A non-blog by Luca Ammendola

Author: Luca Ammendola (Page 2 of 2)


From the film “Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom” by Pier Paolo Pasolini

The following article doesn’t contain any spoilers. No need to have read the books to follow but if you haven’t I suggest, in a friendly manner, you do so. 

In the Twentieth Century, two English writers Aldous Huxley and George Orwell, set out to write the two most iconic science fiction novels about totalitarianism in modern times: “A brave new world” and “1984”. The two novels painted two types of totalitarian societies diametrically opposed. In “A brave new world” Huxley describes a totalitarian system that is, on the surface, benevolent; he paints the picture of a futile and hedonistic society where people are ruled through pleasure and controlled through technology and science. Inversely “1984” represents a world, divided in three blocks, in a perpetual state of war, where workers are oppressed through violence (in all of it’s forms) and are watched over by the all seeing eye of Big Brother, the incarnation of a bureaucratic repressive and omniscient power. 

The questions I invite you to explore today are: which of these two dystopias was more accurate in describing our present condition of turmoil and dysfunction? And which of these two typologies of totalitarianism is most likely to function in our modern world? 

Both books, at a fundamental level, share a common philosophical enquiry: what is the place of the individual in a world that, through scientific and technological progress, is more and more directed towards mass production and consumption. It is therefore not surprising that both dystopias have many details in common. 

Both writers saw a future shaped by weapons of mass destruction, they agreed about the danger of dividing humanity into categories, determined by biological engineering and psychological conditioning (Huxley) or traditional class combined with a sort of loyalty system (Orwell). Both men imagined sex as a key element to implement totalitarianism (on the subject I advise you to watch Pier Paolo Pasolini’s masterpiece “The 120 days of Salò”), though in diametrically opposite ways: state-enforced repression and celibacy in Orwell’s book; deliberate, narcotising promiscuity and hedonism in Huxley’s. Manipulation of language and falsification of history is common in both novels. Both novels imagined a future dominated by America. Both men thought that future governments would spend a lot of effort permanently trying to incite economic consumption.

The main difference between these two visions could be considered as a difference in length of vision. Orwell described 20th century totalitarianism following his experiences fighting Fascism in Spain. He saw totalitarian power for what is was during his lifetime. He gave an accurate and terrifying account of Fascism, Nazism and Stalinism. His work was the work of an historian of sort. Huxley on the other side was more interested with the speculative idea of what totalitarianism would look like in the future. He created a perfect dystopia using his knowledge of psychology, science and technology to create the “perfect” totalitarian state. His work was the work of a philosopher. 

Huxley had the genius intuition of understanding that in the future true totalitarianism could not be implemented through force. Ultimate control would be implemented through pleasure, not pain. Because this is harder to escape. If a dictator, wearing a uniform, oppresses the people through violence he creates a situation that is impossible to maintain on the long run. This is because of three main reasons: first of all the oppressed is aware of being oppressed, secondly he knows who’s oppressing him (the problem of the uniform) and finally (because he knows he’s being oppressed and he knows who’s doing it) it is only a matter of time before the oppressed picks up a weapon and fights back. What Huxley realised is that a truly effective dictatorship needs to make the oppressed believe he’s not oppressed at all but a free agent in a free society, secondly the dictator (power) needs to hide in plain sight and drop the uniform for a suit and a tie, which gives him an air or normality and respectability, and finally he needs to do everything in his power to make sure the people he’s oppressing are happy enough not to revolt. The key to this? In Huxley’s mind it was a mixture of sexual hedonism, medical drugs and consumerism. Again: control through pleasure. Because who’s going to rebel against pleasure?

He understood that a truly Machiavellian dictator would not try to eliminate freedom. All he is required to do is to define what freedom looks like. Or to quote Henry Ford: “You can have your car any colour you want… as long as it’s black”. In Huxley’s mind future totalitarianism will make us love our condition of slaves by giving us the impression of being in control when in reality we do exactly what power wants us to. We think we are free but aren’t. Humanity would be  tranquillised by pleasure and drugs and the voluntary distractions of “civilised infantilisation”.

