Combating Cultural Totalitarianism

Totalitarianism is usually associated with an omnipresent state which enchains the individual with iron manacles of edicts, orders, and regulations.  The voracious appetite of government and its eager use of coercive power make citizens into slaves whose lives are the property of those who rule rather than serve the people.

This is a grim reality in most of the world.  Government power is like gravity in a black hole:  it relentlessly and mindlessly accumulates more and more mass over time.  Moreover, because the rationale for this power is to protect the people -- and if people were doing well, that rationale would vanish -- totalitarian government makes sure that nothing it does really makes life better.   So while public education is touted as a panacea for social ills, state education administrators and politicians in their pocket resist reforms which would make schools work and insist that more money and authority over the lives of our children is the policy allowed.

There is, however, another incarnation of totalitarianism, cultural totalitarianism, which is just as dangerous as government totalitarianism.  We see cultural totalitarianism all the time, although it is harder for us to grasp because we assume that those cultural totalitarians are rational participants in the marketplace of goods and services.  But this is not so.

Consider one of the most odious facilitators of cultural totalitarianism in American life: the news media.  The owners and operators of these private businesses, if they acted from enlightened self-interest, the animating principle of the marketplace, ought to induce the various news corporations to compete with each other.  They would seek niches of readers and audiences not served by their competitors.   This would also mean exposing the blatant bias of notional rivals and offering a better "product" -- that is, more reliable and objective news.

Instead, media outlets like the New York Times behave like cadres of Orwell's Inner Party in 1984, ignoring the failures of its news competitors as long as the competitors do not present genuine competition of ideas.   When giant corporations behave as if they were one, then those on the left scream collusion and monopoly, but in the case of the news media, the stupefying fact that tens of millions of Americans literally never hear the different sides of social and political issues does not bother the left at all.  Their energies are rather absorbed in perpetuating and defending corporations who behave altogether like the Standard Oil Trust when it comes to news. 

Perhaps more dangerous are the monopolistic practices of the left in the area of entertainment and recreation.  Watch contemporary television programs or a new film or the pathetic meanderings of an establishment comic, and what do we see?  There is a dull sameness to it all.  The same groups who are safely mocked and the same groups made noble victims.  The themes never vary, though often they are presented as revolutionary or radical or new.

Art ought to be individual.  It should honestly present the specialness of each writer, each performer, each director, and each participant in the creative process.  It should never be a phalanx marching in unison with interlocking shields.  Once, this was how entertainment worked in America.  Once, America had directors like Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, and Frank Capra, each of whom had a very different outlook on life, but all of whom were, in their own way, creative geniuses.

Instead, today we have remakes of their great films which are just plain awful.  Remakes of television programs are just as bad.  The cultural totalitarians seem to grasp that the spark of artistic invention is dead in them, and so they fancy that taking greatness and marinating it in political correctness will revitalize their atrophied talents.  The result, of course, of mutilating art with propaganda is a hideous grotesquerie. 

The consequence for the rest of us is that we live in a sterile world without amusement, beauty, grace, or fascination.  The left once tried to mask this horrific blandness by using shock, but like a chef who thinks more garlic and pepper makes everything better, the result is to make our palates dulled to even the ugliest varieties of shock art.

If we are to reclaim a sane and moral world for us and for our children, it is just as important -- no, perhaps more important -- to win the war for a genuinely great and varied culture which refreshes the mind, delights the heart, and intrigues the conscience.  If we do not defeat the monster of cultural totalitarianism, it will consume us whole.

Totalitarianism is usually associated with an omnipresent state which enchains the individual with iron manacles of edicts, orders, and regulations.  The voracious appetite of government and its eager use of coercive power make citizens into slaves whose lives are the property of those who rule rather than serve the people.

This is a grim reality in most of the world.  Government power is like gravity in a black hole:  it relentlessly and mindlessly accumulates more and more mass over time.  Moreover, because the rationale for this power is to protect the people -- and if people were doing well, that rationale would vanish -- totalitarian government makes sure that nothing it does really makes life better.   So while public education is touted as a panacea for social ills, state education administrators and politicians in their pocket resist reforms which would make schools work and insist that more money and authority over the lives of our children is the policy allowed.

There is, however, another incarnation of totalitarianism, cultural totalitarianism, which is just as dangerous as government totalitarianism.  We see cultural totalitarianism all the time, although it is harder for us to grasp because we assume that those cultural totalitarians are rational participants in the marketplace of goods and services.  But this is not so.

Consider one of the most odious facilitators of cultural totalitarianism in American life: the news media.  The owners and operators of these private businesses, if they acted from enlightened self-interest, the animating principle of the marketplace, ought to induce the various news corporations to compete with each other.  They would seek niches of readers and audiences not served by their competitors.   This would also mean exposing the blatant bias of notional rivals and offering a better "product" -- that is, more reliable and objective news.

Instead, media outlets like the New York Times behave like cadres of Orwell's Inner Party in 1984, ignoring the failures of its news competitors as long as the competitors do not present genuine competition of ideas.   When giant corporations behave as if they were one, then those on the left scream collusion and monopoly, but in the case of the news media, the stupefying fact that tens of millions of Americans literally never hear the different sides of social and political issues does not bother the left at all.  Their energies are rather absorbed in perpetuating and defending corporations who behave altogether like the Standard Oil Trust when it comes to news. 

Perhaps more dangerous are the monopolistic practices of the left in the area of entertainment and recreation.  Watch contemporary television programs or a new film or the pathetic meanderings of an establishment comic, and what do we see?  There is a dull sameness to it all.  The same groups who are safely mocked and the same groups made noble victims.  The themes never vary, though often they are presented as revolutionary or radical or new.

Art ought to be individual.  It should honestly present the specialness of each writer, each performer, each director, and each participant in the creative process.  It should never be a phalanx marching in unison with interlocking shields.  Once, this was how entertainment worked in America.  Once, America had directors like Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, and Frank Capra, each of whom had a very different outlook on life, but all of whom were, in their own way, creative geniuses.

Instead, today we have remakes of their great films which are just plain awful.  Remakes of television programs are just as bad.  The cultural totalitarians seem to grasp that the spark of artistic invention is dead in them, and so they fancy that taking greatness and marinating it in political correctness will revitalize their atrophied talents.  The result, of course, of mutilating art with propaganda is a hideous grotesquerie. 

The consequence for the rest of us is that we live in a sterile world without amusement, beauty, grace, or fascination.  The left once tried to mask this horrific blandness by using shock, but like a chef who thinks more garlic and pepper makes everything better, the result is to make our palates dulled to even the ugliest varieties of shock art.

If we are to reclaim a sane and moral world for us and for our children, it is just as important -- no, perhaps more important -- to win the war for a genuinely great and varied culture which refreshes the mind, delights the heart, and intrigues the conscience.  If we do not defeat the monster of cultural totalitarianism, it will consume us whole.

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