Talking Totalism

By Dr Mukul Pai Raiturkar
22 December 2015 22:10 IST

21st December 2015. Opened the TOI to find the news on first page -- Rashtriya Swayavsevak Sangh spreads it's wings to 39 countries. As Hindu Swayavsevak Sangh of course. No hypocrisy of "nationalism" overseas !

A week back there was another news. Saudi Arabia constitutes Islamic cultural and military alliance, somewhat similar to the NATO !

In USA, whose coast boasts of that all important gift from the liberated people of France - the Statue of liberty, Donald Trump trumps up Biblical bigotry !

Three major religions of the world begin their quest for Totalism ! While those who actually spearhead this totalist quest may not be religious leaders directly, the true leaders and followers of these religions render themselves irrelevant through their tacit support and in some cases encouragement of this quest.

And the most important psychosocial aspect of this totalist quest is if anyone strongly opposes it, he or she becomes a totalist him/her self! If one does not oppose this quest then again one is enslaved by the totalism of the quest.

This way, totalism becomes self sustaining and the only option to defeat it lies in a violent war or in the more idealistic radical transformation of individual consciousness.

So let us understand what is totalism. Tremendous contributions have been made in this field by psychiatrists, psychologists and social psychologists like Robert Jay Lifton, Laura Nader, Kathleen Taylor, Janja Lalich (a cult victim who later rehabilitated himself), Margaret Thaler Singer, Edger Schein, Morton Reiser....to name just a few.

Totalism is intimately related to psychopathy, brainwashing, mind control, thought reform and cult formation. Let us tackle this step by step and if necessary, over a series of articles.

Totalism is a specific state of mind. To understand this, let us take an example. World is full of different types of people. Now, say, one short man with curly hair bullies me. Do I, as a normal man, say, "all short men with curly hair are bullies?" Or do I get over the incident by saying it is probably related to traumatic past experiences or psychiatric disturbance in that particular man ? If I take the first stand, I am a TOTALIST. Essentially this implies that I am frightened of all short men with curly hair!

Totalism is thus related to an all pervading FEAR in my consciousness. This is at the individual level. What does this translate into for the society or the civilization?

Totalism usually emerges during periods of historical - or psychohistorical - dislocation, in which there is a breakdown of symbols and structures that guide human life cycle. What causes this dislocation? The onslaught of scientific thought. The mass media revolution. The digital telecommunications and social media revolution which increases the infectious capability of psychopaths. The sheer availability of weapons that enable a single human or a group of suitably indoctrinated humans to annihilate a significant number of their own species without any purpose or redemption.

The social or civilizational manifestation of totalism is fundamentalism. Fundamentalist mind is a frightened mind.

What causes fear in the individual and therefore in the society?

Robert Jay Lifton says, " what result from the historical forces are widespread feelings that we are loosing our psychological moorings. We feel ourselves buffeted about by unmanageable currents and radical social uncertainties."

He further says, "a major response to this confusion has been the contemporary, worldwide epidemic of fundamentalism. Fundamentalism, broadly understood, derives from a fear of the loss of "fundamentals", giving rise to demand for absolute dogma and a monolithic self -- all rendered sacred in the name of a past of perfect harmony that never was"

The "fundamentalist self" that Lifton refers to has also been called "cult self". Fundamentalists invariably form cults. They are too frightened to live alone. Hence all cults -- Hindutva, Islamist or Christian are essentially fundamentalist or totalist.

Is fundamentalism or totalism or cult self the only response to the historical or psychohistorical changes around us ?

Thankfully, not at all !

"There is an alternative", says Lifton. "A much more hopeful pattern that arises from the same historical soil. I have in mind a tendency towards a much more open and flexible self that can be in tune with the larger uncertainties that surround us. I have named it the Protean Self after the Greek god of many forms."

It is this protean self that most psychologists believe, is the primary response to the historical changes around us. The fundamentalist or cult self is best understood as a frightened, fierce reaction against proteanism.

Why do I write all this - I may be rightly asked. Simply because it may contribute to preservation of freedom of the mind. Indeed the only freedom humanity has ever known!

Blogger's Profile

Dr Mukul Pai Raiturkar

Dr Mukul R Pai Raiturkar is a consultant pediatrician & neonatologist practicing in Margao. He is the co-convener of Ami Goenkar, an organisation of secular young Goans working towards a novel approach to religious-political issues of Goa. Son of veteran Goan freedom fighter Mr Ravindranath Pai Raiturkar, he exudes unshakable faith in a liberal, secular and free spirited democracy of India.

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