Autocracy or Democracy~Time to Choose Part 3 of 4

The following four posts are the scripts of four podcasts focused on defining an Autocracy versus a Democracy with the intent of providing knowledge to citizens for their consideration before voting because these ideologies will be choices in each local and national election.

In short, an Autocracy refers to a form of government in which a single individual holds absolute power and authority, making all major decisions without significant input from citizens. The autocrat (authoritarian) ruler has unchecked control over the legislative, executive and judicial branches, leading to limited political freedoms and a lack of checks and balances.

A Democracy is a system of government in which power is vested in the people through elected representatives. It ensures citizens’ participation in decision-making, and provides mechanisms for accountability (rule of law) and the peaceful transfer of power. Democratic societies uphold principles of equality, justice and the protection of minority rights.

The governing power in an Autocracy is concentrated around one individual with limited or no checks and balances on that person’s authority. In contrast, a Democracy grants governing authority to the people or to governing officials through free elections. 

While the definitions seem simple, an Autocracy and Democracy are at opposite ends as to vision, mission and guiding principles. Each has the power to impact social-cultural-political outcomes, consequences and most crucial – the quality of life for generations.

Part 1 Provides the history and 20 major traits of an autocrat and autocracy and its ominous threat to American Democracy.
Part 2 Provides references focusing on the evolution of autocrats, regional autocracies, loss of identity as a grievance and how to mentor and defend Democracy.

Part 3: Deals with validating the truth versus conspiracy theories, hate metaphors, misinformation, radical acceptance of truth and the multigenerational trauma an autocracy leaves behind.

Part 4: Deals with the role of education in a democracy, marginally educated citizens, opportunities of worth, “Me Monster” narcissism, geopolitical implications and keeping democracy alive. 

Dr. Prosperi’s research and writings span some 50 years as an educator, workshop facilitator, consultant and researcher focusing on social-cultural-political constructs, agencies and multigenerational trauma with a focus on providing knowledge, historical context and, as he constantly emphasizes . . . trying to provide relevant language.  

GLORIA:  Welcome Jorge

JORGE: It’s always my pleasure.

GLORIA:  So let’s get started –  you consistently emphasize that language is vital and that information provided to citizens should be based on validated research, therefore references are important – can you explain why?

JORGE:  References can provide a new body of knowledge that can expand the depth and breadth of awareness that can initiate new ways of thinking and believing. 
References point to an author’s roadmap of thinking, their intent to validate findings. We seldom hear about background references and sources on X, facebook and on Truth Social – these platforms and formats may be social, but at times void of truth and often an insult to the  intelligence of all citizens.

GLORIA:  How impactful and insidious are conspiracy theories and misinformation that turn out to be nothing but non-validated propaganda?

JORGE:  There is a book published in 2023 titled Politics, Lies, and Conspiracy Theories: A cognitive Linguistic Perspective by Marcel Danesi, a professor of semiotics and linguistic anthropology at the University of Toronto, Canada. 
Danesi analyzed the speech of dictators such as Mussolini, Stalin, Hitler, Putin and Orbán as well as prominent hate groups and political ideologues. 
Danesi’s research shows that dehumanizing speech (metaphors of hate) become powerful influences because they tap into existing circuits in the brain that link together important and salient images to ideas. 

GLORIA:  It seems as if we are focusing on the power of language to connect images and ideas. 

JORGE:  Yes and if it sounds complicated, the reason is because it is.  In effect, metaphors bypass higher cognitive reasoning centers, directing our thoughts to focus on certain things while ignoring others. 
The more these circuits are activated – the more hardwired they become, until it becomes almost impossible to turn them off. 

GLORIA:  May I add that we know as educators that repetition helps solidify the neural connections associated with learning . . . 

JORGE:  Yes and  this is why autocrats and alt right wing organizations constantly repeat misinformation and lies to their followers. The same strategy of repetition is true with conspiracy theories – research shows that people who believe metaphors of hate and conspiracy theories develop more rigid neural pathways, meaning they find it increasingly difficult to pause to scrutinize and rethink language, content and context.

GLORIA:  It seems that Danesi’s research indicates that the brain is susceptible to fast-tracking creating shortcuts to affirm and reinforce already established predispositions without pausing to filter these conspiracy theories through logic, reason and validated facts.

