Sunday, June 01, 2008

Real Self-Censorship

As Obese Population Rises, More Candidates Courting The Fat Vote

2008 June 01, 16 `Azamat, 165 BE;
p19ul Real Self-Censorship, Freedom,
Equity and Self-censorship

One of our main questions at the Badi' Blog is how to deal
with the environment and climate change; so we were delighted
to see Al Gore's new slideshow, a sort of "Inconvenient Truth,
The Sequel," which he premiered at this year's TED conference.
It is called "New thinking on the climate crisis" and can be
seen at:

As the blurb says, he "presents evidence that the pace of
climate change may be even worse than scientists recently
predicted. He challenges us to act." Gore does this very
vehemently, but I wish he would challenge us to think first.
The capitalist, democratic, nationalist answers in his
ideological toolbox have been tried and found wanting,
which is why we desperately need to sit back for a time
and reflect, pray, meditate, and only when we have really
solved the root problem, and then we can act.

If there are any doubts about how deep the roots of evil
in our society run, check out Noam Chomsky's video opinion
piece about US foreign policy, "What is the best way forward
in Iraq?"

Again, a good analysis of the problem, but Chomsky's solution,
when he mentions one at all, is hasty and poorly thought out.
You cannot put new wine into old wineskins; for example, George
Monbiot is calling Bush and Blair war criminals for their invasion
of Iraq. Would prosecuting the rich and powerful for doing what
comes natural to them going to help? As long as resources are not
the property of the entire human race, there will be a race to beg,
borrow and steal them. Set up a world order first, and then worry
about justice for perpetrators and restorations to their victims.

Chomsky assumes, like Gore, that everything would turn out right
if only our crippled democracies could become healthy. With what
he calls "functional democracies" everyone would live happily ever
after. Neither libertarians like Chomsky nor capitalists like Gore
question whether democracy might not be the panacea that they imagine
it to be. They have painted themselves into a corner; as passionate
upholders of right, justice and freedom, they correctly hold that
America has more liberty than any country in the world, but they
never connect the dots: could there not be a problem with freedom

Baha'u'llah's book of laws, the Kitab-i-Aqdas, holds that there
really is. Freedom is fundamentally incompatible with justice.
Unlimited freedom and unmediated justice cannot both be at once,
any more than you can have day and night at the same time, or
have your cake and eat it too. Being mortals means that we must
decide what part of the cake to eat and what to keep.

However in spite of their negativity and criticism and lack of
convincing answers, it is medicinal to take a pill of Monbiot,
Chomsky and Gore every few months. As Gore points out in his
presentation, global warming remains at the bottom of the
priority list of prospective world leaders, which means that
the message is not getting across. The taste of the pill is
bitter but salutary for one's view of the world. I always
learn something from them.

This morning I read an interview where Chomsky mentions
an unpublished preface that George Orwell wrote to his
classic Animal Farm. I had never heard of that preface,
so I looked it up. Orwell warns there of the ever-present
danger of self-censorship. He points out that while
absolutist states practice overt censorship, this form
of the disease attacks citizens of free countries that
have strong free speech laws. Orwell writes,

"In this country intellectual cowardice is the worst enemy
a writer or journalist has to face, and that fact does not
seem to me to have had the discussion it deserves."
(Orwell's Preface to Animal Farm)

He points out that in spite of apparent support for
freedom of speech, what we really have mostly amounts
to hypocrisy. We are happy to offer freedom of opinion
to those who agree but never to those who do not.

"The sinister fact about literary censorship in England
is that it is largely voluntary. Unpopular ideas can be
silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the
need for any official ban. Anyone who has lived long in
a foreign country will know of instances of sensational
items of news - things which on their own merits would
get the big headlines - being kept right out of the
British press, not because the Government intervened
but because of a general tacit agreement that 'it
wouldn't do' to mention that particular fact." (Id.)

He mentions cases where indiscretions of priests were
ignored in Catholic-owned journals while being played
up in the British press, even as shenanigans of
Anglican clergy were steadfastly ignored. The same
process happened to Orwell's own work; his novels
criticizing the left, Animal Farm and 1984, are
best known in capitalist lands, whereas his other
books -- he was a committed socialist all his life
-- are almost unknown. The very existence of
controversy, strife and polarized opinions sets
up its own dynamic of self-censorship.
Orwell writes,

"It is important to distinguish between the kind
of censorship that the English literary intelligentsia
voluntarily impose upon themselves, and the censorship
that can sometimes be enforced by pressure groups.
Notoriously, certain topics cannot be discussed
because of 'vested interests'. The best-known case
is the patent medicine racket... But this kind of
thing is harmless, or at least it is understandable."

