Brainwashed Internalised Control – Syria and North Korea

(Wedeen, 1998) Why Syria (pre-Arab Spring) relied on a politics of “As If” instead of a politics of “Belief” & How North Koreans are similarly brainwashed.

Today, a dictator has died; Kim John Il. Public weeping has been reported, which is the strongest evidence of Internalised Control ever witnessed. No democratic state could produce such scenes of weeping, not even after Princess Diana’s death….

(Wedeen, 1998) examines a Syrian case study where the link between obedience and belief are broken. Wedeen argues that the lack of belief in authority is what makes the regime so powerful. Indeed, obedience is more powerful if it is external and does not accompany belief. In other words, it’s better that people do not really believe, but pretend to believe in their dictators.

INTRODUCTION STORY: Syrian soldiers (pre-Arab Spring) are lined-up daily and asked to each explain how amazing Asad is in their opinion. They are to associate Assad with sunrises, and beautiful flowers, and they are to proclaim their platonic love for Assad in front of each other, according to Wedeen’s article. Anyone who fails to give flowering praise is removed, or beaten.

  • This story represents an important feature of Syrian life, which is the regime’s demand that people provide external evidence of their allegiance to the regime and the personality Cult of Asad.
  • These externally demonstrated rituals are often transparently phoney.
  • They draw upon repetition of the rhetoric that the cult and the regime has generated -> this rhetoric exists to produce the legitimacy and hegemony of the regime. -> rhetoric is not meant to be believed and as a rule, it is not. -> but – soldiers have to act ‘as if’ they do believe in it.

Political Power and the Politics of “As If”

  • Wedeen’s article is trying to understand the nature of authoritative power and demonstrating how language and symbols emerging from within such a culture produces political power.
  • It is clear that the soldiers do not have patriotic dreams. Nevertheless, they have to act “as if” they do. That the state can intrude into the most private and inaccessible parts of themselves and control that within them they cannot control.
  • The State does not demand that they have patriotic dreams but that the soldiers externally expressed their dreams using the set of establish images and popular illusions produced by the state.
  • The soldiers are in control of the dream only in sofar as they deliver what is required.-> part of the politics of “As IF” is publicly sharing these formula of false obedience.

The Politics of “As IF’ is used instead of real loyalty: the only real obedience is an external one – obedience derived from conviction/believe is not real because it is mediated through our subjectivity. In this way, we do not obey the ruler but our own judgement.-> Power is when the state or authority can force people to participate in a cult or watch it complicity (impose on them the ‘fictions’ of the state).

Real Obedience:

  • The regimes ability to sustain its fictions relies on not believing and a self-conscious submission to authority (no emotional connection) through outward obedience.
  • The Principle of Social Auto-Totality: is the belief that one should do things to get on in life -> people enforce others’ obedience without believing in what they do. -> pressure from others to take part in the norm.
  • The System is self-enforcing, partically because people become accustomed to it. People become agents of the system.
  • They have internalized the control. Automism: performace of action without conscious though or intention.-> perpetuate it without conscious thought. Auto-totality: self-direct system that is not imposed by one group on another but permeates the whole society.-> this system automatically generates the power of the state.
  • The people confirm the system, fulfill the system, make the system and they are the system.-> why complicity matters, as does obedience.

Citizens In the Politics of “As If”

  • Everyone becomes or is a victim of this system because they do not believe in it but nonetheless reinforce it and perpetuate it.
  • Political systems in these state are defined by, reliance on and functionally inseparable from citizen’s habitual obedience to it.-> This internalization of control frees the state of accountability and it renders the citizens ability to represent himself as a ‘victim’ inadequate.
  • Rorty: make people say something they don’t believe separates the individual from their sense of self and recreates belief. -> regime expands into the realm of the personal and demonstrates the regime’s power over the person.

Political Consequences:

  • This kind of obedience Creates a system reliant on passive compliance (either as a complicit spectator or an a complicit partipatent)
  • Everyone is at once a victim and supporter of the system.
  • Identifies disobedience –defines terms of membership to the state and puts forth guidelines for politically acceptable speech/behaviour -> regulates conduct.


  • Reminds soldiers that they are at odds with the regim because of a gap between performance and belief.  This gap affirms the regime’s power.
  • Regime is reliant on people.
  • The regime cannot evaluate real public sentient because force people to keep rebellious thoughts private.
  • Complicity can become an opportunity for mockery or rebellion -> invites subversive moments. -> the use of the same symbols to subvert the state. Any other epistemic system would not have been as rhetorically effective.
  • Tries to understand the nature of authoritatian power and demonstrate how language and symbols produce political power when there is an absence of belief -> use of symbols -. Obedience -. Depoliticized-> compliance is habitual & self-reinforcing: The State creates a web of meaning that everyone participates in. Society has an alternative web of meaning rooted in the disbelief of that web.

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