JORGE:  Yes.  Danesi states that his research demonstrates that,
“When we come across a big lie or a conspiracy theory, it can shape our ideas without us even being aware of it,” and he goes on to say that,  
“By being exposed to particular metaphors, we may develop negative and hostile feelings towards specific groups – this is why hate groups use metaphors to turn the switches on that can motivate people to violent activism.”  
Autocrats use metaphors of hate such as calling opponents or groups of people “parasites”, “vermin”,  “rodents”, “predators”, “poisonous”, “pests”, “maggots”, “reptiles”, “a plague on society.” 
This is the language Hitler used to describe his enemies and being used today by some candidates and media pundits supporting Republican Trumpism.

GLORIA:  So what the research is inferring, is that they are reducing a citizens ability to think critically or independently, and allowing the introduction of new, unwanted thoughts and ideas into their minds,as well as changing their attitudes, values, and beliefs. Did I get that right?  

JORGE:  You are correct. Unfortunately, research into brain wiring also shows that once people begin to believe lies, the lies can become entrenched and they are unlikely to change their minds – even when confronted with evidence that contradicts their beliefs.
Die-hard believers avoid anything that is in conflict with their thinking and will turn validated information on its head, in order to make it fit their beliefs. 
For this reason, it is unlikely that a segment of the population with absolute opinions, attitudes and beliefs will ever change their minds. 

GLORIA:  Sadly,  this research paints a hopeless picture. I’m wondering if there Is anything we can do to protect ourselves from metaphors of hate and power of lies? 

JORGE:  According to Danesi, the best thing we can do is to understand the hate metaphors being used against others and examine our own metaphors – that is – our own social constructs – their history and our predispositions about others. 
Our attitudes and beliefs about others have a history – they were learned. 
However, history and science tells us that once die-hard-core believers accept lies as believable, the brain becomes more susceptible to subsequent lying. The vortex of lies becomes a black hole.

GLORIA:  So what you’re saying is that validated and substantiated proof of the truth is a defining and necessary core value, principle and contrast between an autocracy and democracy.  

JORGE:  Yes, and that contrast must remain clear and should be a major focus for those who choose to live in a democracy because a democracy promotes transparency and validation of the truth.
Our democracy challenges us as citizens to remain open minded, curious and introspective – not become conditioned Pavlovian lap dogs to any one person or party. 
Our constitution is not static but dynamic – it beckons ongoing validation and amplification of meaning.
Unlike an autocracy, a democracy fosters critical thinking that pursues accountable and responsible knowledge and to pursue the naked truth that can at times be painful and personally uncomfortable to admit.  

GLORIA:  So that means that as parents and teachers, we should be urging the young to always ask critical insightful questions, remain inquisitive, even begin to recognize the origins, complexities and history of existing problems, while exploring potential solutions and do this collaboratively – which leads to pro-active problem solvers as citizens.

JORGE:  All of the characteristics you just mentioned as positive values to be modeled by adults are the enemies of an autocracy. 
The reason is because a democracy pursues the truth, it is not afraid of it – while an autocracy makes every effort to avoid it because an autocracy is focused only one major goal – the acquisition and retainment of power. 

GLORIA:  Trying to discern the truth can be difficult as we live our busy complex lives typically looking for quick answers rather than searching for credible and validated sources.  
Our lives are underscored by platforms such as X, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Threads and Truth Social, that provide blurbs often without references and substantiation. 
That means a blatant lie can be posted and reposted in order to create a narrative based on falsehoods that can be totally debunked the next day, but the harm by the initial deception was accomplished. Do you think I’m overstating the challenges that we face as citizens?

JORGE:  You are not overstating the case.  Shameless lies are ever present and will continue to be.  Therefore, we must make tough choices as to how we approach information daily – on every level.   We can’t be casual about fact finding and fact checking. 
We need to dissect the language, the message – the narrative and transition from automatically believing unsubstantiated information to verifying validated credible sources. That means no one gets a pass.

GLORIA:  So tell us, how does an individual – or an entire segment of the population, come to terms with the stark realization that some politicians and candidates they believe and support are liars, criminals and charlatans unworthy of credibility and trust?  How does a segment of society come to terms with the reality that they were deceived, used and abused? 

JORGE:  What you are asking deals with the difficult and painful ongoing dilemma of die-hard supporters of an autocracy. 
How do die-hard believers come to terms with a lie, a delusion, an ideological belief that is contradictory to all rational argument, logic, reality and the truth?  How do they deal with such an ongoing dilemma? 
Let me quote from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale – “The moment of betrayal is the worst, the moment when you know beyond any doubt that you’ve been betrayed: that some other human being has wished you that much evil” Therefore, the answer to your question has major implications for die-hard followers of an autocracy and I believe a significant challenge to all MAGA supporters.

