Came across a very interesting interview of Noam Chomsky, the celebrated linguist and extreme left wing political commentator at Le Monde Diplomatique today. Apart from talking about Democracy in the typical firebrand way he usually does, he mentions a very pertinent point on the topic of censorship of the free press in countries that are (or call themselves) liberal democracies, vis a vis totalitarian ones.
It is one of the big differences between the propaganda system of a totalitarian state and the way democratic societies go about things. Exaggerating slightly, in totalitarian countries the state decides the official line and everyone must then comply. Democratic societies operate differently. The line is never presented as such, merely implied. This involves brainwashing people who are still at liberty. Even the passionate debates in the main media stay within the bounds of commonly accepted, implicit rules, which sideline a large number of contrary views. The system of control in democratic societies is extremely effective. We do not notice the line any more than we notice the air we breathe. We sometimes even imagine we are seeing a lively debate. The system of control is much more powerful than in totalitarian systems.
This has never been more relevant than it is today - given the handful of countries in the world which can be termed actual democracies, how many of them can really count themselves as being part of a tiny faction that allows completely free speech?
Granted that the latter is a rather naive approach to real world issues, and any country which allowed the press full freedom in action would pay dearly for it. (This was rather interestingly illustrated by the media representation of the referendum of France a couple of years ago - in may 2005 referendum on the European constitution, most newspapers in France supported a yes vote, yet 55% of the electorate voted no). The same goes for the obvious anti war sentiment in the US, which is less than accurately reflected by the mainstream media.
But as Chomsky mentions elsewhere, do you really want to be in a country where you need to satisfy minimum constraints on your views, political affiliations and (even) sexual orientation in order to make yourself heard in the mainstream?
Posted by That Armchair Philosopher at 3:24 PM