people, which we are supportive of, but also of the very viewpoint expressed in this post.

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    1. 99.99% of the people will understand 'totalitarianism' to mean exactly what I mean by it in this essay.

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    2. You say: "99.99% of the people will understand 'totalitarianism' to mean exactly what I mean by it in this essay".Probably quite accurate, I would give you that, but since when have you been driven by what 99.99% of the people will understand? Ok, so let's say idealism is, well... to be idealist, right? And to think that we should believe in, you know, a certain ideal society, or world, or ideal behavior, and we keep acting upon it, even when it possibly turns out to be, say, not too much to our own monetary advantage? Makes sense? (One can very much appreciate, and be deeply grateful for what you do, Bernardo, and yes you are in your own private space here. However, because you make it public, and open to exchange, and until you keep it that way, one might still feel compelled to speak for the sake of an accurate understanding of social phenomena, when you decide to, for some reason, throw one of your essays into that arena. With sympathy)

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  18. There is a tribe here in southern Ecuador called the Saraguros that my wife and I, not honorary members but are extremely good friends with the leaders. There are some parallel that apply here. The Saraguros are from Bolivia originally. The Incas had a system where they would show up at your tribes doorstep with women and gifts to give the leaders if you would surrender without a fight or plan b was to unleash the overwhelmingly large army thatwould inhilate your tribe with no mercy. The Saraguros chose option A. The
    other thing they would do is completely transplant your tribe to another region
    which is why the Saraguros live in Southern Ecuador. Everything about them is
    still totally different from their neighbors. They still practice the Andean
    religion, dress like they did those centuries before, look completely different
    and fiercely protect their ways. I see Ukraine and possibly the world facing the
    same choice if that jackass Puten starts shooting off nukes. Did they make the right decision?

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    1. Should we surrender to Putin or to Xi? Or maybe to Kim? Pakistan perhaps? They're all nuclear, so it's quite a contest to chose who to surrender to. Are they going to surrender to one another? I, for one, am not willing to surrender my freedom to the first jackass who appears holding big guns.

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  19. I'm very much a fighter by nature and as an individual I would gladly choose to die the one death of a brave man than the 1000 deaths of a coward. But that is my choice as an individual. I feel it is above my pay grade to make that decision for humanity. If we have a leader like Zelinzky to get behind I say damned the torpedoes full speed ahead. That guy must have to carry his balls around in a wheel barrow,.

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  21. Hello Bernardo,
    I have recently become aware of you through an interview with Rupert Spira. When I saw you doing a political analysis, I became immediately interested.
    On the one hand, I completely agree with your analysis about Putin's psychlogy. I especially like how you describe "evil" in a way which totally makes sense but is at the same time not as inflated as usual.
    However, and please don't take this as Putin-apologetics, I think the West's faults need to be highlighted more, especially when looking at the conflicted from a "spiritual" perspective. Wouldn't you agree that the Global South, just as Russia and China, are perfectly justified to see NATO not as harbingers of peace and love and happiness, but as a hostile military alliance which buttresses Western geopolitical interests, often in violation of international law? No Russian government would have accepted Ukraine joining NATO, even a liberal leader. Just as the US would never tolerate Chinese troops in Mexico.
    How do I put this - I don't want to take anything away from your analysis of Putin's mind and how dangerous nationalism and totalitarian. abstractions are. You hit the nail on the head with this. However, as soon as you demand a more militant action against Putin, you run danger of subscribing to the same double-think you in the end caution against.
    Don't take this as a hostile comment. I'm interested in your thoughts.

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    1. When one says one thing that is true, one isn't forced or expected, by implication, to say everything else that is also true.

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  22. Here in the United States the president is considering cancelling student debt which will make his party more popular for the next election. However nobody is talking about the universities returning the trillions in tuition they benefitted from to grow exponentially. Make no doubt this is about the growth of an elite class not just in higher education, but banks, Wall Street and of course media which leans heavily on narrative and emphasis on one set of facts over another. Unfortunately democracy has become the Ultimate Strawman in the eyes of the autocrats who use national, religion and cultural preservation to justify their actions.

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  23. I'm not expressing my own views, but 'why' wouldn't we tolerate it? What is the reason you care about what happens to people while we live after knowing what you do concerning idealism? I'm curious.

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