GLORIA:  It seems to me that part of the psychology, according to research, is that holding on to a delusion, regardless of substantiated and validated evidence to the contrary, is very concerning, especially when those kinds of beliefs impose on the rights and freedoms of others.  Do you agree?  

JORGE:  Yes! History shows that coming to terms with reality by die-hard followers of an autocracy can be an excruciating process – personally threatening to self image.
Monica Black, in her book Death in Berlin: From Weimer Republic to Divided Germany charts how Germans came to terms with the moral, social, cultural and political realities – the consequences – the deep moral anguish and the cost of trying to live with the horrific legacy.
History teaches us that an autocracy leaves its followers with a litany of regrets, consequences and unanswered lingering questions. 
For example in Germany – 
What were the German people left with after the power of Heil Hitler and Sieg Heil was muffled – silenced?  
How did the German people live with “the deepest disappointment for having misplaced personal trust?”  
How did they come to terms with the revelations, emotional distress, the reality of needless horrific inhumanity? These are the open wounds that an autocracy and autocrats leave behind. 

GLORIA:  Correct me if I misunderstand, but what you are inferring is how an entire society is left to deal with a sense of betrayal when unsettling truths are not only confronted but also accepted?  

JORGE:   That is correct, there are aftershocks connected to an autocracy.  
That is, the difficult process of acceptance of reality required by individual citizens and as a nation. 
That process is referred to as radical acceptance. The theory of radical acceptance is believed to have originated from Buddhist teachings, the term was first coined in 1993 by Marsha Linehan—the same psychologist who developed dialectical behavior therapy known as (DBT), a form of talk therapy.
Radical acceptance is a practice that involves accepting emotions, thoughts and circumstances that are unchangeable and out of our control. 
To radically accept means to completely recognize and accept the reality you’re in — even when that reality includes pain or discomfort. 
This means making a conscious effort to acknowledge and honor difficult situations and emotions that are undeniable.   
It means accepting validated truth rather than ignoring, denying, avoiding, deflecting, blaming others or wishing situations were different.

GLORIA: In some of your writing you also use a phrase describing the process of the difficult and arduous process of cathartic change as “doing violence to one’s soul” – the word soul meaning moral clarity and ethical conscience.  What do you mean, by what is at face value, a deeply compelling personal challenge?

JORGE:  As you say, I am using the word soul to reflect the spirit of moral clarity and ethical conscience.  What I mean by “doing violence to one’s soul” is to seriously and by personal choice confront a false sense of self – a point in time when it becomes impossible to defend the indefensible – when contradictory delusions are exposed by raw truth. And as you say – a most daunting personal challenge. 

GLORIA:  You state that the generational awareness and healing is connected to the multigenerational trauma that does not only impact the victims of an autocracy but also the victimizers – the enablers, co-conspirators and supporters. Can you clarify the duality of such trauma?

JORGE:  Multigenerational trauma is the result of cataclysmic historical events –  such as slavery, genocide, world and regional wars as being experienced by the Israleis and Palestinians in Gaza, invasions (such as with Russia invading Ukraine), coup d’etats, political-cultural-ethnic-religious cleansing and insurrections like our own.
These events leave a legacy of trauma, not only for the victims, but also the victimizers. I believe that this point is seldom mentioned as an outcome. 

GLORIA:  Can you expand the research on multigenerational trauma in respect to victims and victimizers?

JORGE:  The best source I have studied and continue to review was done by Yael Danieli, who is a clinical psychologist but also a victimologist and traumatologist.
Her book, International Handbook of Multigenerational Legacies of Trauma, makes crystal clear – that victimization traumatizes not only the victims but also the victimizers –  the co-conspirators, the profiteers, the enablers, the followers who promoted the ideology of lies, criminality and violence.
This means complicity – guilty of supporting autocratic beliefs and actions.    
That legacy of trauma lingers with the offspring of victimizers who are left with ashes dealing with individual and collective guilt and shame. 

GLORIA:  It seems to me that the guilt and shame that you mention are some of the reasons used by Alt-Right Parental Rights groups to ban discussions, books, teaching methods and revising or even denying historical facts.  The point being to deny or avoid historical accounts of slavery and/or other suppressed groups that may cause guilt and shame in white students. 

JORGE:  The clarity and starkness of the truth can be painful. This is one of the major reasons historical revisionism is used by autocrats to deny or excuse the indefensible.  That means censure, deny or revise uncomfortable and validated history. 
Let me be emphatically clear – Autocrats are not interested in learning the reasons, the history behind social conflicts and cultural ruptures that victimize human beings but rather focused on denying such truths.

