That Ship Has Sailed

Something I posted on some forum, (which one I can’t remember). It was in response to some comment on Censorship.

Censorship has spawned many an essay in courses in Politics and Government over the last two and a half centuries. The human race can be grateful to the founding fathers of the US for having made a brave attempt at preserving the elementary freedoms that John Stuart Mill considered important for civilisation, but my grade for the said Founding Fathers: close but no cigar.

One important point which they thought important but never stated to be essential was the freedom of the press. People who voted in the 1700s were generally educated and as far as they could be, well-informed. Three centuries later, in North America, literacy rates are in the low forties, most people get their information from TV newscasts and the newspapers that still exist are mostly hermetic monopolies that are quite parochial and represent the interests of the local elites. Most American newspapers have little coverage of world events, and I doubt if you could find 10% of American  (maybe 20 percent of Canadian) voters who know the name of the President of Russia, or know where Canada is. Yes, you have press freedom, but what use is it to us? We don’t read newspapers and the ones we do read are monopolistic combines tied to the local political structures. The same for TV.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.
There’s nothing new in this. In medieval England, literacy was in single digits, and all the people who could read were priests of one sort or another. This made it easy for the Church to impose the controlling structures that the Kings and Councils could use to keep their iron grip on independent thought and “troublemakers.”

My view is that Democracy cannot survive without a well-informed population, but a well informed population is just what the control elites don’t want. What they do want is people spending all their time making bland statements on twitter and facebook, and reading the bland offerings of their friends on the the same social networks. The other pressure relief valve is blogs and reader comments sections like this one. Irrelevant, and sadly, often poorly informed.

Of course we don’t have jack-booted stormtroopers clumping up your stairs at three am. But if we had people in ski jackets with the letter FBI (here in Canada RCMP) on the back coming quietly up, to arrest you for “trafficking drugs” or “circulating kiddie porn”, how many of your neighbours would go down to the police station the next morning to enquire after your health?

Is it natural or our God-given right to go down to the supermarket and buy as much meat, vegetables and bread as we want, any time we want? What if Safeway declares that they are having supplier problems, and are getting out of the supermarket business, or even more likely, doubling their prices? And how would you defend youself against actions of monopolies like the electric company, the water company, and the gas company holding you to ransom until they had essentially screwed you for the last cent? You couldn’t. Look at the example of Detroit. What happens when the Police, the doctors, the ambulance drivers stop being paid?
When gangs of hungry, poor young men you have spent your lives despising come to collect?

Today, some of the most powerful controlling structures are the drug laws, the pornography laws, the very loosely worded “National Security” regulations. Sure you can write articles criticising the drug war or the Patriot Act (ho-hum, right?) but if you started to get any significant response that suggested you were actually shifting opinion against the prevailing insanity,– well what do you know, he was into kiddie porn, he was being implicated in a cocaine smuggling cartel, or he was in contact with people in the Middle East who were believed to be involved in terrorism.

Yes, governments collect lots of information on us. They don’t care about your sexual orientation or proclivities, or whether you like oral sex, or even if you had friends called Mohammed, but they won’t use it unless you really get under their skin.

Relax! The other thing you can do is follow the example of Cervantes, who was writing at a time when criticising the Church or the Holy Office could get you burned at the stake. He played the buffoon and the crazy, so the Church authorities wouldn’t take him seriously. That’s a pretty good tactic too.
I admire the idealism of many of the contributors to this discussion and their evident belief that the current lock that the elites have on our lives can be relaxed. It can’t. That ship has sailed.

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