In the man’s own words: “My own belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing and of satisfying its lust for power (…) the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience.”

By now you’ve probably gathered that it is the writer’s humble opinion that Aldous Huxley “wins the battle” hands down. I’ve reread “Brave new world” this summer (and its sequel “Return to brave new world”) and was astonished by the accuracy of it’s predictions. From biogenetic as a technological system to breed perfect children that will form the class system of the future (a practice still at it’s dawn but being implemented as I write. On the subject I suggest you read about Dr. Steinberg and the Fertility institute of California), to emotionless, neurotic, promiscuous, impersonal sex promoted as a sign of civilisation, to the wide spread use of legalised antidepressants, anti-anxiety and sedative drugs (even on children), to infantile mass entertainment (I’m looking at you Marvel), to the lullingly, deadeningly, numbly pleasant society promoted left right and center through advertising and television, to pleasure in all of it’s forms as the sacred Graal of capitalism, to sources of distractions as a mean to control the conversation, to science and technology as the new religion it is scary to see how much our society resembles a dystopian fantasy written some 80 years ago. 

He even foresaw Facebook (in the form of gigantic card-indexes, true, but he got the gist). Facebook’s mission statement “to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together” sounds a lot like the new world’s motto “Community, Identity, Stability” and the complete ban on the sight of breast feeding is common to the novel and to the website (being a symbol of our humanity and our relation to nature). Furthermore: the public nature of relationship status, the idea that everything should be shared, and the idea that “everyone belongs to everyone else” are also common themes of the novel and the company. And above all, the idea, perfectly put by Zuckerberg and perfectly exemplifying Huxley’s main theme, that “privacy is an outdated norm”.

But what of Orwell? Well it’s one of those cases of “when the new system doesn’t work revert to the old”. Repressive violence is still very much an option when benevolent totalitarianism fails (for a recent example of this I invite you to read my previous article BACK TO THE FUTURE? – or try to walk around without a mask). Orwell also foresaw the mass surveillance state of our modern day societies. From CCTV cameras with facial recognition, to the patriot act, to accessible (by the state) cameras on your computer, iphone, car, TV and so on we are indeed constantly watched over by Big Brother. Our world also has an increasing number of strongmen leaders (I’m looking at you Trump) who rewrite history and ignore the truth (I’m looking at you every American president probably since Kennedy), and a growing emphasis on crimes-by-thought. We don’t have an official “Two Minutes of Hate”, as Orwell’s state does, but our social media equivalents come pretty damn close. Finally the idea of permanent low-level war as a new norm looks a lot like the 19 year global “war on terror”. Finally the oppression of workers is very much a modus operandi of our economic systems (if you don’t believe me go talk with an Amazon worker).

It is therefore fair to say, and I say this with a heavy heart, that our modern “shining” democracies look more and more like a hybrid of the two novels. And that is not a pretty picture. 

Of course there is one country that is ahead of us in the race towards the perfect totalitarian state (but worry not we will soon follow) and that is China. If China proved one thing it’s that capitalism works much better under totalitarian rule than democracy (after all what could we expect from an economic system based on the Hobbesian motto “Homo homini lupus”?). China functions on a thin rope-walking act between “Brave new world” and “1984”, between hedonistic Capitalism and oppressive Communism (although China is communist in name only): total control of it’s citizens – to the point of having a social credit system (a carrot and a stick system that asks you to trade your freedom for small narcissistic or materialistic benefits) – but enough freedom and entertainment for people not to want to rebel. In my pessimism I believe that’s where we’re also heading, and the totalitarian turn our Western societies have taken during this year only confirms it. 

I leave the last words to Aldous Huxley for I share his thought: “Though I remain no less sadly certain than in the past that sanity is a rather rare phenomenon, I am convinced that it can be achieved and would like to see more of it”.


