Back when the world made sense, we had a good idea where totalitarianism would come from and how we would recognize it. The socialist State, personified most often in the Soviet Union, would grind everybody up into a gray, utilitarian mass. This was hilariously satirized in a popular commercial from the glory days of Reagan’s America.
The satire works because of its element of truth. When profit is outlawed, the economic engine starts to misfire. Costs become impossible to calculate because the ultimate market clearing price has been eliminated. Producers, unable to gauge market demand, mechanically follow political mandates. Can you even imagine a bureaucracy trying to put together a hamburger? With condiments? All of society is transformed into a polluted, corrupt, tragedy-of-the-commons which people risk death to escape. Reality itself must be obscured by the gnostic regime which purports to rewrite the laws of the physical universe. Thus we get the Total State of a socialist Stalin or Mao, as opposed to the merely authoritarian State.
The authoritarian State wields a firm or even brutal hand, but non-State institutions nonetheless operate and nobody has to kill themselves because citrus trees won’t grow on the tundra. The totalitarian State has a more daunting task: its utopian vision above all must be maintained whether it conforms to reality or, more often, does not. Thus, the totalitarian State cannot content itself with merely imprisoning or executing dissidents. History, the sciences, reality itself must be propagandized, obscured and denied.
In retrospect, humanity sidestepped this grim, collectivist future rather handily. The conception of the individual and his inalienable rights triumphed over the dreary old USSR. So imagine the surprise of myself and other children of the Cold War to see totalitarianism rear up from a completely unexpected quadrant.
In many ways, Max is a typical 14-year-old. He eschews soft music in favour of rock and heavy metal, likes to wear hoodies, giggles when he’s nervous and has a flair for drawing animals. He can be opinionated and sarcastic one moment, shy and withdrawn the next.
His insecurities, however, run deeper than run-of-the-mill teenaged angst.
“I have a male brain that doesn’t match up with the body I’m in,” says the Grade 9, Surrey, B.C., student, who was the female gender at birth.
“It’s like being trapped in a cage.”
Max is now at the centre of a complicated legal fight over who gets to decide the course of treatment for his gender dysphoria. Max and his mom, Sarah, with the support of the gender clinic at B.C. Children’s Hospital, want to proceed with a treatment plan that would involve injecting Max with testosterone — a key step, they say, in Max’s desire to transition from a female to a male body.
In the time of ultimate individualism of course, the notion that a biological female can have a male brain is a fait accomplit, and the role of the State is to reinforce that notion over the objections of a mere parent. So society has come full circle, from the tyranny of the collective to the tyranny of the individual. The State, not content with the 30,000-foot view, now takes the scanning electron microscope-level view, displacing parental authority and purporting to legislate biological reality itself. North Koreans would be appalled.
Secular democracy, as it turns out, has removed all intermediating institutions between the State and the individual. Who imagined within my lifetime that the Total State would be path-dependent on individualism?