I have just finished watching The Twilight Zone episode "The Obsolete Man," about a totalitarian state that executes those it considers useless. It reminded me that we live in a scary world, where the government monitors our phone calls, arrests dissidents without due process, and massacres civilians with aerial robots. No, our Western governments are not authoritarian regimes, but they soon will be. Why? Because our society is brainwashed, egotistic, and amoral.
A healthy democracy requires a cantankerous press that not only reports facts, but also challenges power. Yet The Fourth Estate perished long ago with the development of corporate media that cares only about profit. In the ruthless quest for money, there is a race to the bottom. The vilest and basest instincts of humankind are reflected in today's news: celebrity sex scandals, fear-mongering speculation about serial killers, and unconditional support for foreign wars. The MSNBC's, CNN's, and FOX's of this world are laughable propaganda mouthpieces for suits in ivory skyscrapers, looking down on the world through limelight spectacles.
This would be bearable, if we only had some resolve, and could see beyond Gucci handbags and trips to Vegas. Materialism has always existed, but never as pronounced as it is today. Advertisers convince us to buy luxury cars and lakeside cabins - forget the horrifying credit card bill. My peers care only about making fortunes at Goldman Sachs, without leaving the Earth a better place than they found it. Screw the poor, screw the mentally disabled, screw everybody. They must serve me, and my own neuroses.
And yet, ironically, we have become more individualistic, without retaining our status as individuals. Enlightenment values, the basis of modern law and morality, are eroding, because we no longer understand ourselves as unique. The other day, as I sat inside a hipster coffee shop, a friendly young man approached me and we started talking. The conversation turned to illegal NSA wiretapping, which my new acquaintance had no problem with: "I have nothing to hide." Forget that probable cause is required to conduct any surveillance, this common attitude reflects our scorched values. Why respect privacy at all? Because as individuals, we have the right to our own private lives, separate from the state. Such a common-sense notion was taken for granted fifty years ago, but in our amoral and postmodern lives, nothing is sacred. We use Facebook and Twitter to establish identities, only to end up being consumed by the mob.
Orwell's 1984 is often thought to be the model for authoritarian government, but Aldous Huxley's Brave New World is better: The World State gives its people a drug, soma, to make them euphoric, and provides them with vapid entertainment. "Bread and circuses," the Romans called it. Citizens are given relative freedom, which means nothing because they do not have the morality and maturity to use it. They are trapped in their own minds, unable to escape the raging fires of oppression.
This is our world today. People are just not bothered. Schools teach children to be passive consumers and workers, not active citizens. We work at boring jobs, then go home and turn on the TV, filling our minds with meaningless crap. Every aspect of our lives is, in a sense, programmed. We are free to choose, but only within a spectrum so narrow it is microscopic. We do not give a damn what the government does, so long as it does not mistreat us - but by then, it is too late.
Totalitarianism will succeed not despite society, but because of it.