There used to be a lot of respect for open debate, speaking your mind, holding opinions, debating them and having a point of view. It was never more important than in the arts, where artists were often social commentators and opened the eyes of their audiences to alternative ideas and ways of looking at things. The ability to say what you truly felt was thought to be essential to a functioning democracy and to living a tolerable life. It was how things were kept in check. Public opinion mattered.
Lately, I see things being shut down. People are afraid to express their opinions in public, because they think the spies are recording everything (they are). Your calls, emails, browsing history, contacts, associations, posts and the pattern of people and agencies you communicate with are being kept, for who knows what purpose, for who knows how long. It stifles freedom of speech.
There are repressive governments that go to extreme lengths to censor what appears on the browsers of people in their country and what they say online. In Australia, the social media policy being applied in the public service is preventing government employees from posting anything critical of their government, anywhere, at any time and the policy is likely to be enforced zealously. It was reported that the UK government attempted to block access to petition web sites calling for the resignation of a government minister as recently as yesterday.
Companies constantly try to hijack their employees’ social media activity to promote the products and services of the company. It seems like taking a salary for working eight hours a day now entitles an employer, private or public, to control your every public utterance, no matter what time of day.
This is profoundly unhealthy. It leads to a situation where everybody is contractually obliged to pretend that everything is ok, up to and until the point where society simply collapses because things are not, in fact, ok.
Dissent, protest, debate, discussion, opinion and public unity are all prohibited. We must all act as though we are singular units, frightened to death of stepping on the toes of a powerful force. We must comply with the prevailing view, no matter what that view happens to be, so long as the view is held by those in power. We may not question. We may not confront. We cannot blow the whistle. We must stay silent, even while witnessing atrocities, injustices and crimes.
Worse than that, when there is no debate permitted, there are no alternative ideas that surface. We begin to believe that there are no alternatives possible and hope dies. There is no way to change the government, because no opposition is brooked. We cannot remove those that abuse their power, because alternative candidates or ways of being are not discussable. If those ideas cannot be discussed, they cannot exist.
We’re entering an era of extreme mono-culture, where there can be only one idea about every matter of importance and where to speak out is to be seen as criminally insane. Compliance and conformance are favoured over the health and vitality of the society and a diversity of ideas, simply because it suits those currently in power, who are able to institute legislation to keep it that way. We’re literally losing our language and limiting the scope of our ideas and imaginations to only those orthodox notions approved officially by the authorities.
Without dissent and alternative ideas, progress is not possible. Art is not possible. In succumbing to the current trend of thought and mind control, where the powerful seek to limit the range of ideas made public, we’re giving up a tremendous amount. Yet nobody cares. We’re content to fall into line and keep our heads down. We don’t care about the world we’re building for our children. It’s appalling.
As T.S. Elliott said, the world will end not with a bang, but with a whimper. Meanwhile, let’s all pretend that everything is ok.