Episode 226: “The Weaponization of Loneliness” with Stella Morabito
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“Terror can rule absolutely only over men who are isolated against each other.… Therefore, one of the primary concerns of all tyrannical government is to bring this isolation about.” — Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism
“Americans have long sensed a new kind tyranny creeping into our lives. This disquiet has hovered in the background for a long time, though most of us couldn’t put our finger on it. Trends to control speech and behavior are isolating us from one another, and they have begun to intensify rapidly and spread throughout society’s institutions.” — Stella Morabito
In this episode Stella Morabito returns to talk about her recently published book The Weaponization of Loneliness: How Tyrants Stoke Our Fear of Isolation to Silence, Divide, and Conquer.
Stella, a prolific author at The Federalist, writes incisively about the social fallout of propaganda, mob psychology, and the cult mindset, drawing in part from her years as an analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency where she focused on methods of Soviet propaganda and disinformation, and its state-controlled media.
Some excerpts from our conversation:
The underlying dynamic of totalitarianism is the same: a machinery of loneliness that threatens to turn people into social pariahs in order to extort compliance. History is filled with vivid examples – Cromwell’s England, Robespierre’s France, Lenin and Stalin’s Russia, Hitler’s Germany, Mao’s China – of the damage done by totalitarian regimes that impose the machinery fueled by the conformity impulse and terror of isolation.
“Isolation and how tyrants use it to control people, is really the greatest threat to freedom, no matter what level of tyranny it is. It can be a gaslighting partner, it could be a cult leader, it could be a world-class dictator. I finally concluded that there is a machinery at work—a machinery of loneliness. Tyrants operate that machinery—wittingly or not—in order to disarm those they wish to control.”
When signals surfaced in America —such as anti-speech codes written into federal law in the 1990s allegedly to curb hate—we tended to shrug them off. It was too frightening to believe those speech codes could really lead to direct attacks on freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment.
Yet a new kind of authoritarianism has multiplied over the course of decades, usually with the claim that they were needed to ensure justice against racism or sexism. Multiculturalism took root, then morphed into identity politics and intersectionality.
When the canon of Western civilization came under direct attack in the 1980s, few expected it to be followed by direct attacks on free speech on college campuses. But it was, and with a vengeance.
“The weaponization of isolation and loneliness drives just about everything in human affairs. The threat of social isolation tends to determine what we say or don’t say. Then it begins to regulate what we think and how we behave.”
“Oppression is inevitable in one-party states that sustain themselves through constant propaganda and censorship and the subversion of any independent institution. They’re driven to control the speech, thoughts, and, therefore, the associations of their presumed subjects, usually through some form of demonization.”
So we need a line of action against this tyranny and can start by asking what is its essential weakness?
The short answer is … free speech.
“People say, “Oh, it’s so daunting. What can I do?” Well, the thing to remember is that even one voice makes a huge difference, because they’re always trying to shut down every single solitary voice.”
“Our strength as human beings really comes from our connections in the private sphere of life. Just a single honest voice can make a big difference.”