The Maryland Socrates Cafe Meetup Group Message Board › New Meetup: Totalitarianism 101 (A Philosophical Perspective)
Takoma Park, MD
Announcing a new Meetup for The Maryland Socrates Cafe Meetup Group!
What: Totalitarianism 101 (A Philosophical Perspective)
When: Sunday, December 12, 2010 11:30 AM
Where: La Madeleine Bakery Cafe & Bistro
7607 Old Georgetown Road
Is Totalitarianism merely a lack of democracy? Or is it a specific way of thinking? Why is philosophy --and the Socratic Method--especially alien to Totalitarianism? Moreover, what are the philosophical assumptions underlying Totalitarianism? Specifically, what is this ideology's doctrine of the meaning of truth? Absolute ( unconditional ) truth? Or a version of relative truth that asserts that truth is only relative to the ( absolute) power of the State?
The Socratic Method focuses on the individual and his/her right to ask a question as well as
respond with additional questions and answers. A Socratic dialogue is not "scripted" in advance;its outcome is unknown and often --almost always--inconclusive, usually raising fresh questions that form the basis for a new dialogue, not a set of fixed answers that are accepted as political dogma and enforced by the absolute power of the State.
Truth is an open ended process; the Socratic moderator does not impose an external set of answers
( approved by the State and its representatives), but helps the individual "give birth" to an answer to a question, this answer then being tested within the context of the dialogical method.
In contrast, Totalitarianism is a political system (a single political person, faction, or class) that believes in total regulation of both public and private life by the State. It recognizes no limit to its authority. It regulates every aspect of public and private life wherever feasible according to a ideology (a pervasive scheme of values promulgated by institutional means to direct most if not all aspects of public and private life.
The Socratic Method,and by implication most areas of human thought (science, literature, etc) introduces doubts,ambiguities, and unsettling questions. In comparison, Totalitarianism strives for a spotless and perfect kind of truth without doubts. The Socratic Method has an open theory of truth. Totalitarianism has a closed theory of truth.
So is the Totalitarian Theory of Truth only an "absolutist" theory? As Philosopher Hannah Arendt said Totalitarianism seeks to "stabilize" people by preventing any unforeseen,free,or spontaneous acts.
Yet in 1984, the classic novel about a totalistic state, George Orwell describes a process of thought control that results in political prisoner Winston Smith being brainwashed to believe that "2+2=5." In the Big Brother state all human knowledge is malleable and relative. " Anything could be true" ( page 278).
History has no objective status; Winston Smith comes to believes that the " past was alterable." There is no such thing as an objective human nature: Humanity is relative to the Party of Big Brother who defines what "humanity" is and is not. Nor does science or art exist. In fact,Big Brother rewrites human language itself. It is called New Speak.
We will consider various questions on totalitarianism from a philosophical point of view. What are its assumptions about truth and meaning? Could there be a "partial"totalitarianism? Is the Totalitarian Project impossible in an Internet-linked world where all information is available and transparent? ( See Wikileaks).
Perhaps Totalitarianism is now not possible in the modern world where technology allows for such an open and rapid distribution of information and knowledge? But could there still be a kind of totalitarianism that results because of a belief that there is no such no thing as an objective truth resulting in a loss of critical faculties? Does the belief in the relativity of human Knowledge foster a culture where totalitarianism could grow due to loss of analytic and Socratic skills? Or instead its opposite democracy?
At the Socrates Cafe there is never any danger that any totalitarian master will suppress your critical mind.
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