What Do You Think About Censorship?

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There seems to be, in our society today, a crackdown on communication of a spiritual, candid and honest nature; a tacit censorship or “chilling out” of opinions, ideas, beliefs and worldviews that do not promote spending and consumption, free market neoliberalism, xenophobia and the characterisation of entire groups of people as enemies, to name a few major tangents.

It strikes me that this kind of censorship is a product of certain lawmakers, legislators, “public interest” groups, judges, police, members of government and moneyed lobby groups of big business and the church who embody an attitude of thought that seeks to control others and limit their expression to what they consider “acceptable.”

This kind of totalitarian thought is not at all unlike the mentality of German National Socialists burning books in the thirties, it is not unlike the mindsets of the Chinese who set out to “purify” Tibet from its own culture, and it is not at all unlike the current madness in North Korea.

It strikes me that people who think in this way, with the usual excuses for such obvious inhumanity as the beating of children to teach them “lessons,” the return to the “good old days” before women had a say in their own reproduction and so forth, have never in fact confronted or attempted to relate themselves to the objects of their desired censorship.

Nor, for that matter, have they confronted or attempted to relate themselves to the problem of censorship itself, or to the consequences of their actions and intrusions into the rights of others to freely and safely express their feelings and thoughts.

Most of these lawmakers, judges, members of government and “leaders” of various descriptions tend to hide behind a wall of rhetoric and soundbyte-esque phrases that rely on questioning the “moral” and social integrity of those who support basic human freedom of expression. Questions pertaining to the individual’s sexual orientation and practice, designed to create some form of scandal or to impeach the ethical standing of the person in question, are rolled out with frightening regularity, and never with the expectation that the questioner might detail his own sexual practices and kinks in fairness to the other. In fact, the notion that one of these censors could be held to his own standard of questioning is seen as absurd and “rude,” a typical retort of those accustomed to privilege.

A familiar tactic of censors is to use children as human shields from behind which they can sling the kind of anti-mind, anti-heart, anti-freedom poison which has likely made them into the men and women they typically are today; stunted and frightened pseudo-adults grasping for any image of an authority figure, and where they cannot find one, forcing the government to behave as an extension of their own absurd revulsion at the qualities and characteristics of themselves and their fellows, to behave as the belt of fifties-father, studded with the false morality of their new-Christianity.

Frequently censors will appeal to the spectre or ghost of some external and terrible threat to the “way of life” of the people whom he is attempting to win to his cause. He will spin tales of death cults, terrorism, communists under the bed, hippies and artists undermining “polite society;” literally anything he can think up that will frighten his audience into a state of confusion and malleability. He knows he cannot win them over on humane and sensible principles, as he has none. He knows he cannot win them over on the logical or emotional merit of his idea, as there is none. He must trick the public by making them believe that they are in mortal peril if he is not allowed to run their lives in minute detail.

This is abuse.

If the creation of false moral and existential crises and the seeding of paranoia in the minds of the public does not have its intended effect, the censor will reply using what most agree to be appropriate for dealing with situations such as this; the law. And it does seem appropriate for lawyers and lawmakers, politicians and judges to discuss these issues in terms of the law, after all, that is their job. But we must take care to note the element of abstraction in all that talk of bylaws and amendments and minute subclauses, an element that allows those who seek to control others to bamboozle them with complex language. These generalisations and abstractions of law, which are applied roughshod to contextual and specific situations, are, as Blake put it, “the plea of the hypocrite, scoundrel and knave.”

I have been watching a debate between the late beat poet Allen Ginsberg and a panel of men and women on this very topic, which I have included at the foot of the page, and the writing of this piece has been greatly inspired by Ginsberg’s articulate and eloquent dismantling of the panelists in favour of censorship. He concludes at a point with the following statement on the role of the artist in modern society, which I have paraphrased loosely here.

“The obligation of the artist is candour, or first thought best thought; a practice of spontaneous generation of intelligence that ends paranoia. Speaking what is on your mind eliminates the mysterious, the obfuscation, the fear of hidden motive.”

And with this statement Ginsberg lifts the veil on the nature of censorship, which is paranoia. The holding back of our natural expression is a function of fear, of a basic mistrust towards the human person that cannot be sustained and that must always culminate in spasms of mad violence; a desperate acting out of that which the paranoid fears most and which he thinks will be manifested from the free expression of that which he does not like.

So, in the interests of clarity and freedom of expression, I would like to open up a discussion on censorship here, with all of you. Can censorship be appropriate? Does it serve its proclaimed function of keeping people safe or secure? What does it say about our society if we cannot handle free human expression?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the matter.