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Censorship & tyranny

“Any dictator would admire the uniformity and obedience of the U.S. media,” warned MIT professor Noam Chomsky.

Succinctly, and perhaps unintentionally, Joseph Stalin disclosed the danger to liberty of a subservient media. “Print,” he said, “is the sharpest and strongest weapon of our party.”

Newspapers, to Stalin, were like guns. A tyrant had a better shot of keeping a population enslaved and docile if the government controlled both the guns and the flow of ideas.

“We don’t let them have ideas,” explained Stalin. “Why would we let them have guns?”

The message of censorship and central control over information was the same from Mao Zedong. Why let the masses read anything more than the Chairman’s Little Red Book? “To read too many books,” Mao explained, “is harmful.”

Unfortunately, the problem in America is deeper and wider than Chomsky stated, with excessive obedience and uniformity clearly not restricted to the media.

There appear to be a sameness and caution within American higher education — a sector where one would expect to find an appreciation of intellectual diversity, unconventional paradigms and free thinking, where innovative features would be celebrated, not reprimanded.

The Free Speech Movement in the U.S., for instance, began at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1964, a time when novel and cutting-edge ideas about war, race, gender, class, liberation, oppression, freedom, marriage, sexuality, economics, writing, education, religion, morality, art and music were producing fundamental transformations throughout American society and throughout the world.

Students at Berkeley were seeking to overturn the school’s ban on on-campus political activities. Here are the words of Free Speech Movement leader Mario Savio, delivered during a sit-in on the Berkeley campus in December 1964: “There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop.”

Today, America’s politicized students are more likely to be putting their bodies upon the gears in order to resuscitate gag rules or to impose restrictions on who may be allowed to speak at graduation ceremonies.

In “Bonfire of the Humanities,” Wall Street Journal columnist Daniel Henninger reports that Brandeis University banned Somali-born feminist Ayaan Hirsi Ali as its commencement speaker, while Smith College announced the withdrawal of Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, as a speaker.

Lagarde canceled her appearance after hundreds of Smith students signed a petition protesting her upcoming speech.

In short, feminist-activist Ali was banned from speaking because she was viewed by some as too anti-patriarchal, too radically pro-woman, while Lagarde was judged by some to be too pro-patriarchal, too linked with an IMF that allegedly supports “patriarchal systems that oppress women.”

Condoleezza Rice withdrew as Rutgers’ commencement speaker after months of student and faculty protests, while UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television’s announcement that Jane Fonda would be its commencement speaker evoked protests from students and veterans organizations.

As with the contrasting views of Ali and Lagarde, protesters sought to cancel Rice and Fonda because they were deemed to be, respectively, too pro-war and too anti-war.

Ralph R. Reiland is an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University and a local restaurateur ([email protected]).


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