GLORIA:  So what are the consequences for die-hard believers of this altered reality – Why not just allow them to believe as they do?

JORGE:  The problem enters the danger zone when absolute beliefs and altered realities are evangelicalized, politicized and radicalized through fear, oppression and violence.    
Unlike a democracy, autocrats do not ask citizens for reflection, introspection, self-examination and cathartic change.  They don’t care about the residue of victimization – even to their own followers.
What they promote and expect is absolute blind faith. They don’t provide hope or realistic solutions to highly complicated 21st century problems, nor do they ask citizens to deal with the reasons, the context behind such problems. 
Autocrats do not encourage citizens to work together to solve highly complex problems that all of us face in the 21st century. 

GLORIA: You have also written that Republican Trumpism politicized and radicalized the pandemic – even at the cost of their own loyal members. Can you shed light on the autocratic position during the pandemic.

JORGE:  The pandemic changed all countries socially, culturally, financially and psychologically.  Citizens were challenged to deal with a new normal that took citizens out of their comfort zones in every respect.  
It became literally a matter of life and death.  Our economy is still going through the aftershocks and I believe with time, we will make the necessary changes to transition into a new normal and greater good – but it will take time, perhaps a generation, but we are not a patient society.

GLORIA:  Didn’t the Covid 19 epidemic create a problem for autocrats – as to who to blame?  

JORGE:  Yes because to blame a disease was not in the autocratic playbook.  

GLORIA:  But all politicians as leaders, throughout the world, were challenged to make difficult decisions that were unpopular, and that impacted their political status and popularity. 

JORGE:  Absolutely – It was unequivocally a time to show bare-bones leadership – that is – to literally put the lives of human beings before political ego and party. That was and continues to be a major test for all leaders during a crisis.  

GLORIA:  My recollection is that some countries moved quickly, providing citizens with validated scientific data and urged citizens to come together to solve the problems and clearly stated that there would be sacrifices with unity being the major focus. 

JORGE:  That is true – some countries unified.  But Republican Trumpism, in specific states, dealt with the pandemic by politicizing and radicalizing Covid 19. 
The pandemic serves as a prime example of how self-serving autocratic ideology dealt with catastrophic events by denying science.  It’s a recent significant lesson worth remembering when voting for local and national candidates.  

GLORIA: Much of the emphasis of this podcast has been on the die-hard absolute believers of an autocracy and an autocrat, but there are citizens who have become exhausted being bombarded by the tsunami of misinformation having to continually wonder whether what they are hearing is valid and trustworthy.  These are citizens who are open minded and simply want credible sources. 

JORGE:  You mention a footnote that is often lost in our discussions about autocracy and autocrats, which tends to focus on the die-hard absolute believers who will likely live their entire lives thinking and believing without compromise. 
But often left out of these discussions is the majority of well intended, decent and ethical citizens who genuinely care about democracy but tend to remain silent.

GLORIA:  I appreciate your comment but what do you say to responsible and caring citizens who desperately seek moments of peace, calmness and sanity.  And who are sick of  the constant droning of so-called breaking news that is breaking their spirit as citizens.
They are willing to do their part but are just exhausted by the negativism, lies and criminality.  So as we approach the end of this podcast, what do you say to this constituency, that I feel is in the majority when all they ask for is credibility and trustworthiness? 

JORGE:  What I would say to those who are trying to discern credibility and trust is to not stop trying to unearth the truth – remain resilient which is difficult to do.
During moments of doubt, before casting our choice of power – our vote – we must resort to our inner guiding principles of right and wrong, good and evil, emotional intelligence and moral courage. 
Keep in mind the following pro-active questions before voting: 
What is the quality of life we want to achieve for each other and our children?  
What challenges still remain that require pro-active bipartisan solutions in order to enhance the quality of our lives?
Will our vote reflect credibility and trust in the truth?
What work still needs to be done to validate our inalienable rights?  . . .  those rights that are non-negotiable and that affirm and protect our democracy? 
The answers to these questions will define not only who we are, but who we aspire to become.

GLORIA:  Thank you Jorge for your contributions to these podcasts. 
Hopefully they provide the power of knowledge that citizens can use to determine their voice and choices in upcoming elections. 

I urge our audience to go to to find articles on comparing an autocracy versus democracy.

As always, sincere thanks to Alan Contino Executive Producer and Chief Engineer of Delirium Networks and to Nancy Gage and Anthony Baez for the graphic designs on the website and podcast — and lastly our thanks to each of you for joining us —  I am Gloria Lopata Prosperi and you have been listening to Counter-Voices.

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