From the film “Back to the future” by Robert Zemeckis

On March 23, 1933, the German parliament passed “The Law to Remedy the Distress of the People and the Reich” (later known as the Enabling Act). This became the cornerstone of Adolf Hitler’s dictatorship and allowed him to enact laws, including ones that violated the Weimar Constitution, without the approval of either parliament or the president of the Reich. German judges (namely the Supreme Court) did not challenge the law. They viewed Hitler’s government as legitimate and continued to regard themselves as state servants who owned him their allegiance. The Law “formally granted the government the authority to issue whatever edicts it wanted under the guise of remedying the distress of the people.” This gave Hitler full decisional power on all political decisions in Germany. Ten years later this Law gave way to the Ghettos, the deportations of Jews and dissidents, the appropriation of private wealth, the night incursions in private residences from the SS, the war machine and ultimately the Holocaust. 

On November 18, 2020, the German parliament passed a law called “The Infection Protection Act” (“Das Infektionsschutzgesetz” in German). The Law “formally grants the government the authority to issue whatever edicts it wants under the guise of protecting the public health.” Up to now, the German government has mainly relied on decrees to tackle the coronavirus crisis — a practice that has been criticised by parliamentarians from all parties and deemed unconstitutional by some. Officially this new Law transfers some legislative power from the parliament to the executive, the government. The infection protection law will now create a legal basis for the government to restrict some fundamental rights enshrined in the German constitution in its attempt to fight the pandemic (?). The government has been doing this anyway — ordering lockdowns, curfews, travel bans, banning demonstrations, raiding private homes and businesses, harassing and arresting dissidents, etc. — but now it has been legitimised by the Bundestag and enshrined into law.

To be fair: as of today it would be mildly unjust to compare the two Laws. Mainly because, for now, all government decrees, passed under this new law, can only be temporary measures and expire after four weeks. But I do strongly advise us all to think how dangerously we are playing with our Constitutional rights (I’m using the example of Germany but most Western countries are using similar political tactics). 

Of course I can hear the most basic (I wanted to write primitive-oops I just did) retort to this: “this is an emergency and under an emergency extreme measures must be taken”. Let’s assume, for the sake of conversation, that such thinking is correct. When will the emergency end? With the  total disappearance of the virus (highly unlikely)? With mass mandatory vaccinations (no I’m not entering this conversation here and now)? When the great economic reset will be completed? When the media will decide it has ended? With the second coming of the Christ? When? I have no answer. But what I do know for certain is that once a law has made it’s way into the books it is very rare it gets deleted (delete limitless executive power just for the sake of democracy? You crazy?) A very recent example of this comes from our American friends. Do you remember the rhetoric after 9/11? It went something like this: “this is an emergency and under an emergency extreme measures must be taken” (sounds familiar). This gave birth to the patriot act and to the largest state surveillance program the world has ever seen. It was meant to be a temporary measure. Although slightly amended (mainly thanks to the American patriot Edward Snowden and one of the last true journalist on earth Julian Assange) it remained active until March 27, 2020, 19 years after the declaration of emergency.

It is worth remembering that totalitarianism never appears from one day to the next. You don’t go to sleep in a democracy and wake up the next morning in a totalitarian state. Totalitarianism is like a plant that needs watering and time to grow (I apologise to all plants for the unflattering metaphor). It grows little by little, step by step, accommodation by accommodation, rationalisation by rationalisation. It grows out of apathy and ignorance and fear and compliance with power. It grows out of conformism (on this topic I suggest you all to go watch, if you haven’t already, Bernardo Bertolucci’s masterpiece “The conformist”). The turn from a democracy to totalitarianism takes months… years. And many concessions from the people to the power. But the result is always the same. Although the narratives and symbols change, totalitarianism always leads to less freedom, more control and violence as a form of governance. 

