News & Politics » Letters

Advances in Intellectual Repression



To the editors:

"Authorities who step forward to suppress the uncivil works and ideas of others in the name of public dignity may indeed bask briefly in the glow of general esteem," wrote Michael Miner in "Memories of Repression" (Hot Type, Sept. 22), a piece the reader isn't likely to find duplicated on the 10:00 PM News. "But very soon these moralists belong to history, which remembers them as clowns, demagogues, and poltroons."

We should be so lucky. Unfortunately, I'm not as optimistic. What Miner is writing about here--correctly, in its own terms--is repression by the state, a clear and ever-present danger to our liberties, "civil" or not. However, equally clear, the state does not have a monopoly on the full range of repressive potentials deriving from the structure of authority in our society, specifically, its class structure. And I'm afraid there isn't a dust bin large enough to hold the number of clowns, demagogues, and poltroons who perform remarkable feats of intellectual repression on a daily basis (even every twenty-two minutes on some radio channels), though nowadays they call it by more polite names. No, not for this new breed of revered "moralists," anyway--they won't go as gently into that good night as Miner's short list "from the annals of intellectual repression" in Illinois suggests they always have, and therefore always will.

In our day, for example, many bright, energetic, young people will more often go into Media Studies or become something called Communications majors in corporate funded programs at one of the more respected universities around the country. There they will be made into accredited clowns-, demagogues-, and poltroons-manque, socialized to adopting (read: ground up and stuffed like sausages into) the beliefs and values of the vertically integrated institutions of the media. (By the way, these institutions have devised some incredibly effective forms of intellectual repression over the years--the most notable and enduring being the "news," which, in a social order committed to libertarian principles vis-a-vis the powers of the state, especially freedom of thought and expression, poses no minor threat of its own to the possibility of independent thought and expression, hence action.)

Well, the latest advance (a term I use with considerable irony) in the techniques of intellectual repression and censorship, indeed, the most formidable one ever, is the little halo-wearing censor that "journalists" assimilate almost as quickly as they cash their first paycheck. For an example with a distinctly local flavor, one that teaches a valuable lesson in hypocrisy and "voluntary totalitarianism" (a wonderful phrase, if you think about it!), compare the media's almost univocal coverage of Scott Tyler and the protests ignited by his U.S. flag exhibit at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, on the one hand, to Salman Rushdie and the protests ignited by his book, The Satanic Verses, among segments of Islam, on the other. Now, if you go back and check media coverage--"news" items, that is--the same was true of Op-Eds, but a little less starkly so--for the time-period of mid-February through mid-March, you'll find the following breakdown, more reminiscent of the workings of a simple, ON-OFF toggle switch than of the workings of independent and free human minds:

Tyler, his exhibit, and the righteous American people, who are justly enraged over such unpatriotic claptrap as his, (the only real debate focusing on whether or not Tyler and the School of the Art Institute have the constitutional right to engage in this form of political expression, and whether or not he and the Board of Trustees should be hung from the nearest street pole).

Rushdie, his book, and the crazed Islamic fundamentalists, prone to such gross overreaction in their irrational, fanatical, hero-worshipping, "Khomeinist" state of mind, (there being no debate beyond these truisms, certainly no comparative self-reflection within the media of the American response to Tyler's exhibit and the Islamic response to Rushdie's book, though a great deal of chest-beating--some sincere, most hypocritical--over the virtue of "tolerance" in our "constitutional democracy," as opposed to the absence of it in their "religious state").

In short: We are slowly, but surely, reaching that stage of intellectual repression at which the state won't have to step forward and suppress "uncivil works and ideas in the name of" anything, though "order," "national security," and "democratic institutions and stability" will no doubt continue to be trotted out, as they were most recently in the President's National Drug Control Strategy--a gold mine for anyone having an Orwellian bent. That is to say, we are approaching that stage at which recourse to state repression becomes more and more superfluous, the mainstream expression of genuinely dissident thought having become less and less possible, while action oriented to change becomes the furthest thought from the mediated mind.

David Peterson
Evergreen Park

Add a comment