One of the giveaways that an authority – of whatever kind – is evilly motivated is an attempt to suppress divergent convictions. George Orwell’s 1984 expressed this through its motifs of doublethink, its motto “Ignorance is Strength,” and Oceania’s Ministry of Truth. That last organ of the State labored continuously to “correct” the record by destroying anything that might cast doubt on the Party line. Supporting its labors was the Ministry of Love: Oceania’s not-quite-secret police, which worked to “correct” individual dissenters.
Things are bad just now in America, if not quite Oceania-level bad. Our “authorities” are straining to suppress certain information and opinions as antithetical to their aims. They’ve had only limited success – limited principally by the World Wide Web, the First Amendment to the Constitution, and Americans’ attachment to freedom of expression. But there’s no denying the strenuousness of their efforts. They’ve succeeded in enlisting most of the major media in their campaign.
Consider this matter of Joe Rogan. As it happens, I’ve yet to hear one of his shows. Indeed, I’ve only been aware of him for a few weeks. But our “authorities” are so savagely determined to shut him down that through their efforts alone, millions of Americans, including myself, have become interested in his work. We’re a horde of potential new Rogan listeners, whether for good or for ill…and the “authorities” are frantic about it. So they’ve enlisted CBS in the effort to suppress him:
Watch as ‘CBS Mornings’ suggest Joe Rogan is killing people via his podcast when talking about Covid, implying he’s responsible for their deaths.
They add they SUPPORT free speech & the First Amendment — just not for Rogan to have *A* platform, calling his show “dangerous.” pic.twitter.com/dzONwcPhVh
— Curtis Houck (@CurtisHouck) January 31, 2022
A few marginal players have joined the effort:
— Jeff Jarvis (@jeffjarvis) January 31, 2022
There’s no question of rights here. The producers of CBS Mornings are free to express their opinions. “Journalism professor” Jeff Jarvis is free to refrain from patronizing Joe Rogan’s sponsors. But the agenda could hardly be clearer or more distasteful. That distaste is having an effect the would-be suppressors did not anticipate.
I wrote recently that We the Not-Stupid are aware of what’s being done to us. The topic then was election law; today it’s the suppression of information and opinion. When an “authority” tells us that “You mustn’t listen to that; it’s dangerous,” it triggers a priceless national asset: American defiance. Among the phenomena of the time that lifts my spirits, this one is near the top.
[Digression begins: Fifty-three years ago, a promising young science-fiction writer tried to give substance to the idea of “dangerous information.” He dressed it in a coordinated if fanciful conception of maturity, but the essence of it was plain: there are some things you must not be allowed to hear:
“Our safeguards prevent the relay of any physically dangerous transmission—the computer is interposed, remember—but they can’t protect our minds from dangerous information….[W]e know that this alien signal caused a mental degeneration involving physical damage to the brain. All this through concept alone. We know the hard way: there are certain thoughts the intelligent mind must not think.”
The story is replete with all the other left-wing notions current in the late Sixties, so the above doesn’t startle at first…until it becomes the linchpin of the entire 480 page novel. End of digression.]
Until quite recently the Left has been making inroads, largely by exploiting our aversion to confrontation. Leftists would scream “This is offensive! It oppresses / demeans / belittles / marginalizes someone or other! Shut it down at once!” and until recently rather than flipping them off, we’d scurry to unruffle notionally ruffled feathers. However, the approach has been weakening, owing to several factors, foremost among them our aforementioned national trait of defiance and after that the burgeoning suspicion that what we’ve been told not to listen to is a better articulation of reality than the Left’s preferred narrative.
So the Left has retreated to Herbert Marcuse’s prescription for censorship and his rationale for it:
The whole post-fascist period is one of clear and present danger. Consequently, true pacification requires the withdrawal of tolerance before the deed, at the stage of communication in word, print, and picture. Such extreme suspension of the right of free speech and free assembly is indeed justified only if the whole of society is in extreme danger. I maintain that our society is in such an emergency situation, and that it has become the normal state of affairs. Different opinions and ‘philosophies’ can no longer compete peacefully for adherence and persuasion on rational grounds: the ‘marketplace of ideas’ is organized and delimited by those who determine the national and the individual interest. In this society, for which the ideologists have proclaimed the ‘end of ideology’, the false consciousness has become the general consciousness–from the government down to its last objects. The small and powerless minorities which struggle against the false consciousness and its beneficiaries must be helped: their continued existence is more important than the preservation of abused rights and liberties which grant constitutional powers to those who oppress these minorities. It should be evident by now that the exercise of civil rights by those who don’t have them presupposes the withdrawal of civil rights from those who prevent their exercise, and that liberation of the Damned of the Earth presupposes suppression not only of their old but also of their new masters.
Note all the red flags in that paragraph: “clear and present danger;” “emergency;” “false consciousness;” “small and powerless minorities;” and the like. Thus Leftist cant is adapted to the conditions of a free society. It’s pure swill, laughable when analyzed rationally. Yet historically it has worked well, because a great many people respond in a predictable way to a shout of “Emergency!”
With the federal government and the major media behind it, it has some prospect of success. The key to defeating it is to stay calm, recognize the motivations, and insist on knowing the facts – the ground truth – the reality.
When a great many voices, some of them deafeningly loud, are screaming multiple versions of “the facts,” the burden of deciding what’s real and what’s not falls on the individual listener.
It’s not enough to rely upon established records for veracity. A liar can tell the truth occasionally, just as a resolutely honest man will lie if he perceives a sufficiently serious need. Neither is it enough to discern motivations that would cause the speaker to prefer one version over another. Motivations are powerful but not irresistible. The sole trustworthy source of real-world data is one’s own sensorium…and there are ways to deceive even that.
But most of us are separated from direct perception of the facts – at least, when we need them in quantity. Consider the COVID-19 vaccine controversy. You may know someone, or a few someones, who’ve suffered harm plausibly caused by the vaccines. But how many people do you know who’ve been vaccinated, and how many people do you know who’ve been harmed? Is it a large enough and random enough group to be statistically significant? For most of us, the answers don’t – or shouldn’t – inspire confidence.
So we fall back on factors such as established trustworthiness and inherent motivations. These things are not to be disparaged, especially when the sources under consideration are institutions with known dynamics and substantial histories. One institution in particular has a record so bleak that to extend it one’s trust verges on lunacy.
When an institution insists that it is The Authority and demands that you ignore all other sources as non-authoritative…when it does its best to keep those other sources from being heard…when it cajoles or coerces other institutions into compliance with its demands…there are good reasons to deem it dubious. An authority may dislike reality. It may hope that it will “go away.” But it cannot “trump” reality – and the overt attempt to insist that it cannot be wrong, and thus to suppress opposing voices, is sufficient grounds to ignore it.