Totalitarismo y cibernética (II) / Oswaldo Barreto

Totalitarianism and Cybernetics (II)

In the first part of this Balanza de Palabra column, published last Friday April 27th, we wrote that we’d venture “to write about a novelty such as what could be the temptation of cybernetics for (the) totalitarian dictatorship that president-elect Hugo Chávez is ready to build.” And since on that occasion we specifically mentioned the old ties that exist between cybernetics, as it was understood by the Greeks (the art of directing men), and politics, we should now clarify, so as to be precise about the meaning we give to the phrase “the temptation of cybernetics,” the opportunity that exists today, thanks to the prodigious development this science has achieved and its application to information technology and diverse communication systems, of considerably strengthening direct relations between governors and governed. This temptation – to say it in concrete terms which have been used for a long time now in studies on totalitarianism – is none other, today in Venezuela, than the one that presents itself to Hugo Chávez of furnishing himself with computer systems to establish an “official ideology,” create “a single party of the masses,” exercise “control of the means of communication,” as well as “control of the country’s economy,” along with the possibility of shortening as much as possible the distance between the will and power of he who governs and the private life of each one of the individuals he governs.

It’s well known that the determination to accomplish each one of those aims is what has characterized in equal measure the totalitarian regimes so different from one other in various aspects as were Hitler’s Nazism, Mussolini’s fascism or Stalin’s communism. All of them were determined, with more or less skill and with varied and particular strategies for accomplishing such goals, but in that determination, none could forego having human beings who inexorably served as intermediaries between the will of the supreme leader and that of his subjects. And, as has been revealed by the variegated fauna of researchers into those three political regimes, these human intermediaries, despite their declared utter identification with the führer, il duce, or the comrade secretary general, were political men with ideological, moral and philosophical nuances, or with pragmatic behavior that differentiated them from and even placed them in opposition to the chief, to the extent that they interfered between him and the tyrannized masses. The ministerial cabinets while they held meetings, the political-administrative institutions while they functioned effectively, the single parties themselves that were shown to be so decisive for attaining power, all these were the work of the thoughts and actions of political men who, regardless of what post they held in the hierarchy of power, ended up being irreplaceable for the dictator, even if it was only for ephemeral moments. The supreme conductor of the government could not exercise Executive power without counting on collaborators who were also political men. Of the other public powers, the Legislative and the Judicial, the history of totalitarianism teaches us they either disappeared (as was the case in Germany with the burning of the Reichstag and the imposition of the Enabling Law) or were composed of men who had lost the personal will and capacity to act with freedom (as with the soviets or the Soviet judges). In those times, there were no “situation rooms” or “computational teams,” made up of human beings who serve as cybernetic instruments of the utmost competence and effectiveness, without necessarily being political or, better yet, who should be essentially apolitical. They now exist and are in place and the institutions they make up could already be enabled; if this were to be the case, in what new political situation would we find ourselves?

{ Oswaldo Barreto, TalCual, 4 May 2007 }

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