Monday, December 19, 2011

North Korea's Horribly Successful Totalitarianism

North Korea is, to me, the most depressing place in the world, questioning everything one would like to believe about human capacities for self-definition and independent thought. Michael Hirsch explains:
There is, perhaps, no totalitarianism in the world that is as all-embracing as North Korea’s. Something like it hasn't existed since Stalin died (and with him a personality cult very much like that which surrounds the Kims). I have spent time in other police states, but even in some of the most vicious of them, an undercurrent of dissent ran like a subterranean stream through the back rooms of restaurants, bars and private meeting rooms. Even under Saddam Hussein, Iraqi cab drivers would glance around when pressed and spit out their hatred of the dictator. Dissidents in Myanmar, during the worst of the crackdown, would whisper their fealty to democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. . . .

It is too simplistic to attribute this mindset to a mere fear of repression or self-censorship. Yes, according to State Department human-rights reports and the few defectors to make it out of North Korea, there are gulags in remote areas for the wrong-thinking. But on the whole, there seems little in the way of independent thought to censor. One foreign resident of Pyongyang, when asked on our trip in 2000 if he had ever seen any evidence of dissent--even over drinks with North Korean associates--responded: "Never. Nothing." North Korea's regime has come the closest of any society to what Orwell called, in 1984, the literal inability to conceive an unorthodox thought. If one sets aside the fact that North Korea is an economic sinkhole, and that its freedom-loving enemies are crowding in upon it from every side, it may even be called the most successful totalitarianism in modern history.
Yesterday people were crying in the street, with apparent sincerity, after the death of their crooked bastard of a dictator, Kim Jong-Il. It turns my stomach.

The case of North Korea seems to show that if you control the information to which people have access, and rigorously prevent the formation of any organization outside the state, you can create a society in which dissent is impossible or even meaningless. This is a chilling thought.

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