Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Censorship by consensus

There is a cliche in American political culture about autocratic societies where individual speech and mass media are controlled. Conjure up the popular image of China, Iran and the former Soviet Union. The narrative that goes with the cliche is that opinions that don't agree with that of the ruling power are suppressed, which leads to terrible things.

There is surely some truth in that; yet, terrible things also result where there is textbook freedom of speech. Case in point is the USA Patriot Act, for which the Warmonger-in-Chief signed an extension on May 26.

The liberal president wanted it because he has no reason to not want it. The majority conservatives in Congress did not oppose it because it was originally drafted under their watch. The minority liberals in Congress did not oppose it because they have nothing to gain from opposing it. The media did not mention it because there is no controversy surrounding it.

Indeed, there has been a stunning mainstream media silence about the extension of the Patriot Act. Maverick liberals and conservatives in Congress have raised voices against the extension but those voices have barely made it through the media filter.

When the ruling power, the opposition, and the media all agree on something, it creates a proxy for censorship. Consensus is supposed to be good for democracy but then again maybe not. Think of horrors like racism and slavery which lasted too long not because opposition to them was stifled, but because there was overwhelming political consensus that it is okay for these institutions to exist.

The lack of a vocal opposition and debate by elected representatives or civil society on any public policy issue is dangerous.

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