Last Wednesday as the Protection Act was being passed by the parliament, thousands of protesters gathered in the streets. Most were men, women and children protesting peacefully. They were met by thousands of riot Police who beat up and arrested hundreds of them and then hosed down the rest with cold water. (By the way isn’t it ironic that a government so worried about the health of it’s people would spray protesters with ice cold water in November in Germany? Pneumonia anyone? Do I need to remind you that the common flu is part of the Coronavirus family?).  Of course these protesters were described by the media as “Corona deniers”, “far-right extremists”, “anti-vaxxers”, “neo-Nazis” and so on. To be clear, like in all protests that gather thousands of people undoubtedly some of these elements were present. But for the most part the protest was a peaceful one (until police brutality took over) lead by honest citizens carrying copies of the Grundgesetz (the constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany), worried about the dangerous game their government was playing. They were staging these protests to challenge the government’s right to suspend the German constitution indefinitely and rule society by decree and force. And they were met with violence. 

Now to those of you who are saying to themselves that I’m exaggerating, that I’m overly pessimistic, a Cassandra, a crazy conspiracist or a down right fool and that these kind of totalitarian states cannot and will not exist in our modern democracies I want to remind you that any alternative media outlet, who doesn’t marry the official narrative, is being censored (what happened to the good old democratic mantra “I don’t agree with what you are saying but am willing to die for you to say it”?) that a well known dissident lawyer who was filing lawsuit after lawsuit against the German government calling their management of the crisis unconstitutional was forcibly committed to a psychiatric ward (just for couple of days rest assured. Just enough time for her to think about the consequences of her misbehaviour) that heavily armed police are arresting bloggers (although it isn’t clear exactly what for, as the authorities have released no details and the mainstream media is not reporting it) to name just a few fun examples.

One of these bloggers is Dr. Andreas Noack, who was accused of providing medical assistance (yes you read correctly: medical assistance) to hundreds of protestors during lockdown protests against the German government. Reports also indicate that Dr. Noack was under investigation by the authorities for being non-compliant with the COVID-19 lockdown laws. If you don’t believe me click the link below. No need for you to speak German. But I warn you: this is the scariest video you’ll watch all week. (Please note the clear Dr. No style lair this dangerous individual is in.)


Finally, as the proverbial cherry on the cake, we have this democratic gentleman: Aziz Bozkurt the Chairman of the migration and diversity group of the SPD (the Social Democratic Party of Germany – I feel like crying) calling on a tweet for people who refuse to conform to the “New normal” to be deported “No matter how. Does not matter where. Just get out of my country.” Presumably his no matter how and where has something to do with trains?

I want to be clear here. This is not me bashing against our German friends. The same is happening in Italy, in France, in England and so on and so on. It is not a German problem it is generalised. All over Europe the police is hunting down the mask-less on the streets, raiding restaurants, bars, and people’s homes. All over Europe our constitutional rights are being suspended in the name of an emergency that might have no end. All over Europe the crisis is being used fas a form of governance through fear and violence. All over Europe democratic debate is being silenced in favour of state propaganda (without debate there can only be propaganda). All over Europe the conformists, those who let their lives be run by fear, apathy and cowardice are giving the state more and more power because “they know best” and “they are doing it for our own good” (these, of course, are the same people than in a not too distant future will claim: “I was only following orders!”). All over Europe disagreement with and protest against the “New normal” is being met by violence.

I only ask, to you and to myself, “until when”? When will this dangerous, dangerous, dangerous game we are playing will stop? I’ll admit I’m a pessimist on this topic. Once this kind of thing gets started, in the best case scenario, it does not stop until democracy is nothing but a fairy tale to tell the children as they go to bed (the worst case scenario ends with millions of dead). It might take us some time to get there, but, make no mistake, the very clear and present danger is that’s where we’re headed. 


From the film “The great dictator” by Charlie Chaplin

Couple of days ago I posted a silly joke on Facebook. Here it is:

“Pfizer announced a vaccine for Covid! It’s 90% effective! Now I have a question: if you were about to jump out of a plane and the instructor told you that your parachute is 90% effective… would you jump?”

Granted it is not a great joke, and not even an original one at that – the original is from Bill Burr (an American comedian) and was based on the percentages of divorce in America – but it was enough for all hell to break loose. Two factions began arguing and fighting over vaccines, new world order and whether Bill Gates is a philanthropist or a criminal. This, to me, says a lot about the elementary level of dichotomy in the debate out there but that’s not the point of this rant. Needless to say I deleted the post given that I have no intention of being the involuntary vehicle for sterile dog fights. 

