Thursday, 7 December 2006

"The establishing of an establishment" - a different kind of censorship

This is a post about free speech.

It is not a piece about those outrageous assaults on free speech committed in Fiji yesterday by Bainimarama's minions. Nor is it (at least not directly) about the outrageous assault on free speech planned by the Clark Government and the new National Party who both want to ban anyone from criticising political parties during the election period (you can read those pieces here, here, here, here, here, and here -- and I recommend you do read them while you're still allowed to).

No, this is a post about a different kind of attack on free speech. One more subtle, and no less chilling. Let me start here by mentioning a story run by the UK Daily Pundit [hat tip Tim Worstall] about every liberal's favourite UK newspaper:
The Guardian is effectively being subsidised by the government and could go bust if a Tory government introduced a ban on public sector recruitment through newspaper ads. At present, government recruiting is costing the taxpayer in excess of 800 million pounds per year. Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, is promising to change the system to allows jobs to be advertised for free on a new official website. The cost of running the website would be approximately 5 million pounds per year.
The Media Bulletin notes that "The Guardian currently dominates this market and, according to research by Reed Personnel Services, advertises two-thirds of public sector jobs." Now, I don't want to talk about that proposed ban or about the cost of employment websites. What I do want to talk about is that advertising.

If Reed's are right, and there's no reason they wouldn't be, that's 600 million pounds of government money going to The Guardian every year by this means alone -- and I'm sure no-one would suggest The Guardian and its employees are not so stupid that they don't know which side their bread is being buttered on, and who it is who is doing the buttering.

What that story brought quickly to mind was my own memory of reading Derek Fox's Mana magazine a while back. In many respects Mana is an admirable magazine celebrating Maori achievement and the many successes of young Maori, but flicking through its full-colour, glossy pages positively overflowing with advertising I was struck by how almost without exception those ads has been placed by Government departments (and the compliment is repaid in much of the writing, and can be seen in the links at the Mana magazine website).

It seems that like The Guardian this otherwise admirable magazine is being kept afloat by Government cash .

Don't you find that curious?

No less curious perhaps, you might say, than the many artists, musicians, scriptwriters, screenwriters, television producers and television production companies kept afloat by government cash and government grants from Creative New Zealand and New Zealand on Air or their proxies, or the many scientists kept afloat by government grants or by employment in government research projects.

What's the problem, you might ask?

Well, think about this. There is more than one kind of censorship. In fact, I'd suggest to you that there are two. The first and most straightforward method of censorship is for a government to ban speech that they don't like -- that's just what National and Labour want to do at elections, and I hope you lot feel disgusted enough about that to do something about it. The second form of censorship is one that Ayn Rand called "the establishing of an establishment," and it is even more insidious and no less chilling:
Governmental repression is [not] the only way a government can destroy the intellectual life of a country... There is another way: governmental encouragement.
That's right. Rather than simply banning opponents or banning expression, this form of censorship is much more subtle: it encourages expression (or scientific research) that is deemed acceptable, and by implication discourages anyone interested in career advancement from engaging in possibly unacceptable expression or research.
Governmental encouragement does not order men to believe that the false is true: it merely makes them indifferent to the issue of truth or falsehood.
It makes them sensitive instead to what is deemed acceptable, and thereby lucrative -- and it encourages and makes lucrative that very form of sensitivity. This is what Rand called "the welfare state of the intellect," and the result is as destructive as that other, more visible welfare state: the setting up of politicians, bureaucrats and their minions (the establishment) as arbiters of thinking and taste and ideology; the freezing of the status quo; a staleness and conformity, and an unwillingness to speak out; in short "the establishing of an establishment" to which new entrants in a field realise very quickly they are all but required to either conform or go under.
If you talk to a typical business executive or college dean or magazine editor [or spin doctor or opposition leader], you can observe his special, modern quality: a kind of flowing or skipping evasiveness that drips or bounces automatically off any fundamental issue, a gently non-committal blandness, an ingrained cautiousness toward everything, as if an inner tape recorder were whispering: "Play it safe, don't antagonize--whom?--anybody."
If you've ever wondered where this "special, modern quality" comes from, this is perhaps one answer -- through the intellectual mediocrity advanced by this less well-known form of censorship -- a censorship of encouragement. It's a much less obvious and much more insidious method of censorship, and no less chilling for that.
The [US] Constitution forbids a governmental establishment of religion, properly regarding it as a violation of individual rights. Since a man's beliefs are protected from the intrusion of force, the same principle should protect his reasoned convictions and forbid governmental establishments in the field of thought.
Think about it.

RELATED: Free Speech, Politics-UK, Politics-NZ, Science


  1. Chomsky had thoughts on this too. For your enjoyment. :)

    There are people who don't accept, who aren't obedient. They are weeded out, they're "behavior problems". The long-term effect of this is to reward and foster subordination; it begins in kindergarten and goes all the way through your professional or other career. If you challenge authority, you get in one or another kind of trouble. It's not 100 percent the case, and there are some areas of life where it's dramatically not the case, but on average and overwhelmingly in the outcomes, it holds."
    "If something comes along that you don't like, there are a few sort of four-letter words that you can use to push it out of the sphere of discussion. If you were in a bar downtown, they might have different words, but if you're an educated person what you use are complicated words like "conspiracy theory" or "Marxist" . It's a way of pushing unpleasant questions off the agenda, so that we can continue in our own happy ideology."

  2. Well said, PC! As always a quality post. Thanks a lot for the interesting read.

  3. At least the British Govt. is smart enough to realise that the best place to advertise Govt. jobs is in the Guardian.


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