In response to this post and this post as well as a rather long email thread, I’ve come to the conclusion that an analogy between totalitarianism (or fascism) and cancer is a bad analogy. My main criticism is that the treatments for cancer and the treatments for totalitarianism are unrelated. The standard of care treatment for cancer is to kill as many cancer cells as possible, even at the risk of killing lots of healthy tissue in the process. We have some specific interventions (antibodies). But for the most part, the cure is to poison/damage the body and then let it recover, under the assumption that healthy tissue recovery is more robust than that of cancerous tissue. And although some of us might claim that the state of the art intervention for totalitarianism is to swoop in and indiscriminately kill lots of people, under the assumption a healthy system of government will grow back, most of us would consider that an immoral intervention. Hence, we cannot treat totalitarianism in the same way we treat cancer. And if the analogy doesn’t help us with intervention, then what good is it? I also have lots of lesser nits I could pick about it. But the efficacy of intervention methods is the big one.
Anyway, I have an alternative analogy: (runaway) individualism and cancer.
I started top-down, wondering what -ism might survive a thought experiment: the scattering intervention. It seems reasonable that merely scattering the asymmetrically powerful cliques in a totalitarian regime may well reduce or break the totalitarian grip on the society. The scattering may come in the form of banning their symbols, breaking up their congregations, separating malignant family members from the others, wealth redistribution, etc. That’s not so with cancer. Merely scattering the cells in a neoplasm across the otherwise relatively healthy tissue of the rest of the body is likely to cause harm rather than health.
But what sort of -ism would behave more like cancer under the scattering intervention? The important element of cancer that would make scattering harmful is metastasis, the ability for cancers to spread from their primary location to another. Metastasis requires a degree of autonomy for the metastatic cells that do the traveling and seed neoplasms wherever they land. The e-mail thread had covered more organic structures like low overhead organized crime or terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda. But these aren’t really systems of government. For example, even though the Taliban might be associated with Al-Qaeda, it’s really a very different thing. The Taliban is a proper example of an -ism. (I’ll let you fill in the blank for what type of -ism.)
It seems to me that the individualist movements fit the bill, like the doomsday preppers, local militias, Duck Dynasty types ;-), apocalyptic types (with their beliefs they will be spirited away by their deities), Austrian School types, Mormons, etc. These cliques seem to carry a heavy emphasis on some sort of plan to survive a scattering event. I’m not claiming that all their survival methods are effective, only that they have some idea that survival methods are needed in case of a scattering event … unlike the -isms that hold collectives/groups as a fundamental, necessary, premise.
In such an analogy, the “cancer” would be runaway individualism, rather than runaway collectivism. Things like a declining middle class, crumbling infrastructure, increasing “lone wolf” style crimes (in which I include suicide bombers, school shootings, etc.), are the symptoms. Like cancer, simply scattering the “cells” (be they humans, kinship groups, or memetically bound groups) shouldn’t work because many of those “cells” will have pathways for reestablishing themselves in other contexts. Like cancer, an effective treatment for them is a) recruit the social systems in which they sit to neutralize them (antibodies) or b) neutralize them directly (chemo).
To some extent, this is what has happened in the case of Craig Cobb, his attempt to “metastasize” to Leith, including his recruitment of Kynan Dutton to move there, and the subsequent re-recruitment of Dutton to help neutralize Cobb. Of course, we might associate Cobb with fascism because of his white supremacist views or association with Neo-Nazis. But I posit that these people aren’t really fascists in the sense we mean when talking about government regimes. They’re delusional morons who will use any handy label to preserve their “individuality”, their separateness from the things they fear or don’t understand. We can also apply the analogy to other populations that don’t consist of such morons, like the decidedly non-morons in the Chicago School and the metastatic neoplasm formed in Chile. The point being that individualist tendencies, when run amok, can grow and spread like cancer.
So, what do you think? Can you level some cogent criticism at my analogy? I sure hope so, since I have a heavy bias toward libertarianism. 8^)