To me this silly episode also indicates a growing aggravation of the discourse and the inability to find humour within the problems we face. One of the comments I’ve received read something along the lines of “people are dying out there… there’s nothing to joke about”. I couldn’t disagree more. I believe humour to be the first and most effective way to challenge tragedy and hardship. But because I detest formulating my opinions on ideological beliefs I went and did some research about humour in tragic contexts. Here’s what I found (I don’t claim the following to be original research; it’s a sort of mash-up of four papers/studies I’ve read).

Auschwitz, during the second world war: a group of Jewish women are pushed into a room upon arrival at the infamous concentration camp. There a group of soldiers proceeds to shave off their hair. The women are scared, angry and desperately looking at their beautiful long hair falling on the floor. They cry and cry. One of these women, who just finished having her hair shaved, looks at the others and with a smile on her face says: “What are you all crying about? You know how much my hairdresser Misha was asking for a haircut? A hairdo for free? Never in my life!”. The cries stop and some laughter and smiles make their appearance. Cutting hair was a way to dehumanise prisoners. A silly joke was a quick and effective way to refuse such dehumanisation.

When faced with tragedy most are overwhelmed by feelings of sadness and compassion, which is obviously understandable. But sadness and/or seriousness, on the long run, is an ineffective way to cope with tragedy. Sadness leads to depression, depression leads to hopelessness, hopelessness leads to giving up, giving up leads to death. 

Humour and joy on the other side address the same tragic situation through a form of emotional release. Humour forces you to be optimistic about the future, it allows you to stay afloat amidst tragedy and despair. Laughter provides a momentary mental escape. Or, in the words of Conrad Hyers: “Comedy expresses the refusal to give tragedy the final say”.

Victor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist, a prisoner in the concentration camps, and author of the masterpiece “Man’s Search for Meaning” (one of the greatest books of the past century, in my opinion) noted that humor was one of the things that helped people survive in the camps. He tells this story: a prisoner accidentally bumps into a Nazi guard. The guard turns and shouts, “Schwein!” (“pig” in German). The prisoner bows and says, “Cohen. Pleased to meet you.” The joke clearly demonstrates how humor helps reverse who’s in control. Furthermore the oppressor has no defence against humour. If he tries to fight back he only appears more ridiculous. Even in the terrible conditions of the camp, such jokes provided a means of momentarily overcoming extreme adversity.

Finding humor in the face of death was called “gallows humor” by Freud. His classic example was of a man who was about to be shot by a firing squad, and was asked if he wanted a last cigarette. “No thanks,” he said, “I’m trying to quit.” Again, the joke helped the doomed man turn the tables and take emotional control of the situation. 

It it also worth noting that Adolf Hitler had no sense of humour. He feared being laughed at and made any anti-Nazi jokes illegal. Such jokes were considered an act of treason. That’s because he understood that laughter is a defence mechanism, it helps internalise abnormality, it helps solidifying the fighting spirit, to overcome fear. Above all it undermines the power of the dictator for it is the proof of an autonomous self that makes choices outside of social/political authorities and thinks outside their ideological framework. In other words laughter is rebellious and humour sets you free. This is a lesson we should all keep in mind in these strange times of ours in which we are too dangerously toying with dictatorial ideas. 

Of course there is another side of the medal: a smart dictator will allow humour for he knows that it alleviates the frustration, pain and anger of the oppressed. It is rumoured that Stalin’s communist propaganda machine had an office specialised in creating jokes against the regime. A form of perverted control through release. I think this lesson has been learned all too well by people in power today. Real oppression today is not carried out through violence but through benevolence. But this is another topic which is best represented in the two antithetical types of dictatorships presented by Huxley and Orwell in their books “Brave new world” and “1984”.

So to answer my friend who claimed that “people are dying out there… there’s nothing to joke about” I leave you with the words of Rudolf Kalmar, an Austrian journalist who wrote a satyrical play on scraps of paper found around a concentration camp while being imprisoned there:

It is the old song 
that you see here in the play 
But always keep a word in mind 
Everything is hell 
soon it will get well
through this magic word: humour, humour!


