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Closed systems, fascism, and the laws of thermodynamics [View All]

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starroute Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Oct-14-07 12:41 PM
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Closed systems, fascism, and the laws of thermodynamics
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I've just been trying to read through nadinbrzezinski's thread about whether we are becoming a closed society -- but that seemed to be dissolving into such nitpicky arguments about whether or not Guantanamo can be compared to Dachau that I couldn't stay with it.

So I thought I'd start a thread of my own, where I try to get around the nitpicks by hauling the discussion up to a higher level of abstraction.

Let's start with Wikipedia's definition of what a closed system means in scientific terinology:

A closed system is a system in the state of being isolated from the environment ... in practice no system can be completely closed; there are only varying degrees of closure.

In physics, a closed system can exchange heat and work, but not matter, with its surroundings. In contrast an isolated system can exchange neither heat nor matter with the surroundings.

That sounds like a reasonable metaphor to start with. It suggests, for example, that a system in which capital and goods can flow freely, but where there are limits on the movement of people from place to place, might reasonably be described as closed. So might a system in which interactions with the outside world are heavily filtered through approved channels -- or one in which people are simply taught to be fearful and suspicious of any message that comes from outside.

By any of those standards, the US is indisputably far more of a closed system today than it was 10 or 20 years ago.

But the greatest issue in discussing closed societies involves the methods by which they're maintained. This is where most of the disagreements arise, in large part because the mechanisms today are far more subtle than the crude techniques of sixty or seventy years ago. In those days, the best way the Nazis had to keep track of people was to tattoo numbers on their arms and buy a bunch of IBM card-sorting machines. That isn't needed these days, when we all come pre-numbered. The best means of control the Russians had was to force people to carry identification papers and show them on demand. These days, a single ID number coughs up your entire life history.

But it's not just the technology of surveillance that has been upgraded. Even the essential control mechanism of fear works differently now than it did in the 1940's. What need is there for concentration camps for a relative few when everyone in the society can be maintained in constant fear of losing their job, losing their health insurance, losing their house, and losing their credit record?

To look for explicit parallels with fascism is to lose sight of the real focus, which has to be the extended right-wing campaign to destroy first the unions and then the social safety net. That -- together with such things as student loans and restrictions on bankruptcy, which increasingly lock people into a life-long cycle of unpayable debt -- is by far the most effective control mechanism to make sure that ordinary non-rebellious citizens don't get out of line and start taking independent action.

What the control merchants ultimately learned from the example of the 1960's was that it doesn't matter if there are a few rebels within the system, as long as they can be kept from inspiring anyone to actually take action. They can always be marginalized, bought off, co-opted -- or, at worst, killed and their images used to sell t-shirts and wristwatches.

With all respect to nadinbrzezinski, our greatest fear here at DU should be not that they have files on us and we're going to wake up to find ourselves disappeared some bright morning. We should be worrying instead about what they're going to do next to demonize us, or turn us into figures of mockery, and to convince our fellow-citizens that they needn't or daren't listen to what we have to say.

Because that kind of isolation of the larger citizenry from the outside world would be the most effective implementation of a closed society that can be imagined.

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