In view of recent revelations about the IRS and other government agencies suppressing freedom of speech through administrative actions, I am reprising a piece I posted on Facebook about a year ago:
Three items: Just today there appeared in the news the story of Hollywood producer Gerald Molin, who was disinvited at the last minute from giving a graduation speech to a Montana high school. The principal of the school told him he would not be welcome because of his “conservative right-wing views.” Molin, one of Hollywood’s rare conservatives, co-produced the movies Schindler’s List and Jurassic Park, among others.
Next, some of you will remember the article I posted last week concerning graduation speeches in general, and how liberal speakers are invited on average seven times as often as conservatives.
Finally, recall that two weeks ago, when 43 Catholic organizations filed the largest lawsuit in American history against the Obama administration for its abridgement of the First Amendment via Obamacare, all of the major networks except Fox spiked the story.
Is censorship alive and well in America? It would appear to be doing quite well, thank you. The above examples demonstrate three kinds of censorship: suppression of views held objectionable to some; selectivity of views that results in distortion; and refusal to report news that some consider harmful to their agenda.
Science fiction writer Ray Bradbury died this week at the age of 91. In 1953 he wrote a book that used to be a staple in high school English courses, the name of which was Fahrenheit 451. This dystopian novel has to do with a future society where the burning of books is considered necessary. Paper spontaneously combusts at 451 degrees Fahrenheit, hence the book’s title. Bradbury always said the book was not about censorship per se, but about the rise of a stultifying popular culture that focused on hedonism and entertainment.
In the Fifties, intellectuals such as Bradbury were concerned about the deleterious effects of widespread television viewing. He feared that the enjoyment of literature would be lost. (These concerns and fears have been proven correct). In the novel, special squads of “firemen” (get it?) go about with the express purpose of burning books so that people would not be agitated by the ideas they might encounter in them.
How might Bradbury write his book in today’s cultural setting? I doubt that he would center on the burning of books, hence the title would have to change. But the core image of a widespread culture that suppresses unpopular views through various kinds of censorship—soft and hard—would remain.
Today there is an “official” Western culture. It is the creation of an interlocking trifecta of historical forces that both mandate it as the normal way to think and punish deviation from its norms. That trifecta is (1) the educational establishment, where, beginning with higher education and reaching down through elementary levels, a progressive agenda is made normative for our public schools, libraries and intellectual caste; (2) the entertainment establishment, where an ethos of romantic rebellion is constantly drummed into the heads of the young through rock music, television, movies and fashion; (3) the social “cloud,” a pervasive societal mood that promotes hyper-tolerance, moral relativism, and intellectual sloth.
This “official” culture perpetuates itself through a mythology of liberation and defiance that masks its profound conformism. It does what every oppressive establishment does: It creates a bogeyman. In George Orwell’s 1984 the bogeyman is Emmanuel Goldstein. All citizens of Oceania are expected to spend two minutes daily denouncing Goldstein, who may or may not actually exist.
In Bradbury’s novel, it is the “readers,” a murky group that refuses to submit to the mindless hedonism of the cities.
In official culture today, the bogeyman is “the conservative, right-wingers” of the Montana school principal.
This trifecta of historical factors has created a “adulescent” culture that is both sentimental and carnal, politically passionate and historically agnostic, religiously vacuous and moralistically self-righteous.
Thus, a principal of a high school can unilaterally and quite openly “protect” his students by violating the very “tolerance” he might have spoken earnestly about at yesterday’s assembly. Neither he nor his students see any contradiction in this.
Thus, as also recently happened, a teacher can tell a student, without a whiff of irony, that being critical of Barack Obama in a social studies classroom can result in the student’s arrest. This same pony-tailed teacher may have recently celebrated the heroic acts of Rosa Parks during Black History Month.
There is little doubt that this official culture exists today, and that it is promoted with great energy. There is likewise little doubt that much of that energy amounts to censorship of one kind or another.
In Bradbury’s novel, the protagonist Guy Montag escapes the city and finds a subversive group in the countryside. These are “the readers,” those who protect the books, and thus the old ideas. They live as hunted fugitives.
Perhaps we haven’t quite come to that today, although you will be hard pressed to find conservative professors in most secular university humanities departments. Modern universities have been sanitized of conservatives of any kind. This is not stated policy, of course. But given a few more years, who knows?
If traditional ideas, Christian beliefs, and conservative teachings are already largely excluded from official culture, is it inconceivable that those ideas might at some time be made illegal, and those who hold them criminals?
Bradbury wouldn’t have thought so.