It is rather difficult to be a mere observer of events when one is living through them. When I was surviving the war in Bosnia, I wasn’t crafting thoughtful sentences about the hellish experience of boredom induced by the war. Although I was only 13 years old, I’d already written all kinds of stories and essays when I was younger. Still, I wasn’t in a literary state of mind during the war.
Living through these strange current times is proving to be similar to my experience of war and being a refugee, but not for the reasons that might be easily (and wrongly) concluded. The level of uncertainty is higher today than what I’ve lived through in the past, but the dullness of the mind and boredom are two of the similarities between these two experiences. In addition, I am no longer 13 years old, as at the start of the war, and my observations and analysis today have a higher purpose than mere recording of the events.
Despite the difficulty of observing events while one is experiencing them, it is still crucial to assess the cultural situation and the state of a country’s soul. The meaning of time has changed, first because of technological intrusion, which appears to accelerate the speed at which life is moving. Second, ideology has got a solid grip on the information that comes at us in the United States, and this has created a fertile ground for various forms of tyranny. We don’t have to look too far to notice little dictators from the top office of the presidency to the lowly bureaucrats on your local school board. It seems everyone wants power, even if only for a little bit, and like kids on the playground, people become accustomed to bullying people, while a bigger bureaucrat bullies them.
Are we actually living through tyranny right now? Even the word “tyranny” has become something else. We use other precedents to compare, like America’s rejection of monarchy in its founding, or the Soviet Union’s Communism, which has a decades-long history of tyranny and millions of deaths. It’s not the same, one might say. It doesn’t help that we are living in a forced simulacrum created by the social media corporations, which function as the American version of the Soviet newspaper, Pravda. We are wondering what is real when we watch the news because anything can be fake, including the things we’ve relied on in the past.
One doesn’t have to be living in the full throes of a tyrannical regime to recognize that individual rights and the very definition of personhood are under siege. The attempts that we see daily are fast moving examples of tyrannical escalation, be it unconstitutional mandates or aggressive language used by the dictators. Despite what the technological and social networks want us to think (namely, that our lives depend on their platforms), we are still embodied beings who can trust the senses and the minds we are given.
Joseph Brodsky, a Jewish-Russian poet (who later in life became an American citizen), knew different levels of tyranny quite well. Even before he felt the boot of Soviet Communism, even before he was sent to mental institutions and finally sentenced to hard labor for not being a “state-approved” poet, Brodsky already considered himself a dissident. Although his parents were highly professional and intellectual, they lived in near poverty because they were Jewish. Brodsky endured many years of darkness, and his thoughts and unique vision are indispensable.
In his essay, “On Tyranny,” Brodsky reflects on what happens when a tyrant is old and senile. Such a tyrant is strange because he is trying to remain relevant to the masses, yet the masses don’t know how to react to him anymore. “The aging tyrant’s sole purpose,” writes Brodsky, “is to retain his position, and his demagoguery and hypocrisy do not tax the minds of his subjects with the necessity of belief or textual proliferation.” Be he old or new, there always arises a “blend of hypocrisy and cruelty.” The tyrant’s mission is an eradication of individualism, and as Brodsky notes, “The idea of one’s existential uniqueness gets replaced by that of one’s anonymity.” This anonymity and an annihilation of the soul is particularly visible today in a blatantly ideological and coercive usage of masks.
The speed of technology has changed the way we experience reality and time, but a tyrant exists outside of this form. While we’re struggling to function within Chronos, and possibly even comprehend our relationship to Kairos, the tyrant denies the existence of both. He or she is only interested in controlling other people’s lives. What makes today’s tyranny so unsettling is that this perennial characteristic of a tyrant has expanded. It’s not so much the central authority that we ought to focus on but the collectivistic party ideology that propels the machine of the senile dictator.
Observing such aspects about the Soviet Union, Brodsky writes that the mission of the party and the tyrant is to “accommodate their numerical expansion in the non-expanding world, and the only way to achieve it is through the depersonalization and bureaucratization of everybody alive. For life itself is a common denominator; that’s enough of a premise for structuring existence in a more detailed fashion.” Our whole experience with COVID ideology has been precisely that—creation of an endless, pseudo-scientific red tape that is surrounding us and through which we cannot move.
What makes our tyranny different from those in every other era is the globalists’ power-hungry dream of creating the unified form of existence, in which we do not differ from one another, where each one of us is composed of “digital identity,” and where individual uniqueness simply does not exist. Brodsky writes that “tyranny . . . structures your life for you. It does this as meticulously as possible . . . any display of individualism in a crowd may be harmful . . . the dream is to make every man his own bureaucrat.” The point, today, is to turn every person into a soulless dullard who self-reports and accepts surveillance, and who turns himself into a machine for ideological living. Certainly, what’s been the most troubling aspect of our time right now is how many people are willing to turn themselves into dutiful subjects of the tyrants.
Another significant difference from previous totalitarian events in history and the current expression of authoritarianism is the emptiness of the ideology. While Communism promised a new day for the workers, today’s COVID ideology offers no promises of a better life. Right from the outset, it has maintained the status quo of hatred, division, and coercion into the new way of life. They are remaking the world in their own globalist image, and everyone (including people who are blindly following the forced “new normal”) is used for ideologically charged corporatist purposes. It’s always cloudy and a “long, dark winter” is on the horizon, no matter what season we’re in.
Any ideology (and this is also true of COVID pseudo-scientific ideology) is primarily interested in a proliferation of a collectivist society. It is an environment where individual thought or questioning is unacceptable, and where the tyrant is the sole proprietor of another person’s metaphysics, and thus of his or her dignity and citizenship. Globalist ideology has been expanding its soulless tentacles for a while, especially in the last two decades. We should not accept the globalists’ twisted dream of turning individual human faces into one collectivist mask.