From the film “The leopard” by Luchino Visconti

WARNING: this will probably anger both Biden and Trump supporters!

I keep on seeing celebrations and jubilation every time I open Facebook: the “monster” Donald Trump is defeated (maybe?) and Joe Biden will be the next president of the USA (maybe? and if yes for how long?). 

I understand the joy; I’ve always disliked Trump for he represents everything I despise in a man. But these celebrations seem frankly excessive to me. 

We should keep in mind who Joe Biden is and what his track record shows. So as not to be overwhelmed by our enthusiasm and forget that it is the duty of every citizen who believes in social justice, equality, love, compassion and creating a better and fairer world to keep the people in power in check. It is our duty to give Mr. Biden the same level of scrutiny and political pressure we gave Trump. 

Joe Biden, we must always keep this in mind, was the vice president of the ‘Nobel Peace Prize’ Barack Obama. Another president celebrated as a hope for change in the USA. We all know how it went. The ‘Nobel Peace Prize’ (and his second in command), during his presidency dropped bombs on Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq and Syria. He green lit the “drone wars”, the “kill lists” and kept Guantanamo up and running (despite promising to do the opposite). He has imposed criminal sanctions against Venezuela, defined as an “unusual and extraordinary threat to national security”, armed the coup leaders in Caracas as well as in Managua in a failed attempt to overthrow the Sandinista government led by Commander Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. Supported the lawfare operations in Latin America that led to the parliamentary coup against socialist president Dilma Rousseff in Brazil and the political killing of former Argentine president Cristina Kirchner (a center-left social democrat).

The Biden family has unclear links and deals with neo-Nazis in Ukraine. Hunter Biden – Joe’s son – joined the board of directors of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian gas company, in May 2014, with a salary of $ 50,000 a month. Biden’s son was chosen despite not speaking the language and having no particular experience in the energy field. But he was co-opted a few months after Obama’s decision to entrust his vice president with the task of following the political transition in Ukraine. Where by transition we mean the color revolution that brought neo-Nazis to power in Ukraine in place of President Viktor Yanukovych.

Then there is the infamous 1994 Crime bill which extended the death penalty to 60 new crimes, stiffened sentences, offered states strong financial incentives for building new prisons, and helped lead to the wave of mass incarceration (of mostly black men) that resulted in the United States accounting for 25% of the world’s prison population.

In short, sincere democrats and anti-imperialists have no reason to celebrate the election of Joe Biden other than he ain’t Trump. And please keep in mind the undying words of Gore Vidal: “American democracy is an eagle that has two wings: both right.”

So I invite you to listen to the wise words of the presidential candidate for the Green Party Howie Hawkins, when he states via his Twitter profile: “It doesn’t matter who sits in the White House, we will continue to fight for social justice, democracy and people(s)-centered human rights.” 

That is the duty of every sincere humanist and faithful believer in democracy with the knowledge that the world can and must be a paradise for all. 

So tone down the celebrations, and get ready to fight again because if Biden does step into the White house he will not not magically become a shining white knight. An indication of this is the fact that his campaign was largely financed, amongst others, by multiple Wall Street’s hedge funds and 44 billionaires (according to Forbes). According to bloomberg.com he raised almost 1 billion dollars (an all time record amount). These donors will put pressure on his presidency and no, they don’t have the people’s best interests at heart. 

So PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE stay vigilant and don’t think that all that a healthy democracy requires is 15 minutes in a voting booth every four years and couple of celebratory memes on Facebook. It is a continuous struggle for knowledge and information and action against the powers that direct our political and social life, no matter who they are. 

This said, and I’m pretty sure this is wishful thinking (but you never know), if old Joe should choose the UN Charter path instead of the old and already trodden path of bombs, sanctions and international crimes, I am ready to make amends and to become his first supporter. My wish is to be able to tell with amazement about the discontinuity policies applied by the Biden’s administration. It seems (to me) very difficult this can happen given the premises. But I don’t want to put limits on providence.

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