Since Orwell's time, this perversion of the press
has worsened considerably. What he calls the patent
medicine lobby, always big customers of advertising,
have ballooned into the multi-billion dollar behemoth
now affectionately known as Big Pharma. While in itself
this corruption may be harmless or understandable but
it gets dangerous when a crisis comes up, such as
global warming. It is frightening how easy it was
to keep such a huge survival issue off the radar
screen for the two decades. This sinister cadre of
private, corporate owners of "our" media outlets
suppress opinion contrary to their imagined interests
and foist their narrow point of view on everybody.
Adbusters, for example, have documented media
outlets refusing even paid advertising that
counteracts the idols, lies and deception basic
to the ideology of commercialism.

Orwell himself concedes that large organizations,
like selfish people, always put their own
interests first.

"Any large organization will look after its
own interests as best it can, and overt
propaganda is not a thing to object to.
One would no more expect the Daily Worker
to publicize unfavourable facts about the
USSR than one would expect the Catholic
Herald to denounce the Pope. But then every
thinking person knows the Daily Worker
and the Catholic Herald for what they are."

This protection is now known as transparency.
Propaganda is not as harmful if we can identify
it. If it is invisible, it becomes dangerous
and insidious. One of the most important
NGO's is called Transparency Watch, which
keeps tabs on national governments by
collecting statistics on comparative
levels of corruption and publicizing
the results. Right now the most corrupt
regime in the world, according to them,
is Iraq. It is not corrupt, it seems,
to try to steal (or to use the thief's
term, "privatize") Iraq's oil reserves
but when the victim tries to resist, well,
that is corrupt.


George Orwell got the idea for Animal Farm
when he observed a small boy driving a
large ox pulling a cart down a narrow
country lane. When the huge beast wandered
off the narrow path, the boy ruthlessly
beat it back into line with a stick.
"That ox is so much larger," he thought,
"how easy it would be to rebel against
his authority." So Orwell wrote his
famous parable of socialism, warning
fellow leftists not to rebel needlessly,
since overturning capitalist tyranny
leads to a Stalin.

When I read about his boy and the ox,
though, I was reminded of what Abdu'l-Baha
said about human powers and freedom, using
a very similar observation of a small boy
manhandling big beasts. Only this time it
was the power and glory of being images of
God that was in question,

"Materially, man is the prisoner of nature;
the least wind disturbs him, the cold hurts
him, the heat incommodes him, a mosquito
irritates him; but when we consider the
intelligence of man, an elephant is powerless
before him, a lion is his prisoner, and a boy
of twelve can lead twelve hundred animals. Man
dries up the sea, inundates the desert,
circumnavigates the globe, discovers what
is under the earth, rides upon the air and
creates new sciences. These are the signs
of the crowning spiritual power of man,
-- that power which can make nature his
prisoner." (Divine Philosophy, 95-96)

This illuminates what Baha'u'llah says
in the Aqdas about total freedom amounting
to a descent to the level of the animal
kingdom. Animal freedom is nothing but
slavery to inexorable natural laws.
The real slavemaster then is not Stalin but

In view of the bondage of animals to nature
we need to choose a higher freedom, service
to God and all humanity. This is the only
kind of liberty that is appropriate to our
exalted station as human beings. This freedom
Kant called autonomy, self-imposed law.
And the fact remains that self-imposed law
necessarily implies self-imposed censorship.

Paradoxical as it sounds, in order to have freedom
of speech, freedom of speech has to be curtailed.
Otherwise, the "fire" of strife and contention
generate smoke that obscures the truth for all.
Verbal attacks, swearing, strife and fighting
words remove our ability to think straight or
regard any interests but our own survival. When
under personal attack we do not think of the right
thing or anything but safety or retaliation.
Equanimity and equity are impossible. Consider
what Baha'u'llah wrote,

"... equity is the most fundamental among
human virtues. The evaluation of all things
must needs depend upon it." (Gleanings, 202)

How can there be equity in the midst of an
emergency? The first priority is to regain
our equity. In cases of strife, it was
unrestrained tongues that destroyed freedom
in the first place, not any laws or policies,
be they loose or severe. The purpose of
censorship is not to restrict freedom but
to snuff the flames of dissent. Without
discipline in curtailing tongue and pen,
justice, equity and progress would be impossible.

"We entreat God to deliver the light of equity
and the sun of justice from the thick clouds
of waywardness, and cause them to shine forth
upon men. No light can compare with the light
of justice. The establishment of order in the
world and the tranquillity of the nations
depend upon it." (Baha'u'llah, Epistle, 28-29)

So there must be self-censorship, and if that
fails even outward censorship until the conflagration
is snuffed out. If there were no self-censorship,
for example, how could there be a law against backbiting?
If there were no supervision of what we say, if there
were no oversight even by ourselves, how could rules
forbidding gossip ever be enforced?

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