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How to Make Enemies and Influence People:  Anatomy of the Anti-pluralist, Totalitarian Mindset

Alfonso Montuori

The Big Idea

While summarising Montuori’s paper may well bring it home to the reader, there is an even better way to see the Big Idea.  For a wonderful and current example of this big idea in action, just follow the United States Presidential election process for the duration of the summer and fall of 2016.  In it you will see exactly what an anti-pluralist, totalitarian mind-set is in the so-called campaign of the Republican candidate for President.

We are not trying to politicise what is the normally objective stance of these reviews.  We only want to point out the resiliency of the position Montuori is explaining regarding political futures, their importance, and the inherent dangers of an anti-pluralistic and totalitarian mind-set.  His paper is political in nature.  He opened the door.  We walked through it.

Takeaways

  • There are essentially two global political futures, both of which are anti-pluralistic and totalitarian.
  • They are euphemistically called Jihad and McWorld. Whether militaristic or economic, they both are death-spirals: the one deteriorating into terrorism and frightful wars; the other a death of personal identity at the bidding of commercial uniformity and homogeneity.
  • Common to them both is fear of difference, uncertainty, and complexity.
  • In the Twentieth Century in particular there is a long line of despots who came to power by fear mongering, by convincing the public that national security is at risk, and that they can save the country from invaders or outsiders.
  • The people become dependent, homogenized, and largely silenced.
  • The regime or the socializing agencies promise easy solutions, structure, the rule of law and order, and security.
  • These patterns of thinking and behaving are reversible if education on a global scale prepares citizens for pluralism and finding complexities as creative growth experiences.

The Research

Consider this publication a position paper of the utmost importance.  In it Alfonso Montuori unpacks the essential characteristics of an anti-pluralistic and totalitarian mindset.  The significance of this subject will become clearer as we briefly summarise the author’s line of thinking.

The first distinction we find is that made in 1992 by Benjamin Barber’s Atlantic Monthly piece entitled “Jihad vs McWorld.”   That essay is a discussion of two possible political futures.  Both are chilling; neither one is democratic nor pluralistic.  Both appear as quasi-collective trances.  As Jihad, behaviours intolerant of uncertainty and difference result in endless war and terror; as McWorld, we lose ourselves and our identities in the homogenisation of difference into uniformity, commodification, and eventual indifference.  What Montuori aims to do is create a path through the totalitarian mindset and towards a better understanding pluralism as an alternative global political future.

Generally speaking, totalitarian thinking is identified as comfort-seeking by way of reducing ambiguity and complexity; and that goal is served by universalising a preference for simplicity over complexity, black-or-white “thinking” over creative thought/action, and a quest for certainty over celebration of difference.

The conditions and characteristics of anti-pluralism

  • In the history of versions of brainwashing and mind control, the perpetrators focus on the physical, affect, and cognition. Working through these three levels create dependency.
  • Physical dependency results from food and water restriction, direct threats, or torture.
  • Emotional dependency can arise from any number of perceived threats leading to fear, anger, or outrage all of which mobilize public opinion.
  • Cognitive dependency leads to reducing complexity by drastic simplicity and simple courses of action.
  • Perceived immediate threats and corresponding fear compresses mental space and time. Even when a threat hasn’t materialized but is perceived to be “the enemy at the door,” action trumps thoughtful remedies.
  • There is a susceptibility to situational pressures in the face of pluralism and ambiguity. Reducing complexity becomes the immediate response to uncertainty. The issues are restructured and closed off from the actual subtleties of the situation.  Rules are imposed; expectations set.  “Law and order” comforts.  Order at all costs.  The need for predictability prevents the novel, the surprising, the new idea.  The desire for strong leadership grows.

The totalitarian, anti-pluralist-mindset

  • An out-group is created, ranks close. Stereotypes are created.  The out-group is targeted.
  • Either/or logic prevails. Binary opposition.  Either you are for us or against us.  What is true and what is not is defined by the in-group.  The out-group is blamed for what is gone and going wrong.
  • Authoritarian submission and hierarchy arrive. A savior appears.  Submission to the self-declared authority.  The chain-of-command is imposed.  The hierarchy of domination and centralization of authority is power-driven.
  • Given the creation of the out-group, an in-group must be the “us.” And the us is right-thinking.  And right-thinking is the status quo.  Self-reflection and self-inquiry are discouraged.

The paradigm of complexity:  creative attitude and creative discourse

Thus far Montuori has simply described the nature and significance of what he is calling a totalitarian, anti-pluralist attitude.  It is his belief that such fear-driven tendencies are all too common.  As political futures go, the long history of instances of totalitarian regimes and anti-pluralistic thinking demand thoughtful alternatives.

His argument is that human beings are just not particularly well-prepared to live in a global world that is inevitably and increasingly pluralistic and incredibly complex.  What he believes is an urgent need is a radical reform of education proper.  After all, it is hard to deny the obvious: in spite of the common ground of being human as such, people also have different cultural habits, beliefs, behaviours, traditions, politics, religions and histories.  These differences cannot be reduced to them-and-us any more than social problems can be solved by economic or military conquests.  These differences are complicated human life-experiences that cannot be wished away with anti-pluralistic preferences and strategies.

So what kind of educational intervention should we endorsed on a global scale?  It requires education in pluralism, complexity, and creativity.  That’s what.

  • Education for pluralism means not schooling, but lifelong learning. To create bona fide pluralistic futures means taking considered positions on the sometimes uncomfortable and disturbing international differences between us all.  Embrace, don’t eliminate or deny.  Ethnocentrism has had its day.  Time to move on.  Mary Catherine Bateson once said that “We are not what we know, but what we are willing to learn.”
  • Availability of information is not our problem; but organizing knowledge is. Knowledge proper is multi-dimensional, complex (part/whole), and dialogical.  So complexity, disorder, and uncertainty are not the enemies they are often supposed to be.  They are the match-sticks that light our inherent ability to discover and learn.
  • Tolerance of ambiguity is the fundament of creativity. Creativity is not confined to the arts.  Creative people are puzzled, motivated, surprised, and provoked to explore.  Few rules.  Few roads. Everything is possible.  Freedom from totalitarian schemes means freedom for learning lifelong.
  • Protection from becoming a true believer (Eric Hoffer) demands alertness when dealing with potential opinion manipulation via all kinds of media sources. So media literacy is a necessary component of learning.
  • Creative dialogue means having voice. Civic discourse is an absolute necessity.  Such discourse is civil, not a zero-sum contest. If pluralism is the cornerstone of democracy, then preserving democracy depends on respecting difference, on coexistence (or no existence says Piet Hein), on civil discussions, and on tolerance. 

And that is Montuori’s agenda for a pluralistic future.